Tuesday, October 31, 2006


WITCH CATCHER by Mary Downing Hahn (Clarion)
Well, Ms. Hahn scared us cross-eyed with one of the most masterful ghost stories of juvenile literature, WAIT TILL HELEN COMES, so why not let's show her some love with her latest? Jen is thrilled to move into the castle that her father has inherited, and less thrilled with Maura, the woman he chose to marry since her mother passed away. Maura's obsessive passion for antiques is the least of her problems, or so Jen thinks. When Jen accidently breaks a glass globe from Maura's collection, the stepmother becomes increasingly creepy. If only Jen had known what that little orb held...and what she has unleashed!

This book is a combo pack of the contemporary and the classic. Though the stigma of the unwanted stepmother was one stereotype I think we could possibly do without, the strength of the story is in Jen, a problem-solving twelve-year-old who corrals her own power, and a supernatural plot that will engage and enchant many a reading thrill-seeker. And I have to wonder, what would that little glass globe would be appraised for on Antiques Roadshow? (10 and up)

Also of interest:
THE WITCH FAMILY by Eleanor Estes (Harcourt) is about a million times more mild than THE WITCH CATCHER, but since witches are likely on the fly tonight, I thought I'd offer up something more to read! We have the story of two good friends who love to write and draw pictures of a family of witches and making up stories, little knowing that as they do, they are coming to life in a distant, make-believe land. All forces converge on Halloween, when the girls meet the dear little witch, and are whisked away to the glass hill where it as clear that a mermaid, a baby sister witch and a bumblebee named Malachi have overstepped their written and drawn adventures, and where the embittered, banished Old Witch wreaks her mischief. This reissue has a snazzy new cover but smartly maintained the inimitable spot illustrations by Edward Ardizzone. When I found this book in the "discard" pile of my public library when I was about ten years old, I clutched it to my chest with both hands and tears filled my eyes...could I really take it home? It was one of the most magical reads of a childhood, old-fashioned in the very, very best sense of the word, and I am so excited to pass it on to you as a read-aloud treat. See, no need to toilet paper my tree! (7 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Monday, October 30, 2006


LOS GATOS BLACK ON HALLOWEEN by Marisa Montes, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Holt)

The Halloween hour is nigh...las calabazas glow, las brujas glide on broomsticks, los esqueletos rattle their bones, los muertos rise "And in a slow and strange parade, /The creatures of the night invade/A haunted casa long asleep--/The mansion's secrets buried deep." But who is that rapping at the door? It is the one creature that can scare these spirits back into submission: los ninos! Seasonal Spanish vocabulary is seamlessly interwoven into the spooky verse, and matching illustrations, full of shadow and shiver. This book is no-holds-barred and will offer those transitional older picture book readers the prickly back and pause at bedtime that they have been begging for in time for the holiday, so make sure you share with a group who is really in the spirit of things! Gotta love those unseen fingers playing the piano, and the eerily lovely graveyard, complete with zombies coming on up to party on down. The finale in which children are still in the driver's seats gives this story just the right touch to settle any fretful young hearts. Install Ms. Morales and Ms. Montes as this year's Queens of Halloween...bilingual, no less. Glossary included. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
Halloween season is also the season of Dia de Los Muertos, also a blast to celebrate (and with a fabulous color scheme). This holiday also offers up a chance to read another book by Yuyi Morales, which happens to be my folkloric favorite that she has written: JUST A MINUTE: A TRICKSTER TALE AND COUNTING BOOK (Chronicle). In this clever story, it takes more than a pretty please to separate a grandma from her grandchildren, as this clever abuela proves in a trickster tale in which party preparations take up a little too much time for Senor Calavera, a skeleton patiently waiting to take this busy woman to the other side. When he sees that she is indeed the hostess with the mostess, he rescinds his own creepy invitation…after all, he wants to come to next year's party, doesn't he? Bold Mexican motifs make this a sensible pick for Day of the Dead, but don't be silly like Senor Calavera and wait, use the book right away to help children learn to count from one to ten in Spanish, and to celebrate the special loving ties of a family that can cordially show trouble the door. This not-too-scary book ends with a reassuring wink, and is smiles all through, thanks to writing that belies Morales' storytelling background and an absolutely gorgeous palette that seems inspired by the streamers of a pinata. (7 and up)

Other excellent "Dia de los Muertos" literature (for November 1st):
THE SPIRIT OF TIO FERNANDO: A DAY OF THE DEAD STORY by Janice Levy, illustrated by Morella Fuenmayor (Whitman)(6 and up)
CLATTER BASH! A DAY OF THE DEAD CELEBRATION by Richard Keep (Peachtree)(4 and up)
CALAVERA ABCEDARIO: A DAY OF THE DEAD ALPHABET BOOK by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt) (5 and up)
FELIPA AND THE DAY OF THE DEAD by Birte Muller (North-South Books) (6 and up)
THE FESTIVAL OF BONES/EL FESTIVAL DE LAS CALAVERAS by Luis San Vicente (Cinco Puntos) (7 and up)
DAY OF THE DEAD by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jeanette Winter (Voyager) (5 and up)
PABLO REMEMBERS by Tony Johnston, illustrated by George Ancona (HarperCollins) (5 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


LITTLEBAT'S HALLOWEEN STORY by Diane Mayr, illustrated by Gideon Kendall (Whitman)
A little brown bat in the library's attic overhears an intruiging story about three bears, and another one about a hungry caterpillar. Who can blame him for wanting to get closer, and closer, and closer, so he can see the pictures and hear the story a little bit better? But when the mouselike mammal comes into view of the librarian and listeners, havoc ensues. Littlebat is so dejected; will he ever get to join in the storytime circle? His loving mother warmly reassures him that the right time will come, and as he waits through the seasons, indeed, there is a holiday where he can listen in comfortably and undetected.

When bookloving parent Angela Allyn made this recommendation to me, it was like getting a king-size candy bar in my trick-or-treat bag. Everything this book does, it does right, from the patient passing of time to the endearing mother who always knows what to do and say to make things better. Children will identify powerfully with the longings of our hero, and the conclusion is surprising and satisfying. This is the perfect primary fear-free Halloween read, and a great book about the seasons year-round; the illustrator is tuned in to the rhythm of the library, with lovely details like bulletin boards and the perfect way the reader holds the pictures so everyone can see. It is really a feat how the book is both tender and yet ideal for inclusion in a Halloween storytime; the best thing since Jannell Cannon's STELLALUNA. (4 and up)

Also of interest:
IT GOES EEEEEEEEEE! by Jamie Gilson, illustrated by Diane DeGroat (Clarion) One of the masters of the classroom story pairs two rivals up to give a report on bats that will leave us all the wiser about the animal...and about people, too. (8 and up)
THE BAT POET by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins) In my estimation, this is one of the loveliest children's books ever penned. A little bat poet opens his eyes and tries to share his gifts with the daytime world, but struggles with finding the right audience and appreciation for his art. (Know anyone like that?) Jarrell's awe-striking verse interspersed with his sincere storytelling style will echolocate your heart. (7 and up)

On a personal note:
Off to a bookfair, and then to speak for the Michigan Association for Media in Education (MAME) (can't wait!). More Book-a-Day on Monday, if not before!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Sorry to start this review on a personal note, but WOW! Look at the wonderful gift my husband Jim gave to me! He designed this beautiful linoleum print poster; you'll notice it features my American hero, Johnny "Appleseed" Chapman. Every day he planted a seed, and in that way, he was able to change the landscape of our nation. I always think of reading aloud every day as a seed that we can plant that can also change our nation. Jim really ran with that...he has done limited edition posters for social concerns (and rock bands) for years, and I am really touched that he has commemorated our literacy efforts with his art. Thanks for letting me share my excitement and gratitude here at Book-a-Day...if you are interested, the poster is available for sale at his website.

In Jim's honor, since he is vegetarian, may I recommend to you the following
HUBERT THE PUDGE: A VEGETARIAN TALE by Henrick Drescher (Candlewick) By using nondescript pig-like beasts called "pudges," this irreverent author is able to take us unflinchingly into Farmer Jake's Pudge Processing Farm, where the animals are fenced in and stunted. "Every part of the pudge was used. Even the squeal, which was canned and installed in car alarms and foghorns." One ambitious little guy named Hubert takes advantage of his chance to escape, fleeing into a jungle that is at first threatening and then brimming with friends. Free to frolic and feed, he grows to his natural, unhindered size, which happens to be enormous (see the elephants meandering on his back?). Hubert's heart is heavy, though, imagining the fate of other pudges at the processing plant, and he decides that it is time to return...and give old Farmer Jake the surprise of his life. The colorful, sketchy, almost surreal illustration style which some of you may remember from his famous imaginative foray SIMON'S BOOK, in which a boy's artwork comes to life, is back in full play, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, not the least of which is Farmer Jake's transformation into a...well, read it and see! Though the subject is loaded, the story is told with such a sense of fun and justice that defenses melt away and you will be cheering for the animal's sweet victory, whatever side of the herbivore/carnivore argument you fall. (5 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Monday, October 23, 2006


SPARKS FLY HIGH: THE LEGEND OF DANCING POINT retold by Mary Quattlebaum, illustrated by Leonid Gore (Farrar Straus and Giroux)
Should you ever have the pleasure of dancing a minuet with Colonel Lightfoot, you would find him indeed light on his feet but heavy on the hubris. While even the angels in heaven can't resist his talent, they couldn't possibly love him more than he loves himself, and a graceful gait was not the only gift he was given: admiration of his wide expanse of land comes in a close second. But with every gift there is a curse, and that curse is that the devil himself has taken to a plot on the colonel's plantation, turning it into a murky swamp unfit for plowing. The only way he can remedy the situation is with a throw-down show-down with the devil himself, with the angels above and demons below cheering for their favorite side. When the colonel begins to realize that he has met his match not only in skill but in ego, he cleverly uses this character flaw to his own advantage. Be careful, you devil, it takes one to know one!

Based on a legend surrounding a mysterious bare spot of land along the James River in Charles City county near Williamsburg, this retelling certainly does have a storyteller's spark, full of alliterative, well-chosen language that dances off the tongue and casts a spell on the listener. If you like Eric Kimmel's HERSHEL AND THE HANUKKAH GOBLINS (Holiday House) and THE DEVIL AND MOTHER CRUMP by Valerie Scho Carey (HarperCollins, you sillies, when are you going to bring it back in print?), you will enjoy the trickster twist of this title. Fitting with the Colonel's refined tastes, Gore's artwork is nothing short of elegant: rich, textured, with a particularly distinguished technique that melds fine art with illustration, bringing to mind a less ornamental version of Gennady Spirin (who, like Leonid Gore, emigrated from Russia and started being published in the U.S. in the 1990's...perhaps they were similarly inspired by Russian folkloric traditions and classical art). I just would love to know how Gore managed to make those sparks look so hot! The really do look like they are flying off the page! Make sure you have music so that children can dance a jig after the conceited gets some come-uppance. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
THE DEVIL'S STORYBOOK by Natalie Babbitt (Farrar Straus Giroux) Laugh-out-loud folktales fit for rapt read-alouds. Years later, these clever stories wil be burned into the memory. (8 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Trick-or-treat! I mean, I know its not Halloween yet, but it's coming up, so we had better start practicing. After I've dished up a few of my favorites, how about sharing some of your in the comments section? Friends in the children's lit blogosphere, want to add to the caudron-luck?

THE ESSENTIAL WORLDWIDE MONSTER GUIDE by Linda Ashman, illustrated by David Small (Simon and Schuster)
"Guaranteed--some day, some place--/You'll meet a monster face to face./Don't destroy a great vacation--/Arm yourself with information!/With this handy monster guide,/You can take these beasts in stride./Save yourself the stress and strife!/Save your spirit! Save your life!" So begins the voyage via hot air balloon to thirteen countries, each page luckily illustrated by a Caldecott artist in top form and unluckily plagued by lengendary creatures such as the nefarious Russian Domovik, the terrible Japanese Tengu, or the not-so-hot Hotots of Armenia. Anyone who reads this book is likely to learn something new in this international monster who's who, and the frontspiece is an attractive world map to help you locate the monsters (and steer clear of them). Let each child in a classroom make up their own monster description using the format in the book, and bind them together for your own homemade Essential Monster Guide! (7 and up)

THE BEASTS OF CLAWSTONE CASTLE by Eva Ibbotson, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Dutton)
Anyone up for auditioning things-that-go-bump-in-the-night to help haunt a house? That's what Madlyn and Rollo have to do to keep up with the Joneses. After all, they are not going to let their aunt and uncle's castle, and the mysterious white cattle that graze behind it, to play second fiddle to the competing Trembellow Towers, the tourist attraction down the road. It seems, however, that there is more at stake than they might believe...or desire. Ghosts abound in this latest by a beloved and spellbinding author, who always manages to combine just the right measure of humor and fright. If you know a child who enjoys John Bellairs, he or she will love Eva Ibbotson, too. (10 and up)

by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Curtis Jobling (HarperCollins)
When I first looked at this book, I thought, "oh, ho-hum, another skeleton-y Halloween book," and I only mention that in order to say, folks, this is not just another ho-hum Halloween book. A little skeleton is thrillingly, chillingly following a harrowed tyke up the stairs (counting stairs adds to the suspense)…in order to…raid his closet! (He's a modest little skeleton, after all). Children will laugh out loud when they see the funky duds this dude picks out! Skeletons may not have tongues, but luckily you do, so you can try on this aboslutely delicious language, oh, goodness ghostness, I hadn't had this much fun with an itty-bit of rhythm and rhyme since Dr. Seuss. A former elementary school teacher, this author knows how to write a story that screams "feltboard!" and kids will enjoy dressing their own homemade skeletons. If you're looking for a shivery story to share with kids that delivers a little trick and a lot of treat, this is one you'll all enjoy right down to your bones. Like the skeleton in the story, you've really got to try it on for size! (4 and up)

THE PERFECT PUMPKIN PIE by Denys Cazet (Atheneum)
I just had a great time reading this aloud to third graders, now it's your turn to have some fun! Slightly rowdy illustrations make this a pick for your slighty older and more fortified group, who will howl and shiver as Mr. Wilkerson rises from the beyond in order to bully a piece of perfect pie from Jack and his fearless grandmother. A balanced combination of put-the-flashlight-under-your-chin-and-speak-slowly prose and join-in-the-refrain verse ("Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkin pie!/ I must have one before I die./ It must be round and brown as toast/ Or I'll haunt this house as a hungry ghost.") will make for perennial pumpkin fun. Just as a perfect pie must have all the right ingredients, so does this book have the right dashes of fright and delight, and as the ending suggests, old Mr. Wilkerson may put in a few more appearances before all is said and done (apple pie, anyone?). Believe me, if you stood in line for a half an hour at the bakery, you could not come up with a more delicious Halloween storytime treat. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
Have you checked out the new Cybils, the 2006 Children's and YA Bloggers Literary Awards? Cool beans!

On a personal note
Hope this reading feast tides you over for a while...check back next week for more book-a-day! Meanwhile, I'll be touring for VIVE LA PARIS throughout Wisconsin. If you're in the area, please come stop by at some of the public events:

Friday, 10/20, WONDERLAND BOOKS, 7:00 p.m.
1625 North Alpine Road, Rockford, IL 61107, (815) 394-1633

Saturday, 10/21, HARRY W. SCHWARTZ BOOKSHOP, 2:00 p.m.,
10976 N. Port Washington Rd., Mequon, WI 53092, (262) 241-6220

Sunday, 10/22, Reading and signing at the WISCONSIN BOOK FESTIVAL,
4:00 p.m.
Madison Public Library-Main Branch, 201 W. Mifflin Street, Madison, WI

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


HEY THERE, STINK BUG! by Leslie Bulion, illustrated by Leslie Evans (Charlesbridge)
The author invites readers to "take a closer look," and children will delight in doing so with this innovative book of insects that combines genres. Fans of JOYFUL NOISE by Paul Fleischman, the Newbery-award winning book that explores the life of bugs in two alternating voices, will appreciate the poetic bend to this new, nifty little tome. Individual types of bugs are each given a lyrical testimony in the form of haiku, concrete poems, tankas and clerihews among others, all forms described deftly in a handy "poetry notes" section at the back of the book. The verse is cunning, with a kid-friendly edge (Bombardier bombardier bombardier beetle,/slow on the wing but thinks fast on its feetle/blasting poor predators into retreatle,/with boiling hot acid it aims from its seatle."), with vocabulary that doesn't dumb anything down, but rather supports its readership with a clear glossary. This buggy book continues to go above and beyond; each bug also gets a descriptive non-fiction treatment, with an interesting factual explanation of the insect following each poem. Great for integrating into science and language arts, this is a book that will make you say, "Wow, this is a book that can make learning fun!" A great choice for classroom collections and it will get a lot of use in a thematic unit. Outside of school, it will make an enthusiast out of any reader...possibly go a little buggy, as they say. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
BUTTERLY EYES AND OTHER SECRETS OF THE MEADOW by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes (Houghton Mifflin) Beautiful naturalistic scratchboard illustrations grace the latest "look at the world" poems by the award-winning author of SONG OF THE WATER BOATMAN.
(7 and up)

TROUBLE IN BUGLAND by WIlliam Kotzwinkle (Godine) Who knew the author of WALTER THE FARTING DOG, much maligned for its poop-talk, could write a book so erudite, so marvelous, so compelling, a golden glowing gem on the shelves of children's literature? It's true. One of my all-time favorite uper-grade read-alouds is this clever collection of "Inspector Mantis Mysteries," beautifully written stories from a bug's eye view, inspired by Sherlock Holmes. (10 and up)

BUNDLE AT BLACKTHORPE HEATH by Mark Copeland (Houghton Mifflin) Step right up to the insect circus! When the grandson of the circus's owner gets a spyglass and uncovers a nefarious conspiracy in the world of insects, he needs all of the buggy friends he can count on. Beautiful, moody line illustrations add a lot to an already marvelous read-aloud. A bit of a sleeper, this very British book deserves a lot more buzz... it's a delightful and imaginative premise. (8 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Monday, October 16, 2006


ADELE AND SIMON by Barbara McClintock (Farrar Straus and Giroux)

When I was around eleven years old, I read a comic book digest, "Little Lulu in Paris," and was so taken by Lulu's adventures that I vowed to someday visit all the places that Lulu had been. Here is a book that will inspire travel in children's futures, but for now, they can take a remarkable tour of Paris in a book.

Sacre bleu! When little brother Simon is picked up from school, he has his belongings, but as he traipses the streets of 19th century Paris with his increasingly chagrined big sister Adele, he conveniently loses his items, piece by piece... his knapsack disappears mid-eclair at the Maison Cador Patisserie, the crayons go missing at the Louvre, and his coat is without a trace in front of the Cathedrale de Notre Dame. When friends conspire to retrieve his things, it is clear that all the siblings need is a good night's sleep in order for Adele to find the one thing she almost lost: her patience.

With the easy grace of Maurice Chevalier, McClintock makes a boggling amount of Francophilian research and adoration look so natural, from the 1907 map endpapers that show the location of Simon's lost items, or the inclusion of great artists like Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas joining in the hunt at the Louvre, or compositions inspired by Daumier, all in perfect etching-style, cinematic detail. The pictures are what we hope for, the kind that you can look at over and over, and find something new every time. The end-notes are marvelous and as rich as most books in and of themselves. Though there is a profound and contagious passion for her setting and its history, but most importantly, there is never a page in which McClintock forgets her true audience: the young reader or listener. The friction and frustration of keeping track of a child's things is matched by Adele's realistic ire, and the fact that there is, ultimately, no love lost is dearly reassuring. What a gorgeous, gorgeous book, the kind that will make you cry out in joy and admiration. It's what a book looks like when it is the result of true inspiration, and a matching ability. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
Though Adele and Simon is inspired, for my storytimes, the hands-down favorite by McClintock is THE MAGIC FISHBONE.When Mama is in bed with a bad cold, helpful Molly goes out to buy fish for the family's dinner, and ends up meeting her fairy godmother who advises her to save the bone she finds in her portion and use it for one magic wish of her choice. Her brothers and sisters have many exciting suggestions which are elegantly illustrated on a double-page spread, but Molly yields not to temptation. In the days that follow many occasions arise that warrant a good wish, but Molly prudently solves the problems in other ways. What makes Molly finally use her wish? Read and find out! I assure you that at the end of this book, your listeners will be wishing for "one more time!" The story is loosely based on the Charles Dicken's story "The MagicFishbone," which is cleverly alluded to in the cover illustration depicting Dicken's "Fresh Fish" shop, and this book is definitely fresh! (6 and up)

In DAHLIA, Aunt Edme gives Charlotte the gift of a delicate doll, which Charlotte promptly proceeds to include in tree-climbing, mud-cake making, wagon-races and the favorite game of them all, toss-up-in-the-air-and-land-in-a-heap. The illustrations subtly reflect the expression of the doll's increased delight in being included in the rough-housing. But how will her condition be received by Aunt Edme? A delightful toy-tale made especially funny by the liberated view juxtaposed with the Victorian artwork. (5 and up)

Barbara McClintock deserves more recognition as an illustrator, exercising a cross between the mastery, imagination and elegance of John Tenniel (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) and the sweetness and strong characterization of Ernest Sheppard (Wind in the Willows). She has an inimitable ability of mixing a classic art style and a contemporary mindset. If you were to collect every thing she puts her hand to, you wouldn't be sorry.

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Friday, October 13, 2006


THE END by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist (Hyperion)

In honor of Friday the 13th, we are celebrating the 13th and last volume of Lemony Snicket's dreadfully successful set, A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, tapping into the dark and gloomy impluses of children for years, improving their vocabularies and training them for this terrible and fated day: the release of the finale.

There is a long, clichéd history of unlucky orphaned children in the genre of children's literature, and the best of it, like the work of Roald Dahl or Charles Dickens, goes soaring over the top. The hyperbole of misery in children's books actually keeps such books from being too miserable; children widely recognize how unlikely it is that one's parents will be eaten by a rhinoceros, for example, or that they will be forced into a life of pick-pocketing, or that an evil tatooed imposter will try to try to take your sister as a child-bride for her money. That is why I am a fan of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. It reads to me as a parody, less of children's worst fears than that of their parents'. The element of being orphaned, though terrifying in reality, in print form allows children to play out vicariously a sense of responsibility for one's destiny, and all the possibility and problem-solving and unadulterated freedom that comes along with it, for better or worse...in these books, it happens to be for worse. In the case of A Series of Unfortunate Events, that which does not kill the reader, I suppose, makes him or her stronger, and it seems only the characters are due to have their cords cut.

So of course the books are popular. The misadventures are funny, scary, inappropriate, dastardly, naughty, crazy, page-turning, cliffhanging delights. If the Freudian "id" had a library card, it would check out A Series of Unfortunate Events. And yes, I am a fan, even if in THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR, he did happen to give his most evil female character my name. My perfectly good name. Huh. Am I supposed to consider that just another 'unfortunate event'? Snicket better watch his back.

Read my abridged comments and the comments of many others about the approach of the last book in A Series of Unfortunate Events in "Friday the 13th Closes the Book on Lemony Snicket " in USA TODAY, which will serve as Friday's Book-A-Day. When it comes to Lemony Snicket, I'd say, happy reading! Except it doesn't exactly apply.

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Newbery winning-author of THE MIDWIFE'S APPRENTICE and CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY is back in her forté of historical fiction, this time during the McCarthy Era of the 1950's when intellectuals and artists were widely targeted as Communist threats during a modern-day witch hunt. Francine, however, is caught up in her own tweenager world, living down the street from a Hollywood studio and dreaming of a glamorous life, of dreamboat actor Montgomery Clift, of a motion-picture-perfect family. Unfortunately, she is trapped in the body of a shy thirteen-year-old who goes out of her way to stay out of trouble inestead of seeking any adevnture or attention. When saucy, risk-taking Sophie Bowman transfers in to her sleepy class at All Saints School For Girls, the wide world comes rushing in, and Francine stops watching from the sidelines. Is Sophie a bad influence, as the nuns say, or just what Francine needs to understand that sometime not saying anything is the same as speaking up for the wrong side? This chapter in American history is a perfect backdrop for a girl coming in to her own, and darn afraid of it. The best part about the book is the complex friendship story, acknowledging that the people we encounter can really change us, and our path, even as children. The best part about the book, though, is the believable and plucky heroine, as only Cushman can do. She has the gift of making girls of today wish they could pull characters out of their timelines and call them "best friend." (11 and up)

Also of interest:
More books by award-winning authors!
BREAD AND ROSES, TOO by Katherine Paterson (Clarion)
Fans of Elizabeth Winthrop's COUNTING ON GRACE and Carmela Martino's ROSA, SOLA will enjoy the latest by the author of BRIDGE TO TEREBITHIA. An Italian immigrant family has to
weigh the dangerous pros and cons when they decide whether or not to participate in a strike against the mills, ultimately resulting in sending Rosa to live with a family she doesn't know in Vermont until the heat blows over. On the train, she meets a boy who begs her to pretend that he is her brother...where is his family? What secret is he hiding? Will Rosa ever see her family again? Aren't you excited to read this book? (10 and up)

PROBUDITI! by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin) Can a brother and his friend remember the magic word to release a little sister from the hypnotists's spell that has her acting like a puppy dog...or is sister the one who has the boys in her power? You'll be getting anything but sleeeepy when you pore over this silly, sepia-toned sibling story by the illustrator of THE POLAR EXPRESS. The artist continues to play masterfully with dreamlike perpectives and boggling technique, but interjects a fresh sense of humor (look at that little girl, she's practically wagging her tail!) and also makes a multicultural contribution by making his main characters African-American. (7 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Everyone kept telling me to get two copies of this book, and I wondered, what are they talking about? Why would I need two? Well, after reading it, may I say: get two, because like any great sandwich, you're going to want to share.

The delightfully irreverent Rex (THE DIRTY COWBOY) has written a book so funny, it's scary. Bring your best monster face, it will crack...you will be weeping with laughter from these poems, whether it's "The Creature of the Black Lagoon Doesn't Wait an Hour Before Swimming," "An Open Letter from Wolfman's Best Friend" ("Dear Wolfman,/I wanted to make some things clear./ I know we've been roomates for nearly a year,/and I probably should have said something before,/ but could you please try/not to scratch the front door?"), "The Invisible Man Gets a Haircut" (would you look at the barber's expression?) "Count Dracula Doesn't Know He's Been Walking Around All Night With Spinach in his Teeth," "The Phantom of the Opera Can't Get 'The Girl from Ipanema' Out of His Head," shall I go on? How about listening to an oversensitive Bigfoot's lament, getting the skinny on a Witch-Watcher's Club, and of course, what collection of hoorors would complete without a visit to the dentist? Children will not like this book, they will
love it, and the poems are only surpassed by the artwork, distinctive, distinguished, and utterly limber in style, ranging from painterly to comic-bookish. A mix of Shel Silverstein, Art Speigelman, Colin McNaughton, and something wholly original and inspired, this is an absolute must-have for any self-respecting collection, this holiday book really puts this talent on the map, even if the map happens to be of Transylvania. It liiiiives! (6 and up)

Also of interest:
In my lesson planning today, I had such a blast rediscovering some seasonal read-alouds that I just can't wait to share...so I'll share them with you, in case you're planning, too! More tricks and treats coming through the month, but let the spine-tingling begin with these gently spooky delights:

THE BAKE SHOP GHOST by Jacqueline Ogburn, illustrated by Marjorie A. Priceman (Houghton Mifflin)Cora Lee Merriweather bakes such delicious pies and cakes, her bake shop customers are willing to forgive the fact that every bit of sweetness seems to go into her work. When mean Madame Merriweather finally gives up the ghost, that's all she's willing to give up. As a prankish poltergeist, she successfully drives away anyone who seeks to inhabit her former kitchen, but when former cruise ship pastry chef Annie Washington rents the storefront, it is going to take more than a little flying flour to drive her out. When Annie finally asks what she can do for Cora Lee to settle her spirit, she says, "Make me a cake so rich and so sweet, it will fill me up and bring tears to my eyes. A cake like the one I might have baked, but no one ever made for me." Will Annie spend the rest of her life trying to bake this magical cake, or will she find the bittersweet ingredient that will free them both? Superb storytelling and ebullient illustrations are a recipe for read-aloud in this perfectly delicious ghost story about empathy and cooperation. (7 and up)

CURSE IN REVERSE by Tom Coppinger, illustrated by Dirk Zimmer (Atheneum) Agnezza the witch wanders through the small hamlet of Humburg, looking for some shelter and a bite to eat. Selfish Mrs. Raff refuses her, and is given the Curse of the Silent Night. Rude Mr. Fooss rejects her, and is put under The Curse of the One-eyed Jack. When childless Mr. and Mrs. Tretter recieve her with open arms, they are chagrined when, upon their departure, she lays a Curse of the One-Armed Man upon them. Why did she do that? Their alarm grows as they see the curses of their neighbors come to unfortunate and surprising fruition. Little do they know that Agnezza has another trick up her sleeve when it comes to rewarding kindness! A funny folktale that's formalistically flawless, peppered perfectly with Zimmer's zany cross-hatched line drawings. Share this charmer anytime of year, and you'll have to decide for yourself if repeated readings are a curse…or a curse in reverse! (6 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


OOPS by Arthur Geisert(Houghton Mifflin)
In this wordless picture book, a little pig spills some milk and sets off a Rube Goldberg-style chain of events (an cause-and effect storytelling approach also seen in the author's other recent work LIGHTS OUT), followed pictorally one by one, that result in the catastophic destruction of the house. Yes, that's right, the house falls down. On the last page, however, all we can see is the relief that the family is still together.

When I first read this book, it disturbed me for several days. It was disconcerting to imagine that a child would identify with a character who was responsible, however inadvertently, for a house falling down. But as I thought about it, I had to admit that when things really go wrong, some children really do feel responsible, even if that blame is woefully displaced. And the fact that I was thinking about it for days afterward meant that some string must have really been plucked...sure enough, when I shared the book, the children grasped the author's intent immediately: the value of the family is worth more than any house, and that if we have the people we love, we can survive anything. For this reason, I post the recommendation here for your consideration, because many of us work with families who have experienced disasters, natural and otherwise. (5 and up)

Also of interest:
Having a real bad day? Like, a real bad day? You're not the only one. Find comfort in the company of books!

THIS PLACE I KNOW: POEMS OF COMFORT edited by Georgia Heard (Candlewick) Released after 9/11, this inspiring collection still endures as an excellent collection of poems to steady any young and aching heart. (8 and up)

RIVER FRIENDLY, RIVER WILD by Jane Kurtz, illustrated by Neil Brennan (Aladdin)
Based on memories of living through the Grand Forks, North Dakota flood, the author uses free verse to carry the reader through the confusion, horror and hope of a community in the throes of survival. The dramatic story is complimented through muted paintings of fire and water, submerged homes, rescued Christmas ornaments and Red Cross trucks. This realistic, haunting book succeeds in being sensitive without saccharine. This title will surely move any empathetic reader, and teachers will find an easy connection with natural disaster studies and weather units. (7 and up)

THE MOON CAME DOWN ON MILK STREET by Jean Gralley (Holt) The late, oh so great Fred Rogers used to advise children in scary situations to "look for the helpers." This hopeful title is all about the helpers! When the catastrophic situation of the moon's descent happens in the neighborhood, people in the community are roused. Fire fighters, rescue workers and even helper dogs give aid, and manage to "make it right again." Using cooperation, it seems there is no problem too big for a community to solve. With gentle gouche illustrations and a "good night" ending, this book is a very reassuring bedtime pick for worriers, but belongs on the shelf of anyone who works with young children, to be pulled out on those bad days when the moon seems to fall on us and our world. (3 and up)

FORTUNATELY by Remy Charlip (Aladdin) Huh! It looks like life can go either way in this clever, classic look at the good and bad in circumstances we can't control, via a poor guy named Ned trying to get to a party. We've all been there. (5 and up)

THE TRUTH ABOUT SPARROWS by Marian Hale (A change in socioeconomic status after her family's turn of bad luck is more than Sadie can bear, but when faced with a crisis, Sadie manages to get her priorities straight. Extremely well-written historical fiction, set during the Depression era. (10 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Monday, October 09, 2006


POMPEII: LOST AND FOUND by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen (Knopf)
The author of the wildly popular Magic Tree House series departs from her usual format to offer her readers this special trip back in time. Opening like the pro she is, the drama takes off from the get-go, as Vesuivius explodes on the second page. "Over the next eighteen hours, poisonous gasses filled the air. Tons of hot ash rained down on Pompeii until the town was completely buried." Now that Osborne has her reader's attention, she spends the bulk of the book not focusing on the death, but instead, the bustling life and vibrant culture of one of the wealthiest communities in the Roman Empire. The artwork in this book is done in a unique "frescoe" style, meaning that the illustrator paints pigment on plaster while it is still wet or fresh (or fresco, in Italian), a style that gives the pages an evocative look of being weathered by the ages. Some children have a certain affinity for books about disasters (The Titanic has a big following, for example), and they will not be disappointed here. Though the end of Pompeii was certainly a grim day in history, the treatment is tasteful, celebrating more of the good than the horrific, and allowing that ancient world to spring to life again within these pages. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
THE HERO SCHLIEMANN: THE DREAMER WHO DUG FOR TROY by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Robert Byrd (Candlewick) If your young reader digs archeology, they will be fascinated with the compelling account of a swindler who claimed to have found the ancient city of Troy. Whose story was the real one? The volume may be slim, but it contains lots to consider...and to discuss in a classroom. (8 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Friday, October 06, 2006


DON'T LET THE PIGEON STAY UP LATE by Mo Willems (Hyperion)
The willful hero of the award-winning DON'T LET A PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS is back and bleary eyed, but unwilling to take bedtime for an answer. It's not too late for a hot dog party,is it? How about a late night show...the pigeon says it's educational! Come on, five more minutes. "What's five minutes in the grand scheme of things!?" Pigeon tries every trick in the book, but can the reader persist and turn the pages to get him tucked in? Ever clever and canny, this may be my favorite Willems of all, really capturing a child's desperation to stay in the alluring late-night mix but fading fast. The pigeon's subtle yawns may be contagious, and the slow, gentle darkening of the pages in this mercifully short bedtime book is just what we need to send our little ones off to dreamland with smiles on their faces...and ours. (4 and up)

Also of interest:
If you like Mo Willem's interactive style in which the child reader is directly engaged by the narrator, you'll also love DON'T MAKE ME LAUGH by James Stevenson (Farrar Straus and Giroux) and the great reissue of the 1970's side-splitting Sesame Street favorite, THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK by Jon Stone (Golden). (4 and up)
And there are two new bedtime books out worth staying up late over:
SO SLEEPY STORY by Uri Shulevitz(Farrar Straus Giroux) The latest by a Caldecott honoree arguably in the the caliber of Maurice Sendak, this repetitious, drifting and dreamlike refrain reads like an homage to Margaret Wise Brown's GOODNIGHT MOON. (3 and up)
ROAR OF A SNORE by Marsha Diane Arnold,illustrated by Pierre Pratt (Dial) Not all bedtimes are quiet! This cumulative tale goes out of the house and into the barn to see who's making all that noise. Extra snuggly! (4 and up)
A gentle reminder FYI: there are instructions for a Storytime Sleepover Party (and fundraiser!) on pages 78-80 in my guide HOW TO GET YOUR CHILD TO LOVE READING.

On a personal note
I will be appearing at Barnes & Noble in Evanston, IL, 1630 Sherman Avenue, 847.424.0993, this Saturday (tomorrow) October 7th at 8:30 a.m. (yes, that's in the morning) to speak about my new book VIVE LA PARIS in conjunction with their educator's programming. Call to reserve a spot! If you're in the area, I'd love to see you!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


What goes into a birthday cake? 365 sunrises, four seasons , and one heck of a trip. A merry little baker helps readers to mix it up in a way that affirms the big deal that a birthday really is, from the perspective of the universe. "We're traveling in a circle. This recipe is a circle. It's all coming round again." Notorious for being slightly esoteric and slightly scientific, Frasier achieved fame with her book ON THE DAY YOU WERE BORN, and some have considered her style a little "new age-y." For me, I see two themes recurrent in her work: celebration, and an appreciation of nature and the environment, both of which are right on time for our up-and-coming generation of children. A nice thing to do at a birthday party would be to have a copy of this book available, and have friends and family autograph it like a yearbook as a keepsake. For classroom use, children will enjoy making up their own recipes for what goes into their year. The cheerful cut-paper collage illustrations make this his book is as irresistable as a piece with a frosting flower on it and sprinkles on the sides. A recipe is included (your choice of chocolate or vanilla topping), as well as scientific notes about counting circles in nature, and a visual map to our annual trip around the sun. Fortified with food for thought, don't wait until a birthday rolls around to serve up this booklover's just dessert. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JAMELA! by Niki Daly (Farrar Straus and Giroux). Set in South Africa, a high-spirited girl seeks to add some sparkle to her school shoes in an effort to get what she really wanted for her birthday. Will her fashion faux-pas get her into trouble, or make her wish come true? This book granted my wish; I always want a Jamela story, and this is the latest in a picture book series. (5 and up)

Throw your own unbirthday party by clicking here!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


LOVE YOU WHEN YOU WHINE by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier (Farrar Straus and Giroux)
There is a genre of children's literature that my friend refers eye-rollingly to as the "mommy-mommy book," in which a child is repeatedly reassured that the love of the parent knows no bounds. It goes way back to Margaret Wise Brown's vintage THE RUNAWAY BUNNY to Sam McBratney's modern GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU, both bestsellers and both featuring bunnies, but lest you think only lapins can love unconditionally, there are many other examples, including the surprisingly warm human accounting done with an Arctic backdrop in Barbara Joose's classic MAMA, DO YOU LOVE ME? and the perpetually and inexplicably popular LOVE YOU FOREVER ,which somehow reads like some sort of terrifyingly twisted Hitchcock jaunt, but who am I to second-guess such success (or the genius of its author Robert Munsch, who can make you laugh even harder than he can make you cry)? There are enough lesser-accomplished examples of eternal, infernal mother-child wheedling in children's books that I will someday compile a "mommy-mommy" booklist for a webpage that you can refer to the next time you have a hormonal swing.

So, after looking at hundreds of rodents and quite a few humans be reassured, you can perhaps sympathize with my special affection for this very subversive look at the parent-child exchange, in which a small monster-like creature is coddled by his mother: "Love you when you interrupt. Love you when you don't say 'please.'...and when you ask for every toy in the whole store, one after another. Love you when you mess with my checkbook. Love you when you unfold all the laundry I just folded. Love you when you spread jam on my computer. Love you, yes, when you are way too loud...Love you when you will not share. Love you when you hit someone. Love you when you have a tantrum. Love you, even when you say you don't love me." The great charm of this book is that page after dastardly and unrelentingly recognizable page, for all of the antics and subsequent parental pain so cheerfully and colorfully described and indicated, we have not a moment's doubt that this mother is telling the truth. In the brave tradition of Lore Segal and Tomi Ungerer, this quality, for all of the naughtiness, is the mark of a truly fine and honest "mommy mommy" book. Though I am positive your angels would never, ever, ever do a single thing like this little monster does, they will laugh to the point of squealing, and delight in someone else making the wrong choices. As for you, the lap-provider, you'll at least be able to make that connection of loving wholeheartedly. No matter what. (5 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.


PUMPKINS by Ken Robbins (Roaring Brook)
Sigh. Oh, that Ken Robbins. He really gets it. He knows that when people pick up a book with photographs, they are looking for something real, something captured from life, and something with brevity, letting the pictures be worth a thousand words. He perpetually achieves a graceful balance between his evocative, clear photographs and a minimal amount of equally clear and direct text; a teacher's dream, folks. This season, squash is on the menu, and he serves it up from flower to fruit, with close-ups and wide angles, and always a sense of the farm from whence it comes. Big pumpkins, little pumpkins, pumpkins carved into jack-o-lanterns on a spooky, out-of-focus Halloween night, and pumpkins dilapidated and rotting, but full of the seeds that will sprout the story all over again.

I never regret a Ken Robbins purchase, and read his books aloud again and again to children five and up with pleasure. They are perfect for integrating non-fiction into a storytime, or for pictoral reference and inspiration on any topic that he chooses, such as the following titles also of interest:
SEEDS (Atheneum)
AUTUMN LEAVES (Scholastic) (Why do my favorites go out of print? Worth the hunt, because it doubles as a much-needed primary feild guide.)
APPLES (Atheneum) (6 and up)
THUNDER ON THE PLAINS: THE STORY OF THE AMERICAN BUFFALO (Atheneum) (Especially moving, and a departure from the author's frequent science forays.) (7 and up)

Who are some of your favorite authors who use the photographic form? Nina Crews? George Ancona? Share in the comments section! Do you like the content-rich Dorling Kindersley style of "museum in a book," which revolutionized publishing with their groundbreaking photographic "Eyewitness" series? Don't just stare, take a picture, it'll last longer...especially if it's in a book!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.


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