Monday, April 30, 2012

Goodbye National Poetry Month

Today is the last day of April, oh cruel month, and hence the last day of National Poetry Month. Around the blogosphere people have been celebrating by creating book spine poetry. My contribution is above. The six books are:

Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee
Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox
Trouble by Fay Weldon
Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
Instead of Three Wishes by Megan Whalen Turner
Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pinch and Dash Make Soup

Marcia Brown's Stone Soup, Sendak's Chicken Soup with Rice, Lobel's Mouse Soup, Mercer's Octopus Soup. What is it about soup that gets it featured in so many books for kids? My all-time favorite soup story is the "Tear Soup" chapter in Lobel's Owl at Home, which Owl makes by thinking sad thoughts and filling his bowl with his own salty tears.

And now there's another easy reader with soup on the menu--Pinch and Dash Make Soup. The two friends, animals of indeterminable woodland species, live next door to each other. Hungry but too lazy to cook or walk to the local Chat and Chew, Pinch drops by Dash's home hoping to snag a free meal. Pinch is in luck. Dash is at the stove preparing a lunch of "skinny soup" and invites his friend to join him. Unimpressed by the skimpy meal, Pinch travels back and forth fetching supplies from his own kitchen until the soup is "fat." Pinch, however, likes his soup spicy and wants to add black pepper and hot sauce to the bubbling brew. Dash does not. They squabble with results disastrous to the soup though luckily not to the friendship.  

Beginning readers will find a lot to like in this engaging new series. Pinch and Dash are yin-and-yang friends characteristic of so many classic readers, and the text and illustrations work together to underscore the humor. For instance, to get ingredients for the soup Pinch must walk "all the way home," which the art depicts as being next door in an attached house. My only criticism? The soup sounded so yummy I wish a recipe was included, and I'd add black pepper and hot sauce for sure!

Pinch and Dash Make Soup
by Michael J. Daley
illustrations by Thomas F. Yezerski
Charlesbridge 48 pages
Published: February 2012

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Class Trip

This past Friday I traveled to Edward Heston Elementary School in West Philly to participate in National Library Week. WePAC (West Philadelphia Alliance for Children) is a fine organization dedicated to restoring libraries in public schools that have gone without for too long due to budget cuts and other nasty things. Volunteers restock the library shelves and donate their time to ensure that children will have access to a library. WePAC asked a bunch of children's authors and illustrators to share their books with the children in their program during National Library Week and I was happy to oblige.

I read to a class of second graders, and I could barely get a word in edgewise. These kids were so thrilled to be meeting an author that their hands were rarely down. I could have spent the entire session answering their questions. I showed them a selection of my books and then read one of my nonfiction books. I selected Emerald Boas: Rain Forest Undercover because I was pretty sure most kids are interested in snakes and because, frankly, of the wonderful photographs of the snake squeezing its prey and swallowing it whole. As I suspected, the class ate it up. Most of their follow-up questions I handled with ease except for one little boy's. He urgently wanted to know exactly how baby snakes were made. "That's a whole other book, my friend," I told him.

Afterwards the kids were so enamored with the books I brought, I donated them to the library. They solemnly came up and told me which ones they planned to check out. Because the library has so few books, they can check out only one per week. For many of these kids this is their only access to books. If anyone would like to donate to the WePAC program, I urge you to do so. Here's a link to their website with information about how to donate.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

National Library Week

April 8th through the 14th is National Library Week, a time to celebrate libraries and all they do. As a book lover and author, I'm naturally a big fan. This past month I moved to Phoenixville, and a hop, skip, and jump away from my news digs is a grand old-fashioned public library, built in 1901 with funds from Andrew Carnegie. I've already borrowed dozens of books for the new project I'm working on, as well as an Amy Bloom short story collection. And I haven't even hit the dvd section yet.

Phoenixville Library
To do my bit for National Library Week, I'm taking part in a very worthwhile program. The West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC) invited me and other children's book authors and illustrators to go to elementary schools in West Philly and read to groups of children. I've snagged a second-grade class, and I'm excited to visit with them this Friday and share some of my books. I'll tell you how it went next week.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


It's been awhile since I last posted. My excuse, to paraphrase William T. Sherman, is: "Moving is hell." I've read that it's one of life's top stressors and since in the past decade I've moved on average every two years, you can imagine that about now I'm a basket case.

The young protagonist from Norton Juster's latest picture book is similarly stressed. He didn't want to move to a new house and a new neighborhood, leaving behind familiar places and faces, not to mention all his friends. On moving day we find him bereft until his mother nudges his mopey self and insists he take a walk in his new neighborhood. He strolls down the deserted block filled with seemingly identical suburban boxes and then suddenly, inexplicably, begins to shout the name Neville. His cries summon the neighborhood kids, all interested in the mysterious Neville. Before long, the block is filled with kids shouting for Neville. Evening arrives and, still no Neville in sight, the kids ask the boy if he'll be back the following day. He will, of course, and returns to his own home with lighter footsteps. It isn't until the final page that the Neville's identity is revealed, which, to a careful reader, will not be much of a surprise.

An excellent choice for children who have recently moved--or anyone interested in making friends, Neville is a delight. Juster's text strikes just the right tone and Karas's cartoonlike illustrations subtly reflect the boy's changing emotions. And if you spot a moving van unloading, don't be surprised if you hear shouts of "Neville" soon after. I may give it a try myself. "Neville!"  

by Norton Juster
illustrations by G. Brian Karas
Schwartz & Wade, 32 pages
Published: October 2011