Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Movie Review: The Lightning Thief

A look at some of my posts about this movie (mere updates about the movie's progress) show a torrent of comments from young'uns asking for information on auditions and explaining their suitability for a certain role, based on their own affinity with the character and physical resemblance. I thought it was quite touching.

When a favorite book is tapped for movie-dom, it validates the fan's interest in the story and the characters which is why these silver screen offerings are anticipated so eagerly. The one thing fans ask of the director is "don't mess up."

Chris Columbus is NOT a brilliant director but he can get a movie done in workman like fashion. His first two Harry Potter movies were fairly faithful and straight forward tellings of the tale. It took director, Alfonso CuarĂ³n to lift the series and the actors' performances to the next level and in many ways the series has been running on that energy ever since.

What Columbus lacks in artistry he makes up in his ability to steer a movie across the finish line while not annoying fans of the books too much. I enjoyed Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief . The actors performed with great earnestness. Special kudos to Brandon T. Jackson as Grover, who was able to shape his lines with just the right tone and flair and humor.

The BEST part though was standing in line for popcorn before the movie and taking measure of the types of people there on a chilly Saturday afternoon. The weekend before, Treebeard and I had gone to see Crazy Heart and I was amused to see the lobby of the theater OVERRUN with teen girls, all streaming in to see Dear John.

This day the boys were there in force. Like that perennial boy-favorite book, Go, Dog. Go!, there were big boys, small boys, skater boys, video game boys, soccer players, football players. Boys wearing glasses, boys wearing caps, tall boys, short boys, young boys and old boys and they were all headed for the same theater I was.

It could have been a Halo or World of Warcraft convention. The theater was sold out and this was a week after the movie had opened.

We had to move up very high to find two seats together.Our seating choice also placed up next to two young men who spent the movie quietly but intensely commenting and the things that were different and the same as the book. I have to say, it made me smile. These two had to be at least, juniors in high school and there they were, having an ongoing sotto voce conversation about a book, comparing and contrasting.

I hope they do as well with Mark Twain.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Advice for Authors on School Visits

MOOT POINTS on Author & Illustrator School Visits

School visits are NOT for the faint of heart. Veterans of the school visits have good advice to offer on the subject. Kelly Milner Haas has collected a page of pointers from authors that is well worth your attention. As a school librarian, I have my own ideas on what makes a successful visit so I offer these as you embark on this odyssey.


  • Getting on school librarians' radar may require some volunteer/free appearances in the beginning, some face time at state library association conferences (SCBWI booth, or other groups) or making personal contacts. Experience and polish pay off. Begin where you can, the PTA, your child's career day, volunteer to be an I Love to Read week reader if your local school district has opportunities like that.

  • DO keep your website UP TO DATE and make sure your contact information is easy to locate. It should not take more than ONE mouse click to land on your "contact me" page.

  • DO prepare an invoice ahead of time to send to your contact at the school so they can start the paperwork to pay you for your visit. You may have to fill out some forms for their business office. Despite your best efforts and the librarians', the accounting dept. does cause delays sometimes. It is proper to expect your payment at the time they arranged with you, either the day of the visit or at the end of the week.


  • DO know that you may be "Raptor-ed." You will need a driver's license or other official ID with you. If there is any reason to think your name is going to show up on a list that might make you school toxic, you should rethink the school visit idea.

  • DO keep your ID badge on during your time on campus. Even Famous-Author-Persons will get stopped in the hallway if they are not wearing proper school identification.

  • DO realize that you CANNOT SMOKE on school grounds.

  • DO ask, in case they forget to tell you, where the bathrooms are located.

  • DO remove or TURN OFF any wireless microphones before visiting the restrooms. My campus was home to a unit for hearing impaired students. Those kids probably hear some interesting things when folks forget to return their hearing aid microphone to them.

  • DO verify that you will have a break for lunch. If you are at a campus all day you will need sustenance. Sometimes the librarian will order food from a local place or take you to lunch (it is a chance to get out of the building for them too) or offer you the bounty of the school cafeteria. I've heard of some schools where you are on your own. If you live locally, consider bringing your lunch.

  • DO know that it is OK for you to ask for some time to rest your voice and recharge during your breaks. Librarians and parents and teachers are so excited to have you on campus that we pepper you with questions and engage you in conversation. We teach all day. We understand the need for some vocal down time.

  • DO have some water with you just in case. It should be provided but if they forget, it is ok to ask for some.

  • DO keep your presentation to 30 minutes for young kids, k-2. It can stretch to 45 minutes for older kids or as necessary.

  • DO let the librarian know ahead for time if you use props, copies of your books, posters, slide shows, drawing pads during your presentation, so they can have easels, tables, projectors already set up. Ponder a Plan B in case of technology failures or equipment malfunction. It happens.


  • DO make eye contact, wave and acknowledge the audience as they come in. On the other hand, suddenly appearing from behind the curtain can be exciting and build anticipation too.

  • DO NOT assume the teachers or librarians are complete control of the kids. Most teachers are conscientious about monitoring their students' behavior but it never fails that the one kid they need to make SERIOUS eye contact with will be in the middle of a sea of faces and unreachable, vocally, physically or telepathically.

    YOU, Famous-Author-Person CAN smile and tell the kids to sit down, and stop talking, and to keep their arms, hands, fingers, and feet to themselves, and ask them not to lean on their neighbor or untie their classmate's shoelaces. Point out specific kids who are doing a great job. Kids will snap to attention if there is potential for recognition.

  • DO understand that the moment you announce 'question-answer' time, a sea of hands will launch skyward and begin waving towards you with urgency.

    Famous-Author-Person, should know that:

    a. Some children put their hands up without any idea of what they are going to say. Tell them you will come back to them when you get their "Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh..." that is going nowhere after you call on them.

    b. Some children FORGET that they even have their hands in the air and will sit with their arm up until kingdom-come unless someone tells them "hands down."

    c. It is AOK for YOU, Famous-Author-Person to tell them to put their hands down while you present, talk, sing, dance. You are on a schedule. They don't understand that.

    Also, it is just nice manners to listen to the answer to a question without waving one's arm around in hopes of being the next one called upon.

  • DO anticipate that you WILL be asked "where do you get your ideas from" and "how much money do you make?" I always threatened warned my students about asking these questions but there is always one.

  • DO watch the librarian for cues on which kids to pick for questions or activities. They might know which child needs the "face time" and recognition from you for personal reasons.

  • DO know that you will be asked questions like "I have a puppy" or "my brother threw-up last night."

    I know...

    These aren't questions.

  • DO NOT under any circumstances, start signing autographs at the end of your presentations.

    You will be crushed beneath the onslaught of humanity as kids shove their hands, arms, foreheads, shirts and stinky shoes at you to sign. Their teachers will valiantly try to restore order but it may be too late for you. Your broken body will be found flattened on the floor.

    You have now been warned.

    The librarian can create a page of bookmarks for you to sign and they can be copied for everyone. Yes, the kids know it is not the same.
    Oh well.

  • At the end of your wonderful presentation. the warmth of your personality may move some children (especially young ones) to want to hug you. If one child gives you a hug, then they all will want a hug. and ... well ... see above for the perils of autograph signing.

    It is AOK to keep a zone of personal space around you. It is entirely appropriate to thank a child for offering their hugs but then tell them you would like to honor them with a salute, a high five, a thumbs up or a Vulcan "live long and prosper" greeting or gesture of appreciation.

    Elementary schools, especially, are petri dishes of (insert name of current disabling illness here) You should take a moment, between presentations, to scrub your hands. DO NOT touch your face until you do.

    FYI: What the kids are really after, whether it is a hug or a high five or even eye contact, is the individual attention from you, especially if they have enjoyed and connected with your presentation.


So now, the ponder, what to talk about or do during this presentation. Authors have a gift. Their words move us, thrill us, take us away to other worlds or times and let us walk, for a time in another character's life and footsteps.

Sometimes writers can share this gift with their readers, face-to-face, and sometimes they cannot. All authors have unique styles and presentations. I've decided that the most engaging and interesting presentations occur when a writer is able to do, in front of an audience, what they do so well on the page--tell stories.

Connecting with some storytellers or reading up on the subject can help. Do practice your stories so you will get better. You will also learn timing and where the "gasp" moments or laugh lines are the more you tell in front of an audience.

FYI: The word, UNDERPANTS is the funniest word in the world to an elementary kid.


1. Often, kids know how a manuscript becomes a book. It is interesting and even MORE fascinating if you tell the story of something exciting, horrible, difficult that happened during the process.

2. Students have been taught how to use a library or how to do research . Share something interesting that happened or that surprised you while you did your research. Where did you go to do your research? Got pictures?

3. Talking about the revision process is interesting IF you can relate your challenges to their writing. If you are sharing a manuscript page bleeding with corrections and suggestions, make sure they can see the details on the page with a visual (a slide or overhead.)

Illustrate and explain a specific editing change. If you are lucky you will be presenting in the school library but be prepared for a gymnasium or lunch room-sized venue. Think of those kids at the very back. Can they see and appreciate what you are sharing?

4. Writers of historical fiction sometimes share artifacts or facts from the time period they write about. Share some true stories from that time too. Something drew you to writing about that event or time period, what was it?

5. Have a good time. There is nothing like the energy and wave of enthusiasm that hits you when young readers are hanging on your every word.

6. Finally, know that librarians talk to each other and word of mouth is your best friend. A successful event at one school WILL lead to others.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Blogger: Betsy Bird

Go BETSY! Forbes Magazine profiles Fuse #8

By day, a librarian. By night, the most powerful blogger in kids' books.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

2009 Cybils Awards

The community of children's and young adult book bloggers, aka the kidlitosphere, supports their own book awards with their time and talent. Bloggers nominate the books and serve as panelists and judges. The Cybils awards celebrate "the highest literary merit and "kid appeal."

The winners for 2009 were announced on The Cybils blog on Monday, Feb. 15, 2010. For great summaries and more information, see the announcement.

Purchasing through these links will support the program and help fund these awards.

Cybils Awards for Children's and Middle Grade Books

Picture Book (Fiction)

All the World
by Liz Garton Scanlon; illustrated by Marla Frazee
Beach Lane Books

Picture Book (Non-Fiction)

The Day-Glo Brothers
by Chris Barton; illustrated by Tony Persiani

Easy Reader

Watch Me Throw the Ball! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)
by Mo Willems

Early Chapter Book

Bad to the Bone (Down Girl and Sit)
by Lucy Nolan; illustrated by Mike Reed
Marshall Cavendish Childrens Books


Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors
by Joyce Sidman; illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Graphic Novel

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook
by Eleanor Davis
Bloomsbury USA

Fantasy & Science Fiction

Dreamdark: Silksinger (Faeries of Dreamdark)
by Laini Taylor
Putnam Juvenile

Middle Grade Fiction

by Laurie Halse Anderson
Simon & Schuster

Cybils Awards For Young Adult Books


The Frog Scientist
by Pamela S. Turner; illustrated by Andy Comins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Graphic Novel

Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation
by Tom Siddell
Archaia Press

Fantasy & Science Fiction

by Kristin Cashore

Young Adult Fiction

Cracked Up to Be
by Courtney Summers

Monday, February 15, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: What Can you Do with an Old Red Shoe

Dewey: 745.5

What Can you Do with an Old Red Shoe: a green activity book about reuse by Anna Alter, Henry Holt, 2009

The stereotype about folks who lived through the Great Depression is that they never throw anything away; they reuse foil and twine. They patch and mend clothes instead of throwing them away and harvest fabric from old clothing for quilt patches.

This book suggests many ways to reuse and recycle including ways to use old wrapping paper, t-shirts, crayons, shower curtains, and flip flops in craft projects. It suggests where to share toys that have been out grown and participation in recycling efforts in the community.

Even if you do not turn an old shoe into a planter, the book should cause the reader to pause and reflect on our disposable, throw-away society.

The Great Depression is never far from my own thoughts as the economy continues to sink below the surface. These projects may come in very handy indeed in the not so distant future.

In fact, I think I will go wash and smooth some foil and maybe start a rubber band ball now.

Today's NonFiction Monday Roundup is at The Art of Irreverence.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

T-Shirt War

Monday, February 08, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Hairy Tarantulas

Dewey: 595.4

Hairy Tarantulas by Kathryn Camisa, Bearport, 2009

I am becoming such a fan of Bearport's nonfiction series books. This volume is part of the No Backbone!: the World of Invertebrates series. The format of the book is very well designed and well laid out for young readers. A nicely sized and very readable typeface is used through out. It has several elements, the table of contents, index, a list of additional resources, that are very useful for teaching information skills. The index terms are highlighted in boldface.

Full color photographs of very, very hairy tarantulas are clearly labeled with word balloons and spiderweb shaped text blocks. The information and facts are organized and easy to find.

This series group includes Crafty Garden Spriders, Deadly Black Widow, Jumping Spiders, Spooky Wolf Spiders, and Tricky Trapdoor Spiders.

I would highly recommend this series for Big 6 or Super 3 research projects and for kids who just love reading about spiders.

Nonfiction Monday Roundup is at Great Kid Books.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Peter and the Wolf

Peter and the Wolf: based upon the original work by Sergei Prokofiev of Peter and the Wolf, retold by Chris Raschka, Atheneum, 2008 (review copy provided by book retailer)

There is always music in Chris Raschaka's work.

Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf is often the first introduction children have to symphonic music. Raschka recreates the rhythms and melody lines of the music with his text.

Recall the iconic opening of the symphony that represents Peter. It goes like this: 'de dum dum de dum de dum de dum de dum de dum de dum de dumdum de dumdum de dumdumdum.' Rashka echoes this theme with his words as Peter introduces himself

Look at me
Run around and climb around and skip around
in this lovely, large, lovely
Field of green.

Listen to the music as you read this book. The menacing wolf theme is voiced as:
Gimme, gimme, gimme
Me, meat to eat

Raschka zigs and zags the words and characters across the page as the music moves the story along. Crescendos and rhythms are depicted with upper and lower case letters, as well as, different sized fonts. The reader can hear the oboe and the bird flutter of the flute.

Some scenes are framed in a proscenium theater "made of four squares of heavy paper, cut and painted in water color then glued together to make a three-dimensional illustration." The Caldecott medalist's signature style is a good match for Prokovfiev's music.

I wish this had come with a CD but the melodies are familiar and easily found if your children do not know them already. Without knowledge of the symphony, this book is not accessible as a straight forward retelling but if you know the music, this is splendid.

The Youngest Templar

Keeper of the Grail
, Book 1
Trail of Fate, Book 2 --- The Youngest Templar Trilogy Series: by Michael P. Spradlin, Putnam, 2008, 2009. Audiobook, narrated by Paul Boehm, Listening Library, 2008, 2009 (audiobook review copy source: public library audiobook download / paperback review copy source: publisher provided))

Nice performance by narrator, Paul Boehm, Spradlin keeps the story moving briskly with lots of action and character development. He ends each book with a "oh-no-don't-stop-now" cliffhanger.

Young Tristan, raised in a monastery, his parentage unknown, is taken on as a squire by Sir Thomas Leux of the Knights Templar. The company commander, Sir Hugh Monfort, seems to instantly dislike Tristan and singles him out for unwarranted punishment and ridicule. Tristan accompanies Sir Thomas to the Holy Land and during the Battle for Tyre, Sir Thomas charges Will with the care of a precious and mysterious object and orders him to deliver it to the Templar Chapel in Scotland.

Spradlin mixes history and legend as Tristan meets up with an archer from Sherwood Forest named Robard and Maryam, a female Al Hashshashin warrior who accompany him on his journey. Remind you of anyone?

These are great fun. I am most anxious to read book three.

The Youngest Templar website provides some history on the Knights Templar and the times.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Hunchback Assignments

The Hunchback Assignments #1 by Arthur Slade , read by Jayne Entwistle, Listening Library, 2009 (review copy source: public library audiobook download) // Hardcover edition: Wendy Lamb Books, Random House, 2009. (review copy source: publisher provided)

Arthur Slade brings new life to Victor Hugo's 1831 classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and resets the story in Victorian England. His twist on the story mixes Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into a steampunk adventure with human robots (or is it robotic humans?) and explosions and intrigue.

Initially, I wondered how much appeal this story would have with readers who are at an age when they probably feel like Quasimodo yet yearn to be Edward Cullen. Would they bond with a such an ugly and physically malformed main character?


Not only is Modo a kind and intelligent character but, as voiced by Jayne Entwistle, he is endearing and charming. His innocence about the world and his learning curve are similar to the eye opening time of life that starts in junior high school.

Mr. Socrates is a member of a mysterious society, the Permanent Association, whose mission is to safeguard the Empire, "Rule, Britannia" and all that. He rescues an abused and terrified hunchbacked child, Modo, from a traveling freak show and provides tutors who educate and train the boy. The child has a special power to physically change his appearance although it takes continuous concentration and physical effort to maintain a new visage for any length of time. Modo is isolated and protected from the outside world and even from his own appearance until he is fourteen years old.

When Modo is fourteen Mr. Socrates gives him a mirror and he sees himself for the first time in his life. Reeling from that shock, Socrates then turns him out onto the streets of London to test his survival skills, his intelligence and his special abilities. Surviving and even thriving, he is teamed with another teen, Octavia Milkweed, to infiltrate and defuse a plot to overthrow the British government.

Slade provides a wafting of romance as Modo yearns to be tall and handsome in order to gain Octavia's interest while she continuously wonders about the mask Modo wears--shades of Cyano's Roxanne and Hugo's Esmerelda.

I am looking forward to the next installment of Modo's story.
With the interest in the new Sherlock Holmes movie franchise, I think the timing for this series is excellent.

Author Visits

Now THIS is the way to welcome authors into your school for an author visit! School librarians in Humble, Texas, YOU ROCK!

Authors running the gauntlet that I recognize include: Phil Bildner, Susan Stevens Crummel, Matt Holm, and H.J. Ralles.

Phil Bildner arrives.

2010 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour


My thanks to Heidi Estrin at the Association of Jewish Libraries for this information on the Sydney Taylor Book Award winners blog tour.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award will be celebrating and showcasing its 2010 gold and silver medalists and special Notable Book for All Ages with a Blog Tour, February 1-5, 2010. A blog tour is like a virtual book tour. Instead of going to a library or bookstore to see an author speak, you go to a website on or after the advertised date to read an author's interview.

The full schedule for the Blog Tour is posted at the Association of Jewish Libraries blog, "People of the Books," at

Visit these blogs on or after the listed dates to read interviews with our authors and illustrators!


Monday, February 1, 2010 April Halprin Wayland, author of New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Practically Paradise

Monday, February 1, 2010 Stephane Jorisch, illustrator of New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Frume Sarah's World

Monday, February 1, 2010 Margarita Engle, author of Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category at bookstogether


Tuesday, February 2, 2010 Robin Friedman, author of The Importance of Wings Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category at Little Willow's Bildungsroman

Tuesday, February 2, 2010 Jacqueline Davies, author of Lost Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category at Biblio File

Tuesday, February 2, 2010 Jonah Winter, author of You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Get in the Game: Read! and cross-posted at


Wednesday, February 3, 2010 Elka Weber, author of The Yankee at the Seder Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at BewilderBlog

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 Adam Gustavson, illustrator of The Yankee at the Seder Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Great Kids Books

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 Judy Vida, daughter of the late Selma Kritzer Silverberg, author of Naomi's Song Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category at The Book Nosher


Thursday, February 4, 2010 Jacqueline Jules, author of Benjamin and the Silver Goblet Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at ASHarmony

Thursday, February 4, 2010 Natascia Ugliano, illustrator of Benjamin and the Silver Goblet Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at The Book of Life

Thursday, February 4, 2010 Deborah Bodin Cohen, author of Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Ima On and Off the Bima

Thursday, February 4, 2010 Jago, illustrator of Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category at Jewish Books for Children


Friday, February 5, 2010 Annika Thor, author of A Faraway Island Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category at Teen Reads

Friday, February 5, 2010 Ellen Frankel, author of The JPS Illustrated Bible for Children Sydney Taylor Notable Book for All Ages at Deo Writer