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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.

 

 

 

2014 Children's Book Award Winners

This morning I jumped out of bed at the crack of five a.m. to watch a webcast of the American Library Association awards ceremony taking place in Philadelphia.  Think of this as the Academy Awards of children's books, only early in the morning and minus the red carpet.  Some of my favorites from last year were awarded the top prizes, including the Newbery Medal winner, Flora and Ulysses by the recently announced National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Kate DiCamillo.  What a great start to 2014 she's having!  Here are the winning and honored books or two of the biggest awards, the Caldecott and the Newbery--I hope you see some that you loved here, too.  

Caldecott Medal for Picture Book Illustration

  • Locomotive by Brian Floca - Winner! Explore America's early love for trains with a journey on the transcontinental railroad.
  • Journey by Aaron Becker - Honor book In the spirit of Harold and the Purple Crayon this wordless picture book uses gorgeous illustrations to take a lonely girl on a magical adventure.
  • Mr. Wuffles! by David Weisner - Honor book Winner of multiple Caldecott awards, Weisner has done it again with a flight of fancy when a cat named Mr. Wuffles and a tiny spaceship of space aliens collide.

MrWuffles FloraFlamingo160 Journey160 Locomotive160

 

 

 

 

 

Newbery Medal Winner for Children's Literature:

  • Doll Bones by Holly Black - Honor book Three friends on the verge of leaving a beloved childhood game behind, until the lure of a ghost makes walking away impossible.  Creepy, fun, and heart-warming adventure.
  • The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes - Honor book Billy Miller's second grade year starts out a bit bumpy (literally with a lump on his head) but as the days go by, things start looking up and he finds his groove.  A sweet and funny story about growing up for early elementary schoolers. 
  • One Came Home by Amy Timberlake - Honor book 1871 Placid, Wisconsin is home to sharp-shooting, no nonsense 13-year-old by the name of Georgie Burkhardt.  When her older sister disappears, Georgie sets out to find her despite the danger that awaits her on the western frontier.
  • Paperboy by Vince Vawter - Honor Summer of '59 changes everything for an 11-year-old boy with a serious fastball and a crippling stutter in segregated Memphis.  A paper route opens up his neighbors' lives in new ways, and a run-in with a dangerous bully results in a stunning display of love.

Paperboy160 OneCameHome160 YrBillyMiller160 DollBones160 FloraUlysses160

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can see more award winning books, including this year's winners of the Coretta Scott King and Theodor Seuss Geisel Award here.

The Best Children's Books of 2013

This year we looked at even more children's books because, let's face it, there are some really special books for kids of all ages--Sense and Sensibility: Opposites Primer, anyone? Ab-so-lutely.  Here are the Best Books of the Year lists by age, and you can see the list for Teen & Young Adult here.

These are the titles that took the number one spot for each age range:

Humans of New York Rocket's Mighty Words by Tad Hills
Rocket has popped up in a couple of earlier picture books, but this oversized board book appeals to a variety of ages.  Babies and toddlers will enjoy the bright colors and learning to say simple words while Rocket learns to spell them. Little bird's teaching also gives preschoolers and kindergarteners a chance to practice their letters and early spelling skills. A perfect choice for households with little ones that are a couple of years apart.    Baby-Age 2
The Day the Crayons Quit The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
I still crack up every time I read this book.  The story's sense of humor--crayons who write letters to the boy who uses them--plays equally well to kids and adults and can be read repeatedly without my wanting to poke an eye out. The Day the Crayons Quit is also great for kids reading on their own because the personalities that come through in each crayon's letter offers an opportunity to explore the nuance of feelings behind the words ranging from whining to praise to peace making.   Ages 3-5
My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish

My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O'Hara
When his big brother gets a real chemistry set for his birthday, Tom knows the sibling torment is about to get worse.  How much worse is part of the hilarity, and first and second graders with teenage brothers and sisters will likely relate to this family dynamic.  Readers are sure to enjoy the turn of events when Tom's pet goldfish comes out of his chemistry set experience supercharged with hypnotic powers and a thrist for revenge. A really fun way to get both boys and girls excited about reading chapter books.  Ages 6-8

Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Willow is a 12-year-old genius and outsider who focuses on her passions--nature and diagnosing medical conditions--and her family.  When she is suddenly orphaned, her world turns upside down and so begins her moving story of transformation and connection.  Counting by 7s is a story that lingers long after you read it, with memorable characters and beautiful writing that speaks directly to your heart.   Ages 9-12

Newbery Medal Winners Applegate and Gantos: Read or Rot!

Ivan180 NorveltNowhere180At the beginning of the year, Katherine Applegate won the 2013 Newbery Medal for her beautiful book about courage and kindness, The One and Only Ivan Her predecessor was the incomparable Jack Gantos, who won the Medal in 2012 for Dead End in Norvelt, the funny and heartwarming story of one strange summer in the life of a boy named...Jack Gantos. 

In the Q&A below, Applegate checked in with Gantos to find out about memorable school visits, where he keeps his Newbery Medal, and his newest book--the sequel to his Newbery winner and a September best book of the month pick--From Norvelt to Nowhere.

Katherine Applegate: Your alter-ego Jackie Gantos is back! Of all his hysterical new antics in From Norvelt to Nowhere, which scene did you have the most fun writing?

Jack Gantos: That’s a tough question. There are so many good scenes. There is the harpoon scene, and the pistol escapade, and the over imbibing, the creepy bathroom stall scene ... I’ll settle on the scene where Miss Volker is using the sandwich bread to wipe the unending tears from her guilty crying while the soggy bread balls roll down her face like they were little white garden snails. That scene sinks into chaos for Jack.

KA: In the new book, Jack and Miss Volker visit some odd historical sites on their wild road trip, including a real ghost town. Is Rugby, Tennessee, still abandoned?

JG: Rugby is a great old town started by Thomas Hughes, who had written Tom Brown's School Days. He traveled from England and began the town which was built on socialist/utopic principles. The town was a perfect fit for Miss Volker’s childhood back story, and it had been abandoned for many years. But it has had a bit of a revival. The fabulous library has always been intact, though it was boarded up for many decades. The town’s origins parallel the origins of Norvelt.

KA: Is there a memorable, silly, or just plain embarrassing question you recall being asked at a school visit? 

JG:  After a Rotten Ralph presentation a baby faced first grader stood up and with a very sincere voice asked me what had happened to the real cat that inspired Rotten Ralph. The boy seemed very troubled. I replied as sincerely as possible, “Well, he lived a wonderful life for many, many years until finally ... he expired.”

He shifted from foot to foot and thought about that last word. Finally he asked, “What does expired mean?”

I paused. Time was passing. The other kids were getting restless so I got to the point. “It means he died,” I said.

He thought about that, then asked, “Well, did you stuff him?”

“I should have,” I replied while thinking, dang, I really should have. But it was too late for that. 

KA: When you autograph books, you often write “Read or Rot!” Why?

JG: Oh, it’s just a fun little motto that basically boils down to Read books or your brain will Rot. I usually draw a skull and write READ OR ROT! in blood red ink across the forehead. Kids like it.

KA:  Writing pre-Newbery.  Writing post-Newbery.  Any difference?

JG: There are differences but they are all very shadowy. There are no statements to be made about the differences. There are only questions. I honestly don’t spend a lot of time pondering this as I’ll probably invent a problem where none exists.

KA: Where do you keep your Medal? 

JG: In the freezer. When I have guests over for dinner and make individual butter pats for each plate I use the medal to imprint the butter. This way the conversation starts off about me.

Kate DiCamillo: Turning Squirrels Into Superheroes

FloraI was really excited about meeting Kate DiCamillo in person recently, but also kind of nervous in that way that happens when you are finally going to be face-to-face with someone whose work you have long admired. Then I hit the lobby of our building, and there was this tiny woman with a big smile, and all my anxiety just fell away.  DiCamillo is as warm and kind in person as her books would suggest and I had the best time chatting with her about donuts, squirrels, superpowers, and of course, her new book, Flora and Ulysses, in which a squirrel is sucked up by vacuum cleaner and comes out of it with powers befitting a superhero, and a cynical girl finds a reason for hope.

About the book...

Q: Tell me about Flora & Ulysses, it's very different from your previous books

KD: It is different! I think it’s different because I think it’s funny and sometimes I’m accused of being a downer in my books, so I thought “man, here’s a funny book” but it’s also different because of the graphic elements... It’s also very much a book you could pick up and know that it’s me even if it didn’t have my name on it--it’s got all of my same old concerns: love, friendship, forgiveness. All those things I seem to keep on writing about, and never get tired of writing about, even though I think I’m just writing a funny story, those things are in there.

Q: In Flora & Ulysses, Flora is an avid reader of comic books and then Ulysses brings poetry to the table, were you a comic book or poetry reader as a kid?

KD: I was a Peanuts reader. My brother and I were both obsessed with Peanuts, and at our local library there were Peanuts anthologies, giant collections of every strip and all the Sunday strips, and we were the only ones who checked them out and then we’d check them back out again.  Poetry?  I came very late to poetry.  Probably about 2006-2007 I started reading it myself and fell in love with it. So a lot of that passion for poetry got transferred to the squirrel.

Q: Do you have a favorite poet or poem?

KD: I have favorite anthologies, and Garrison Keillor has done a blue book called Good Poems and a yellow book called Good Poems for Hard Times, and then a red book and I love those anthologies and I finish one and start the next one and then re-read them.  I also love what he does on Writers Almanac with a poem a day.

About the donut...

Q: I love that in your book, Ulysses [the squirrel] is obsessed with a big donut...

KD:  Yes, the giant donut--sprinkles, stuffed with chocolate, cream, jelly...

Q: Do you have a favorite [donut]?

KD: Well, I grew up in a house where when we were at the movies, my mother would ask “are you hungry?”  And we would go “oh, boy” and then she would pull out some dried apricots.  And these weren’t the ones that are all plump, that come in Christmas-time gift baskets, but the wizened ones that you had to hold them in your mouth for a long time until you could start chewing them.  So I never got a giant donut, is what I’m saying.  I had a mother who loved me very much and fed me accordingly. 

I have to say I laughed really hard when she told me the above anecdote, especially her description of the wizened apricots.  And we then digressed into a discussion of the deliciousness of Krispy Kreme donuts and the local Top Pot donuts that is near the Amazon offices, and how donut makers must be happy people, spreading the joy…  We also decided that maybe Top Pot should do a Ulysses donut--perhaps their chocolate with maple frosting and peanuts on top? Perfect Ulysses donut… "Donuts are vital." says Kate DiCamillo. 

About the squirrel...

Q: Have you always loved squirrels?

KD: I love all creatures, but there was this--it must be said--a squirrel, who was expiring on my front steps and he didn’t look like he was suffering but he also looked very much like he was dying and I was like “what am I going to do?” so I called one of my best friends who lives about a block and a half away, and this is the sweetest and kindest of all of my friends.  And she said “do you have a shovel?” and I said, “well, yeah, I do have a shovel”--and I’m still out there with the squirrel--and she said “well, get the shovel and an old t-shirt and I’ll come over” and I said “what are you going to do?” and she said “well, I’ll whack him in the head” and it’s like, “are you kidding me?! You’re going to brain the squirrel on my front steps?” and so at this point I left the front steps because I didn’t want the squirrel to hear what was going on, and I’m so undone that this gentle person is offering to come over and whack the squirrel, so I said “well, let me just think about what to do here.” And the squirrel must have caught wind of what was going on because he was gone when I went back out there. Which was great, but I think I started thinking on a subconscious level, how could I save a squirrel?

About superpowers...

Q: You also have ordinary people who possess superpowers in this book, if you were to choose a superpower outside of invisibility or flight, what would you pick?

KD: I would like to not be able to worry.  I’m so sick of hearing myself worry, and it’s so pointless, so I would like to be a superhero who is like the squirrel--I’d like to be happy.  There’s that point in there [Flora and Ulysses] where Dr. Meescham is examining him [Ulysses] and he thinks he’s dead, but so many things have happened to him at this point that he wasn’t even going to get upset about it, it’s just interesting.  I’d like to have that superpower to just be happy and not worry and think, “well this is interesting, too.”

YA Wednesday: NBA Finalists in Young People's Literature

Of the 10 nominees for the National Book Award in Young People's Literature (now there's a mouthful...) the five finalists were announced this morning.  The shortlist includes a great mix of titles, including a couple of our recent YA favorites, Gene Luen Yang's graphic novel, Boxers & Saints and October Best of the Month pick, Meg Rosoff's Picture Me Gone.  Both of these authors won awards for their first books: Gene Luen Yang was a National Book Award finalist for American Born Chinese, which didn't take home the NBA, but did win the Printz Award; Rosoff's first novel, How I Live Now, won the Printz Award along with awards in the UK and Germany.  In fact, nearly all of the finalists on this year's list are already award-winning authors, though none of them have won the NBA before.  The winner of the 2013 National Book Award in Young People's Literature will be announced on November 20 in a gala ceremony in New York.  Which one of the finalists would you pick to win?

     Luck150 TrueBlue150 BoxersSaints150 PictureMe150 FarFarAway150

 

 

 

 

 

 

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

If you want to see the NBA finalists in Fiction, Nonfiction and Poetry you can see them here.

October is Anti-Bullying Month

It's a sad statement that we have to have a month devoted to the theme of anti-bullying, but here we are--that month is now, and on the positive side there are some really wonderful books for kids that happen to have an anti-bullying message built in.  Here is a handful of such books, and while each one deals with a different aspect of bullying, the common thread is that none of them are heavy handed.  These are all well-written stories that have a lot of kid appeal. We also have a special kind of Q&A to share below, the result of after these authors getting together to ask each other about bullying.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (ages 8-12) - This is one of the best books I've read in years (and our pick for the best middle grade book of 2012).  I would give it to anyone and everyone who has read it has fallen in love (clearly our readers feel the same--Wonder has over 2,000 five-star customer reviews!).  The main character, Auggie, is the object of a lot of casual comments that really hurt--even if this was not the intention.  It's a book that builds empathy and a great way for kids to see themselves or their schoolmates in the characters.

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig (ages 6-9) - Ludwig is a veteran author in the field of bullying and in Invisible Boy she tackles the issue of social exclusion.  This is a great topic to cover because who among us has not felt left out, or been a party to leaving someone out.  The beauty here is not only will kids see the hurtful side, they also get to see how small acts of kindness by one person (maybe themselves) can make a big difference.

Paperboy by Vince Vawter (ages 10 & up) - Our favorite middle grade book of May, the story of an 11-year-old boy with a vicious stutter who faces ridicule and embarrassment with every spoken interaction.  Add in the setting--1959 Memphis-- and you have a rich opportunity for understanding prejudice of all kids.

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt (ages 9-12) - Another one of our Best Books of the Month this year, Goldblatt's book is told from the perspective of a bully, a kid who makes a terrible mistake in order to fit in with his friends.  He does find redemption in the end, and his story is an excellent cautionary tale about peer pressure, tolerance, and following your own conscience.

Wonder160_A PaperBoy160 InvisibleBoy160 Twerp160

The Q&A:

R. J. Palacio: Mark, what was it like writing from the perspective of a bully?

Mark Goldblatt: I’ve never thought of Julian, the narrator of Twerp, as a bully—and, I confess, I don’t think of Twerp as a book primarily about bullying. I think of Julian as a flawed but evolving character, a kid whose conscience is still coalescing into a driving force of his actions. What made Julian’s voice intriguing to me, and what made the novel fun to write, was that he’s on the cusp. He hasn’t grasped the full weight of what’s happened. It’s through the process of writing continuously and reading selectively that that weight begins, slowly but steadily, to bear down on him.

I’m happy if readers find an anti-bullying message in Twerp. It’s a terrible thing Julian has done, and if the book occasions conversations about tolerance and compassion, that’s all to the good. But I think of the main themes of Twerp as the formation of personal conscience, the power of confession (not necessarily in a religious context, but in the Aristotelian sense of catharsis), and the humanizing value of classic literature.

My book was inspired by my childhood growing up in 1960s Queens. Vince, how did you draw on your life for Paperboy?

Vince Vawter: While Paperboy must be categorized as fiction, much of the narrative, especially my struggles with a debilitating stutter, comes straight from my childhood in Memphis. I may not remember what I did last week, but these events that took place more than a half-century ago are burned into my memory like the elliptical logo on a Louisville Slugger baseball bat. 

Trudy, what is it like writing about this topic for younger picture book readers?

Trudy Ludwig: Social exclusion is a topic that I’ve thought a lot about over the years—both as a child and as an adult. It’s a fact of life we’re not all going to be on the “A” list. Some of us will be more popular and have more friends than others. But what concerns me is how hurtful social ostracism can be for young children: not playing with certain kids because someone labels them as having cooties; kids laughing or making fun of others for being weird or different; shy, quiet kids who are ignored and feel isolated. I took all this into account when writing The Invisible Boy.

In order to make my characters in this picture book story realistic and relatable to younger readers, I tapped into my own inner child, giving her the necessary space and time to breathe, think, and feel. Later, when I had the opportunity to see illustrator Patrice Barton’s initial sketches for the story, I was then able to pare down my words even further to make sure my words and her illustrations melded together even more. I learned a lot more about picture book writing with this particular story. The Invisible Boy has taught me to how to express a child’s social angst in very simple, heartfelt ways.

Raquel, I first read Wonder when writing an educator guide about bullying for it. What response have you gotten from the school and family community?

R. J. Palacio: People have been really receptive to the themes of Wonder, especially the “choose kind” campaign. They’ve used the book as a catalyst for deeper discussions with their kids that go above and beyond the content of the book: what kind of person do you want to be, why are some people so mean, what does it take to be good in this world? It’s been a way to broach the subject of bullying without making it into a lecture or a sermon, but about the impact of unkindness, about how one mean thing said or done can do more harm than a person might ever conceive—and conversely, how one act of kindness can grow exponentially. A kind word said to the losing team. An invitation to the new kid to sit at your table. A warm hello when passing in the hallway. These are small acts of kindness that are so easy to do and can have repercussions beyond anything we can imagine when we do them. 

 

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

April 2014

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