Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Here Comes the Judge!

The cat is out of the bag! The judges in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category for the 2011 Cybils were announced today, and I'm on the first round panel. Yeah! I'm honored to have been chosen and more than a little excited. I'm looking forward to reading and rereading the nominated books (nominations start October 1st so be sure to weigh in with your favorites) and chewing over their merits with my fellow judges.

On a personal note, I'm leaving today for a week-long honeymoon in Florence, Italy. Don't know how much blogging I'll get in (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), but I'll be back bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to roll up my sleeves and tackle those Cybils nominations.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Books I Want to (and Do) Reread

Sometimes I have a hard time coming up with ten books to complete The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten lists. Not this week's! This one was a snap. In fact, I could have kept on going. I love rereading old favorites (especially mysteries) and sometimes I have to stop myself and remember to crack open the pages of some new books.

1. Every Day Is Mother's Day by Hilary Mantel
I'm not sure why I like this novel so much, but I do, and feel the need to reread it every couple of years. The characters are strange and act unfathomably most of the time. Just like life, I guess.

2. Dover mystery series by Joyce Porter
The belligerent and oafish Chief Inspector Wilfred Dover is one of the most comic characters of all time. I laugh out loud whenever I reread any of the ten novels in the series.

3. Tree of Hands by Ruth Rendell
A wonderful and touching suspense novel about a grieving mother who suddenly finds herself caring for a child kidnapped by her mother. My favorite Rendell novel and that's saying something.

4. Clara: The Early Years by Margo Kaufman
As a pug lover, I've read a lot of books about the breed. No one can top Kaufman, though. She is such a witty writer, and in this memoir of sorts she describes how she fell under the spell of Clara, a pug diva. Kaufman captures the breed to perfection.

5. Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
A group of elderly friends are troubled by prank telephone calls that inform them: "Remember you must die." Spark is dead on in her insightful novel about old age. Masterpiece Theater serialized this back in the 80s, I think, and it was gripping. I'd love to rewatch someday.

6. Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
I used to reread this hilarious novel all the time. Then I lent my copy and never got it back. It's time to remedy that.

7. Ladder of Years of Anne Tyler
Feeling unappreciated and unnoticed, a middle-age woman walks out on her husband and children one day. Now that must be every woman's secret fantasy!

8. Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
A quiet novel about cousins who find an abandoned colony of summer houses and secretly take possession of one of them. Loved it when I read it as a child and I still do. 

9. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
Everyone should be required to reread this classic. It breaks my heart every time.

10. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White
A refresher course on how to write well, this short guide always inspires me to write succinctly.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pomelo Begins to Grow

Pomelo, a pink erasure of an elephant with an extremely long and expressive trunk, is surprised to find a familiar dandelion looking small. Wonder of wonders, he's getting bigger! His growth spurt brings with it a lot of questions. To wit...

* Is he too big for his world?
* What if he doesn't grow equally all over?
* Does everyone grow at the same speed?
* Will he have to stop clowning around?
* Does growing up mean growing old?

Pomelo ponders these and other questions as he wanders through the pages of this unusual picture book. Without a traditional storyline, certain readers may chafe at Pomelo's philosophical musings, but many more will no doubt discover that his worries and concerns match their own. The whimsical, dream-like illustrations alternate between Pomelo wandering in a garden setting overflowing with produce, insects, snails and other friendly creatures and surreal images of his thoughts, such as a cutaway that shows an assembly plant inside him. By the end, Pomelo realizes that growing brings with it the joy of new experiences as well as responsibilities. And he's okay with that.

The book originally was published in France and was translated. The copyeditor in me did notice a typo in: "There's no question, he want's to know more." ("want's" should be "wants"). But hopefully that will be corrected in the next edition.

Pomelo Begins to Grow
by Ramona Badescu
illustrations by Benjamin Chaud
Enchanted Lion Books, 48 pages
Published: August 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Twenty Years Ago Today . . .

Theodor Geisel died. Pay tribute to him by rereading your favorite Dr. Seuss book. Mine? The Sneetches.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Quote of the Week

"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."

~ Francis Bacon

"To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting."

~ Edmund Burke

Thursday, September 22, 2011

International Peace Day

Yesterday, September 21st, was International Peace Day, and the elementary school down the block from where I live commemorated the occasion by installing the giant dove you see above. (To me, it looks like a goose, but I'm pretty sure it's meant to be a dove.)

Now it's September 22nd, but that shouldn't mean striving for peace is put on a shelf until next year. Here are some books to share with young readers to keep the flame alive.

Children learn how to say the word peace in different languages.

Can You Say Peace?
by Karen Katz
Henry Holt, 32 pages
Published: 2006

Remember the classic ballad, "Let There Be Peace on Earth"? Caldecott winner David Diaz illustrates the lyrics as only he can. Audio CD of 12 peace-centric songs included.

Let There Be Peace on Earth
and Let It Begin with Me
by Jill Jackson and Sy Miller
illustrations by David Diaz
Tricycle Press, 32 pages
Published; 2009

What does the word peace really mean? Children from around the world share their own unique answers.

What Does Peace Feel Like
by Vladimir Radunsky
Atheneum Books, 24 pages
Published: 2004

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Top Ten Books I Feel As Though Everyone Has Read But Moi

Our friends over at The Broke and the Bookish want to know what classic/popular books you haven't read but everyone else has. Here's my list.

1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
Okay, I did read the first one but wasn't inspired to read the others.

2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Never got around to The Lord of the Rings either.

3. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.
Just celebrated its 50th year anniversary.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
50th anniversary was last year.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.
And I'm a mystery fan.

6. The Giver by Lois Lowry.
Love her other novels, yet never got around to reading her most popular one.

7. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
Read Her Fearful Symmetry and didn't care for it.

8. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.
I've heard again and again how great this trilogy is. One day.

9. Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman.
Lately I've been reading--and enjoying-- a lot of graphic novels so I really should read the one that started the trend.

10. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.
Although I've read a few of his lesser-known novels, I haven't read the big ones, including Great Expectations, Bleak House, etc. I enjoy Dickens, so I should read more of him, but his novels are soooo long.

Hocus Pocus

Just as Jerry had to constantly outwit Tom in those old MGM cartoons, so does Hocus Pocus, a magician's rabbit, use all his smarts to keep two steps ahead of Dog in this mostly wordless picture book. The exceptions--Crash, Swat, Flump, Crunch, Splash, Grrr, Splat--give you an idea of how action packed the story is, as Hocus Pocus tries to snag a carrot from the snoozing magician's grocery bag while Dog does everything in his powers to prevent the theft. The upshot in these classic David-and-Goliath battles always comes out in favor of the little guy. Hocus Pocus does not break new ground, but the two animals' antics as they try to best each other will keep beginning readers amused. The cheerful digital illustrations are easy to "read" and with their many panels the book will give little ones the sense of perusing a much older graphic novel.

Hocus Pocus
by Sylvie Desrosiers
illustrations by Remy Simard
Kids Can Press, 48 pages
Published: 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Book with a Hole

Herve Tullet, the genius behind Press Here, has another engaging, interactive book out. The Book with a Hole will provide children with hours of fun. I know because I had a ball just pouring over its pages. Each spread opens to a giant hole splat in the middle surrounded by a black and white illustration. A question or direction invites the viewer to complete the hole in some way. For instance, a spread showing a portrait of a weird-looking three-eye creature with the hole for its mouth asks: "What are you going to feed it?" Other spreads encourage kids to place their own face over a hole to become a king or queen or a photo in a frame. Another instructs them to crumple a piece of paper and play a game of basketball through a hoop. There's also a board game where kids get to make up the rules and a curvy track to race around without crashing. Kids can use their fingers to give a man strange-looking teeth and their arm to give an elephant its trunk. Hand kids this book and step out of the way. Their imaginations will take over and go "hole" hog. Highly recommended.

Here's my attempt to answer the question: "What's going to jump out?" Many thanks to my model and loyal pug, Pablo, for being such a good sport!

The Book with a Hole
by Herve Tullet
Abrams, 96 pages
Published: 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Happy Birthday Tomie dePaola!

Tomorrow, September 15th, is the 77th birthday of Tomie dePaola. This giant in the field of children's literature got his start way back in 1965 when the first children's book he illustrated, Sound, was published. He then went on to write/illustrate more than 200 books, including the Caldecott Honor book Strega Nona (1975) and the Newbery Honor book 26 Fairmount Avenue (1999). In honor of the doubly lucky number 77, here are seven facts you might or might not know about Tomie:

1. At age four, he wanted to be an artist, a writer, and a tap dancer. He's been all three.

2. After graduating from Pratt, a NYC art school, he went to a priory in Vermont to become a Benedictine monk before discovering the lifestyle wasn't for him.

3. His favorite food is popcorn, about which he wrote a book, aptly titled Popcorn.

4. His favorite of all his books is Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs.

5. His grandmother was the model for the grandmother in Watch Out for Chicken Feet in Your Soup.

6. A dog lover, his current pooch is an Airedale named Bronte.

7. And remember Barney, the purple dinosaur and star of Barney & Friends on PBS? Well, Tomie appeared in several episodes of the show, playing himself.

To find out more, visit Tomie's blog.

And check out this great tribute in honor of dePaola's 75th birthday. Three Kisses for Tomie features artwork by children's book illustrators commemorating him. My favorite? Erin Eitter Kono's "Arrangement in Grey and Black."

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Few Blocks

My next door neighbor's little girl was on her way to her first day of school today, and she was so proud, sashaying off with a new pink backpack on her shoulders. She didn't seem to have any trepidation about what was in store, but not every child is so lucky. Take Ferdie, the young protagonist of A Few Blocks by Cybele Young. He doesn't want to go to school. Not now. Maybe never.

Big sister Viola doesn't badger Ferdie. She just holds out his jacket and tells him it's his superfast cape. "Quick--put on your rocket-blaster boots and we'll take off!" Their imaginations propel the children for a block until Ferdie's rockets run out of fuel. Each time Viola comes to the rescue, coming up with another exciting adventure that gets them going. They travel by rocket-fueled footwear, by ship, and on horseback. Then, surprisingly, it's Viola who conks out and it's up to Ferdie to keep them going that one last block.

As the children switch back and forth from their magical adventures to the mundane, so do the illustrations. The everyday world is shown in shades of black and white, while their fantasy world is fashioned from vivid intricate 3-D paper sculptures that the artist created. Not surprisingly, Young is an artist who specializes in paper sculture. She has illustrated picture books in the past, most notably Ten Birds, a counting book. In A Few Blocks she refreshingly shows the special bond that exists between siblings.

A Few Blocks
by Cybele Young
Groundwood Books, 32 pages
Published: August 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wedded Bliss

Well, it's been quite the week! Not only did The Cath in the Hat reach its first blogiversity on September 6th, but its writer, yours truly, tied the knot this past Sunday. An avid pug lover, our wedding invitations featured two brachycephalic-challenged canines dressed as bride and groom. There's no shortage of animals standing in for humans in children's literature, so I wondered what sort of creatures took vows in picture books. Here's what I discovered.

Two alligators celebrate their reptilian nuptials in a swamp in Nancy Jewell's Alligator Wedding, with illustrations by J. Rutland (2010). The betrothed and their guests chow down on Creole crab cakes and gator gumbo stew (which sounds a bite cannibalistic). Then they dance to the Big Beast Boogie, the Reptile Romp, and the Gumbo Gator Gallop before the newlyweds take off on their honeymoon barge to disastrous results.

Luckily we didn't have this problem at our do--stinky guests! But Curlytail and Porker have invited porcine friends who smell a bit ripe. Their solution? To hose everyone down and then dress them up by painting on their wedding finery. After a splendid ceremony and reception, a sudden downpour leads to more creative solutions. Written and illustrated by the wonderful Helme Heine (1991).

Angelina is in mouse heaven. She has been asked to be a bridesmaid at the royal wedding of Princess Eliza to Crown Prince Ratofsky. After much preparation, she sets off to the palace. Minutes before the ceremony, Angelina and a fellow bridesmaid accidentally become lost in a remote tower in the palace gardens. Readers of this long-time series, written by Katharine Holabird and illustrated by Helen Craig, will be on pins and needles, wondering if the mice make it to the wedding on time.

Eve Bunting's The Wedding is a sweet tale about a Brindle Cow who good-naturely agrees to carry an assortment of frazzled animals to a wedding they are all late for. A pig is the organist, a turtle, the florist, and a duck the pastor. More and more creatures pile on the bovine's broad back, and the cow accepts them all. When the group reach the church doors, there's a wonderful surprise in store. Illustrations by Iza Trapani (2003).

I couldn't resist adding The Rabbits' Wedding by Garth Williams. Published in 1958, the picture book caused quite a stir back in the day. What controversy could there be about two dear creatures who wish to be together "forever and always"? The answer lies in Williams' lovely illustrations showing a black rabbit groom and a white rabbit bride. That's right, folks, segregation reared its ugly head and the uproar even caused the book to be removed from library shelves in Alabama.

Of all the books mentioned today, this one best expressed my feelings about two people, alligators, pigs, mice, rabbits, what-have-yous, pledging their love.

"What are you always thinking about?"
asked the little white rabbit.
"I'm just thinking about my wish," replied the little black rabbit.
"What is your wish?" asked the little white rabbit.
"I just wish that I could be with you forever and always,"
replied the little black rabbit.
The little white rabbit opened her eyes very wide
and thought very hard.
"Why don't you wish a little harder?"
asked the little white rabbit.

This weekend our wish was granted.