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Rick Riordan: The Weirdest Myth

PercyJacksonGreekGodsPercy Jackson's Greek Gods releases next week (8/19) and this Best Book of August is a look at Greek mythology as only the demigod Percy Jackson can do.  We already know author Rick Riordan is an avid mythology reader but wondered what myth he's run across that was more bizarre than all the rest (because, let's be honest, a lot of mythology is really strange).  Here's Riordan's take on the weirdest myth:

The Weirdest Myth

While writing Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods, I came across a lot of weird myths. Even after all these years as a mythology buff, I’m still coming across stories I didn’t know.

Possibly the weirdest? The story of Erichthonious, the only son of Athena.

The thing is, Athena was a maiden goddess. She couldn’t have children. Yet the people of Athens wanted to find some way to claim that their king was descended from Athena, who after all was their patron goddess. They also thought it would be cool if their king was related to Hephaestus, since he was the god of useful crafts and the natural counterpart to Athena.

So the Athenians fashioned this rather weird story: The crippled blacksmith god Hephaestus fell in love with Athena, but of course Athena wanted nothing to do with him. Hephaestus tried to chase her down, but since he was crippled, Athena was faster. Hephaestus only managed to grab the hem of her skirt, and in the struggle . . . Hmm, how to put this delicately? Some of the god’s bodily fluid ended up on Athena’s leg.

Yuck. Athena got the nearest wad of wool and wiped off the aforementioned bodily fluid. She flung it down to the earth in disgust.

Sadly, divine fluid is powerful stuff. The essence of Hephaestus and Athena mixed together in that wool cloth, and a new life was created: a demigod baby, Erichthonius.

Athena heard the baby crying and took pity on him. She raised him in secret until he grew up, at which point he became the king of Athens.

And that’s how the Athenians got their ancestry straightened out. Their kings were literally the children of Athena and Hephaestus . . . though why they wanted to be descended from a discarded wool rag, I’m not sure.

Goes to show you: there’s a myth for everything. And just when you think mythology can’t get any stranger, it does. You can read the full story of Erichthonios, and so many more bizarre stories of the gods, in Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods. Hope you enjoy! -- Rick Riordan

100 Children's Books to Read in a Lifetime

Today we launched our list of 100 Children's Books to Read in a Lifetime and it's been fun to hear from readers and co-workers about their favorites.  When we came up with our list we were thinking only about books for readers age 12 and under.  Of course, we wanted to include classics like Goodnight Moon and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but we also wanted to have the recent releases that we think are going to be favorites for future generations, like Wonder and The Day the Crayons Quit

What books on this list do you love?  What would you have added if it was your list?  We have a poll on Goodreads where you can vote, and in two weeks we'll announce the Readers Choice version of 100 Children's Books to Read in a Lifetime.

100ChildrensBksLifetimeCollage500

Peter Sis Shares Early Sketches and Talks About "The Pilot and the Little Prince"

PilotLittlePrinceAn acclaimed children's book author and illustrator, Peter Sis' book The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtainabout his childhood in Cold War-era Prague, won a Caldecott Honor in 2008.  Most recently Sis turned his attention to the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery in The Pilot and the Little Prince.  This picture book for older children (ages 6-up) tells the remarkable story of the author of the children's classic, The Little Prince, and Sis' passion for his subject leaps off the page. This is one of our favorite books for this age--actually, it's a fascinating read for anyone who's read The Little Prince--and we made it one of our Best Books of 2014 So Far.

During Book Expo America in New York last month, Sis was kind enough to do a video interview and share some of his early sketches from his studio in Manhattan.  He's a fascinating storyteller, and watching him quickly flipping through the sketches while speaking so candidly about them is something I found immensely enjoyable. 

 

 

YA Wednesday: Walter Dean Myers 1937-2014

BEA2012_WalterDeanMyers_250I'm so sad to hear that Walter Dean Myers passed away. I had the pleasure to meet him at BEA in 2012 (pictured here), when he was the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and he was delightful.  Myers said that books gave him solace during troubled times as a young person, and in turn his books have touched many young lives. 

The author of over 100 works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, Myers won the Coretta Scott King Award multiple times, including a 2014 Coretta Scott King Honor for Darius & Twig.  He also received two Newbery Honors (for Scorpions and Somewhere in the Darkness) and his book, Monster, was the inaugural winner of the Michael L. Printz Award, a National Book Award Finalist, and a New York Times bestseller.  His futuristic young adult novel, On a Clear Day will be published this fall (September 23).  He will be sorely missed.

"I think my life is special. In a way it seems odd that I spend all of my time doing only what I love, which is writing or thinking about writing. If everyone had, at least for part of their lives, the opportunity to live the way I do, I think the world would be a better place.”--Walter Dean Myers

Amazon Asks: Ben Mezrich Brings Down the Mouse

BringingDownMouseFor his latest book, Ben Mezrich put a slight twist on the title of his best-seller, Bringing Down the Housebut this time he's writing for a very different audience--young readers.  Bringing Down the Mouse parallels Mezrich's nonfiction book in a middle grade novel full of non-stop action and excitement, risk, math, and gaming.  See what Mezrich has to say about his new book, Encyclopedia Brown, and his magical radio below.

Amazon:  What's the elevator pitch for your book?

Ben Mezrich:  Bringing Down The Mouse is the story of Charlie "Numbers" Lewis, a twelve year old whiz kid recruited into a secret club of sixth graders who use math and science to beat carnival games; their goal is to bring down Incredo Land, the best amusement park in the world.

Amazon: Why write a middle grade novel (vs. one for young adults)?

Ben Mezrich:  I've always loved adventure stories that involve brilliant kids using their brains to beat systems that seem unbeatable; when I set out to tell Charlie's story, and create this world, I wanted it to feel like a thrill ride, but with a very optimistic, upbeat edge. Charlie's Whiz Kids- his group of nerdy friends- aren't the sort of dark, brooding characters you see in young adult, maybe because I'm not very dark and brooding either. I certainly was a geeky kid myself, but to me, math and science were always these magical things- powerful tools you could use in incredible ways.

Amazon: Did you have a favorite books when you were [your main character] Charlie's age?

Ben Mezrich: I loved the Encyclopedia Brown series. Also the Electric Book, about a kid trapped in a book being written while he tries to escape. But I read just about everything; my dad had a rule when I was 12 that we had to read two books a week before we were allowed to watch TV, and I loved TV--so if became a speed reader from a very early age.

Amazon: What's your most memorable author moment?

Ben Mezrich: There have been so many. Seeing my first book on the stands was cool. Going to the Oscars, and watching Aaron Sorkin win for his adaptation of my book into the movie The Social Network was pretty amazing. Seeing someone reading something I wrote on an airplane--things like that are pretty awesome.

Amazon: What's your most prized/treasured possession and why?

Ben Mezrich: I have an antique console stand-up radio that I bought in a yard sale twenty years ago, that I've always half-believed has magical properties. It's in my office, and it has watched over each of the fifteen books I've written. It also helped me find my wife, which led to my two incredible children, and my sweet, neurotic, epileptic pug, Bugsy. But that's a much longer story, so I'll just leave is simple: my antique radio.

Amazon: What's your lucky number?

Ben Mezrich: 6 and sometimes 3.

Amazon: What's next for you?  Do you see yourself writing more children's books or entering the young adult right?

Ben Mezrich: Both. I have a thriller coming out in September called Seven Wonders. And a nonfiction book early next year. But Bringing Down The Mouse is the first in what I hope to be a many book series, so I'd love to continue writing these stories for many years to come.

 

Ken Jennings: The Water Boys of the White House

JenningsUSpresidentsYou probably know Ken Jennings as the game show record breaker who won $2.52 million on Jeopardy! and then became a best-selling author.  Most recently, Jennings has turned his attention to writing books for kids--really great informative and FUN books in a series called the Junior Genius Guides.  The first two titles were Maps and Geography (a pick for Best Nonfiction Children's Books of February ) and Greek Mythology.  Embarrassing fact about myself: I stink at geography. But when I read Jennings' book, I not only learned new facts but they were interesting enough that I found myself parroting tidbits to family members, including my seven-year-old.

The latest book in the series, Ken Jennings' Junior Genius Guide to U.S. Presidents, just released and once again I find myself a fan. Did you know that President Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday? I did not.  But it's a fun fact that I've now committed to memory.  In the guest post below, Jennings talks a little about why he chose Presidents and five of them that didn't quite make the cut for his book.


The third installment in my series of Junior Genius Guides for kids is out this week, and this one is about U.S. presidents. When I’m writing these books, the audience I always have in mind is me at nine years old: curious, fact-obsessed, and always on the lookout for books that didn’t talk down to me. (Kids aren’t dummies.  They can tell the difference between smart, funny books and “smart,” “funny” books.)

When I was nine years old, I was particularly obsessed with U.S. presidents. Something about the mystique of the office (the private airplane, the Easter Egg rolls, the giant statues carved into mountains) combined with the wealth of available trivia (Millard Fillmore? We had a president named “Millard”?) spoke to me. It wasn’t political.  It was just . . . American.

Let me introduce you to a few people who are not in my book . . . though they almost were. On the all-star team of Chief Executives, these are the alternates, the water boys.  They’re more obscure than Millard Fillmore, but they got even closer to the presidency than Al Gore. 

  • John Hanson. America’s first president as a newly formed nation was not George Washington. Before the Constitution was ratified, when the U.S. government was still organized under the Articles of Confederation, eight men were presidents of the Continental Congress. The first was an otherwise obscure Maryland merchant named John Hanson. Nice enough guy, but you won’t be seeing him on the dollar bill any time soon.
  • David Rice Atchison. In 1849, Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday, so Sabbath-observing Zachary Taylor was sworn in a day late.  (As was the style at the time.)  If James Polk’s presidency ended at midnight on Saturday, but Taylor wasn’t sworn in until Monday, then who was president all day Sunday? Next in the line of succession was theoretically Missouri senator David Rice Atchison, who had been serving as President Pro Tempore of the Senate. Atchison spent the rest of his life boasting that he’d run the nation’s most honest administration, since he’d been asleep pretty much his entire (24-hour) term! Technically, though, his Senate term had ended at the same time Polk’s presidency did, so legal scholars agree that he was never really president.
  • Benjamin Wade. In 1868, during Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate was a Radical Republican from Ohio named Benjamin Wade. Wade was so sure he’d accede to the presidency that he even started assembling his cabinet. But the thought of the abrasive Wade in the presidency scared senators so badly that, though largely convinced Johnson was guilty, they failed to impeach him by one vote. Wade had to stop measuring curtains for the White House.
  • Samuel Tilden. In the 1876 election, Governor Tilden of New York won the popular vote easily, but four states had disputed electoral votes. Tilden needed just one of those states to take the White House, but a commission of eight Republicans and seven Democrats voted 8-7 to give all four disputed states to their man, Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes was sworn in secretly in the Red Room of the White House, for fear that a public inauguration would turn into a riot.
  • Sir Anthony Hopkins. The former Hannibal Lecter has been Oscar-nominated not once but twice for playing U.S. presidents: Richard Nixon in Nixon and John Quincy Adams in Amistad. Sadly, Hopkins was born in Wales, and is therefore constitutionally ineligible for the presidency.

A Peek Inside a Best-Seller...for Babies

Peek a WhoThere are some children's books that fly a little under the radar but are parent favorites year after year. These are not books by the "S's" (Seuss, Sendak or Silverstein) or books with characters that show up as a PBS show or on nursery decor.  These are the unsung staples of a first library, and Nina Laden's Peek-a-Who? is one of them. 

Published in 2000, this board book with die-cut pages is one I like to recommend for baby showers or toddler birthdays, and hundreds of customer reviews sing it's praises.  This month, Laden released a companion book, Peek-a-Zoo!, which made our first list of Best Books of the Month for Baby-Age 2.  Fourteen years is a long time between the two books and we were curious about the how, when, and why now of Peek-a-Zoo! Here is Nina Laden on writing the new book and a peek (I can't resist) inside her studio and early sketches.

 


Peek a WhoIt was the year 2000. Some people were worried that the world would end, or that the Y2K virus would cause computers all over the world to crash. But I was anxious about my very first board book, Peek-a Who?

I'd published several picture books that were very well received, but had never planned to do board books. But I got to the stage when all of my friends started having babies and I wanted something hip, cool and interactive to give them, something more "me" than the typical "A is for Apple" and "B is for Ball" book Little did I know that Peek-a Who? would basically become "The Little Book That Could," as I've been calling it for years. My take on the game of peek-a boo struck a chord with parents and kids, and has sold beyond my wildest expectations. Even with that success, I am not the kind of author who likes to do series and didn't immediately plan a follow-up I just don't think that way. I am constantly trying to reinvent myself, mostly so that I won't get bored. But as the years went past, including some difficult years spent managing some family crisis, and Peek-a Who? continued to sell better with each passing year, I began to think of new board book ideas.

 

Backyard
Nina's backyard studio
Inside Studio
The inside view of Nina's Seattle studio

 

Interior SketchesAt first I played with eyes and noses of different animals and creatures and sent these ideas to my editor, Victoria Rock at Chronicle Books. They just didn't work on all of the levels that they should have, and for me those levels are: a good rhyme, fun images that have some sort of game or guessing element, a surprise at the end, and a way to end with the child reading the book. Then one day, the clouds parted. So many people had told me how much they loved the zoo image in Peek-a Who? and I realized that I could create an entire board book with zoo animals.

I did a thumbnail dummy and I rounded up a group of animals that all rhymed with the "oo" sound: MEW (kitten), KANGAROO, GNU, COCK-A DOODLE-DO (rooster), EWE, and the mirror at the end.

I sent these thumbnails off to Victoria and after we discussed them, I drew them full-sized and then I even started painting the kitten for the first spread. Something was bugging me, though and I wasn't quite sure what it was. Then I got the email from my editor saying "these really aren't all zoo animals." Yeah, that was it. They weren't. The kitten was replaced with a tiger cub. The kangaroo stayed, but the gnu failed the audition and was replaced with a cockatoo. The rooster became a panda eating bamboo, and the ewe went away because I had come up with too many spreads! (I may have to do a farm version of the book in the future.)

 

Mew Bamboo

 

Peek a ZooOnce we had the animals all set and my sketches approved, I painted all of the interior illustrations. I love painting in the technique I created for my board books, which involves painting the paper black first and then making it look like a wood-cut.

I had known basically what I wanted the cover to look like from the beginning, but we had to go through a few different background patterns. I had started with leopard spots, tiger stripes and peacock feathers. The tiger stripes won.

It was truly a lot of fun to create Peek-a Zoo! I've also embraced the idea of creating a series of "Peek-A Books." The good news is that there are so many great words with "oo" sounds to play with. But don't worry, I won't be doing Peek-a Tattoo. Or maybe I will. You never know.

Peek a Zoo SketchPeek a Zoo Sketch Concepts

National Reading Month: Kate DiCamillo on the Power of Stories

KateDiCamilloMarch is National Reading Month and today is World Read Aloud Day, so we are kicking it off with a guest post from children's book author Kate DiCamillo that brought a lump to my throat (yes, I'm a total sap but don't judge 'til you read it...).

Probably best known for her novels Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux, DiCamillo has had quite a year already.  At the start of 2014 she was named the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, a post voted on by a panel of booksellers, the Children's Book Council, and the Library of Congress.  Then when the Newbery award winners were announced at the end of January, DiCamillo took home the medal for Flora & Ulysses (an Amazon Best Children's Book of 2013), marking her third time as a Newbery recipient (she won the medal for Tales of Despereaux in 2004 and an honor for Because of Winn-Dixie in 2001).  DiCamillo is a powerhouse advocate for reading and getting books into the hands of children and, as you'll see in her post below, she does it with immense grace, gratitude, and always a touch of humor.

When I was nine years old, my mother checked Beverly Cleary’s Ribsy out of the public library, and read the book aloud to my brother and me.  We read a few chapters of the story every night.  The three of us sat side by side on the flowered sectional couch in the Florida room.  The Florida room had orange shag carpet.  Its walls were paneled in cypress, and we could see Lake Minnehaha from the large bank of windows that faced south.

On the floor, stretched out parallel to the couch, was our dog Nanette.  Nanette’s flank rose and fell as my mother read, and the dog would raise her head off the floor and look at us every time we laughed. 

We laughed a lot. 

Ribsy is a funny book.

There was a lamp by the couch.  And as the darkness outside grew darker, as the lake disappeared into the sky, as more of the story got told, the light by the couch seemed to grow brighter.

We were a pack of four: my mother, my brother, the dog and me.  In the book, Ribsy the dog was lost.  But we were all safe inside.  We were together.

That was over four decades ago.

Nanette is gone and my mother is gone.  My brother and I live far away from each other. 

But every time I see the cover of that book, every time I see a picture of Ribsy, I am transported back to that time, to that cypress-paneled room, to the flowered couch, to the lamp and the laughter and the safety.

Reading together is a very particular kind of magic.

When I meet teachers and librarians who tell me that they read aloud to their classrooms, I always try to make a point of thanking them.

Reading a story together brings us together: large groups, small groups, packs of four and packs of two.  When we read together, we come in from the darkness, the cold.

It occurs to me as I write these words, as I remember the darkness outside that room in Florida, that I never explicitly thanked my mother for reading to us.

So, I will thank her here, now, in the best way I can, by encouraging other people to do what she did for me, and for my brother.

I will ask you to read aloud to your students, your children.  Read aloud to your husband, your wife.  Read aloud to your dog.

Push back the darkness.

Sit down beside somebody you love. 

Turn on a light.  Open a book.

--Kate DiCamillo

For more on Kate DiCamillo, you can check out our Omni interview with her about Flora & Ulysses (before it won the Newbery) and here are *some* of her books:

FloraUlysses160 Winn-Dixie MagiciansElephantTaleDespereaux160 EdwardTulane BinkGollie160

    MercyWatson160 LouiseChicken160 MercyWatsonPrincess160TigerRising160

"Harriet the Spy" Turns 50

Harriet50AnnivCover_400In the last couple of years we've seen some of our favorite children's books--Where the Wild Things Are, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Giving Tree, Amelia Bedelia--celebrate their 50th anniversaries.  Now it's Louise Fitzhugh's beloved story of the intensely curious aspiring young writer, Harriet M. Welsch--a.k.a Harriet the Spy, marking the half-century milestone. 

Half a century sounds so, well, old, doesn't it?  Michael D. Beil, author of the Red Blazer Girls series and the upcoming Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits (April 8), thinks old, in this case, translates to the wonder of pre-Google discovery and characters that are still believable five decades after they first appeared on the page.

In his funny and delightful guest post below, Beil joins the ranks of Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, and Jonathan Franzen, among others, in paying tribute to this iconic children's book that so many of us hold close to our hearts. Here's to another 50 years of inspiring young readers, Harriet.

Harriet the Spy at 50

My wife and I recently started an Old Fogey Jar. Whenever one of us says something that sounds suspiciously old-fogey-like, a dollar goes in the jar. Fogey talk is easy to identify because it usually begins with a recognizable phrase. For example:

Kids today . . . 

When I was a kid . . .

We didn’t have X and we all survived. (X equals Bike helmets. Car seats. IEPs. The list goes on.)

They don’t make ’em like they used to.

And, of course, that all-purpose favorite: The world is going to hell in a handbasket.

At the risk of losing yet another dollar to the jar (which I am filling at an alarming rate, I’m afraid), I’m going to say it: far too many of today’s kids are miles behind Harriet M. Welsch in one essential category: simple curiosity. Unlike in Harriet’s pre-Google, pre-Ask.com world, the answers kids seek are often just a click or two away. The concept of learning something they don’t need to learn, of simply sitting on a library floor surrounded by books, is foreign to them. It’s not the ease of finding the answer that’s the problem; rather, it’s the loss of those random and accidental discoveries kids make when they’re looking for something else.

Of course, they don’t all have an Ole Golly, who may just be the wisest human being in the history of literature. She reads Dostoievsky before bed; quotes Wordsworth, Emerson, and Keats; and urges Harriet to “find out all you can, because life is hard enough even if you know a lot.” Ole Golly was a life coach before people even knew that they needed such a thing. (There goes another dollar.)

Harriet is not only interesting; she is interestED, in everything and everyone. Like Jane Goodall living with the chimpanzees in Tanzania, Harriet realizes that the only way to truly understand the inhabitants of her Yorkville neighborhood is by observing them in their natural habitat—in other words, by spying on them. And like a portrait by an artist who paints exactly what she sees, completely disregarding how subjects see themselves, Harriet’s notes are honest, unvarnished, and often unflattering depictions. And does she take her job seriously! When her mother restricts the amount of time she can “play” with her notebook, she says, “I’m not playing. Who says I’m playing? I’m WORKING!” Harriet may not be entirely likeable, but fifty years’ worth of readers have admired her, and aspiring writers continue to be inspired by her imagination, intelligence, curiosity, and single-minded determination to be a writer.

She’s also believable, which is why kids (who couldn’t care less what critics think!) like her. I’m not usually a black-and-white kind of guy, but when it comes to adults, I think there are two basic types: those who remember what it was like to be a kid, and those who don’t. At the school where I teach, I have colleagues in both camps, and to be honest, I don’t know which type makes better teachers. When it comes to writing for children, however, it’s no contest. The ability to recall childhood memories and emotions, to channel one’s inner child, is critical to the creation of realistic, believable characters. Obviously, Louise Fitzhugh had that ability in spades. As for the rest of us, we just have to silence our inner fogey and keep trying until we get it right. ---Michael D. Beil

2014 Newbery Honor Winner: Kevin Henkes on "The Year of Billy Miller"

YrBillyMiller300I'm fascinated by watching illustrators draw, and award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes graciously agreed to have a chat about The Year of Billy Miller (one of our Best Children's Books of 2013) AND draw one his most beloved characters, Lilly (Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, among others) on camera when we met up at Book Expo America.  

When I say that Henkes is an award-winning author, I don't mean it lightly--he's won the Caldecott Medal for Kitten's First Full Moon, a Caldecott Honor for Owen, a Newbery Honor for his middle grade novel, Olive's Ocean, and this year he took home two awards: a Newbery Honor for his latest book, The Year of Billy Miller and a Geisel Honor for Penny and Her Marble, the third book in his new beginning reader series.  Henkes is truly a jewel of the children's book world, and a delightful, down-to-earth guy who was really fun to meet and talk to.  We chatted about how he decides which format to write next, where the story for Billy Miller came from in his own life, and about the fact that he's never had a main character that was a dog.  You can watch him draw in the first video below, and the second is our conversation before and after.

 

 

 

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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