Have you seen this book yet?

Why Sagging Bookshelves?

I have been creating an annual “best of the year” list for almost 20 years now. I’ve decided to enter the blogging world in order to talk about my favorite books in a more timely manner, address some issues that come up in the world of children’s books, and to share information about what is coming up in this world of books.

I am Joan Kindig and I am a professor at James Madison University where I teach Children’s Literature, Young Adult Literature, and a variety of Reading courses. I have served on the Newbery, the Caldecott, the Carnegie, and the Odyssey Awards. I am an incurable bookaholic.

The Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine

I pulled this book from my sagging shelves yesterday because I really liked both of Kristin Levine’s previous books. I often do that – find an author I like and read everything they’ve written. I particularly liked The Lions of Little Rock. Set in Arkansas, this story of segregation takes place about a year after the Little Rock Nine crisis when the ugliness of segregation rears its head again. Two girls become good friends until one leaves school abruptly. Marlee finds out that Liz left their school because she was found to be black, not the white girl she pretended to be. The friendship endures through an awful time of white vs. black violence and all the ensuing unrest. Will Marlee and Liz be able to be friends in this polarized society? It’s really a marvelous book.

9780399163289_p0_v1_s260x420The Paper Cowboy is a multi-layered novel. It’s the story of a bully named Tommy whose occasional bullying initially seems to be more like pranks. It’s also the story of his mother’s mental instability following the birth of her 4th child.  It’s the story of rumor and innuendo as well.

This book is set in the McCarthy era when people became suspicious of one another being associated with Communism. Just as McCarthy ruined the careers of many people who he accused of being communists (without proof), Downers Grove is torn apart when a copy of The Daily Worker is found in town.

On the surface, life in Downers Grove in the 1950s seems as calm and staid as any other small town. Tommy’s family, however, is struggling. In the months following the birth of her 4th baby Mom is becoming more and more out of control. Wild mood swings, violent behavior, and depression turn her into someone he doesn’t know. His eldest sister, Mary Lou, protects him until she has an accident that puts her in the hospital for months. The pressure on Tommy is enormous and his behavior goes from mild bullying to out and out meanness. Relationships change in town when The Daily Worker surfaces bringing the reality of the McCarthy witch hunts front and center. Tommy is smack in the middle of it all. This is a beautifully written story of a bully whose behavior spirals out of control as his life in small town, post-war America  unravels before him.

This is a novel well worth reading. Kids from 10-13 is the targeted audience.


Rex Wrecks It! by Ben Clanton

Rex is a bull in a china shop. Well, he’s actually just a high energy, active little dinosaur but he breaks things just as much.  His friends Gizmo, Sprinkles, and Wild are getting pretty tired of building things only to have Rex knock them all down. He’s not mean; he just seems programmed to knock things down. The three friends try to build a Rex-proof structure but somehow he manages to knock each and every one down.


Rex finally understands that he is wrecking all the fun for his friends when Gizmo suggests they build something WITH Rex. The arch they build is fantastic – even Rex likes it. They built together and it will fall together. All four knock it all down together and have a blast doing it. I particularly like the last word Rex says: “Again?!”

This makes a great read aloud if you read it with some feeling. It is reminiscent in that regard to Dinosaur vs. Bedtime where the dinosaur repeats again and again: rawr, rawr, rawr! One of the characters, Wild, looks almost too much like Leonardo the Terrible Monster. Despite there being some derivative things in the book, it is a book that pre-K through 2nd will love.

Llama Llama Trick or Treat by Anna Dewdney

This board is definitely a treat! Made for little hands who will have them outstretched for candy on Halloween, this rhyming, lilting story follows little Llama as he and his mother prepare for Halloween. The lead up to Halloween is almost as much fun as the holiday itself, isn’t it?


Llama has to decide on a costume, of course, and little ones will wonder what he will choose. They pick a pumpkin, they carve it, they get their candy ready to give to trick-or-treaters, and before you know it, it’s time to don the costume. This will delight preschoolers who know well that Halloween = candy. Now that’s a holiday I can get behind!!!!

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive

Does Deckawood Drive ring a bell to you? If it does it’s because that inimitable pig, Mercy Watson, who loves toast with a great deal of butter, lives on that very street. And Leroy Ninker is a character from Mercy Watson that DiCamillo has given his own book. The name alone is priceless. Someone at the National Book Festival asked her how she came up with these crazy names. She said she grew up in Florida where strange Southern names abounded. She said she went to school with a boy named General Payne (sp?) and his brother Sergeant Payne.As a consequence, odd names just come to her. :-)


Just as in the Mercy Watson books, the illustrations are done by Chris Van Dusen and they have that lovely slightly retro, slightly cartoony, warm feeling that we have come to know in Mercy Watson. Leroy Ninker works in the drive-in theater and watches night after night of cowboy movies. He wants to be a cowboy….he NEEDS to be a cowboy. But his friend points out that, sadly, he is lacking the one thing every cowboy needs: a horse. Determined to be a cowboy, Leroy Ninker answers an ad in the paper for a cheap horse and ends up with Maybelline, the quirkiest horse anyone could find. Leroy speaks to her in glowing compliments and feeds her homemade spaghetti. But Maybelline doesn’t like to be alone much and one night a thunder and lighting storm spooks her and she bolts. Read the book to find out what happens to Leroy Ninker and Maybelline.

There’s something great about DiCamillo’s writing. She has won the Newbery Medal twice: once for The Tale of Despereaux and recently for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. She also won a Newbery Honor for Because of Winn-Dixie. For me, it’s her unusual language and her care to place the perfect word in a given sentence. The writing is always innovative, features some glorious words for kids to learn, and to top it all off, the stories are rock solid. I have connected to so many of her characters. How does she think them up? A pig who lives with a human family whose favorite food is toast with a great deal of butter? And a squirrel who not only survives being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner but comes out with super powers to boot? Thank heaves for DiCamillo’s wondrous imagination! I truly can’t wait to see what else is up her sleeve.


National Book Festival Recap

The National Book Festival was a bit different this year since it moved from the Mall to a nearby convention center. Some liked it because it took weather out of the equation but, for me, the Book Festival was meant to be on the Mall. Sitting in the tents listening to fabulous authors and seeing the monuments around us made it magical. It also sent a clear message that this nation believes in books and reading. In the convention center, not so much! :-)

As always, there was a smorgasbord of authors to choose from on the program. I started out with Kate DiCamillo, the current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and she was terrific. Because of Winn-Dixie will always be a favorite of mine. Rather than doing a canned speech she interacted with the audience – especially children – and the audience ate it up. She is a hoot in person and she calls it as she sees it. I thought she was terrific.


Next was one of my favorite picture book author/illustrators, Peter Brown. He won a Caldecott Honor for Creepy Carrots, if you recall. I love his The Curious Garden and Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. He has a new book out called My Teacher is a Monster which focuses on one boy’s perception of his teacher. But he does fly paper airplanes in class so maybe his perception is a bit off? :-) Peter did a great presentation and he had the full attention of the children there.


A treat was to follow with the always inspiring Bryan Collier. If you haven’t read his first book, Uptown,  in a while you need to go back and revisit it. It really is a masterful picture book. I love hearing him read it aloud. He also read aloud Knock Knock, his book with Daniel Beaty which deals with the loss a son feels when his father exits his life. It’s incredible and Bryan’s art brings it to a whole other level.


Jack Gantos was back again and again he had everyone laughing in the aisles. Jack won the Newbery for Dead End in Norvelt and, if you’ve read that, you’ll know that he knows humor. He has just published the final Joey Pigza book called The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza. I love the Joey Pigza books (“Can I get back to you on that?” is one of the great quotes from book #1) and am really looking forward to reading this last installment. He also has done the audio versions of his books and they are fantastic. Treat yourself!


One of our best writers for children, middle grades, and young adults is Jacqueline Woodson. She has won the Coretta Scott King, the Newbery, and just about every other award she has been eligible for. She is a treasure in the world of children’s books. I absolutely love her work. This year she has published a memoir, written in verse, that is outstanding. It follows her life from Ohio to North Caroline, and finally Brooklyn, New York and all the nuances of the times she grew up in. It’s wonderful. She read aloud some of the poems and it was such a treat to hear the poems in her own voice.


Lastly I went to see Susan Stockdale whose latest book, Stripes of All Types, captivates young children. I love her books. Her illustrations are so bold and the language describing these stripes in nature is lyrical. I was so captivated by her talk (author visit anyone?) that I forgot to take a photo. I emailed Susan and got this one that a friend of hers took. Take a look at her books – they will be ideal for classrooms Pre-K to 2nd (at least).

UnknownAll in all a great day. Be looking for an announcement here when the Book Festival rolls around again. It is free and it is fantastic. Oh, and I should mention that books are sold and the authors are available for signing. What a great day out for families and what a great souvenir to remember the day – a signed book!

Talking Books at Target

I really was just trying to get some milk from the dairy case….really. I happened to overhear two lovely women talking about their middle school children and how they might choose appropriate books for them to read. I couldn’t resist and (probably rudely) inserted myself into their conversation. They are right. How do you, as a parent, select appropriate books for your child? Their kids had already read books like Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda  series and were looking for something a bit more challenging. But these women didn’t want them reading beyond their own life experience. They sounded like very sensible parents.

I told them about this blog and I hope they take a look. (Hi!) Here are some resources that might help:

Capitol Choices – click here for the description of this excellent book list and the group that produces it. It’s a WONDERFUL resource.


I published a book called Choosing to Read: Connecting Middle Schoolers with Books (Heinemann, 2012) that features lists of books that appeal to middle school kids.


The American Library Association has a web presence at that offers full lists of books for reluctant teen readers, the Newbery winners, Caldecott winners, Printz winners (for YA), and numerous others. It’s a great way to look at what has received recognition over the years. Don’t just look at the titles, though; notice authors whose names tend to come up again and again. It’s likely their work is strong enough to merit multiple mentions.

I also mentioned my Best Bets for the Classroom lists and adding them to this blog has been on my list of things to do. I will make that a priority.

That’s all for now. I may add to this and create a new category when time permits. :-)

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton

On a recent rip to London where wandering through bookstores is a daily routine, I happened upon the new Chris Haughton. I just love his books! Like his other books, he uses color in such a different way. The cover of the new book, Shh! We Have a Plan  drew my attention immediately. My suitcase was full to bursting and I thought, “I can’t get it home. Rats!” I figured it would come out in the US before long and, lo and behold, it arrived last week. It is so terrific and easily as good as his others.



The art is dichromatic, for the most part, as you can see in the image above. The first hint that the little guy is the protagonist is subtly shown in his eyes looking away. In the story, he is always doing something different from his buddies. The guys have a plan for capturing a bird. Our little guy just wants to say hi to the birdie but the big guys execute their wacky plan anyway. Except that it fails miserably leaving the reader to laugh at how silly their attempt was. They try again, again it fails. Even the youngest readers realize that maybe their plans are not as well thought out, or well-intentioned, as they could be. After three failed attempts, our little guy offers the bird some bread and before you know it, he is surrounded by birds of all colors and sizes. Of course, he has no interest in capturing the bird, he just wants to enjoy his time with them. The big guys see this but do they get it? Maybe not because soon thereafter they spot a squirrel. Uh-oh!

It should also be mentioned that the language is wonderful in the book. When the big guys are climbing up to get at the bird the repetition is lovely: “tiptoe slowly, tiptoe slowly, now stop. Shh!” The repetition allows kids to pick up sight words and chuckle as this hapless trio’s determination wreaks havoc again and again.

There’s a wonderful quote on the CIP page that really encapsulates the theme of this book:

“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.” – Albert Einstein

Haughton’s other books include Oh, No, George…

9780763655464_p0_v1_s260x420and Little Owl Lost…


9780763650223_p0_v1_s600All three would make a great addition to any elementary classroom or library. Can you tell I am a huge fan!!!

Halloween anyone?

Now is the time to start thinking about Halloween books so you can have them ready to go when late October rolls around. I am so excited to to spotlight Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s latest addition to her Dog and Bear series. I love Seeger’s inventiveness, playfulness, and all around cleverness (is that even a word?) in each and every one of her books. Dog and Bear was inspired by her own little dog and an old stuffed bear she has.


The series started with Dog and Bear: Two Friends, Three Stories (2007) which was followed by Dog and Bear: Two’s Company in 2008. These books are so charming and so accessible for beginning readers. Her third book in the series, Dog and Bear: Three to Get Ready (2009),  only whets your appetite for more. Young children love stories about friendship and it is friendship that is at the heart of this book. Actually, as I write this I realize that “heart” is at the core of this entire series. The latest is Dog and Bear: Tricks and Treats and it’s terrific. There are three stories just as in all the other titles in the series. The first is called “The Other Bear” and we see Bear getting a little overwrought when he sees another bear EXACTLY like himself in the costume shop fitting room. Who COULD that be! “Ding Dong” tells the story of a very excited Dog who can’t wait for the trick-or-treaters. When they say “Trick or Treat?” Dog exclaims, “Treats!” But who exactly is getting the treats? In “No Treats for You” a ghost answers the door to Dog and Bear but won’t give them any treats because they’re not wearing costumes. As in all of the “chapters,” it is the pictures that tell so much of the story. The ghost is surprised when Dog and Bear insist they ARE wearing costumes. This book will be a treat for every trick-or-treater!

The National Book Festival


This coming Saturday, August 30th, the 14th annual National Book Festival will be held in Washington, D.C. It boasts an incredible array of authors for children and adults across a variety of genres. If they don’t have something for you, I’d be surprised.

There is one difference this year – they are moving the festival from the National Mall to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The nearest Metro stop is the Mount Vernon Square station.

If you click on this link it will bring you to the Festival’s home page which contains a list of the authors that will be there. If that fails, Google National Book Festival and follow the link they provide. Sometimes these links can be a bit cranky. 

Some of the highlights for me are Peter Brown, Bryan Collier, Jacqueline Woodson, Raul Colon, Kate DiCamillo (the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and author of Flora & Ulysses, the 2014 Newbery Award winner!), Jules Feiffer, Jack Gantos, Molly Idle (Caldecott Honor medalist, 2014, for Flora and the Flamingo), Cynthia Kadohata, Brian Biggs, Rep. John Lewis, Dav Pilkey, Jeff Smith, Raina Telgemeier, Anne Ursu, Susan Stockdale, Judith Viorst, Rita Williams-Garcia, Gene Luen Yang, and I am sure I am leaving quite a few out.

It is a day meant for book lovers of all kinds and it’s free!!! The amount of authors is an embarrassment of riches. Plan on coming; you won’t regret it. The hours are from 10am-10pm with the doors opening at 9am. See you there!

I’m Back! (but sadly, so is Sarah Palin)


The_Giver_15I apologize for not posting these last few times but I have been traveling in Eastern Europe. Of course, I couldn’t post that because that’s like putting out a welcome mat for burglars, isn’t it? If you are careful readers, however, you will see I posted once from abroad when I was in Belgrade, Serbia and saw a ton of US children’s books in their bookstores. Still, I didn’t actually say I was away from home, did I? I’m back now so look for my twice weekly posts starting now.

I was just reading The Guardian (a British newspaper I really like) and there was an article about Sarah Palin who apparently fancies herself a movie critic now. This blog is not meant to be one about politics so this is not a blast at her politics. It’s a blast at a person who knows nothing about children’s literature using an extraordinary book, The Giver, to make a ridiculous political statement. Here’s a link to the article:

The good news is she liked the movie but the bad news is she “repositions the dystopian tale as an anti-Obama polemic.” I’m betting that never occurred to Lois Lowry – especially since the book came out in 1993 – 21 years ago!

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