Thursday, January 31, 2008

More confessions

Yesterday, I wrote a post about trusting yourself and your judgement about books. I said that it was okay to have different reactions to books than other people, and that it's okay to dislike books that everyone else loved.

In the comments section of the post, I got asked if any specific books had prompted this feel-good affirmation. In response, I listed a few titles.

Now the floodgates have opened. I've gotten several interesting comments from people relieved to admit their dislike of popular books.

Do you have a few titles that don't really do it for you that you'd like to get off your chest? Feel free to share.

This isn't the first time I've admitted things on this blog. Here's my confession about having never read a well-known book, and here's another one about the fact that I've stopped reading adult books.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Trust yourself

Do you ever feel you HAVE to fall in love with a book?

Everybody around you loves it. It reached the top of the bestseller list. It won a prestigious award. It's considered a classic. Someone whose opinion you respect told you how wonderful it was.

And, yet, when you read it, you didn't love it. Sure, you liked it just fine, but it didn't find its way into your heart. And then, (if you're like me) you end up doubting yourself. After all, everyone else loves this book. Why don't I?

Start by looking at the context in which you read the book. I think this is a crucial factor that's often overlooked. See this post for a longer explanation of the who, why, where, how, when and what of reading a book.

And then, trust yourself. Recognize that it's okay to feel differently about a book than everyone else. Appreciate that you can still respect a person's opinion without loving exactly the same books that they do. Remember that award committees look at very specific criteria when judging a book, and you don't have to love every book that wins a shiny sticker. Everyone approaches a book through the lens of their own experiences. Since everyone has a different lens, it's only natural that everyone would have different reactions to books.

Above all, remember this. Your opinion is valid. It's just as valid as the opinion of your best friend, your mom, your neighbor, your book club, your favorite blogger, your professor, or the New York Times book reviewer. Maybe they have more experience or expertise in certain areas than you... but you don't have to love a book just because other people do. You should love a book because there's something between the covers that speaks to you.

So, don't doubt yourself when other people like different books than you do. You're the only one knows what books YOU love.

And, yes, it's okay if you don't like Harry Potter. I'll still speak to you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Setting the record straight

Which illustrator holds the record for the most Caldecott Medals?

David Wiesner, right? When he won a third Caldecott Medal last year for Flotsam, there was a lot of talk about the record he had set. Three Caldecotts! Amazing! No one has ever done that before.

And yes, it is amazing... but every time I heard the comment (or even made it myself) something didn't sit quite right with me. I was sure that Wiesner wasn't the first to win three medals, but I couldn't remember who the mystery author had been.

A few days ago, I was browsing at a local academic library that has a wonderful collection of all the Caldecott and Newbery medal books. And finally, I saw the proof that Wiesner didn't set the record for the most Caldecott medals... he tied it.

Who else has three Caldecotts to their name? Marcia Brown. Take a look at her winning trifecta:

1983: Shadow
1962: Once a Mouse
1955: Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper

But wait, there's more. Look at all of Marcia Brown's books that received Caldecott honors:

1954: The Steadfast Tin Soldier
1953: Puss in Boots
1952: Skipper John's Cook
1951: Dick Whittington and His Cat
1950: Henry Fisherman
1948: Stone Soup

Study those years carefully. Over an eight year period, Marcia Brown received a Caldecott honor or a medal SEVEN times. That's nothing short of amazing.

In addition to all her Caldecotts, she recieved the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal in 1992. For more about Marcia Brown (and for an archive of her papers) see the DeGrummond Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Now, we just need someone to win four Caldecott Medals. That would be amazing.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Tales from the Slushpile

I love comic strips. I love children's books. So, it stands to reason that I love Tales from the Slushpile, which is a comic strip about writing children's books.

Tales from the Slushpile is written and illustrated by Ed Briant and appears in Publisher's Weekly's electronic newsletter Children's Bookshelf.

I particularly liked this week's edition about Hugo Cabret winning the Caldecott. (Scroll to the bottom of the page). Here's the link for the first installment of Tales from the Slushpile... and you can read as many as you like.

And if you love children's books, I highly recommend signing up for free e-mail delivery of PW's Children's Bookshelf. It contains lots of information about current events in children's book publishing... plus it has a comic strip on the bottom of every issue.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Context is everything

I saw the movie Titanic the night it opened. It hadn't won any Oscars. It hadn't been running for weeks. I hadn't heard any stories of people watching the movie countless times. I didn't know how much money had been spent on the production.

In short, I didn't walk into the theater with any expectations. It was just a regular movie on a regular Friday night. And what did I think? I thought it had some great parts, and some not so great parts. I thought the main characters were running around in waterlogged corridors for what seemed like hours. I thought it was too long. I thought it was a pretty good movie, but not The. Best. Movie. Ever.

But, if I had seen it after it had won an unbelievable amount of Academy Awards, and after I had read all the news stories about the incredible technical feats involved and after every single person I'd ever met had told me how good it was.... I'd probably have had very different expectations. I may have been disappointed that it didn't live up to what I'd been told. Or I may have been swept away by the hype and determined to like it because everybody else did.

Although my example above is about a movie, I think context is also incredibly important for books. I often hear people say "this book was good enough to win the Newbery Medal? Really?" But instead of asking that, ask yourself what context did you read the book in? Take a look at the basic journalism questions of who, what, where, why, when and how. Apply them to the book you're discussing.

Why did you read the book?
Did you read it for a class? Did you read it for a book club? Did you read it for work? Did someone thrust it into your hands and say that you HAD to read it? Did you read it because it had just won an award? Did you read it because you liked the author? Did you read it because the cover looked cool?

This is a crucial question. If you feel obligated or required to read a book, you will probably have a different reaction to than if you picked it up on your own.

When did you read the book?
Did you read it fifteen years ago or fifteen minutes ago? How old were you? I think this is particularly important when talking about children's books. There are some books that I think work better at a certain age.

I read The Mouse and the Motorcycle as an adult, and I thought the book was fine but nothing extraordinary. Meanwhile, my friend's daughter, who is six, just read The Mouse and the Motorcycle and LOVES it. I think it works better at that age.

I was a fifteen year old girl fascinated with theater when I first read Herman Wouk's Marjorie Morningstar. The book is about a fifteen year old girl who wants to become an actress... and it was just the right book for me to read at that time. If I read it today, I don't know if it would resonate for me now the way it did then.

Who did you read it with?
Did you read it with classmates who didn't like it and kept complaining to you about how boring and arduous it was? Did you read it with a book club? Did you read it with a colleague who loved it? Did you read it with your child at bedtime? Did your parents read it to you when you were a child?

Other people's reactions can affect your perception a great deal. If you were reading Pride and Prejudice with a twelfth grade English class who had no interest in it... chances are you'd have a very different reaction than if you were reading it with a book club of people who all fondly remembered the book from their childhood.

What was the reputation of the book when you read it?
Was it an advance reading copy of a book that no one had heard of yet? Had it been on the New York Times bestseller lists for months? Had it just won the Newbery Medal the week before? Had the book been in print forever and officially deemed "a classic?" Or did you pick up a book that people had forgotten about at a used book sale ?

I think this is a crucial question. If you feel that you HAVE to like the book, because everybody else does, then you're going to feel a lot more pressure as you read the book. And you're liable to feel more disappointed if you don't like it. If you picked up a copy of Charlotte's Web that didn't have the Newbery Honor seal or quotes on the jacket referring to the book's legendary status... then you would read it just like any other book. You wouldn't have any expectations about it. Would you still like it just as much? Probably. But if you didn't like it, you wouldn't feel disappointed with yourself or with the author.

What book did you read?
Did you read a hardcover book that had just been published? A paperback with a tiny font in its fiftieth printing? Did it have illustrations?

Although the words don't change, the image of the book can. Let's use The Westing Game as an example. Ellen Raskin, the author of The Westing Game, also had a previous career as an illustrator and graphic designer. Because of this, she was always very focused on the physical look and layout of her books. If you can get your hands on the original hardcover of The Westing Game, you'll see that she did this brilliantly. I've often thought that the layout, fonts, type face and recurring dot motif adds a great deal to the book.

Unfortunately, many different editions of the book have emerged over the years, and almost all of them destroyed Raskin's original design. If you look at the two paperback editions that are currently in print, you'll find that the type face has been severely compressed in both editions. The dots are still there, but just barely. And the wonderful illustration that was on the front cover has been replaced. Neither edition looks attractive or really makes me want to read it. I think if you read one of these editions, you might have an entirely different reaction to the book than if you read the original.

Where did you read the book?
Did you read it on a beach with the day stretched lazily before you? Did you read it on a bus or a train with lots of background noise swirling around you?

Your atmosphere and surroundings make a difference in your impression of the book. I read Middlemarch on my dorm room bed, 15 pages a night, sitting uncomfortably straight up in bed and desperately trying to finish the book in time for a college class. It was stressful, and I feel uncomfortable just thinking about that book. But I read The Shell Seekers (okay, different class of literature, obviously) in a lounge chair poolside on a vacation. Whenever I think of that book, I remember the sun shining on me.

How did you read the book?
Did you read it on your lunch break and compressed it into fifteen minute time slots? Did you read it in bed as you were falling asleep? Did you read it as quickly as possible? Did you pick it up every few weeks (or months) and put it down again? Did you read it the moment it was published and stayed up late to finish it?

If you read the book in one gulp, then more details are liable to stick with you. It's hard to get into a book when you're not reading it consistently. Also, the atmosphere can effect you. For example, if you read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the weekend it was released, there was a lot of excitement and frenzy in the air. Everywhere you looked you could see someone reading the book and everyone wanted to discuss it. If you picked up the book today, that external excitement wouldn't be there in the same way.

Context effects everything... even if you don't realize it.

P.S. This post ending up sparking two follow-up posts. Here's a link to my post about trusting yourself and a follow-up where readers confessed which popular books they didn't like.

Assorted Poll Results

Looks like I'm not the only one who was thrilled that The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott Medal. Hugo was the decisive victor in my poll about the 2008 ALA awards.

Question: Which 2008 ALA Award winners are you the happiest about?


1st place (21 votes)

  • Caldecott: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

2nd place (10 votes)

  • Newbery: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

3rd place (9 votes)

  • Geisel: There Is a Bird on Your Head!

4th place (5 votes)

  • Siebert: The Wall

5th place (4 votes)

  • Edwards: Orson Scott Card

6th place (3 votes)

  • King Author: Elijah of Buxton

7th place (2 votes each)

  • King Illustrator: Let it Shine
  • Odyssey: Jazz
  • Printz: The White Darkness
  • Schneider middle grade: Reaching for Sun
  • None of the above
  • I haven't read any of the winning books

8th place (1 vote each)

  • Arbuthnot: Walter Dean Meyers
  • Belpré Illustrator: Los Gatos Black on Halloween
  • Carnegie: Jump In
  • Schneider young children: Kami and the Yaks
  • Schneider teen: Hurt Go Happy

9th place (0 votes each)

  • Batchelder: Brave Story
  • Belpré Author: The Poet Slave of Cuba
  • King/Steptoe New Talent Author: Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It

Let's wrap up some other polls while we're at it. Here are the results from my poll about traveling in the Harry Potter world.

Question: My preferred method of travel in the Harry Potter world would be:


1st place (14 votes)

  • Appartition

2nd place (8 votes)

  • All of the above

3rd place (7 votes)

  • Hogwarts Express

4th place (4 votes each)

  • Broomstick
  • Portkey

5th place (2 votes each)

  • Floo Powder
  • Flying car
  • Hippogriff
  • Walking

6th place (1 vote each)

  • Dragon
  • Knight Bus

7th place (0 votes each)

  • Deluminator
  • London Underground
  • Phoenix
  • Thestral
  • None of the above
I have to agree with the results on this one. After a few recent plane trips, I think apparition is definitely the way to go. I'm willing to deal with the uncomfortable physical side effects and the possibility of splinching in order to get where I want to go instantaneously.

And, here's the results of the poll that had the fewest choices available of any poll I've run so far.

Question: Are you in a book club?


1st place (14 votes)

  • No

2nd place (11 votes)

  • Yes

3rd place (4 votes)

  • I have been in the past
Want to vote for something? No problem. I have two polls currently up. One is about subjects that you'd like to study at Hogwarts. And I just added a new one asking which business establishments in the Harry Potter world you'd like to visit. Happy voting!

Friday, January 25, 2008


Is it too early to start making Newbery predictions for next year?

I just finished an advance reader's copy of an absolutely exquisite book: Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt. It's a beautiful, touching, and poignant work of fiction. I was sorry it had to end, but since it did... I don't think the author couldn't have picked a better place to stop his narrative. The cover is beautiful too. I saw a picture of it in a 2008 Spring catalog from the publisher, Clarion, but I don't think the cover art is available online yet.

It's a bit cruel of me to write about it now... since the book won't be published until April. I'm not doing a formal review of it yet, because I don't want to spoil the plot for you in any way. It's one of those books that has brilliantly interwoven twists and turns... and you should discover them through the text and not through a review.

Keep an eye out for this book. Reserve it in advance from your library. Buy it at a bookstore in April. Dig out the advance copy (if you have one) from your stack of books to be read and put it on top of the pile.

Once you've read it, tell me what you think... and if you love it as much as I do.

On January 26, 2009 (almost exactly a year from today) in Denver, Colorado, the press conference will be held announcing the winners of the 2009 American Library Association Youth Media Awards. I'm not much of a gambler, but I'm betting that Trouble will be on one of those lists. Check back in a year, and we'll see if I'm right.

And... the book jacket would look truly beautiful with a gold Newbery Medal on it.

Update: The cover art is now available. Here it is:

Look under the "ou" in Trouble, about level with the nose on the face in the clouds. Isn't that the perfect place to put a Newbery sticker?

There's a lovely review of this book at The Reading Zone.

Poetry Friday: Conquering Mount Kilimanjaro

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about my brother's trip to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I received an amazing number of comments filled with support for him... from bloggers, friends and family. My brother told me how touched he was by the post and the reactions.

He just arrived home safely... having successfully reached the summit of the mountain. It was an amazing and arduous trip and I can't wait to hear about it in more detail.

I wrote a poem for him today in honor of his journey.

Conquering Mount Kilimanjaro

This poem is for

anyone who has dared
to go on an adventure

anyone who has journeyed
beyond the boundaries

anyone who has struggled
through unforgiving conditions

anyone who has fulfilled
a long cherished dream

This poem is for my brother

and for anyone who has
conquered their mountain.

The Poetry Friday round-up today is at Mentor Texts, Read Alouds & More.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sum it up

As a bookseller, I spend a lot of time answering this question:

"What's this book about?"

Sometimes this is easy to do, and sometimes it isn't. Let me give you an example of a book that you're probably familiar with... Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.

What's it about? Well, we can take the easy route and say it's about a guy named Mike who has a steam shovel. But, that's obvious from the front cover and it doesn't really answer the question. More importantly, it doesn't make anyone want to read the book.

Here's a better answer: "It's about a man and his steam shovel who try to dig the cellar of a town hall in just one day. It's a classic and it was one of my favorite books when I was younger."

Why would my answer be so short? Why didn't I go into what else Mike and Mary Ann did, and talk about digging four corners nice and square, and how much I love Virgina Lee Burton's books? Because, time is of the essence. Most people want a quick summary, not a review. And usually we're discussing two, three or ten other books.

If I have good feelings or memories about the book, I'll usually mention that. It helps give a frame of reference. In this case, the fact that I read it when I was younger points out that the book has stayed in print for a while. And with Mike Mulligan, I usually say that loved it when I was a little girl, because people are often hesitant to buy a book for a girl with construction equipment on the front cover. (For more about Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, which really is a terrific book, see this post.)

Picture books are pretty easy because people can sit down and read them right in the store. But try summing up Good Night Moon. "It's about a bunny who says good night to every object in his room before falling asleep." Doesn't exactly grab you, does it?

Chapter books are even harder to describe quickly and effectively. Plus, you want to introduce the plot without giving any of it away. Here's a question I was asked a few months ago that I had a surprisingly hard time with:

"What's the Lord of the Rings trilogy about? I don't want a lot of detail, just give me the general idea in two sentences."

Wow. Um, okay. Summarize hundreds of papers and complex writing in two sentences? What would you say? I think I said something to this effect:

"It's about a small, insignificant creature (a hobbit) who has come to possess a magic ring, which is the most powerful object in the world. He has to travel to the other end of his universe to destroy it, and the books are about his amazing journey."

Remember, you've got to do these summaries on the spot... and you want to do the books justice. It's not enough to use the summary on the back of the book or the dust jacket or the Library of Congress notation... people can read those for themselves. They want to hear someone talk about the book.

Can you describe Charlotte's Web in a few sentences that would make me want to read it? How about Mr. Popper's Penguins? Harry Potter? Anne of Green Gables? Pride and Prejudice? The Wizard of Oz? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? I've been asked the "what is this book about" question for all of the books mentioned above... usually from a person who hasn't heard of the book before. And I recently got asked what Mother Goose rhymes were. It can sometimes be difficult to put aside the history and reputation of the book or poems, and just state the basic plot in an intriguing way.

Try the book I've been asked about all week: The Invention of Hugo Cabret. (I wonder why I've been asked about it so much. Could it be the fact that I've displayed it in every available space in the store?) For Hugo, I usually show people the first page... and it's pretty hard to put down after the fantastic introduction. But I don't have a really good short summary of it yet. Currently, I've been saying something along these lines (while flipping through the book to show off the pictures):

"It's about an orphan boy who lives in the walls of a train station in Paris and makes a tremendous discovery. The book is a unique combination of pictures and words and when you read it, you feel as though you're watching a movie."

Needs work. Got any suggestions?

Monday, January 21, 2008

January Carnival of Children's Literature: Book Awards

And, now (drumroll, please) Wizards Wireless is delighted to present the January edition of the Carnival of Children's Literature! (Cue wild applause).

The posts this month have been exhaustively reviewed (by me), thoroughly discussed (I talked to myself about them), and are in keeping with the finest standards of all carnivals of children's literature posted on this blog (this is the first one).

And now onto the highly anticipated topic: children's book awards. Awards are listed in a completely random order, carefully determined with help from the Wizards Wireless dartboard.

The first category is the Cybils: the Children's and YA Bloggers' Literary Awards.

The awards go to:
Our next category is the American Library Association Youth Media Awards.

The awards go to:

Moving right along to our next category: Other Awards and Lists.

The awards go to:

Our next category is Books Worthy of Awards.

The awards go to:

We're not done yet! Our next category is Thoughts about Awards.

The awards go to:

And last, in the coveted Blogger Award category, we are proud to feature these terrific new honors invented by creative bloggers.

The awards go to:

  • Sarah at The Reading Zone for sharing the details of the Mulbery : a children's literature award she created with her sixth grade Language Arts class.

  • Jennie at the Geek Buffet for ruminating on the Alex Awards (adult books that appeal to teens) and turning the tables to create the Xela Awards for teen books that appeal to adults.

Aceeptance Speech
I'd like to thank all the wonderful bloggers who participated in this month's carnival.
And Melissa Wiley, who provided fabulous technical support.
And my dogs, who really didn't do much of anything.

To submit carnival posts for next month's carnival of Children's Literature (host to be determined), go to Blog Carnival. And hey, since there's no host yet, maybe you'd like to give it a try. It's a lot of fun. Just contact Melissa Wiley at Here in The Bonny Glen.

Do you write a blog about children's literature? To find out more about future carnivals and to have terrific conversations with other bloggers, I highly recommend joining the Kidlitosphere online discussion group. Go to Yahoo Groups, search for "kidlitosphere" and follow the directions from there.

And, if you read the whole carnival, you can have an award too. Just be sure to thank me in your acceptance speech.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Book clubs

You may have noticed I have a poll on the sidebar asking if you've ever been if a book club. Why?

I've always wanted to be in a book club. I love talking about books. I'm currently in library school and it's fabulous to discuss children's books with so many intelligent, literary people. I'd love to do it more regularly (and without having to write papers).

But, I've never been able to find a book club that reads books I'm interested in. 99% of them seem to discuss adult books. And, sure, there are lots of wonderful adult books, but currently for work, school and pleasure, and as a parent; my interest is in children's literature. (See my confession about no longer reading books for adults).

What to do? After years of searching, I've finally decided to start my own book club. If you're in the D.C. area (including Maryland, Virgina and Washington D.C.) and you're interested in children's literature, I'd love to have you join. There's a different genre every month (young adult, mystery, picture books, etc.) and the meetings are designed so that you can come to as few or as many as you like. So, if we're discussing a book you want to read, and the time works for you, you can come to just that meeting.

Do you have any book or genre suggestions? Practical advice? Do you live in the DC area and you'd like to join? Leave a note in the comments or e-mail me at wizardwireless [at] gmail [dot] com.

Poll results

It's time to post results from my poll about favorite American Library Association awards.

Question: Which American Library Association awards do you like the best?


1st place (15 votes)

  • John Newbery Medal : most distinguished contribution to children's literature

2nd place (8 votes each)

  • Randolph Caldecott Medal: most distinguished American picture book for children
  • Theodor Seuss Geisel Award: books for beginning readers

3rd place (4 votes each)

  • Alex Awards: adult books that appeal to a teen audience
  • Michael L. Printz Award: young adult literature
  • Schneider Family Book Award: books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience

4th place (3 votes each)

  • Odyssey Award: audio books
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder Award: authors and illustrators who have made a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children

5th place (2 votes)

  • Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award: non-fiction books

6th place (1 vote each)

  • May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award: recognizes an author, critic, librarian, historian, or teacher of children's literature
  • Mildred L. Batchelder Award: translated books originally published in other countries
  • Pura Belpré Award: recognizes Latino authors and illustrators
  • Andrew Carnegie Medal: children's video
  • Margaret A. Edwards Award: lifetime achievement in writing for young adults
  • Coretta Scott King Book Award: recognizes African American authors and illustrators
  • None of the above
Note, this poll was for the awards themselves. To vote for your favorite 2008 ALA Award winners, see the poll on the sidebar.

A few comments about the results:
I was surprised that the votes for the Newbery were double the votes for the Caldecott. I always consider these two awards as equals.

I was also surprised (in a good way) at how many votes the Geisel Award for early readers recieved. I love the Geisel, and I follow it pretty closely, but it seems to me that not that many people know about the award yet (which is only it it's third year).

Other polls currently running:
What's your preferred method of travel in the Harry Potter world?

Are you a member of a book club?

And I just put together a new poll: which Hogwarts subject would you most like to study? The emphasis is on the subject, not the teacher. Let's assume you can select a teacher of your choice for classes such as Divination, Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts (otherwise, those choices probably wouldn't poll too well). And I added Occlumency... which, while not technically in the official course of study, would be an incredibly useful skill to have.

Have any suggestions for polls relating to children's books, comic strips or Harry Potter? Wizards Wireless is always happy to hear them!

Friday, January 18, 2008

More Caldecott reactions

Do you wish you were on the Caldecott committee? (Don't we all?)

Listen to this wonderful podcast by Roger Sutton (a member of the 2008 Caldecott committee, the Editor in Chief of The Horn Book, and author of the blog Read Roger). You'll feel like you were were a part of the committee for the big announcement.

Wake up with Roger in his hotel room (not literally) as he calmly talks about the winner. Follow him through the excitement of the committee before and after the magic phone calls. (He turned off his recorder for the actual phone calls, but he provides a recap.) Sit next to him during the press conference and hear the show stopping applause when the winner of the Caldecott is announced. And then mingle with Roger in the crowd afterwards and hear what other folks have to say.

Once you've heard what the moment was like for the committee, head over to Publisher's Weekly to read their article about the experience of the winners themselves. I particularly loved this quote from the article about Brian Selznick's plane trip to New York a few hours after the announcement:

"Unable to concentrate, Selznick watched his seatmate pull a few folded sheets of paper out of her bag. He recognized the ALSC seal, and realized she was reading the press release for that morning’s awards. Compelled to remark on the coincidence, Selznick asked her, “Excuse me, are you a librarian?” “No," she replied, “I work for PBS.” She then explained that these big children’s awards had been announced earlier in the day. Selznick’s response: “I know—I won one!”

There's still time

Keep meaning to submit a post to the January Canrival of children's literature, but haven't done it yet? Here's your last chance!

The topic is book awards. See this post for more details.

To submit a post to the carnival, go to Blog Carnival. Or e-mail your post to: wizardwireless [at] gmail [dot] com. The deadline is January 18 (tonight!) and the carnival will be posted on January 21.

A Caldecott Adventure

Today I took a journey
through the titles of
70 years of Caldecott winners.

Here are my thoughts
as I traveled back in time
in chronological order
from 2008 to 1938.

I was thinking about

the invention of Hugo Cabret

as I watched
flotsam float by
the hello goodbye window

It was the night of kitten's first full moon as
the man who walked between the towers
strolled past with my friend rabbit

the three pigs

“So you want to be president?” asked the pigs.
“Joseph had a little overcoat,”
I answered,
which I could have borrowed for the inauguration.

But he lost it.

“Ask Snowflake Bentley, Rapunzel and Golem,”
replied the pigs.

“Or try Officer Buckle and Gloria.
They never go anywhere without a buddy.”

I left the pigs on that smoky night to set off on
my grandfather's journey.
I passed Mirette on the high wire
(who gave her regards to the man who walked between the towers.)

It was Tuesday and I had
black and white overcoat with me
(although I would have preferred Joseph’s.)

I met Lon Po Po as I traveled
through the forest.
Up ahead we could hear
the song and dance man.

I waited for the owl moon.
Just as it appeared in the sky,
I saw my best friend.

“Hey, Al!”
I called.

He was waiting for me on the Polar Express
along with Saint George and the dragon.
The train broke down so we took a glorious flight
through the

It was a long trip so we played
a game of

and told each other fables.

Finally, our plane landed.
The ox-cart man and the
girl who loved wild horses
brought us to Noah’s ark.

There we learned all the letters
from ashanti to zulu
and found out why mosquitoes
buzz in people's ears

Noah shot an arrow to the sun
and the ark stopped.
Duffy and the devil
and the funny little woman
met us when we arrived.

Because it was
one fine day
they told us a story.

It was a story about
Sylvester and the magic pebble and
the fool of the world and the flying ship.

They tried to introduce us to drummer Hoff
but he was too busy firing it off
Sam, Bangs & Moonshine

By now, we’d gathered quite a crowd.
“There’s always room for one more,” said Al.
“May I bring a friend?” I asked.

I knew it was scary to travel through the land
where the wild things are
especially on a
snowy day.

“There was once a mouse,” said Al,
“who was brave enough to visit
Baboushka and the three kings.

"You are just as courageous as he was.
But, since it's nine days to Christmas
take Chanticleer and the fox with you."

My travels became a time of wonder and
I realized that a tree is nice,
especially when you need a place to rest.

The amphibian I had met on Tuesday disappeared.
I think that frog went a-courtin'
at Cinderella’s house.

Fortunately, he returned in time for
Madeline's rescue

from the biggest bear.

He tried to take Madeline’s dog,
but she told him:
“finders, keepers.”

The frog left us again under
the egg tree when he heard the
song of the swallows.

We started to head home
but suddenly there was a
big snow.
We persevered, although
we were surrounded
by white snow.

The bright snow was blinding
so we stopped for the night on

the little island
where the rooster crows

I bid goodbye to all my friends
and said a prayer for a child,
especially the youngest one,

I think I accomplished the
journey my grandfather dreamed about

many moons ago, before
the little house had to move
to make way for ducklings.

I thought about all the travelers I had
encountered on my adventure
and realized that

they were strong
and good

I wish I had met
Abraham Lincoln and Mei Li
but maybe they’ll come
next time.

Finally, I parted from
the animals of the Bible
that I had met on Noah’s ark
and headed home on
the repaired Polar Express.

Hugo Cabret said he’d meet me
at the train station.

by Susan Kusel
, copyright 2008

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Score card

About 10 days ago I wrote a post about how tough it is to predict the ALA award winners. It's also important, though... and as a small independent bookseller, you want to have all the books in stock when the winners are announced.

Now that the big moment has come and gone, a lot of people have asked me about my predictions. Was I right? Did I have the Newbery and Caldecott books on hand at my store? Here's my score card:

Newbery Medal: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Yes.
Newbery honor: The Wednesday Wars. Yes.
Newbery honor: Feathers. Yes.
Newbery honor: Elijah of Buxton. Yes.

Caldecott Medal: The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Yes.
Caldecott honor: First the Egg. Yes.
Caldecott honor: The Wall. Yes.
Caldecott honor: Knuffle Bunny Too. Yes.
Caldecott honor: Henry's Freedom Box. No.

Eight out of nine. Not bad. And I got Henry's Freedom Box in the next morning.

Remember my post last week about how Hugo Cabret wasn't going to win anything? It seems that I convinced a lot of people, except myself (and fortunately, the Caldecott committee). Hugo Cabret was the only book that I ordered heavily in advance a few weeks prior to the announcement. But my books from Scholastic hadn't arrived yet and at the moment the Caldecott was announced, I only had one copy of Hugo in stock. Yikes. It seemed that all my pre-planning had gone to waste.

However, the stars aligned perfectly for me on Monday. Around lunch time, the U.P.S. delivery guy came in with a cart laden with beautiful Scholastic boxes. I think I may have hugged him. I rifled through the boxes, found all my magical copies of Hugo Cabret... and put them proudly on the shelf. Talk about perfect timing. Did I mention the U.P.S. guy thought I was nuts?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Award reactions

After all that build-up to the American Library Association awards, I haven't talked about the winners and honor books yet, except for Hugo Cabret. Let's correct that. You can find a full list of all the books that were honored here on ALA's website.

On to the books that I'm particularly overjoyed about...

I'm absolutely thrilled that The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott Medal... in fact, I wrote a whole post on the subject. If you haven't been able to get your hands on this extraordinary book yet, here are a few things you can do. To see the images from the first chapter of the book, go the Hugo Cabret website. And be sure to go to to hear the first chapter narrated by Brian Selznick, and find out that the correct pronunciation of the title character is Hue-Go Cab-Ray. Then, head to the nearest library or bookstore, because you won't want to stop reading.

After I'm done with my standing ovation for the 2008 Caldecott committee, I'd like to give another one to the 2008 Newbery committee for awarding the Newbery medal to Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz. It's a quiet, powerful book that slowly takes hold of you. It's a unique combination of poetry, theater, non-fiction and superb storytelling. The research that went into it is excellent and it has some of the funniest and informative footnotes that I've ever found in a book written for children. I really felt like I gained an understanding of the Middle Ages, particularly what life was like for children, in a way that I never have before. I also felt like I made friends with each character in Schlitz's village and I loved when their stories connected. Most importantly, Schlitz never talks down to her audience. This understated book could have easily been lost in the shuffle. I'm so glad that through the power of the Newbery Medal, kids will have a chance to discover it.

To hear Schlitz read the last monologue from the book (which also happens to be one of my favorite pieces in the book), go to For Schlitz's reaction to winning the Newbery, see "Children's Book Award Winners Break the Mold" by Bob Thompson in the Washington Post and "Fairy tales do come true at Park School" by

First the Egg by Laura Vacarro Seeger received not one, but two honors. It was awarded a Caldecott Honor and a Geisel honor. I think this book is extraordinary in subtle ways. Through the magic of LookyBook, I can give you a glimpse into this lovely book.

Unfortunately, this doesn't really convey the die-cuts, which I think are the best part. There are strategically placed holes throughout the book (the best example in the LookyBook version is on the title page where you can see the cut-out of the egg). Seeger is a brilliant artist and and I am so happy that she's finally received well deserved recognition.

I'm also quite happy that Henry's Freedom Box garnered a Caldecott honor. It's a straightforward, true and moving account of a slave who literally mailed himself to freedom in a large box. And the pictures are wonderful. Author Ellen Levine has written a number of books I've enjoyed such as I Hate English and If Your Name was Changed at Ellis Island. It's great to see her gripping and engaging text honored. Illustrator Kadir Nelson is becoming a bit of a superstar and picked up a Caldecott honor last year for Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom.

As for There is A Bird on Your Head! by Mo Willems, which won the Geisel Award, I agree with MotherReader (see here and here) that it's the best of the four Elephant and Piggie books. The humor and slapstick in this book is absolutely brilliant. I read it aloud at a storytime yesterday to a group that ranged from 6 months to 6 years old. Kids and parents were hanging on every word, and practically every page was greeted with uproarious laughter. Also, it makes excellent use of white space and contains large text and simple words which combine to make it a terrific early reader. And the jokes don't hurt either.

One last comment... and it's about Harry Potter, of course. I was watching the live webcast of the awards. When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was mentioned as an Odyssey Honor, my heart sank. Because that meant that it hadn't won the Odyssey Award. And it's unfair to gripe about, because I haven't heard the winner yet. Jazz, which did win, is based on an excellent book, and I look forward to hearing the audio edition. And, I applaud the Odyssey committee for looking at the entire spectrum and awarding honors to audio productions created from picture books, informational book and traditional chapter books. And really, I'm delighted that Deathly Hallows received an Odyssey honor, so I can't complain.

Congratulations to all the committees and all the award winners. Now that the big moment is over, what do you want to do? Go to Disneyland, of course. The ALA annual convention is in Anaheim this year, and I can't wait to hear the acceptance speeches in June.

Looking for opinions!

An Ohio children's librarian has created a blog with lots of intriguing questions about Harry Potter, but hasn't received any comments to date. If you have any opinions about Harry Potter (and if you're a reader of Wizards Wireless, then you probably do)... head on over to Deconstructing Harry and add your 2 knuts.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Books I'm looking forward to

Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray asks: what books are you looking forward to this year?

There are so many wonderful children's books coming out that it's hard to chose. Many other bloggers have compiled terrific lists. Rather than repeat all the big titles coming out that everyone else has talked about, I'll mention three books I have my eye on for personal reasons:

Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release date: March 4, 2008

I plucked this book out of a stack of galleys (early reader copies)... and it made me feel like I discovered it. It's a fabulous read aloud for very little kids and will make an excellent board book one day. Whatever you do, don't write this off as another sock monkey book. I think anything that Emily Gravett writes is terrific (see Orange Pear Apple Pear for confirmation).

It's Library Day by Janet Morgan Stoeke
Publisher: Dutton
Release Date: June 12, 2008

Janet Stoeke was a guest speaker in my children's literature class last year, and she shared drawings and text from this book, which she had just finished at the time. I think it will be a real gift to school libraries. There's also a lovely preview of this book over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

The Scandal Plan or How to Win the Presidency by Cheating on Your Wife by Bill Folman
Publisher: William Morrow.
Release date: May 2008.

Okay, so this obviously isn't a children's literature title. How did it make my list? Because it's written by a friend of mine, who lived across the hall from me in college. He's always been one of the funniest people I know and he has a real gift for comedy. I can't believe that the kid who wrote wacky scenes for our playwriting class (ten years ago) now has a book coming out with a major publisher. I'm really proud of him and I can't wait to see how his sense of humor comes through in his book.

What books are you looking forward to this year?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Assorted Polls

Do you have opinions? Wizards Wireless wants to know about them!

Now that the ALA award winners have been announced, which ones are you the happiest about? See the new poll on the sidebar.

I've also got another poll currently running that asks if you've ever been in a book club.

Only two polls? Why not make it three. Okay. I just posted a Harry Potter poll. Which method of transportation described in the Harry Potter books would you prefer for all your transit needs?

Oh, wait, there's actually four polls up now. There's still a day left to vote for your favorite ALA award.

I've never been so happy to be wrong

Did you hear shouts of joy at 8:28 a.m. this morning, Eastern time? That would have been me, screaming and cheering in delight as I heard the news that The Invention of Hugo Cabret had just won the Caldecott Medal.

It's been a busy day in the children's book selling world. There was frantic dictation as the awards were announced. There were hurried phone calls to distributors, publishers and reps to secure as many of the winning books as possible. There was scouring of bookshelves and overstock to find every last copy of every book that had just been anointed with a magic sticker. There were signs that had to be made, and books that had to be organized and re-organized to make room for the winners. There were conversations with colleagues about which books won. Oh, and there was all the other business of a regular Monday to attend to. So, it's been a long day.

But now, I finally have a minute to sit down. And here's the first thing I want to do: stand up.

I want to give a standing ovation to the 2008 Caldecott committee. I want to applaud you for making a brave and gutsy choice and for recognizing the most distinguished book of the year.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that I wrote a very detailed post about why Hugo Cabret wasn't going to win the Newbery Medal, even though I really, really, really wanted it to. Not because it's not a great book, but because the Newbery is all about text, not illustrations. And Hugo Cabret is all about illustrations. And while Hugo Cabret was eligible for the Caldecott, selecting something that isn't a "picture book" would fly in the face of Caldecott tradition.

And yet, they did it. They awarded it the Caldecott Medal. Now, the book will be in schools and libraries everywhere and will be in print for decades to come. And it's an excellent, timeless book and it deserves to be where children can get their hands on it. Bravo to the courageous members of Caldecott committee. And, thank you.

Incidentally, when I put signs above the 534 page Caldecott winner and the 85 page Newbery winner today, it looked like I made a mistake. But I didn't... and neither did the committee.

Update: Now that I've had a chance to look around at other blogs, I see that several people commented on the huge ovation Hugo Cabret received when it was announced as the Caldecott winner. Although I was watching the webcast, I didn't hear the applause of the crowd. Why? Because I was too busy screaming.

Additional Update: I just watched the webcast again, this time in far calmer circumstances. I can't believe that I missed the unbelievable amount of applause that stopped the show when Hugo was announced. I must have been really screaming.

Yet Another Update: Here are my reactions to the other 2008 ALA awards. And, did I correctly predict the winners and have them in stock at our store? See my scorecard. And this post tells you where to go to hear the Hugo Cabret Caldecott announcement cheer for yourself.

One More Update: Nah, I don't have anything to say this time. False alarm.