Tuesday, February 28, 2012


When you read a book do you read the whole book?  Do you read introductions, forewords, dedications, afterwords, and acknowledgements?  I do.  Part of it the reason is that I'm just a yenta at heart: did the author thank her parents/spouse/children/pet?  Does she have a spouse/children/pet?  Did she thank other authors?  Just as people feel they "know" celebrities and their children, these details make me feel like I know the author. 

But more importantly, when an author you like writes the introduction to a book by another author, it's like getting a recommendation from a trusted friend.  When the author of a book you are about to read pays homage to other books you enjoy, you know you are in good hands. 

And so as I wrote here, I specifically sought out the edition of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with the introduction by Anna Quindlen, one of my favorite authors (if you are a mother, you must read her Life in the 30s columns, collected in the volume Living Out Loud).  And now, I have to seek out the edition of A Wrinkle in Time that she introduced as well, as I learned in a fascinating article about trends in girls' reading over time by New York Times children's book reviewer Pamela Paul.

In an earlier post I discussed original and derivative works and a reader commented that Laurel Snyder's books are a clear homage to Edgar Eager's which in turn pay their respects to E. Nesbit's.  Sure enough, I picked up Five Children and It to reread and the introduction was by none other than Laurel Snyder.  Moreover, in Edward Eager's Half Magic, he explicitly pays tribute to E. Nesbit's work.  Wendy Mass thanks Judy Blume for her help in several of her books.  And I wonder if Rebecca Stead acknowledged her debt to Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time in the acknowledgements or elsewhere in When You Reach Me  (I read it but don't have a copy to check right now).  And, on the adult side, in 11/22/63, Stephen King thanks Jack Finney for the quintessential time travel novel and one of my favorites, Time and Again.  These acknowledgements provide insight, recommendations and books to look for (if I haven't read them).  They also reaffirm my own good taste and lend credence to my fantasy that all my favorite authors hang out together.

Finally, these parts of the book are directed to the reader in a way that the narrative is not.  In this vein, I particularly love Grace Lin's dedication in The Year of the Rat (I think): "If you are reading this book, then it is dedicated to YOU" for its overt acknowledgement of the reader. 

Do you read introductions, forewords, afterwords, acknowledgements and dedications?  Do you care who wrote these items if not the author herself?  Do you seek out a particular edition of a book just to read the introduction?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Meeting the Steads (Erin and Philip, not Rebecca)

Today I took my girls to hear Erin and Philip Stead read from A Sick Day for Amos McGee (written by him, illustrated by her) and And Then It's Spring (written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Ms. Stead) at our local bookstore.  My daughters initially didn't have much interest.  To them, hearing Erin or Philip Stead read A Sick Day for Amos McGee was no different than hearing me read it to them.  But as it turned out, Erin Stead did something very special that caught the attention of my 6-year-old aspiring artist.  She not only explained how she had made the illustrations for Amos, but she brought with her examples of them at all their stages - as sketches, woodcuts, and prints.  We hadn't even known that the illustrations were prints from woodcuts! 

The Steads could not have been more charming or gracious.  In response to my inquiries about how my daughter might be able to try printmaking, they suggested potato prints, which I'll now look into (any tips for her not-very-artistic mother are appreciated!).  And my easily frustrated daughter was thrilled to hear Ms. Stead talk about how many mistakes she makes, how many attempts she throws out, and how many she rectifies with her handy eraser. 

Are your children interested in hearing authors and illustrators read from their work?  Are you?  Who has been the most interesting or inspiring author or illustrator you've heard?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It's Hard Being a Big Sister

A new book of poems understands that it's hard being a big sister.  Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems, by Kristine O'Connell George, is the picture book equivalent of a novel-in-verse.  The non-rhyming poems, read together and in order, especially the last few, tell a story.  That concept really excited my older daughter, who requested that we buy the book and, surprisingly, my younger daughter loved it too (she made me read it 5 times the other day - in a row!).

I love how the poems capture the contradictions and complexity of the sibling relationship.  The sisters know each other better than anyone else.  The elder "translates" the younger's baby talk; the younger knows when the older one needs comforting.  They push each other's buttons like no one else can.  The big sister experiences feelings of annoyance, guilt, responsibility and even schadenfreude.  But ultimately, these sisters love each other.  These poems ring true to me, both as an older sister myself and as the mother of two girls.   The realistic, warm illustrations complement the poems perfectly. 

I hope the author writes another set of poems from the perspective of a little sister.  Here's my attempt, written from the point of view of my younger daughter:

I want to be near you.
Every second of the day and night forever.
Because you're the funnest and the smartest and you
You are the best at playing family and school and
when you tell me to sit
criss-cross applesauce
and not move until after recess
I always do it.
Mommy and Daddy come in and ask why
I have been sitting still
not moving for
10 minutes and I tell them,
"The teacher said 'Don't move!'"
You are only six but
you ride your bike and read
like a ten-year-old.
I want to marry you
Mommy says I can't.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Library Loot #14

For the kids:

Some of these I've already reviewed here, here, and here.  Others I'll be reviewing soon.

For me:

Not pictured: The Food 52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs and The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food by Adam Gopnik.  I couldn't renew these as they were on hold for someone else but I definitely want to check them out again.  I didn't time to read the latter and, although I perused the former, I didn't have time to cook anything from it.  I seem to remember something about crisped polenta and boozy apple cake, though.

And in case you were wondering, no, I haven't read them all.  I was overly ambitious this month.  I'm afraid a few of these will be going back unread.  But I'll put them on hold again!

What are you and your kids reading?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Reading Is An Adventure and the Positive Power of Peer Pressure

"Mom, this book was so good I felt like I was going on the adventure!"  Well, that statement which came out of my six-year-old's mouth was a far cry from her "I'm starting to hate reading these books!" of just a week earlier.  The difference?  The books in question, of course - and their source.

The first sentence - the one that every parent and book-lover wants to hear - was said when my daughter finished reading, by herself, the first book in the Magic Ballerina series. The book had been not only recommended to her but actually loaned to her by a friend.  Twenty-four hours after giving her the book, the little girl was so anxious to know what my daughter thought, she called and left a message: "Have you finished the book yet?  Do you like it?"  My daughter, who had not even started the book, promptly took it to bed with her, whereupon she read it in its entirety before going to sleep.  The series, by well-known dancer Darcy Bussell, is not going to win any literary awards.  But it goes a long way toward filling that huge empty spot on the bookshelf between Henry and Mudge and, true middle grade fiction like say, The Year of the Dog or Ramona.  The books are short (90 pages but with some illustrations and moderately large print) and extremely fast-paced with cliffhanger endings to each chapter (think The Da Vinci Code).  So literary merit aside, this book - and the fact that it was recommended by a friend - got my daughter excited about reading.  In my book (pun intended), that's the most important thing a book can do.

What books got your reluctant (or not-so-reluctant) child excited about reading?  How did he or she come across them?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pass It On!

Thanks to my fellow kidlit bloggers, three of whom independently gave me a Liebster award!!

The award is given to blogs with fewer than 200 followers.  The "rules" of the award require that the awardee then pass the award along to five more bloggers, as well as thank the blogger who gave it to you.   So here goes!

First, I'd like to thank Annie and Aunt, Bill Kirk Writes and Writing on the Wall for giving me this award.  And now, for my chosen recipients:

Library Mice.  This British blog gives me a nice peek at books that haven't made it to the U.S. yet.  I especially love her Fabulous Five feature where she asks children's book authors to choose 5 children's books that were important to them or that share a theme.  I couldn't find how many followers this blog has, so if I underestimated the author's readership, I hope she forgives me!

Next up, From the Mixed-Up Files.  I was shocked to discover this blog has fewer than 200 followers.  It's written by a group of middle-grade authors and has really opened my eyes to the world of middle-grade fiction.  These authors' passion for their audience is truly inspiring.  And of course, you can't beat the name of their blog!

Young Readers has great reviews of a huge variety of books, for readers from birth to age 10.

Art on the Page, a blog about children's books by a children's book illustrator.  I especially like the window into the artist's techniques, particularly printmaking, which is something I know nothing about!

And finally, 32 Pages: A Passion for Picture Books.  I must admit, I again took liberties here as I could not find information about this blog's readership.  A great blog focused solely on picture books.

Pass it on!

Monday, February 13, 2012

If You Don't Have It, Read About It! Snow Edition

Here in NYC, we're suffering (yes, suffering!) from weirdly mild weather and a scarcity of snow.  So, in its absence, we've been reading about snow.  A poor substitute for the real thing, but these two beautiful books go a little way in alleviating my snow cravings.

The Secret Life of a Snowflake: An Up-Close Look at the Art & Science of Snowflakes by Kenneth Libbrecht is my older daughter's favorite of the two.  I think she was taken in by the unbelievable gorgeous photographs, as was I - this is one of the few books I have bought without checking it out from the library first!  Dr. Libbrecht, a physics professor, photographs snowflakes with colored lights behind them, which lends them a breathtaking prismatic, rainbow effect.  With several books for adults on the same topic, Dr. Libbrecht, a professor of physics at CalTech, mostly succeeds in explaining and describing snowflakes to a younger audience.  I especially like the page where he shows the relative sizes of snowflakes compared to a penny.  And I never knew that snowflakes come in column (pencil) shapes, or that they are often not quite symmetrical.

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, PhD. is my pick.  It also has beautiful, if slightly less dramatic, photos, as well as other diagrams, and the scientific explanations are a little more comprehensible to the layman (or, more importantly for our purposes, the laychild).  It focuses on the same set of facts as the Libbrecht books: how snowflakes form, the different types of snowflakes, including the column-shaped ones, and the fact that snow crystals are rarely perfect (or symmetrical), among other things.

Since both books cover essentially the same ground, I would advise owning only one.  Take them both out of the library and see which one you prefer.

I'm linking to Nonfiction Monday.

What is your favorite nonfiction book about snow?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Presidential Hopefuls

I've confessed before that I don't do a lot of browsing at the library.  Instead, I return my books, pick up my holds and I'm on to the next stop.  But I had a few minutes the other day at the beautiful I-wish-I-could-live-there Children's Room at the 42nd Street library and serendipitously happened upon not one but two books about presidents (and/or first ladies) to complement the one I'd put on hold, just in time for Presidents' Day.

What Presidents Are Made Of by Hanoch Piven is comprised of portraits of selected presidents, along with snippets of biographical information.  But these aren't your staid presidential portraits.  These are collages, made with materials that Piven thought conveyed the essence of each president, like peanuts for Jimmy Carter's nose or jelly beans for Ronald Reagan's features.  The biographical information isn't just the usual historical fare either but tidbits that are interesting enough to entice a child into learning more.  I love the double meaning of the title!  The book includes photos or paintings of all the presidents through publication date (2004) at the end.  When I asked my daughter what she noticed about them she said, "They all have white faces."  I pointed out that that is true no longer (a new paperback edition has come out which includes Barack Obama.), but something true then still is: they are all men. 

And speaking of the lack of female presidents, Doreen Rappaport's Eleanor: Quiet No More is a wonderful introduction to a great First Lady and great humanitarian.  A picture book biography which follows Eleanor from her birth to the end of her life, it includes many of her famous sayings, like "Do something every day that scares you" although it omits the famous "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."  

Finally, I had put the justly-praised Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman on hold and picked it just a few days ago.  In her signature style, Kalman tells Lincoln's story and manages to include just the right amount of historical context combined with musings about his family life and inner that a child can relate to such as "On the day he was elected, I bet Mary made his favorite vanilla cake."

My 6-year-old, no history buff, loved all of these, and even my 4-year-old sat through them happily. 

What are your favorite books about presidents or first ladies?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"I'm Starting to Hate Reading These Books!"

Yup, that's what my daughter said last night about the school books she brings home every night to read and record in her reading log.   Not words any parent, especially a bookworm, wants to hear!

I don't think she hates reading in general.  And I don't think she hates the books she's bringing home.  It's more the fact that reading them is an obligation and that she has limited choice in what to read which makes the whole thing a chore rather than a pleasure.  I did tell her she could choose something else to read and we'd record it in the reading log, but rules-following-first-child that she is, she refused.

On the upside, she actually enjoys reading many of these books once we sit down with them.  They always get a smiley face rather than a sad one on the reading log!  It's the idea of having to read them rather than actually reading them that she hates.

That means to me that so far this is not a problem.  But I hope it doesn't become one.  Any advice?