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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

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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

www.magicbookshelfonline.com

 

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

www.magicbookshelfonline.com

 

Green Christmas December 11, 2008

My husband Josh has a Quaker background that doesn’t seem to manifest itself much in his daily life anymore — except when it comes to children’s books. Blog readers familiar with the Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, know they have a distinctly “green” streak that runs deep.

So while we were waiting for our twins’ birthdate last week — they were born Wednesday, Dec. 3 — Josh read a children’s book review in one of our oft-arriving baby magazines that had him rushing to the nearest bookstore within a day or two of John and Susannah’s birth. What did he buy? Guess How Much I Love You? Love You Forever? No, he bought When Santa Turned Green by Victoria Perla.

Newly published in October 2008, this vastly different spin on the usual Santa fare centers on an unabashed environmental theme. Santa as depicted in the illustrations by Mirna Kantarevic actually bring to my mind a much older environmentally themed book by the great picture book master: The Lorax (Classic Seuss). Remember it and its famous tag-line? “I speak for the trees!”

Perla too speaks for the trees — and the polar ice caps, and the Earth’s atmosphere… in fact, the whole planet. I love how, when Santa decides he must combat the issue of global warming, he goes straight to the people who can help the most — the children:

“He went to the real future. To you.

And your sisters and brothers and friends.

That’s right, he went to the children.

Because they have the power to change the world.”

The story goes on to detail what some individual children do to help save their world, from using reusable lunch containers to composting to getting Grandpa to buy a hybrid vehicle.

Parents and educators who don’t have much patience for didactic books may be put off by this book’s overt environmental theme, but I like it for its straightforward, non-sneaky and non-apologetic tone. My guess is When Santa Turned Green will turn out to be more than just a Christmas book, snapped up by those who embrace its message and who want to help children think more broadly than Christmas lists and sleighbells.

posted by Janie McQueen for www.magicbookshelfonline.com

 

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 www.guysread.com, 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 janie@magicbookshelfonline.com. 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).

Beliefnet.com 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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