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Archive for the month “May, 2014”

Book Expo America!

BEA_logo_starburstBook Expo America (BEA) is an annual book trade show that encompasses every genre, every format, and every author (well, so it seems!). It’s fairly inexpensive to get in but the real costs come in the housing in New York City. Nevertheless, there are some amazing authors there and the publishers give away free books and you have the opportunity to get them signed by the authors and illustrators. As always, I make note of who is going to be signing and when and then I set off to see who I can see. Some authors I am interested in seeing (literally, like Scott McGillivray from HGTV) but only from afar. Others I want to see but there are so many authors and so many autographing lines that you just don’t get to everyone. You leave exhausted and laden down with books but happy as a clam. It really is hog heaven for book lovers. There are some authors I just have to see like Jarrett Krosoczka and Jon Scieszka who I’ll go see any time. ūüôā

This year I am particularly interested in picking up the new Jack Gantos which happens to be another book in the Joey Pigza series called The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza. You gotta love that title.

9780374300838_p0_v1_s600 Another is Eugene Yelchin who won the Newbery Honor for¬†Breaking Stalin’s Nose. I just read his new book which I thought was fantastic called Arcady’s¬†Goal.¬†It is set in Russia and the story revolves around an orphan (the State killed his parents) who plays soccer and sees it as a way out of the situation he is in. Really, really good. There are no images available yet online so I am putting his Newbery Honor winner there to remind us of how good his work is.


Jacqueline Woodson is coming out with a memoir called¬†Brown Girl Dreaming – I believe it comes out in August. She’ll be there signing and that’s a must have. I just read it this weekend and it is incredible. It’s told in verse and let me tell you, this verse is exquisite. The memoir follows her from birth to young adulthood and the scope is perfect. You certainly don’t want the book to end but, as I said, the scope imperfect. It’s funny – some things resonated with me and I chuckled as I read them. One was a refrain her mother and grandmother used with her and her siblings when they were warning them to behave. “You know better than that!” If I heard that once, I heard it a thousand times growing up. So our lives had some parallels in some ways but they were so different in many other ways. Growing up black in the South in the 1960s was a world all its own. I am grateful to Jackie for giving us an insight into a world I can only imagine.


Raina Telgemeir has a new graphic novel coming called¬†Sisters and it’s as good as her two previous¬†Smile and¬†Drama. As with those, this comes from her own life and does a great job of showing the ins and outs of having a sister. I really enjoyed it. It comes out in August.


Two authors I love have teamed up on a book together: Lane Smith and Bob Shea. Both have serious funny bones so I can’t wait to see what they have come up with. The picture book is called¬†Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toad. Shea wrote and Smith illustrated. I have yet to see it so I am eager to track the two of them down at BEA. Here’s a bit of art from the book. Way cool!


I will post from the show but, for now, it’s Happy Trails!


A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

I loved this book! If you’re looking for a good YA novel (this one is historical fiction) you need to look no further. Set in London in the Edwardian era (1909), this book centers around the class system in England at that time. Victoria Darling has just come of age (all of 17 years) and is keen to become the artist she was meant to be. Off she goes to France to study art but when she poses nude her uptight family brings her home straightaway and demands that she give up this nonsense. Unwilling to give up her dreams, Vickie surreptitiously slips out of the house to pursue her craft. It’s there she comes face to face with women struggling for the vote and this coddled protagonist begins to realize the strict parameters of her life. Everything depends upon the men in her life who control everything she does. She meets and falls in love with Will, a policeman and therefore lower class, but decides that she has to accept an arranged marriage instead because this man has assured her that she can attend the Royal College of Art if she gets in. Without telling anyone, Vickie applies and gets in which is saying something given she is a woman.¬†¬†So what happens? Will she follow her heart or be somewhat heartless and marry for money? You’ll have to read to find out but you’ll enjoy every minute of the reading, I promise you.


This book is brilliantly done in audio, by the way. You just can’t stop listening even though you have to get out of the car! The story is great and the narrator is superb. Check this book and/or audio out and enjoy the read!

Holocaust Literature for Children

I spent Thursday afternoon viewing the new exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. It’s strange, I had a wonderfully productive day there learning more about the Holocaust but you can’t say you had a great time, can you? What you see is so horrific, the depths humans sunk to in treating their fellow human beings so low, and the senseless loss of life…. you don’t “enjoy” it. But you learn, you know, you bear witness. The new exhibit is “Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration & Complicity in the Holocaust” which focuses on the plight of the Jews at the hands of their friends and neighbors who turned them in to the Nazis for a variety of reasons: fear, greed, personal gain. It really was astonishing. As always, though, the Holocaust Museum creates these exhibits with such control and taste that you can bear seeing it. And see it you must.


I went to the gift shop to see what kinds of things such a place would sell. I visited Auschwitz in Poland a few years ago and was surprised to see a gift shop there. “Gift shop” was a misnomer – it was a book shop and they had an incredible array¬†of books written by scholars, survivors, and historians. It was amazing. In the¬†Holocaust Museum in D.C. they had loads of books as well. As always I end¬†up in the children’s and young adult section and I was particularly interested in seeing what they carried. They had books like¬†Snow Treasure (McSwigan), Number the Stars¬†(Lowry), Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust (Bunting), The Number on My Grandfather’s Arm (Adler)¬†and many, many more. A novel I had yet to read was¬†The Last Train: A Holocaust Story by Rona Arato (Owlkids, 2013) so I picked up a copy while I was there. I also saw a brand new graphic novel called¬†Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust which I had just read the previous evening.

The next morning I sat outside and read¬†The Last Train which was wonderful. It is told by the wife of a Holocaust survivor, Paul, ¬†who was arrested in Hungary at age 5 with his mother and older brother and sent to a work camp where they helped raise food on a farm. Their father had already been arrested and taken away and they had no idea where he was or if he was alive. The story tells of their time in the camp and although it was awful, it was not as bad as some of the more notorious camps like Auschwitz. When the crops were in the family was sent to Bergen-Belsen where they stayed until the war was ending. The Nazis, as we know, transported prisoners in empty boxcars with no light, water, toilets, or food for day after day. When the cars were opened many were dead and all were traumatized. Imagine being 5 years-old and experiencing that. When the Nazis knew their defeat was imminent they loaded up as many Jews as they could and took them away from the camps in these death trains. There were stories of death marches and of trains taking them to death chambers. In Paul’s case, they were loaded on the last train from Bergen Belsen¬†and spent four¬†late winter days traveling through Germany before the Nazis abandoned them. It was there that the US Army found them and freed them. The story is remarkable especially because the whole family survived the Holocaust – even their father. This whole story was told because a teacher in Upstate New York did a project with his students about the Holocaust and, while doing so, posted a picture of one of the trains. Paul’s son saw it online and sent it to his mother to show his him. Paul recognized the train as the very one he had traveled on. He decided to be in touch with this teacher which led to a reunion of Paul and other survivors of the train as well as the two Army soldiers he remembered from their rescue. I have read a lot of Holocaust literature for children but I had never read one about the death trains. It was very compelling and, in the end, pretty inspirational. This book is for children ages 9-13 although School Library Journal suggest grades 7 and up. I thought 9-13 was appropriate.


When I finished¬†The Last Train I returned to¬†Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust¬†(Dauvillier, Lizano & Salsedo, First Second, 2014) for another look.¬†On my first read I was a little confused as to place and time but upon a second reading I realized it’s because I am not as adept at reading graphic novels as kids are. I read it carefully this time and came away with a deep respect for the book. This is the story of an old woman who lives with her son’s family. Her granddaughter finds her crying softly one night and Dounia, the grandmother, tells her the cause of her sadness – the story of her family’s escape from the Nazis. Actually, it was a nice contrast after seeing the “Some Were Neighbors” exhibit at the museum. In this case, Dounia’s family was helped by incredibly brave people in the resistance who put their lives on the line to help the Jews because they knew it was the right thing to do. The book is set in Paris in 1942 when the Nazis took control of France. The same pattern that the Nazis used in Germany was used again here. Jews were ostracized, made¬†to wear the Star of David on their clothes, were turned away from school, and their shops were closed. Dounia’s father is arrested and taken away first and before long her mother is as well. But her mother placed Dounia in a cupboard with a secret cubbyhole as the Gestapo came bursting in. Their downstair’s neighbor looked for Dounia after the Gestapo¬†left, found the child, and took her to live with her and her husband. That family ultimately decides to flee Paris because hiding a Jewish child in Paris was very hard to do. The girl and her new “mother” manage to get away safely but the husband has disappeared. Dounia loses her mother and father and now has to adjust to her new situation living on a farm in the countryside. Dounia is eventually reunited with her mother but her father is lost forever. If you look carefully at the art (which you really are supposed to do with graphic novels!) you can see that the palette is darker as Dounia reminisces with her granddaughter about that dark time and the lighter palette takes place during WWII. The story is terrific and the art is wonderful. This is a great addition to the corpus of Holocaust literature for children. Some reviewers say grades 3-6, others say ages 9-13. I thin it can fit into a elementary as well as a middle school.


I will finish up by telling you about a book that came out in 2000 called¬†Forging Freedom that remains one of my favorites. It was written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott and based on the true story of a Dutch resistance fighter named Jaap Penraat. When the Nazis occupied Amsterdam, Jaap was a young man and he couldn’t understand the rampant anti-semitism he was seeing. Rather than stand by and let Jews go to their deaths he decided to make use of his father’s printing press and created false documents to spirit Jews out of the country. Jaap ended up saving the lives of over 400 people. Can you imagine? Hudson lives in upstate New York near¬†Jaap Penraat. Jaap never told anyone about what he did during the war because he felt it was no big deal – he did what anyone else would have done. Hudson was listening to NPR one day when he heard his neighbor, Jaap, being interviewed because he had¬†just been added to the wall of “The Righteous Among Nations” at the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem. Hudson couldn’t believe his ears! This unassuming gentleman he knew was a freedom fighter! ¬†Naturally, this led to their collaboration and the creation of¬†Forging Freedom.¬†

I had the great pleasure of spending time with Hudson and Jaap when I brought them to the Virginia State Reading Association to present. They made their presentation¬†and people were stunned by their talk. Here we were meeting someone who did the right thing at the risk of his own life and saved over 400 lives! It was remarkable. ¬†It really was an honor I’ll never forget. I told Jaap that I used to read¬†The Lily Cupboard by Shulamith Levy Oppenheim to my 4th and 5th graders which deals with a Dutch family hiding a young Jewish girl. I told him that I told the kids that I hoped I would do the right thing if I were ever put to that test but you never know until you find yourself in that situation. He said simply and surely, “You would do the right thing.” He said that not because he knew that I would but that he assumed everyone would do the right thing. His moral code demanded he work to save those lives and he assumed we all had that same code. I hope he was right. Check out the book – it’s a story that needed to be told and I am so grateful Hudson brought that story to life. Jaap Penraat is gone now but his story lives on.



Finally, I would like to direct you to an annotated bibliography on books for children that relate to the Holocaust. I used to keep a bibliography going but the task was formidable and ever-changing. I no longer need to do it because the Holocaust Museum has this one which is more comprehensive than mine ever was. Click on the link below for a fabulous list so that you can choose books knowledgeably for the children in your classes.

Bryan Collier and the Genius of His Illustrations

I had the opportunity to hear Bryan Collier speak yesterday in D.C. I’ve heard Bryan talk before but it is always a pleasure to hear him again. He talked about the influences that brought him to art and to children’s book illustrating in particular. His grandmother was a big part of his life and because she lived next door, he saw her often. He remembers her canning watermelon rind preserves and sewing quilts. Many years later when he realized that art would be his life’s work, he remembered the quilts and how his grandmother painstakingly collaged the pieces together. What he hadn’t noticed so much as a child became an integral part of his artist vision: collage. With the artful blend of watercolor and collage, Bryan’s distinctive and powerful artwork quickly became noticed.


Bryan has been prolific, to be sure, and¬†the beauty of his art shines in every single book he does. His latest book, written by Daniel Beaty, is called¬†Knock, Knock: My Father’s Dream For Me is a haunting story of an African-American boy and the absence of his father in his young life. How does a boy become a man and then a father himself when he has no one to lead the way for him? It’s a stunning book.¬†Knock Knock received the Coretta Scott King Award (CSK) for Illustration this year and it’s easy to see why.


Bryan Collier is no stranger to the CSK awards. He has won an amazing seven awards.  They are:

  • Uptown¬†by Bryan Collier
  • Freedom River¬†by Doreen Rappaport (Honor)
  • Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.¬†by Doreen Rappaport¬†(Honor)
  • Visiting Langston¬†by¬†Willie Perdomo¬†(Honor)
  • Rosa¬†by¬†Nikki Giovanni
  • Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave¬†by Laban Carrick Hill
  • 2014,¬†Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me, written by Daniel Beaty

In addition, he has won three Caldecott Honor awards. They are:

  • Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.¬†by Doreen Rappaport
  • Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
  • Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave¬†by Laban Carrick Hill

It occurred to me as I was listening to Bryan speak, he really is a non-fiction illustrator, isn’t he? We talk about non-fiction authors all the time but Bryan has illustrated so many non-fiction books that we could describe him as a non-fiction illustrator. The onus on the illustrator is to present the topic or the person in an honest way and in such a way that makes you see them in a different and new light.

If I had to choose my favorites of his they would be the three books that won both¬†¬†the Caldecott Honors and CSK Awards. It’s difficult to choose but those three stand out to me as books that will be around forever. The stories are wonderful and the text is so complementary that these titles stand out as excellent.



image for the book Dave the Potter

“Dave the Potter” He didn’t even have a last name.

I expect most of you are familiar with¬†Martin’s Big Words and¬†Rosa but if you haven’t read¬†Dave the Potter you absolutely must. Dave was a slave who worked for years creating gorgeous ceramic pots. He never was freed and his pots became his song to the world. Check out this brilliant review from the New York Times:

With a little research online and a keen interest to see some of Dave’s pots (which now cost a fortune and are in museums all over the world) I found these two images. Aren’t they gorgeous?


mu_4_17I am so happy that Laban Carrick Hill wrote Dave’s story down for children(and adults!) and that Bryan Collier chose to illustrate it. What a treasure!

Check out Bryan Collier’s web site to learn more about his work:

The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine De Saint-Exupery by Peter Sis

Peter Sis is a phenomenal storyteller whose brilliance in illustration is even stronger. Forget that he won the McArthur¬†Fellowship (also known as the McArthur Genius award) and won the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration. The Hans Christian Andersen award¬†is for an author or illustrator who has made a lasting contribution to children’s literature and it is the highest international children’s book award. He has won numerous Caldecott Honors including one for¬†The Wall: Growing¬†Up Behind the Iron Curtain when I was serving on the Caldecott committee (2008).

The latest book is marvelous in its detail, its scope, and the magnificent art throughout. I think this may be his best work yet. It really is a book to lose oneself in. How do you even begin to tell the story of the creator of the Little Prince? What we find is that De Saint-Exupery was obsessed about everything to do with planes. As a child he hung out at an airfield in his home near Lyon, France. When he was old enough he began working for a company that delivered mail – air mail! He was a reconnaissance pilot at the start of¬†WWII but left France when it looked like all hope was lost in France. He moved to New York and it was there that he wrote the book he is most famous for –¬†The Little Prince.

Each page is meticulously drawn with the running text at the bottom of each page. Readers can choose to read only those bits and they would get a solid story. But what delights they would miss if they did! Each of the pages has a number of smaller drawings that make up the whole and each of these contains interesting facts about the author. This is a book to pore over, put down, and then do it all again and again. 9780374380694_p0_v1_s600

I can’t recommend this book any more highly. It is a perfect picture book with the exquisite¬†balance of text and illustration.¬†The Pilot and the Little Prince¬†comes out on May 27th. Take a look – you won’t be able to put it down. It may just lure you into reading¬†The Little Prince once again.


The Julian Chapter – A Sequel to Wonder

I just heard that an e-book is being published this Tuesday, May 13th by Random House and it is a sequel to Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Wonder was a huge hit and deservedly so. My students (who are preservice teachers) love it when I assign it. Wonder has found a place in the classroom already and it will continue to grow. How can you not like a book that encourages kindness and empathy?

41TwFAcaOXL._AA160_In some of the press I have seen heralding this sequel Julian is referred to as the most hated character in Wonder and I think they just might be right. Although a close second, for me, is his horrible mother. That old adage about apples not falling far from trees is dead right in this case.

I have already pre-ordered the e-book from Amazon and on the 13th it will magically appear on my Kindle app. How cool is that!? And the cost is only $1.99. I say go for it. Look for my take on it soon!

The Business Card Worked!

I see you’ve used your smart phone to look up my blog! Excellent!

Welcome to Sagging Bookshelves, a blog about children’s books and reading. Explore the site and come back often.


Follow up to the Non-fiction Panel at Politics & Prose

On Sunday evening this past weekend Politics & Prose hosted their second annual picture book panel – this time the focus was on non-fiction. It was amazing and well worth the 2+ hours I drove each way. First of all, P&P is the best indie bookstore with the feel of a REAL bookstore.


The panel was moderated by Leonard Marcus who knows so much about children’s books and who has published numerous books on the subject. His questions were insightful and allowed the authors and illustrators to hone in on the specifics of their craft. They talked about how their books changed as they researched further and found the facts leading them in a different direction than they were initially headed.


Brian Floca, in talking about his recent Caldecott book, Locomotive, talked about how he intended to follow one railroad crew throughout the book. Then he learned that the crews changed somewhat regularly so that shot that idea out of the water. He then told us that he drove across the US following the railroad and that it was that trip that inspired the book so much. He took pictures but he also sat down and sketched. He said that the act of sketching forces you to notice the details and it was those sketches that informed the book.



Susan Roth talked about her amazing collage illustrations and how she often does work from pictures – at least when that’s the only thing available.


R. Gregory Christie seemed pleased when an attendee talked about how his illustrations in the Coretta Scott King award-winning Bad News for Outlaws really made the story come alive. The art is in black and white and the subject of the book is a real life African-American lawman in the wild west. Doing the art in black and white was so powerful!


Duncan Tonatiuh spoke about his new civil rights book, Separate is Never Equal, which tells the story of the Mendez family in Los Angeles (before Brown vs. The Board of Education) who took their school district to court to allow their Mexican-American children to attend school alongside white children. Thankfully, they won! He talked about the influence of Mexican folk art in his work (which is stunning, by the way) and the importance of books for Latino children.


Jen Bryant talked about how certain topics just draw her in. For example, in A Splash of Red, she researched the life of artist Horace Pippin and just knew she had to tell his story. It really is a remarkably moving story – I am so glad she took it on.


Finally, Richard Jackson, editor extraordinaire, talked about non-fiction in children’s books and some of the author/illustrators he has worked with. In particular, Brian Floca and Chris Raschka. It was an amazing panel and the panelists happily signed books for anyone who wanted them. I was first in line! ūüôā I encourage you to look at the non-fiction offerings in any children’s section and you will be amazed at the content and the deign of the books. How could children not enjoy it? Believe me, it’s not the non-fiction I grew up with. Thanks heavens!

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond

The main character in this audio (and book!), Violet, is so well drawn, so smart, and so likable that you are pulled into her story immediately.
Violet never met her father because he died in a car accident months before she was born. She knows little about him and has never met any of his relations. What she does know is he was African-American and she knows that her own skin reflects that heritage. Violet lives in a small town where she sticks out as the only biracial child. She wishes she looked more like her Mom or her older sister just so she’d fit in. Now 11 years-old, Violet begins to ask about her Dad and why it is her grandmother on that side has never reached out to her. Her questions lead to her meeting her grandmother and ultimately realizing she doesn’t stick out – she’s Violet Diamond. This audio was wonderful. The narrator did a great job with the varied voices and every bit of it sounded real. This book and/or audio is terrific for biracial children who feel like they don’t belong anywhere when, in fact, they belong everywhere. This is a great story for children ages 8-12 and such a good example of a child looking for who she is when it was in front of her all the time. I loved it!


The Importance of Board Books

imagejpeg_0-3Here’s my granddaughter, Adelaide, at nearly 23 months sitting surrounded by her books. From the time Adelaide was born all of us around her read to her and as soon as she was able, she began looking at books¬†herself. She loves Elmo so you’ll notice some Sesame Street books around her. Notice too some board books that other toddlers her age love. There are a couple of Karen Katz books (I love her art) and even the ever wonderful ¬†Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Not every book on the floor is a classic – it’s about pulling her into the world of literacy and I think you can say she’s a fan!

IMG_0437I would love to be able to go inside her head here to see what she is making of this book. She’s clearly looking at the caterpillar. The primarily black and white palette pulls her eye in. I wonder what she thinks about that caterpillar? Wouldn’t you love to know? ¬†Adelaide is five months old in this photo and likes books so much that she can sit and look at them for short periods of time. Hey, she’s only five months old! ūüôā Adelaide does have some cloth books but overwhelmingly her collection is board books. Board books are such a great introduction to the world of books. They are built for those little hands that grasp them so fiercely and they aren’t ruined when a puddle of drool lands on them. Little ones are hard on all of their toys and books. They throw them, step on them, and teethe on them. Thank heavens that¬†board books are durable and built to last!


At six months Adelaide loves looking at photographs of dogs and kitties and especially likes books that have texture to them. She uses all of her senses to learn about the world and this board book fits the bill. Notice her little finger feeling the dog’s fur on the page. Now she can associate doggies with soft fur. Bit by bit she’ll develop the concept of what a dog is.

IMG_0553At eight months and already mobile, Adelaide knows to go to her big bin that is chock full of books that she loves. She is now pointing to pictures as we read to her and she is in charge of turning the pages. How lucky she is to have so many books to choose from! There is no such thing as too many books, is there? ūüôā Adelaide does like picture books as well. Favorites include¬†Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes and any Duck and Goose. In general, though, her favorites are board books. There are always a few in the car to occupy her when traveling.

Board books didn’t always have the range of titles that they do now. Publishers did the classics, of course,¬†Good Night, Moon and others, but as the demand for these sturdy little bits of literature took off, the titles began coming and coming. Walk into a brick and mortar Barnes & Noble and head to the children’s section. You will be knocked out by the sheer numbers of available board books for little ones. I have to admit I am surprised by some of the titles – some I don’t think are really made for the little readers. Go for the ones that rhyme whenever you can. Children love the lilt of the words and having an ear tuned to rhyme helps children move into reading more readily when the time comes.

I love all the board books by Leslie Patricelli, Karen Katz, Denise Fleming and absolutely any titles from Lois Ehlert. Sandra Boynton is a huge favorite with the toddler crowd. I have ¬†always liked them but until Adelaide came along I wasn’t aware of how popular they are with toddlers. I hardly have to mention Dr. Seuss, right? He’s the king of rhyme. How about¬†Is Your Mama a Llama?,¬†Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site,¬†Jamberry, Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?,¬†and¬†Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle? All great choices.


My very favorite book in board book format as well as in picture book format is¬†Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet & Allen Ahlberg. It follows many of the nursery rhyme characters in an “I Spy” book and the language is wonderful. I will try to put together a list of my very favorites soon and post it to the site. In the meantime, read to the little one in your life as often as you can.

*Special thanks to Adelaide’s mom, Sarah, who sends me these wonderful pictures and for reading to her every day.

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