Dr. Seuss

February 26, 2015

Dr. Seuss

Ted_Geisel_NYWTS_2_cropYears after he wrote his books, Theodore Seuss Geisel continues to be a favorite author for young and old alike. Whether you are a child enjoying his books for the first time or an adult finding deeper meaning in them, his talent is obvious. Born in Springfield, MA and a graduate of Dartmouth College, Geisel was a political cartoonist before he became famous for his children’s books. While many of his books have a moral to them or feature a character who has integrity, empathy, or determination, Geisel said, “…kids can see a moral coming a mile off…” While his writing is fun, and even silly with made-up words, it is quite sophisticated as he wrote in a poetic meter of four rhythmic units.

In 2014, a new collection of Seuss’ “lost” stories was published, Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories (Random). Charles D. Cohen, an expert on Seuss, introduces a number of stories that had been published in various magazines during Geisel’s life. This new collection is a sequel of sorts to The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories (Random, 2011).

bippolo       horton

In 1997, the National Education Association suggested using Geisel’s birthday, March 2, as “Read Across America Day”.

Photo of Dr. Seuss from Wikipedia

Melba and Josephine

February 20, 2015

In recent years, publishers have featured many picture book biographies that bring to life historical characters that are unknown to today’s children. Two fine examples of these feature women of color who faced hardship and prejudice because of their race and gender. Both women had extraordinary talent.

melbaLittle Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Lee & Low) introduces young readers to Melba Doretta Liston (1926-1999). Melba’s story is so inspiring that it seems to be fiction. When she was seven, Melba wanted to sign up for music class at school. Music was already a part of her soul, as she listened to the radio and dreamed of rhythms. She convinced her mother to buy her a trombone at the traveling music store, and Melba went home and began to practice. Even though her arms were barely long enough, Melba taught herself how to play the large and difficult instrument. By the time she was eight, she played a solo on a local radio station. When Melba and her mother moved to Los Angeles, she played with a famous after-school music club, The Melodic Dots. Her talent continued to grow, and after high school, Melba wrote her own music and joined touring bands. When she traveled to perform in the South, as a person of color, Melba faced the prevailing conditions of racism. Band members were denied hotel rooms and couldn’t eat in restaurants. Undaunted, Melba kept performing, and by the 1950s, she and her music were in high demand by jazz musicians worldwide.

josephineJosephine Baker  (1906-1975) was a talented singer and dancer who also battled prejudice that was almost insurmountable. Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Chronicle) chronicles this amazing woman’s struggles in the United States and triumphs in France. Even though she became one of the highest paid performers on Broadway, Josephine played roles that fit a stereotype for performers of color. She was feted so widely in Europe that 20,000 mourners lined the streets of Paris for her funeral procession.

Josephine Baker

Award Season 2015: The Newbery

February 13, 2015

NewberyThe Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. (From the ALA webpage)

When the professionals on the award committee review books that are under consideration, they have much to discuss. Among the criteria listed are discussions of the characteristics of theme, plot, characters, setting, and style. Part of the definition of the award that presents a challenge for the committee members is that the books can be published for readers up to fourteen years old. Thus, books that are awarded and honored can represent a range of ages.

This year’s award and honor books are published for our older readers within that age range. It is also an unusual award year because two books, the award book and one honor book, are both written in verse. The other honor book is a biography that is written in graphic form where sequential art tells the story.

crossoverCrossover by Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is one of those books that is just plain great. I don’t usually gravitate to novels written in verse, but I knew that I had to read it because of the buzz that it was getting from all of the children’s book reviewers and bloggers. Now, I can’t decide who will enjoy it more – a boy who is a reluctant reader or a girl who is an avid reader. The plot and themes are that gripping. The narrator is Josh, a boy who lives for basketball, but is also always rhyming and rapping in his head. He and his twin brother have been playing with their father, a former semi-pro player, since they could hold the ball. His parents and his brother are as fully developed as characters as Josh is. Adolescence and life present him with challenges that could be insurmountable, but Josh perseveres because of his strong family. While parts of this book are tragic, they are also uplifting because of Alexander’s talented storytelling.

The honor books are El Deafo by Cece Bell (Amulet) and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin). Each of these books deserve a discussion of their own.

brown           el deafo

Award Season 2015

February 6, 2015

No, I’m not writing about The Grammy Awards or the The Oscars. The most exciting event in the world of children’s literature is the annual announcement of the Caldecott Award and the Newbery Award. This past Monday wasn’t just Groundhog Day, it was also when the American Library Association announced the 2015 Caldecott and Newbery winners and honor books.

calThe Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.  (From the ALA webpage)

It was a banner year for picture books in 2014, and the Caldecott Committee named the winner and chose 6 honor books. 6 honor books!

beekleThe Caldecott 2015 winner is The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat (Little, Brown 2014). Many children go through a stage of having an imaginary friend, and Santat’s story celebrates the joy a young child may have with this special friend. Beekle helps Alice to be brave and venture into the world of real friends, which was previously “unimaginable”.

The honor books are:

Nana in the City, written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo ( Clarion Books)
The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art, illustrated by Mary GrandPré, written by Barb Rosenstock (Alfred A. Knopf)
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett (Candlewick Press)
Viva Frida, illustrated and written by Yuyi Morales ( Roaring Brook Press)
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant ( Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)
This One Summer, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki (First Second)


January 21, 2015

There are many intriguing books about art and artists that open up new possibilities for children and young adults.

noisyThe Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre (Knopf, 2014) is a picture book biography that examines the life and passion of Vasya Kandinsky. When Vasya’s aunt gave him a paint box as a gift, the young boy discovered that he could escape “proper” expectations and create. Kadinsky felt that he heard the sounds of the colors, and his paintings were not images of objects. They were a riot of color, and throughout his life teachers and artists didn’t understand his abstract art. Kadinsky’s style was unique, and when the art world recognized his genius, he became an influential leader.

everybodySusan Goldman Rubin introduces our older readers to the Wyeth family in Everybody Paints! The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family (Chronicle, 2014). This family of artists contributed extraordinary works of American art. N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and Treasure Island are iconic. His son Andrew’s best know work may be “Christina’s World”. Grandson Jamie’s portraits of figures from John F. Kennedy to Andy Warhol continue the artistic family’s legacy.

Adults will be as fascinated by these selections as children are!

Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 16, 2015

KingOur school celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy with a day of service. It is always a challenge to explain the events that surrounded his life and death to students of different ages. The middle school students examine the injustices in our society. Our younger children grasp that he was a great man who fought for freedom and equality for all.

cartThere was a picture book that was published in 2013 that helps to explain some of the story of Dr. King’s impact on our nation. Eve Bunting describes his importance to us all by telling the readers about his funeral in The Cart That Carried Martin (Charlesbridge). Don Tate illustrated the simple, yet powerful, story in pencil and gouache on watercolor paper.


Thank You, Norman Bridwell

January 8, 2015

SLJ1302w_Clifford_MAINPORTRAITClifford the Big Red Dog was first published in 1963 by Scholastic, and it has remained in publication ever since. Numerous other Clifford titles have joined this first treasure written by Norman Bridwell. The beloved author passed away in December 2014.

When Bridwell talked about his school years in a Scholastic interview, he said, “I always liked to draw, but I was never considered very good. In school there was always someone better than me; the art teacher always liked their work better than mine. Teachers didn’t like my writing either.”

After school, as he was struggling to be an illustrator, a publisher suggested that he write his own book to go with his drawings, and Clifford was born. Bridwell said that as a child, he had a fantasy of owning a really big dog. In his first book, he decided to exaggerate Clifford’s size to match how affectionate and eager-to-please he truly was. The author also admitted that Clifford’s color was quite by chance because he happened to have a jar of red paint on his desk when he first drew him.

Bridwell wanted to name the dog Tiny. His wife convinced him to use the name Clifford, the name of her own imaginary friend from her childhood. In the books, Clifford’s owner is Emily Elizabeth, the Bridwell’s daughter’s name.

PBS further immortalized Clifford with his own television series. Their Clifford website is entertaining for young children.

(Photo of Bridwell with Clifford from School Library Journal February 2013)

Holiday Tales

December 12, 2014

There have been many memorable holiday books published in 2014. There are often new titles by celebrated authors like Eric Kimmel (Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale, Hyperion, 2014) and Jan Brett (The Animals’ Santa, Putnam, 2014). It’s always a pleasure to discover titles that are new gems and revisit some stories that are old favorites.

O. Henry’s short story, “The Gift of the Magi”, was first published in The New York Sunday World on December 10, 1905. It has now become a classic tale of a young couple that secretly sell their most treasured possessions in order to purchase a holiday gift for each other. Jim sells his grandfather’s pocket watch to buy a set of jeweled combs for Della’s waist length hair. On the same day, Della cut and sold her hair to purchase a platinum fob chain for Jim’s prized watch.

borisDara Goldman brings this story to children with her picture book, Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift (Sleeping Bears Press, 2013). Boris and Stella are bears who feel blessed to have found each other. The picture book depicts a year when the last night of Hanukkah happens to be on Christmas Eve. Boris sells his dreidel collection that he brought from his homeland, Russia, to buy a magnificent glass star for Stella’s potted tree. Stella sold the tree that had been started by her family in Italy to buy Boris a special dreidel. As in “The Gift of the Magi”, the characters understand that the most precious gift is their love for each other.

redThis year is the 50th anniversary of the television Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. There is a “Deluxe Anniversary Edition” of Rudolph that is based on the show. Robert Lewis May wrote the original Rudolph story about growing up being different. He worked for Montgomery Ward as an advertising copywriter, and in 1939 the company asked him to write a “cheery” book for their stores. Rudolph was born. May wrote to sequels, that were published posthumously, Rudolph’s Second Christmas and Rudolph to the Rescue. Gene Autrey recorded the musical version of May’s work, and now Rudolph has “…gone down in history”.

Magic Tree House

November 21, 2014

dinWhen Mary Pope Osborne wrote the first book in the Magic Tree House Series, it’s a fair guess that even she couldn’t imagine the number of readers whom she would reach. Dinosaurs Before Dark introduced young readers to a brother and sister, Jack and Annie, “who discover a magical tree house filled with books”. This was the first of many adventures that our young heroes have. Fifty-two books later, children are as enamored with the formula as ever. The joy of these books is that our youngest non-readers enjoy having the books read to them, while our independent readers consume them on their own. Consume is an apt term to describe our young readers who are hooked on the series. The titles appeal to boys and girls alike. Some insist on reading them in the order that they were published., while others choose their next book randomly.  It isn’t uncommon for a child to race to the library to request a specific volume; they insist that is the only way to be sure to read them all.

ancientAnother bonus to the Magic Tree House phenomena is that the author has also produced twenty-eight books in the Fact Tracker Series. These nonfiction companions to specific titles explore more information about the subject of a title in the original series. For example, Ancient Greece and the Olympics is the companion to Magic Tree House #16: Hour of the Olympics.  In the novel, Jack and Annie witness the first Olympic Games. The Fact Tracker details everything from Greek architecture to specific athletic events.

Parents may also enjoy the website that goes with the series. They do not have to register for their children to play some of the book related games.

I Survived…

November 14, 2014

When Lauren Tarshis published her first I Survived book in 2010, reluctant readers and avid readers alike clamored for more. That title was I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic: 1912, and with that novel, Tarshis developed a writing model that appeals to many children. In her books, the main character lives during the time of a specific event in history, such as the 1863 battle of Gettysburg, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. The young protagonist lives through the event, and readers learn about the historical facts through his or her story. Tarshis has also used more recent events as the focus of her work when she wrote I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 and I Survived Hurricane Katrina 2004.

tlccontentOne of Tarshis’ books is a nominee for the latest Massachusetts Children’s Book Award, I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916. Long before the movie, Jaws, captured the nation’s fascination, there was a different shark attack that made headlines. A great white shark was reported to be attacking swimmers along the Jersey shore. Our fourth, fifth, and sixth graders have been enjoying the fictional story of Chet Roscow and his encounter with this piece of history.