Since we seem to be on a children’s/YA lit roll, I’ve got another news item to pile on the list. (Don’t worry: We haven’t forgotten about the grownup stuff!)
Beloved YA novelist and Newbery Medalist Katherine Paterson, the author of Bridge to Terabithia, Jacob Have I Loved and many others, has today been named the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. She succeeds Jon Scieszka.
According to the Library of Congress, “The position of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature was created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education, and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.” Paterson will serve a two-year term. The focus of her tenure will be “read for your life." (We can get behind that mission!)
In reviewing the book The Same Stuff as Stars, Dean Schneider gives us a glimpse at Paterson’s ability to use books to stretch children’s imaginations and boost their spirits: “[Main character Angel] feels part of the grander scheme of the universe. Just as adults became her guides, so do the stars, and she feels that maybe she, too, might take her lead from those beaming celestial bodies. No matter what other people did or failed to do, you could try yourself to be something like Polaris, shining strong and bright and fixed in a swirling world of darkness.”
Why do you think Paterson will make a great Ambassador for Yong People’s Literature?
On New Year’s Eve, BSC publisher Scholastic distributed a press release with information about The Summer Before. The book will be about, well, the summer before the Baby-Sitter’s Club was founded, detailing a time when four tweens are “on the edge of something big—not just the club that will change their lives, but also the joys and tribulations of being a girl.”
Scholastic hopes the prequel will renew interest in the whole series, and they will also re-release paperbacks of some of the original books, starting with Kristy’s Great Idea. So kids raised on Wii and Webkinz can relate to the books, certain anachronisms (“cassette player”; “perm”) will be updated.
In a recent article from the New York Times, the words “rabid passion” are used to describe the relationship between The BSC and its fans, and I understand. Although I didn’t read all 213 titles of Ann M. Martin’s series, I probably read 100—and I modeled aspects of my life after Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia and Stacey. (I wanted Kristy’s athletic ability; Mary Anne’s boyfriend/organizational skills; Claudia’s jewelry; and Stacey’s clothes.) Not only were the girls in the series fun, entrepreneurial and relatable. They also dealt with issues like not fitting in at school, arguing with friends, divorce and diabetes. And they resonated with a lot of kids. Baby-Sitters Club books have sold 176 million copies.
What do readers think? Will The Summer Before be a hit? Will passionate fans jump to revisit Kristy and the gang, or is it better not to tamper with a series that’s already great?
What’s your favorite book from the series? I was always partial to the “Super Specials,” especially Super Special #5: California Girls! ("Who would believe it—the Baby-sitters have won the lottery! And with their winning money, the girls are all going with Dawn to... California!") Which girl were you? (I was a Mary Anne/Claudia hybrid, if that's possible.)
Related in BookPage: Read a review of Everything for a Dog, Ann M. Martin’s recent children’s book.
With the announcement of the American Library Association's children's and teen book awards coming up soon (on January 18), it's prediction season in the children's book world. English teacher and children’s book reviewer extraordinaire Dean Schneider, a member of the 2008 Newbery Committee, shares some of his predictions, a number of which he reviewed for BookPage:
Newbery Medal: When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead)
Newbery Honors: Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary (Elizabeth Partridge); Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Philip M. Hoose); The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Jacqueline Kelly)
Caldecott Medal: The Lion & The Mouse (Jerry Pinkney)
Caldecott Honors: All the World (Elizabeth Garton Scanlon)
Printz Medal: Marcelo in the Real World (Francisco X. Stork)
Printz Honors: Lips Touch by Laini Taylor; Fire (Kristin Cashore)
Sibert Medal: Charles & Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Deborah Heiligman)
Sibert Honors: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Philip M. Hoose); Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary (Elizabeth Partridge); Truce (Jim Murphy); A Savage Thunder: Antietam and the Bloody Road to Freedom (Jim Murphy)
Do you have any other predictions? Also, be sure to bookmark the Children's Page on BookPage.com. In the bottom left corner, we highlight award winners from the past. This week we're featuring 2006 Caldecott Honor Book Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni and Bryan Collier.
This morning I came across a book trailer for Dr. Cuthbert Soup’s debut YA novel, A Whole Nother Story (the book came out a couple weeks ago). The trailer cracked me up, and I thought you might enjoy something silly to kick off your week:
If you're a Lemony Snicket fan, I think Dr. Cuthbert Soup, who has a similar mysterious persona, will hit the spot. Here’s a preview of his writing, from a behind-the-book essay in BookPage:
I had my motivation but did I have a story to tell and, more importantly, would my story be worthy of that coveted slot between War and Peace and Wart Removal For Dummies? After all, the last thing I wanted was to write a book that would find itself lying on a table beneath a sign reading, “Books for under three dollars” or” Books: twelve cents a pound” or “Free kindling.” Actually the last thing I wanted was to be eaten alive by a swarm of larger-than-average ants. Still, authoring an uninteresting book was fairly high on the list of things I did not want to happen.
If you need a moment to relax amidst holiday festivities, peruse these Christmas books from the BookPage archives.
Also: What are you reading over the long weekend? I’m diving into Chang-rae Lee’s The Surrendered (out in March 2010).
Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou
The celebrated poet first read this poem at the 2005 White House tree-lighting ceremony, and now it graces the pages of a picture book. The poem isn't an obvious choice for a children's book - it's philosophical, thought-provoking and full of big words like covenant, rancor and apprehension. Yet it is a powerful message—sermon-like—and a good one for children to hear.
The Lump of Coal by Lemony Snicket
A Christmas story by Lemony Snicket? For those who know Snicket's best-selling series of books, this sounds like an oxymoron. He's well-known for his funny but often bleak, Edward Gorey-like view of the world. Never fear, The Lump of Coal is a small holiday gem, a follow-up of sorts to last year's Hanukkah tale, The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming. Yes, it does have its share of grim moments—after all, it's about a lump of coal! But it's also full of humor, and it serves as a nice diversion from all the holiday schmaltz.
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo
Rarely is a holiday book so lovely in every way as Kate DiCamillo's Great Joy. The story is heartwarming yet wonderfully subdued; the artwork glows. What's more, this short tale has a message that's bound to resonate with readers of all ages.
Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews
The weather outside is decidedly not frightful in balmy Savannah, Georgia, where Weezie Foley is gearing up for what she hopes is her best Christmas ever. She expects her antique shop to grab first prize in the annual historical district window-decorating contest, even if the nasty new owners of the shop across the street seem hell-bent on sabotaging her victory. Even better, Weezie suspects this might be the year that her boyfriend, Daniel, finally pops the question.
Christmas Remembered by Tomie DePaola
Tomie dePaola's new book, Christmas Remembered, is billed as the renowned illustrator's first work for all ages. In 15 short chapters he describes his favorite holiday memories, starting in 1937 when he was three years old and his parents installed a fake, plug-in fireplace in their Connecticut apartment.
The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg
In Elizabeth Berg's lyrical recasting of the story of Mary and Joseph, The Handmaid and the Carpenter, we are reminded that the parents of Jesus were a startlingly young, humble couple. Deeply in love, they are struggling to understand the mystery of what visiting angels have told them: that Mary will bear the Son of God.
When I looked at my calendar this morning, I realized that today is the Winter Solstice. For many people, the 21st of December signifies the start of winter, the shortest day of the year, or a day for religious or cultural celebration. For me, thoughts of the date immediately brought to mind a scene from one of my very favorite children’s novels: Jerry Spinelli’s Love, Stargirl.
Much of the book anticipates a Winter Solstice party. As she plans this event, Stargirl is distracted from other sad or confusing occurrences in her life. For one, she’s recently moved to a new city and lost her first love.
But at sunrise on the Solstice, Stargirl is blown away:
When I think back on it, I'm not sure which was the highlight for me—the sunrise itself or the moments before. I stood to one side, next to Archie, Betty Lou's sled in front of me. I would never have guessed that so many people could be so silent. It was more than the absence of sound. It was a presence. An expectation. A reverence. All of us staring at the blank tent wall, the black curtain that would not uncover the show but would become the show itself, staring, waiting, as pure a waiting as I've ever known. I never had the sense that it arrived—it was simply not there, and then it was there: a long thin stem of light the width of Dootsie's little wrist, a thin golden gift from the sun come 93 million miles to mark a perfect golden circle on the Blackbone panel. Gasps erupted behind me. The circle blurred as tears filled my eyes. Someone sobbed, “Oh my.” Someone cried softly, “Beautiful!” Many of us could have reached out and touched the golden stem. No one did.
And according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, there will be a Stargirl movie out in December 2010, although I’ve got no confirmation on that.
Any Stargirl fans have a plug they’d like to share in the comments?
Related in Bookpage: In 2000, reviewer Miriam Drennan wrote that Stargirl “is an anti-teenager, if ever there was one: She's not cool, she shuns the attentions and opinions of others, and offers her heart in completely constructive ways.”
I went out to see Fantastic Mr. Fox last night, and I am happy to report that it is, in fact, fantastic. The animation is lively and unusual, and the script is full of grace notes and genuinely funny moments, but what really makes the movie work is the characters, who are voiced with such intelligence, compassion, and deadpan humor that I found myself truly caring about them and whether or not they would survive their adventures.
I loved Roald Dahl as a child, and I couldn't count how many times I read and re-read The Witches, The BFG, and Dahl's autobiography, Boy, among others—but somehow I never read Fantastic Mr. Fox. So I can't comment on how faithfully the movie sticks to the story, but I can say with some certainty that it possesses one of the central qualities of Dahl's work: imagination.
And imagination goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge that the world is essentially a wild place. There's real danger here, as in many of Dahl's books, and the audience senses that, partly because the world of the movie is deceptively big. Though it all takes place in (and under) a very small town and the surrounding countryside, it feels expansive—there are tree homes, sewers, helicopters, broad fields, and a train going by in the distance—and the characters move through it with the ease and exploratory fervor of wild animals. Which, of course, they are, and the movie gets some mileage out of the tension between their wild natures (tearing out the throats of chickens) and their genteel demeanors (Mr. Fox's fondness for making toasts).
If that tension seems more like director Wes Anderson's preoccupation than Dahl's, it's certainly possible; Anderson has built his career on characters (particularly men) who are trying to understand their own natures and find their way in the world, and Fantastic Mr. Fox has plenty of these. But these personal quests never detract from Dahl's story; in many ways, they drive the action and keep us invested in the outcome. (In that way, Fantastic Mr. Fox is similar to my favorite of Anderson's films, Bottle Rocket, which also tells the story of a gang of inexperienced and essentially good-hearted people who band together under a charismatic leader to pull off a series of mild heists, more mischievous than malicious.)
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a thoroughly delightful movie, and one of my favorites from this year. Fans of Roald Dahl or Wes Anderson are in for a treat; fans of both are very, very lucky.
Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown. Whether your family celebrates the Festival of Lights or they’d like to learn more about the holiday, these books will be perfect to share with any child.
"Four Sides, Eight Nights: A New Spin on Hanukkah, by Rebecca Tova Ben-Zvi, lives up to its subtitle. This new spin on Hanukkah is child-friendly, fun and educational: a rare mix. It is a dense little book that reads as light as my latkes should be. Facts galore—about history, religion, trivia, science, food and customs—are organized in manageable bites, including marginalia with fascinating tidbits. Charming, detailed pencil drawings invite young readers to actually read the thing, and young listeners to ask what it says."
"One Candle by Eve Bunting is the touching story of a young girl whose extended family gathers together each year to celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. And every year her grandmother and Great Aunt Rose perform a ritual to recall their childhood, part of which was spent in a German concentration camp during the Holocaust. In those bleak days, despite unrelenting hardship and fear, they sought to maintain their religious faith by smuggling a potato and some margarine into camp—elements which they used to construct a makeshift candle so they could surreptitiously celebrate Hanukkah."
" 'Old man Scroogemacher was as sour as a pickle and had a tongue like horse-radish.' The first sentence of Hanukkah, Shmanukkah! gives a forshpice (appetizer) of the Yiddish flavors that follow—a hint that Dickens' A Christmas Carol has undergone a religious and cultural conversion. Yes, the most unloved character in the most beloved Christmas story has been appropriated for the other big holiday in December. As odd as it may seem, author Esmé Raji Codell pulls off the switcheroo with humor, history and heart.”
What does your family like to read during Hanukkah? Tell us in the comments.
Looking for gifts for the little ones on your list? Our top 10 picture books are full of engaging illustrations and text that will get young readers hooked.
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All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane/Atheneum)
Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated Tom Lichtenheld (Chronicle)
John Brown by John Hendrix (Abrams)
One Giant Leap by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Mike Wimmer (Philomel)
Pouch by David Ezra Stein (Putnam)
Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas (Beach Lane/Atheneum)
Skippyjon Jones: Lost in Spice by Judith Byron Schachner (Dutton)
The Lion & The Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown)
Trouble Gum by Matthew Cordell (Feiwel & Friends)
Willoughby & The Lion by Greg Foley (HarperCollins)
Wombat Walkabout by Carol Diggory Shields, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Dutton)
Finding worthy books for middle-grade readers can be a difficult task. But 2009 brought dozens of good reads for the 8-12 set—here are our 10 favorites.
The Doll Shop Downstairs by Yona Zeldis McDonough (Viking)
Everything for a Dog by Ann M. Martin (Feiwel & Friends)
The Evolution of Capurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (Holt)
Fortune's Folly by Deva Fagan (Holt)
Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells (Candlewick)
Lincoln Shot by Barry Denenberg (Feiwel & Friends)
The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice (HarperCollins)
A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck (Dial/Penguin)
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb/Random House)
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Little, Brown)