Sunday, January 31, 2010

Order of Odd-Fish Invitation

Some children's book writers would make really good characters in books. My top two candidates would be Neil Gaiman (for obvious reasons - have you read his blog?) and James Kennedy, author of The Order of Odd-Fish. We're talking Colorful Individuals. Last year, I brought up Kennedy's book in my post on "What is It with British Writers and Fantasy?" Having praised the Brits for their whimsical or rather off-the-wall creativity in fantasy, I listed a few of the more daringly imaginative American fantasy writers for children in recent years, and James Kennedy made the cut with his first book. The Order of Odd-Fish's convoluted, elegant language, sly Wodehousian humor, and strange details elevate it above its more typical dark-prophecy fantasy plot, so that young readers who appreciate Tolkien as well as Carroll really should take a trip to Eldritch City.

Then there's Kennedy himself, essentially a performance artist of the mad genius variety. Most notably, he challenged Neil Gaiman for his Newbery Award last summer. You can watch Betsy Bird's YouTube recordings of the epic confrontation here and here. Challenged him to a duel, that is, in a presentation unlike any other at the July 2009 American Library Association conference. (Note that no real Neil Gaimans were harmed in the making of these videos.) I know who Kennedy reminds me of: Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's upcoming movie version of Alice in Wonderland. This might make some of you run the other direction, but I say we need people like Kennedy in children's literature, which should not be a staid field.

So I am happy to pass along some news about another Kennedy endeavor, the staging of an exhibit of artwork and miscellany inspired by his book. Yes, I realize this is a marketing effort, but it's such a cool one! Take a look at what Kennedy has already collected. I don't know which I like best, the vomiting fish cake, the drawings and paintings, the mask, the home-brewed beer, or teen artist Max Pitchkites' cut-paper illustrations for every chapter of the book. Okay, I do know - so far Pitchkites' work is the most striking. Perhaps you or your child is an Odd-Fish fan, or even a Knight of the Order of Odd-Fish, who specialize in making, not an encyclopedia of all knowledge, but an appendix “of dubious facts, rumors, and myths.... A repository of questionable knowledge, and an opportunity to dither about.” In which case, consider sending your artwork to James Kennedy for the exhibit. Did I mention that it's also a costume party and theatrical exhibition, as well as a site for field trips and writing workshops? Here's part of Kennedy's invitation:

It'll be not only an art show, but also a costumed dance party and theatrical extravaganza. I'm working with a Chicago theater group called Collaboraction to do this. They're going to decorate their cavernous space to portray scenes from the book (the fantastical tropical metropolis of Eldritch City, the digestive system of the All-Devouring Mother goddess, the Dome of Doom, etc.).

Opening night will be a dance party where people dress up as gods and do battle-dancing in the Dome of Doom. In the weeks afterward, we'll bring in field trips from schools. They'll browse the fan art galleries, be wowed by the elaborately decorated environment we've created, take in some performances from the book, and participate in an energetic writing workshop.

The whole shebang will open next April [2010]. The deadline for submissions is March 15.
Makes me wish I still lived in Chicago. I would definitely show up for an opportunity to battle dance in the Dome of Doom.

The piece of art above is Max Pitchkites' "Icthala Rampage." Max explains on Kennedy's website that the image of the moon in the upper right is the grease stain from a cookie; I love that he had set his snack down on a piece of paper and then noticed the possibilities afterward!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Amazon vs. Macmillan

This just in: Bookselling behemoth Amazon is in a major smackdown with publishing titan Macmillan because Macmillan wants Amazon to charge more for ebooks, and Amazon won't budge. So Amazon has dropped all of Macmillan's print books by way of retaliation!

In other words, many books which are actually in print appear to be out of print, unless you check the Powells or Barnes and Noble or other bookselling sites, that is.

I tell you this partly because two of my own books are affected by the current state of affairs: The Runaway Princess and The Runaway Dragon, which up until a day or so ago were sold on Amazon, among other sites. So, hear ye, hear ye - my books are still in print, and so are a lot of other books from Macmillan and their publishing groups, e.g., Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Sigh. I hope they work things out soon. I've heard of divorce counseling, but I'm not sure who these feuding corporations can call in to help them talk through their childhood issues, or at least their marketing differences. We'll have to wait and see what happens next... Anyway, thanks to Charlotte Taylor of Charlotte's Library for explaining the mysterious change I'd noticed in Amazon's book listings this morning - she always seems to know stuff!

The sketch of a battle scene above is by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Update: Amazon and Macmillan have come to an agreement. My books reappeared on Amazon on 2/5/10.

Winners of the How-Did-I-End-Up-with-Two-Copies-of-This? Book Giveaway

Thanks to all of you who entered; I am officially not the only person who has more than one copy of certain favorite books. Of course, this giveaway is technically more along the lines of, "I like this book, but I didn't realize I bought it twice." Which just goes to show the state of my bookshelves!

Or rather, the former state of my bookshelves. The great Reshelving Project is nearly finished, and this contest is definitely over. We actually have two winners because I discovered one more qualifying book. And so...

Melissa wrote that she owns "multiple copies of Homer Price because the cover art is different on each one" and "multiple copies of several of the Harry Potters - U.S. versions, British versions, a couple that are signed," since, she says, "Can't have too much Harry!" Melissa is our #1 winner, and if she will give me her snail mail address through my website contact e-mail (link through on the right), I will send her the prize pack of Kate DiCamillo's The Magician's Elephant, Nancy Springer's The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (an Enola Holmes mystery), and Diana Wynne Jones' satirical Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Congrats to Melissa!

Our bonus winner told us, "I used to have more than one copy of The Giver, but I lent my spare copy out and never got it back!" Another hazard in the lives of those who have the best-stocked home libraries in town... She adds, "I also have a couple copies of Where the Wild Things Are - one used copy I picked up at a garage sale, and one given to me when my daughter was born." Megan will be the recipient of the surprise extra book, Philip Reeve's Mothstorm, the third in his tongue-in-cheek steampunk trilogy about Victorian kids in a conveniently breathable version of outer space. FYI, the first two books are Larklight and Starcross. Very fun stuff! I do have an e-mail address for Megan, happily.

The artwork is one of Wilson Bentley's snowflakes. If you haven't read Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Mary Azarian, please do! If you have, and love it as much as I do, be aware that you can get a book of his snowflake photos, too: Snowflakes in Photographs by W.A. Bentley, an affordable paperback.

Update: Heard from both Melissa and Megan, so the prizes will be in the mail soon. Hooray for books!

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Snow Queen: A Wintry Gathering

Hans Christian Andersen is rarely read in the original in the U.S.—and not just because most of us don't speak Danish. The truth of the matter is, Andersen's work is generally pared down for modern audiences. His tales were written during a time when people were willing to listen for long stretches, not having been trained to expect TV-quick plots accompanied by visual effects. The world's most famous individual storyteller, Andersen could get away with being flowery in his day.

But times have changed. For example, Disney has commandeered Andersen's best-known story, "The Little Mermaid." Try telling a seven-year-old girl that the titular mermaid wasn't red-haired, wasn't named Ariel, didn't have a lobster friend who sang Caribbean dance music, and even (oh, dear) floated away into the air instead of marrying the prince. Disney has commandeered a lot of other fairy tales, for that matter, so that their animated versions and the accompanying book tie-ins dominate the market as well as children's psyches.

What's more, the long, storybook-style folk- or fairytale is a dying breed, as I discussed in my post of 9-27-09, "How Cinderella Got Twittered." Author Bobbi Miller recently hosted a brilliant discussion of the phenomenon on her website, with insights from a number of authors and editors. Miller was inspired by Betsy Bird's question of last July at Fuse #8: "Where have all the folktales gone?" The upshot is that folk- and fairy tales are being published less often, and when they are, it is almost always with a tighter approach to text.

So I'm fighting progress, after a manner of speaking, in today's post when I talk to those of you who collect books, those who are old-fashioned enough to love old-fashioned storytelling and even to share such tales with your 8- to 10-year-olds. Yes, it's January, and what better time to take a look at four chilly picture book versions of Hans Christian Andersen's long tale, "The Snow Queen"?

The original title is actually "The Snow Queen: A Fairy Tale Told in Seven Stories." In the first of the seven, really a prologue, we learn that the devil has invented a magic mirror that makes everything look ugly. When the mirror breaks, tiny fragments blow through the world, lodging in the hearts and eyes of unfortunate humans. In the second story, Kay and a little girl named Gerda are best friends until Kay gets pieces of the devil's mirror stuck in his eye and his heart. Soon after, he is taken away by the Snow Queen. If you've read about Edward riding off in the White Witch's sleigh in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you'll find C.S. Lewis' inspiration here. In the third story, Gerda sets out to find Kay, although she is trapped for a time in the home of a seemingly benevolent old woman with a beautiful garden and magical abilities (a summery mirror image of the Snow Queen, really).

The fourth story tells of Gerda's encounter with a crow who tells her the story of a prince and princess. Convinced that the prince is her missing friend, Gerda accompanies the crow to the palace, only to find out that she is mistaken. But the kindly prince and princess equip her with a carriage and food so that she can continue her journey. The luxury doesn't last: the fifth story recounts how Gerda is captured by a tribe of robbers and nearly eaten for dinner. A fierce robber girl takes a fancy to Gerda and keeps her around as a kind of pet, but eventually decides to aid Gerda in escaping to continue her journey. Gerda rides a reindeer farther north, where the sixth story tells of her meeting a Lapp woman and then a Finnish woman. Each gives her further information about the Snow Queen. In the seventh and last story, Gerda reaches the Snow Queen's palace and helps Kay wash out the splinters of evil glass. Then they journey home again.

Although the Snow Queen seems like a pagan goddess, the story is framed by Christian symbolism, including a snatch of an old hymn and a quote from the Bible. These are often edited out or at least summarized by the story's modern retellers.

For each book, I'll give you a taste of the quality of the translation, starting with something very close to the original, a passage taken from a serious tome called Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, translated by Erik Christian Haugard (Anchor Books/Random House, 1983). This is a description of the Snow Queen as she is first glimpsed by Kai (Kay), who is looking out the window through a peephole:

[O]ne of the flakes fell on the edge of the wooden box and stayed there; other snowflakes followed and they grew until they took the shape of a woman. Her clothes looked like the whitest gauze. It was made of millions of little star-shaped snowflakes. She was beautiful but all made of ice: cold, blindingly glittering ice; and yet she was alive, for her eyes stared at Kai like two stars, but neither rest nor peace was to be found in her gaze.

The Snow Queen, translated by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Bernadette Watts (North-South Books, 1987)

Ironically, Anthea Bell is not credited on the cover with this translation. But it is a 1987 edition. Anthea Bell has since earned fame as the translator of Cornelia Funke titles such as Inkheart and The Thief Lord. This version is the most abbreviated of the four, as much a retelling as a translation. In this sense, it is probably the best choice for younger children, say 7- and 8-year-olds, or impatient older children. The language is smooth, but the emphasis on summarizing occasionally gives it a bland feel.

Watts' illustrations, like the storytelling, are simpler than the artwork in the other three books, pleasant but not stunning. They are child-friendly, however, while some of the other books seem to have been illustrated primarily for adults.

The above description of the Snow Queen is not included in this version of the story.

The Snow Queen, edited by Marta Baziuk and illustrated by Vladyslav Yerko (A-Ba-Ba-Ha-La-Ma-Ha Children's Publishers—no, I'm not making that up!—2006; out of print in the U.S., but available used)

This book has won some hotshot international art and book awards; its jacket copy also quotes author Paul Coelho as saying, "This is perhaps the most extraordinary children's book that I have ever seen." We're really focusing on the art, which makes me think of the fantasy artwork of James Christiansen and Daniel Merriam, among others. Russian artist Yerko's paintings are lusciously detailed, a bit baroque even; you'll want to spend time looking at these spreads. The illustrations feel more static than Watts', with perhaps more adult than child appeal, but they are simply gorgeous and will draw the reader in with their ornate strangeness. In tone, they come close to the fantastical surrealism of Alice in Wonderland. I especially like the spread in the Snow Queen's palace, which makes the most of Andersen's otherworldly details—such as Kay attempting to spell out ETERNITY with shards of ice, the impossible task assigned him by the cold queen (see image at top).

The text in this edition contains a solid portion of the original, but cuts a fourth to a third of the phrasing in spots. Most notably, we skip past the long flower garden scene and the hymn quotes. However, the retelling is focused enough that it doesn't feel as if we're just skimming across the surface of Andersen's work. Here is the initial description of the Snow Queen:

The snowflake grew larger and larger, and at last became a maiden clothed in the finest white gauze, made of millions of starry flakes. She was beautiful and delicate.
She was made of glittering ice, yet she was alive. Her eyes shone like bright stars, but there was no peace or rest in them.

The Snow Queen, "adapted from the 1872 translation by Mrs. H.P. Paull" and illustrated by Pavel Tatarnikov (Purple Bear Books, 2006)

This translation includes most of the original language, although it does bypass the flower garden scene. It shouldn't surprise you that the translation is from 1872, since the language has a slightly stiff, antiquated feel, especially in the lines of dialogue.

If Yerko's artwork looks somewhat Eastern European, Tatarnikov's is even more so, reminding me of other children's books by Russian and Ukrainian illustrators that I've seen during the past few decades. That is, they are stylized in a way that hints of Polish villages, the tsar's court, and more recent graphic arts offerings that make every dream look like it's considering turning into a nightmare. Art-wise, this is not the most child-friendly book in the bunch; the robbers are especially scary in a sort of adult way, although the robber girl nearly redeems that particular illustration, she's so lively and appealing.

A few flakes of snow were falling, and one of them, much larger than the rest, landed on one of the flower boxes. This snowflake grew larger and larger, until at last it became the figure of a woman, dressed in garments of white that looked like millions of starry snowflakes. She was fair and beautiful, but made of ice. Yet she was alive. Her eyes sparkled like bright stars, but there was neither peace nor rest in their glance.

The Snow Queen, retold by Naomi Lewis, illustrated by Christian Birmingham (Candlewick Press, 2007)

I recognize Naomi Lewis' name: she's the editor of one of my favorite story collections, Classic Fairy Tales to Read Aloud (Kingfisher, 1998). In fact, in the introduction to that collection, Lewis mentions "The Snow Queen" as one of several much-loved stories that were too long to include.

Lewis has retold a number of fairy tales over the years, and it shows in her clear, graceful wording. While she isn't afraid to tighten the phrasing a bit, she keeps nearly all of the sentences and captures the feel of Hans Christian Andersen's story, doing it justice with the poetry of her language. Besides being well crafted, this edition includes the often-dropped flower garden scene, in which Gerda, having just remembered her quest, asks various flowers for news of Kay. (The narcissus is especially funny, completely caught up in telling the "story" of its own beauty.)

Birmingham's artwork is lovely, if a tad sentimental. The pastels give this book a very different look. If you get half a chance, take a look at the wonderful cover design—a plastic overlay nearly covered with snowflakes and the title information, yet allowing us a glimpse of the mysterious Snow Queen through a small window—much like Kay's first look at her in the quote below.

A few snowflakes were drifting outside; then one of these, much larger than the rest, settled on the edge of the window box outside. This snowflake grew and grew until it seemed to take the shape of a lady dressed in the finest white cape, which was in fact made up of millions of tiny starlike flakes. She was beautiful, wonderfully delicate, and grand; she was made of ice—dazzling, glittering ice—and yet she was alive. Her eyes blazed like two bright stars, but there was no peace in them.

If you're planning to read The Snow Queen to a younger child, the Bernadette Watts version is perfectly nice. If you want to own a work of art, try Vladyslav Yerko's version. If you want a trendy-strange Russian feel, try Pavel Tatarnikov's book. But if you want to read Andersen's wintry masterpiece over the course of seven nights to a bright older child, a real story addict, you can't go wrong with Naomi Lewis' lovely retelling.

Note for Worried Parents: The robber granny thinks about eating Gerda, and the robber girl keeps threatening to stick a knife in her. This is not nearly as disturbing as it sounds—it's more about the robber girl's personality than any true peril for Gerda. (In fact, the robber girl might be the most interesting character Andersen ever created!)

This post is part of Kidlitosphere's January Carnival of Books. To see more posts in the carnival, visit Jenny's Wonderland of Books, beginning Saturday, January 30, 2010.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Innocence and Confusion

Someone sent me a link to an interview with British novelist Ann Widdecombe about five particular books, and the theme is "Childhood Innocence." Only really, the theme is the loss of innocence, and except for The Jungle Book, all of the books are intended for adults. They are all pretty dour, as well. Of course, Widdecombe is England's former Director of Prisons, which may explain her dislike for happy endings. What I really liked, besides her insights about The Jungle Book, was this statement:
I think we all forget that air of bafflement from childhood: we remember loads of things about childhood – we all remember innocence. I think what we tend to forget is bafflement.

Getting Graphic

First there were comic books, beginning, I kid you not, with The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck in 1842 before progressing to Al Smith's Mutt and Jeff, Hergé's Adventures of TinTin, and the familiar superheroes of DC and Marvel, among them Superman, Batman, and the X-Men (with a few -Women thrown in for good measure, all astonishingly busty yet narrow-waisted). For many, many years, there were comic books, not to mention related endeavors like Mad magazine. Then somebody clever started making comic books into video games, superhero movies proliferated like hydra heads, Japanese manga and anime acquired a U.S. fanbase, publishers began popping comic strips into volumes, "comic book" adventures showed up in website and blog formats on the Internet, and author-artists even started writing books that were basically really long comic books... So the graphic novel was spawned, like a comic book swamp creature, only with even more scales and a dramatically jagged maw. (Click here for Wikipedia's history of the American comic book.)

While initial graphic novel offerings for the under-18 crowd tended to target teens, I am happy to report an increase in middle grade titles. See, for example, my August 2009 review of Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett Krosoczka, a book which launched a very fun series for second and third graders. And then there's the most talked-about offering of recent weeks, CALAMITY JACK. The second book by Hale, Hale, and Hale—who really should form a law firm—just did a blog tour, which means you'll find reviews of it all over the place right about now. Nevertheless, it's going to be the lead singer in my post today, since it is also the book that got me looking around for other titles, AKA backup singers.

There is some talk that Calamity Jack suffers from sequelitis, which simply means that it has to compete with the author's previous book, in this case Shannon Hale's award-winning Rapunzel's Revenge, illustrated by Nathan "No Relation" Hale. And indeed, this is a different story. But why shouldn't it be? In comparative terms, the new book has an equally dire villain, but less of a tall-tale feel—it trends more in the direction of fairy tales, or at least, fairy tales as influenced by steampunk. Plus Shannon's husband Dean got involved, so it's no wonder Calamity Jack reads even more like a guy-appeal action-adventure than its predecessor.

I have a soft spot for tricksters, and Jack of "Jack in the Beanstalk" fame isn't just any old trickster; he's inspired multiple stories in Great Britain and the United States, the "Jack tales." Here the Hales make him a reformed bad boy trying to win the heart of a good girl, one lasso-braided Rapunzel. Meanwhile, he's up against the giant Blunderboar, literally a big businessman who's oppressing Jack's hometown of Shyport. Con man Jack turns his cleverness to the mystery of the giant ant attacks, attempting to find a connection between the encroaching monsters and the giant even as he schemes to rescue his own mother, who is a prisoner in the giant's lair and the reluctant baker of some very questionable bread along fi-fie-fo-fum lines. Jack is assisted by Rapunzel, along with his small green-winged buddy, the pixie Prudence, and a dashing doofus named Frederick Sparksmith III. The authors and illustrator further entertain themselves—and us—with creatures like the Jabberwock, a guard-monster who attacks anything that flies (leading to a final twist in this already twisty adventure).

A lot of the plot points are over-the-top, but they're meant to be. After all, we are talking about a place where magic beans grow into sky-high ladders and giants consider humans tasty snacks. I will note that the Hales chose to make Jack a Native American, a potential challenge when others have been stepping on indigenous toes right and left of late. Yet Jack's ethnic heritage, while treated with a bit of appropriate appreciation, mostly comes off with the casual air attached to the particulars of anybody's life because it's just what they're used to. Unlike the designers of the Bloomsbury covers that are the source of recent brouhahas, the Hale crew places their brown hero right smack in the middle of the book jacket—and, not coincidentally, of the story.

Another graphic novel that has gotten a lot of attention recently is Matt Phelan's THE STORM IN THE BARN, which won the 2010 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, prompting me to move it to the top of my To Be Read pile. When some people complained about the award going to a graphic novel, awards committee member and Horn Book editor Roger Sutton stated:

As far as I'm concerned, historical fiction is an invented tale which not only takes place in the past but proposes to shed some kind of light on an actual event or situation of historical import. The Storm in the Barn has all the ingredients of great fiction—astute characterization, evocative atmosphere, a compelling story, a theme rewarding consideration—and gives us a unique vision of the Dirty Thirties. How is it not historical fiction? [quoted in a School Library Journal article.]
Having read the book, I completely agree. The Dust Bowl era means more to me now that I've watched Jack Clark's family struggle to survive it. And really, this particular era is famous for having been understood through the photography of Dorothea Lange and others, both at the time and in history studies since then. In point of fact, as the author's end note makes clear, these same photos inspired Phelan to write the book. I would say that for a Dust Bowl story, the visual format is more than usually appropriate, not less!

I am also struck by how well Phelan incorporates fantasy elements, subtly personifying the lost rain and having him hide (perhaps sulking?) in a barn—but Jack notices something's up and gets the courage to investigate. This is a young Jack, a shy Jack, a kid who worries about his sick sister, is bullied by older boys, and is rebuffed by his tightly wound father when he tries to help with repairs around the farm.

Phelan's use of color is another strength: this dusty land is mostly depicted in black and white, or rather, grays, sepias, and the occasional blue, the latter either to represent night or the missing moisture. The Storm in the Barn is a beautiful, moving tale, undoubtedly the best of the five I'm highlighting in today's post. (Note for Worried Parents: The book does include a brutal roundup of jackrabbits, although Phelan's characters end up being sickened by their own violence against the animals. As the author points out, such roundups really did take place during the difficult Dust Bowl days.)

I picked up Eleanor Davis' THE SECRET SCIENCE ALLIANCE AND THE COPYCAT CROOK because Betsy Bird recommended it for a so-far non-existent graphic novel award for middle grade readers. I can see why she liked it! The idea of a book in which young scientists group together may sound like teacherly didacticism, but that's really not what's happening here. We get a feel for Davis' tongue-in-cheek style on page 3, where she profiles her main character, Julian Calendar, as "OUTWARDLY A NERD," then pulls a page-turn with "But inwardly..." and says, in an even more detailed diagram, AN ULTRA NERD.

I don't think I've ever seen an artist use labels quite so effectively. On certain key pages, Davis labels everything, which nicely links the book to the idea of a science textbook or a technological diagram. But the labels are funny as well as informative. For example, in a museum director's office, we get multiple items such as "Senegalese Marka Mask," "Egyptian Canopic Chest," and "Assyrian Winged Bull Statue," followed by, down in one corner, "Japanese Noodle Soup Packages."

At his new school, Julian tries to hide his scientific genius and overall nerdiness, but eventually fails—attracting the attention of two unexpected fellow science nerds. One thing I like about the book is how Davis uses another character to show us that a kid can be bad at school exams, yet still be very bright and scientifically inclined. But you've got to be paying attention to learn lessons here; mostly the story is an adventure involving the theft of ideas and valuable museum pieces. The three kids in the SSA use their smarts in entertaining ways, creating practical jokes and incredible vehicles as well as solving a mystery. A marvelous series start!

The second volume of Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series, The Stonekeeper's Curse, actually came out in September 2009, but I jumped back to read Book One, THE STONEKEEPER. This book is squarely directed at anime and manga fans, and it is beautifully crafted. (The series is another Betsy Bird pick.)

I have to warn you, the parents have it rough here. Emily and Navin's father dies in the first few pages, and when they move into a creepy abandoned family mansion, their mother is taken captive by a gruesome monster. Peril and horror abound, though it all seems rather controlled somehow and there is even a certain amount of cuteness, e.g., in the form of a goggle-wearing pink rabbit named Miskit who looks like an escapee from a cereal box. Even so, the many monsters do have a high tentacle count, or in some cases, fangs. This is pretty darn good storytelling—if your nine- to twelve-year-old is a budding horror fan, he will probably really like it. While boys seem like the obvious audience, the main character and bearer of a helpful yet perilous amulet is a girl, accompanied by her younger brother. So readers of either gender should be intrigued.

The last book I'll bring up is actually for an older audience of adults and teens. But if your middle school kid likes manga and/or vampire books, wears a lot of black, and thinks Harry Potter is way too goodie-goodie, consider handing her Thomas Siddell's Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 1: ORIENTATION. Antimony Carver is a student at Gunnerkrigg, a place which turns out to be much more than a school. Like Harry, she has lost her parents; unlike Harry, she aids and abets a creepy-cute little shadow creature and, after her stuffed animal is possessed by a demon, keeps it. Definitely darker than Hogwarts. But the book is well done, and certain kids are going to eat it up, utterly at ease with Siddell's odd mixture of pagan gods and robots. Despite what I've said about plot points, not to mention a really scary fellow student with bleeding-ink eyes, Antimony herself is on the side of good and is an appealing heroine (unlike Courtney Crumrin—yikes!). One of her teachers seems to fight evil on a regular basis, although he's not much of a mentor and Antimony questions his motives in classic teen fashion. Fortunately, Antimony's best friend Kat is a science nerd who proves capable of rescuing Antimony when she finally gets in over her head—or under her head, basically lost in the Underworld. (Note that the Gunnerkrigg books are an Internet-to-page transplant.)

Whenever I go to the bookstore, I see teens sitting around on the floor in the graphic novel aisle reading, oblivious to passing feet. From a children's literature standpoint, I don't see graphic novels as an inferior alternative to traditional fiction; instead I consider them hooks for young readers, especially the reluctant ones. Graphic novels are just getting better, the way picture books shot forward as a genre 15-20 years ago (and in an even earlier wave led by Maurice Sendak). The popularity of manga among middle school students, the acclaim given to experimental projects such as Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the transformation of best-selling works such as Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider books into graphic format, the success of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (another Internet transplant) and Jennifer and Matthew Holm's Babymouse series, the renewed interest in Jeff Smith's Bone books, and the off-the-charts artistry of Shaun Tan's The Arrival and Tales from Outer Suburbia all herald a shining new age for this evolving genre. I'm not sure I would call it golden—perhaps titanium?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The How-Did-I-End-Up-with-Two-Copies-of-This? Book Giveaway

Announcing the first, and probably last, How-Did-I-End-Up-with-Two-Copies-of-This? Book Giveaway, inspired by the Great Reshelving Project, in which I learn, for the 685th time, that I buy too many books and then don't know where to put them.

I will therefore send the winner of this giveaway three (3!) books, one clean new copy of each of the following, which are all very good:

--The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo (shortlisted for the Newbery this year, another tender fable from the award-winning author, more magical realism than fantasy)
--The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets, an Enola Holmes Mystery by Nancy Springer (a series I really like; it's about Sherlock Holmes' much younger but equally talented younger sister)
--The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones (very funny satire on fantasy clichés, encyclopedia format)

How do you enter? Simply leave a comment in which you tell us what 2-3 children's books you love so dearly that you would be happy to own two copies of them, or possibly do own two copies! (Just for example, I own two copies of an out-of-print fantasy called Taash and the Jesters by Ellen Kindt MacKenzie, a book I loved as a child.)

This giveaway will run for a week and a half to two weeks, depending on participation. Then I'll draw names to find a winner. So check back and/or leave handy identifying info in your comment.

Update: The HDIEUWTCOT? Book Giveaway will end at midnight, Pacific Time, on Friday, January 29, 2010. I'm enjoying all of your comments, especially knowing I'm not the only two-copy hoarder. And yes, I'm still keeping two (even three) copies of certain books!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Announcing the Newbery and Other Awards

AND the ALSC awards have been announced! Woo-hoo! Here's Betsy Bird's list of key wins, posted this morning on Fuse #8. I will just smugly point out that I called the Newbery Award winner last summer when I reviewed it: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Hooray! See also my recent glowing review of one of the honor books, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. The other three honor books are The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, and Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose.

Pretty much everyone was predicting that Jerry Pinkney would win the Caldecott for The Lion and the Mouse, which is just beautiful, but I was also pleased to see Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, as an honor book. It's a unique and intriguing poem, a new favorite I acquired last fall, and the illustrations are just right. Of course, All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, with illustrations by Marla Frazee, is gorgeous, as well, not to mention uplifting. It's the other Caldecott Honor book this year.

I will add, since they're not listed in the above link, that Libba Bray's Going Bovine won the Printz Award for best teen fiction, with honor books as follows: Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman, Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance, 1973 by John Barnes, Punkzilla by Adam Rapp, and The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey.

Maybe you watched the Golden Globes last night, but today is the day for everyone who loves children's literature in a rabid, fantastical, world-changing way. So throw a party, take time to read, and celebrate true wealth: great books!

Update: Here's the ALA's complete list, thanks to a link I swiped from Charlotte's Library. See Charlotte's post for an analysis of sci-fi/fantasy representation among the winners.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Couple of Twilight Spoofs

I haven't shared a Twilight spoof in a while...

YouTube has a surprising number of spoofs with people just acting out scenes, especially the big vampire reveal in the forest, but I like the ones with a twist, like this selection from Texas.

And I know Christmas is over, but here's a spoof with some funny bits, though it's pretty odd overall.

The cover shown to the right is the UK version, which has a softer look than the U.S. cover. It's as if they bought an organic apple instead of a waxed one.

A Review of The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett

Normally, I would question whether a parody seemingly intended for people over the age of 30 could appeal to kids, but I am reassured by two things: 1) Today's children are familiar with parody in the form of Simpsons and even Spongebob Squarepants episodes, and 2) Mac Barnett covers his bases by providing snippets from a mock-original book series he's created.

And what snippets they are! The target, of course, is the Hardy Boys detective series (whose characters inevitably remind me of boy bands like 'N Sync). Barnett's Steve Brixton believes in those dashing supersleuths, the Bailey Brothers, having practically memorized their books. Here's a sample we're given from Bailey Brothers #13, The Mystery of the Hidden Secret:

"Jumping jackals!" dark-haired Shawn exclaimed, pointing to the back wall of the dusty old parlor. "Look, Kevin! That bookcase looks newer than the rest!"
"General George Washington!" his blond older brother cried out. "I think you're right!" Kevin rubbed his chin and thought. "Hold on just a minute, Shawn. This mansion has been abandoned for years. So who would have built a new bookcase?"
Shawn and Kevin grinned at each other. "The robbers!" they shouted in unison.
(Note the over-use of adjectives and the pointed deliberation. Barnett is having a good time with this!)

When Steve encounters a mystery of his own while fulfilling an obnoxious school assignment, he is surprised and disappointed to find that the Bailey Brothers' methods don't always pan out in real life. He is even more surprised to learn that the town librarians are secret agents.

Yes, I know, that sounds like Brandon Sanderson's Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians. But trust me, Barnett has a new take on it. For one thing, his librarians are fighting evil. For another, you'll be so caught up in the satire that the librarians will just flow in with the rest of the story. At least, that was my experience reading this book.

Steve's bible is The Bailey Brothers Detective Handbook. It tells him, among other things, how to "size up suspicious characters." This proves useful "if you're eating dinner with safecrackers, or cat burglars, or your mother's new boyfriend." In meeting the latter, Steve checks the book's list of villains, which includes "The Tough," "The Ringleader," and "The Hermit," all very old-fashioned and stereotyped, natch. Rick turns out to be a cop, and Steve solves a case for him in a manner more reminiscent of Encyclopedia Brown than the Hardy Boys, though Rick doesn't accept his solution, not at the moment.

Then Steve's teacher assigns him to research early American needlework. When he goes to the local library and checks out a book called An Illustrated History of American Quilting, a group of shadowy figures bursts through the skylight and doors and starts to chase him. Oddly enough, the Bailey Brothers' list of useful hiding places doesn't help one bit. Pretty soon Steve is stepping into a black limo at gunpoint and having a conversation with a very buff librarian named Mackintosh. All because he checked out a particular book and presented his Bailey Brothers Detective License instead of his library card at the front desk...

I can't even begin to tell you all the little in-jokes (e.g., about posters of basketball players reading books), but Barnett manages to make this story, not only smart, but funny, and without trying too hard. The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity is tongue-in-cheek all the way. I should note that Barnett doesn't simply satirize the Hardy Boys by setting Steve Brixton up against grim reality; he stylizes the characters around Steve, having them act a little like the players in a Hardy Boys mystery—just enough to be funny.

What this book really reminds me of is M.T. Anderson's Whales on Stilts, which is high praise indeed. Except that Barnett's liberal inclusion of his pseudo-source material makes his story all the more accessible to young readers who might not otherwise understand just what he's satirizing. The fact that this book isn't 600 pages long will also appeal to some readers. (It's a tidy 179.)

Adam Rex's illustrations, appropriately retro and slightly satirical in style, add to the storytelling. You may remember this author-illustrator from The True Meaning of Smekday and his picture book of poems, Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich.

The past decade has seen a wave of books intended for boys, contemporary adventure and mystery series trying to reach a surprisingly sophisticated audience whose expectations have been honed by movies, TV, and video games. Today's 4th-6th graders like to feel like they're in on the joke. So yes, I think some of the kids who watch The Simpsons will get a kick out of something as clever and entertaining as Mac Barnett's Brixton Brothers.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Review of Wishing for Tomorrow by Hilary McKay

I tend to cringe when I see someone has written a "sequel" of a classic, but this time I didn't: I was pretty hopeful about Hilary McKay writing a sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess. Why? Because I'm crazy about McKay's Casson family books and figured that if anyone could do A Little Princess justice, she could.

Happily—oh, so happily—hope was absolutely the right emotion for this book, which I read yesterday and then put down with a thoroughly blissful sigh. What a lovely book this is, imbued, not only with humor, but with subtle touches of tenderness.

Now, a writer in this situation has a strange balancing act to achieve, that of keeping whatever made the original book so good while extending the characters and plot in a blossoming, credible way and even putting her own mark on the story. Which is exactly what McKay does in Wishing for Tomorrow.

Have you ever found yourself wondering what happened to all of the secondary characters after a book was over? As McKay explains in her introductory note, she read A Little Princess repeatedly as a child, and though the ending was in many ways perfect, she was left with a feeling...
That could not have been the whole of it! Surely Lottie and Lavinia, Ermengarde and all the rest of that seething bunch of opinions did not just fade into the shadows. Did they not have a story too? What happened next?
So Hilary McKay proceeds to answer that question, mostly from the point of view of Ermengarde, her new heroine. Lumpish, awkward, insecure Ermengarde slowly comes into her own in this book, becoming a lot less lumpish without losing her essential Ermengarde-ness. Other key characters include Lottie, who is 8 now but still a handful, and Lavinia, of all people. Even Miss Minchin, or the Misses Minchin, come out of the shadows in this book. Without being at all contrived or condescending, McKay brings some of Burnett's least likable characters to further life in a way that makes complete sense.

One interesting story arc is Ermengarde's mixed feelings about Sara leaving her behind—because children are not always as heroic about these things as we would like to think. And Lavinia has a secret, and Miss Minchin (the elder, the terrifying one) is being haunted by her own feelings about Sara Crewe, while Lottie makes friends with the cat next door and blithely causes trouble, though sometimes in helpful ways. (McKay's Lottie owes a nod to her marvelous Rose from the Casson books. And perhaps to the irrepressible Posie of Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes.)

In McKay's previous books, I have found that her humor, especially in regard to the way children talk and interact, is her forte. It's one way in which McKay brings something new to Miss Minchin's Select Seminary for Young Ladies. While Burnett's characters are rich and their encounters sometimes amusing, very few people writing today can show off the quirky thinking of children better than Hilary McKay. For example, when Jessica loans Ermengarde her silk dress to wear to see a performance of Peter Pan with her aunt, she warns Ermengarde not to cry because salt water will stain the silk:

"...but you've got to promise that while you're wearing it you won't cry a single drip!"
"Are there sad bits in Peter Pan?"
Ermengarde groaned.
"Very sad bits, actually! But you can't cry in them because if you do, you've got to take off your dress—my dress, don't forget! Take off my dress..."
"In the middle of the Duke of York's Theatre?"
"Yes! And watch the rest of the play in your petticoats!"
The book further offers episodes such as Lottie's antics in church and the deviously hilarious way Lavinia arranges to take "piano lessons" in the house next door. And we are given insight into some of the events that took place while Sara was still at Miss Minchin's.

McKay has a fine descriptive hand, as well. Here Ermengarde ascends to Sara's former garret in the night:

Ermengarde had not visited the attic for a long time. She had forgotten the creaking, breathless climb up the staircase to the little ones' corridor. She had forgotten the darkness once the last light, the night-light that burned outside the little ones' bedroom door, was passed. She had forgotten the chill that seemed to pour like water down the narrow blackness of the attic stairs.
This author is less inclined to believe in Magic than her predecessor, although Ermengarde's growing friendship with Sara's abandoned rat friend is a tad on the magical side. If you have read both A Secret Garden and A Little Princess, you will have found that Frances Hodgson Burnett exhibits a near-saintly hopefulness about life, feeling that magic is barely hidden beneath the surface of our daily existence. Burnett further believes that people can be magical, even unpleasant ones like Mary in The Secret Garden—that kindness and imagination can make everything new. McKay, though essentially pragmatic, also finds a sort of magic in people. In addition to developing existing secondary characters such as Ermengarde, Lottie, and Lavinia, she adds a new and bolder housemaid named Alice and a scholarly gentleman next door whose nephew, Tristram, appears to be a match for the girls at Miss Minchin's. Even the vicar gets a bigger role.

The book ends with a highly dramatic turn, but it seems fitting in the romanticized Victorian setting, and the final pages bring further satisfaction. We do get to see Sara again, in case you were wondering.

After reading Wishing for Tomorrow, I think you'll feel, as I did, that you know and love Sara and her friends from A Little Princess more than ever. Enriching the original while creating a new world in the setting of Miss Minchin's, Hilary McKay has taken the risky, even brazen idea of a sequel to classic literature and written the proverbial tour de force.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Top 10, Your Top 10: Announcing Betsy Bird's Middle Grade Book Poll

By way of encouraging you to vote for your Top 10 middle grade books in Betsy Bird's new poll, I will share with you my nominations, annotated because hey, who doesn't annotate in this wild and wooly world of ours?

You may remember that last year, noted School Library Journal children's book blogger (and librarian) Elizabeth Bird of Fuse #8 collected votes for the Top 100 Picture Books of all time, a list I recommend you peruse if you haven't already—I keep a copy of the final list on my computer, but the detailed entries counting down to #1 are also a treat, starting here. (Or just link off the master list.)

Well, she's at it again, only this time for middle grade fiction. Each participant must suggest 10 titles, in order of preference, and Bird will do the math to create a Top 100 list. The deadline for giving your input is January 31, 2010. See contact information in her announcement post.

My Top 10 Middle Grade Books of All Time

1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl—I put this first, over Charlotte's Web, because I've noticed that young contemporary readers sometimes find Charlotte's Web too slow paced. The idea of a kid like Charlie Bucket finding that one golden ticket, winning entry into a chocolate fantasyland and then beating out gruesome children like Mike TV and Veruca Salt, still entrances, the action holding its own against today's fast-paced adventures. The narrative voice is still perfectly appealing, with a faint satirical edge. Then there are the wonderful tiny details, like the fact that Mr. Bucket works in a factory putting the caps on tubes of toothpaste, or those four delightful, decrepit grandparents sharing one large bed. Not to mention the powerful image of hungry Charlie finding money in the icy street...

2. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White—And yet, has there ever been a better book? One of my personal criteria for great stories is fresh, off-the-wall plots, and to this day, I challenge you to find an odder premise than the spider who saves a young pig by spinning words into her web. That's not even getting into the strength of the characterization, from patient Charlotte and immature Wilbur to secondary delights such as the geese with their repetitive vocal patterns or surly Templeton and his smelly hoard. Did I mention well written? Such clean, sure language!

3. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli—Here's the thing: every so often I get this book out, thinking I'll take it to a new student's house the next day, and a few hours later I look up, dazed, realizing I've read the whole thing again. Maniac Magee is one of the best characters in the annals of children's fiction, as innocent as Voltaire's Candide, an Everykid who questions the status quo without even meaning to, a tall tale hero at the same time. Able to unravel the unravellable ball of string, yet allergic to pizza? Able to read a book and run like the wind while catching a pass, yet unable to find a true home? Maniac isn't just a legend in this book; he's a legend for young readers.

4. The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner—This book beat out some very big names, insisting on a spot on the list because it is, quite simply, one of the best I've ever read. Yes, you really should read The Thief and The Queen of Attolia first, but that's simply extra payoff as you watch Turner create her compelling Greco-Byzantine fantasy world with its subtle pantheon of very real gods. Turner's work is the epitome of craftsmanship, the reason I've read The King of Attolia repeatedly, something I can only say about a handful of books. You'll be hard-pressed to find the questions Turner brings up as thoughtfully considered in adult fiction: What makes a hero, or a leader? What does love really mean, and loyalty? All this and an adventure, too! As for the characters, they are rounded and real, with Gen leading the pack as a marvelously sly, cantankerous, vain, yet ultimately kind Trickster King, a new hero for a new millenium.

5. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh—Harriet's family wasn't anything like mine, but I still recognized her as a kindred spirit when I was a kid. She was curious about things, and she didn't know when to stop. I loved following her around as she found her way into people's lives and wrote about what she saw. My heart broke when the other kids turned on her, especially when they created a Harriet-hating club—every child's worst fear taken to an extreme. How real that bath felt to me after she ran home, covered with ink! And yet, she survived. I figured maybe I could, too. I still write in notebooks.

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling—I seethed over the injustice of Uncle Vernon stealing Harry's letters of invitation to Hogwarts, then delighted in the humorous escalation as letters poured into the house with inhuman determination, finally followed by a benign giant on a flying motorcycle who had the good sense to acknowledge that it was Harry's birthday! And that first ride on the Hogwarts Express... On top of her ability to create a likable cast of characters and an impressive story arc, I most admire Rowling for her delicious details. I don't know which I like better, Quidditch or Bertie Bott's Everyflavor Beans!

7. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis—I once worked with a man who wouldn't let his daughter read the Narnia books because of the religious symbolism. I thought to myself, Hey, if she doesn't know a thing about Christianity, she won't notice the symbolism! For that matter, I was raised Christian, and the only thing that mattered to me about the books was the storytelling. All of the hokey, derivative portals written about since in children's fantasy can't ruin the joy of that wardrobe with its forest of fur coats and the unexpected scent of snow beyond. The White Witch, with her bribe of Turkish Delight, gave me the shivers, and I loved characters like the pathetic, treacherous Faun, let alone the thought that a girl could learn to shoot an arrow and become a queen.

8. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle—This book remade the field, and it continues to shine in terms of its characterization, especially the gift of Meg Murry. I'm sure I wasn't the only gawky, ill-spoken girl to feel that if Meg could be a hero, so could I. Meg saves the world in such a homely way, out of simple love and loyalty. This, too, seems doable to a young reader. You would think that Camazotz, with its evil oppressor, the giant brain, would seem dated by now. But L'Engle's storytelling holds up. The little boy who bounces the ball wrong, the fact that the brain is named IT, and the marvelous Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Who still stand out in a field where books about saving the world threaten to topple the shelves in bookstores with their combined weight.

9. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett—Again and again, I find myself thinking about character as I create this Top Ten list. Which makes The Secret Garden a somewhat surprising choice, since Mary is not a likable child. But who wants to read about sweet little dears who never have to worry about a thing? I've always loved how Mary managed first to survive, and then to find beauty and love in a world entirely unwilling to offer her those things. Her request for a bit of earth is right up there with Oliver's request for more food, and it ends up changing the lives of everyone around her. The garden itself is a character in the book, a place of refuge and kindness, like the best books themselves. To this day, I keep plants around me, as well as books. Mary taught me that.

10. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder—I'm not usually a big fan of historical fiction, but these books are the exception. Laura's family feels like a piece of my own history, not of my country and my ancestors, but as a child growing up in a family. In today's world, when families are more likely to seem disconnected, it doesn't hurt to take the Ingalls as role models. They aren't perfect, but they work together, handling life in such a sturdy, dedicated way. Laura and her family are real and dimensional as they laugh and cry over things like harvesting maple sugar, playing ball with a pig's bladder, getting through the winter, and making music together. And that's just the first book!

Note: For a longer list of middle grade picks, see my post from December 11, 2009, in which I select the best 40 titles from the last century and the best 10 from the past decade.

Update: If you'd like to participate in a comparable poll for the top 100 YA (Young Adult/teen) books, link through to Diane Chen's announcement post at Practically Paradise.

A Review of Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book, edited by Anita Silvey

As mentioned in an earlier post, a friend tore out an ad in the New Yorker for this book and gave it to me, whereupon I rushed off to get a copy. And now this review is me "tearing out an ad" for you!

Anita Silvey is known for her books about children's literature, with titles like 100 Best Books for Children, The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators, and 500 Great Books for Teens. These books are useful for parents and librarians alike, not to mention teachers.

In this new work, Silvey compiles commentary from 110 "society leaders" about the children's book that has most influenced their lives—a marvelous premise.

For example, oceanographer Robert Ballard, the man who located the wreck of the Titanic, tells us about his favorite book at age ten, Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea:
My hero was Captain Nemo. I wanted to be inside his ship, the Nautilus. He built his own submarine, using advanced technology. He was a technologist, but also an adventurer. Through a giant window, he examined the sea.
I wanted to be an undersea explorer.
Another intriguing entry comes from Dr. William C. DeVries, who was the first cardiothoracic surgeon to perform successful implantation of an artificial heart. He speaks of his childhood love of The Wizard of Oz:
In the book, the Wizard of Oz talks to the Tin Woodman about whether or not he really wants a heart. The Wizard believes that having a heart is not such a good thing: "It makes most people unhappy." But the Tin Woodman says, "For my part, I will bear all the unhappiness without a murmur, if you will give me a heart." In my work, I have thought about those lines many, many times.
Many of the contributors are writers, although Silvey does give us politicians, scientists, businessmen, artists, and news broadcasters, also a few actors and an athlete. One factor I noticed is the way that book choices tend to correlate to age; for example, picks like Jack Schaefer's Shane (country songwriter Billy Edd Wheeler) and The Bobbsey Twins series (Kirk Douglas) are from an earlier era than young actor Tyler Hilton's selection, Maniac Magee.

Jay Leno's pick? Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Jon Scieszka chooses another favorite of mine, Go, Dog. Go! I also like Steve Wozniak's pick, the Tom Swift series. As a boy, the future maker of the Apple computer was drawn by the character's inventions: "To me Tom Swift represented the epitome of creative freedom, scientific knowledge, and the ability to find solutions to problems."

When more than one person chooses the same book, readers get the delightful benefit of different perspectives. For example, author Linda Sue Park and movie reviewer Roger Ebert both select Elizabeth Enright's The Saturdays. Park comments on the author's strong, detailed portrayal of the city, while Ebert explains that these books showed him that stories could be wonderful—he was led to them by the librarian, whom he names, who led a book club when he was a boy. Her love of reading was contagious.

Children's book author-illustrators Maurice Sendak and Chris Van Allsburg both speak of being inspired by Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon. The book fostered a unique, "do your own thing" artistic spirit in these creative people. As Van Allsburg puts it, "I believe that the empowerment of Harold appealed to me as a reader—I loved the idea that I could be in control and create my own world."

Some contributors fell in love with certain books as adults, whether as creative people, parents, or literacy advocates. A few have even made careers out of the books. For example, scholar Michael Patrick Hearn has spent his life studying The Wizard of Oz and has created a definitive annotated edition.

I especially appreciate Wicked author Gregory Maguire's pick, Jane Langton's The Diamond in the Window. Langton's subtle fantasy series, with its focus on the Transcendentalist movement (think Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoroeau), is one of those terrific but less well-known reads for thoughtful children.

If you are in love with children's literature, you will probably enjoy this book as much as I did. It's also interesting just to see what people pick. My one quibble about the book is that it's hard to figure out who the contributors are if you don't recognize their names—the information is buried near the bottom of sidebar commentary. One might argue that the book picks are more important than the contributors, but it would have been fairly simple to give a brief bio in a separate little item for each entry. Instead, you must hunt through the sidebars or flip back and forth between the entries and a list of bios in the book's back matter.

I would also point out that this is not a book for children, although it might be a rich experience to share parts of it with children and ask them about their own favorite books. Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book is a fairly serious and grown-up work. It is also a lovely walk down the lanes and side paths of children's literature. What's more, it reminds us of the great power of books to shape lives.