I know, I know: I'm late to the podcast party. But this morning I had the bright idea of listening to Just One More Book! on the laptop while I worked on another project. Thank you to Jen Robinson, who recommended Andrea and Mark's podcast of the Before Green Gables book launch at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada. It was excellent (and I think the book will be worth reading, too; more about that later). I went on to listen to a handful of other podcasts: some of them conversations between Andrea and Mark (recorded in Ottowa at their favorite coffee shop); others, interviews with authors or illustrators. Thank you, Andrea and Mark! You have one more loyal listener.
Sometimes a Gail Gibbons book is exactly what you (and your preschool-aged child) want: colorful, concise, and informative. This one is about The Vegetables We Eat (Holiday House, 2007). It might be more accurate to say that it's about some vegetables we eat and some I wish the kids would eat more of, but in any case, it's just the thing to read alongside the big stack of seed catalogs that have been coming in the mail since December 24 (our favorite is Seeds of Change; the 2008 catalog focuses on urban gardening). Now we know that there are eight different kinds of vegetables, grouped according to the part of the vegetable that is eaten (leaf, bulb, flower bud, root, tuber, stem, fruit, and seed). Which ones do we eat? Which ones will we grow? Gibbons also covers how vegetables are grown (on small and "great big" vegetable farms, as well as in your own garden), where they are sold (at farmers' markets and grocery stores), and how they're eaten. Watercolor and ink illustrations are bright and cheeful; I love the vegetables that spell out "Vegetables" on the cover.
[I can't resist suggesting that you pair The Vegetables We Eat with Caldecott Honor book Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens (Harcourt, 1995). My kids just discovered this book (our library bought a new copy, I assume because the old one was worn out from being read so much). It's a trickster tale with roots in slave stories of the American South: clever Hare agrees to split successive harvests with lazy Bear, tops and bottoms. Which crops does Hare grow for their bottoms? Which ones does he grow for their tops?]
Coming in March, the free e-newsletter Notes from the Horn Book: News About Good Books for Children and Teens from, well, the folks at Horn Book. Click the link to sign up (did I mention that it's free?). Via Horn Book editor-in-chief Roger Sutton's blog Read Roger. Not to be confused with Mr. Duncan (Sylvester's dad, sitting on the rock that is Sylvester). Mr. Sutton wears a bow tie.
Congratulations to the 2007 Cybils winners (announced 2/14/07). And thank you to everyone who worked so hard (and read so many books) for coming up with a list that has something for everyone, kids and their grownups alike, to love. I read a lot of good books I might not otherwise have heard of thanks to the Cybils (see my final Cybils reading list here), but I was particularly happy to see The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington (terrific paintings and mixed-media pictures by Shelley Jackson; Farrar, Strauss and Giroux) and This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman (Houghton Mifflin) win in the Fiction Picture Book and Poetry categories, respectively--they were my favorites. Now for 2008!
Reading is Fundamental is asking us to act now to reinstate RIF's funding. From their website: "The President's proposed budget for fiscal year 2009 eliminates the Inexpensive Book Distribution Program, which is the RIF Book Distribution Program. Unless Congress reinstates funding for this program, RIF would be unable to distribute 16 million books annually to the nation's youngest and most at-risk children." Please consider contacting Congress in support of RIF via this link (it's easy!). And thank you to the children's lit bloggers who brought this to my attention.
[I love the cover image on The Art of Reading: Forty Illustrators Celebrate RIF's 40th Anniversary (Dutton, 2005)--Fred Marcellino's cat and mouse remind me a little of my kids when they're reading together.]
When the finalists for the Cybils awards were announced in January, I came up with a plan to read at least one finalist from each category before the winners were announced on Valentine's Day. That's tomorrow! So how did I do?
In Poetry, I read Good Masters! Sweet Ladies: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz. I loved it and made a prediction about it here. Since then, I've also read Joyce Sidman's wonderful This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness. It's my pick for the Cybil.
I read two finalists in Middle Grade Fiction (one of my favorite genres of children's literature): Miss Spitfire by Sarah Miller and Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis. And I'm so glad I did.
I also read two finalists in Young Adult Fiction: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.
And two in Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction: Who Was First? Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman and The Wall by Peter Sis.
I didn't read anything from the three remaining categories, though. In my defense, I couldn't find the Nonfiction Picture Book and Graphic Novel I wanted to read at the library. I'm guilty as charged for Science Fiction and Fantasy, though. At least I know what I'm reading next!
My husband and I saw Michael Clayton on Friday night. I was surprised that the theater was so crowded; hadn't this movie been out for awhile? [Yes, since October 5, 2007.] Oh, but wasn't it nominated for a bunch of Academy Awards? [Yes, seven of them, including Best Picture.] I blame my lack of prior knowledge or interest on the boring title, because it's an excellent movie. A smart, grownup, and very writerly one. It reminded me that I really like reading books for grownups, too. Must do more of that.
But Michael Clayton the movie also features something that I think is supposed to be a middle-grade fantasy novel titled Realm+Conquest. I'm not sure whether the novel is based on a computer video game or vice versa, but Henry Clayton (Michael's nine-year-old son) is obsessed with it. Early in the movie, he has a lengthy, mostly one-sided conversation about Realm+Conquest with his dad, in the car on the way to school. My husband and I looked at each other knowingly: Henry reminded us of Leo! And maybe Michael, not really paying attention, reminded me of me. I have to confess I didn't really pay attention in the movie, either; but I should have, because Realm+Conquest turns out to be important.
The prop book itself was made by Praxis Bookbindery (see the Daily Hampshire Gazette, 10/17/2007). It's beautiful, taller and narrower than you might expect, with an embossed dark red limp leather binding. In short, it looks nothing like a middle-grade fantasy novel--or rather, it looks like what Hollywood thinks a middle-grade fantasy novel should look like (the same could be said of George Clooney and your average lawyer, I suppose. Note: I'm not complaining). Looks aside, writer/director Tony Gilroy, who was inspired by his own son's reading, gets Henry's response to the book exactly right. Now I have to work on mine.
Valentine's Day is one of my favorite holidays. I know there are people who don't like it, but they're getting a (handmade) valentine from me anyway. A lot of people do, just like in grade school: I don't think of Valentine's Day as only a romantic holiday. As Clyde Bulla writes in The Story of Valentine's Day (newly illustrated by Susan Estelle Kwas; HarperCollins, 1999), "It is a day to give small gifts of love and friendship to someone special." This small book would make a perfect valentine (hint)--there's even a heart-shaped bookplate inside. Also a brief and very readable history of Valentine's Day, beginning with the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia; and of valentines themselves. Back matter includes instructions for making old-fashioned "pinprick" valentines, examples of acrostic valentines, and a recipe for Valentine Cookies. I really like the new illustrations by Susan Estelle Kwas, too (especially the Cupid on the cover). Leo and Milly really liked the idea of celebrating Lupercalia, but I think we'll stick to making valentines over here! Maybe we'll have to make one for Lupercus.
I think the best Valentine is a poem. Preferably one written just for you. The little boy in this book by Cynthia Rylant (illustrated by Fumi Kosaka; HarperCollins, 2005) writes a simple Valentine poem for everyone in his family, plus the cat, the dog, his teddy bear, and the bird that sings outside his window. Each of the poems (there are ten of them) has the same format: they all begin with "If you'll be my valentine" and go on to say, in four short lines, what the little boy will do with or for the recipient in return. The one he writes to his mother is (not surprisingly) my favorite:
If you'll be my valentine
I'll pour our tea at three.
and an orange
just for you and me.
Okay, it's a simple poem (a little boy is supposed to have written it, after all). But I love the specificity of it: tea is at three (the illustration of the boy and his mother having tea shows the clock in the background); the cookies are spicy. Also that the boy is doing something with his mom that she would particularly like, although he is certainly enjoying it, too. This is true of all the poems: in another, the boy promises to pull his little sister in the wagon so "we can sing and talk." Milly, a little sister herself, likes that one best.
I had planned to write an acrostic poem for each of the kids and my husband this Valentine's Day. I still might (even though my husband's name has an X in it, and it's hard to work an x-ray or a xylophone into a Valentine). Or maybe I'll write these instead: 5 lines, first line "If you'll be my valentine," last four lines ABCA and a promise to do something special together.
Leo's second-grade class started their unit on Imperial China with a parade through the halls of their school this afternoon. It was terrific (and terrifically loud): drums beating, accordion-pleated paper dragons waving, kids shouting "Gung Hay Fat Choy!" They'll be studying China for the next six weeks (so you can expect some Chinese content here at books together).
At home, we had dumplings for dinner and read Long-Long's New Year: A Story about the Chinese Spring Festival by Catherine Gower; illustrated by He Zhihong (Tuttle, 2005). I like that this book is set in (rural, contemporary) China; it's a nice complement to the many books about Lunar New Year celebrations that focus on Asian-American families and communities. Author Catherine Gower lived and worked in China for two years; and illustrator He Zhihong was born in China and studied traditional Chinese painting there. Both story and art are authentic in their cultural--and emotional--details.
The story: Long-Long and his grandfather set off on a bicycle cart loaded with cabbages to sell at the town market. We see Long-Long helping out at the bicycle repair shop; meeting the cook at a street restaurant; and, after all the cabbage is sold (some to the cook), buying gifts for his family at the Hundred Goods Store. All around him people are making ready for the New Year celebration. At the end of the story, Long-Long sees a parade; eats a tang-hu-lu (a stick of toffee fruit); and goes home to his village with the things he and his grandfather have bought for their own family's New Year celebration. The art: A beautiful series of detailed double-page spreads.
At the back of the book, the author provides a note on "The Very First Chinese Spring Festival" and a glossary of Chinese words in the story (including the Chinese characters; this came in very handy when we wanted to make a Fu sign for our front door). Sometimes I think I should have named this blog At the Back of the Book; I love back matter and think it's an important but often overlooked part of the package for many of my favorite kinds of books. Like this one. Highly recommended.
And it's not too late: Spring Festival (the celebration that begins on the first day of the Lunar New Year) lasts fifteen days!