Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Whatever Wednesday

1. Parent Magazine's Camp Mom has a whole bunch of book lists by age on their site.  When you visit, expect ads.  It's a magazine.  That's how they roll.

2. I just returned from a StoryFUSION committee meeting at Northampton Community College.  This festival is HUGE with events Thursday, Friday, Saturday AND Sunday, March 29th through April 1st.  I will tell you much, much more tomorrow on Storytelling Thursday.

3. So, book reviews.  I am finally reading Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.  Here's a warning.  This is not a good, relaxing bedtime read.  Once you get used to the narrator's annoyingly self-absorbed self-deprecating remarks, this book is hilarious.  It's sad, too, but mostly, it's laugh out loud funny.
I haven't reached the end, though, so maybe it gets depressing.  But I laughed so hard - several times - last night that I jazzed myself awake.  My poor long-suffering husband retreated to the sofa.  Yeah, it's that funny.

And when I finally decided that I had to close the book, I lay there trying to figure out how I would tell people about this book.   Here's the set up.  Greg Gaines has managed to reach senior year of high school without committing to any group, doing any extra-curricular activities, or making any friends - except for Earl, his film-making buddy.  He is a "normal" teenager who has decided that invisibility is the key to survival.  His attempts to remain under the radar have succeeded so far but they create a great deal of anxiety for him.

Then, his mother emotionally strong-arms him into visiting Rachel, a girl he "dated" in sixth grade.  (Do sixth-graders even go on dates?  What?  They're 11!).  Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia and is pretty darn sick.  The book is about Greg's attempts to "cheer up" poor Rachel.  Then he gets Earl involved and the films he and Earl hoped would never see the light of the screen are shared in an attempt to keep Rachel's spirits up.

To Greg and to the reader, Rachel is a shadow character, there to reflect (Do shadows reflect?  See, now Greg has me doing this questioning-the-writing-as-it-goes thing.) Greg's lack of self-esteem and to convince him that he is a loser supreme.  OK, SHE doesn't convince him; his own self-loathing convinces him that he is a loser.  She actually likes him and his films.

I am two thirds through the book.  I hope that Greg manages to keep his act together and graduate.  Right now, he is concentrating on Rachel so much he's blowing off his school work.  I hope one of his films is shown to be a work of genius - comic perhaps.  Or, that he manages to accept that he can't be a total loss if he worries so much about keeping someone else happy.  I hope that IF Rachel dies - and I'm not sure she will though that's because I am an eternal optimist - that her death is not sobbing-pathetic.

There's a lot of Teen Guy specific bad language and obsessions in this books - just a head's up. 

Oh, I just went to the publisher's page for this book and I have to go finish it - RIGHT NOW!!

ADDENDUM:  I finished the book.  The publisher's blurb promises something and the book delivered it - in a totally consistent way.  I was a little worried there that this book would be - um - socially redemptive in a smarmy way.  No worries.  No smarminess involved.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

KBWT- Toon Books

Yesterday, the post person brought me a copy of Zig and Wikki in the Cow by Nadja Spiegelman and Trade Loeffler.  It's a comic book - about being inside a cow!   You see, in a previous adventure, Zig picked up a pet fly.  And the fly was not doing so well on Zig and Wikki's space ship.  (Zig is an alien and Wikki is his robot companion.)  They return to earth and their ride is eaten by a cow.  Solution?  Get eaten by a cow!  Lots of cow facts and facts about biological interdependence are incorporated in this silly, colorful romp.

Published by TOON Books, the Zig and Wikki books are just a few of the enticing titles for early readers in the TOON library.  The website gives you all the titles, activity sheets and parent and teacher resources and a free activity/coloring book that you can print.  Check out TOON Books today.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Beautiful Brackets

The completed Battle of the Kids' Books brackets - including judges - have been published.  The first round is completely filled in.  And for the first time in three years I suddenly understand how the Battle team pairs the books up - in alphabetical order.  It is so simple, that it's brilliant.  Sometime, the books in a bracket have similarities but even that is an accident.  Sometimes, the books seem to have originated on two different spheres.  It just makes the judges' jobs that more complicated and their rationalizations that more enticing. 

Who makes up this team of diabolic Battle moderators?  Are they demons, like the Game Masters in Homeward Bounders, or mere mortals with brains, bent and gnarled by years of reading?  We might know their names but do we know them - their true selves?  I fear not.

And yet, we follow where they lead, into the arena.  (Cue martial music with lots of swords crashing on shields.)

Friday, February 24, 2012


On someone else's blog, she once posted an excuse signed by her husband explaining that she couldn't blog that day.  I need an excuse note.  And I have to write it myself.

Please excuse K from blogging for a day or three.  She is very busy planning story times, visiting with brothers and sisters, playing with her grand baby, and watching old episodes of her husband's (and her) favorite shows. She promises to be back by Monday.

Thanks.  Expect book reviews and more on the great Battle of 2012!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

International Book Giving Day

This morning I was looking at my bookshelves and decided that I needed to get rid of some of my books - kids' books specifically.  Then I popped over to Delightful Childrens Books and what did I see?  This lovely illustration and poem.
It's International Book Giving Day!!!  Oh my heavens.  What kind of synergy moved me to 1) decide to give away some of my books and 2) visit a website that reminded me what day it is???  The world's energy moves in mysterious ways.

It's also Kids Book Website Tuesday.  Since I linked to Pop-Op yesterday (and since that site is in French)  I think International Book Giving Day is a GREAT Kids Book Website.  

To whom should I give my books, I wonder?  I think I'll drive over to Cops'n'Kids later today and drop off some books.  That organization hands out books all over the place.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The French Connection

Just an astonishing coincidence, I'm sure, but today two of the blogs I follow - Betsy Bird and Lerner - have targeted French books.  Betsy's blog is all about children's books.  Lerner's entry talks about the high concentration of books and book reviews in the hands of the Parisian populace.  Since Herve Tullet's smash hit, Press Here, I am very interested in French books - especially for children.

It helps that my daughter-in-law promises (or threatens), on a regular basis, to return to Lyons, taking my son and granddaughter with her.

I have to thank Betsy for adding the link to Pop-Op, a French blog that concentrates on children's books and picture book art.  Tres adorable! (Someday, I'll learn to add diacritical marks, I hope.)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Happy Presidents' Day!

Celebrate President's Day by making a log cabin out of a paper bag and some strips of paper!  Like this:

1. Cut 3 to 4 inches off the top of a lunch bag.
2. Fold the bottom in half so that the long sides of the bottom match and staple the long sides together to create a roof.
3. There is a crease that runs along the bag where the bottom of the bag was folded flat against the bag.  This is the edge of the roof.
4.  Cut strips of brown paper 1/2 inch wide and as long as the front of the bag.
5. Glue the strips to the front and back of the bag from the cut end to the edge of the roof.
6. Open the bag up and place open end down.
7.  Take a piece of black or dark brown construction paper, about six inches long and as wide as the front of the bag.  Fold this paper in half from top to bottom and rest on the bottom of the bag.
8.  The chimney is a scrap of red construction paper glued to the roof.

You can glue strips to the sides of the bag; cut open windows and doors; or just glue on shapes to show doors and windows.

 So, what president is famous for living in a log cabin?  Abe Lincoln, of course.  One of my favorite books- for young readers - about Abraham Lincoln is Kay Winters' Abe Lincoln, the Boy Who Loved Books.

Enjoy your day off from school (or your child's day off from school).  Read about a president.  Or visit National Geographic Kids for Fun Facts about the Presidents. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Time Goes By...

 Thursday came and went.  I blame it on my job which only happens on Thursdays and alternate Saturdays.  Then, Friday was a blur.  And I did not fulfill my Story Thursday commitment.  I do these things sometime.

So I will remind you all that Kristin Pedemonti will be the teller at the Children's Series tomorrow, Sunday, February 19th, at 2 pm at Godfrey Daniels.
I totally enjoy Kristin's performances.  Check out the Storytelling Page for some cool news about other local tellers and for a new link of the week (or two weeks. sigh.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It's What I DO

I found this quote on Shelf Awareness - love that newsletter - and they found it on the blog Brain Pickings, as you will see. (And Brain Pickings got it from a book of Ursula Nordstrom's letters that I now MUST read.)  This is a great answer to all those people who wonder - out loud - why I "still" read children's books.  As my hero might have said, it's what I do.

"I was taken out to luncheon and offered, with great ceremony, the opportunity to be an editor in the adult department. The implication, of course, was that since I had learned to publish books for children with considerable success perhaps I was now ready to move along (or up) to the adult field. I almost pushed the luncheon table into the lap of the pompous gentleman opposite me and then explained kindly that publishing children's books was what I did, that I couldn't possibly be interested in books for dead dull finished adults, and thank you very much but I had to get back to my desk to publish some more good books for bad children."
--Ursula Nordstrom, who was head of Harper's department of books for boys and girls from 1940 to 1973 (from the book Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, which was showcased by the Brain Pickings blog).


On my nightstand is an ARC of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews.  I am having a very hard time getting into it because's about a dying girl.  DUH!  I mean, I already read John Green's The Fault in My Stars.  That's sort of about a dying girl.  And last night, I had the ambiguous pleasure? - honor? - um experience? of reading  A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  The person dying in that book is a grown-up girl. 

Writing about dying people is not new in books written for younger people - or in any books for that matter.  But it just feels weird that so many books on the subject of cancer have crossed in front of my eyes this Fall/Winter.  Because of the Dad with cancer thing.  That's why it feels weird. Except, God willing, Dad is not dying of cancer - just of living a long life - and not yet.

I am nostalgic for the days when no one from my immediate family had cancer.  It seems like a very long time ago.

Back to the books.  The Monster Calls set me off on a crying jag!  Conor's anger, guilt and pain as he deals - or avoids dealing with - his mother's cancer and imminent death are absolutely wrenching.  The book served as biblio-therapy for me.  But there is nothing clinical about this book.  Ness creates a monster that forces Conor to face what is going on in his life with some very dramatic results.  The narrative is spellbinding.  This book is a worthy opponent in the Battle of the Books.  Read it, but as with The Fault in Our Stars, keep a box of tissues handy.

The book is based on an outline developed by author Siobhan Dowd who died of breast cancer herself.  I think she would like what Ness did with her story.

As for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl?  I haven't finished it yet but the premise of the book is one I bet a lot of teens can identify with.  Rachel - Greg dated her in sixth grade - has been diagnosed with leukemia and Greg's mom has decided that Greg should spend more time with poor, poor Rachel.  Awkward!  Greg is a good kid.  And he's got a manic motormouth that is very funny.  So his renewed friendship with Rachel seems to actually help her. There's something about film making here, too.  I'll give you my final verdict when I get through the whole book.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

KBWT: My Heart Is Like A Zoo

When Michael Hall came out with this book, story time planners everywhere rejoiced.  A heart-themed book that didn't include making cards, or unrequited love, or candy!!  Whoo Hoo!

My Heart Is Like a Zoo uses heart shapes to create all kinds of animals.  Watch the trailer to see how the shapes are combined.  What an inspiration for a story time craft!  Read the book.  Hand the kids some heart shapes and some gluesticks.  Done!
Have a lovely, loving Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 11, 2012


As in "I LOVE to play Scrabble!"
One of the joys of retirement (semi-retirement now) has been the freedom to play Scrabble with my Mom and any other Scrabble player she can con into playing with her. (My Mom does not need to con anyone into doing anything with her.  That is just a joke, Mom.  Honest.)  Especially, my Aunt, Sister A.  She may be a nun but she's wicked with those tiles.  And when my sister, H, comes to visit from the Gulf, I just give up any hope of winning and enjoy the play.

So when I read about Meg Wolitzer's novel for young teens, The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman, I found out it was about Scrabble!  Well, it went to the top of my list of Books I want to Read!  And I read it.  And it does Scrabble proud.

Duncan has just moved with his single mother, his only parent since his Dad died before he was born, back to the town she grew up in.  So, he's the new kid, not an enviable position in middle school.  But right before school starts, he discovers he has a special power.  His mother begs him to keep this "talent" quiet.  She seems very very concerned to keep a low profile.  Only his Great-Aunt offers Duncan any encouragement. 

I admired Duncan's restraint.  I personally would have shown that Talent to the first two dozen people I met.  Duncan doesn't show it to the other new kid, Andrew, for several weeks.  But when he does display his "powers", the captain of the Scrabble team, Carl, decides that Duncan and his weird power will be the perfect partner to help Carl win the Youth Scrabble Tournament in Florida.

Duncan and bossy, rich brat Carl, are only two of the great young Scrabble players in this book.  There are the girls from Oregon, immersed in Scrabble for years but also trying to find a mysterious boy.  There's skateboarding Nate from NYC, whose father came in second at the YST when he was a kid.  Some of the kids are Scrabble insiders like the Oregonzas and Carl himself.  Others like Duncan and Nate have been dragged into Scrabble to please other people.

It just might be letters on a board, people, but this Scrabble tournament is full of drama, mystery and sudden revelations, as well as a hijacking in a second rate theme park.  And for dilettantes like myself there is a LOT of Scrabble stuff I never even heard about.  Oh yeah, watch out H and Sister A.,  Duncan Dorfman and I will bring you down!  (And M on the West Coast, expect a Scrabble throwdown next time we meet.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

What Happened to Thursday?

It was here - right here.  I saw it.  Now it's gone.  What happened to Thursday??

The Storyteller of Story Thursday is Eva Grayzel.  Eva told at the Children's Series on Sunday and she is delightful.  I know that I have mentioned her this week.  So I decided to dedicate this Storytelling Thursday - just to Eva.  And then, Thursday disappeared!!!  So, here is Story Thursday - one day late.

Eva uses repetition and rhyme to get her audiences involved.  She often has a character say the same thing or repeat an action when faced with a problem.  "He scratched his head.  He tapped the floor.  He thought and thought and thought some more."  Eva's rhymes are more clever than that.  After the second repetition, she starts the phrase or action and pauses.  her audience jumps to finish the phrase, or add the rhyming word.

Eva uses costumes and brings members of the audience up to act out stories, too.  And she adds those very young children who just wander onto the stage uninvited right into the action.  Her story programs are a lot of fun.

Lively and gentle are not two words that go together often.  But Eva's performances are both lively and gentle.  She picks stories that encourage thoughtful problem-solving and self confidence.

I HEART Eva Grayzel!

PS.  Eva is the moving force behind Six Step Screening, an oral cancer prevention and education non-profit.  Check out the website in my Favorite Links list.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wednesday Again? Whatever!

This post is going to be done in bits and pieces.

Bit #1:  I re-arranged my blogs and Favorite Links today.  Check out Lehigh Valley Family Fun.  This site has the most inclusive calendar of fun kids events in the Lehigh Valley.

Eva Grayzel is the power behind Six Step Screening.  A Stage 4 Oral Cancer survivor, Eva spends a great deal of her free time promoting preventive screening and presenting the story of her miraculous recovery.

I have moved some blogs and websites into "rotation" for now.

Piece #2.  The Story Swap at Godfrey Daniels starts at 7 pm tonight and should be stupendous.  It's free.  Go.  Listen.  Tell.

I know that Kristin Pedemonti will be there to perform.  And Kathy Long!!!! I am not auditioning for the opening slot at StoryFUSION but I think I have a story/rant to tell later.  Hope to see you there.

Bit #3.  Rectangles have been turned into mug shrugs and potholders.  I know, how mundane!  But if I get them out of my house, it's all good.

Piece #4.  I forget what piece #4 was going to be.  Sigh.  Maybe later.

I thought I remembered but it slipped away again so here is a cartoon someone sent me this morning.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Happy 200th Birthday, Mr. Dickens!  Thanks for creating some of the most pathetically appealing child characters in English literature.  Oliver Twist?  David Copperfield?  Pip?  Little Dorrit?  Yep, these are some hard luck kiddies!  So appealing, so (insert your favorite adjective here) plucky, sweet, goodhearted, naive, clueless, fragile, ethereal, hardworking, optimistic, forgiving, consumptive, clever, adorable, prescient - the list of endearing qualities goes on and on.

Charles Dickens' first novel came out during the first year of Queen Victoria's reign.  This makes Mr. Dickens THE Victorian novelist, capturing the crimes of the age on every page.  After reading Dickens, Kingsley and Nesbit, I wonder why people are enamored of the Victorian age.  The inequities between classes seemed so huge.  The city streets were so filthy.  People died of things we shrug about today.  For many, hygiene was non-existent or impossible to maintain.  Even food was drab and hard to come by.

In some ways it was much like today: poor people are poor and suffer; rich people are rich and insufferable; money rules and ruins equally. This is what makes Dickens so timeless.

Dickens' books are like graphic novels but with words, not pictures. (Lots and lots and LOTS of words.  He was paid by the word, you know.) The sweet, the grasping, the groveling, the snobs, every stereotype of every class comes to life in Dickens' work.  His characters have enriched our language.  It is so easy to say someone is a "Uriah Heep" or  a "Fagin" and most people, even people who haven't read Dickens, will understand what you are talking about.

And what does this have to do with Kids Book Website Tuesday?  Well, I just can't let Dickens' birthday go by without pontificating on his contributions, (unlike 2 million other book bloggers out there).

Since I seem to have a theme going here this week, I offer you The Children's Nursery and Its Traditions, a site dedicated to 19th century children's literature.  Be warned: This site is absolutely rife with advertisements!  But it offers a legion of full text books from the 19th century.  (When writing about Victorians, it does one proud to write like a Victorian!)  So if you can't find your copy of Andrew Lang's The Brown Fairy Book, there's a copy, complete with illustrations, on this site.  Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, Heidi, they are all available on this site.

You can even find the 1835 edition of Hoyle's here, when an argument on how to play conkers arises.  (I'm not sure that Hoyle's includes conkers in its compendium of games, though.  I use that game solely as an illustration.)  The rules of such games as Speculations, Draughts, Matrimony, even Horse-Racing are included in this book.  Hoyles is still published today and has lent the name to a store in Oxford, England, and an online site for purchasing games of all sort.

And don't forget Carmen Agra Deedy's and Randall Wright's lovely book, The Cheshire Cheese Cat; a Dickens of a Tale, in which our author, Charles Dickens, figures prominently.  The site gives historical background on the book, the times, the buildings, even the language of Dickens.

Read and enjoy, Gentle Readers.  And give a grateful thought to Mr. Dickens, today, and to all his lovely, lovely children.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Battle of Sorts

Since the brackets for Battle of the Kids Books were announced this week, I have been reading - quite a bit.  I picked up Anya's Ghost, Bootlegand Drawing from Memory at the library.  In the meantime, a listserv I belong to reminded me of the works of Victorian writer, Edith Nesbit.  So I downloaded The Story of the Treasure Seekers.  The book was so much fun- to say nothing of cheap! ($.99) - that I managed to download The New Treasure Seekers for free.  (The Gutenberg Project has made lots of public domain titles available for e-readers.)

 So I read Anya's Ghost AND The Story of the Treasure Seekers almost at the same time.  This is a pairing that would baffle the most thoughtful and discerning judge.  Six motherless children fight to reclaim the former fortunes of the "House of Bastables" by engaging in thoughtless and harmless - at least in the mindset of the times - highjinks in one book.  Narrated  in a peculiarly realistic child's voice, The Story of the Treasure Seekers reads almost like a melodrama.  For one thing, no single family could possibly concoct the series of harebrained schemes that this family does.  The child narrator allows Nesbit to lampoon a variety of conventions of Victorian England.  Nesbit is almost always a fun read. 

On the other hand, there is the graphic novel about Anya, whose immigrant background makes her painfully self-conscious.  She falls down a well and discovers a skeleton - and a ghost.  When she is rescued, she accidentally brings one of the ghost's bones with her - and the ghost follows.  At first, the ghost seems to be exactly what she claims, a poor teen whose family was murdered and who fell into the well escaping from the murderer.  And she helps Anya in a variety of ways - with tests and even romantically.  But, boy is she bossy!  And creepy! When Anya learns the truth about her new friend, it just might be too late.

So, judges tell me, which book should win this odd pairing?  I thought I'd choose Nesbit at first - for old time's sake, maybe.  Perhaps, it was the innocence that accompanied all of the Bastables silly antics that made me want it to be the winner.   There was the clever way that Nesbit allows her naive narrator to spring "truths" upon the reader while the narrator seems oblivious to it all.

And graphic novels are not eloquent enough for me, sometimes.  The scene where Anya catches the most popular girl playing look-out while that girl's "boyfriend" is making out with another girl in the bathroom - it seemed stark.  I am a word person.   I wanted more to be said.

But that scene - and Anya's reaction to it - spoke more to me than I expected.  Anya's Ghost tells an engrossing story - a frightening story - about a girl whose decisions have not always been "good" ones. The starkness of that scene, the visual confusion of the party the scene was part of, Anya's reaction, they all worked.  I can learn to like this graphic novel thing, I think.

My final choice would have to be Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

That said, I have no idea how Anya's Ghost will do when it is comes up against Amelia Lost as it will in the first match in the Battle of the (Kids') Books.  That's a weird pairing, too, although both books have flying in them.

So, while I wait for the REAL battle to commence, I can wage battles of my own.  Let's see, maybe I should re-read A House at Pooh Corner while I re-read Between Shades of Gray.  Nah!  no contest, there. I know which book would win THAT match.  But, wait, now that I think about it...  

Children's Series

It starts in one hour and 52 (51, 50, 49) minutes at Godfrey Daniels with Eva Grayzel telling.  Bring the kids!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Storytelling Thursday

Telling stories is important for so many reasons.  When you tell stories to a small child, you teach them cause and effect, values, vocabulary.  And you engage in a personal way.  When you read a book, the words are the same every time you open the book.  That is the way it should be.  But when you tell a story, you invite the listener to mold the story along with you.  It is a communion and an art.

Telling stories in books is wonderful, too.  My love of books springs from my love of stories.  Devouring books is necessary for me because no one can tell me stories fast enough.  Stories can be real - tales of your own life, or pretend - made up stories with fantastic beasts and flying people.  The best stories are all true.  If they are not true, no one wants to repeat them.

Heather Forest is a storyteller who encourages people young and old to engage in telling stories, real or pretend stories, alone or in groups.  Her Story Arts website has resources for teachers and tellers, games, lesson plans, books, CDs, and, of course, stories.
 Heather was a featured teller at the Lehigh Valley Storytelling Festival (now StoryFUSION) a few years ago.  She was engaging and informative and inspiring.  Check out her site to learn more.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Whatever Wednesday - Prepare for Battle

The roster of books for the SLJ Battle of the Kids Books (BOTKB) has been announced.  This is one of my favorite times of year because usually the list includes many titles I haven't read.  Since I had to do an end of the year book review session in 2011, though, I have read most of the books on the slate.  But, Not all of them!  I am so excited.

I can tell you what is NOT on this list.  Icefall by Matthew Kirby didn't make the cut. (Shock and surprise and a head-shake of disbelief!)  Nor did Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach, nor The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone.  What about How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr (or all the other pregnant teen novels.  There were a slew of those last year!)? Or Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater?   What!!?? A book about flesh-eating horses from the Irish Sea didn't make the list??  Oh, well.  There is no accounting for taste.

Expect frequent updates here for the Battle of the Kids Books because I think this is one of the most fun events SLJ and its staff does all year.  Books for Kids Rock!