Archive for the ‘uncategorized’ Category

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Branching Out

January 8, 2013

Up until this point, this very point right here, I have only shared my picture book picks with you guys. Well, get ready for change, y’all! “New year, new blog,” I say. Well, not entirely a new blog. And that actually isn’t something that I say on a regular basis. Anyway, what I am trying to say–rather inarticulately, I must add–is that I have decided to branch out a bit and share my Middle Grade and Young Adult recommendations with you all, as well. GASP! I know, pretty life changing, right?

So, for an ever-so-brief lesson on what Middle Grade and Young Adult actually mean, I shall put my professor-pants on and explain that…

Middle Grade refers to the division of children’s books that are intended for readers aged 8-12, give or take a few years on either end depending on reading ability, maturity level, parental strictness, etc.

Examples: Charlotte’s Web, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Island of the Blue DolphinsBasically Everything Written By Beverly Clearly (aka: my favorite person on this planet / best friend)

and…

Young Adult (aka: YA) refers to A. A pretty bad movie with Charlize Theron, but more importantly for this blog, B. children’s books that are intended for readers 12 and up. Notice how vague that “and up” is? That is because more and more 20-somethings, 30-somethings, 40-somethings, you name it, are buying these books for all of their Twilighty goodness. I could go much more into depth on how this is a relatively new realm of the children’s publishing world, and that it is BOOMING, and that you could credit/blame the Harry Potter Generation* for this boom, but I won’t… for now at least…

Examples: Twilight, The Hunger Games, Go Ask Alice, The Outsiders

Usually, bookstores will divide their children’s area into sections for Picture Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult. But for a quick test on whether a book is Middle Grade or YA, look at the age of the protagonist. Under 12? Middle Grade. Over 12? YA. Just 12? Well, good luck with that one. No no, just kidding, read the back cover. Is there any mention of sex, drugs, or rock n’ roll? If so, it is YA. If not, Middle Grade. All joking aside though, YA usually contains much more mature language and themes, so be wary.

Some books are in that uncomfortable in-between section, like the Harry Potter series for example, which begins with 11-year-olds, but those 11-year-olds grow up over the span of seven books and they deal with really dark stuff (however, just as an aside, HP is usually shelved with Middle Grade, because it seems like kids are picking them up younger and younger). Kids themselves also fall into that uncomfortable in-between zone. Precocious readers, for example: they may be 10, but they can read War and Peace. But just because they can read War and Peace, or The Hunger Games, it doesn’t mean that they should. The content in those books, and most YA novels in general, is not appropriate for ten-year-olds. And even if they have “really cool parents who don’t care about that stuff,” they won’t grasp the deeper themes that are central to the book itself. For example, as a bookseller, I have had kids as young as 7 asking me for The Hunger Games. At which point, I ask them if they know what  “dystopia” and “tyranny” mean, and they look at me blankly, and I hand them something else. I just don’t want to deprive these kids of the better reading experience I know they will enjoy later if they just hold off for a bit. (In the same vein: Why on earth do they have 9th graders read To Kill a Mockingbird?)

Now that my ever-so-brief lesson as turned into something not-so-brief, I will cut myself off and dive into my latest recommendations. And I must apologize for the lack of pictures, my computer is not cooperating today, so I must paint WORD PICTURES instead… ok… too cheesy… let’s continue, shall we?

Middle Grade:

The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall, is everything that a Middle Grade book (and series) should be, in my opinion at least (and it was Birdsall’s first book, so she really hit the nail on the head with this one). This best-selling, National Book Award-winning, ultimately five-book series (there are only three out right now), is nostalgic yet fresh, touching yet laugh-out-loud hilarious, and is, at its essence, a total gem. The books follow four sisters: Rosalind (12), Skye (11), Jane (9), and Batty (5). Each girl has a big personality, though they vary greatly from one another. Rosalind is motherly, and just starting to find boys not-so-disgusting, Skye is science-minded, soccer-obsessed, impeccably neat, and impossibly short-tempered. Jane is a dramatic and lovable slob, who writes endless stories about her heroine, Sabrina Starr. And Batty, well Batty is the best, with her shy demeanor, strange connection to all animals, particularly the family’s dog, Hound, and her insistence on wearing butterfly-wings wherever she goes. The four girls have been brought up by their father, a botany professor at the local university, who tends to speak in Latin half the time. Although the girls’ mother passed away when Batty was just a baby, this is not a sob story by any means. Birdsall’s elevated language, and amazing sense of humor, makes this series an absolute joy to read. I love these books because the characters feel real to me, as in, I could very easily live next-door to the Penderwicks (I WOULD LOVE THAT, by the way). And, they display childhood as childhood. The girls aren’t trying to grow up too fast, and they aren’t dealing huge, and horrible, and depressing life-issues. The books are timeless, modern-day Cleary, if you will. I really can’t praise them enough. Perfect for any age (I may or may not be forcing them on all of my 20-something friends), and they are great for reading out loud. Because the sisters themselves span in age-range, the book is appropriate and enjoyable for anyone as young as Batty or as old as Rosalind. While the reading level itself is probably best for 8 or 9-year-olds, they will be enjoyed by kids as old as… well… me… The three books out right now are The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, and The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. Go read them. I don’t care how old you are. They will fill your heart with joy. Don’t deprive yourself of that.

Young Adult:

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, is epic. Epic and addicting and amazing and awesome! I’m not even exaggerating. It is about two female friends during World War II, one is a pilot and one is a spy. AND THAT IS ALL THAT I AM GOING TO TELL YOU BECAUSE ANYTHING ELSE I SAY WILL GIVE IT ALL AWAY! I mean it. Don’t read the back of the book, or the inside cover of the jacket. Don’t read the review on Amazon. Don’t read any review, really! Not even this one! Stop reading! Ok… keep reading this one. Just go and get it and start reading it. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, because it is such a fun and edge-of-your-seat read. Warning: the first fifty pages or so are a little slow, but power through, because you will NOT be disappointed. Then message me so we can discuss it, ok?

Picture Book:

You didn’t honestly think that I wouldn’t include a picture book recommendation, did you? This Moose Belongs to Me, by Oliver Jeffers, is just as quirky and lovable as most of Jeffers’ other books. One day, Wilfred comes across a moose in the forest, and he decides that it must be his moose. So he names the moose Marcel and things go well for a little while until Wilfred realized that Marcel doesn’t quite understand that he belongs to Wilfred. Wilfred soon learns that a moose likes to go where it pleases, when it pleases, and to make matters worse, other people think that Marcel belongs to them! A hilarious look at love and ownership, Jeffers’ latest book is a new favorite of mine. His weird, and random, and enjoyably formal text pair perfectly with his weird, and random, and adorable illustrations (which are juxtaposed beautifully against the decidedly Bob Ross-esque backdrops). Another winner from the great Oliver Jeffers! In other news, moose are adorable, and I can’t figure out what the plural of “moose” is or should be…

 

 

 

*The Harry Potter Generation is what I lovingly like to call kids like me who were the first generation to devour those 900-page works of love and genius at the ripe age of 10 or 11, and who are now avid readers but perhaps a wee-bit stilted in their tastes. Ya, I said stilted. And ya, I still refer to myself as a kid, got a problem with that?

 

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Adventures in Comp. Exam Prep

April 12, 2012

Why, hello there friends!

Long time, no blog. I know, I know, it’s been ages. And while I’m not one for excuses, boy do I ever have a good excuse…

For the past four months I have been preparing for my Graduate Comprehensive Exam. What’s this I speak of? Well, to complete my Graduate studies, and receive my Masters in Children’s Literature, I must either spend my final semester working on a 75 page thesis or, on May 12th, take a big hairy scary written exam (6 prompts, 3 essays, 6 hours).

What is the difference? Well, a thesis is on something very specific (Historical Fiction written for females in the 1930s, for example), whereas the test could very well be on anything so you have to study pretty much everything. A thesis is the ideal choice for one who plans to continue one’s education by pursuing their PhD (because PhD’s are all about learning everything there is to know on a very very concentrated subject). But to be frank, I’m kind of sick of school (I mean I’ve been at it for nearly twenty years now, you’d want a break too!). And I’m ready to join the work-force; hopefully, of the children’s publishing variety. Thus, I figured the test would be best for me, so I could graduate with a very expansive understanding of Children’s Literature.

Now, I’ve already briefly explained what the test entails. 6 prompts, 3 essays, 6 hours. This means that on the morning of May 12th I will walk into a computer lab and I will be handed two possible prompts. I will then select one of those prompts and write a [hopefully brilliant] essay answering said prompt in 2 hours. Then I repeat that two more times. Sounds SUPER fun, right?

But what will these possible prompts entail? Why, only the 45 stories that I have been slogging my way through for the past four months, of course! As stated, the questions could be on anything (time, sanity, insanity, individuality, masculinity, femininity, violence, romantic love, personal growth, family, power structures, etc.), but they will reference any number of titles from the list below. But, I haven’t just been reading these books, I’ve been studying the living daylights out of them: researching critical scholarly essays, author bios, historical contexts, relevant literary movements, themes, motifs, symbols, the list goes on and on…

So, I give you the 45 tales that I have grown to like, love, or throw across the room. Most are children’s titles, but we were also given a smattering of American Lit, British Lit, and Comparative Lit texts to study as well.

  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland | Lewis Carroll
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Mark Twain
  • The Wind in the Willows | Kenneth Grahame
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz | L. Frank Baum
  • Robinson Crusoe | Daniel Defoe
  • Heidi | Joanna Spyri
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit | Beatrix Potter
  • The Cat in the Hat | Dr. Seuss
  • Where the Wild Things Are | Maurice Sendak
  • Charlotte’s Web | E.B. White
  • The Mouse and his Child | Russell Hoban
  • Kitchen | Banana Yoshimoto
  • Weetzie Bat | Francesca Lia Bloch
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Mildred Taylor
  • The House on Mango Street | Sandra Cisneros
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone | J.K. Rowling
  • “The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods” | Charles Perrault
  • “Little Red Riding-hood” | Charles Perrault
  • “Blue Beard” | Charles Perrault
  • “Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper” | Charles Perrault
  • “Beauty & the Beast” | Madame Le Prince de Beaumont
  • “Snow-white” | The Brother’s Grimm
  • “The Frog Prince” | The Brother’s Grimm
  • “Hansel and Grethel” | The Brother’s Grimm
  • “Aschenputtel” | The Brother’s Grimm
  • “Rapunzel” | The Brother’s Grimm
  • “The Sleeping Beauty” | The Brother’s Grimm
  • “The Snow Queen” | Hans Christian Andersen
  • “The Little Mermaid” | Hans Christian Andersen
  • “The Princess and the Pea” | Hans Christian Andersen
  • “The Little Match Girl” | Hans Christian Andersen
  • “The Swineherd” | Hans Christian Andersen
  • “The Emperor’s New Clothes” | Hans Christian Andersen
  • “The Ugly Duckling” | Hans Christian Andersen
  • “Jack and the Beanstalk” | Joseph Jacobs
  • “Molly Whuppie” | Joseph Jacobs
  • Selected poems by Emily Dickinson
  • Selected poems by Walt Whitman
  • Beloved | Toni Morrison
  • Hamlet  | William Shakespeare
  • Othello | William Shakespeare
  • Gulliver’s Travels | Jonathan Swift
  • Emma | Jane Austen
  • The Odyssey | Homer, trans. Robert Fagles
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude | Gabriel García Márquez

How many of these have you read??

And please, send me LOTS of happy thoughts on May 12th!

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Press Here

February 19, 2012

Title: Press Here
Author: Hervè Tullet
Illustrator: Hervè Tullet
Best for Age: 4-8
ISBN: 9780811879545
Publisher: Chronicle (2011)
List Price: Hardcover, $15.99

I have a little bone to pick with the world. And that little bone is that we have become quite an impatient bunch of individuals. Spoiled by our iPhones, iPads, iEverything, we want what we want when we want it. And we want it right now. Delayed gratification is just not an option. And, to be honest, we’re not even that great at simply sitting still anymore.

Thus, it isn’t too surprising that “plain old” picture books are being tossed aside for interactive ebooks; in which, letters glow, pictures move, and characters come to life. But the question must be raised: Is the child even reading anymore at that point?

So for those naysayers out there, who claim that printed books are not nearly as entertaining or interactive as their technological brethren, I present Press Here.

Hervè Tullet’s imaginative and engaging picture book is practically flying off bookshelves everywhere (we can barely keep in it stock at my bookstore because it is in such high demand). Tullet greet’s his eager readers with a single yellow dot in a sea of white, and one word, “Ready?”

Seriously, what child wouldn’t be?

After turning the page you see the same yellow dot, and a simple request, “Press here and turn the page.” When you turn the page you see that the single yellow dot has turned into two yellow dots, and you’re asked to press the same dot again. So you do as you’re told, and you turn the page to find that there are now three yellow dots. Tullet congratulates you on your work so far, and urges you on,  “Perfect. Rub the dot on the left… gently.” You rub the dot on the left, turn the page, and see that the yellow dot on the left is now red.

On and on, Tullet has his readers pressing here, tapping there, shaking the book up and down, tilting it too and fro, blowing on the the pages to move the dots this way and that, and clapping to make the dots grow.

Kids (especially those aged four to six) LOVE this book, because they feel like they are in charge of something magical! Little do they know that they are actually learning how to follow directions, and absorbing important information like knowing right from left.

Tullet’s dots are colorful and imperfect, which gives the reader the feeling that each page has been freshly finger-painted just for them. And to make the book even more kid-friendly, it is published with a hard cardboard cover, which provides the sturdy casing needed to meet the demands of all that pressing, poking, and shaking.

Now, a lot of adults don’t understand this book. You want proof? How about the fact a number of big name publishers actually rejected Tullet’s ingenious proposal. Thankfully, the fabulous, and über creative, Chronicle Books, located in San Francisco, saw Press Here for what it was– a silly, but brilliant, text that children could not only learn from, but actually interact with.

Press Here is an automatic favorite with little ones everywhere!

So, TAKE THAT, ebooks!

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How to Avoid “The Clock”

January 30, 2011

When people find out that I am studying Children’s Literature, a pretty large number of them reference a comedy sketch by Brian Regan, called “The Clock.” In this sketch, the comedian harangues a certain type of children’s book that, though it seems to have no real content, costs an exorbitantly high $12. Sadly, his depiction is pretty dead on. Every year, hundreds of thousands of books are published for kids, the vast majority of which are fluff, brightly colored fluff.

As someone who is getting her MA in Children’s Literature, and who works in a Children’s Bookstore on the side, I see this fluff firsthand and I am sick of it, especially because there are so many truly AMAZING picture books out there for little ones.

This blog is my fight against fluff.

Stay tuned for reviews of only the best picture books, books that kids are sure to devour, and parents will never tire of reading (and yes, re-reading) at bedtime.