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Stinky Cheese Man author reveals all November 26, 2008

If you have a kid, you probably know author Jon Scieszka, or have seen his work — he’s behind The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs — and has two fingers on the pulses of child readers, especially boys, like no one else.

Now, Scieszka does us the kindness of letting us into his colorful life with the new juvenile autobiography Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka, which readers ages 8 and up will devour… well, like stinky cheese.  And an autobiography is appropriate. Scieszka, a former elementary school teacher who now also enjoys the title of national ambassador for children’s literature, is a big proponent of nonfiction and humor for children, especially those who have become disillusioned with typical reading fare.

In fact, he’s behind the website, which was created as an outreach project to connect boys with books they actually want to read.

”Let them read funny books, let them read nonfiction, instead of lecturing them and testing them to death,” Scieszka says in a feature for the Miami Herald. “Teachers have told me they are leaving teaching because they don’t want to be test monitors. It’s killing us, and it’s killing reading.”

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

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Dedicating to the ones you love November 22, 2008

Many of you booklovers know the value of inscribing a book as a gift to someone. I remember several childhood book gifts in particular that I cherished all the more because of the neatly scripted notes scrawled on one of the first pages of the book. One of my favorites was a now long out of print book called “Ten Stories,” mostly fairy stories with whimsical watercolor illustrations, given to me by an older woman who lived in my neighborhood, who had an unforgettable and wonderful name I’m glad is inscribed forever in ink: Garnet DuLong.

The only thing really better than inscribing a book yourself can be having the author sign it. But for that to happen, all the planets have to be in alignment — it’s probably a new book, you’re in the right bookstore at the right time, and the book you’re having signed really is perfect for its intended recipient. This doesn’t happen very often. I think the only book signings that were worth my time as a consumer were for Amy Tan’s The Hundred Secret Senses, and Georgia story-spinner Bailey White’s Sleeping at the Starlite Motel: and Other Adventures on the Way Back Home. Both were held at a funky, now-defunct Atlanta independent bookstore called Oxford Books. The authors were perfect, and the recipient was perfect: me. Those were very happy occurrences.

But one of my The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever customers recenty came up with a terrific “non-signing” idea I’d never thought of, even after publishing two other books. This customer lives in Alabama, and ordered three copies of the book from Amazon to give her three grown children for Christmas. Naturally, I can’t hop over there to sign them, much as I’d like to, but she had it all figured out.

She asked me if I’d sign three holiday cards, inscribing one to each of her children, including a date and my signature. A lifelong professional educator, my customer explained what a serious book-signing fan she’d always been and wanted something personal from the author tucked in the pages of the books. So she’s going to tuck in my cards.

Not only is this an awesome idea, but this is truly a “next best” solution when you can’t have the author actually sign a book. It might not last as long, but I don’t know — I’ve retained cards for more than 20 years. They make great bookmarks.

Speaking of bookmarks, you can dedicate favorite books in much the same way, even when the author can’t be tracked down to sign a card (say, if the author is deceased or there’s no getting past the publisher or there’s no book signing tour or the author is Madonna). You can inscribe your thoughts of what the book means to you directly in the book (going a little farther than the basic “To Violet, Love Rose, Christmas 2008”), or on a card or bookmark. The recipient will gets a precious memento along with the book, and never forget the meaning it held for you, the giver.

Incidentally, anyone who has my book on their Christmas list this year and who wants to copy my smart customer’s idea and have me jot an inscription on a card is welcome to contact me at You can send me your personal cards to sign or I’ll send my own.

I may not be hitting your particular Barnes and Noble but I’m learning that proxy signing works just fine.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

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Carter/Cash legacy publishes children’s book November 17, 2008

Music producer/legacy John Carter Cash, only son of the late music greats Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, is the latest celebrity to enter the children’s book market with his first picture book, Momma Loves Her Little Son, due out in March 2009 from Little Simon Inspirations, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing (and available for pre-order — just click the link).

PR Newswire reports: “From the farthest shores to the deepest oceans, a mother’s love for her child is without bounds. In Momma Loves Her Little Son, little ones are swept away on a magical adventure over mountains and skyscrapers and through forests and streams — a tender and joyful celebration of the enduring bond between mother and child.”

John Carter Cash, himself the father of three, is also the author of Anchored In Love : An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash.

The new picture book is illustrated in Americana art style by Marc Burckhardt, who has prior ties to the First Family of Music. Burckhardt’s lithograph portrait of Johnny Cash helped win the Grammy for package design for The Legend (Hardcover book and CD edition). quotes the younger Cash on the origins of the new book: “When I was young, my mother said to me: ‘Momma loves her little son.’ Now, this tender endearment holds a firm meaning within my life, inside my spirit. It reminds me that in sharing love, it grows that much greater in our hearts.”

As the mother of two boys (soon to be three), I look forward to getting a look at this book. With its early spring release, looks like this title will be a Mother’s Day shoo-in.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

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Newfangled Nights Before Christmas November 10, 2008

A couple of nights ago while my husband and I were browsing in the children’s section (where else?) of a local bookstore, a Christmas-themed book caught Josh’s eye. A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas happens to be a new addition to the shelves this holiday season, and it’s a worthy and clever twist on Clement Moore’s classic The Night Before Christmas: The Heirloom Edition (Moore’s original title was A Visit From St. Nicholas).

Of course, we never tire of the classic version, but I think the seamless transition of Santa to Old Sir Peggedy and reindeer to a team of seahorses is a worthwhile departure. I’m not always a fan of rhyming books, either — you know how that is, rhymes are usually so forced — but Philip Yates does a superb job. I don’t mind at all the use of “thar” as a rhyming word. It is pirate lingo, after all.

The whimsical illustrations by Sebastia Serra and characters are perfect, and bring to my mind Melinda Long and David Shannon’s How I Became a Pirate, though maybe just by virtue that it’s a kid’s pirate story. Yates’ is plenty original, from the stockings stuck to the ship’s prow with tar (that happens to go with the “thar” rhyme) to the child pirate narrator’s disappointing-turned-amazing Christmas offering from Peggedy himself.

Newfangled versions of The Night Before Christmas are certainly not new, and Cajun Night Before Christmas (Night Before Christmas Series) is testimony to that. My children were entranced by it when I brought it home from the Y a few years ago, on loan from the aquatics director. It’s one catchy tale.

And I’m not particularly fond of series, either (I’m on a roll today, aren’t I) because of the similar forced feel, but there are some cute titles in the Night Before Christmas Series that might make perfect matches for some people on your list — say, the popular Teachers’ Night Before Christmas (Night Before Christmas Series), or even Redneck Night Before Christmas (Night Before Christmas Series) (which is funny but not for children, and which might be a risky purchase for someone you don’t know well).

Take a look at this series to see if a few fit the people you know. And by all means, bring home A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas for your little swashbucklers. We did, and plan to whip it out as a surprise when our night before Christmas reaches fever pitch and we need a burst of fun to help us make it through.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

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Talking Turkey: Thanksgiving Picks November 7, 2008

Going over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house, or just traveling across town for a tasty restaurant meal for your family’s Thanksgiving feast this year?  Either way, it’s a great time for seasonal literary picks from the entertaining to the educational. Here are some appetizing choices for your brood:

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever



Children’s lit goes political propaganda again November 3, 2008

A couple of months ago, I blogged on what I felt was a misuse of children’s literature, in that case for the promotion of political candidates. I weighed in that some parents might indeed want to share with their children the merits of their chosen candidate, but where these books were concerned, the material was more fiction than biography, and other more objective kids’ books about politics and elections could easily be found.

Today I read about the use of children’s literature as a different kind of propaganda — in this case, to either promote or hinder a gay agenda.  Sara Nelson wrote a very good blog for Publishers Weekly she entitled Book Abuse, detailing how a children’s picture book published by Tricycle Press is being used in an ad campaign supporting Proposition 8 in California, which would overturn recently passed laws permitting gay marriage. (See the ad in the YouTube clip above.)

Nelson writes: “King & King, a children’s picture book by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, which was originally published in the Netherlands, is cited by a New England mother and father who were horrified that their son was exposed to the book—a kind of fairy tale in which a prince falls in love with a prince—at school.”

I know books are used for all kinds of reasons, not only to spin stories. They convey morals, they can illuminate different points of view, and they can show someone how to do something, from using the potty to building a fort. I myself am the author of how-to books, and I love nonfiction.

But sometimes I wish everyone would leave the children’s book field alone. I know gay parents and others celebrating diversity and acceptance appreciate “teaching” books like King & King, and the landmark Heather Has Two Mommies: 10th Anniversary Edition (Alyson Wonderland). I know parents who’ve greatly appreciated books about infertility and adoption, in vitro fertilization, and using donor sperm or eggs, to show their children in child-friendly language and art how they were conceived (for example, the X Y and Me series.)

Does everyone need these books? No. Not everybody needs my parenting books, either. Does King & King have to be in school libraries? To say no would be censorship, but as a parent, I’m admittedly on the fence. I don’t have a problem with such books existing, but I suppose if pressed I’d want to choose when to “go there.” If it’s on the library shelf for one of my children to pick up and bring home, that’s forcing me to “go there.”

However, passing a gay couple holding hands makes us “go there” as well, as does attending religious services with a very liberal and accepting congregation. Likewise, so did the fact that my older son had a kindergarten classmate who had two moms (something the children never even commented on but which caused a pretty shameful uproar in the rather conservative school). Is a book on a shelf any different?

It’s delicate subject matter, to be sure. And for all parents who wish to expose their children to its message, there are as many or more that do not. Nelson’s column is devoted to the issue of whether a book that actively promotes tolerance should be used in a campaign against that very ideal.

I know this is very sad to people who love this book, and to its publishers. But all’s fair. No one has to uphold the authors’ and publishers’ intent. (They also will enjoy the kind of backlash promotion that comes with campaigns like this. After all, were it not for this campaign, I might never have heard about the book.)

But just like I bemoaned in my blog about politics overrunning children’s book merchandising, can we just leave children’s books out of it?

posed by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever