Saturday
Jan262013

We have a winner!

Congratulations to Adam Rex, who won our Mock Caldecott Award for Chloe and the Lion (Hyperion)! Committee members liked the three-dimensional quality of the illustrations--the stage sets and Sculpey figures--as well as the way the representation of the dragon lion changes depending on who is supposed to be drawing him [Note: Author Mac Barnett actually did some of those drawings!].

They also liked the interaction between the author and the illustrator(s), Hank included, at the heart of Chloe and the Lion.

The committee named four Honor books: 

We would happily have named more but had to stop somewhere!

Congratulations all around, and especially to our hard-working committee, who read and discussed thirteen (13!) books this snowy Saturday morning. Whew. Debriefing to follow; now I need a nap.

Friday
Jan252013

More Mini Mock Caldecott

Tomorrow morning, just as the real Caldecott Committee is starting its second day of meetings at ALA Midwinter in Seattle, a small group of third-graders (and some parents, too) will gather at my house for a Mini Mock Caldecott of our own. In the meantime, I decided to add another handful of books to the five (six) I was originally considering--the more, the merrier!

I tried to choose (from other Mock Caldecott book lists, mostly) books that complemented one another--books about dogs (Homer and Little Dog Lost), books that convey the feeling of cold (Little Dog Lost and One Cool Friend), etc. Also books that third graders might like--so no Baby Bear Sees Blue, although it would have paired nicely with Green. Here's the rest of the list:

And Then It's Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead (Roaring Brook).

Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (Knopf).

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex (Hyperion).

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Balzer + Bray).

Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic by Monica Carnesi (Nancy Paulsen).

One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small (Dial).

Red Knit Cap Girl by Naoko Stoop (Little, Brown).

I'll share more about the process--and, of course, our results--on Saturday afternoon. Wish us luck! I have no idea what will win.

Monday
Jan212013

Books That Cook: The Bake Shop Ghost

[A very occasional feature in which the Books Together Test Kitchen (that would be me and my kids) prepares a recipe from the back of a picture book. This one makes a moist delicious chocolate cake.]

We seem to check out The Bake Shop Ghost by Jacqueline K. Ogburn (illustrated by Marjorie Priceman; Houghton Mifflin, 2005) several times a year: on Valentine's Day, for Milly's birthday, at Halloween (although it's not really that kind of ghost).

It's a lovely, longer picture book about the ghost of Cora Lee Merriweather, who haunts her bake shop, scaring away an international assortment of bakers, until pastry chef and new proprietess Annie Washington promises to "Make [her] a cake so rich and so sweet, it will fill me up and bring tears to my eyes. A cake like one I might have baked, but that no one ever made for me." Annie has to bake a lot of cakes before the sweet and satisfying conclusion, but thankfully the one at the back of the book comes out perfect every time.

The Bake Shop Ghost was featured on NPR way back when and even made into a short film (starring Academy-Award nominated Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Annie); it doesn't seem to be available on DVD or streaming, but the trailer at least is true to the book. Which, I am happy to say, I finally bought.

Notes from the Test Kitchen

  • The recipe calls for 4 tablespoons of buttermilk powder (look for it in a tin in the grocery store baking aisle, or order a bag from King Arthur Flour). If you don't have buttermilk powder, substitute one cup buttermilk for the water. And if you don't have buttermilk, use a scant cup of milk + one tablespoon fresh lemon juice (let sit for ten minutes first). Just don't let the buttermilk powder (or lack thereof) stop you from baking the cake.
  • Use a bar or two of your favorite dark (bittersweet) chocolate rather than baking chocolate. We like Callebault.
  • No need for frosting (although you certainly could). Try it with raspberries and whipped cream instead. It's nice for Valentine's Day, too, baked in a heart-shaped pan.

[Sadly, the hardcover copy I bought has an inane blurb embazoned on the cover ("This book is yummy!"). At least it looks sort of like the little owl is saying it.]

Monday
Jan212013

International Book Giving Day 2013

As far as I'm concerned, every day is a good day to give a book--but especially International Book Giving Day, which happily coincides with Valentine's Day (another of my favorite holidays). It's a day dedicated to getting books into the hands of as many children as possible, and it's easy to celebrate: just give a book, leave a book, or donate a book. I'm starting with my own two kids, who (it must be said) already get a lot of books. So, in the true spirit of International Book Giving Day, we're also donating books to the kids' classroom libraries as well as to the pediatric unit of Georgetown University Hospital, with thanks for taking such good care of Leo last year.

[The adorable International Book Giving Day logo was designed by Viviane Schwarz, whose There are cats in this book (Candlewick, 2008) is one of our very favorites. There are no cats in this book is lots of fun, too! And they would both make great gifts for kids ages two to five.]

Saturday
Jan192013

The Fairy Ring

I'm preparing for an exhibition of manipulated photography (Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop, opening February 13 at the National Gallery) and thought that the famous Cottingley fairies might fit that description. As it turns out, those photographs were staged for the camera rather than manipulated after being taken--but I'm happy to have read The Fairy Ring, or Elsie and Frances Fool the World by Mary Losure (Candlewick, 2012) nonetheless. It's a lovely little book (note the period-appropriate font on the cover) that not only reveals how the fairy photographs were made, but puts them in context for those of us who find it hard to believe that anyone, let alone Arthur Conan Doyle, could have been fooled by them at all.

Friday
Jan182013

Middle Grade Gallery: Liar, Spy, and Seurat

Georges, the liar (or is he the spy?) of Rebecca Stead's Liar & Spy (Wendy Lamb, 2012), is named after the French artist Georges Seurat ("Here's a piece of advice you will probably never use: If you want to name your son after Georges Seurat, you could call him George, without the S. Just to make his life easier"). The first thing Georges's dad does when his family has to sell their house in Brooklyn and move to an apartment a couple of blocks away (still in Brooklyn; this is a very Brooklyn sort of book, actually) is hang a poster of Seurat's A Sunday on the Grand Jatte on the wall above the couch in the living room. Here's Georges's description of it:

Two summers ago we went to Chicago, where the real painting takes up one entire wall of the Art Institute. What you can't tell from the poster is that the picture is painted entirely with dots. Tiny little dots. Close up, they just look like blobs of paint. But if you stand back, you see that they make this whole nice park scene, with people walking around in old-fashioned clothes. There's even a monkey on a leash. Mom says that our Seurat poster reminds her to look at the big picture. Like when it hurts to think about selling the house, she tells herself how that bad feeling is just one dot in the giant Seurat painting of our lives. (11)

His mom's pointillism analogy informs Georges's (and his dad's) attitude towards the bad feelings--brought on by the move, his mom's absence, bullying at school--that come up in the first half of Liar and Spy, but eventually (on page 90 of 180--the exact midpoint the book) Georges comes to a realization of his own:

And then I think of all those thousands of dots Seurat used to paint the picture. I think about how if you stand back from the painting, you can see the people, the green grass and that cute monkey on a leash, but if you get closer, the monkey kind of dissolves right in front of your eyes, Like Mom says, life is a million different dots making one gigantic picture. And maybe the big picture is nice, maybe it's amazing, but if you're standing with your face pressed up against a bunch of black dots, it's really hard to tell. (90)

These two passages mirror each other: standing back, getting closer. In the second half of the book, Stead continues to explore the tension between the big picture and the dots or details, between what we see and what we think we see and what is really there; and the Seurat painting serves as a reference point for Georges and for the reader, as well as a source of inspiration in the final scenes (although Seurat didn't use a blue Sharpie). It's a masterful piece of work, for all that it's so understated. I'm still not sure I loved it, certainly not as much as Stead's Newbery Award-winning When You Reach Me (Wendy Lamb, 2009), but the more I read and think about it, the richer it reveals itself it be.

Friday
Jan112013

Caldecott Hopefuls: Rabbit's Snow Dance

A traditional Iroquois story retold by James and Joseph Bruchac and illustrated by Jeff Newman, Rabbit's Snow Dance (Dial, 2012) has a spot on the cover that seems ready-made for a Caldecott award sticker (one hopes): right there on Rabbit's drum. Newman's illustrations, rendered in watercolor, gouache, and ink, also have a sort of mid-century modern style that's maybe a little unexpected here (the PW review calls it "a welcome departure from the stodgier artwork that can often accompany myths and folk tales"): that's what I love about this one.

That and the Bruchacs' text [not among the Caldecott criteria, of course], which will have you and any little readers among you chanting "I will make it snow, AZIKANAPO!" right along with Rabbit: it's really a great read-aloud.

[For more on the story's sources, see this letter from Joe Bruchac at Debbie Reese's blog American Indians in Children's Literature; it will appear in subsequent printings. For more on Newman's illustrations, including storyboards, sketches, and finished art, see this post at 7-Imp (where else?). For more from me, I do think there is some inconsistency in the way Rabbit is depicted: sometimes more stylized, sometimes cartoonish, sometimes (as seen on the title page, and at right, falling from the tree) adorable. "AAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHEEEEEE!"]

Wednesday
Jan092013

Caldecott Hopefuls: This Moose Belongs to Me

My Caldecott Hopefuls are picture books I like a lot, for various and idiosyncratic reasons, and not necessarily ones I think will win the award (although one can hope). Here's what I love about This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel, 2012): the contrast between the grandeur and solemnity of the landscape backgrounds (many of them reprinted from paintings by 20th century American artist Alexander Dzigurski) and, well, Wilfred and his moose (as seen in the image above, which wraps around the covers of the book). Now that I think of it, this style of illustration--Jeffers's artistic borrowing--is especially appropriate to a story about ownership (see Caldecott criteria 1.c). Does this moose belong to me?

According to the copyright page, "the art for this book was made from a mishmash of oil painting onto old linotype and painted landscapes, and a bit of technical wizardry thrown into the mix here and there." In case you want to try this at home (yes, you do), Oliver Jeffers has helpfully made a video called How to Draw a Moose. We didn't have any landscape paintings lying around, so we drew our moose (meese? mice?) onto pages ripped from old National Geographics instead. Kind of like this:

Except at Macchu Picchu.

Tuesday
Jan082013

Thank you, David Levithan

Last night I read Every Day by David Levithan (Knopf, 2012). It's the sort of book I want everyone I know to read, so I can talk about it without giving anything away. Starting with the premise: Every day A wakes up in a different body. Til then, here's Day 6009:

Today I'm a boy named AJ. He has diabetes, so I have a whole other layer of concerns on top of my usual ones. I've been diabetic a couple of times, and the first time was harrowing. Not because diabetes isn't controllable, but because I had to rely on the body's memories to tell me what to look out for, and how to manage it.... Now I feel I can handle it, but I am very attentive to what the body is telling me, much more so than I usually am. (166)

I've read many (many) books, but this is the first time I've spontaneously encountered a person with Type 1 diabetes in one: the prevalence appears to be lower than in the general population. Which is surprising, given that Type 1 is most often diagnosed in children and young adults. Case in point: my son Leo, who was diagnosed at age 11, a year ago this month.

Thankfully, I think Levithan gets it right. Diabetes adds another layer of concern to whatever else--a math test, a crush, a soccer game, lunch--might be happening on any given day. It demands a certain, constant level of attention to the body that most of us rarely require. It's the first thing A thinks about that morning.

But the rest of the day, as written, is not about diabetes. AJ is also a regular kid: "It's a relief, in many ways, to be a guy who doesn't mind riding the bus, who has friends waiting for him when he gets on, who doesn't have to deal with anything more troubling than the fact that he ate breakfast and is still hungry." He even eats french fries for lunch. Leo would love that. I did.

Friday
Jan042013

Mini Mock Caldecott

I'm thinking about holding a Mini Mock Caldecott for some of my daughter's third-grade friends at my house later this month. I know Milly would be interested (for my sake, if nothing else), but I'm not sure about anyone else. Maybe it will have to be a Micro-Mini Mock Caldecott?

If I do follow through on this (and writing about it here should help), I'll have to limit the number of books we look at together to about five. I'd like to have time for reading, discussion (of the Caldecott criteria and voting process as well as of the books themselves), and hands-on exploration of some artistic media. And, of course, voting! Here are the books I'm considering:

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook).

Homer by Elisha Cooper (Greenwillow).

Oh No! by Candace Fleming; illustrated by Eric Rohmann (Shwartz and Wade).

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder (Candlewick).

Unspoken by Henry Cole (Scholastic).

I chose these based in part on the variety of media: acrylic and oil pastel, watercolor, relief printing, photography, and pencil, respectively. But looking at my list, I wonder if it doesn't need a funny book, too--maybe Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs as retold by Mo Willems (Balzer + Bray)?

It would be lovely if at least one of the books we look at were to be recognized by the actual Caldecott committee: being shut out entirely is one of the risks of limiting the list to only 5, although it could happen with a list of 20. Maybe we should meet again after the winner is announced on January 28--assuming we meet in the first place!