Saturday, April 13, 2013

Thank You's, Goodbye's, and Archives

Four years, three months, and 530 posts. Also a move from California to Utah and two new books published. But life gets crunched up sometimes, and what I really need is more time for my own writing. So Book Aunt is coming to a close, and I just want to thank you all for sharing the joy of talking about children's books with me.

Yesterday I was standing in a bookstore and overheard a woman trying to pick out a book for her nine-year-old niece. Naturally, I entered into the fray. My only difficulty was that when I asked the child questions about her reading habits and interests, the aunt kept trying to answer for her (incorrectly). I finally got a few words from the girl herself and managed to seal the deal with Half Magic by Edward Eager, though we decided that E.D. Baker's books would be a good option to look for at the library. And so it goes: Book Aunt may not be posting, but she's still lurking in the shadows of the local bookstore, leaping out to hand books to unsuspecting and presumably grateful children plus the adults they haul along with them for purposes of paying for things.

I will keep the site up for a while so that people can access the archives, most notably my large posts overviewing a genre or different versions of the same well-known story or book. Here are some of the more useful posts in various categories:

About Fairy Tales and Folktales

Standout Fairy Tale Books, Collections, and Retellings

Fairy Tales and Books about Witches (A Halloween Post)

Classic Fairy Tale Retellings

An Overview of Trickster Tales

Versions of a Well-Known Story or Book

Versions of A Child's Garden of Verses

Versions of Mother Goose

Versions of Cinderella (Plus Notes on the Possible Demise of Picture Book Fairy Tales)

Versions of Beauty and the Beast

Versions of Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Versions of the Snow Queen

Picture Book Themes

Picture Books for Grieving

Picture Books to Sing

Picture Books about Water

Picture Book Lessons about Being Yourself

Thoughtful Picture Books You've Never Heard Of

Oddball Picture Books:

    --Not Your Grandma's Picture Books

    --Picture Books with Bite

    --Feeling Kinda Crazy: Three Unusual Picture Books

Other Book Batches

Many Mouse Books

Poetry Anthologies for Small Children

A Selection of Christmas Books

Books by Authors about Writing for Children

Best Book Lists

Best Picture Books Ever (2009)

Best Middle Grade Books Ever (2009)

Final Favorites Lists (2013)

How to Pick Books for Kids

Secret Weapons: Choosing the Right Books

Ten Books at a Time

The Pistachio Awards

First Annual Pistachio Awards (March 2011)

Second Annual Pistachio Awards (April 2012)

In Case You Didn't Know...

Why I Love Picture Books (Anarchy of the Imagination)

Again, thank you to all of my visitors. I've made so many nice blog friends. I hope to be able to keep in touch through comments, tweets, and e-mails. And of course, let's continue to rejoice in children's literature and the love of reading!

For those of you who follow my books, I have a picture book called The Tooth Fairy Wars, illustrated by Jake Parker, coming out in Spring 2014 and a poetry collection called Monster School that will probably be out in Spring 2015. No middle grade fiction at the moment, but I'm working on something, so we'll see what happens next. (Isn't that always the case with life and everything?)

Note: The first image above is a detail called "Young Woman Writing" from a wall painting in Pompeii. The second image is a detail from "Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid" by Vermeer. The third painting is "Three Reading Girls" by Walter Elmer Schofield. A print of it used to hang in my grandmother's home. She was a very good first grade teacher and reading tutor as well as a voracious reader who passed the love of books on to her children and their children. The picture now hangs in my office.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Cinquains for National Poetry Month

This week I'm experimenting with the cinquain, a poetry form I've only tried once or twice before. I'm also rejoicing in spring rain and in National Poetry Month. Here's a link to Jama Ratigan's excellent roundup of April poetry events. Note that today's Poetry Friday is being hosted by Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge.

umbrellas bloom,
coloring paper skies
like kindergartners, drinking cups
of rain.

Wind chimes
telling stories
about birds, branches, clouds.
If they could they’d fly far and high,

stares at nothing
like a small Buddhist monk,
her meditations bigger than

Sore throat
like a nail file
scraping away my voice.
I have nothing to say, so it’s

rain walks the roof
like construction workers.
Yelling, they hammer the sky and
the house.

Kate Coombs, 2013
all rights reserved 

Happy National Poetry Month!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Welcoming Hilary McKay and Her Lulu Books

I've been talking up Hilary McKay's Casson Family books for a while now, so when I got a chance to interview this author about her Lulu books, now being published in the U.S., I was fangirlishly thrilled. Join me in finding out just how witty and fun Hilary McKay is as a person and as a writer. Thanks, Hilary!

BA: I’ve read—and loved—your Exiles and Casson Family series, which are for middle grade readers. How did you come to write an early chapter book series?

HM: I've always written early chapter books along with the longer ones. It started with writing stories for anthologies and went on from there. So although there are only the LULU books in the US, here we also have the CHARLIE books (in which Lulu and Mellie sometimes appear) and the PARADISE HOUSE series (another multicultural series about a group of children who live and play together).

BA: Both the Exiles and the Casson books are about groups of siblings, clearly ensemble casts. Has it been different writing about an only child?

HM: No, not at all! Lulu always has Mellie who is as close to her as any sibling.

BA: You write, “Lulu and Mellie were not just ordinary friends—they were best friends.” Did you have a best friend as a child? If so, what was the friendship like? Did you sometimes “[grumble] about each other’s hobbies, which were not at all alike”?

HM: I did have a best friend, and we were not a bit alikeshe was an only child, and I was one of four. And she never read books and I read hundreds. Despite that, for several years we were very close indeed.

BA: How did you create Lulu’s personality?

HM: Lulu first appeared in an earlier bookclimbing over a fence to visit her friend Charlie. I believe, although it is hard to remember because it was so long ago and I haven't a copy of the story, I believe he cut her hair! And I think after that between them they cut the hair of most of the children in the neighborhood. Lulu has been at the back of my mind for a long time, brave and loving and cheeky and kind. I am very fond of her.

BA: I’ve really enjoyed the humor in your previous books. Now the humor in the Lulu books makes them stand out from the pack. Tell us about your sense of humor and the humor in your writing.

HM: That is so hard! Goodness! Oh well, here goes.

I like words. I think an unexpected word at (as Captain Jack Sparrow might remark) the opportune moment can jolt a person into smiling. And I like listening to people talk. It is often, I have noticed, ridiculous. Write it down, word for word, and you often have a joke.  Or something.  That is the hardest question I have been asked since Physics at University.

BA: I’m pleased to see that Lulu and Mellie are black, something that is shown in the illustrations but isn’t called out in the text. What prompted that choice?

HM: I have to say this. Here in the far from perfect UK that fact has never been remarked upon. Not once. I have been absolutely stunned at Lulu's reception in the US. And I have to say, why not? It's not the first time. There was a black child in the Paradise House series, years ago here (and a Chinese one). No one ever commented.  Schools over here are filled with all sorts of children, naughty ones and good ones, plain ones and pretty ones, rich one and poor ones, able bodied sporty ones, wheel chair users, readers, non readers, nuisances and treasures. And white ones and black ones. Thank goodness.

BA: Who were you as a child? Could you tell us a story that would give us an idea?

HM: I remember when I was about Lulu's age and my tortoise died, I cried so long and loudly that our neighbours across the street could not stand it. They took me out and bought me a rabbit for the sake of peace and quiet (much to my mother's surprise). Those neighbours had a kangaroo skin on the wall of their hall. I thought that was the height of sophistication. (I was very young. I've grown out of longing for kangaroo skins now.)

BA: The dogs in Lulu and the Duck in the Park are the villains of the piece, while the titular dog in Lulu and the Dog from the Sea is the hero. What’s more, it seems like the character growth in Book 2 takes place mostly in the two dogs, not the people. What pets have you had in your life? Have they experienced any personal growth?

HM: What an observation! I am impressed! I don't usually bother with character growth in either humans or animals. It would take a long time to list all the pets in my life, and this keyboard would be awash with tears at the memories. I have been fortunate enough to know some very wonderful animals. Hamstersa merry and noble hamster named Coffee. Dogs. Yes indeed. Kipling (I know, I know, well out of fashion) was right about giving your heart to a dog to tear. Sam, Roly, Keeper. Laddie (I didn't name him but I loved him). Laddie didn't believe in the existence of glass. I must say car journeys were a trial...

BA: What inspired the character of Mrs. Holiday? Who were the most memorable teachers from your own school days?

HM: Ah, yes, Mrs Holiday!  But if you had known my own Mrs Rule! What a woman! She believed we could do anything, and we did. Well do I remember us calculating the diameter of the earth with the aid of shadows and a stopwatch, out in the playground in the sun. Every Friday afternoon (as a treat) every child in her class researched and continued the book they were currently working upon. There was no wishy washy remarking that we were only ten, too young for literature. We baked bread and churned butter, and learnt to play a well mannered game of chess. On my birthday (me being the class naturalist) we had a natural history day. A very large tortoise was allowed to roam freely between the desks. And Mrs Rule read to us every day, and often to please us she brought in her dog. (He was named The Black Panther.) She was the best teacher in the world and I would give a great deal to be allowed to go back in time to tell her so.

BA: How did a biochemist turn into a writer of children’s fiction?

HM: My friend Isabel suggested it because she said I wrote good letters. So I had a go and it worked.

BA: Your flap copy bio says you like getting letters from children. Could you give us a few quotes from the

HM: What? Okay. Wait till I dig the files out.

"I thought of you today because my life is starting to feel like a novel written by you."

"I own two trumpets and two guitars"

"I read it twice but I'm still confused."

"It wasn't my fault the shelf was shaky. It was an accident waiting to happen."

BA: What’s next for Lulu??

HM: Well, you have two of the series. There are six here and I have two more to write before summer. I think your next one involves a cat in a bag.

BA: As a postscript, I have to ask: Are you planning any more books about the Cassons?

HM: Not in the next few months!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Top Five, or Seven, or Three…

Top ten? Such a cliché. Here are lists of some of my favorite books in various genres. I’m not going to list big-name classics, though of course many of those books are high on my overall lists. For example, Charlotte’s Web is wonderful, but you all know that one, so I’ll give you slightly less famous fare or forgotten classics that are dear to my heart. They’re books you may have missed, but just might like very much. Because in between gardening and walking around with your umbrella in the almost-April rain, you know you're looking for a good book!


The Bronze King and two sequels by Suzy McKee Charnas

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith (was Crown Duel/Court Duel)

Gom on Windy Mountain and three sequels by Grace Chetwin

The Nine Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones

Grimbold’s Other World by Nicholas Stuart Gray

The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke

The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt

The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken

The Silver Curlew by Eleanor Farjeon

Taash and the Jesters by Ellen Kindt McKenzie

The Wicked Enchantment by Margot Benary-Isbert


The Bromeliad Trilogy and the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy by Terry Pratchett

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein

The Dragonback series by Timothy Zahn (Dragon and Thief, etc., especially for preteen boys)

Fledgling and sequels by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (see also the Liaden Universe series for adults)

The Silver Crown by Robert C. O’Brien

Starswarm by Jerry Pournelle


Alabama Moon by Watt Key

Down the Rabbit Hole and sequels by Peter Abrahams (see also his teen mystery/thriller, Reality Check)

The Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer

Minerva Clark Gets a Clue and two sequels by Karen Karbo


Casson Family books by Hilary McKay

The Flight of the Doves by Walter Macken

The Lark and the Laurel by Barbara Willard

No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan

They Loved to Laugh by Kathryn Worth (an old-fashioned coming-of-age story with Quakers)

Thursday’s Children by Rumer Godden


Beware of Boys by Tony Blundell

Dogger by Shirley Hughes

Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep by Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Julius the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes

Little Rabbit Foo Foo, retold by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Arthur Robins

Not This Bear! by Bernice Myers

Suddenly! by Colin McNaughton

The Talking Eggs, retold by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Jerry Pinckney

Thea’s Tree by Alison Jackson, illustrated by Janet Pedersen

Trashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (best for 3- and 4-year-old boys)

What! Cried Granny: An Almost Bedtime Story by Kate Lum, illustrated by Adrian Johnson


“The Boy Who Read Aloud” by Joan Aiken, from Classic Fairy Tales to Read Aloud, ed. Naomi Lewis

Duffy and the Devil by Harve and Margot Zemach

Good Griselle by Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Christiana

The Language of Birds, retold by Rafe Martin, illustrated by Susan Gaber

Larky Mavis by Brock Cole

The Magic Fish-bone by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Robert Florczak

The Magic Nesting Doll by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illustrated by Laurel Long

Mr. Semolina-Semolus, retold by Anthony L. Manna and Christodoula Mitakidou, illustrated by Giselle Potter

Tatterhood and Other Tales, ed. Ethel Johnston Phelps


All the Small Things and Fourteen More by Valerie Worth, illustrated by Natalie Babbitt

Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry, ed. Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, illustrated by Polly Dunbar


Knock at a Star: A Child’s Introduction to Poetry by X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy Kennedy

Sing a Song of Popcorn: Every Child’s Book of Poems, ed. Beatrice Schenk de Regniers et al., illustrated by nine Caldecott Medal artists

A Spider Bought a Bicycle and Other Poems for Young Children, ed. Michael Rosen, illustrated by Inga Moore

Swing around the Sun and Words with Wrinkled Knees by Barbara Juster Esbensen

Tail Feathers from Mother Goose: The Opie Rhyme Book (Little, Brown), many different illustrators

Talking Like the Rain: A Read-to-Me Book of Poems, ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy Kennedy, illustrated by Jane Dyer

Under the Moon and Over the Sea: A Collection of Caribbean Poems, ed. John Agard and Grace Nichols


Changeover and Tricksters by Margaret Mahy

Dairy Queen and two sequels by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Dragon's Bait and Magic Can Be Murder by Vivian Vande Velde

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer and sequel by Lish McBride

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (Book 3 in a series that must be read in order, starting with The Thief)

Northlander and The King Commands by Meg Burden

Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer

Soul Enchilada by David McInnis Gill

Thief's Covenant and False Covenant by Ari Marmell

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison

So Happy Spring! (And don't say you can't find anything to read.)