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Archive for the month “September, 2014”

The Joy of Children’s Literature Conference at The College of William and Mary

On Friday, October 10th, William & Mary is hosting their JCL Conference. It’s a one-day event and it is terrific. I am particularly excited this year because the two featured authors are ones I think highly of.

Barbara O’Connor is a wonderful author who has given children a number of good reads over the years. I just checked online to refresh my memory on her titles and was amazed at how many I read and enjoyed. Here are just a few of them.

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Check them out online. They are really perfect middle grade novels. My two favorites are How to Steal a Dog and The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester.  I really can’t wait to hear Ms. O’Connor talk about how these ideas came to her and how they came to fruition. It should be great. Here’s a link to her website:

Also on the bill is Candace Fleming. I adore her work. The amazing thing about Candy is her versatility. She does fiction, non-fiction, and even picture books. I have mentioned her newest book, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia, and raved about it. It was one of the two best works of non-fiction this year for YA audiences. The second is Susan Goldman Rubin’s Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (also mentioned here in the blog). In addition to her incredible non-fiction, Candy has done some remarkable picture books. Boxes for Katje tells the story of a small town in Holland that was suffering terribly after the end of World War II. It was a harsh winter and warm clothes and food supplies were frighteningly low. A small town in America adopted this town and helped them recover in small but important ways. Love it!


I love her Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! books. Rabbit will get to the garden no matter what the gardener does. The text is so lyrical (a great read aloud) and the art by G. Brian Karas is wonderful.


Another one I have to mention is Oh, No! With one false step, animal after animal fall into the deep pit. How on earth will they get out? The art is by Caldecott winner, Eric Rohmann, whose work is just fantastic.

9780375842719_p0_v1_s260x420Try to make it to the conference. It should be wonderful. I’ll be there doing a couple of talks and I would love to meet you there! Here’s the link: 


Kate DiCamillo at the Virginia Festival of the Book!!!!

I love Kate DiCamillo. I love her stories, her writing, and she cracks me up as a person. But what I like most of all is that she’s going to come to the Festival of the Book on March 19th. She will talk at the Culbreth Theater at 7:00pm and I can tell you that she does wonderful presentations. I just caught her at the National Book Festival and loved every minute of it. Go to the Virginia Festival of the Book website and buy tickets. They are charging a nominal fee to help support getting fee books into the hands of third and fourth graders in the community. Well worth every cent I say!


Let’s get out and support the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature!

National Book Award Young Adult Long List

Earlier this week the NBA announced their long list of YA titles under consideration for the National Book Award. Not many awards announce the books they are considering beforehand and I think it’s great fun to read along with the committee as they decide. I liken it to the Oscars. You can check out the films and root for your favorite when the awards are announced.

The books are judged by a jury predominantly made up YA writers so the perspective is very different from other awards. Another difference is that a short list will be announced; in this case on October 15th. The field gets whittled down from10 books to five. How exciting is that?!

The books under consideration are:

Laurie Halse Anderson, “The Impossible Knife of Memory” [A terrific and prolific writer whose work includes the amazing  Speak. I have just started the book and, so far, it’s awfully good]


Gail Giles, “Girls Like Us” (Candlewick Press) [I have loved Gail Giles’ work and this seems to be a bit different from her earlier books. That makes me want to read it all the more!]

Carl Hiaasen, “Skink — No Surrender” (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House)  [I just finished this one and I have to say that I don’t think it’s NBA worthy. Sorry Mr. Hiaasen. It’s a good mystery but I don’t think it transcends the genre in any way]

Kate Milford, “Greenglass House” (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) [I don’t know a thing about this one, I’m sorry to say. I have to get on that]

Eliot Schrefer, “Threatened” (Scholastic Press/Scholastic) [Schrefer’s first book with Scholastic was Endangered which was a great story of saving the bonobo apes in the Congo. It was a NBA finalist. Imagine that!]

Steve Sheinkin, “The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights” (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Publishers) [This is an EXTRAORDINARY book. Sheinkin is such an incredible story tell and he writes non-fiction. Amazing! This civil rights story is one I was entirely unaware of and am so glad to know about. He was previously an NBA finalist for his superlative book, Bomb: The Race to Build – And Steal -The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon].


Andrew Smith, “100 Sideways Miles” (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster) [Andrew Smith got all kinds of great attention with his novel called Winger. I have not tackled this one yet but I have high hopes]

Deborah Wiles, “Revolution: The Sixties Trilogy, Book Two” (Scholastic Press/Scholastic) [This is an AMAZING book! Book Two in her Sixties trilogy, this one deals with the Freedom Summer in 1964 in Mississippi. Beautifully written and the characterization is wonderful. This one is a treasure!]


Jacqueline Woodson, “Brown Girl Dreaming” (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Group) [I can’t think of a memoir I admire more. Jacqueline Woodson tells of her life growing up Black in the South but it is not a polemic. I loved the insights she provided and I found that her Mom and my Mom had some of the same “sayings” we both heard again and again. Prejudice definitely impacted her life but what I loved most was the warmth and caring of her grandparents and parents. It was spectacular. Did I mention it is written in poetry? I found myself reading and rereading poems and loving them]



I have not read all of them yet, obviously, but so far my top three are (in no particular order): Brown Girl Dreaming, Revolution, and The Port Chicago 50. I’ll keep reading and report back.

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!

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