Monday, September 28, 2009

Thought you'd never miss me 'til I got a Fat City address

Or, actually, a TypePad one.

Pink Me on Blogger is no more. Say hello to Pink Me on Typepad! That's if you need to cut and paste it into something. Update your aggregators! Fix your links! Buy me some new business cards!

With all my heartfelt admiration and respect,
your neighborhood librarian

Feeling Sad by Sarah Verroken - review

Feeling Sad by Sarah Verroken
Add this to your arsenal of 'feelings' books. Do it right away.

Duck is sad, and it's a gloomy day. Why? Doesn't really matter. It happens, right? Nothing to be alarmed about or belabor - best to just find a way past it and see if we can brighten things up a bit. Which is exactly what Duck does, inspired by a friendly frog who suggests merely, "Cheer up. Look ahead!"

Duck looks around and finds one small bright spot. Then she takes action, calling to the clouds to help her find the sun. This is good stuff. This is the kid participating in and taking control of her mood. This is also not demonizing sadness. By the way, this is also not about grief, which is a different sadness, and is addressed in other books.

I want to draw special attention to the art. Big and textured, starting out scratchy and dark and then, as Duck's mood lightens, getting brighter and more colorful. I want to say these are monoprints, but there is certainly some digital alteration in there, and maybe a little collage. Sarah Verroken's blog showcases more of her work. Looking forward to seeing more from her.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Banned Books Week FTW!

There are few holidays I enjoy celebrating more than Banned Books Week. To me, banning a book is just such a brilliant way of acknowleging its power and encouraging young people to read it.

People challenge books in school and public libraries all the time, everywhere., in addition to their list of Banned Book Week events, now has a map of book challenges in the United States. Here's what they say about it:

There are hundreds of challenges to books in schools and libraries in the United States every year. According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were at least 513 in 2008. But the total is far larger. 70 to 80 percent are never reported.

I took a look through the ALA's list of challenged and banned books for 2008-09 and I was happy to see books that I've reviewed on this blog, and more importantly, books that I've bought for the two school library collections that I manage.

Here is just a sample of the books that people have felt most threatened by in the past year. If I've reviewed it, the link is on the title. Get threatened! Read these books!

Alexie, Sherman. Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.

Brannen, Sarah. Uncle Bobby's Wedding

Colfer, Eoin. Supernaturalist. This book had me on the edge of my seat, though I never reviewed it here. Dystopic YA fiction oh yeah!

Green, John. Looking for Alaska. Nobody writes realistic teen stories, with all their real drama and real humor, like John Green. Apparently somebody objected to all the real.

Kaysen, Susanna. Girl, Interrupted. Oh sure, it's harsh. It's graphic. But for any girl going through mental torment, it is a warm port in the storm.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. ...but remember, it's a sin to ban a classic.

de Haan, Linda and Stern Njiland. King and King.

Harris, Robie. It's Perfectly Normal. It's perfectly predictable for a book with the word "sex" in the subtitle to get some people's panties in a twist. Reading the word isn't going to give your kids chlamydia, you know.

Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass

Parnell, Peter. And Tango makes three. Gay! Gay penguins! Indoctrinating our children with their cuddly gayness! AAAGH!

Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels. One of the very few books about modern war for teens, and people complain about the language.

Salinger, J.D. Catcher in the Rye. Yup, people are still objecting to the depiction of nosepicking in this book.

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Every year. Every year somebody gets worked up about it. As if our children would never learn the n-word if it weren't for that rascal Huck.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Trouble Gum by Matthew Cordell - review

Trouble Gum by Matthew Cordell
Here is a book. A book with gum. A book with two brothers. A book with two brothers stuck inside on a rainy day who aren't usually allowed gum because - oh my god gum! Gum on the furniture! In the carpet! Gum in the hair! Swallowed gum! Gum on the wee little faces! NO GUM!

My colleague La Mirabile (also the mother of boys) is sitting next to me cackling over this book. Seriously, she's laughing so hard I'm worried she's going to swallow her own gum.

Matthew Cordell illustrated one of my favorite picture books about brothers, Righty & Lefty. Maybe he has sons. Maybe he has brothers. But he sure as heck knows how funny it is when a little boy jumps off the couch and into a pile of cushions and momentarily stuns himself.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child, photography by Polly Borland, set creation by Emily L. Jenkins - review

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child, photography by Polly Borland, set creation by Emily L. Jenkins
Goldilocks is a doll. A beautifully made wool felt doll with a head full of honey curls and a sultry, sultry gaze. The bears are dolls. Fuzzy, immaculately-dressed, bears with birdlike eyes.


Wait, maybe I am too quick to judge. The sets are very cute and dollhousey. The dedications page is interesting and beautiful. But somewhere, the ageless ghost of Dare Wright is working herself up into a delusional jealous frenzy. And dolls - they just freak me right out.

Monday, September 21, 2009

One K-5 school library, coming up! The 000's

Checking out the picture books

Late this summer an entire library of books was delivered to a new school in Baltimore. I should know - I picked all 2,254 of them. It was what you might call a labor of love. Emphasis on the "labor". Actually, emphasis on the love.

As we shelved what amounted to thirty thousand dollars worth of brand-new beautiful books, one of our parent volunteers said, "I bet you've read half the books in this room!" I did a quick scan of a few shelves and admitted that actually, I have read probably upwards of 75% of them. Most of the fiction, all of the picture books, and one heck of a lot of the nonfiction. Wow. I am either really really sad or really really dedicated.

You may hire me to create or maintain your school library collection, and I will certainly not object, but I thought it might be nice to share some of the lists I created. I'll do a series of about a dozen posts, at least the nonfiction, starting with the 000's. This will be my own version of School Library Journal's Series Made Simple issue (which is a great resource, by the way).

The 000's are kind of a weird little miscellany area of a school library. Every school should have a set of the World Book, and please do buy an almanac every year, but if you have the bucks, try to get a few "strange but true" reference books in there. Some kids really respond to Ripley's Believe It Or Not and Guinness World Records. Books like these have a sneaky added benefit - the indexed entries introduce kids to a nonlinear method of approaching a book, important when they're doing real research later.

Gee, Joshua. Encyclopedia Horrifica: The Terrifying Truth About Vampires, Ghosts, Monsters, & More. A kind of weird book to start off with, but, as the kid says in Beetlejuice, "I myself am strange and unusual."

Teitelbaum, Michael. Bigfoot Caught on Film: And Other Monster Sightings!. The 24/7: Science Behind the Scenes series from Scholastic is... it's ok. Little niblets of info, good for hooking readers, but it's nice to have something with a little more depth to back these books up, in case your readers do get interested in the subject. I picked carefully through this series and selected just a few titles.

Prieto, Anita C. B Is For Bookworm: A Library Alphabet. These alphabet books from Sleeping Bear Press are a bit uneven. This one is pretty dry, but I wanted to fill out a small suite of library-themed books. If you're tempted by the ABC book for your state, or about a particular subject, be sure to get your hands on it and read it through first. Some of the words can be awfully obscure.

Ruurs, Margriet. My Librarian Is A Camel: How Books Are Brought To Children Around The World. How people live around the world is a particularly important theme in this school, and one that I personally find important. Kids find the juxtapositions fascinating, too. The pictures in this book are very nice.

Farndon, John. Visual Encyclopedia (DK). I keep buying and buying this book, and they keep loving and loving it until they love it to pieces. I'm not the world's be-all end-all fan of Dorling Kindersley - I don't think they fact-check hard enough - but this single-volume encyclopedia + elementary school kids = LOVE.

Aronson, Marc. For Boys Only: The Biggest, Baddest Book Ever. Frankly? I bought this on Jon Scieszka's recommendation. More graphically interesting and up-to-date looking than that other "dangerous" book, which I swear was written for parents.

Farndon, John. Do Not Open. Irresistable, full of fun facts about freaky stuff, several activities and suggestions for bringing the info in the book to life. Worth the few extra bucks. My 8 year old got a copy of this for his birthday and was enraptured. His little brother is learning to read just as fast and as hard as he can so he can have a turn with it.

Macdonald, Guy. Even More Children's Miscellany: Smart, Silly, and Strange Information That's Essential to Know. Same stuff, but for smaller kids.

McDonald, Megan. Stink-O-Pedia: Super Stink-y Stuff From A To ZZZZ. I like Stink Moody. I like him better than his sister, Judy. I buy Judy Moody, but I buy Stink too. He's funny, he's good-hearted, he's a 'second chapter book' for boys who think fantasy is pointless. Stink reads encyclopedias in his spare time, so I thought I'd offer his fans Stink's very own encyclopedia.

Murrie, Steve & Matthew. Every Minute On Earth: Fun Facts That Happen Every 60 Seconds. I never can seem to find enough books about time. Time is hard to explain. So when this book arrived at the public library, I snatched it. I stood and read it between customers at the information desk and I figured if I was fascinated enough to read it all the way through, surely somebody in that school would be too.

Mark, Jan. Museum Book: A Guide To Strange And Wonderful Collections. This is Baltimore, baby. We've got a light bulb museum and a teeth museum and we used to have a dime museum. We are to strange and wonderful as Paris is to lovely and inspiring.

Marcus, Leonard S. Side by Side: Five Favorite Picture-Book Teams Go to Work. Marvelous funny anecdotes, lots of illustrations showing all steps of the creative process, a very nice introduction to the concept of collaboration. Terrible cover though.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Very Silly Mayor by Tom Tomorrow - review

The Very Silly Mayor by Tom Tomorrow
You know what? This is not bad! Bright colors, readable artwork, cops in clown costumes... yeah, I'm giving this the thumbs-up.

The worry, of course, with a kid book written by uber-snarkmeister cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, is that Mr. Tomorrow is writing for the parents - that the very silly mayor is in fact a member of the Bush family and Sparky the Penguin is doing his usual emperor-has-no-clothes schtick, and kids will find it amusing but parents will nod smugly. "That George Bush," they'll smirk internally. "What a dorkus."

But that is not what Tom Tomorrow has done here. Sure, you could read the very silly mayor, with his pronouncements that firefighters should use peanut butter to put out fires instead of water, and that everyone should paint their houses purple and green, as George Bush. But you could read the very silly mayor as just about any authority figure that people follow without question. Your third-grade teacher, for example.

The book is, in the end, about dissent. It's about speaking up when you don't understand something, or when you have an opinion, or when you think that cops can't possibly catch robbers when they're wearing clown shoes. Plus - silly!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

You are the first kid on Mars by Patrick O'Brien - review and interview

You are the first kid on Mars by Patrick O'Brien

2009 is the fortieth anniversary of the first manned mission to land on the moon. Did you know that? Yeah maybe the astounding array of commemorative books tipped you off. We've had books by everyone from Buzz Aldrin to Norman Mailer hit the shelves this year. Many, if not most, of these books have been inspiring and beautiful. Many, if not most, have made me cry.

But while I am fully aware of the importance of the Apollo 11 mission as a concrete example of the highest heights that can be achieved - by man and by mankind - I have wondered just how engaging this story is for young people. My own children are mystified and a little alarmed when I get all choked up reading them Brian Floca's atmospheric and detailed Moonshot or try to explain to them the unique perspective represented by former astronaut Alan Bean's paintings in Mission Control, This is Apollo.

That's why I think Patrick O'Brien's work of "speculative non-fiction" is so important this year. For my kids, and for their friend Alex, who is the model for the kid in the book (disclosure: Pat's family and mine have been friends since our 3rd-grade boys were barely walking, much less traveling the solar system), space travel is not something that happened on a tiny black-and-white TV set in the kitchen forty years ago. Space travel is not even the - let me take a deep breath and try to use an adjective that is not pejorative - somewhat tepid space shuttle program.

Space travel is "huge ships shaped like pine cones with lots of little sonar devices and everyone wears goggles that can switch from night vision to underwater vision to sunglasses!" (I asked.) They think the future will involve "a permanent space colony on the Moon as big as Texas!" "Or maybe at one of the Lagrange points!"

But ok, that's my kids. Not every kid knows that the gravitationally stable Lagrange points are good spots for a space station. But I will argue that my kids are representative of many kids when they think that space travel is part of their future. And Patrick has done our kids a service by writing and illustrating, with his usual blend of meticulous research and stunning art, a reasonably plausible conception of travel to Mars. His journey includes a space elevator up to a geosynchronous orbit point, a nuclear thermal ship that gradually accelerates to 75,000 miles per hour as it covers the 35,000 miles to Mars, and a Mars lander that bombs through the Mars atmosphere before parachutes drop it gently to the dusty red plain.

The friendly, explanatory second-person narration contrasts nicely with the giant grin on the face of the kid as he bounds across the Martian surface. Makes it feel like the book is being narrated by a teacher chaperoning a really good field trip, trying to keep from letting on that she is just as excited as the kids are.

Anyone familiar with O'Brien's previous books (on topics like sailing ships, extinct mammals, knights, and, er, dinosaurs in space) will know that the man researches like a maniac. Marianne Dyson, herself an author of numerous kids' books on space, picked apart every fact presented in You Are the First Kid On Mars when she reviewed the book, but revised her opinion when the author emailed her, addressing her objections and supporting his every phrase. It is really nice to know that the book stands up to that kind of scrutiny.

The artwork in this book was done on a computer, a departure for O'Brien, who, in addition to illustrating his own books, paints large oils of ships under sail. His mastery of the software and techniques involved is impressive - many of the illustrations look like they could be photos, which is important for those kids who want things to be above all else "real".

We had the delightful O'Brien family over for dinner this weekend, and after my husband's excellent fish tacos, I had the chance to ask Pat some questions about the book.

Your Neighborhood Librarian: What was your inspiration for writing You Are the First Kid on Mars?

Patrick O'Brien: My editor, Tim Travaglini, was really into the whole space idea. It was his idea to do a speculative book about going to Mars. My books usually come from my ideas, but this one came from him.

YNL: Was there anything different about writing about future science vs. your usual subjects?

PO: All of my other books are about historic and prehistoric nonfiction subjects. It is fiction, because it hasn't actually happened, but I was treating it as a nonfiction book. The reason that it’s in the second person is I read some books like that as a kid. You will go to the Moon is the one that I remember most clearly. And they had it all wrong, it’s really funny to see all that. Presumably, my stuff will be all wrong.

YNL: What was your research process? Do you regularly read science periodicals like Wired or Scientific American? Or was this a new area for you?

PO: I’ve always been a science guy, I was a biology major in college, but my son is really into space. We watch a lot of space stuff on TV. When Alex was really young, he liked real space more than the fictional movies. We'd watch NOVA together, and his toys were Apollo models, not Star Wars toys. I read a lot about space with him, and on my own.

I used the most up to date, most accurate information that I could find about what it would take to get to Mars. I went through the NASA website, books on space travel.

YNL: Is this your first work created digitally?

PO: This is the first book I illustrated on the computer.

YNL: You're such a good painter though - why did you decide to do it using techniques that are new to you?

PO: Well, for fun, as a change. It was different, and I just thought it was appropriate to the subject matter. The thing about using the computer to do the art, a lot of people who don’t do it think you just push the spaceship button and you get a spaceship. You push the astronaut button, and you get an astronaut, and then you make it do what you want. But you still have to draw it, you still have to paint it. It’s just one more medium. When they invented watercolors, it didn’t put the oil painters out of business.

But there are advantages. You can make infinite changes - with watercolors, pretty much once it's down, it's there. You can make a certain amount of changes with oils, but with the computer, you can keep adjusting it until it's just what you want. I used Corel Painter X and a tablet, so it’s a lot like painting. It wasn't hard to learn.

YNL: Did you find it hard to stop making changes? Was it tempting to keep touching it, trying out variations?

PO: No. A little. I know what I’m going for, I have a picture in my mind, and when I've made that, it’s done.

There you go, folks. I made it, it's done. You will go to the Moon was, not surprisingly, on my shelf as a kid too.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Creature ABC by Andrew Zuckerman - review

Creature ABC by Andrew Zuckerman

Andrew Zuckerman has made an entire little industry out of the images from his big fat Christmas-present book Creature. There are notecards and floor puzzles and a calendar, and now there's an ABC book.

I kind of can't fault the guy for it, either. When I swung open the cover of Creature abc, I gasped. His pictures of animals great and small - details, portraits, and full-length shots - are lit so brightly I worry for their fur, and shot (and printed) at such a high resolution as to appear three-dimensional. I just looked through the portraits (of humans) on his web site, and I didn't actually want to be that close to Nick Nolte.

The big bold black sans-serif text is easy to read. The little fact boxes about each animal that appear at the end are easy to digest. And there is just nothing funner than turning each thick page with a three year old. "What is that animal? It's a LION, you're right! Is that lion gonna eat you? NO! You eat that lion up first!"

Definitely my new favorite present for two- and three-year-olds.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney - review

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Jerry Pinkney is a god. I think that's my whole review. No, wait, I have to mention that this book is wordless (except for beautifully lettered onomatopoeia incorporated into the paintings).

In a year when Jerry Pinkney also illustrated The Moon Over Star, I think he is his own stiffest competition for a Caldecott.