Friday, November 17, 2006

Okay, okay . . . I give!

So, those of you who may still actually be reading this thing are probably wondering why I've suddenly disappeared into the void. I truly do aplologize . . . there are only so many times a person can load up a blog and be presented with hypnotic snowmen. Am I traveling? Sick? Alas, no . . . I'm writing a novel.

Yes -- I'm cringing as I admit this -- I am madly participating in the seasonal spectacle known as National Novel Writing Month. See? I even have the icon to prove it:

Wah-woo. The goal is to write 50,000 words by Nov. 30, and truthfully, I'm definitely going to hit that goal (I'm at 40,089 words right now), but whether or not my novel will be finished by the end of the month is another question. Egads, people -- the story's only about 65% done! Arrrgh! I spent too much time doing character development and describing puffy clouds!

(Nooooo! Not puffy clouds!)

So, while I have a pile of delicious Forgotten Books to tell you about -- not to mention a run-in with John Scies . . . Sciezsk . . .Sciehuzzz . . . you know, the Stinky Cheese Guy) -- it may all have to wait until Dec. 1. I know! The horror! Curse you, puffy clouds!!! But I know (er, hope) that you will all be happy to wait until then for more interesting tidbits from the Brookeshelf.

Wait until December, my dearies . . . and I'll be back!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pretty Darn Relaxin'

Here's a lovely little book trailer for Scott E. Franson's "Un-Brella," a picture book due to be published by Roaring Brook next spring. It involves perky little snowmen parading through a pastel seasonal landscape. Ahhh, almost as good as a massage.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Look at Them Young'uns Go!

For those of you not aware of the phenomenon known as National Novel Writing Month, let me fill you in: it's a wild literary spree whose participants make a goal of writing a 50,000 word novel from November 1-30. People all over the world are already typing like the wind in this year's "NaNoWriMo," but what's interesting is that this year the program has expanded to include writers under the age of twelve. Yup, there's scads of elementary and middle school students everywhere, madly whizzing out plotlines and character sketches, all striving to meet that lofty 50K goal.

On the "Young Writer's Program" section of the NaNoWriMo website, you'll not only be able to read downloaded excerpts from kids' budding novels, but you can also find a feature called "Stump the Librarian," in which Karlyn Pratt, the program's resident reference grunt, answers questions that kids ask when they need help figuring out particular details from their story.

Past questions have covered the making of ostrich jerky, the likelihood of head injury leading to amnesia, and queries about the possible ethnicity of a character named "Kriznakh." (Karlyn's answer: "Russian male. Maybe.")

Take a look-see to get a glimpse of the ambitious young writers of tomorrow. 'Tis amusing, my friend.

Forgotten Bookshelf: Thistle and Thyme

Ghosts. Fairies. Bewitched Hares. Have a hankering for some gorgeous folk tales? Look no further than Sorche Nic Leodhas' Thistle and Thyme, a sweet little sampling of tales and legends from Scotland.

You may recognize the author's name from the Caldecott-winning picture book, Always Room for One More. And just for kicks, let me inform you that this author's real name is Leclaire Alger. Yup. I would have picked up a nom de plume if I had been settled with that sucker, too.

Leodhas posesses the rare talent of being able to write in a dialect without it overpowering the text. There's just enough of the Celtic idiom in the stories to create the essence of the time and place without it becoming artificial. Plus, it makes it darn fun to read aloud: just try this sample out from the first story in the book, "The Laird's Lass and the Gobha's Son":

An old laird had a young daughter once and she was the pawkiest piece in all the world. Her father petted her and her mother cosseted her till the wonder of it was that she wasn't so spoiled that she couldn't be borne. What saved her from it was that she was so sunny and sweet by nature, and she had a naughty merry way about her that won all hearts. The only thing wrong with her was that when she set her heart on something she'd not give up till she got what it was she wanted.
Lawks, what a beginning! It makes me want to pull my best Groundskeeper Willy impersonation out of the closet and just go with it. A pawky piece, indeed!

As for the content of the stories, they've got everything: evil wizards, knights, tricksters, changelings, mermaids, and even a demon or two thrown in for kicks. It just makes you wish for a particularly dark and stormy night in which to curl up under a rug with a few good listeners. Just turn a few pages, and you can transport them away to a land of adventure and grand romantic gesture.

Leodhas' has written scads of other Scottish folklore anthologies, but this one shines out from the throng. One thing to note if you're looking for a used copy online: this book was published in two different editions, one with more stories than the first. Either one promises lots of fun.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Forgotten Bookshelf

Here's a big list of all the "forgotten" books I've reviewed on this site, for your joyous perusal (and also for some light housekeeping on my part). This is the feature of my blog that I think people enjoy the most, so it's worth organizing a bit. You'll notice that there's a link to it at the top of my sidebar. The list may be small for now, but it's growing. The books are listed by year, and sublisted in alphabetical order.

Forgotten Books for 2006

City Poems by Lois Lenski (09.30.06)
The Church Mice by Grahame Oakley (09.21.06)
The Dollhouse Caper by Jean S. O'Connell (09.30.06)
Hobberdy Dick by Katherine Briggs (08.08.06)
The Little Book Room by Eleanor Farjeon (09.10.06)
The Loner by Ester Wier (10.16.06)
Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen (11.05.06)
Piping Down the Valleys Wild, edited by Nancy Larrick (10.05.06)
Sleepy Time (and other works) by Gyo Fujikawa (09.14.06)
The Story Vine, by Anne Pellowski (10.10.06)

Thistle and Thyme by Sorche Nic Leodhas (11.08.06)

It Pretty Much Kicks the Tail off of Halloween Here
Or, the Off-Topic Topic of the Day

Good. Gravy. This. Blog. Is. Deliciously. Awesome.

Are You a Celebrity Interested in Writing Children's Books?

Here are a few hints from a delightful article in the Australian periodical The Age for you:

Rule one: why use simple names for characters when you can invent fanciful and, frankly, ridiculous ones? The celeb authors probably think they are being Dickensian, but they just come across like Salman Rushdie on one of his flowery days. Madonna stands out in this regard. Meet the English Roses' new teacher, Miss Fluffernutter. If that doesn't convince you of the author's creative prowess, eight pages later we are introduced to Candy Darling (yes, we know, Andy Warhol's chum) and Bunny Love.

Rule two: make sure you have a moral point to make, and ram it home to your young readers. Madonna leads the pack here yet again: "The next time you start to feel jealous of someone, try to feel happy for them instead. Good things will come your way, too." And: "You can't just love your friends when they are nice to you. That's when it's easy. You have to love them when they are being complete dorks, too."

Rule three: if you can't think of a suitable moral to the story, anything eco will do. Estefan has her animal characters saving the lives of endangered baby sea turtles. Jamie Lee Curtis, whose writing otherwise shines out from the rest of the pack, also succumbs to this weakness. "Make friends and love well," she exhorts us. "Bring art to this place. And make the world better for the whole human race."

Ohhhhh, nuts. So much for that draft of "Mary Ate a Little Panda" that's been lying at the bottom of my desk, waiting patiently for my fifteen minutes of fame.

Thanks to Chicken Spaghetti for the link.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Something Definitely Worth Checking Out

Down at the University of Florida is a little something called the Center for Children's Literature and Culture, which produces a spiffy little radio program called Recess. Every weekday, the program gives a lovely three-minute spiel on a topic relevant to child life and history around the world. This month will feature a piece about the anniversary of the publication of Where the Wild Things Are, another about Children's Book Week, and an interview with Tomie DePaola

Interspersed with all of this kidlit grooviness are children's CD reviews, information about astronomy, and Korean holidays.

Transcripts and audio files of all the programs (dating back to 2001) are available on the Recess! website. Fine, fine work, my people. Keep it up.

Thanks to CCBC for the link.

Forgotten Bookshelf: Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen

What is it about the autumn that makes me want to go out and visit a farm? There’s something about the crisp air and fragrant earth that makes me want to go out and enjoy it more, I suppose. However, dropping the day’s already-made plans and hoofing it out to the countryside isn’t an option for everybody. In lieu of that, may I proudly present this lovely picture book as a possible substitute?

This volume is more closely related to a sketchbook than a conventional picture book – it contains a wealth of large and small watercolor illustrations of all the animals that inhabit your run-of-the-mill small family farm, from the horses, sheep, and pigs down to the woodpeckers and moths that are occasionally seen flitting around the farmhouse. The Provensen’s illustrations show the same folk-art style that is exhibited in their well-known books The Glorious Flight and A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, but are more casual here – the animals and human figures sport a heavier line and rounded, almost cartoonish bodies, but this gives the book an authentic, intimate feel, as if they had been penned this morning just for you on the front porch.

What is really remarkable here is the Provensen’s ability to give a real sense of the animal’s personalities and behavior. Each one is allotted just a paragraph or a few sentences, but it manages to capture the essence of each creature in a clear, straightforward way, such as in these samples:

Ichabod and Comanche [two horses] are very sure-footed and the love to gallop . . . they are afraid of silly little things like unexpected pieces of paper.

[The geese] bully the dogs, complain to the cats, and pinch the sheep’s ears. That’s the trouble with geese, who are otherwise nearly perfect.

Whiney [the sheep] is never sure where her own lambs are. This confuses her and makes her cry. She faints when her wool is being shorn. But Whiney has a good friend who likes her and looks after her – a billy goat named Sam.

With its large size and gentle text, this is a perfect outing for animal lovers of all kinds. Like the family at Maple Hill Farm, “the animals that were, the animals that are, and the animals that will be bring joy, laughter, and life.”

Friday, November 03, 2006

Another Belated Belater Thing

So, once again, I have managed to confuse the dates of Teen Read Week
(Oct. 15-21) with Children's Book Week (Nov. 13-19). Rats! I missed celebrating Teen Read Week in the best way I know how, with Tina the Troubled Teen. So here she is anyway, in all her surly glory. In theory, she'll have a new piece of snarkiness for you every couple of days. Enjoy, folks!

Tina the Troubled Teen

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Special Report: Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen

Ahhh, the eternal grooviness that is the Magic School Bus. I'm tellin' ya, other quasi-psychedelic nonfiction book series come and go, but the Bus is here to stay, man. Would you believe that it's been 20 years since the first book came out? Anyhow, the co-creators of Ms. Frizzle and her class of kids came to town last weekend, and I hopped on down to the Carnegie Lecture Hall to see 'em.

Okay, before I get started on the report, I really need to share this memory:

When I was in high school, a lady who I knew from church was in charge of her local elementary school's book fair, and needed some people to dress up in the picture book character costumes that Scholastic had sent along with the rest of the promotional material. Because she knew that I was (a) a drama dork at my school, and (b) skint, she offered me a good $30 to spend an afternoon dressed as Ms. Frizzle. So, off I went to spend a few hours in a polyester octopus-print dress and a big red wig, and it would have been pretty uneventful, except that the guy who had been hired to wear the Curious George costume kept hitting on me the entire time. This included coming up from behind and grabbing my waist, frequently when I was in the middle of talking to a bunch of kids, and asking me sly, suggestive questions that I couldn't quite understand, owing to the fact that he was wearing a giant monkey mask. At the end of the afternoon, I discovered that the Man Behind the George was a kinda-cute German exchange student with an eyebrow ring (something that was considered a bit more risque in 1994 than it is now). Needless to say, I haven't been able to look at Curious George in quite the same way ever since.

But I digress. On with the lecture report!

Truth be told, this was not the most interesting lecture in the world. But here's the run-down:

  1. Degen and Cole work very closely on their projects, which is something unique in the childlit world. (This is something that, alas, few people know.)
  2. Degen likes to hide characatures of himself and Cole in the books -- making me want to go check them all out and go hunting.
  3. The next Magic School Bus book will be about global warming -- an announcement that caused the entire audience to break into applause. Yay, doomsday!
  4. They read their latest book, The Magic School Bus and the Science Fair Expedition, and the most interesting thing I found out from it was that Marie Curie's notebooks are so highly radioactive that they have to be kept in a special radium-proof case. (Wow, I'd love to see the archivist in charge of that.)
  5. At the end of the lecture, Degen drew silly dinosaurs on a big sketchpad using suggestions from the kids in the audience. Such as a Bananasaurus Rex, a TriCerealBox, and a Divasaurus. It was definitely the best part of the lecture -- and gave me some very nice flashbacks to The Mickey Mouse Show reruns I used to watch. Good job, guys!
And dare I mention what a cute guy Bruce Degen is? You know, in that Burl Ives kind of way. Sweet!

The Nearest Book

Via Fuse#8, Chicken Spaghetti, Book Moot and a buncha other people:

Do this...
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig around for that "cool" or "intellectual" book on your shelves. (I know you were thinking about it.) Just pick up whatever is closest.

Here's mine:

Should've kept my big mouth shut, thought Paris. But at least she was outdoors. And she was looking forward to seeing the garden in full bloom. It wouldn't kill her to help the garden get that way, now would it?

This is from The Road to Paris, the latest by Nikki Grimes. Hmmm, this is not exactly the most exciting group of sentences in the world, but the book is good, trust me. Kind of a more meditative Great Gilly Hopkins. So, let's try it again, shall we?

*Brooke is running at a random bookshelf in her house*

Okay, here's the Second Go Round:

"It was on the grimoire making the page greasy." He handed Lydda a pasty on a piece of paper. Lydda rose up on her haunches and took the pasty. She sniffed it. She sliced delicately into the crust with the tip of her beak.
Oh, now that's just so much more satisfying, wouldn't you say? And in case you couldn't guess, it's from Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones.

Ooooh, a Freebie

Apparently, they have this lovely poster over at Walker Books touting "The Rights of a Reader" with lovely little drawings by Quentin Blake, and you can download a PDF of it for free.
Yummy. It's already found a cushy spot on my hard drive, tucked in with a nice wooly JPEG.

(Thanks to Read Roger for the link.)

And for further refreshment, check out Shannon Hale's Reading Pledge over at her blog (whoo, quoting her a lot lately). This is something that she makes classrooms of children do whenever she visits a school.

Back From the Dead

Oh, the horror! Were you all aware that I had to spend the last two weeks with NO internet access at my house?!? The last posting I made was at the library, erlack. So: the internet's working again, the E-Mail Gods have been appease, and here I am again to regale you all with all the children's literature stuff that manages to pop in my head. But um . . . not right now. I haven't time to write all that I want right now, but I will this evening. Probably. Just . . . check back tomorrow, okay? I promise there will be something interesting. Or at least something for you to read.