Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Monday, February 28, 2011

Don't forget to take a moment and breathe

I always laugh to myself when someone suggests it's time to slow down and "take some time for yourself". First of all, there's simply not enough time in a day to get everything done. Everyone knows that. And since that's the reality, I'm not sure how slowing down is ever an option. The retort to that, of course, is that we make the choice to be insanely busy so we could, conceivably, choose to let some things go and replace them with a coffee break. The problem with that is that if you're anything like me, you recognize that just as the days are too short, so is life. We get this one chance to contribute and it's important to live life to the fullest and be as active a participant as possible. My mother used to tell me that you can do it all, just not all at the same time. When we do too much at once, we tend to forget to savor the experiences that make us who we are. My message to my own kids is remember to breathe and remember to be - you are responsible for the life you lead - be present, make it count and remember to enjoy it!

Bet you're wondering how I'll turn this into a book recommendation. Well, what about a book where the protagonist is seen having the time of his life - truly living life to the fullest? Have you seen Stephen Savage's Where's Walrus? A walrus leaves the zoo to take in and blend into the sights of the city on a quest for adventure. Check out the book trailer and you'll see that this is a picture book to enjoy and cherish. It should be a staple in every preschool and kindergarten classroom!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Turning The Tables

This past Saturday night, the tables turned. My husband Jeff and I went to our friends' home for dinner.We left our children in the care of one another (an arrangement that suits us all well and with which we all feel comfortable). At 12:15 am, the telephone at our friends' place rang and the phone was passed to me. At the other end was an irate child (one of ours), letting me know that our kids were worried about us and demanding that we return home immediately. They are used to seeing us climb into bed by 11 and when the clock struck midnight and we weren't home yet, they tried to reach us but couldn't. Inadvertently and irresponsibly, we had left our cellphones in our coat pockets on "vibrate" so we hadn't heard them ringing when the girls called and texted. When we didn't answer, our kids, knowing exactly where we were supposed to be, had the sense to call and make sure everything was okay. On the way home, Jeff and I acknowledged that it must be a terrible thing to worry about your parents and we felt awful about the whole thing. We were also forced to admit that we'd better start leading a more active social life to help our kids get used to the possibility that we may occasionally like to stay out past midnight. This morning (Sunday), our oldest daughter suggested that we develop some rules and set clearer expectations to govern situations where parents go out and kids stay home. She cogently reminded us that clear rules apply to her when she goes out with friends so we can be assured of her whereabouts and safety at all times and the same should apply to us. Who am I to argue?

We reminded our kids this morning that they should learn from our mistake here and make certain not to repeat it; that "well, you did it too" would not protect them in any way if they should ever fail to stay in touch. We all worry for our kids' safety all the time. It must be absolutely terrifying when you don't know where your child is. I'm glad that our kids are so clear about the rules for staying in touch that they were able to turn the tables on us. Of course, part of growing up and gaining independence is striking out on your own and moving away from the watchful eye of vigilant parents and, I suppose, vigilant children. It's not easy for anyone but necessary for all.

I asked our very grown-up nearly 15 year old to come up with today's book recommendations. I asked her to think of two books where the child or children cared for the parents and took on an adult role. We agreed that there are many but the two that came to mind for her immediately were Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper. These are two very different stories but apposite selections both. Well done!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Who shares your spirit?

Per, the word of the day is "congenial". The definition is "having the same nature, disposition or tastes: kindred" or, alternatively, "existing together harmoniously: social or genial". Did you know that according to ancient Roman and Greek mythology, each person at birth was assigned a guardian spirit? The Latin name for this attendant spirit was "genius." Two people who get along well together can be thought of as sharing a similar spirit; they might even be described by a word combining the Latin prefix "com-" (meaning "with, together") and "genius." And, indeed, it was this "com-genius" combination that gave rise in the 17th century to the English word "congenial."I'm not sure how I feel about sharing my guardian spirit! I wonder if I'm sharing that spirit with one of my kids and, if so, whose side is it on when we fight? Let me rethink that - my kids, as you may recall, are teens and tweens. While there was a time that you could say "Two people who get along well together" could have referred to any one of the three of them and myself, these days there are often times when that is not the case. I think I might share a spirit with our dog!

It's hard to think of mythology in the children's book world without acknowledging the amazing role author Rick Riordan has played over the last several years in bringing Greek and now Egyptian mythology to middle graders through the Percy Jackson, The Heroes of Olympus and the Kane Chronicles series. I love the fact that every time Rick Riordan publishes a new book, our middle school daughters declare it to be the best book ever. These books have culture, history, action, adventure, romance - truly, something for everyone. As a mom, I am equally appreciative of the great storytelling and the introduction to Greek and Egyptian gods in an accessible way that helps kids develop an interest that they're able to pursue beyond these books.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

From the teen's perspective

A few years ago, the Children's Book Council formed a committee of industry superstars and began to develop CBC Forum events. The events have been panel presentations featuring experts on topics of interest to the children's book publishing community. This evening we hosted a Forum event that we called "From the teen's perspective". Our panel, moderated by Carol Fitzgerald, the founder and president of The Book Report Network, included Sara Shandler, VP and Editorial Director of Alloy Entertainment,  BrookeTarnoff, Senior Editor of MTV's, Sabrina Rojas Weiss, Editor,, H. Jack Martin, Assistant Director for Public Programs and Lifelong Learning at The New York Public Library, Lisa Von Drasek, media specialist, academic librarian, and adjunct faculty member at the Bank Street College of Education's elementary school, Mitali Dave, blogger with YA book blog The Alley of Books and co-organizer of Teen Author Carnival (NYPL), Nicole Brinkley, blogger with YA book blog WORD for Teens and Zoe Himmel and Sofia Stafford, two teens from the Hewitt School who brought a sense of realism to the discussion. The panel was amazing and each panelist brought something different to the table. The CBC will summarize the event so you can read about it in greater depth on our website next week. Right now, though, I'm very proud of my team for helping to pulll this fabulous event together.

I am also proud of and grateful to the teens who participated on this panel. The teen bloggers (Mitali and Nicole) were incredibly well read and passionate about books. They are both in college now and aging out of their teenagerdom. By contrast, the two high school students, Zoe and Sofia, are immersed in theirs. Zoe and Sofia, two incredibly poised, articulate, intelligent and beautiful girls, reminded publishers that their time for pleasure reading is short but when a compelling book comes along, they'll find the time to read it. I'm so pleased they made the time to be part of the panel! Now it's back to publishers to figure out the best way to get the right books in front of the right kids. Listening to the two librarians on the panel, it was clear that the library system has always been an effective means of curating and communicating about books and that it's a system we need perhaps more than ever. As more and more books are being published, it's getting more and more difficult to find effective ways to raise awareness among young readers, particularly since so much shopping is being done online and online searchability is flawed. Librarians are key gatekeepers and parents, educators, booksellers, publishers and authors should do everything we can to support them.

Special thanks to Carol Fitzgerald for moderating so exquisitely tonight, to Mary Van Akin for her logistical and organizational expertise, to Amy Bowllan and the Hewitt School for bringing us two charming teens full of substance and insight and, as I always say, for incorporating trade books in classrooms the way it ought to be done, to our esteemed panel and to the Forum Committee. Thank you!

One of the panelists tonight was inspired by Mary Pipher's 1994 bestseller Reviving Ophelia, which shed new light on the problems of contemporary female adolescence. A younger Sara Shandler (she's still pretty young!) set out to give a voice to the real Ophelias, America's teenage girls.  Ranging from problems with body image and self-mutilation to difficult relationships with parents and other family members, to intense academic pressures, Sara compiled and wrote Ophelia Speaks, a book that is organized by subject and includes entries from dozens of girls across the country.The book was published in 1999, when Sara was in college. It remains relevant and resonant today.Several people have asked me if I would recommend a book about body image that they might share with their daughters and this is where I would suggest they start. The body image issue is a big one in the book and in real life. Some time soon I will devote a blog post to the subject but, for now, I offer a place to start.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Would you still love me if I...?

When our kids were younger, they used to ask the age-old question, "would you love me if...?" We were always quick to reassure them that nothing could ever diminish our love for each of them. We used all the standard responses like, "well, then we'd be disappointed in you but nothing could change our love for you" and ""If you did that, we'd be very angry but we'd still love you the same as always". Then the follow up; the true test: "But what if I did the absolute worst thing ever... what if I killed someone?" The good news there is that by asking the question, the child is demonstrating an understanding that this would be very wrong. Particular circumstances aside, I think it's fair, not to mention important, to reassure a child in this case that your love for them is unshakable. I also think it's fair, not to mention responsible, to use the opportunity to discuss how the consequences of one's actions can extend beyond themselves and their perceived victim. A person's bad acts may inadvertently shatter the world of the family that loves them.

If you're wondering how or why I came upon this heavy and somewhat depressing topic, I'd be happy to explain. I had a terrible headache today that just wouldn't let go and made it difficult for me to concentrate on my work. I decided to take a short break and picked up a book a publicist had told me about last week and sent over to my office so I could take a look. The book, Exposed by Kimberly Marcus, will be out next week. Read it!! This is a gripping story, told in verse, of two best friends, one of which accuses the other's brother of raping her. As the boy's parents rally behind him and the girl's parents rally behind her, the reader is focused on the sister and best friend whose life, as she knows it, is ripped apart. The perspective is fresh and the verse is surprisingly effective, making this an incredibly emotional and satisfying read. I don't want to give anything away because I want people to read this book. As parents, we are always looking for new ways to discuss issues with our children and as young adults, many of our children are looking to explore their complicated world in a non-threatening way. Books like this can help. For the second time since starting this blog, I will say that I believe this is a book that should be mandatory reading for every high school student in America and for their parents (I said the same thing about Daisy Whitney's The Mockingbirds in my 11-28-10 blog post). I, quite literally, couldn't put this book down. I had to keep reading until I was done; I had to find out how it would end. Now, hours later, I still can't get this story out of my head.

Like The Mockingbirds, Exposed reinforced my belief that books can be such an effective tool for bridging the gap between parents and teens. There are many topics we should be discussing with our kids and sometimes it's hard to get started or to think through the different perspectives. Books can help immeasurably.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Take Comfort

Here's a cool fact - Linus Van Pelt of the Peanuts cartoon strip (he with the ever-present blue blanket) actually coined the phrase "security blanket"? We all remember the blanket but I have to admit that I never considered the conundrum before - what came first, the comic or the blanket? Linus, of course, was super smart but I didn't know he was responsible for naming his obsession. I think it's pretty impressive that Charles M. Schultz, the comic strip's creator, created this quirky and lovably nuanced character. Linus was attached to his blanket and his thumb and he was a little nerdy and often waxed philosophic but Linus was also a chick magnet! Security blankets can be cool.

Whether it's a blanket or a favorite stuffed animal, many kids have them. Their calming effect is unmistakable. The irony lies in the inordinate amount of stress they can cause parents who dare to consider what might happen if the child loses their comfort object or it dies a natural death.. The young son of our close friends had a little doll they named Nino. His parents bought 10 or more of the exact same doll and put them in a rotation so the wear and tear was even throughout the collection. Nino survived intact until the child was ready to move on. Most of us are not that organized so we keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best. In our home, it's Berly, short for Berlioz, named after the gray cat in the Aristocats, which was one of our oldest daughters favorite movies when she was little Berly began life with our then 10-month old baby girl as a plump and fluffy gray cat. She's now nearly fifteen and he'd be skin and bones if he had any bones; so he's pretty much just skin. When she was around 3 years old, we inadvertently left him behind on a trip to Montreal to visit my parents. Needless to say, my mom had to fedex the raggedy cat back to us the very next day. Truth be told, we all feel a little more secure when Berly is around.

Comfort objects can be relied upon to get a child through the challenges he or she faces. One of the favorite new books around my office these days is Eileen Rosenthal's I Must Have Bobo, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal.The security toy in this book is a sock monkey named Bobo. I'm not sure if I love the book because of the fact that the obsessional object is a sock monkey or if it's because of the way the little boy relies on his sock monkey or maybe because the little boy's gray cat (who bears a striking resemblance to Berly) is a rival for Bobo's affections. The combination just works and by the end of the book, you'll be thinking you must have Bobo too!

A review of favorite toys would be incomplete without paying due homage to Mo Willems' already classic Knuffle Bunny trilogy (for those not in the loop, the "K" is not silent). The series stars a young girl named Trixie (which just happens to be the name of Mo's daughter) and her beloved Knuffle Bunny. The entire series is built around the notion of a favorite toy and the different, horrible things that can separate it from its young owne and the lengths to which parents will go to reunite the two. In the third book in the series, Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion, Trixie leaves Knuffle Bunny on an airplane. Face it folks, if you haven't been there, you've no doubt imagined what it would be like. And it isn't pretty!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dare to be different...yeah, right!

I think that when many of us become parents, we take a silent pledge to remember what it was like to be a kid and infuse those memories into our parenting. Sadly, we're getting old and our memories are like sieves so we don't remember all that we should. It's easy as an adult to conclude that kids have it easy but when we put ourselves in their shoes, the gravity of any given child situation cannot be minimized or understated. I know this and try to incorporate the child's perspective in my parenting but sometimes I completely and somewhat shockingly miss the mark.

A case in point involves the upcoming B'not Mitzvah celebration for our twin daughters. My husband Jeff and I have planned a weekend full of festivities and we're all very excited. For rite of passage celebrations such as the one we're planning, parents and sometimes siblings often put together a photo montage that poignantly takes guests of the celebration through the life and times of the honoree(s). We thought we'd shake things up a bit. We found these really creative guys who sit around a table with you and pitch ideas, the way I imagine they do on Saturday Night Live, and had them pitch us video concepts. Montage, feh... we were going to make a movie! We met with these guys twice and they offered up all these amazing ideas. We thought about filming our two girls doing a version of The Amazing Race. We considered having them inserted into an episode of Glee or American Idol. We considered doing a spoof of Modern Family. We invested considerable time in the brainstorming portion of the process and were scheduled to shoot the video this past weekend. A week before the scheduled shoot, the girls sat me down and sheepishly revealed that they didn't want to spoof Glee or American Idol. The truth, delivered in slow motion, was that they really didn't want to do a video at all. They wanted a montage like everyone else. "Are you nuts?! But this will be so awesome. It'll be something new and different," I shouted. "Precisely," they answered. They're 12 years old. They didn't want to be different. Duh!

We think of our kids as unique and want them to think of themselves the same way. We want them to lead the pack and forge new paths. It's helpful to remember that celebrating your differences is a process. For most of us, that process doesn't begin or peak when we're 12 years old. I laugh when I think of how excited we were to put together a different sort of vehicle to show off our kids. The irony is that their uniqueness shines through in every photograph and the photo montage we roll on March 12 will be amazing.

Michelle Knudsen's Argus, illustrated by Andrea Wesson, is an enchanting story that deals with the process toward appreciating difference (in a fun and elegant way; rather than by hitting you over the head with a sledgehammer). Every child in Sally's class gets an egg for a science experiment. Sally's egg is different from the rest. When the other eggs hatch, cute little chicks emerge. Sally's chick is green, scaly and bigger than the rest. The other chicks eat seeds. Sally's chick, which grows bigger and faster than the others, tries to eat the other chicks. Sally does not immediately embrace the uniqueness of her chick. The process takes hold, though, and the ride is fun and rewarding.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

When I was younger, New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day were the holidays that caused me the most anxiety. To a lesser extent, I also had issues with Halloween, but that was more because I had no creativity when it came to costumes, not because I'd worry about my social life. The holidays best spent with someone you love can be miserable when you don't have a someone.  I long ago realized that the best cure for this kind of anxiety is to focus on what you have rather than what you haven't. To me, love is, at its core, deep, meaningful and respectful friendship. Valentine's Day is a day to celebrate meaningful friendships. While I may not always have wanted to kiss my friends at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, there's no one I'd have preferred to be with to usher in a new year.  I hope my kids develop a healthy attitude when it comes to love and holidays. One of our daughters let us know that she and a friend agreed to send each other candygrams at school on Valentine's Day this year to make sure they each receive a bag of candy (I think they both feel pretty loved already - I really think it was all about the candy). Seriously, though, it all comes down to friends!

One of my favorite picture books about the meaning of friendship tied to the cycle of life is the Mo Willems-Jon J Muth collaboration, City Dog, Country Frog. The two develop a lasting and important friendship that forms, blossoms and strengthens when the city dog comes to visit the country. This book effectively and movingly deals with the lasting impact of friendship and acknowledges that, in the course of life, things change. The book is as beautiful as a lifelong friendship.

If I haven't succeeded in distracting you from the love theme, then your teen or tween may want to pick up a copy of Alexandra Adornetto's  Halo. One of our 12-year old daughters, in search of a satisfying love story, picked it up and couldn't put it down. She read it in just two days. The book was written by a teenager and, conceivably, nobody understands teen angst and teen love better. It is the first book in a trilogy and I can assure you there is at least one avid young reader counting down the days until the next one (Hades) is available. It's got angels from above, young love, Dark Forces - a pretty powerful and appealing mix - with one of my favorite book trailers in the last year. Check it out!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kids say the darnedest things!

One of the (many) sheer joys of parenting is hearing some of the great words your kids make up. I'm not talking about mispronunciation, which is also precious, but rather, those times when a child can't find the right word to describe something so they make up a new one. They're often very clever and sometimes you can't help but wonder why these perfectly descriptive words aren't real words. When one of our daughters was much younger and saw an elephant at the zoo for the first time, she exclaimed that he was "humormous." We cherished the moment. More recently, two of our daughters were arguing because one wanted the other to play a game with her and her sister wasn't interested. "It's owement. You don't have a choice," said the child who wanted to play. "It's what?" I asked. "Owement. Y'know, when you owe someone something". Of course. Owement. Why not? Needless to say, the game was played because you really can't mess with owement. I wonder at what point made up words or the people who make them up go from being precocious and clever to unintelligent and maybe not very well-read. Let's face it, we are not so enamored of an adult who makes up a new word when they can't think of or don't know the one that already exists for whatever it is they're trying to say. But with kids... it's priceless!

One of my favorite newer kids' books that considers words is one I wrote about a couple of months ago. It's 13 Words by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maira Kalman. It's so much fun and so clever that it's worth repeating. It's one of those edgy picture books that's fun for the whole family. Before you know it, you'll all be walking around saying "haberdashery" and "panache".

When you consider the fact that the vast majority of books by young people are written by people older then them, you have to revisit the proposition that the window for creating words is open only to youngsters. Part of the charm of the Harry Potter series is the creation of a world and plenty of words to fill it. And, of course, who could forget Andrew Clements' beloved Frindle? Looking at some of the more recently published books, I had to pause over titles like Scumble and Incarceron because it seems to me a fair amount of creativity went into those words. Scumble is the sequel to Ingrid Law's Savvy. In Savvy, we were introduced to the magical powers the protagonist inherited when she turned 13. In Scumble, we meet her cousin who turns 13 and aquires a version of those same powers but one that seems to go all wrong so he must scumble his savvy into control. It's an interesting use of a word that, according to Merriam Webster means "to make (as color or a painting) less brilliant by covering with a thin coat of opaque or semiopaque color applied with a nearly dry brush". Still, it is a real word, liberally and figuratively used. I like that and I like this book as an early middle grade choice.

How about Incarceron? Not a real word but one that certainly makes sense when it's used as the name of a prison. The twist in Incarceron is that the prisoners are not convinced that Outside Incarceron exists, making escape attempts unlikely. Only one person has ever escaped... Consider shifting landscapes reminiscent of The Hunger Games, invincible teenagers (or teenagers who think they're invincible) and a crystal key and your teenager who didn't know where to go after Mockingjay may have found a destination.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Baby Names Revisited

Regular readers of this blog will remember that a colleague of mine has withheld the name she and her husband selected for their "baby-on-the-way" and guessing the name has proven to be a great source of excitement and amusement around my office these last months. Well, I am delighted to shout from the hilltops that the lovely ZOE ELIZABETH was born yesterday and the CBC team, which considers her one of our own, couldn't be happier with the name selection. We are all over the moon. Big, warm congrats to Kelly and Mark and Baby Zoe! We can't wait to meet her. I'm looking forward to hearing Kelly's stories as life with the new baby unfolds and suspect that many of the stories will make it into the blog. Stay tuned...

Today's book references come courtesy of another blog I happened upon today. Many thanks to Anna Reads for a list of what she considers to be the most unfortunate character names in books. Here's her list:

1. Thresh from Hunger Games: I'm sorry, and I know he was supposed to be an intimidating warrior, but all I could think was: "Trash? Rash? Thrash? What was that guy's name again?" And if his name stands out in a book of REALLY crazy names, you know how much it irked me.

2. Remus Lupin from Harry Potter: Gray wolf = Canis lupus. Remus = co-founder of Rome, was raised by a she-wolf. Could there BE a more obvious name for a dude who turns into a wolf?

3. Philip Pirrip aka Pip from Great Expectations: Pip? Seriously?

4. Padraig Seeley from Impossible: Is it just me or are fairies always named Seeley?

5. Angel Clare from Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Oh, I'm sorry, you wanted me to take him seriously as a romantic lead? Well, then don't name him the MOST GIRLIEST NAME EVER!

6. Any girl named Fanny in any Jane Austen novel: Maybe this name didn't have negative connotations back then, but that doesn't stop me from snickering...

7. Renesmee Carlie Cullen from Breaking Dawn: 'Nuff said.

8. Polyhymnia O'Keefe from Madeleine L'Engle's books: The daughter of my beloved Meg and Calvin. But why, oh why, did such a terrific couple have to do such a terrible thing to their daughter? Granted, her brother's name was Dennys so maybe odd ones run in the family?

9. Sookie Stackhouse from True Blood: Ugh. If you agree with me on this, watch this video.

10. Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games: Oh, sorry. I couldn't leave it with just one. Like everyone else, ALL I COULD THINK WAS "CATNIP!"

Meanwhile...create your own Hunger Games name (Mine = Riena H. Swingrose). Or your own Harry Potter name (Odila Lejeune). Or your own Jane Austen name (Lady Elizabeth King). And, of course, a fairy name (Gossamer Moonfly).

Thanks Anna!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The amazing story of First Book

One of my favorite people in the book world is a woman named Kyle Zimmer. Like me, Kyle is a recovering attorney who found her calling in the world of books and literacy. In all other respects, Kyle is really my hero and, quite honestly, she's who I want be when I grow up! In 1992, after volunteering in a soup kitchen and learning that none of the kids she was meeting had access to books, she and two friends decided they had to do something. They recognized that literacy is a strong predictor of a child’s future success and that a child without access to books won’t have the chance to become an engaged and capable reader so they established First Book, a brilliantly run organization based in DC that is all about putting new books in the hands of the kids who need them most. To date, First Book has distributed more than 80 million free or low-priced books. First Book is a sophisticated and effective model of all that a social entrepreneurial entity should be. At the core of the vision and mission is the most incredible, smart, passionate and wonderful group of people you could ever hope to know. Kyle's team includes Chandler Arnold, Jane Robinson, Erica Perl, Mitali Chakraborty and many more all-stars that I am privileged to know and consider friends. Hats off to First Book for the important work they do and for the lessons they have taught the rest of us about getting things done. The geniuses at First Book are constantly coming up with new and fun ideas to get their message out there and add to their vast following. Check out the video below, featuring celebrities in the children's book world (and my First Book friends were kind enough to let me crash the party!) and tell me you aren't hooked - then show your support!!

The Story of First Book from First Book on Vimeo.

Monday, February 7, 2011


In a list of unusually long and interesting words, Merriam-Webster Online includes Trichotillomania, an abnormal desire to pull out one's hair. Trichotillomania is classified as an impulse-control disorder that is estimated to afflict 2-4% of the population. How much you wanna bet the percentage is really much higher and those afflicted are mostly the mothers of teenagers?! I have no words of wisdom to impart to those mothers. We all need to hang on to the reality that it really does get better. Personally, I find that a good sense of humor and a really cute dog go a long, long way. Add in a really good book where you can get delightfully lost in an amazing story and you've got it made.

Maybe you'll want to combine all of the above and you can - with Louise Yates' Dog Loves Books. Dog, who owns a bookstore and reads while he awaits customers, gets lost in his reading adventures.  Dog is lovable. I can't help but want to package this book with How Rocket Learned to Read and Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don't) as a gift for a Kindergartner.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

There are three sides to every story

Teaching a child to consider different perspectives can be a challenge but, without doubt, well worth the effort. If we truly want our children to be active participants in their own lives and in the global community they have been thrust in, it is incumbent upon us to teach them and make sure they understand that there are at least 3 sides to every story (his side, her side and the truth). Our kids need to learn how to effectively communicate their sides of the story and how to listen carefully to the other side(s). So much easier said than done, right?! Not surprisingly, books can be a powerful tool to drive the point home.

Jon Sciezska gave the wolf a voice in The True Story of The Three Little Pigs and created a "side" that was so compelling that one of our daughters used to get very sad and cry about the mistreatment of the wolf.

It's brave for an author to take on the presentation of perspectives other than the protagonist. When it's done well, though, the reading experience is so much richer and the thoughts provoked, so much more profound. One such brave foray was Sharon Dogar's Annexed, the fictionalized story of Peter van Pels, the very real teenage boy who hid in the attic for more than two years with Anne Frank during the Holocaust. I hope schools will consider using this book as a companion novel to the entirely non-fiction classic Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl when teaching about the Holocaust or man's inhumanity to man and the triumph of the human spirit. Dogar uses the diary to set parameters, provide historical accuracy and set the stage for Peter's story. It's a very smart work of historical fiction, a heart-wrenching tale and a powerful example of the strength of a new perspective.

A recurring topic throughout this blog and a hot topic at schools and among kids, seemingly now and forever, is the issue of bullying. Consider the brave and clever work of Mark Shulman in Scrawl, a story from the perspective of the bully. You may not want to feel sympathy for or like a bully but it's never a bad idea to see where someone or something is coming from, to gain understanding and insight into what makes them tick.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The pot of gold at the end of the RAINBOW

I love my job. I am grateful each and every day to be able to say that and to do what I do. I am passionate about the work and I have the great fortune to work with and meet the most wonderful people. Today I met with four extraordinary people who, I have every confidence, will change the game when it comes to getting good  books into the hands of kids who will get lost in them (in the best possible way). Cultivating a lifelong love of reading begins with empowering kids to choose the books that interest and excite them and this impressive group is well on its way to bringing kids and books together in new and different ways. They are the powerhouse team of Mark Wolfe, Asra Rasheed, Sangita Patel and ... wait for it ... LeVar Burton. They are each as delightful as they are impressive. LeVar Burton, known for his indelibly memorable roles like Kunta Kinte in Roots and Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation, is perhaps most beloved for his 26-year run as the host of Reading Rainbow, the award-winning PBS series that brought books to life. Each episode centered on a theme from a book or other children's literature which was explored through a number of segments or stories. The show also provided book recommendations that kids could look for when they'd go to the library. It is the third-longest running children's series in PBS history, after Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Sesame Street. The show was taken off the air in 2009 and the children's book loving world mourned its demise. The void has not been filled but after today's meeting, I suspect that it will soon. At the helm are 4 passionate and dedicated people who recognize the importance of letting kids know what's available to them and giving them the power to make choices. More and more, I can't shake the feeling that we have entered a very exciting era for children's books.

In honor of LeVar Burton, who is truly as charming and wonderful in person as you could possibly imagine, today's book recommendations are made in celebration of Kunta and Geordi. In recognition of Kunta, and particularly compelling during Black History Month, is David Adler's Frederick Douglass: A Noble Life. Douglass fled to freedom in 1838 and subsequently became one of America's most celebrated abolitionists, orators, and passionate champions of freedom. Quotations attributed to him are legion but, in the spirit of this blog, consider this one: "Once you learn to read, you will forever be free."  And then remember that he was a fugutive slave with no formal education - just innate brilliance and the will to survive, succeed and fight injustice.

Switching gears a little, Geordi La Forge, inspires two book choices. The first is David Bristow's Sky Sailors.  This book is full of stories of balloon flights, the first kind of human flight allowing man to explore the sky. The stories of aeronauts, the precursor to pilots and astronauts, are fascinating and thrilling.

Finally, if you ever watched Star Trek, any generation, you must have developed an appreciation for alien life forms. Should you be planning any of your own space travel, you can brush up on your knowledge of those creatures by studying Alienology: The Complete Book of Extraterrestrials by Professor Allen Gray. This book will teach you how to identify aliens who have already infiltrated human society and so much more. My favorite part of this book is a foldout page with pictures of different alien species. Some are terrifying but some are downright adorable!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Happy Black History Month!

Black History month started out as a week in 1926 when Carter G. Woodson created it.  In 1976 it became a month long celebration and February was assigned its designated month.  Ever since, February has been another reason to look at the great accomplishments made by African-Americans. Be sure to look at A&E Television Network's Biography/Black History website for facts, featured biographies, historical time-lines and trivia. And be sure to take a look at some of the new books for children and young adults that speak to the African American experience. Philip Hoose's 2009 Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice tells the true story of a 15-year old Montgomery, Alabama, high-school student who was arrested and jailed for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger in 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks’ history-making protest on a city bus. Not only does this book provide a fascinating glimpse into history, it is also testament to the crucial role young people can take in social movements. 


Another teen trying to believe in himself and effect change is 14-year old Reese in Walter Dean Myers' Lockdown, a contemporary look at the life and struggles of an inner city youth.

Finally, middle graders might consider reading last year's National Book Award winner, Rita Williams-Garcia's One Crazy Summer and visit a summer camp run by the Black Panthers along with Delphine and her sisters. This book is also the 2011 Coretta Scott King (Author) Award winner and a 2011 Newbery Honor book.