Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Good old Aesop

The McElderry Book of Aesop's Fables 

Soft and sunny watercolors are the star attraction in this edition of read-aloud fables. Originally published in England, the majority of the stories are well known favorites. The twenty-one different tales include such favorites as The Lion and the Mouse, The Hare and the Tortoise, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse; as well as lesser-known tales such as The Travelers and the Bear, The Rat and the Elephant, and The Wolf and the Donkey. Large type print is punctuated by watercolor decorations as well as occasional half-page and full-page spreads of animals.

The illustrations of the somewhat anthropomorphized animals in the book have a fierce emotional intensity. In The Dog and His Bone, Dog's ebullient expression fades to a dismayed, downcast look when his own greediness causes him to lose his bone. He "walked off home, his tail between his legs, feeling very stupid and very annoyed with himself." In The Crow and the Jug, we are treated to pictures of a beaming Crow as he drops pebbles in the jug "What a clever crow, he thought as he drank. What a clever crow." He's shown gazing around, clearly pleased with himself. This book is geared for children aged five to eight.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

L.A. Festival of Books 2009

Well, here is my report on the Festival of Books from this weekend. It was tremendous. Very interesting, very overwhelming, fortunately not too hot, but my goodness extremely crowded. I hear that the attendance was 130,000 for the whole weekend and I can believe it. It was the kind of crowd where you are simply pushed along in a sea of people being jostled and elbowed about as you attempt to rubberneck everything in the display booths. I took a picture from the top of the steps looking west, but I still don't think it does it justice.

The great mass of humanity at the book fair this weekend.

As always there are simply too many awesome things going on all scheduled at the same time. I really wanted to see Susan Patron, but sadly, the half-hour I'd allotted myself to walk across campus was not enough time to push past the crowds and get to the hall where she and other children's authors were speaking. Happily, I did get to a panel where Katherine Krull, Candace Fleming and Kadir Nelson were speaking about the educational value of picture books. Elizabeth Partridge was the moderator. It was a quiet panel... Nelson turned out to be much, much shyer than I would have thought.

Heading back to the main square, I came across this cool piece of wall art. Festival participants were invited to write with markers what they were reading right now.

A really neat display.

A close-up of the graffiti wall. Notice the large "Twilight" at the bottom of the book graphic? It was probably the most often written on the wall and always in the biggest font.

There were dozens of neat booths to check out. Brave New Voices, a new poetry show hosted by Queen Latifah on HBO had a booth with a rotating group of teens who stood on the nearby sidewalk, chanting urban rhymes.

I really wanted to see Kevin J. Anderson, who was discussing his newest book, Enemies and Allies, about Superman and Batman's first meeting in the 1950's. I just finished reading an advance review copy of it, and so I was very curious to hear his comments on it. (I'll post a review of it soon.) However! I also really wanted to see, speaking at the same time on the opposite side of the festival, Jon Scieszka of Stinky Cheese Man fame, so I wended my way over to the Target Children's Stage. Scieszka (say it, "SHESH-ka") was very entertaining. He read aloud a few things from The Stinky Cheese Man, as well as a short story or two from his autobiographical book Knucklehead. Mainly, his stories were about growing up among five brothers in Michigan and were pretty scatological, which all the kids in the audience seemed to enjoy.

There were a number of costumed characters there for kids to get their pictures taken with: Clifford, the Target Dog, some kind of dancing hip-hop character that bore a striking resemblance to Winnie-the-Pooh. My friends and I took advantage of this "lull" in the programming to check out more booths, and grab some lunch. I went over to see my colleagues at the LAPL booth. It was hopping! I didn't know any of the folks at the LAPL booth, but that didn't surprise me, as our system is so large, I'm sure I don't know even a third of all the people who work there.

Even though I was only there for a few minutes, most of the questions people asked at the LAPL booth were exactly the sort of things I thought people would ask:
Are you hiring right now? No.
Wow, can I really download e-books and e-books on tape for free? Yes.
Do you guys need degrees to be librarians? Yes.
Will there be a summer reading club for kids this summer? Yes.
If I come in can you teach me to use a computer? Yes.
Seriously, I don't know anything about computers, I'm a total beginner, can you help? Yes.

Right around the corner, the County Library of Los Angeles had a booth of "Library Scientists" dressed in white lab coats, surrounded by bubbling lava lamps, beakers, and books. It looked so cool! I wish I had snapped a picture of it.

That afternoon, I went to see Melissa de la Cruz, author of the Blue Bloods books, and several other teen series, back at the Children's Stage. Honestly, I felt so bad for her! I didn't think it was the best venue for her talk. The children's area was firmly dominated by the 5 and under set. Suddenly throwing a teen-vampire-romance author into the mix didn't seem to make much sense at all. Kids played in the aisles and parents stared at her glumly, as if to say, "Hey, bring that Winnie-the-Pooh guy back!" I guessed that she must have modified her talk a bit; she told everyone to follow their dreams, and then read the first chapter from her new book, The Van Alen Legacy, coming out next October.

By that point I was footsore and running low on sunscreen so that was about as much as could be packed into a single day!

Thursday, April 23, 2009


One of my favorite illustrators, Caldecott award-winner Simms Taback, is going to appear at an event for the Museum of Ventura County on May 2, but sadly, I'm not available that day.  He'll be speaking at 2:00 pm, with a reception (and I assume a book signing?) to follow.  The price is right, too... only $5 for non-members of the museum.

Maybe, if I pore over my already packed schedule, I'll find a way to get up to the Museum before their exhibit, Picture This! The Magic of Children's Books closes on July 5th.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Perfect for Earth Day

10 Things I Can Do to Help My World

Bold, die-cut pages printed on 100% recycled paper demonstrate easy things that youngsters can do to help better the planet. The eye-catching yellow cover is a definite attention grabber, and the die-cut light bulb on the front hints at the creatively arranged pages inside. Laid out in the simplest possible terms, the book gives empowering advice for the very youngest child. On one of my favorite spreads, a blue-lined "page" covered with child's doodlings says, "I use..." and on the reverse: "both sides of the paper." What child wouldn't feel virtuously pleased with themselves at being able to do that?

The only tip offered in the book that I had a quibble with was the suggestion to unplug your tv when you're not using it... I know if I did this I'd have to reboot my cable connection and reprogram my VCR, which would be a pretty big hassle. And I can't think of too many parents who'd be comfortable letting their young ones plug and unplug major appliances on a consistent basis (but maybe that's the point? People should be watching less tv anyway.)

Some of my other favorite tips included “plant seeds and help them grow” and “sort the recycling.” The final page features a night sky with a lift-the-flap revealing a colorful planet Earth with adorably blobby continents, “All because... I love my world.” The bright colors and shapes made me think of those other greats of moveable books, Ed Emberley and Lois Ehlert. Perfect for Earth Day or for any budding environmentalists out there.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Narrative Poetry

April is National Poetry Month, so I thought I’d review one of my favorite  genres: narrative poetry.  I love how each poem can stand on it’s own, or strung together tell a larger story.
Told in free-verse poems, this short novel explores the feelings of a girl whose parents have been long divorced, hence the “42 miles” that JoEllen must commute between them both.  JoEllen finds her father's move to the countryside tough to navigate, as she is forced to re-arrange her schedule around her divorced parents needs.  "Joey" spends countryside weekends with her father cooking, exploring the outdoors and visiting her cousin.  During the week, "Ellen" hangs with her friends, orders take-out and lives a totally hip, urban lifestyle.  She feels split and conflicted over this.  She misses seeing her pals on the weekends, she's tired of having to put on a brave face, and mostly, she's exhausted by the constant effort of censoring herself in front of her parents who each wish to see her as their own little girl, without the influence of the other parent.  
Lacking a King Solomon figure to protect her, JoEllen decides to take a stand for herself.  She insists that her parents call her by her own full name.  She demands that her father respect her own social calendar by not claiming every weekend with her and that he create a more welcoming space for her in his farmhouse.  She lets her mother know that she isn't willing to continue pretending to be someone else, or pretend that her father never existed.  JoEllen explains her feelings this way, “Mom doesn’t see Joey./Dad rarely meets Ellen./And no one ever asked/if that’s fine, just fine/with me.”
The book is illustrated with various “found” objects and realia.  Ephemera such as movie tickets, photographs, advertisements, recipes and ribbons make up a collage that symbolize JoEllen's pieced together life.  I cheered for JoEllen when she finally felt empowered enough to stand up to her parents and the school bully, give herself a make-over, and invite both her city and countryside friends to her 13th birthday party.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spring Party!

One piece of advice that I’ve often heard given to new librarians is, “Never host an egg hunt in the library.”

As luck would have it, at my current branch, I inherited an annual Spring Party (including an egg hunt) from my predecessor.  Each year, she would invite families with small children to come into the branch where she’d hide plastic eggs ALL over the library.  The families and kids would ransack the place, overturning books everywhere to get to the eggs, but nevertheless, a good time was had by all.

Well.  I must say, I wasn’t enthused about handling the clean-up after an event like this, so I set my brain to work on how to incorporate a really fun party with a minimum of havoc.
In general, I tell some of my favorite Easter/Spring/St. Patrick’s Day stories at the event.  I do that for about 20 minutes. Then, storytime “ends” and I roll out some crafts.  We do that for about 20-30 minutes.  Finally, we do an “egg hunt” in the library.

My compromise was daringly inventive, if I do say so myself.  Using my background in theatre I came up with a few ideas to make our egg hunt more workable.  All egg hunts must take place within the confines of the community room.  Those participating must move as silently as a bunny, with an exaggerated slow tip-toe motion.  This was huge success.  The kids loved it.  The parents loved it.  The clerks at the library loved it.  Fantastic.  Friends, you haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed a group of madly, silently tiptoeing grade school children, eagerly scooping up armfuls of eggs.

This year I was able to book a very (very!) last minute performer, an Irish dancer, who came in, was low-key and charming, gave a few informative talks about Irish dance and a few demos.  She also brought a wonderful, sequined Irish dance dress, which of course, the kids totally loved.

In addition, I put up a huge display of St. Patrick’s Day/Irish themed books, Easter, Passover and Now Rouz books, which all checked out, I also (in a fit of desperation) included additional books on flowers, springtime and even potatoes.  They all checked out.  I think we can call this year's Spring party a total success!

Happy Spring!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sayers Lecture 2009

Last week, I went to the annual Frances Clarke Sayers lecture at UCLA.  This year’s guest speaker was Brian Selznick of Caldecott-award-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret fame.  It was, in short, amazing.  Completely and totally overwhelmingly great.

The afternoon started with awards given for “Letters About Literature.”  Kids from 4th to 12th grade wrote letters to their favorite authors about a book that spoke to them personally.  I liked that a goodly portion of the audience for the Sayers Lecture was kids and their families, rather than just librarians and authors.  It gave the whole presentation a different feel than it’s had in years past.  The most memorable contest winner was definitely Wonder Smith’s entry on The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss.  It was a very moving speech, and with a name like Wonder Smith, I have to believe that kid is really going to go places in life.
Roger Kelly, of the Santa Monica Public Library (and formerly of Pasadena Public) gave a wonderful introduction to the featured speaker, Brian Selznick.

I don’t know if I can do justice to describing Selzick’s lecture, but I will say, it absolutely transported me.  Naturally, he discussed his career and things that have influenced him.  But, it was also the kind of talk where he went off on several tangents and then beautifully tied everything together at the end.  He had a slide show playing behind him that emphasized and reinforced a lot of his main talking points.  He talked about Maurice Sendak, and read aloud the whole book of Where the Wild Things Are.  He mentioned Remy Charlip and read Fortunately, Unfortunately.  He showed old family pictures, talked about attending art school at Rhode Island School of Design, and discussed how he researched several of his earlier books.  He played the entire film of A Trip to the Moon by Georges Melies and provided hilarious narration throughout.  Oh!  Best of all, he mentioned how he ended up actually meeting Remy Charlip and befriending him.  And then realizing that Remy bore a striking resemblance to Melies, ended up using him as a model in his own book.  I loved that he had a background working in an independent children’s bookstore!  One thing he kept drawing back to was the idea that people “look” at things… but it takes an artist to truly “see” things.  He ended with a fabulous montage of images from his talk, which drew connections that were obvious when he pointed them out… hidden up until you took a deeper look.

Afterwards, Selznick took questions from the audience, and the one that caught my attention the most was when someone asked him what he thought of the upcoming live-action film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.  I loved his answer, and it really made me think!  He said that he was excited that Spike Jonze was directing it and truly making his own piece of art out of it.  He said that he liked that it wasn’t CGI because it made the interaction between Max and the Wild Things so much more genuine.  I think his exact words were something like, “And when Max is scared, it’s a real kid, really being scared, not an actor trying to react to a tennis ball hanging in front of a blue screen.”  Which, I think, is a great point, but caused me to have a total flashback to when I went to see Maurice Sendak speak in Berkeley back in… 1995, it must have been.

The speech that Maurice Sendak gave was so extraordinary; it’s still with me, nearly 15 years later.  Among other things, I remember Sendak reacting quite angrily, when people asked him what his thoughts were on the film, The City of Lost Children.  I believe the director had just done an interview saying that one of his inspirations for the film was Where the Wild Things Are.  Sendak told us that he deeply disliked the movie, because he felt that it exploited the child actors in it.  There were scenes where they seemed genuinely afraid, and he wasn’t sure that it was their acting ability… or the director manipulating the kids into scary situations and then capturing it on film.  One of the things that Sendak mentioned was how his work has often caught the attention of censors, who felt that it was inappropriate for children.  (Especially the brief, non-sexual, nude scene from In The Night Kitchen, the emotional intensity of Outside, Over There and even the “wildness” celebrated in Where the Wild Things Are.)  He said what he loved about childhood was how intense everything seems to you as a child.  Without the benefit of a lifetime of experience to judge things by, nearly every experience you have is the most intense that you’ve experienced up until that point.  If you’re hungry it’s the hungriest you’ve ever been, the happiest, the most heartbreaking, etc.  And so, he wanted to write books that weren’t treacly and sweet, that honored that kind of intensity respectfully.

The whole Sayers lecture felt like it took perhaps an hour at most, and so, what a shock to check our watches at the end of the talk and realize that nearly 3 hours had flown by!  What an absolutely uplifting experience.  Afterwards, some other LAPL librarians invited me to dinner with them, and that also was absolutely terrific. It was exactly as I imagined a Kids Lit Drink Night would go.  It was great to sit and chat and eat with other folks who were positively steeped in children’s literature.  I wish we had more of that sort of thing going on in Los Angeles.  New York librarians, I am so jealous of you!

All in all, I’m really glad I took the time out of my Sunday to come to the talk.  It was intellectually and visually one of the best experiences I've had in a long while.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Celebrity Sighting

I went to see author, Barney Saltzberg, at a booksigning today hosted at a local independent bookseller. It was a good sized crowd packed into a small space, and not wanting to push past eager toddlers who'd come to see him, I hung around the back of the room. He sang a few songs and played the guitar. Everyone enjoyed the very silly song, Shopping With My Dog. He also sang Soccer Mom from Outer Space. He read several of his picturebooks including the newest of his Cornelius P. Mud series, Are You Ready for Baby? He's got a wonderful, relaxed presence and really seems like a natural children's entertainer. The families there were having a great time.

His newest book, Good Egg, out in March, is a simple but delightful story. It's not quite a pop-up, but I'd put it firmly in the toy and moveable book category, with lift the flaps, and other surprises. The gentle pastel tones of the book make it a natural for Easter, but there's nothing in it specific to that holiday, so it could be enjoyed year-round. It's got just a touch of humor, as the egg is commanded to "Sit!" and very obediently complies. On the final page, the egg is commanded to "Speak!" and so it does, with a new baby chick peeping out. I wouldn't ordinarily recommend a pop-up book for toddlers, but this one seems especially sturdy, and the sentences are so short and direct, it feels just right for that audience.

When the story hour had concluded and Saltzberg was signing books, Jamie Lee Curtis (the actress, and an accomplished children's picture book author in her own right) happened to be in the audience and came up to him and gushed (and gushed and gushed) that she was a huge, huge fan of his. He looked a little surprised, but took it in good stead!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fairytale magic

Foggy Foggy Forest

A unique and delicate treasure, I can't remember ever seeing a book exactly like this.  "Foggy" pages made of vellum paper display silhouettes of fairy tale characters, which are revealed in full color as the pages are turned.  I love how the layers of translucent pages lend a chiascuro effect.  There's a really magical feeling as you progress through the book, as one senses that you're slowly moving through the forest.  I'll confess, I'm not sure how this book will stand up to heavy use at my library, but for the sheer delight that it provides I was willing to chance it and purchase it for our collection.  There's not much of a narrative through-line for the story, but simply seeing favorite storybook characters appear in unexpected situations might be enough to carry the day.  The simple repeating line, "What can this be in the foggy, foggy forest?" followed by a brief rhyme, "Three brown bears in picnic chairs," "Cinderella and Snow White, in a water-pistol fight," etc., etc. is charmingly satisfying.  The translucent pages have the potential to come across as gimmicky, but  the compositional skill required to orchestrate each spread, taking into consideration how it will appear dimly through the other pages is quite a feat.  I highly recommend this unusual picture book. 


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