Friday, August 31, 2012

Hold onto Your Shorts!

He's back. To all Captain Underpants fans (which my 8-year-old nephew numbers among), fear no more. The ninth novel in the series is here. I read the first book, and while I can certainly see its appeal, the potty humor proved a bit too much for yours truly. That said, I can't deny the power it exerts on young readers, especially boys. Dav Pilkey speaks their language. To read an interview with the Pasha of Poop, click here.

In the article, Pilkey mentions that it was always a dream of his to inspire kids so that "they'd staple some pages together, grab some pencils, and make their own comics." He's certainly done that, and my nephew is proof. He's informed me that since first grade he's written a total of thirteen comic books and he's halfway through his first novel. Pretty impressive for someone who goes to school ten months of the year.

A couple of weeks ago, he and my niece visited and I took them to a used bookstore that recently opened up in my town. The store has an extensive collection of books for kids and the owner is a joy, both knowledgable and helpful. My nephew questioned her extensively on her Dav Pilkey books, but he already owned or had read all she had. As he looked around for other books, I found one on how to write superhero comics. (He's a huge Marvel fan.) Unfortunately, it was aimed at teenagers. I showed it to him anyway and remarked that one day he might like to own it. At this, he drew himself up and in a withering voice said, "I already am a writer." Then he reminded me of his output, the thirteen comic books and novel-in-progress. Chastened, I returned the book to the shelf.

Later, I thought how right he was. While I don't deny the benefits of how-to books and classes (I teach a writing course), having belief in your abilities and just getting on and doing it are all you really need. I write, therefore I'm a writer. Thank you, Jack!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books I've Read for my Blog

The folks at The Broke and the Bookish selected a retrospective list for this week's top ten--your favorite books since you began your blog. I started mine almost two years ago, so I had to do a lot of soul searching before I came up with my final list. Click on each title for my original review.

1. Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows

Why? Great friendships are a staple in early chapter books. This series introduces two girls with big size personalities that perfectly mesh.

2. Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

Why? Two very different friends put a new spin on dynamic twosomes for beginning readers.

3. Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker

Why? My favorite in the series about Clementine, an irrepressible third-grader, who learns she will once again be a big sister.

4. Balloons over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

Why? Readers get a front view seat to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and how it began in this award-winning nonfiction picture book.

5. Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

Why? Atinuke is a natural storyteller. Anna, a young African girl, is an engaging character who lives with her extended family in an unnamed African village.

6. The No. 1 Car Spotter by Atinuke

Why? An eyeopener into the world of a young African boy and his extended family.

7. Toys Come Home by Emily Jenkins

Why? This hard-to-classify story stayed with me long after I read it.

8. Bad Kitty Meets the Baby by Nick Bruel

Why? One word--Hysterical. Bad Kitty rules.

9. Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch

Why? A picture book about death like no other. Wow.

10. Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones

Why? Diana Wynn Jones' last book proves why this author excelled in writing fantasy.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Year of the Book

Fourth grade is tough. Especially when your best friend deserts you to hang out with a budding fashionista. Anna Wang also has problems on the home front--her mother's less than perfect English and her part-time job cleaning apartments cause Anna's cheeks to flame. On weekends, there's Chinese school, where Anna isn't exactly shining. Her way of coping with all the stress is to bury her head in a book, a familiar strategy for many bibliophiles.

As the school year progresses, Anna gains insight into her own and other people's problems. She makes a new friendship with a girl from Chinese school, who has a learning disability, and reconnects with Laura, her best friend. Laura's parents are separating and Anna experiences the turmoil firsthand during a sleepover when Laura's father barges into the Wang household, demanding to see his daughter.

Throughout the year Anna reads and reads and reads. Many books teach her empathy, as good books do. Twain's The Prince and the Pauper causes her to wonder what if would be like to switch places with Laura and have to deal with one's parents splitting up. Kimberly Willis Holt's My Louisiana Sky helps her understand how much she loves her mother just as she is. For Halloween, a favorite picture book, Leo Lionni's Little Blue and Little Yellow, is the inspiration for her costume.

Author Andrea Cheng is careful to show how Anna also uses reading as a shield. She reads walking home from school and in social situations, such as during recess when she takes out her book rather than play tetherball or soccer. As the months pass, Anna occasionally chooses not to read but rather to play with a friend. And even the most confirmed book lover will cheer for her.

The Year of the Book
by Andrea Cheng
illustrations by Abigail Halpin
Houghton Mifflin, 160 pages
Published: May 2012

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny--Detectives Extraordinaire!

When we moved to Phoenixville a few months ago, we found our premises already occupied. Rabbits live in our backyard and, because ours is a residential area, we found them to be somewhat blase about our presence. They usually don't run away; they just stop nibbling grass and dandelions and stay put, whiskers twitching. Now that I've read Mr. and Mrs. Bunny--Detectives Extraordinaire, I doubt I'll ever be able to view rabbits as bland, innocuous creatures again. Who knew that's just their cover, that underneath rabbits are as varied and nuanced as we are!

Polly Horvath (or rather Mrs. Bunny) has written a fantastical novel in which a pair of fedora-sporting bunnies help a young girl find her missing parents. Madeline, the girl in need of assistance, lives in a commune on an island with her hippy dippy  parents. Horvath makes it clear from the start that Madeline is the responsible one in the trio. When her parents are kidnapped by a band of treacherous foxes, it's up to Madeline to rescue them. She does this with the help of Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, who have just recently decided to try their hand--er, paw--at detecting. (Madeline, it seems, has the knack of understanding the Rabbit language, as well as Marmot and Fox.)  

Their quest to get to the bottom of the mystery takes many twists and turns, as Madeline forges a relationship with the nurturing lagomorphs. Mr. and Mrs. Bunny are hysterical (and perhaps uncomfortably recognizable to some adult readers) as a long-married couple prone to bickering. I confess that in places the story became a tad too whimsical for my taste and I have no idea why Madeline wanted her clueless, childish parents back. However, these are small quibbles. Overall, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny--Detectives Extraordinaire is an amusing tour d'force that practically begs to be read aloud.

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny--Detectives Extraordinaire
by Polly Horvath
Schwartz & Wade, 256 pages
Published: February 2012

Friday, August 3, 2012

KidLitCon Here I Come!

KidLitCon is in NYC this year, September 28 and 29. If you're a blogger who posts about children's books, come and join the fun. The conference will be held at the Public Library's main branch at 42nd Street. Saturday's events are free--that's right--free, so you can't beat the price.

Elizabeth Bird gives you all the details and a link to the registration form at A Fuse #8 Production.

Hope to see you in September!