Monday, June 30, 2008

In the Land of The Mouse

Writing this from The Anaheim Hilton. On a warm evening in Southern California. This is a strange land and I still feel a total stranger. The reason for me to be here? The many exciting things happening at the American Library Association's Annual Conference. Among these exciting things:

The 2009 Children's Notable Books Committee has met for the past three days, discussing the merits and concerns of 59 books for children from the Spring 2008 offering. I am so pleased to be on this committee, with ten other thoughtful readers and critics who really understand books and especially books for children. Here is the list of the books in excel form that we discussed from the ALSC Web Site.

The interesting and often illuminating conversations: with authors, illustrators, editors, critics and other librarians: Candace Fleming, Orson Scott Card, John Green, Peter Sis, Eric Rohmann, Linda Sue Park, Dinah Stevenson, Laura Godwin, Brenda Bowen, Anne Scwartz, Vicky Smith, Nina Lindsay, Monica Edinger, Jonathan Hunt, Elise DeGuiseppi, Martha Walke, Eliza Dresang, and many many others.

Of course, there was the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet to celebrate this year's award winners and honorees. Anyone who attended this year's Banquet would probably agree with me that the two speeches were magical, all done without the help of Mouse Ears or a Fairy's Wand. Here's a detailed blog entry by Wendie Old about the evening. Thanks to Tim Jones, Marketing Director at Henry Holt, I was seated with the coolest people in children's publishing: poets Nikki Giovanni and Anita Hope Smith, author/illustrator Laurie Keller, author Mary E. Pearson, publisher and author Laura Godwin, and editor Christy Ottaviano (who now has her own imprint!)

Some other personal highlights:

  • I want to publicly congratulate on a job so brilliantly done by Karen Breen and Nina Lindsay, chairs of Caldecott and Newbery Committees in their introduction of each title. It was a pleasure to listen to their descriptions of the books. And both of them looked so beautiful on stage, too!
  • Brian's "starry shirt" and silver boots were "the talk of the banquet hall!" I had the chance to capture both in pictures.
  • It was wonderful to hear Eeyore's Books for Children mentioned by Brian. He worked there. I did, as well: Brian on the West Side store and I on the East Side. (And he wasn't exaggerating when describing the somewhat demanding and difficult patron, either.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever

This is our first episode of The Living Room Book Chat with Lily and Roxanne podcast.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Bear's Picture

Author: Daniel Pinkwater; illustrated by D.B. Johnson
Reading Level: pre-k, k, 1, 2

Pages: np
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

Bear's PictureAbsolutely fabulous! The text is matter-of-fact; straightforward; and it conveys a great sentiment -- the artist's own interpretation is enough to make any artwork worthwhile. A bear can be a painter and he can paint whatever he feels like and see whatever there is in the picture without being told by others that he can't paint or what his artwork means.

And the ART in this book is unusual, for sure. The contrast between the gray-scale color scheme of the three characters and the vibrant multi-colored painting keeps the readers' focus on the "real" protagonist of the story: the painting, in progress and in its final state. I love how the bear's scarf gets progressively messier, with more colors until it's completely covered. And of course, the page where you must turn the book around to see the final picture from bear's point of view of a bear that is embedded within the autumn honey tree, cool stream, hollow log, field of flowers, and the two gentlemen's hats is such a beautiful and breathtaking moment! The color scheme reminds of of Kandinsky and Klee in their modern, abstract style. The final image of bear sleeping in the hollow log (his own creation) engulfed by the snow is the perfect and calm end note to a rigorous story.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

The House in the Night

Author: Susan Marie Swanson; illustrated by Beth Krommes
Reading Level: Pre-k, K, babies

Pages: np
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

The House in the Night This one has a classic look and a classic feel -- from its scratch board, 3-colored (black, white, yellow) illustrations to its minimalistic and poetic text -- a great addition to bedtime lullaby stories. This one doesn't make me say, "Who needs another bedtime story? Don't we have ENOUGH?" Obviously, we don't since talented writers and artists like Swanson and Krommes still have new things to offer for new generations of children and their parents. The pictures are worthy of looking closely over and over again (thanks to the artistically and strategically placed yellow ink and the cosmic scope of the "story".) This repeatability is definitely one reason why parents and children can enjoy the book night after night.

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Bird Lake Moon

Author: Kevin Henkes
Reading Level: 4th, 5th, 6th

Pages: 179
Publisher: Greenwillow
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

Bird Lake MoonHenkes is such a craftsman. I can appreciate all the skills and thoughts and wonderful passages that he puts into this and many other titles: all of them high quality works! But my realization today is that I don't particularly love the Impressionistic artworks. I have seen and "understood" the "Water Lilies" of Manet, for example -- hey, I even visited and was thrilled by Monet's garden at Giverny. And I understand how impressive the techniques are to combine Just Right those small patches of colors to capture light and mood and impressions. But, when you stand back and take a look at a painting of a bridge or a pond of water lilies -- they are a bridge and a pond of water lilies: it does not excite me. Bird Lake Moon is sparkling at many points, mysterious as well, and a young coming-of-age story done poetically. Many "patches" of beautiful language and revelation are combined just right to capture this significant summer in two little boys' lives. But, this is not a story that took me to another plane. I am never a lover of representations of objects in art. Maybe because I want someone to surprise me, to make me laugh or to awe me, or to perplex me (can perplex be used this way?): so, give me Cubism, Surrealism, or even Post-modernism, and I am thrilled -- finally, I understand myself and how I can categorize a bunch of books as impressionistic and explain why I am not entirely taken by them!

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Garmann's Summer

Author: Stian Hole
Reading Level: K to 3rd

Pages: n.p.
Publisher: Eerdmans
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

What an unusual book. At first glance, the images turned me off -- from the cover to the first pages -- with the weirdly proportioned heads/bodies done with photo-collages. Then.. I got sucked into this style and most importantly, I got mesmerized by the text and by the matter-of-fact tone of everyone's answer to Garmann's queries about death and fears. The illustrations eventually reminded me of Terry Gillian's work for Monty Python's Flying Circus with many pages featuring curving flower stems and vines and the unlikely pairings of objects: the ancient aunt on a skateboard above skyscrapers or the bus load of images of famous jazz and other musicians... So, this is a very strange experience: from "Ugh" to "Brilliant!!!"

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sunrise Over Fallujah

Sunrise Over FallujahAuthor: Walter Dean Myers
Reading Level: 6th, 7th, 8th, YA

Pages: 290
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

It took me a while to read this one -- in between, I finished quite a few other books -- my opinions of the story and the telling wavered like a pendulum: sometimes I felt detached, bored and other times my heart almost stopped and I did not want to read on for fear of what was to come in the story, to the soldiers, to the "enemies." It was at times, predictable, like the last death of the story -- you did see it coming, somewhat. However, it did not diminish its impact and the manner of the soldier's death elevated the book for me -- the last letter was so real. So my final "verdict"? This book feels "real" -- the mundane parts are mundane, because that is what an ordinary life is and we are seeing just an ordinary young person's life, in an unusual setting. It is also real when things get to be so surreal that not the character, nor the reader can really absorb or interpret what's going on. The emotion is true and raw and the manner of telling matches the character. So, all in all, an excellent book about a timely and important topic.

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Planting the Trees of Kenya

Author: Claire A. Nivola
Reading Level: K to 4th grade

Pages: np
Publisher: FSG
Edition: 2008, Hardcover

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This true story, simply and elegantly told, moved me tremendously. The illustrations match the style of the text and have a child-like innocent quality that is truly appealing.

An excellent title, and it even conveys important messages!

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