Sunday, December 13, 2009

The reluctant blogger

It's been a long, long, long time. (The Beatles said this. What did the Beatles NOT say?) Well, it has been too long. I apologize, dear readers. Why do I resist?

I meant to share the experience I had at the Hunter Elementary School book fair lecture. Sean Qualls and Carin Berger came in, both picture book illustrators, and both so talented. They showed pictures/slides of themselves as children and talked about their influences. Carin came from a designer background. She does collage. She showed us the first book she wrote when she was little and then we saw her work and realized how little many of her concepts had changed. Sean Qualls was terrific. He explained how he ran out of money during art school and had to quit--taking a full-time job at the Brooklyn museum, where he first learned about off-beat artistic folks like Ben Shahn, Romare Beardon, Jacob Lawrence--and other self taught artists.
He is married to the illustrator Selina Alko.
I will post their book jackets here soon.

I have discovered a few Hanukkah books and some nice Christmas books, as well.
The Runaway Dreidel by Leslea Newman and Moishe's Miracle by Laura Krauss Melmed both looked hip and current with gorgeous illustrations. I also ordered Mrs. Greenberg's Hanukkah by Linda Glasser. I will report back with reviews. My all-time favorite is When Mindy Saved Hanukkah by Barbara McClintock. You will love this book.

Two more books I found on several sites and heard folks talking about are: a reissue of the 1959 picture book The Blueberry Pie Elf by Jane Thayer. This is so adorable and the look will remind you of Garth Williams.

Another book being talked about is by Eden Ross Lipson, who recently passed away. She was in charge of the children's section at the NYT Book Review. She finished a book before she died called Applesauce Season, illustrated by the great Mordecai Gerstein. The woman in charge of Henry's afterschool program told me about the book with tears in her eyes. That's how much she adored it!

These days, in order to get Henry to read I have to literally shut of the television and say: "It's time to read." Tonight we read a translation of a French book--a Stepping Stone easy-to-read called The Ink Drinker by Eric Sanvoisin, illustrated by Martin Maatje. It was the story of a boy who hates books, but whose dad owns a book store. He notices a client drinking the ink out of books one day, and goes off to solve the mystery of why. Henry liked it, but it wasn't the most satisfying experience, I am sad to report. But it's a great introduction to creepier books meant for older kids! The cover really got me, and the art is pretty spectacular!

For the first night of Hanukkah, Gus got ABC-3D--also an import from France by Marion Bataille. If you haven't seen this video on youtube, it's very quaint and lots of fun.
But the next night he got The Book of Totally Irresponsible Science Experiments by Sean Connolly. He loved it!

He is finishing up a chess tournament, and when he comes home, I hope we can do some of the experiments...

Happy Holidays, and I will be back soon to post book jackets to go with this post.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wild Things and World War II

I am sorry I haven't blogged in so long!
I have thought of you, dear blog readers, and
I apologize.
A recent visit to my son's second grade class
gave me a reminder to read all genres. We were
ignoring nonfiction, so I pulled something off the
shelf by a French illustrator named Jean-Louis Besson.
I don't know where or when I acquired this beautiful
book called October 45: Childhood Memories of the War
but his illustrations capture everything I have
always admired about French (and British) illustrators.
Friends often ask me when is the right time for The
Diary of Anne Frank.
Well, that is a book for older kids--
ten and up. This one is perfect for kids from second to fifth
grade. It is told from the point of view of a French boy who
is not Jewish. What an introduction to World War II! The book
is fully illustrated in color and contains dozens of vignettes
that show what it was like for a child in France to be displaced
by a war--the details of which he is learning first hand.
It is not graphic/violent at all, but more like a slice of life
from those days--it reminds me of Au Revoir Les Enfants--the film by Louis Malle--about the
director's childhood in France during the war--at a Catholic
School where Jewish children are being hidden.
I also recommend this film as a wonderful introduction
to WWII if your children aren't quite ready for a film
set in a concentration camp. The Jean-Louis Besson
book is also terrific for parents to read aloud. I learned a lot.
I would also add that the reason The Diary
of Anne Frank
is such a beloved book (besides the obvious) is that is tells the story of WWII and the Holocaust without bringing the reader inside the horror of the camps.
If you are looking for a great book for older kids--one which
is incredibly compelling and quite graphic, you may want
to look at The Fighter by Jean-Jacques Greif. I had a great experience working on the American
translation with the author. And it's the story of
Polish Jew taken by the Germans from Paris, a semi-professional boxer,
who survives Auschwitz. It's based on a true story, and it's utterly unbelievable.
The first chapters paint a lively portrait of anti-semitic Poland before the war--and it's got a great sense of Yiddish humor. It's a page turner, truly.
Now, if your child--or you--want to read another book about the war,
I recommend The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. This award-winning book changed the way I saw writing, and lives with me. Though my son Gus (ten) found it too boring to read, I fell madly in love with it, and have a signed copy that I will leave to my grandchildren. The book is written from the p.o.v. of death, and Death as a narrator is not at all dry, but ironic, and very matter of fact about doing his job. I believe the book begins with a line that goes like this:

FACT: You will all die.

The story takes place on the German home front and is one of the most beautifully written, magnificently creative books ever--though I might add that some readers find it a bit over the top and show-offy. Because yes, it is mannered--but that was what I loved. I remember calling my dad to read him a section called The Jessie Owens incident.

Now just a few thoughts on the film version of Where the Wild Things Are.
I was apprehensive about seeing it because it looked very sad and I was afraid it would be boring. Well, it was very sad, but not boring at all.
I suppose I now realize (I saw it with Henry, seven)that kids like to see films that are sad and that we don't give them many opportunities to do this. The movie was chock-full of conflict--I mean, it's 90% conflict. The Wild Things--as characters--are jealous, oversensitive family members--or some type of commune--who have been pushing one anothers' emotional buttons for eternity. And I think the beauty of the film is that you are allowed to see all of these complicated, often ugly relationships through the eyes of Max--who has just run away because of conflicts at home he never knew how to escape. Wouldn't you run away sometimes? It's one things we forget kids can't really do.
So I watched and was completely absorbed--with a wad of tissues in my hand. And yup, it's very raw. For adults, there's hardly a feeling or reaction we don't deal with every day--jealousy, territoriality, disappointment, excitement, bragging, and the whole gamut--but for kids it's not often that so many of these emotions are enacted in one film. And it's only the rare animated film that even wants to approach these basic everyday issues. If you have been wanting to talk to your child about his emotions, this movie brings many of them to the surface. There is a lot of beauty in the film, and the original lines are spoken in several places. If you know the book, your heart will jump each time you hear a line. I wondered how the writers decided how extremely obnoxious to make the Wild Things. I mean, I found them to be a truly dysfunctional mess. I suppose it had to get pretty bad, or else Max wouldn't have wanted to go home at the end. I wondered if Maurice Sendak described some of his relatives to the writers to give them an idea of how far to go. When I think about it, it reminded me of sleeping over a friend's house when I was a kid--and the relief I would feel when I got to leave the next day, returning home to my own family and my own space and the familiarity of my own life. We had our dysfunctions, but at least had my own room to escape to and my own things, and they were mine.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mr. Catalonia Had Pneumonia

This summer, I tried to photograph kids
reading. I managed to find some kids reading on
bikes and one on a hula hoop. But I must admit that
while my family vacationed in and around Barcelona,
reading was not the main activity I noticed. I would
say the north east coast of Spain, known as Catalunya
was all about the swimming. Alternating between day
trips to Barcelona and beach towns and coves in the Costa Brava,
our base was in a sleepy beach town called Premia de Mar.
It was six or so villages up the coast from BCN, and we used a
train to get to the city.

I began the trip reading Middlesex by Jeff Eugenides, and finished it half way through.
I read it on my iphone kindle,and read it obsessively.
It's not a perfect book, but the
narrator's gender switches around, and this detail makes the
book fascinating and unique. It reminded me a little bit of
The Danish Girl.
PLease read this book and then call me so we can talk about it.
Its theme of immigrant life in America was fitting for a stranger
in a new land--i.e. me in Spain.

Gus read the entire Septimus Heap series (4 books) very speedily.
He read whatever else I had. He read Half Magic, The Doll's House by Rumor Godden,
the second Benedict Society book, and many more. We are running out of books for him to read.

I picked up When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, who lives on the Upper West Side. But for the end of the trip I read The Family Markowitz by Allegra Goodman. She is a strong, interesting writer, but the voice reminded me too much of Middlesex, and that was confusing. Also, there seemed to be no child characters, and that seemed foreign to me.

While in Spain I never ran out of things to notice.
I kept making lists in my head.
And so I will try and recreate one of these lists below.

Things I noticed in Spain:

1. A lot of piercings, tattoos, and chic hippie clothes.
2. Muslims comfortably enmeshed in every day society.
3. Almost no artificially colore blond hair on women or men.
3b. The mullet is alive and well and stylish in Catalunya.
Also, long braids and many a dreadlock.
4. The "x" makes the "she" sound. Chocolate = xiocolate
5. Everything closes from 2 to 4:30, and from around 5 to 9 pm
everyone seems to be outside relaxing after the hot sun takes a break.
6. 30 to 50% of women are topless at the beaches, depending where you are.
And there are beaches up North with castles on them.
7. I never saw a childrens book store, nor did I see children reading.
8. The grocery store sells many types of sangria and bubbly spring water.
9. The salt is chunkier and very tasty. The coffee is stronger. Fanta tastes a bit like Orangina and is an acceptable beverage. Coke Light is very popular!
10. Donuts have replaced the fried dough Churros, known as xurros in Catalunya!
11. Most fashions can be found at the flea market and (some)clothing is inexpensive.
12. Cured meats are everywhere and delicious and addictive.
13. We (USA) wear more solid clothing, they don't. The big fashion right now is genie pants in all shapes with "t" back t-shirts.
14. Nacho chips are not easy to find.
15. The following fashion companies are from Spain: Custo, Zara, Desigual (new in Soho!!) Camper shoes. They have outlets similar to Woodbury Commons.
16. There is a Catalunyan national shoe we saw on hundreds and hundreds of people. It is a type of leather sandal.
17. In Barcelona, there are a lot of people in commuter train stations to help you.
18. You can swim in the Olympic pool which was used in the 1992 Summer Games and it's really fun.
19. The big artists of the area are: Dali, Miro, Picasso, and Gaudi. This combination makes for a very funky artistic p.o.v.
20. Barcelona is like Paris + Nice + San Francisco and more. It was really, truly, a beautiful city.
21. Instead of having Sponge Bob everywhere, they have the Simpsons everywhere!

Soon I will hunt for photos to add to this posting and write some more about the trip. In case I didn't mention, Henry had pneumonia while we were away. But that is a story for another day. Good night!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

s u m m e r r e a d i n g

Summer is half over and it's proven to be a great summer for reading.
In Riverside Park, I spotted a little girl reading while hula hooping.
Extraordinary, I thought to myself. I remember being a kid and it was probably Pippy Longstocking I was carrying around--or Judy Blume. I wish I had thought to hula hoop and read silmultaneously! More summer readers spotted: My little friend Ethan is so excited by Louis Sachar's Wayside School Stories, he reads while riding his bike. Bumping into the park steps, he probably doesn't even realize his training wheels are responsible for this superhuman ability. His birthday was today and we gave him a set of Melvin Beederman books. His twin brother Jake got a lovely Uri Shulevitz picture book called Dawn and one more.

A lot of parents have been asking me what to suggest for the seven year old reader--and Melvin Beederman is great. My son is reading them and reporting everything that happens to this unlikely superhero. The series is a chapter book series, but good for beginning readers. Predictable, funny, big type, lots of white space and the best part--illustrations. I can also suggest the MY WEIRD SCHOOL series. They start with Miss Daisy is Crazy and go on forever. The author is Dan Gutman, a true kids book veteran! I bought some recently and they are sold at the price of four for three, at least on Amazon. Henry and his friends are wild for them.

My local independent book store is the delightful and ridiculously irresistable Bank Street Books. For Henry (7) I got some Stink books--also perfect for the almost-second grader. Stink is Judy Moody's little brother. Apparently he has his own website! Shock! I picked up a few books for my soon-to-be ten year old--but they were each read in one day. Middle-grade books are wonderful, but for a fast reader, they are the kiss of death. The ones I bought? When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (about time travel and friendship) and The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin (about a boy who finds puzzles everywhere. Gus also read the 4th book in the 39 Clues series in a day. This fall, we are going to get a library card--how else can we support this habit? I considered a kindle for him, but alas, he's only almost ten!

I told my friends today that when their kids ask to do anything electronic (tv, Nintendo DS, Wii...) you should just tell then "YES, dear--but first you have to read two chapters." Many times they will be too hooked to stop reading. Try it!

I continue to develop my own chapter book targeted at third grade girls. In so doing, I have learned a lot about procrastination. I have 14 chapter summaries down--and now everything is...shall I say...simmering. I often mention a book called How Fiction Works by James Wood, but I must reiterate how much I have enjoyed it. I recommend it as a source of pure joy and entertainment for anyone who loves to be amazed by writing. Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, and more than anyone--Flaubert is discussed. And always with examples of their magnificent writing. An excerpt from To the Lighthouse (Virginia Wolff) was so lovely.

In a few weeks we are off to Barcelona--and getting very excited. The books Gus and Henry read there will always remind them of Spain, so I hope we pick some good ones!
Happy summer.

Monday, June 29, 2009

How did July get here so quickly?

Life imitates art, especially for kids, right?
The other morning, my younger son was heading
to his friend's for a carpool (subway pool in our case).
"Does Henry like pancakes?" his friend's mom asked me on the phone.
"Because we're eating an awful lot of pancakes just like Nate the Great
does." That just made me giggle. Nate the Great really is great.

As first grade ended, many moms were realizing
their kids are really truly into reading--and they
are looking for great books to learn about.
We talked about Louis Sachar's Wayside
books, and of course the kids ignored us and played
sports in the yard, without the littlest
inkling that summer might include reading. But it will.

Off to camp for one week went my older son--with a nice
stack of books, as well. He took Schooled by Gordan Korman,
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, When Zachary Beaver
Came to Town,
Redwall by Brian Jacques, the complete Marlys comics by Lynda Barry (LYNDA BARRY!!! YUM!)

He told me that the one friend he met on a pre-camp weekend
also loved reading. I heard myself saying to a mom this morning,
"He likes to read when he's stressed." And it's true.
This past week he read The Neddiard by Daniel Pinkwater,
and loved it--but it was no good for night time--too scary.
He also read a Louis Sachar book--Sixth Grade Secrets.

I am still reading Circle of Friends on my Iphone, but I also began
reading Olive Kitteredge, a gift from my mom, which is very nice. Plus
I have begun my own personal study of how the heck to write for plot.
So the book is called How Fiction Works by James Wood--and though
I have only read ten pages, I have picked up a few good literary
nuggets already! The book starts by explaining a lot about
the narrator's role. It's a teeny bit dense for my simple brain,
but mostly written to be understood by average humans.

Last but not least, I heard the most beautiful MOTH podcast by an Australian journalist named Susan Duncan. It was about her realtionship with her elderly mother. I didn't want the story to end, and I then tried to find her memoir,
but it seems only to be available in Australia. Is anyone going to Australia?
If you go, can you please pick one up for me? I promise to post a photo of the book tomorrow. Good night!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

June blog

As I visit lots of used book sales at school fairs, I find the most delightful surprises. I found an old James Marshall picture book called Yummers. (I love James Marshall, oh how I wish I could have met the man who uses words such as collosal in his Three Little Pigs book!) I found a Simms Taback picture book from 1967. I found a pop-up book of limericks by Bennett Cerf. TOO MUCH! Oh, it doesn't get any better! I have now purchased both Tomi Ungerer Phaidon reissues: Moon Man and Three Robbers and cannot wait to read them. At PS87 we had Everybody Reads Week, and four authors I invited were so nice to come. Ellen Levine, Megan Montague Cash, Pattly Lakin, and Jessie Hartland. The kids were awesome and fascinated and would have crawled into the writers' pockets if they could have! Meeting writers is the best way to get kids excited about books. Several of the authors mentioned having been poor students or poor spellers. The kids loved that. Ellen Levine mentioned having wanted to be a hobo. That got a roar!

Gus is plowing through books. He is in a David Lubar phase right now with Hidden Talents and True Talents. He read both books by Pseudonymous Bosch. (Who is he, anyway?) He came for a school visit. After that is the final Lightning Thief book. My job is being his book supplier. I do it pro bono.

Henry has discovered the Cam Jansen mysteries--and chapter books in general. This is huge!! For book club, we are reading Stuart Little and finding it very sweet and sometimes worrysome. I love how the illustrations hardly take Stuart into account at all. He is tiny in every one of them!! That would never happen today!

Today I spent the day combing Manhattan for a silversmith-esque costume for Gus's Colonial Day project in school. I wish I'd been twittering or tweeting--because I covered a lot of miles and couls have picked up lots of stuff for other Colonial parents! I went from the garment district (buttons and shoe buckles) to Halloween Adventure (tricorn hat) of 11th Street to Cheap Jack's on 32and and Fifth (leather vest). I even hit Daffy's for the under layer (Knickers and white shirt. He is to be a Colonial Silversmith!

I am finishing a picture book for Lee Wade to be pubished by Schwartz and Wade. It's a book of funky & gorgeous animal photographs by Steve Grubman. I wrote the accompanying text. Once a title is finalized, I will expound more. It was lots of fun to write--I learned heaps (LOVE ELEPHANTS!)--and it required a complete revision. And then another. That's okay, though. Now I got a taste of my own medicine.

As I ponder how to stay involved in kids books, I ask myself: Can you just sit down and write a chapter a day for one week for your OWN book? Just one week. I think I can do it, but when do I have to start? That's the question. Please let me know.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Everything seems funny

I am traveling on a bus up Madison Avenue today at
3:30 watching little girls in private school
uniforms get on the buses with their moms.
The moms look so terribly preoccupied.

I hear one playing ISPY and I begin to imagine:
Little girl: I spy something yellow with the word taxi on it.
Mom: I spy a migraine.
Little girl: I spy a tall building.
Mom: I spy an exhausting evening ahead in
which I don't want to be doing this with my child.

It's sad.
And I hear the mom ask:
What did you do in school today?
And the little girl says: Nothing.
And the mom says: Nothing again?
And I think to myself: Don't you even know how
to ask a question? You have to be specific with
children or else they say: Nothing!
I just wonder
about these East Side families who seem to wear this incredible
wealth like someone else would wear a raincoat or an umbrella.
It's not just in what they have, it's who they are, it's how
they see the world and the rest of us in it.
Everyone on the East Side is not like this, but there
is a species of private school child with a mother dressed
up for the Junior League that curdles my milk.
Maybe this is how they were raised? Who knows?
Maybe I am just jealous. That's probably it.

Anyway, I started to imagine the interchange
between mom and girl as a Saturday Night Live skit and I
was cracking up. The contrast between what each of them "spies"
would make it clear that they weren't both thinking about the same things.
Not at all!

I met the wonderful author Patty Lakin today. She lives on the
block where Henry goes to school and showed me some of the
books she is planning to read during Everybody Reads Week at PS87.
The stories of her involvement with that block over the years
is the stuff of classic socially forward thinking children's book writing.
I can't wait for her to share her memories and experiences with the kids and
to talk about the books in Henry's school.

In other news, Gus has read the Sherman Alexie book: The Absolutely True
Diary of a Part-Time Indian
as well as Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963
by the awesome Christopher Paul Curtis. I mentioned he has been into realistic fiction, and these are great, great examples. Henry and I read Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins--which is perfect to read to kindergarteners and first graders who
truly believe their toys have lives of their own. It's scrumptious. The next book for his book club is Stuart Little. That will be fun to re-read. It's only been about thirty years since I have read it!

Gus is always trying to get Henry to read. He loves playing the role of older, wiser brother. Luckily Henry does love to read. On his Mothers Day list of top ten things about his mother, the book he mentioned I read to him was Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton Trent by Lauren Child. If you haven't read this one, order it. It's just the most delighful and cheeky picture book ever. It's about a boy who discovers that his fabulously rich parents aren't so rich after all. But the details are the greatest! Their house is so big that the hot chocolate turns cold by the time he reaches their room.

This makes me want to go back to reading the book my friend Vincent told me about: Don't Tell the children: The Subversive Power of Children's Literature by Alison Lurie. It reminds us that children love and need to feel like they have their own secret little worlds away from parents. This is also why the Pigeon books by Mo Willems are so loved by children. It's all about what you can try and get away with when your parents are standing around somewhere else being clueless!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Goldilocks and the Three (or more) Book Suggestions

I read to Henry's first grade class the other day. What joy.
I get so crazy silly when I read, I sometimes fall off
of the little chair they give me to sit on.
I read some of Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein.
This very unique book has won me over, especially
the poem with all of the inverted menu items (chied fricken?)
You will truly crack up, after you recover from confusion.
I also read another book, one I just love. I wish I had a hundred copies
to give as birthday presents. It's Who's Afraid of the Big
Bad Book
by Lauren Child. Anyone who ever felt they weren't
very creative should NOT read this book because it will make you
feel worse. It is funny, clever, entertaining, and it needs
to be turned over several times during its reading! I want to
live in her brain just for an hour. Too much, Lauren Child!!
I also have the best solution ever for the much needed "very
short bedtime book" which makes the point! It's
Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems.
It is hilarious and entertaining while not once letting the
kids forget that they are going to sleep pronto!
A natural segue to the tuck in. Another book that calls
kids on thair stubborn behavior is Love You When You
by Sergio Ruzzier. It's the best.
No longer in print, but I have several copies I would give to you!
Happy reading! I will try and report soon on Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. (For teens with an anorexic protagonist)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

of art and puzzles

Well I have been a bad blogger, but nothing cures that like
April vacation at the beach with the kids. Life supplies
coincidences and this week it's that both boys were reading books
with themes of art and puzzles. Henry had to read The Eleventh Hour
by Graeme Base (is there a better name on earth?) and Gus was re-reading
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (oh, I guess there is a better name
than Graeme Base!) I read along with Gus and just can't stop talking about
Chasing Vermeer. I am calling it the From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs.
Basil E. Frankweiler
of this generation. It is!! Leslie Badoian, if you are
out there, this book is for you! (Leslie was my bff in first and second grade
and a math genius! She loved that book!)

So Gus (9) is doing a book project on CV, and it's going to be fun because the
book is so terrific. It takes two characters--Petra and Calder. One is left brain and one is right (this is not stated) and they work together to solve an exciting art mystery. Some books have great plot and great character. This one has a lot of both, but what it really has is an author who was bursting with ideas about art and puzzles and a need to share her experiences as an art historian and teacher--her ideas about how teachers HAVE TO be creative and think outside the box, that we should look closer at everything from art to unexplained ocurrance, that math and art and life are all woven together into a big exciting world--a world of innumerable ways of looking at everything.... I am going on a bit I know. But it is such a good read aloud. And it's inspiring me. Whether I decide to go back into publishing or write more books or take steps toward becoming some type of teacher, I will try and remember the feeling of how excited Blue Balliett must have been when she wrote this book (in five years while working!) and how she infused it with the all important Rilke-esque message: Live the questions!! YUM!!!

As for The Eleventh Hour--a picture book with so many puzzles to solve that my husband is exhausted--I have yet to dip in. So much work goes into a book like this--a picture book with countless puzzles and a mystery to solve that is truly work to accomplish! I never did anything like that when I was little. Maybe madlibs or something with invisible ink... the occasional code in Dynamite Magazine, but this has Morse Code, anagrams, and much more hidden everywhere!!(PS: My husband tells me that Henry just burst into tears when Eric mentioned that he was "done" with the book. The book means so much to Henry, but it turns out that Eric (after hours of working on solving the mystery) read the answers in the back and he is SO SO SO disappointed with the answers he felt he had to cut his losses. But Henry crumbled, so now Eric has to go back to it! It just seems unfair to make a child work so hard for a set of unsatisfactory answers--and maybe I would even say the puzzle answers are self indulgent. Sorry, Graeme Base, you will have to explain this to Henry, a crying seven year old beginning reader! What if he never reads again because of YOUR self indulgence!)

In my own reading world I just finished Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, a story that takes place in China during the height of the foot binding tradition. The story is pretty good. The writing is somewhat frustrating, but you can't help needing to know what happens to these young women who are married into strange families and have teeny feet! I mean, just the descriptions of how it was done (toe bones cracking!) and understanding why they considered it to be beautiful is worth the price of admission. I also appreciate understanding more about Chinese culture. It's a very very difficult mindset for a typical American to relate to.

I watched the film Circle of Friends when I was sick in bed with a cold and I loved it (Minnie Driver, Alan Cumming, Chris O'Donnell!) so I downloaded the Maeve Binchy book. It's lots of fun, and easy going and wonderful, and I am reading it on my i-phone, so it's about twenty words a page. I think I am on page 100 out of 15,000pages or something...

Today we went into Southhampton (Long Island) village and walked around and happened upon a teeny old house on the main drag. Eric noticed it said "Silversmith" with an historic town-made sign. Coincidentally Gus was given the role of silversmith for his class Colonial Day project (June 17, please come!) What fun. The little house dates back 300 years and was the workshop of a real silversmith back in the day. The person who is there now--Eric--is a French jewelry maker who started decades ago at VanCleef and Arpels and let Gus and Henry try on his various goggles, and hold the blow torch he uses to make stuff. Henry, a budding pyromaniac, was entranced, and I think Gus felt lucky to stumble on something so rare that he is connected to. Most excited was Eric, who felt like he had traveled back in a time machine three hundred years. It was completely charming! And we got a lesson in wax and molds for jewelry.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Start a book club for your kids! We did!

On Friday night, six or so children and moms in first grade
had the first meeting of the Worldwide Book Club. It was not
without drama. Earlier in the day one boy in the club had his
sneakers stolen by some feisty girls and it was awful for him.
So who should be invited to the book club? Both the culprit
and the perpetrator of the sneaker kerfluffle! Needless to say,
it was awkward. But the first graders handled it well
described a few paragraphs below!) and the
meeting started with an agenda everyone could handle and lots of snacks.

No one knew what to expect. We looked at lots of books and
went around the room and shared some of our favorites.
Mentioned with passion were: The Toys Go Out books,
Superfudge by Judy Blume, Helen Keller,
Courage in the Dark
,Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie Keller,
How Does the Show go On? an incredible interactive book
about life in the theater, The Magic Treehouse Series, Calvin and Hobbes, Captain Underpants and more!
The children talked baout their favorite kind of books.
They mentioned exciting adventure, facts, biographies,
funny books, books about trouble makers and of course--dogs!

One mom read from The Toys Go Out and everyone listened
and thought about what would happen if our stuffed animals were actually
living creatures with personalities. One boy read from a Magic Treehouse
book and showed us how the tension and excitement of an
adventure book thrilled him. The boy whose sneakers had been
taken earlier in the day sort of "self medicated" through bibliotherapy
with some Calvin and Hobbes, but while reading the page, he replaced
the situation going on in the book with what had happened to
"the boy whose sneakers were taken" that day. This was amazing to witness.
The girl who had taken the sneakers just sat listening and giggled.
Truly a literary confrontation among first graders.

I have to say I just loved it. Hearing first graders talk
about books they love is pure joy. Most were eager to particpate.
Others were more cautious--just like in school and in the world.

The children voted on a name for the group--World Wide Book Club.
And another meeting was called for April 3rd.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Too busy to blog?

Life goes on and we have read so many great books.
Henry is in love with Madlenka by Peter Sis and we
picked up Ellie McDoodle last night which is a graphic
novel not unlike Diary of Wimpy Kid but from a girl's
p.o.v. We still have not gone back to How to Steal a Dog.
It creates an unmentioned mystery between the three of
us, but I like that so much. For her birthday, I gave a
copy of Fashion Kitty to Henry's friend Chloe, and I
want ten copies for myself. This is the perfect girl book gift.
You have to see this book!

Tuesday night we went to see a memorial for Odetta
at Riverside Church. Now I am fascinated by Maya Angelou.
She may actually be GOD. I am not joking. The things she says,
the way she sounds. If she started a church, I would go.
Speaking of GOD--Pete Seeger was there and I stalked him
taking lousy pictures with an i phone. Someone laughed at the
idea of stalking Pete Seeger, but it seemed very natural to me.
He is turning 90, or already has, and when he goes, I think
my childhood will officially be over. I took him for granted when
I was little. He came to Unitarian coffee houses
in churches in Massachusetts.I thought he was sort of
old fashioned--and yet I think I knew that
he was also someone very very important and true.
Now I am riveted and want to sing with him day and night.
Has any singer ever been able to compel the other
people in the room to join in? So effortlessly?
Asking others to sing becomes a part of his lyrics.
My kids don't listen to him, but your kids should.
But they are going to have to now and then.
Pete! Stay with us!

I just had a snack with a sculpter who is putting
together a bookof photographs of the middle of
Australia, and these photos... jeesh!
They are truly other worldy. I thought:
It's like MARS or someplace far a way.

Sorry to be so fast but life is steamrolling
me and I will add pictures of the books and
Pete Seeger later on!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Special, Special Husband

My husband is something. He moved all of the books out of the left-hand column where they would have stayed for eternity and matched them with the blog entry where they were discussed. Thanks, honey. You are a true Valentine.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I am appearing in Larchmont tomorrow!

Come join me when I appear in Larchmont
on Valentine's Day (Saturday)
at The Voracious Reader at 10:30 am.
which supports children's books and
independent book stores.
Final count is 44 bookstores and 172 authors
and illustrators!

I will be signing my book!

1997 Palmer Avenue
Larchmont, NY

Guest blogger

I "guest blogged" for a blog called
I.N.K. (Interesting Non-Fiction for Kids).
I was asked to do this by a wonderful writer
named Susan E. Goodman. I worked with her
on a terrific book about the elections
that came out in 2008 and was a smash!
That books was called See How They Run.
All of her books are great, especially
The Truth About Poop and Gee Whiz! It's All
About Pee.

Visit her at

Here is the link to the blog--this post
is more for writers, but feel free:

If you want to learn about good nonfiction
for kids, this is a great place to start.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Under Pressure

I visited a school in the East Village where my friend's
son goes every day. I don't know about you, but my kids
are under plenty of pressure. This is a school for special
kids. I can't say why any of them were there, and when you
go there to observe or visit, you certainly don't ask . . .
but you can imagine--autism, learning disabilities, all the labels.

Without going on I will just report that at Manhattan
Free School, I got to see what it would be like if kids were
allowed to just BE. Not pushed, not ordered around,
certainly not yelled at. And I tell you--it was like being
at the zoo and seeing a rare beautiful animal in its natural
habitat. It gave me a lot to think about. One thing we forget to
do is check out how others live each day. If we did, maybe
we would realize there are other ways.
Too much preaching.

Henry continues to read Ivy and Bean, but he is now switching off with
Captain Underpants. (Tra La La!)
He is thrilled with being an independent reader.
Keeping up with his big brother remains his full-time job. Sometimes
he actually deserves to get paid.

On Monday we are starting a little first grade book group,
so I will report back after that. I have been too busy to read
anything worthwhile, so for anyone who reads this blog
for book suggestions, here are a few picture books:

The Journey That Saved Curious George by
Louise Borden (a ture story about the creators)

And To Name But Just a Few: Red, Yellow,
Green, Blue
by Laurie Rosenwald

Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews

I wonder if anyone ever wrote a picture book
about the childhood of a chess prodigy. Maybe I will...

Good Night.

Monday, February 2, 2009

So Sleepy Story . . .

When you push a child to read (or hear)
books beyond what they are used to, you
can get some wonderful results. As we come
closer to the end of How to Steal a Dog by
Barbara O'Connor, my younger son has decided he
needs a break. I don't think he's ever heard or read
a story with quite so much tension. He babbles:
"Let's take a break. There's just so much going on
in that story! I mean, let's just take a break
for tonight!" I dare not mention that I, me, moi,
am dying to find out what happens in this book
that tells the story of two kids who steal a
dog, hoping to get the reward for returning it.
Then, being almost seven, he spouts off lots
of irrelevent details as a form of rationale.

So I say fine and grab Ivy and Bean by Annie
Barrrows and offer to read a few chapters.
I also grab a picture book by Uri Shulevitz that
I got before I left FSG, where it was published.
(Uri just won a big award for his newest book
called How I Learned Geography.)

I have never read Ivy and Bean, so I have no idea
what to expect. Also, I am trying to write a book
for this exact audience, so I am paying very close
attention. After four chapters, we were ready to move
on to the picture book. I liked Ivy and Bean.
It's heavily illustrated, making it great for kids who
are more comfortable with pictures. The two girls
in the book are just getting to meet by the time we
finish a few chapters and there seems to be lots of
potential for mayhem. That's what kids love.
They love crazy schemes!

I pulled out So Sleepy Story. My older son had his
head in a book of tricky tricks or something or other. He reads
things like the Monopoly Player's Handbook for fun.
I am not kidding at all. He would read an entire book
on card tricks. He has!

We opened up So Sleepy Story, and I will tell you
exactly what this kind of book is--it's a poem.
And it's beautiful, and if you couldn't see the
illustrations, but only heard the text, you would
never imagine the story being told in pictures:

Sleepy chairs
by sleepy table
sleepy pictures
on sleepy wall

Henry really liked it and felt music in the words.
He is a little bit of a rock star, I might add.
And next thing I know, he's twisting like Elvis
and making up a jazzy old tune for the
lines in the book, and he makes it sound
like that's how it the book should always be
be read. I know--he's my own kid, yes, I know--
but I have watched him go from having absolutely no
connection to reading on his own--to this--in about
one year. It's startling.

When we finished he told me he was bringing
Ivy and Bean up to bed to read more.
And he did. Reading gives him a kind of
confidence that kids can only get by
really truly accomplishing something.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Seeing Old Friends and Paul Blart, Mall Cop

Tonight was the annual cocktail party for
children's book folk hosted by the SCBWI.
It was fun to see friends, but I wish they
were still my colleagues. (I was laid off
from my job as a kids book editor a month ago.)

On Monday, the big book awards were announced--
the Newbery and the Caldecott (
That always makes kids book people feel crazed.
Especially now, when publishers are struggling
to sell anything. You can see them here:

The Newbery was won by Neil Gaiman. If you want to
know more about him, check out his performance on
The Moth. You can download it for free.

On Wednesday two children's book librarians from
Greenwich, CT. were killed in a drunk driving
accident on their way to the airport in Denver
heading home from the American Library Association
Conference. They were Kate McClelland and Kathy
Krasniewicz. If there was one librarian to know, it
was Kate. She was beloved and outspoken and if
memory serves, she loved chicken jokes. I never
met Kathy, but I wish I had. Some people may not know,
but librarians are celebrities in the book world.
They judge prize committees. They make things happen.

On a happier note, I took my boys to see Paul Blart,
Mall Cop--and I laughed a lot, especially at the
choice of cheesy oldies on the soundtrack. I fell in
love with the funny scooter Paul Blart rode around on.
What are those called? He could really move on that thing.

I must go to bed, and I didn't read to the kids tonight,
so I have no right to blog. Though I must admit
after seeing old friends who wondered how I was doing in
my state of unemployment, I truly felt like I had "extra

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

RIP John Updike, Crash, How to Steal a Dog, Movies

Today John Updike died. This man was very busy. He must have
been very very disciplined. I wish I could say I'd read
his books, but I can't.

So . . . I guess I am starting to understand why kids
enjoy reading fantasy. Reading fantasy lets you
admit/believe/realize that lots of crazy problems exist,
but fantasy lets you think they exist only in OTHER WORLDS!
How comforting, right?
In school, Gus is reading Crash by Jerry Spinelli.
The unit is "realistic fiction." He calls it re-fi.
Btw, historical fiction is known as hi-fi.
This kind of fiction makes kids face things that
happen in real life--which is fine when you're a
book editor--you're paid to think: Yes, kids!
Face the facts. Life is harsh. Life hurts.
Bad stuff happens. Read on!

But when it is your child, you think:
Oh, honey, let's read about fairies.
That will give you nice dreams.
The truth is they like both and they need both.
Right? They do need to escape into worlds that
don't correspond to every day life,
but they also need to feel things that are real.

In Crash (have not read, but dipped in) the Grandpa,
Scooter, has a stroke after his grandson Crash tackles
him in a football game. Is it Crash's fault? It certainly could be.
(I will have Gus review the book for the blog later this week!)
But what child will not feel to blame for something tragic
that's happened some time in their childhood?
They will. We all did.
I wonder how Gus feels when he reads this,
if he relates at all. He is very literal,
so he probably doesn't see himself at all.
But I wonder if he relates to another
character in the book.
I'll ask him tomorrow and let you know . . . .

Each night we have been reading a few chapters from a
wonderful novel called How to Steal a Dog.
Looking at the cover, you'd think it was light and funny,
and though parts of it are, it's actually about a girl
and her little brother (and their mom) who are living in a car.
We are about six chapters in, and both kids (mine)
are feeling what it might be like to be ashamed of your life,
to have to try and hide the truth from your friends,
and to want something so badly you're willing to do
something crazy, like steal a dog...only to try and
find it in order to get the reward.
It just makes you think. Sure there is an evil villain,
a Voldemort--but he's nothing more than an absent
father. So there are no battles to fight or spells to cast.
The kids have to figure out how to feel about sadness that can't be named.
Hmmm. It's the same in picture books--but the novels take time and sink in.
I would love to have a book club for kids.
Even if it was just to allow them to tell their stories.

Last weekend I saw four movies in two days,
and I warn you--there is a danger. I now have so many
people's points of view and stories in my head,
that whenever a friend tells me something,
I instantly compare it to a character I met in one of these films.
A friend having a hard time taking care of an ailing
father was compared to the father/daughter relationship in
The Wrestler. Another friend mentioned the burden
of taking care of both child and husband, and my
response wasn't: "Oh, it's so hard." Nope--
instead I said," Yup, that's why Kate Blanchett
knew she couldn't take care of her own child plus Benjamin Button!"

In any case, all four films--The Reader,
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Wrestler,

and Last Chance Harvey--all gave me
plenty to think about. The oddest thing being that Last Chance Harvey and
The Wrestler had A LOT more in common than one might expect . . . . really . . . the themes of feeling like a man without a family, feeling like a has-been, and especially (spoiler alert) heart ailments! (One big difference, however were the physical incarnations of the respective love interests: It's hard enough comparing a sixtyish fairly-odd smirky DustinHoffman with a skanky stapled plastic-faced Mickey Rourke, but a naked stripper version of Marisa Tomei with nipple rings vs. the wholesome Londoner with pony tail and a scrunchy from the 80s, Emma Thompson? Gulp.)

My friend Babette told me today that in Greek, the work hysteria
means wandering womb because Greek women were supposed to be happy
all the time, especially taking care of kids. But that when they
acted "hysterical" it was because the womb was traveling around
taking control of other parts of the body.

Good night. By the way, to comment on the blog, you have to LOG IN.
Sorry about that. It's something to do with spam comments that feature viagra!!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Harry and Bill

Obama's in the White House, my kids are off to bed, all's right with the world.
My friend Vincent and I always write to each other like this.
One sentence per line.
It's less jumbly.
He does it always.
I only do it with him.
He wrote a book, but I am going to talk about his book in a few days.
You can visit him at
He is currenly into all recipes having to do with Obama. I love that.
Today he sent one for sangria!

Remember in college when you'd take two seemingly unrelated courses?
Then something would come up and you'd realize they had so much in common?
This happened today with two books.
I read a biography of Bill Gates written by Marc Aronson.
Yes, it's for kids--but believe me, it's for eveyone!
He did something really cool.
He made the book sort of interactive by structuring it as a HOW-TO.
I am not sure I can explain it, but basically, the idea is that he tells all about Bill Gates'
childhood, personality and everything else you'd want to know--
but he structures it in terms of the principles Bill Gates used
to accomplish his dreams, which were: 1) To computerize the world and 2) to get rich.
The book is terrific and any kid would love it--especially a nerd or geek,
many of whom I know and now want to give this book to!
But it's also about how he made himself seem like the best, strongest, etc.
even when there was nothing behind what he was saying.
The mere thought of competition would make Bill Gates
say he could do something better. Then he'd do it.
I wondered how we could apply this better to book publishing.

I read this book because I was asked to write a review for it.
Not really a review, but some catalog copy for my nice
friend Susan at the Junior Library Guild.
Don't ask me to explain.
One word: Freelance!

Well, like I said--a great book. But then it was time to read to Gus and Henry.
Gus was in bed reading his favorite type of book: an illustrated Simpson's book.
Gus is currently obsessed with any flow chart that is funny. I am not kidding.
Henry was reading Night Shift by Jessie Hartland,
which is the perfect book for a six-year-old beginning reader.
It's all about the jobs that are done at night.
Each job is linked to the next and the book features
my favorite job of all--window dresser! (How did I not get that job?)
Jessie Hartland was once a window dresser. So was Vincent Kirsch.
See? S e e m i n g l y unrelated and YET!
Visit Jessie at
She is fabulous.

So, I pulled a graphic novel off the shelf. I had never read it.
It was Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi.
Brought to us by the Center for Cartoon Studies via Hyperion.
The book is about 88 pages, and the boys loved it.
At first Henry was worried it looked too long--and some of the language isn't for kids his age--
but he got into it and I explained some of the references.
In it, Houdini refers to the fact that in those days some people thought Jews had horns.
This made no sense to Henry.
Maybe if they had said Jews have lice, it would have made sense.
The entire book is about one handcuff escape that took place
in Boston in 1908 in Cambridge on the Harvard Bridge.
Great suspense, lots of credit given to his wife Bess, and the entire book is in black and blue ink.
Gives you that cold feeling when Houdini is in the water in the middle of winter.
Kind of like last week in the Hudson River!

As I was reading and thinking about Houdini,
and how concerned he was with what everyone thought of him--
and how he thrived on risk--I thought of Bill Gates.
Okay, so it's not that profound, but if you read both books,
you will see the similarities.
So much is smoke and mirrors.
So much is REALLY about the marketing.
It's fascinating. Isn't it??

Now I have to go and put all the jackets of the books on for you to see the books,
so this might take a while.
If I don't return tonight, adieux!

BTW--Thanks for the nice comments on my first blog entry,
especially the comments about my mother's comment asking
me not to reveal to much or overcommit myself.
That received "the most mail!"
Moms!! You gotta love them, right?

Wait--I already added the book jackets (Sorry, no Simpsons)
so I just have to say one thing:
I now know how Dav Pilkey came up with Captain Underpants,
because just tonight, Henry ran into the bathroom wearing
three pairs of underpants OVER his footsy pajamas
and as he ripped each pair off he got more and more hysterical--
very VERY pleased with his own antics.
Everyone should have their own Captain Underpants--
even if it's just you putting them on.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Henry's Freedom Box

A book I talk about in my first blog entry! See below!

I'm Not a Baby

I am trying to put in a picture of the book jacket.
Please have patience...

The accidental BLOG

My name is Jill Davis.
I am starting a blog.
I know--I am the last person to start one, but that's okay.
It was an accident.
My husband Eric told me to do this.
I'm not usually so late--but I am no techno-wizard.

I live in an apartment in NYC.
I have two boys and no pets.
I work in the big wide WONDERFUL disfunctional world of children's books.
I work at home since publishing is a mess.
I just unpacked 12 boxes of book and I feel as though
I should start a book group for four-year-olds.
Does anyone want to come? I will serve cookies and juice.
I can even water it down!

Tonight I read two great books to my kids.
Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, which is
the story of the slave Henry "Box" Brown who mails himself to freedom.
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson, it is an eye-opener for kids.
It is stunning and clever and an important piece of history.
Ellen is a great storyteller. The book brought up the quandary
of how to explain the Underground Railroad--which was in literal terms
neither underground nor was it a railroad.

Then we read I'm Not a Baby by the fabuloso Jill McElmurry--
even though Gus (older) wanted another one like Henry's Freedom Box.
I felt I would lose the younger one if we stayed so serious.
He was leafing through a Laura Vaccaro Seeger book
( BLACK WHITE DAY NIGHT) and wanted more fun, less fact!

I'm Not a Baby is the definition of quirky, and as often happnens
when I read a picture book to Gus and Henry (9 and 7)
they get rambunctious, riled up--and begin to speak in loud British accents,
cracking themselves up--as I have taught by example--
until they fall asleep unwillingly. It's the story of a little boy who
remains a baby in his family's eyes (bonnet and romper!) until the every end of the book
when his family finally notices and exclaims: THE BABY'S HAD A BABY!
This is a hilarious crowd pleaser. My crowd is only two--
but it's a great one to read in the classroom, too!

Jill is illustrating a book I signed up--written by Ruthie
Knapp (a first time picture book author) about
when the Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911. It's going to be fantastic
and coming in 2011 from Bloomsbury, where I once worked as an editor.

Blogging is fun. I think I will do it again. Until then, good night!