Monday, February 28, 2005

Check out your child's school library

It is Texas Public Schools Week here in the Lone Star state. If you are visiting your child's school this week be sure you visit the school library. Visit with the librarian and the school's administration about the library's role in your child's education. Does the library have a certified librarian? Does the librarian have an aide? Is there adequate funding for new materials? The answers to all those questions should be YES!

A library program is an integral part of your child's education. Studies have verified a school library is one place in the school were dollars invested yield happy students and faculty as well as higher test scores

School Library Impact Studies--Great link to studies and articles about the importance of school libraries

Hugh Laurie & PGWodehouse

Thank you, thank you to Phil at Brandywine Books for pointing me to this delightful article,Wodehouse Saved My Life by actor Hugh Laurie. Laurie is as funny on paper as he is on the stage or screen.

I was, in truth, a horrible child. Not much given to things of a bookery nature, I spent a large part of my youth smoking Number Six and cheating in French vocabulary tests. I wore platform boots with a brass skull and crossbones over the ankle, my hair was disgraceful, and I somehow contrived to pull off the gruesome trick of being both fat and thin at the same time. If you had passed me in the street during those pimply years, I am confident that you would, at the very least, have quickened your pace.

You think I exaggerate? I do not. Glancing over my school reports from the year 1972, I observe that the words "ghastly" and "desperate" feature strongly, while "no", "not", "never" and "again" also crop up more often than one would expect in a random sample. My history teacher's report actually took the form of a postcard from Vancouver.

I keep meaning to dial up Laurie's new TV series, House but the only shows I can seem to remember to watch on a regular basis these days are 24 and Battlestar Galactica.

Whether he is in Black Adder, Jeeves and Wooster, or Stuart Little, Hugh Laurie is always interesting to watch.
I am now headed to the bookcase to find my Wodehouse and read "Uncle Fred Flits By."

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Saturday, February 26, 2005

ALA Prez-elect is a ...

Librarians have their knickers in a twist over the latest "screed" from Michael Gorman whose commentary "Revenge of the Blog People!" slams bloggers. The listservs are alternately outraged and defensive of Gorman. He is lucky in his friends.

Many, many bloggers have posted on this topic but I loved author, screenplay writer and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman's take:
...when I read an article by the president-elect of the ALA, and find myself unable to decide whether it's mostly that a) he's simply a very, very bad writer, or b) he lacks any skills of a diplomatic nature, or it's just c) he really believes that statements like "Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts" are somehow going to disabuse people who keep blogs, journals and such from believing or repeating the calumny that "Michael Gorman is an idiot" (someone apparently said this on a blog, he tells us, expecting us to feel an outrage on his behalf I somehow wasn't able to muster). (Surely, if you're upset that someone called you an idiot, the wisest course of action would be not to write an odd screed that will itself convince many people who haven't heard of you before reading it that this is in fact the case.)

Gaiman is an original voice in the publishing world. His "children's" books include The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, Wolves in the Walls and the very...uh...interesting/creepy...Coraline.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Character: Aslan

You know that Disney Co. has been gnashing their teeth for missing the Harry Potter phenom. They have DESPERATELY wanted a franchise like Harry or Lord of the Rings.

They have chosen The Chronicles of Narnia to test the waters. This article in the NYTimes describes the alternating terror and interest they feel at handling the Christian symbolism of the stories.
That spirituality sets Aslan apart from most of the Disney pantheon and presents the company with a significant dilemma: whether to acknowledge the Christian symbolism and risk alienating a large part of the potential audience, or to play it down and possibly offend the many Christians who count among the books' fan base.

One good thing the movie has going for it is the involvement of Walden Media. They are the company behind the excellent movies: Because of Winn-Dixie and Holes.

Movie goers embrace movies with spiritual themes. Didn't Disney notice a movie called The Passion of the Christ that a guy named Mel brought out last year? Harry Potter (despite some groups that criticize the magic in the books) and Lord of the Rings have a very Christian basis. The Christian imagery in Rowling's books is hard to miss. Stories with themes of good against evil are timeless but especially timely now and audiences are hungry for them.

Author: Dav Pilkey

Pilkey's website is a dream come true for his devoted fans.
WARNING: This website contains scenes and material which may be considered too silly for grown-ups, small animals, and many varieties of houseplants. If you are a grown-up, a small animal, or a houseplant, we strongly urge you to seek the permission of a kid before browsing this site!
He has added some music to download. What's Up, Mr. Krupp?, Hooray For Captain Underpants!, and Go! Poopypants.

Top Secret

Top Secret: a handbook of codes by Paul B. Janeczko, 2004
Paul Janeczko dedicates this book: For Teri Lesesne, kind and generous lady whose heart & spirit are grand

This is the book kids have been asking me for since I became a school librarian. This book includes code making, ciphers and secret codes, codebreaking and a codemaker/breaker hall of fame. Highly, highly recommended.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

New Award named for Andre Norton

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has created a new literary award to recognize outstanding science fiction and fantasy novels that are written for the young adult market.

"Many adults today, myself included, were first introduced to science fiction and fantasy through her books and have gone on to become readers, fans, and authors themselves. Andre Norton has done more to promote reading among young adults than anyone can measure."

Wilhelm Grimm

Semicolon notes that Feb. 24 is the birthday of Wilhelm Carl Grimm, as in Grimm's Fairytales. She found a very nice site on Grimm's Fairytales. Sherry notes: there are "games, coloring pages, animated stories" for young folks.

Website for Graphic Novels

Janice Biebrich is a teacher librarian in Winnipeg, MB Canada. She has built a terrific site about graphic novels. She has links for parents, teens and librarians.

Her list of recommended titles under Myths/Fables/Legends look like good bets for elementary libraries. I have read these two.

Rod Espinoza created The Courageous Princess a story with lovely art which is accessible to readers of all ages.

City of Light, City of Dark by Avi and Brian Floca originally came out in 1993. I have been looking for it for several years. It is back in paperback now that the graphic novel market is taking off. Two children try to unlock the mystery behind a subway token. Re-reading Kirkus Reviews, I notice that some of the dialogue is in Spanish as well as English.

The links in the Manga section will tell you everything you want to know about this popular genre.

Author: Louis Sachar

Louis Sachar has adapted his novel, Holes, for the stage. This article in the Bradenton Herald has a very interesting interview with him.
Sachar, 50, didn't start out as an author. According to his Web site,, he didn't become a dedicated reader until he was in high school.

While he was attending Antioch College in Ohio, his father died. He returned to California to be near his family, took time off school and worked as a Fuller Brush man, selling household products door-to-door.

He went back to the University of California at Berkeley and majored in economics. On a whim, he volunteered as a teacher's aide at the nearby Hillside Elementary School, which inspired his first book, "Sideways Stories from Wayside School."

Little did he know that acting on that whim was the beginning of a successful writing career.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Splendid new libraries for NY City schools

Petrified Truth has a post about the new libraries that the Robin Hood Foundation is building in some NYCity schools. The joy in the children's voices made me cry.
A new library feeds a boy's dreams. "When this library first opened," said Isaiah Ross, a fifth grader, "I promised myself I'd read every dinosaur book here."

As Petrified Truth says: Here's a big part of The Answer for what ails public education: the library as the best reason to come to school.

When the Robin Hood Foundation, a nonprofit agency that fights poverty in New York City, was looking to help the schools, it decided on libraries, because a library is the one academic place every child in a school uses. Since 2002, 31 new Robin Hood libraries have been built at some of the poorest elementary schools citywide, and they are spectacular to behold, every one different and all worthy of an Architectural Digest spread.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Permanent Rose

From Achockablog: Hillary McKay has written another book about the unusual Casson family. The Times reviews Permanent Rose.

I just finished listening to Indigo's Star. It picks up where Saffy's Angel ended and is the touching story of Indigo Casson and the problems he has with a gang of thugs and bullies at his school. Indigo makes his first real friend, Tom, an American living with his British grandmother for the term. In many ways this is Tom's story as much as Indigo's. Tom is in England to escape the realities of his father's remarriage. He is a gifted guitarist and longs to purchase a special guitar at the local music store. Indigo's sister, Permanent Rose, latches on to Tom and considers him as much her friend as her brother's. She is determined to get that guitar for Tom. The rest of the eccentric Casson family returns from the earlier novel. Oldest daughter Caddy is at university and besieged by suitors. Adopted sister Saffy and her friend Sarah are fiercely protective of the family members. Permanent Rose is trying hard to engage their mostly absent father in the family's life. Their dottie mother, Eve, is enjoying more artistic success than her husband but cannot manage to keep groceries in the house.

This is another wonderful visit with characters that seem so real they are like my own dear friends.

Helen Lederer's narration of the audio version is excellent. Highly recommended.

Reading kids

I have always enjoyed providing kids with books they WANT to read. I am fascinated by the different sorts of young readers that come through the door.

There are the "nonfiction" kids who just want to learn everything in the world about their favorite subject. They are the "just the facts" readers.
Some subsets of this category include the animal lovers who will read every book on the shelf about horses, dogs, cats (domestic and wild,) orcas, bats, snakes, sharks, hamsters, ... ... ...

Another group includes the disaster readers. Provide them a book about tornados, earthquakes, storms (with or without lightning,) the Titanic or the Hindenburg and you have a happy reading camper.

The hands-on readers want the drawing and origami how-to books, the paper airplane books and the books on codes. They also often read the books on skateboarding moves and other sports.

The puzzlers love riddle books, Walter Wick's I Spy series, and joke books. I often see crossovers between the hands-on kids and the puzzlers.

Another group are the mythology/folktale/fairy tale readers. The lush illustrations of K.Y. Craft's books, ghost stories, the D'Aulaires Greek Myths, dragon stories, princess tales, humorous Coyote and Anansi stories pull these students into their imaginative worlds.

Poetry readers
will recheck Shel Silverstein or Douglas Florian or Jack Prelutsky over and over and over and over again.

History fans love biographies, books about the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Alamo, and 9-11. These historians often branch out to books about the armed forces and tanks, planes and ships.

On the "fiction" side there are the comfort readers who will seek the familiar novel that their teacher just finished reading to them. I am always so grateful to the teacher who brought the book to life so wonderfully that they want to read it again for themselves.

The pioneers will bravely try a new book (sometimes just on the librarian's say so) knowing that if they do not like it, they can bring it back. To try a vintage well worn copy of The Gammage Cup takes leap of faith sometimes. Oh, I hope those guys like that book...

Picture book fans know that great stories can be told in 32 pages. Parents often worry that their son or daughter has not graduated to "chapter books" or novels and may need assurance that picture books are not really "easy." Hand them Pink and Say or Language of the Doves and a box of tissues. They will get it.

The ones I know will probably be lifelong readers are the series kids. They have found a series they love, work through it and await the next volume. It may be The Magic Treehouse, A Series of Unfortunate Events, or maybe Lizzie McGuire. These readers know the characters before they pick up the book and can dive right into the mystery. They already know the back story.

It has been explained to them but sometimes school administrators do not understand that their school's test scores are going to be in the dumper without a well supported library program. Many of our children never get to a public library. Their school library is where they go for help when they find a baby bird or need a kid friendly cookbook.

This is the one place in school where students can explore their own ever changing interests. Children have to find themselves on the shelves of their school library. That is what makes school librarianship such a challenge and so much fun!

Monday, February 21, 2005

George Washington's Teeth

George Washington's Teeth by Deborah Chandra, Madeleine Comora, 2003
This is a wonderful book to share with kids and adults. I learned so many things about Washington from this book. The clever, rhyming verse recounts the lifelong problems George Washington had with his teeth. It is possible that chronic gum infections led to Washington's death.

The story is well researched and the humorous illustrations by Brock Cole lend a lightness to Washington's serious health condition. The end of the book has facts and information about Washington's life. There is also a great timeline.

Happy Presidents Day!

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Movie: Howl's Moving Castle

Here is a movie review of Hayao Miyazaki's new film, Howl's Moving Castle. It is based on the book by Diane Wynne Jones. The movie will open in the US in June 2005. You can watch the trailer here.

Miyazaki's work is often surreal, but "Castle" is more a work of magic realism. It's set in a fictional city in which magic, witches and sorcerers co-exist with average citizens. The story, in its most basic form, centers on an errant young wizard, Howl, and his attempts to avoid being drafted to fight in a war. Around this core, Miyazaki builds some interweaving stories: those of a girl who's aged by a spell, a grumpy witch, a royal sorceress, a demonic but friendly fire spirit and a sorcerer's apprentice. Miyazaki delves deep into his characters to discover the humanity and compassion that lies at the heart of them all.

Miyazaki's other films, "My Neighbor Totoro", "Kiki's Delivery Service", "Princess Mononoke", and "Spirited Away" are beautiful to watch. The graphic novel of "Spirited Away" is a good choice for librarians looking for "safe" graphic novels to add to their collections.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Politicians and Children's Books

Politicians as authors: In 2004 it seemed as if every presidential candidate had a book in bookstores that presented their ideas, philosophy and hopes for the future.

While serving in congress Newt Gingrich, Jim Wright, Hillary Clinton, Jim Jeffords, Robert Torricelli, and Barack Obama (to name a few) have all cheerfully accepted advances for penning their life story or outlook on life. Lynn Cheney and Barack Obama have joined the celebrity stampede to write children's books. Former presidents always "write" at least one book after office; one has even left the realm of policy and, sadly, strayed into fiction.

I have always assumed that a large market for these books were political supporters and lobbyists. How better to show your enthusiasm for a candidate or politician than to acquire their book in quantity and share it with your friends or just shore up the walls of the basement? Hopefully your literary interest will be remembered next time your legislative concerns are addressed. With that in mind I wonder at the flap over Libby Pataki's children's book.
This time, the eyebrows arched over news accounts of Republican groups being leaned on to buy the "Madison" book, priced at $16.95, in bulk. The New York Post reported this week that Mrs. Pataki had gone so far as to tell one potential customer that she and her husband "really need the money.

Hard to believe people are really "shocked, shocked."

Children's authors are skilled and gifted writers who are creating books for the toughest audience on earth. If a child does not like a book by the end of page 2, that book is "outa-here." There are only a small handful of celebrities who truly tap into the mind and spirit of a child with their writing.

For all that, political consultant James Carville book's Lu and the Swamp Ghost is a fun read. There is an interesting interview with him at Carville had the support of an "A" team working on the book with him including the sublime, award winning Patricia C. McKissack and brilliant David Catrow for illustrator. With help like that it would be hard to go wrong.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Websites for Children's Authors

McBookwords is a very comprehensive site with links to just about any children's or YA author you can think of. It should be very helpful for book reports or research projects.

"We have made an effort to include only sites that are generated by the author/illustrator him or herself or in some cases by an individual fan of the author/illustrator's work."

The Chronicles of Narnia

A student is contemplating C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books and looking puzzled. “What is the “right” order to read these books?” he asks. I have had that question posed to me more times than I can count.
There is a nice piece at Pineapple Girl that brings together all aspects of the question.

As a "publicationist," I agree that the books should be read in the order they were published, NOT the chronological order they are marketed in now. Great discussion.

1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
2. Prince Caspian (1951)
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
4. The Silver Chair (1953)
5. The Horse and His Boy (1954)
6. The Magician's Nephew (1955)
7. The Last Battle (1956)

The Redwall books by Brian Jacques is another series where there is a chronologist and publicationist point of view. The author himself, recommends the books be read in order of publication as there are many "ah-hah" moments in the later stories where the reader has fun making a connection to the "future" of the tales.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

DaVinci Prints

I love news stories like this:

A fingerprint found on The Adoration of the Christ Child may prove that the painting is the work of Leonardo da Vinci. The fingerprint was found during restoration and may solve the mystery of the painter once and for all.
Da Vinci was known for using digital imprints and other symbols and codes in his work.

He was also known for giving female figures large, powerful hands - a feature which The Adoration's Mary shares.

"There are many details that make one think of Leonardo, like the stylistic power, the technique of 'sfumato,' the virile hands, the eyelids, and the expressive intensity of Saint Joseph, as well as that it's a work full of symbolic meaning," Zatti added.
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Author: Peggy Rathmann

Great profile of Peggy Rathmann at
Rathmann spends at least nine months on each book she writes and illustrates. Before she even begins a book, she might make clay models of characters or get her nieces and nephews to pose as possible characters, which she'll photograph for ideas. Although she might bang out a story in just a few weeks, the story and the illustrations go through numerous revisions. As the pictures change, lines in the story may, too.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Author: Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry closing his North Texas bookstores

I've never forgiven him for killing off Gus.

Bard: Benjamin Bagby

Benjamin Bagby

We had a tremendous experience on Friday evening. Houston Early Music presented Benjamin Bagby’s Beowulf. What an evening! Bagby recites, sings, acts out, and story tells the first part of Beowulf including his fight with Grendel.

He recounts the arrival of Scyld who washes up on the beach as a baby and becomes a great leader of the Danes. Scyld's descendant, Hrothgar builds a magnificent banquet hall for his men but it soon becomes a place of danger as Grendel prowls the hall at night and devours the sleeping occupants. Beowulf arrives with his warriors to help Hrothgar and defeat Grendel.

Bagby brought the story to life, speaking in Anglo Saxon. The surtitles were projected behind him on a screen. A packed Trinity Episcopal Church was gently illuminated with candles while Bagby sang and recited the tale while accompanying himself on a reproduction seventh century 6-string lyre. When the last note faded from the lyre and he took his bow, I felt as if I were floating in another time and place. I had a sense of connection between this time and the storytellers of earlier times. The story was as powerful and vibrant in this twenty first century as it would have been in the earliest times.

Bagby answered questions afterwards. He discussed his own research into the pronunciation of Anglo Saxon and the history and tuning of his lyre. His website has full details and all aspects of the performance.

His next performance is Monday, February 14 in the Prothro Theater, Ransom Humanities Resource Center at University of Texas. It is worth the drive from anywhere!

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Author: Chris Crutcher

Chris Crutcher has a heartfelt and poignant response to the controversy and censorship of his short story "Telephone Man" which appears in the book Athletic Shorts.

Crutcher's powerful writing speaks to so many young people and adults. This episode echoes another recent attempt to censor The Giver, in Kansas and Missouri. Those calling for these books to be removed from the curriculum have missed the entire point of the stories.

Author: E.B. White

A sweet, personal portrait of "Andy" in the New Yorker.

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Togo wins Texas Bluebonnet Award

The Texas Library Association announces: Togo by Robert J. Blake has overwhelmingly won the Texas Bluebonnet Award for 2005. Great book. For more on Robert J. Blake check out his website. His Togo sketchbook is very interesting.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard

The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard by Gregory Rogers, Roaring Brook Press 2004

This book is absolutely brilliant! It is a wordless book that will pick you up, pull you in and carry you through the story. The boy kicks his soccer ball through the window of a boarded up old theater. After retrieving his ball he discovers a box of costumes which he tries on and tries out on the theater stage. Something happens and suddenly he is on the stage of a theater (the Globe?) and William Shakespeare is tripping on his soccer ball. The chase is on through old London. The boy liberates a bear from a cage, a baron from the Tower of London, and dances with Queen Elizabeth I on a barge on the Thames, all while being pursued by a cranky Shakespeare. The drawings are detailed and change perspective. One moment you are running through the streets of London with the boy and the next you have a view of him and the city from high above. When the story ended, I felt like I had dropped out of time too, quite a feat for a picture book.

Author: Kate DiCamillo

In the news:
New Line Cinema has purchased the right to DiCamillo's unpublished--as in March 2006-- new book, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Given her track record, New Line probably made a good call.

I had the pleasure of reading the beginning of her Tale of Despereaux to a class on Friday and the kids were, as usual, enthralled. I ended up talking about Despereaux with a parent today who had chosen the book as a family read aloud, not once but twice. She said this book was the best book they had EVER shared as a family.
Kate DiCamillo's website

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Dragon Tamers

Young people as bestselling authors? It happened to Christopher Paolini with Eragon. Alert Daughter No. 2 points me to this story about a 13 year old author in the UK. The Times reports:
A SCHOOLGIRL has become a publishing sensation after her first novel sold 50,000 copies in six weeks. A second print run for Emma Maree Urquhart's Dragon Tamers has been ordered.
She sounds like a young writer I know living at my house.

Emma Maree was writing short stories at the age of 10 and is determined to pursue a career as a novelist. She writes in longhand and then transfers the material to a computer.

"I enjoy writing,"she said. "Its a lot of fun. My parents encouraged me to write. It has been a long ambition of mine to write a book and get it published. I have been writing stories for quite a while, but none of them have been as good as Dragon Tamers."

The book is available at Amazon UK.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Dr. Teri Lesesne has a blog!

Teri Lesesne's booktalks and presentations are always a highlight of any conference I attend. I have discovered her blog, The Goddess of YA Literature. What fun to hear what she is reading and what she thinks about the latest books. Her SHSU website is here.

Manga & Anime

Thanks for the tip from KidLit:

KidLit always has great content on graphic novels. I know how popular these movies and "comic books" are because I have two devotees in my family. A friend told me about Peter Carey's book, Wrong About Japan : A Father's Journey with His Son (Knopf, 2005) so I was interested to hear the interview with him on NPR's Talk of the Nation. Carey traveled to Japan with his son to try to understand his fascination with manga and anime. They discuss the growing popularity of manga which is one of the fastest growing sectors of the publishing industry. Where comic books were popular primarily with boys, girls are reading manga in droves. This is a fascinating discussion. I know my girls enjoy the humor, the action and the relationships that play out in the stories.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Mind's Eye

Mind's Eye by Paul Fleischman, 2001

Paul Fleishman's books are always original. I was intrigued by the play-like dialogue format he used in this one.

Sixteen year old Courtney's spinal chord is severed. As her mother is no longer living, her stepfather places her in a nursing home. It is the middle of winter in North Dakota and the snow is falling outside her window. Courtney is the youngest person in the home and her roommate is 88 year old Elva, a former English teacher. Elva's mind is sharp. She is pleased to have Courtney as a roommate. She exhorts Courtney to expand her mind and convinces her to to read aloud from a 1910 edition of Baedeker's Italy so the two of them can take a virtual trip through time and space and tour Italy. They plan their routes and Courtney describes what they are "seeing." Courtney is understandably depressed and attempts to sabotage their "trip" but soon finds her own refuge in this voyage of the mind.

Fleishman has crafted a poignant and thoughtful story about survival of the spirit.

Elva: "What a blessing, at least, that your injuries are strictly below the waist. That your brain was spared. The life of the mind is so much more sustaining than the life of the body . . . A pretty girl like you may find that hard to believe. But you've actually been handed a golden opportunity.


"How I used to envy the pretty girls when I was young. The graceful ice-skaters. The beautiful dancers. I was quite plain myself.
Crooked teeth. Disobedient hair. A disgrace and a public danger on the dance floor.

I thought they had everything and that I had nothing. I burrowed into books while they frolicked. And how very glad I am that I did. Because now, when their bodies are failing them, they have no mental life to support them. I pity them. There are quite a few of them here."