Thursday, November 30, 2006

a friend at midnight

a friend at midnight by Caroline Cooney, 2006

Lily is taking care of her baby brother Nathaniel while her mother and stepfather drive her older sister to college. Then the phone rings and she hears her eight year old brother Michael's voice.

Despite their misgivings, her family had honored Michael's decision to go live with his father but now he is at Washington/Baltimore airport, alone and scared. No problem, Lily thinks, I can get the bus to LaGuardia to meet his plane. Only, Michael doesn't have a ticket to fly home. When Lily learns the truth about her brother's predicament she has to act quickly to rescue him. The fallout from that day turns Lily's world inside out and upsets her relationship with her family, her friends and with God.

Cooney can build tension in a story like no one else. Lily's anger is justified and the reader shares it. She is trying to protect her brother and she is furious with her dad. How God can allow bad things to happen?

...She was skeptical of prayer, never paid attention at church and referred to the minister -- Dr. Bordon -- as Dr. Boring. But into the quiet air of her bedroom, she said, "God?"

He wasn't listening. Lily could tell. She spoke more sharply. "God, Michael needs this. Make it happen. Don't give me that stuff about free will, how people make their own choices, how your choices don't alway intersect with the choices of others in a pleasing fashion and how responsibility lies with the individual. Get down here and make this happen."

I heard Cooney talk about this book at a library conference. She commented (I paraphrase here) that there is an unspoken rule in mainstream YA publishing that you do not write about religion or faith. She is very active in her own church, has been all her life, and knowing that there are teens who are similarly involved, decided it was worth exploring as a YA novel. She was pleased when she learned the book was going to be released through two Random House divisions, WaterBrook(religious) AND Delacourt.

The storytelling is compelling and stands on its own as a teen-in-crisis novel. Lily is searching for answers. Her questions about God and faith are ones many share. Cooney deftly explores the idea that faith does not guarantee "happily ever after" but helps believers and searchers deal with "what comes after."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Author: Beatrix Potter

This article in The Times, describes a letter from Beatrix Potter to an author of a book on the Loch Ness Monster. In the letter she theorizes about the appearance of the monster which she bases on her own keen observations of frogs, toads and newts. The letter and some photographs have been acquired by the V&A.

How fun!

Edge of the Forest

This month's edition of Edge of the Forest is phenomenal. Three interviews, book reviews and a new feature, "Sounds from the Forest," a podcast about the children's and YA book world.

This month's In the Backpack asks writers and editors attending Illinois SCBWI Prairie Writer’s Day what they are reading.

Monday, November 27, 2006

007 -- James Bond

Treebeard and the entlings and I saw Casino Royale over the holiday.
Loved it.
I felt like I had seen at least 3 movies by the time it was over.

I was not ready to embrace the "new" Bond but Daniel Craig totally won me over! He is closer in character to Ian Fleming's Bond than many of the previous portrayals.

Another fan of the movie is Charlie Higson, the author of the Young Bond series. He writes in The Telegraph:

At key moments, we see Craig acquire all the familiar accoutrements – the gun, the Aston Martin, the dinner jacket – and, in a way, his unconventional looks (in a Bond sense) work perfectly, because we are watching someone turn into Bond before our eyes, rather than leap fully formed onto the screen with bow tie and raised eyebrow. It's not until the last frame of the film that he has fully earned his signature tune, and you could almost view the film as the longest pre-titles trailer in Bond history. You come out of the cinema looking forward eagerly to the next installment.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Thanks to Librarian in the Middle for pointing me to the recipes at King Arthur Flour.

These Sweet Potato Sandwich Rolls sound fantastic and they have 6g of fiber!
"Soft without being squishy"

Friday, November 24, 2006

Santa Knows

Santa Knows by Cynthia & Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Björkman, 2006

I love Christmas books.

Alfie F. Snorklepuss does not believe in Santa. He has researched, calculated and weighed all the facts and is positive that Santa cannot exist. He denounces the Santa myth at school, in letters to the editor, on talk radio and on the World Wide Web. His sister Noelle tells him that "Santa Claus believes in people who believe in him" and she writes to Santa with a special request for her Christmas gift.

On Christmas Eve, Alflie stakes out the Christmas tree to discover the truth about Santa. He discovers more than he ever imagined.
Steve Björkman's illustrations tell the story with humor. Alfie's pajamas are hilarious.

When I read a Santa book to a group of kids, there is always one kid who will coolly announce what they "think" is the truth about Santa Claus. He/She is then always the recipient of vigorous denials and a verbal pummeling from the other kids.

I know children who yearn for the anticipation, mystery and excitement of Santa's visit. They want do not want to miss the thrill of Christmas morning. This is a sweet tale for families with young (and older) children who want to believe.

Author: Julius Lester

As I scan through my Child_Lit mail I always stop in my tracks when I see a post from Julius Lester on the listserv. His eloquence and insight always move me. Now I have yet another reason to be thankful this week as he has started a blog, A Commonplace Book. I will be regular visitor here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for wonderful authors and brilliant illustrators who add so much excitement and color to my reading life.

I am thankful for my reading family and grateful for parents who always let me read whatever took my fancy.

I am thankful for my freedom to read which comes from living in this great USA.

Some of my favorite Thanksgiving picture books:

The Very First Thanksgiving Day by Rhonda Gowler Greene, illustrated by Susan Gaber, 2002

With a "House that Jack Built" structure, the language and rhyme flow easily making this a terrific read-aloud. Gaber's illustrations are beautiful and carefully researched. I really love this book.

Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey, 1990
What can I say, eight turkeys named Larry, Moe, and Shemp,Wally, Beaver, Groucho, Ollie, and Stanley try to survive Thanksgiving with the help of eight children. Kid readers absolutely get Pilkey's humor even if some grownups do not. Excellent.

Over the River: A Turkey's Tale by Derek Anderson, 2005
"Over the river and through the woods,
To grandmother's house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh,
Through the white and drifted snow, O!"

A family of Pilgrim turkeys are on their way to Grandma's house.
Hijinks ensue as the lines from the song are hilariously interpreted . A music teacher at the school I was at last week was thrilled to find this book sitting on a "new books" cart. "We are losing our traditional songs," she told me.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Composer: Howard Shore

Howard Shore talks about his music and the ongoing work of preparing the complete recordings of the Lord of the Rings score:

CC: Now Doug Adams notes on the score reveals a level of depth that even those who have listened to film music for a long time might not pick up on...not at least until they read the notes and listen to complete recordings. Now you must have had this intricacy in mind as you were writing the music for the films all along.

HS: Yes. This is because the composition is based on Tolkien and the intricacy, the complexity of it is due to the complexity of the book. Even I didn't really see it all because it was like I was looking at in very small pieces. It wasn't until I assembled it all that I began to understand how it all related, which is what Doug's book is about. It's like we are discovering it now more than when I was actually writing it! It wasn't that it was perfectly planned. It's because the composition is describing Tolkien's world. It's inherent, then, that the music has the same complexity that Tolkien put into the book. It wouldn't be written correctly to his book if it were otherwise.
A very interesting interview

This music has been the soundtrack for my family's life since 2001. Shore is ready to start working on The Hobbit if they ever untangle the money issues.

Tip from Petrified Truth

Friday, November 17, 2006

A World Record

As promotion for their movie, Charlotte's Web, opening Dec. 15, Walden Media is sponsoring a run at a world record. From their website:


On Wednesday, December 13, 2006, at 12 noon (EST), you are invited to join students, educators, librarians and fans of Charlotte’s Web who will gather in schools, hospitals, libraries and community centers to read a passage from E. B. White’s classic tale of friendship, kindness, selfless giving and miracles. It is our hope that “Break a World Reading Record with Charlotte’s Web” will introduce this wonderful story to a new generation and reintroduce the story to fans who haven’t read it since childhood. Please read further to see how you can participate in this exciting event.

I was wondering how many copies of the book it was going to take but they are making the reading excerpt available.

Q: How do I obtain the reading material/literature?

A: You can download the online version of the excerpt that has been authorized for the record attempt, or purchase the book.

The excerpt that is being used is from Chapter Five. The excerpt begins on page thirty-five (35) with “Salutations!‘ said the voice,” and ends with “I think you’re beautiful,’ said Wilbur” on page thirty-seven (37).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Texas Lonestar List 2007-2008

Oh boy, the new Texas Lonestar List is out. I have some of these books in my stack. I am just naturally drawn to the books on this list. They seem to always pick stuff that I like to read.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Book talkin' -- storytellin'

I had fun participating in the local junior high's 6th grade read-in on Friday night. Parents and kids attended in their slippers. The librarian prepared a nice presentation on some of the Lone Star Reading list books and Newbery winners.

I got to book talk some new books including Pond Scum, Babymouse, London Calling, Hugging the Rock, Troll Bridge, Monster Blood Tattoo, and the Jimmy Coates series by Joe Craig. There was not enough time to do all the books in my bag but I handed out Jimmy Coates bookmarks which seemed to please the guys. We turned off the lights and by the light of my Coleman lantern, I told some stories and did a reading from my favorite read-aloud. I wasn't planning on reading but one of my old students commented to me, "No one reads to us anymore Mrs. P."

I was impressed at the number of boys in attendance. There seemed to be equal numbers of guys and girls. I was also impressed that parents would give up their Friday night in the recliner (my favorite landing zone) to come to the event with their kids.

The evening reinforced what I have noted from my sojourns into middle school libraries: junior high readers really want to talk about the books they are reading. Hoorah for librarians who make those opportunities available for their students and hoorah for junior high teachers who still take time to read to the kids. May your numbers increase!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

You and Me, Baby

You and Me Baby, concept and words by Lynn Reiser and photographs by Penny Gentieu, 2006

Ooooh baby, is this a fun book. Five beautiful children are photographed by Penny Gentieu as they interact with their parents. The focus of each photo is the joy-filled face of a child. The children are shown eating, splashing, playing and most importantly, looking into their parents' eyes. The background of each photo is pure color, orange, green, yellow, blue and purple which matches the clothing of the baby and parent. Gentieu's photos glow.

Hey, baby!
Look at you, looking at me,
looking at you, looking at me.

This would be a terrific baby gift or a nice present for big brothers and sisters-to-be. Who doesn't love looking at pictures of precious children? Just imagine holding this book in your lap with a little one tucked in beside you. Babies love looking at faces.
Oh Baby, look at me reading with you, look at you reading with me!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Monster Blood Tattoo

Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling
by D.M. Cornish, 2006

Monster Blood Tattoo was a complete surprise. The story of the young Rossamünd Bookchild, is an interesting and engrossing read. The mood, tone and characters are very Dickensian. D.M. Cornish has amplified the effect with his own illustrations that evoke George Cruikshank and Phiz.

Rossamünd is small for his age and afflicted with a regrettable name. He is facing the day he will be apprenticed with a mixture of anxiety and hope. Raised with relative kindness in an orphanage, he dreads leaving the protection of the mothering Verline and the tough old sailor, Fransitart. Rossamünd dreams of becoming a sailor and battling monsters just like the heroes in the stories he reads. He soon learns he will be employed as a lamplighter though and he accepts his new future.

His first steps into the wider world of the Half-Continent land him in danger and at the mercy of a brutal smuggler. The Half-Continent is a world where people are set on exterminating the monsters that roam the countryside. Rossamünd begins to doubt the stories of monster horror he has heard all his life when he encounters a beautiful but strange lahzar or monster hunter named Miss Europe.

This novel is a prelude and ended much too quickly. I thought I had a goodly number of pages left to read but the last third of the book is a glossary of terms or “explicarium.”

Cornish has set us up for the next book, perfectly. We know we have not seen the last of the brutal Gosling, Rossamünd’s nemesis from the orphanage and what is the secret Fransitart needs to tell Rossamünd?

I know the striking cover and title will resonate with teens. Last week I was driving some of my daughter’s friends home, when one of the kids saw the book next to her on the back seat. She was immediately drawn to the book (“Woah, look at this!” to quote exactly) and was very happy when I told her she could take it home with her.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day

Just when I thought I could not take one more negative campaign ad..
Tip from Petrified Truth

Monday, November 06, 2006

Anne of Green Gables: Miss Independent

Catching up with my blogging friends today. Little Willow has a fun YouTube link for Anne of Green Gables Fans!

2007-2008 Texas Bluebonnet Award List

The new master list for the 2007-2008 Texas Bluebonnet Award has been announced!

I have read two of the books, George Crum and the Saratoga Chip and The Greatest Skating Race.

Author: T.A.Barron

When T.A. Barron was nine years old, he wrote a letter to Robert Frost. He received a personal letter in return. That gracious act by the poet inspired Barron and he resolved that if he was ever famous enough to receive fan letters he would try his best to personally answer them.

Today he receives an average of a hundred letters per day and tries to devote one day a week to answering the mail he receives from readers.

Before there was Percy Jackson or Harry Potter, girls and (especially) boys were caught up in Barron's Lost Years of Merlin series. The Ancient One from the Kate Gordon books has also frequently been a favorite with my reading friends.

Barron was speaking at a local bookstore last week and my entling asked me to change an after school appointment so she could go hear him. He is touring to talk about his Great Tree of Avalon trilogy.

What a kind and genial man! He shook hands with us and talked with each person who attended the signing.

The mail he receives from readers touches his heart. He shared some of the funny and moving letters he has received over the years. Even though his best know stories are fantasy, he still does extensive research. He studied 12 different Native American tribes from the Pacific NW for The Ancient One.

I told him that he was really a pioneer as an author in his use of the WWW. He was one of the first children's writers to have a fully developed site and kids can email him there. My own entling wrote him and received a personal reply over seven years ago.

His book The Hero's Trail grew out of his concern over our national confusion between celebrities and real heroes. The book tells real stories about real kids and he sponsors the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes (named for his mother) which "honors outstanding young leaders who have made a significant positive difference to people and our planet. Their leadership and courage make them true heroes—and inspirations to us all."

His idea of "The Hero" was voiced by Mother Theresa:
I have done no great things but I have done many small things with great love

Judging from the crowd there on a week night, lots of readers love T.A. Barron.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Award Winning Quilt

This beautiful quilt just won Best of Show here at the International Quilt Festival. The quilt is inspired by the 1908 German children's book, Wurzelkinder or The Root Children.

Judges for the International Quilt Association gave Sieglinde Schoen Smith of Carlisle, Pa., the Best of Show Award and $10,000 during the world's biggest and most prestigious quilting contest.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Good news from the Trick-or-Treating front last night.
"Trick or Treat!"

"Hello Kiddies! What's a great book you've read this year?"


"You want these Reese's peanut butter cups or not?"

Maybe this question was not such a shock from someone at a house with the these pumpkins gleaming in the front yard but the kids came up with book titles more quickly than ever this year.

One of the most frequently named books was The Lightning Thief, followed by Sea of Monsters. One kid shouted, "I can't wait for The Titan's Curse!" (Wow!) I had 2 for Inkheart, several Green Eggs and Ham, 1 Cat in the Hat, 1 Animal Farm, 2 Lord of the Rings, a Pride and Prejudice (thank you very much,) 1 Cinderella, 1 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (dressed exactly like Johnny Depp à la movie,) multiple Cliffords, Harry Potters and Capt. Underpants and 1 Artemis Fowl "but I haven't read the new one," the young man added. (Me neither.) One girl said Stormbreaker and began to tell me how cool Alex Rider was. I almost cried!

It was really so heartening thing to hear all these great titles being shouted out. There has been a definite leap in the reading levels of the neighborhood over the past year according to this informal Halloween poll.