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SLJ’s Battle of the (Kids’) Books starts today! April 13, 2009

Filed under: In the News,New Children's Books — jbmcqueen @ 8:58 am

Clever children’s author Jon Scieszka’s role as Children’s Book Ambassador for School Library Journal is surely noticeable in a new program that kicks off today: SLJ’s Battle of the (Kids’) Books!

Scieszka is one of a panel of 15 authors who will preside over the event. He apparently immediately made his influence quickly felt by knocking the Newbery winner of this year, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, out of the running.

SLJ reports:

” The online contest kicks off today with the first of four elimination rounds, pitting 16 of last year’s best books for young people against one another in a winner-takes-all showdown (think college basketball’s March Madness). The winner, which will be selected by Lois Lowry, the author of the Newbery Medal–winning The Giver, will be announced on Wednesday, May 6.

“SLJ’s Battle of the (Kids’) Books is the brainchild of three educators: Monica Edinger and Roxanne Feldman of the Dalton School in New York City and Jonathan Hunt, an elementary school librarian in Modesto, CA. The competition was inspired by the Morning News’ Tournament of Books, an annual competition featuring the previous year’s best novels for adults.”

I highly suggest subscribing to SLJ’s entertaining tournament blog here! As for me, I’m going to scramble there now to learn what prompted Sciescka to deal The Graveyard Book that fatal blow. (OK, I peeked — Scieszka likes Gaiman’s work but is a bit tired of gothic-tinged fantasy, and prefers perennial favorite Sid Fleischman’s The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West. Fleischman seems to have become a biography fan following his well-received bio of Harry Houdini.)

Janie McQueen


Drumroll, please… the new Newberys are here February 14, 2009

About a month ago I wrote about complaints that the American Library Association’s prestigious Newbery award was stuck in a time warp. Does this still hold? Read on for the newly announced 2009 winners (and the Honor books, which often surpass the “winner” in terms of quality and sometimes even commercial success:

Here it is, direct from the ALA:

“The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

2009 Medal Winner
The 2009 Newbery Medal winner is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean, and published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

A delicious mix of murder, fantasy, humor and human longing, the tale of Nobody Owens is told in magical, haunting prose. A child marked for death by an ancient league of assassins escapes into an abandoned graveyard, where he is reared and protected by its spirit denizens.

“A child named Nobody, an assassin, a graveyard and the dead are the perfect combination in this deliciously creepy tale, which is sometimes humorous, sometimes haunting and sometimes surprising,” said Newbery Committee Chair Rose V. Treviño.

2009 Honor Books

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)

Underneath the canopy of the loblolly pines, amid the pulsating sounds of the swamp, there lies a tale. Intertwining stories of an embittered man, a loyal hound, an abandoned cat and a vengeful lamia sing of love, loss, loneliness and hope. Appelt’s lyrical storytelling heightens the distinguished characteristics of this work.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle (Henry Holt & Comapny)

The Surrender Tree utilizes compelling free verse in alternating voices to lyrically tell the story of Cuba’s three wars for independence from Spain. Combining real-life characters (such as legendary healer Rosa La Bayamesa) with imagined individuals, Engle focuses on Rosa’s struggle to save everyone–black, white, Cuban, Spanish, friend or enemy.

Savvy by Ingrid Law (Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group in partnership with Walden Media, LLC

This rich first-person narrative draws readers into a wild bus ride, winding through the countryside on a journey of self-discovery for Mibs Beaumont and her companions. Newcomer Law weaves a magical tall tale, using vivid language and lively personalities, all bouncing their way to a warm, satisfying conclusion.

After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Books for Young Readers)

This tightly woven novel looks back on two years in a New York City neighborhood, where life changes for two 11-year-olds when a new girl joins their game of double Dutch. Bonded by Tupac’s music, the three girls explore the lure of freedom and build a friendship that redefines their own identities.”

And here’s my take: wow, sounds fresh, exciting and eclectic all around, doesn’t it? And the winner… incredibly creative and intriguing. Can’t wait to check it out.

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


Obama-mania hits the kids’ shelves January 17, 2009

Whether you were an Obama supporter or not, he is indeed our 44th President-elect. And our children need to know about him. Fortunately, to help our efforts, Barack Obama-bios abound for the juvenile market, from the board books crowd to pretty good  junior biography.

And unlike some cloying titles that appeared at election time — like the puffed up Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope —  more down to earth titles have emerged that offer useful, objective information and good profiles of our new president and even his First Lady to be, Michelle.

Here’s a little tour of some of the better Obama titles now lining the juvenile section shelves:

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



Turning Back the Clock: James Thurber’s classic The 13 Clocks Revisited January 10, 2009

 “Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales…”

So begins James Thurber’s classic The 13 Clocks, a fairy tale originally published in January of 1950 and recently reissued in a spiffy new hardcover edition by the New York Review Children’s Collection. Best known as a humorist for The New Yorker, Thurber only penned a few children’s titles. This one, perhaps the best known (though his Many Moons (A Harcourt Brace contemporary classic) won a Caldecott award for Louis Slobodkin’s original illustrations, in 1943), spins the story of a wicked duke who thinks he has stopped time. It has been called “the best children’s book of all time” by more than a few critics… so why did it take so long to revive?
The L.A. Times ran a thoughtful review. And Wikipedia had this to say about Thurber’s style: “The Thirteen Clocks is a fantasy tale written by James Thurber in 1950 in Bermuda, while he was completing one of his other novels. It is written in a unique cadenced style, in which a mysterious prince must complete a seemingly impossible task to free a maiden from the clutches of an evil duke. It invokes many fairy tale motifs.[1]… The story is noted for Thurber’s constant, complex wordplay, and his use of an almost continuous internal meter, with occasional hidden rhymes — akin to blank verse, but with no line breaks to advertise the structure.”
 The new edition features an intro by British author Neil Gaiman, who calls it ”probably the best book in the world.” Clocks is on par with any modern children’s classic. It’s worth handing a child who’s mooning over the end of the Harry Potter series, to show there is life after — as there was before — Potter.

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


Newbery Award stuck in a time warp? January 3, 2009

Filed under: In the News,Issues — jbmcqueen @ 8:25 am

A Brigham Young University study has pointed up a large bias toward white, male characters from two-parent households in the juvenile titles receiving the prestigious Newbery award. It seems even our increasingly diverse — not to mention PC — society hasn’t touched the American Library Association, which has bestowed the Newbery honor on one book per year since 1922.

In thinking about this finding for just a minute, and reflecting on the Newbery titles that instantly spring to mind, I have to pretty quickly acknowledge this claim of bias does seem true. From titles as different as Bridge to Terabithia to the wildly imaginative Holes, yep, the main characters are indeed white, male, and residents of two-parent households. The seeming preference for these types of families may likely be unintentional — I don’t see how anyone could question the superiority of the writing and stories in titles such as those — but it’s there.

Two things. One, I can’t stand it when any institution, whether it be a contest, election or a book award panel, becomes so PC that it’s simple to project who the winner will be due to the mere presence of ethnic characters or daring themes. But I can still see the reason for the recent outcry.

The Contra Costa Times quotes Pat Scales, the president of the Association for Library Service to Children, which runs the Newbery program: “The Newbery is given for literary quality. Ethnicity, gender — nothing of that is necessarily taken into consideration.

“We certainly want children’s books to mirror society… It’s not as magic as whether there is a boy main character or a girl main character or an African-American or Latino or Asian character. We owe kids good stories that reflect their lives and give them a more global view.”

But while the stories may be good, the conventionality of the households from which the characters come definitely is old-fashioned, hardly global.

The second thing — the Newbery panel is famous for NOT really selecting the best title every year. Often, the superior title is the runner-up, such as Newbery Honor books like Hatchet. While it’s true the Newbery titles always stay in print and win the author much prestige, I remember even from my own childhood that often these titles are viewed as “untouchables” by students, perceived as too highbrow (read, boring) to be enjoyable.

We’ll see what happens with the good ol’ Newbery. We’ll hope they find a way to hunt down titles that give young readers broader cultural views while preserving the spirit of the quest for great story.

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


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

Peruse the best children’s Christmas stories ever at


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