105 Ways to Give a Book

Robert’s Snow: Mo Willems

I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten used to the cute and cuddly Mo Willems. The one who brought us the Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny. The one who gave us Elephant and Piggie. The man who worked on Sesame Street animation for years and took home those Emmys. The man who looks all cute and cuddly himself in his new blog header from his (apparently GQ) photo shoot.

But Mo is a man fighting monsters. Or at least creatively expressing monsters. Perhaps the darkness within fought to escape and having no place in the growing Elephant and Piggie series, worked its way into this Mo-riginal snowflake for the Robert’s Snow project.

Mo Willems’s SnowflakeAs has been mentioned all through the kidlit blogs, artists from all over the children’s book illustrating community have created special snowflakes to be auctioned off, with the proceeds benefiting sarcoma research at Dana-Farber. These snowflake auctions became known as the event “Robert’s Snow.” As a participant, Mo was kind enough to take a few minutes from his busy schedule of writing, touring, and being fantastic to answer a few questions for MotherReader.

How did you get involved in the Robert’s Snow project?

Honestly, I can’t remember. Jarrett K. may have threatened not to talk to me if I didn’t do one, or he may have threatened to talk to me if I didn’t do one. Either way, it’s fairly easy to say yes to organizations that do actual good.

While most of the snowflakes feature winter or Christmas scenes, yours is kind of, like, a monster. What’s up with that?

I have always been terrified of snowflakes. I distrust their uniqueness and they way they lurk.

I’ve noticed some monster themes cropping up in your work — the Monsters in Underpants guide, some sketches on your blog, and now your snowflake. Are monsters ready to make another appearance in your books? (Rumor has it that Leonardo, the Terrible Monster, has been very lonely.)

Leonardo may return, but not for a few years and not how you expect him… (hee hee).

I’ve been lucky to have broken news about your upcoming books. I heard about your early reader series at your speech here in Northern Virginia. We talked about your work on Knuffle Bunny Too at the National Book Festival. Well, both of those have come out now and I’ve got no inside track. Nothing. Bubkes. Care to make any announcements about what’s next for you?

There will be a new Pigeon book in Spring 2008, but we’re only revealing the first 4 words of the title: “THE. PIGEON. WANTS. A. __________ !”

If you think you can guess what he wants, then (starting in December) you can enter a contest on pigeonpresents.com to win a school visit from me.

Extra added bonus: the titles of the next Elephant and Piggie books (due early summer 08):



Everyone’s asking: What are you going to be for Halloween?

The All-American Hero: Captain Dad!
Powers: Napping, Sending Villains to Their Room
Weakness: Adorable Daughters in Costume

If you’re interested in owning the Mo-flake (listen, I can go all day with these), the 2007 online auctions for bidding on these hand-painted snowflakes will take place in three separate auctions, open to everyone, from November 19–23, November 26–30, and December 3–7 (this is when you’ll find the Mo creation!). You can go to the event site for more information and to participate in the auction.

This year, more than 200 well-known children’s book illustrators from around the world have been given a five-inch wooden snowflake to decorate at will. Many, but not all, of the snowflake-making illustrators will be featured across sixty-five blogs. An updated list of snowflake and illustrator features is available at Seven Impossible Things, along with more information about the push behind the bloggers’ involvement in the project and the original call to action. Also not to be missed is Kris Bordessa’s post summarizing snowflake-related contests to date over at Paradise Found.
Here’s the schedule for features this week:

Monday, October 29 Tuesday, October 30
Wednesday, October 31
Thursday, November 1
Friday, November 2
Saturday, November 3
Sunday, November 4
Please take time out to visit all of these blogs, and read about these fabulous illustrators. And, if you’re so inclined, think about bidding for a snowflake in the Robert’s Snow auction. Each snowflake makes a unique gift (for yourself or for someone else), and supports an important cause.

Oh, and Happy Halloween!

Halloween Books II

One day closer to Halloween and this costume thing is almost there. The eight-year-old is going to be a genie, using a dance outfit from a thrift store. Just minutes ago I dug through the dress-up box and was able to pull together a little box hat and veil. I’d love a little fake genie lamp, but it’s more likely that she’ll be carrying around an recycled bottle of Little Penguin. (Some proceeds from the sale of the wine go to help penguins in need. Yeah, Little Penguin!) The eleven-year-old wants to be a gypsy girl after buying the perfect deadhead skirt at a “special” shop in Virginia Beach. I wanted the skirt for myself, but apparently there aren’t a lot of women of girth following the Dead (or whoever the hippies are following these days), so I let my daughter buy it.

I read to the third-grade class today, and we had a lot of fun with the books I’d brought. I shared some poems from Halloween Stories and Poems. This book is a little more kid-friendly than some I’ve seen, with a less gruesome version of Jigsaw Puzzle and some silly poems along with the spooky ones. Generally, it can be hard to read in the school for Halloween. You don’t want to go too scary. I also tend to avoid books about school costume parties. I don’t want to rub it in that they’re not getting a party — because most of the time, they’re not these days. Once you take out the books that are really too young for them, and the books featuring some commercial character, it can be tricky to find the right titles. But I picked two winners today.

The Scariest Monster in the Whole Wide WorldThe Scariest Monster in the Whole Wide World, by Pamela Mayer, is not a monster story, despite the title. Instead, it’s about finding the right costume when kid and parents disagree. Thea Dewlicky had won second prize last year at her costume parade with her fairy costume. This year, her parents are planning the costume that is sure to win, but Thea has other ideas. She wants to be the scariest monster in the whole wide world, with scales and claws and an ax in her head. Her parents are horrified, and take her shopping to find a suitable outfit, but Thea cannot be swayed. Along comes Grandma, who lets the kid be a kid, but finds a way to make the parents happy too. Along with being a fun Halloween story, it’s a good message for over-involved parents. Who will probably totally miss the point.

Boris and BellaBoris and Bella, by Carolyn Crimi, takes us into the land of vampires, mummies, and monsters. But just because they’re spooky or undead doesn’t mean that they don’t have problems too. Bella Lagrossi is very messy, and Boris Kleanitoff is too neat. They are neighbors, but don’t get along. When they both try to have competing parties for Halloween, everyone goes to the house of a more congenial host instead. As Bella and Boris go to yell at Henry Beastie, they find all the flaws in the party — like maggot muffins with too much muffin and not enough maggot — and refuse to have fun. When the dancing starts, they do come together and have a good time. Of course, they learn to accept each other, and also each to make little changes for the other. It’s a funny story with great wordplay, phrasing, and puns. Kids love all the gross-out references in the text and illustrations. Great fun.

Tomorrow I’ll be profiling Mo and his monster snowflake. No, it’s not a big snowflake. It’s a monster snowflake. You’ll see tomorrow.

Halloween Books

Tomorrow I’ll read to my daughter’s third-grade class in practically the first Halloween-like thing I’ve done. I’m a a bit concerned that I haven’t quite figured out my daughters’ costumes yet, but hey, I’ve got two days. (Crap! Two days!) Anyway, here are two of my favorite Halloween picture books for all of you librarians/teachers/moms who might need something to read to a preschool or early elementary school class.

The Hallo-wienerThis one is always a winner: The Hallo-wiener, by Dav Pilkey. It’s the story of a dachshund who is always teased by his doggie classmates, but especially after his well-meaning mother gives him a hot-dog costume for Halloween. But when his doggie friends are spooked by a ghoul, it’s the little dog who saves the day. It’s a funny book, but you can add a little spooky suspense when the ghoul comes into the picture.

The Ugly PumpkinThe other book that I found more recently is The Ugly Pumpkin, by Dave Horowitz. It’s about a pumpkin that isn’t picked for Halloween because he looks so strange. As he travels through November, he comes upon more like him and realizes that he’s not a pumpkin at all. He’s a squash! And he’s just in time for Thanksgiving! Cute twist on the ugly duckling story with a nice transition to the next holiday on the calendar.

Later today, I’ll write about the books I’m taking to the third-grade class, but right now I have some costumes to pull together.

Robert’s Snow Schedule

I’m posting the Robert’s Snow schedule at the end of the week so you can go back and see what you missed. It has nothing to do with the fact that it’s Poetry Friday and I don’t have a poem. Nothing at all.

Next week — on Halloween to be precise — I’ll be host to Mo Willems. I’ll dare to ask the question on everyone’s mind about his unusual snowflake — namely WTF?

Monday, October 22

Tuesday, October 23

Wednesday, October 24

Thursday, October 25

Friday, October 26

Saturday, October 27

Sunday, October 28

The Squampkin Patch

With Halloween just around the corner, it seemed like a good time to repost this review.

The Squampkin PatchIn the The Squampkin Patch, author JT Petty lets us know right away that we’re in for something a little odd. In fact, right from the first paragraph of the first section, “To the Reader”:
“Nasselrogt” is pronounced “Nasel Rod.” This is not as difficult as, say, performing dentistry on an unanesthetized bear, or tying your shoe with one hand. But for teachers, waiting-room attendants, roll callers, and countless others, the pronunciation of Nasselrogt was an insurmountable peak.
If you are the kind of reader who might skip the “To the Reader” section, your introduction begins with Chapter 1, “Duck in the Pants”:
A rack of trousers, a pair of tanning beds, and their own last name conspired to orphan the Nasselrogt children.

After the Great Cheese Grater Fiasco, the Nuked Alaska Ice Cream Debacle, and the Taffy Handkerchief Catastrophe, Milton and Chloe were all out of nannies. So Mr. and Ms. Nasselrogt, despite their busy schedules, had been forced to take their children back-to-school shopping themselves.
As their parents are ignoring them, the kids hide as a joke. When they come out to look for their parents, they are gone. The children end up getting shipped off to the Urchin House, run by Mr. Porifera. When their parents reappear, they can’t find their children, since Mr. Porifera doesn’t recognize the kids’ last name as the parents pronounce it — that is, correctly — and doesn’t find their files. One of my other favorite quotes is about the Urchin House itself:
The front half was white columns and gables; the back half was gray warehouses and smokestacks. It did not look like the marriage of a factory and an orphanage. It looked like a factory had tried to swallow an orphanage, choked, and died with its mouth full.
The children escape and end up at a mysterious house surrounded by a pumpkin patch — or so they think. It turns out that patch holds something strange and frightening that is coming to a head on Halloween.

Though the build-up is to Halloween, I wouldn’t want to lose this book the other eleven months of the year. It is definitely suspenseful, sometimes scary and creepy, too. But it is also filled with dark humor and interesting characters. There was one plot point involving a wall and a large zipper that seemed out of place, but fortunately it was early on in the book. The book shows a very strong Lemony Snicket influence in the writing, which should make it a natural pick for lovers of the Unfortunate Events books — and that includes a lot of kids.

Booktalking and Being Careful

Yesterday’s booktalking session went well. Fast. Definitely fast. When it was over I realized that I’d talked about ten titles in about thirty minutes. I added a book when I got there, Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story, because I happened to see it on the shelf. It’s good that I did, because otherwise I would be plagued today by the knowledge that I did nine books instead of ten. I’m very attached to things in tens — or sometimes fives — but never nines. Nine. Yikes. Gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

Come to think of it, this tiny obsession with the fives times table is one component of my general tardiness. I leave for work about twenty minutes before I’m on the schedule, but on a bad red-light day, I’m more like twenty-two minutes away. But I can’t think in an odd number like twenty-two. The only other choice would be to think of my work as twenty-five minutes away, and then that feels too far. I can’t admit to myself that I spend twenty-five minutes driving to work when there is another branch of the library three minutes away. And because that library is exactly three minutes away, I’d think of it as five minutes and I’d always be two minutes early.

Anyway, back to the topic. I really enjoyed sharing the books with an interested group of high schoolers. I didn’t get a particular feel from them about one title versus another, but it was fun talking to kids who really cared about reading.

Yesterday I said that it freaked me out a bit when the librarian mentioned that several of the book group members were Mormons. I want to explain a bit. You see, I don’t work for a conservative county, but it is a very careful one. I’ve found that mentality slipping into my own suggestions, or at least making me very conscious of the “issues” in a book — a concern that came to the forefront when the librarian specifically mentioned religion.

I remember going to a teen booktalking class with a well-known presenter and being very impressed by the books that she was sharing. Someone asked, with humor, how she could get away with talking about some of these controversial books in schools. Basically, her answer was that she didn’t ask if she could, she just did it. In this era of lawsuits and challenges, it seemed so... brave. What do you think?

Booktalking, High School Edition

This afternoon I’m going to talk to a high school book group about some newish titles. I don’t want to go too new, because I suspect that the high schools here are even farther behind on ordering than the public library. The talk will be much more casual than when I went to the middle school last week because it’s a much smaller group. The librarian said I can pretty much suggest anything, but then she mentioned that a lot of the book group’s members were Mormons.

I feel like that Seinfeld episode where his agent told Jerry that his airline pilot was in the audience and not to freak out. So while it wouldn’t have mattered, now that he’s heard that statement, he freaks out and freezes on stage.

Some of the books I was bringing may or do have some sex and other high school issues. The librarian reassured me that I can bring any books, but I’m feeling more self-conscious about it now. Also, since it’s a new school year, she doesn’t know who will be in the group for certain — leaving it wide open for age, gender, religion, and interests — or how many teens will even be there.

I’m bringing a bunch of books, and I’m just keeping it real. I’ll mention:
If it all goes well and I don’t choke on my tongue or curse unnecessarily, the librarian may have me back to talk to this group again — or even better, to larger groups in the high school. So, here’s a toast to me not freaking out today.

Robert’s Snow: Denise Fleming

Mama Cat Has Three KittensWow, Denise Fleming. I’ve loved her books since I first read Mama Cat Has Three Kittens to my daughters. That silly, sleepy kitten Boris cracked us up. Then I discovered the wonderful Time to Sleep, which doubles as both a seasonal and a bedtime story. Afterward, I was hooked on a Fleming and high on believing in her amazing work. I’ve read her books to my daughters. I’ve used them in storytimes at the library. I’ve urged my library to include them in summer reading lists.

Time To SleepFleming images are so vibrant and vivid. Her illustrations are the visual equivalent of running across a wide green grass field on a bright summer day with a blue sky overhead dotted with white puffy clouds. Well, before I got old and overweight and running made me short of breath and slightly nauseous, but you get my point.

Beetle BopHer newest book, Beetle Bop, came out earlier this year and takes readers into the world of brightly colored bugs with a rocking reading rhythm. Beetle Bop is Fleming's fifteenth — fifteenth! — book, sticking with her basic book-a-year plan, starting with the publication of In the Tall, Tall Grass in 1991.

All of her books are listed at her fantastic website. Along with that list of all of her books — with their various accolades — she also has activities related to each of her titles and information on papermaking. I had planned on asking her about her process, but couldn’t do any better than the question-and-answer section she had on her site. (And, ahem, couldn't get around to writing her.) So if you were curious as to how long it takes her to make a book — and, by the way, what’s involved in that — you might find this helpful:
I work on a book for about a year. Now, I don’t work each and every day and at certain points I may put the book away for a week or two so that I can look at what I have done with fresh eyes, but from start to finish a year passes. Some pictures I do quite quickly — 3 or 4 days, other pictures may take longer. Making a picture requires quite a few steps: design the page, transfer the design to foam board for the stencils, cut the stencils, dye the cotton fiber, pour the picture using cotton fiber, flip off the finished picture, sponge excess moisture from the picture, put picture in vacuum table to get out even more moisture, then put the picture in the drying press for 3–5 days, once a day I change the blotter paper in the drying press…WHEW, I am exhausted just thinking about it!
 P. S. and of course I have to write the book… that comes first :-)
Now I have the great fortune to profile her snowflake for Robert Snow. Isn't it lovely? (Click on the picture to make it larger.)

Denise Fleming's SnowflakeAs has been mentioned all through the kidlit blogs, artists from all over the children’s book illustrating community have created special snowflakes to be auctioned off, with the proceeds benefiting sarcoma research at Dana-Farber. These snowflake auctions became known as the event “Robert’s Snow.”

This year, more than 200 well-known children’s book illustrators from around the world have been given a five-inch wooden snowflake to decorate at will. The 2007 online auctions for bidding on these hand-painted snowflakes will take place in three separate auctions, open to everyone, from November 19–23, November 26–30 (this is when you'll find the Fleming snowflake!), and December 3–7. You can go to the event site for more information and to participate in the auction.

Many, but not all, of the snowflake-making illustrators will be featured across sixty-five blogs. An updated list of snowflake and illustrator features is available at Seven Impossible Things, along with more information about the push behind the bloggers’ involvement in the project and the original call to action. The past week of snowflake features follows:

Monday, October 15
Tuesday, October 16
Wednesday, October 17
Thursday, October 18
Friday, October 19
Saturday, October 20
Sunday, October 21
Please take time out to visit these blogs, and read about these fabulous illustrators. And, if you’re so inclined, think about bidding for a snowflake in the Robert’s Snow auction. Each snowflake makes a unique gift (for yourself or for someone else), and supports an important cause.

LOL @ Your Library: Booklist

I don’t know what I was thinking. The theme of this year’s Teen Read Week is LOL @ Your Library, and I have the perfect list. The books have been in my sidebar for-evah, but I did a list with annotations for The Edge of the Forest. Since it applies perfectly to the week, and since I’m on a roll of reposting my Edge articles here at MotherReader, here it is.

Eventually kids move systematically past peek-a-boo, potty humor, knock-knock jokes, wacky poems, and silly puns. Oh, it feels like forever when you’re buying the next book in the Captain Underpants series, but very soon those giggling kids grow into a sense of humor much like that of adults. And that’s when we grown-ups start to get uncomfortable. Because what is most ripe for comedy among teens are things like puberty, kisses, boobs, and even sex. Our adult discomfort makes recommending or buying books for teens a slippery slope. But you’re better than that. Show a sense of humor with these picks.

Age 13
  • Happy Kid! by Gail Gauthier
    As Kyle is starting middle school, his mother bribes him to read a book, Happy Kid!, in the hopes that it will improve his attitude and his life. Great one-liners and overall humor.

  • Flipped, by Wendelin Van Draanen
    Juli has always loved Bryce, while he just thought she was weird. But now that they’re teenagers, things are changing for both of them. The alternating perspectives of a boy and a girl make this book light and fun.

  • Bindi Babes, by Narinder Dhami
    Three Indian sisters who live with their father in England have a great life, except for missing their mother. When Auntie comes to live with them, she turns all their plans around with hilarious results.

  • King of the Creeps, by Steven Banks
    In 1963, Tom decides that to get the girls, he needs to be a folksinger. His musical quest leads to some surprising and comic twists.

Age 14
  • Born Too Short, by Dan Elish
    Eighth grader Matt envies his perfect best friend Keith and wishes him ill, with unexpected results. Frank and funny look at male teen angst.

  • Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love, by Maryrose Wood
    Felicia decides to conduct a study on what makes people fall in love, with a particular focus on her own crush, Matthew. More innocent than the title would suggest, but just as funny.

  • Once Upon a Marigold, by Jean Ferris
    Chris falls for the lovely Princess Marigold after seeing her through a telescope and corresponding by carrier pigeon. But there is evil afoot in this fairy-tale world. “Part comedy, part love story, part everything but the kitchen sink,” reads the cover.

  • Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
    The first diary of Georgia, a fourteen-year-old British girl with an insane cat, embarrassing parents, and loads of teen questions. Absolutely hysterical.

Age 15
  • Vampire High, by Douglas Rees
    When Cody’s high school choices are Our Lady of Perpetual Homework or Vlad Dracul Magnet School, he goes with Vlad — even if it turns out to be populated by vampires.

  • Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie, by David Lubar
    Scott chronicles his freshman year as he writes advice to “Smelly,” his unborn brother — including chapters such as “Scott Hudson’s List of Good Things About Getting Beat Up.”

  • Girl 15, Charming But Insane, by Sue Limb
    First book in a trilogy about Jess, a British budding comedienne with a goddess for a girlfriend, a hot boy for a crush, and a possibly humiliating incident on the horizon.

  • The Princess Diaries, by Meg Cabot
    Typical American teen Mia finds out she’s really a princess, with all the trappings that come with it. Much more sophisticated than the movie. Trust me.

Age 16
  • Son of the Mob, by Gordon Korman
    The son of a mob boss, Vince wants nothing to do with the family “business.” But things get particularly crazy when he falls for the daughter of an FBI agent. Action, humor, and suspense in one fun book.

  • Pagan’s Crusade, by Catherine Jinks
    Pagan joins the crusades to escape his criminal past and becomes a squire to a proper Knight. Lots of spoofing and sarcasm and wit (oh, my).

  • The Wizard, The Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey, by Lisa Papademetriou
    The bookish girl and the popular girl get thrown into the world of a fantasy book. A mix of Ella Enchanted, Mean Girls, and Lord of the Rings, stirred with a big heap of comedy.

Age 17
  • King Dork, by Frank Portman
    The story of an outsider, Tom, who thinks of band names (Tennis With Guitars) and albums with his only friend Sam. And just tries to make it through high school alive.

  • An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
    After high school, a former child prodigy, who has always dated girls named Katherine and waits for his “eureka moment” in life, takes a road trip with a friend. Witty and intelligent.

  • I Was a Teenage Popsicle, by Bev Rosenbaum
    Floe Ryan was 16 when she was frozen in a cryonics center to stop a fatal illness. Now she’s been thawed and is dealing with her new life ten years later. Comedy and sci fi.

Age 18
Ages are approximate, based mostly on the age and grades of the characters in the books. The books listed for 17 and up have content — sex, drugs, alcohol — that make those books more appropriate for older readers. But of course, use your judgment.

Booktalking Update and a Tree

So, how did my booktalking session go? It went fine, thank you for asking. I didn’t bring my A-game — I have to admit that right now — but I did well. I had planned on talking about all these great new books that are out there, but I didn’t have the time or energy to prepare new talks. I went with reliable hits from the past couple of years, with a smattering of newish titles. My other motivation in using previously owned booktalks — other than not having to find new things to say — was to promote books that would already be in their school library. My public library is pretty far behind in getting new books, but the school library is way behind.

The kids were generally good and reasonably attentive. One session we ended early because the scheduling was off, and the kids came up to look at the books and ask questions. I’ve always talked right up until the end, but I think I’ll try ending a little early next time and see if the same thing happens. It’s always been overwhelming to think about giving the teens any free time at the end, because there are seventy of them in the lecture hall, and we can’t handle all of them at the front of the room. But now I think that only a few would probably come up, so it may be worth a shot.

Plus the teachers make them applaud if you end early.

I don’t feel like doing the links, but these are some of the titles — literally, the titles and just the titles — I shared:

Happy Kid, The White Darkness, Wild Man Island, Rash, Sarah’s Ground, Leap Day, The Puppet Wrangler, Sister Slam, The Diary of Ma Yan, Keeper, Beware Princess Elizabeth, Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love, Pick Me Up, Squire’s Tale, Twilight, Dreadlocks, and Crossing the Wire

I was pretty wiped out today. I had plans for a take-charge kind of day, and it ended up more like a sweatpants kind of day. Some loose ends were tied up, including a gift for a special person, and some reading was accomplished, mostly outside. Oh, and I cut down a tree. A big, dead tree. Technically, I’m not sure if I can say that I cut it down, since mostly I chopped at the roots and then rocked it, and then pushed it really, really hard. There was a scary moment when I realized that I should probably have done this job with another person, but those are the times that build character. Or so they say. Anyway, the dead tree is down and I was ultimately responsible and it felt good. Like manly good, but for, you know, a woman.

Teen Booktalking

I’m booktalking today to middle schoolers, and thought that I would share with you an article of my hints that was originally in The Edge of the Forest. (Check out the original article for an abbreviated sample booktalking session.)

If you were to ask a librarian whether she would prefer to talk about books to a room full of seventh graders or walk into a cage with some tigers, there would be a short pause. Then the inevitable question: “How many... tigers?”

It’s not that you think that the students are judging you. You know they’re judging you. The very thought transports you back to middle school when some boy pulled up your skirt in the school play and everyone called you Susie Underpants for the rest of your school career. Or maybe that was a Friends episode.

In any case, you do not need to be afraid. You will probably be judged, but it will be less frightening than you thought. They’ll laugh if you mention that the book Plastic Man made your car smell like rubber, but they will then move their mental attention to the topic of whether Madison really kissed Tom after the game and will Evan pound Tom or instead make a move on Annie? Important stuff.

I have not been booktalking at middle school for long, but I can share what I have learned to make your experience successful. Or perhaps convince you to give it a try.
  1. Dress Down

    While it would be unwise to wear layered tanks and pants with “JUICY” across the butt, it would also be unwise to dress in a tailored suit with a flowered pin. While not drawing attention to your clothes, you want to look like a person who enjoys young adult books. Actually, you want to look like the kind of person who wouldn’t use the phrase “young adult books.” Start with the assumption of flat-front khakis, black V-neck T-shirt, and decent black shoes as the perfect outfit and work from that point.

  2. Work the Crowd

    Comedians and rock stars have a warm-up act to get the audience ready for the show. You just have... well, you. If you are in an auditorium where kids are filing in, try to make a little conversation. I’ve asked kids about the shirts they made for a school project. I’ve asked if they’ve seen the latest hot movie. I’ve said hello to kids I’ve seen at the library. I’ve encouraged them to move closer to the front. All of this gives the kids a chance to warm up to me a bit. If I were coming into a class, I might not have this same chance. But I might start my booktalks with one that asked a question of the class, or ask about any projects displayed in the classroom.

  3. Identify the Problem Spots

    Walking around also pinpoints the kids who might mouth off. I’ve subtly asked teachers if a kid will be a problem, and they’ve sat with him. I had one kid try to shock me by telling me that when he played soccer he would get hit in the balls. I said, “Wow, you must not be very good.” Snap. Then during my booktalk, I asked that kid to explain to the group how mummies are made, using his need to be noticed for good.

  4. Quick Introduction

    I usually go to the middle school at the beginning and the end of the school year. I introduce myself, and talk about the library services for teenagers or the summer reading program. I do this quickly, walking the front of the stage and making lots of eye contact. If I see talkers, I give them a little extra eye contact.

  5. Beg for Tolerance

    After my quick intro, I take a long pause. Then I say, “Talking in front of all of you guys is not the easiest thing librarians do. I hope that you’ll pay attention and hear about some great books. But if you can’t listen, just please don’t talk. It’s very distracting, and makes it harder for me to keep it interesting for you. Thanks.”

  6. Jump Right In

    Lead off strong with your clearest winner. Mix up your booktalks with types of books and types of talks. I usually do one book where I ask the teens a question. Then maybe I do a straightforward booktalk. Then maybe one with a little gimmick. Then maybe I read from a book. Keep it moving and keep it fresh.

  7. Show No Fear

    After my little “No Talking” speech, I can usually keep things quiet with steady eye contact on the talkers. If that doesn’t work, I walk near that person and talk directly to them until they get the point. My last strategy involves a completely innocent tone. “Oh, I’m sorry. Did you have something to say about the book? No. Then do you mind if I finish sharing it with the class? Thanks.” Then I move right on. Only once has someone responded with, “This is boring.” I responded, “Yeah, I can see how you would rather be writing a report. I’m sure your teacher could arrange that if you prefer.” “Nah, I’m okay,” I heard next.

  8. Drink Water

    If you’re talking a lot, you’ll get thirsty. Enough said.

  9. Bring Your Best Game

    Full booktalking days generally give me a headache. I take Advil before I even leave home. Do what you need to do to keep your energy up.

  10. Time Your Closing

    When the bell rings, those kids are gone. I’ve learned to time some of my booktalks for right at the end. Know what time you’re got and actually work with it. This is my favorite ending booktalk: “You’ve all heard of book banning, right? Generally, it’s the content of the book that is in question. But this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a movement to have a book banned based entirely on the title. [Tell about the story.] Now, do you want to know what is this title that is so destructive to today’s kids? [Here’s the reveal of the book.] Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love.” As the kids go wild about me saying the word “sex” in school — if I timed it just right — the bell rings.
You have the tools, you have the knowledge, and you have the love of books. You can do it. Go out there and face down the tigers. I mean teens.

Poetry Friday: Spam Poem

I don’t have time for a full-on post today, but I remembered this little “found poem” I created recently from a particular collection of email titles in my bulk message folder. When I saw the headers, they looked like poetry. Odd poetry, but poetry none the less.
Spam Poem

Information, Publication
Secure Registration
Instruction, Warning

Check out My
Never Thought I
Can’t Believe She
But It Makes Me

This Decision
Should Not
Be Made Lightly
But May Be Necessary

Returns Control
Message Processed
All girls like the big guys
For more traditional poems, head over to the Poetry Friday round-up over at Two Writing Teachers.

Kidlit Blogging Session II: Blog Promotion

At the Kidlitosphere conference, I led the session on building up your blog and used an article that I had written. I’ve summarized it in this post, but the link to the entire article is at the end. If your goal is to reach more readers or make a bigger name for yourself, then these suggestions may help. Many of the ideas may also help you build a better blog or to be more connected within the community of kidlit bloggers. Of course, it’s up to you as to how much energy you want to invest in your blog. Let’s get started.
  1. Quality Content: Good content is like porn. No one can describe what constitutes it, but everyone knows it when they see it. Lots of people can write book reviews, so you need to find a way to offer something more — and something interesting.

  2. Daily Updates: If you want higher Technorati rankings, you need daily (or near-daily) updates. In the kidlitosphere, we’ll cut some slack for not updating on the weekend or skipping an occasional day, but if you want lots of readers you’ve got to offer lots to read.

  3. Personal Voice: Sometimes voice is translated into humor, and I’ll admit that it’s easier to convey your voice through humor, but it’s not the only way. Readers need to see something of your personality in your posts.

  4. Links and Blogrolls: An important part of blogging is being part of a community. Link to other bloggers when they write something interesting. Link and give credit when you find something on another blog that you want to write about too. Oh, and thank them when they write about your posts. Now, blogrolls are personal. Don’t get hung up on blogrolls, but don’t expect to be on a B-lister’s blogroll if they are not on yours.

  5. Comments: If you want to be noticed, you have to comment sometimes. It’s best if your comment adds something to the post, but an occasional LOL is good too. Personally, I’d suggest commenting under your blog name for easier recognition.

  6. A Particular Niche: Children’s literature is already a tight topic area, but you’ll stand out if you have a niche. Think about what unique perspective you have to bring to the table.

  7. Spelling and Grammar: Spelling counts. An occasional mistake can pass, but if your writing is sloppy in a topic like literature, you’re going to lose readers.

  8. Good Looks: It doesn’t need to be fancy, but an individualized header does set the tone for a more professional blog. Clean lines, good readability, and logical organization are necessary. Occasional pictures do help.

  9. Unique Branding: Jen Robinson pulls together literacy news. Bookshelves of Doom is always on top of book challenges. It’s more than niche reporting. When I see these issues come up other than at those sites, I think of these blogs. I’ve associated their blogs with those topics. That’s branding.

  10. Self-Promotion: You can start with putting your blog address on your email signature. Tell your actual, real-life friends about your blog. If you have something super-special that you want to get out in the blog world, you might humbly email a blogger and ask them to consider promoting it. Self-promotion also teeters on bragging, so you have to be careful, but my philosophy is that you don’t get much in this world by not asking for it.

  11. Active Participation: Join in on an occasional book meme. Better yet, start one of your own. Pull together a useful list. Throw in a poem for Poetry Friday, a favorite post for a Carnival, or an article for The Edge of the Forest. Get yourself out in the community.

  12. Patience and Perseverance: You won’t get to be a B-list blogger overnight. You have to keep writing, keep linking, keep commenting, keep promoting, and keep improving for at least a year.
Follow your progress with a statistic tracking system, which will help you determine how you’re doing readership-wise and where your readers come from and where they go. There was some discussion about different statistics trackers, and if anyone would like to elaborate on their favorite, please feel free to do so in the comments. I use StatCounter for no real reason other than it was the first one I found.

Greg from Gotta Book emphasized the importance of using good keywords, especially in the headlines of posts. Search engines will pick up those keywords and direct potential readers to your blog. The point being, I suppose, that using the title Football Poem may be more effective in pulling in the right readers then Ode to Pigskin.

Andrea from Three Silly Chicks mentioned contests as a great way to draw in readers, and also pointed out author/blogger extraordinarie Lisa Yee as a big proponent of contests. Yeah, I could say that I know a little something about contests too.

There was some discussion about drawing readers for authors’ blogs, but specifically drawing the readers of the authors’ books or the potential readers of the authors’ books to the blogs. This isn’t my area of expertise — though I think the twelve tips above will still help — but I’d love to see more discussion in this area. Bookseller Chick had a couple of great segments about this topic that might be of interest, and I don’t think it’s the last we’ll hear about it.

Let me mention that when I originally wrote my article, everyone had just discovered Kineda’s bloglebrity widget, which allows you to determine your status in the blogging world. Knowing that making the A-list in kidlit blogging would require a time machine and possible payoffs, I focused my pointers on how to hit the B-list. I made the title of my article “Be a B-List Blogger” for a reason other than awesome alliteration. I thought about saying “Be a Better Blogger,” but I didn’t want to attach the value judgement of “better” to whether you got more links. And that’s all the the B-List is: a number of links. It’s specifically 100 links from other blogs in a six-month period as tallied by Technorati.

You do not have to make the B-list to have a quality blog. You don’t have to care about the B-list to have a quality blog. But hopefully the suggestions will help improve your blogging experience. The full article, “Be a B-List Blogger,” includes examples of and links to various blogs, and is filled with bonus MotherReader humor at no additional charge.

KidLitosphere Conference 2007

So, I’m finally back from the Kidlitosphere Conference. After flying to Norfolk, Virginia, to pick up our kids, we still had to sleep (we arrived at 10:20 p.m.) and then visit a bit this morning (it was only polite) and then drive back to Northern Virginia.

I was tired, as evidenced not only by falling asleep on the flight in the most upright position ever (stupid last row airline seat), but also by the unthinkable act of leaving my handbag on the bathroom counter on the wrong side of the security checkpoint. I wish I could fully express the unique embarrassment of explaining to the male security guard that I needed my purse from the women’s restroom on the other side of that closed gate. But it did make up for my aggravation and near-tears to watch him walk down the hall with my cute little shoe purse. It did wonders for his uniform.

Tired though I was then, tired though I am now, I had an incredible time. Honestly, this trip would have to be one of my top experiences ever. Seeing all these people that I knew online but had never met, well, it was amazing.

Bill and I got to Chicago on Friday evening, and ran into Sara Lewis Holmes and Jone on our hotel floor. After a quick wash-up, we headed downstairs to join the people gathered for the pre-dinner drink in the hotel lobby. I met Adrienne right away and learned about her Chicago vacation so far (she came early to tour the city — smart girl). Ellen Klages noticed that the group of us had something of the literature look about us, and knew that she was in the right place. I felt a little bad that I hadn’t read her book (I was planning to that week, and then I was sick), but mostly just enjoyed our conversation. As all of us began to wonder about our illustrious host Robin, she stepped into the lobby and knew me and Sara right away. Big hugs. As the group stayed and chatted, it got bigger and bigger until we were a party of twenty heading out to a pizza place for dinner.

At dinner, I loved catching up with Liz and Kelly. Halfway through the meal, we switched seats around and I had a great time chatting with Barry Lyga. It was something else to be meeting people whom I knew only from their comments — like Robin’s wonderful friend and prolific commenter, Annette — and people that I felt like I already knew from their blogs — like Camille — and people I was meeting for the first time — like Susan, who started her blog after coming to my KidLit Drink Night in DC.

After dinner, a bunch of folks headed over to Cold Stone Creamery for ice cream and more social time. We had added Mary Lee and her husband to the group, along with crowd-pleaser (why not) Gregory K. Over yummy ice cream, I learned Laini and Jim’s cute meeting story, along with Robin’s story, which could be a movie plot.

Returning to the hotel, Robin sent us off to bed “with no messing around,” which Bill and I thought rather personal. But maybe she was thinking about how athletes swear off sex right before an important game.

The next day was packed with sessions and new faces that weren’t new friends. I was excited to meet Anne,
, and Tricia for the first time. Tasha led the first session of KidLit Blogging. (Actually, Tasha is one of the people that I didn’t get to interact with, so hopefully next time.) Then Mark told us about the wonderful world of podcasting; he may have made a convert of me (we’ll see...). Afterward was the Cybils discussion led by Kelly and Ann, which was very productive and interesting. The talk there set the spark ready for Jen’s session on Promotion of the Kidlitosphere as a whole — which was another great discussion.

I went to lunch with Jen, Anne, Liz, and Kelly (not pictured) at Chipotle. Love that place. We had a great talk taking off on the ideas from the morning sessions. Very useful and insightful stuff going on among the fresh salsa.

Back to the hotel for my session, which I based on my article “Be a B-List Blogger.” I emphasized that upping traffic to your blog does not have to be your own goal, but that the following were some of the strategies I had used. There was some discussion about the author blogs in this context, and other suggestions for boosting traffic. I’ll post more about my particular session later.

After me, Anne presented Building the Better Book Review. There was even classwork involved! I kept my head down. I was afraid I’d be called on. I think that I saw Mindy ducking as well.

Liz led the session covering ethics in reviewing, including the author/reviewer relationship and negative reviews. I spoke for the necessity of negative reviews at times to balance the positive reviews for the same book or to address issues that other reviewers may not have noted. Really, the topic could have taken a couple of hours, but we had to get ready for the Meet the Authors session.

Esme did a fantastic job of organizing this aspect of the conference. The authors sat behind tables around the room and the bloggers/librarians/hotel bartenders circulated to find out about their current projects. It seemed fun and unforced, and was very informative. I even won a prize package from Three Silly Chicks! Wahoo!

We had a quick break to freshen up, and were back downstairs to hit the bar. Here I finally got a chance to talk to Gregory K and somehow got both Annette and Jen’s husband Mheir to buy me a beer. It’s all in the smile.

The cocktail hour slipped nicely into the dinner hour(s) back in the conference room. I joined the table with Eisha and Jules, since I hadn’t been able to talk to them at all. As that table filled up quickly, I left my husband on his own at another table. Sorry, honey. He didn’t care. He had skipped the conference portion of the day and had bought himself an iPhone.

Dinner was tasty, conversation was lively, fun was had by all. There were even raffle prizes, which I did not win. No, not even the signed John Green books or the Pigeon paraphernalia. Not that I’m bitter. Robin announced the venue for next year completely at random, but it changed when Jone offered to organize it at Portland. So I guess Portland, Oregon, it is.

Oh, and we took a group photo:

(Wanna know who’s who? Go here.)

There were some people I got to meet but not to spend a lot of time with, and I’m fairly sure that there were a few people that I didn’t meet even. It was a big group. I didn’t have time to hang out with all of the authors, but I’m glad to know that they had fun too, as noted by Anna.

As we lingered in the large room, someone brought in wine from Target, of which I had a glass and wore a glass, when I came up on Betsy unexpectedly and she tossed her wine on me. Ah, I held no grudges, and was glad at the end of the evening to share Patton Oswalt routines with her and hear about her current projects. Meanwhile, Bill talked to his (and my) new-best-friend Barry Lyga (both comic book fans, film buffs, and new iPhone owners).

The next day, many of us headed to Esme’s bookroom for a scrumptious brunch and the feeling of living in a library. Stacy was particularly struck by the experience (she talks about the conference here). After the blintz and bagels, we said our last goodbyes and went our separate ways. But I did make Robin stop and pose.

For Bill and I, it was a trip to the Threadless store, which didn’t go as planned. While your new iPhone will look up an address in Chicago, apparently it won’t tell you that it is the corporate office, not the store. We ended up walking very far to the actual Threadless store, to find that it only stocked the last two weeks’ worth of designs. Total bust.

In need of rejuvenation, we went to the beach, where we put our feet in the very cold water, and I discovered sea glass by the shore. After I had a short rest in the sand, and a handful of green sea glass (as opposed to Ellen Klages’ The Green Glass Sea), we took a cab downtown. We walked around for an hour, and then went back to the airport. In a leap of faith, we asked the hotel manager to put our luggage on the shuttle so we could meet it without making the round trip. They did so, thankfully, giving us time to catch a quick dinner with Barry Lyga.

The flight back was uneventful, except for the horribly uncomfortable seat and the subsequent almost-purse-losing. Bill and I both had an excellent time, and are looking forward to doing it again next year.

Heading Out

Heading out to the Kidlitosphere Conference. Feeling a bit better (Yeah!) and can’t wait to meet so many of you (Double Yeah!!). I’m sure there will be lots of information shared after the conference, and I will certainly give detailed notes from my moderated session. I’m still amazed that it’s happening at all. Wow.

Cranky MotherReader

You know, I have three, maybe four things a year that I really look forward to. Things for which I cannot be sick. And yet, with the Kidlitosphere Conference merely two days away, I have a stuffy-nosed cold. I’m going, don’t worry about that, but I’m kinda irritated that I’m all sniffles as I prepare to meet and greet lots of bloggers and authors.

Since I’m feeling rather cranky, it felt like a good time to pull out these notes I wrote on a couple of picture books that didn’t please me. A little mean-spirited? Yeah, probably.

Where's My Darling Daughter?Where’s My Darling Daughter? by Mij Kelly

Maybe this is a laugh riot for kids, but I could not enjoy this picture book of a dad who has “misplaced” his daughter in his baby backpack and searches for her for the whole book. Maybe if she were a baby, a baby who couldn’t tell him where she was. Maybe if he didn’t portray that doofus daddy thing. Maybe if it weren’t the whole, whole book. I also was not crazy about the “almost” rhymes — cot and shock, pen and end — especially when mixed with actual rhymes. So which is it, are you trying to rhyme or not? There is also an awkward feel to the reading. So are you trying to keep the same reading rhythm or not? An annoying book in so many ways.

I'm Big EnoughI’m Big Enough, by Amber Stewart

Bunny is big enough to not carry her blankie around, but she still does it. Her family suggests that she could try doing things without her blankie, but in a overreacting moment, Bean the bunny makes a plan in case her family decides to take her blanket away. (Ohmigod, what kind of awful rabbits are these?) I have to admit that I like the name: She calls it the “Keep Blankie Forever Plan.”

She hides it in a hollow log and then can’t find it for bedtime. She has to sleep without it, even though it’s tough for a while. She looks for the blankie for a while too, but eventually forgets about it. One day, a long time later, she sees her blankie with a baby fox. “Bean looked at the tiny baby fox and knew now that her mommy was right — she really was much to big for her blanket.” This strikes me the wrong way. I can see that she needs to stop carrying the blankie around, but what’s wrong with her having one? I didn’t like the message in the book, and since that’s really all there was to it other then some cute watercolored bunnies, I didn’t like the book.

Red, Red, RedRed, Red, Red, by Valeri Gorbachev

It doesn’t matter what I think about the Gorbachev books; at least I know what to expect: (1) Lots of repetition and (2) lots of repetition. In this story, Turtle is going across town to see something red. Along the way he passes lots of red things, but they are not the red thing he seeks. He is joined by all the animal village folk, and you’d think that he could just tell them where he was going and save everybody the trouble. At the end, it’s the sunset that he is going to see — I didn’t spoil it for you, did I? — and everyone is there to see it. This book isn’t really bad, just a little obvious in an annoying way.

Now I’m going to drink some more orange juice — it can’t hurt — and find the softie tissues for my red, red, red nose. Sniffle. Sniffle.

Gay Penguin Love III

Hey, guess what? It’s Banned Books Week! I love this time of year, when the librarians get all charged up about banned books. Really gets our blood pumping. There was an unfortunate incident a few years back when the name of the week was incorrectly publicized as “Ban Books Week.” Given the opportunity, librarians across the country threw out thousands of copies of Guess How Much I Love You, Madonna’s The English Roses, and entire collections of Lurlene McDaniel books. Celebrity-authored books were especially targeted, making for a good day for Bloggers Against Celebrity Authors (though BACA’s official response was “no comment.”)

Of course, now it has been made clear that Banned Books Week is a time to take a look at books that come under frequent challenges for their inclusion in public and school libraries. There are other bloggers, like Bookshelves of Doom, that cover this topic extremely well. I’d rather cover it for laughs. And I find no challenge funnier than that of And Tango Makes Three, a sweet book based on a real story of two male penguins that together raised an orphaned egg. Bottom Shelf Books just did a wonderful discussion of this title, including a video of a gay marriage statement made on their behalf — well, sort of. For my part, I’ll re-post my write-up from March of last year, if you don’t mind. The reference to the Colbert show and the specific library incident is so last year, but the rest of it remains true.

And Tango Makes ThreeHow edgy am I? Just so on the cusp of what is hot, that I selected and suggested the book And Tango Makes Three mere weeks before it appears on The Colbert Report.

Apparently, a couple of parents in Missouri objected to this book being in their public library, and somehow the news feeds picked up the story. The library did not remove the book from its collection, but did move it to the nonfiction section, so it would be less likely to “blindside” somebody.

Ah, so many layers to this story. Where to even begin?

There is the sociological implication of our worries about gay penguins taking over the world. For an angry take on that, perhaps, you might go to another site, maybe Prometheus Unleashed. Though I would looooooove to go into it, that’s not what I’m about here at MotherReader.

There is the response of the library to consider, which was not wrong, but was pretty meek. I mean, two parents complain, and you move the book? What if I object that I don’t want my preschooler to inadvertently pick up a book about Noah’s Ark? Should all of those books go into the religion section? There are picture books that deal with the death of a parent or of a pet. Maybe they should all go in the section on grief? Where do you want to draw the line on what is unobjectionable? To the library’s credit, at least they didn’t get rid of the book. So that is something.

There is the mindset of the parents to explore. It is a public libary holding books for all the public. If you don’t like a book, if it offends you in some way... don’t check it out. It is really that simple. You can exercise your parental control to say, “I do not wish to read this book to my child.” So. Don’t. Read. It. To. Them.

There is the worry of introducing delicate subjects to children. Remember, parents, children will ask you questions based on what they are capable of processing, and you, as a parent, can answer accordingly. A child may listen to this book and ask why it was that two boy penguins wanted to stay together. We as parents can say, “Sometimes a man may love a man or a woman may love a woman, and they want to be together.” We do not have to go into the whole gay culture or what a man and a man do together in bed, any more then we would explain the whole bar scene or what a man and a woman do together in bed. When sex comes up with children, I would go with the “when a man and woman love each other very much...” talk, not the “when a man and a woman get drunk and they feel this special itch...” talk.

Then there is the book itself, which I stand by as a lovely, gentle story about adoption and love. You could use it as a springboard to talk about the diversity of the world, but you don’t have to do so. I would be willing to bet that four out of five preschoolers wouldn’t ask a single question about the two boy penguins. So it doesn’t need to be that worrisome. The authors told the story, they didn’t put thoughts in the penguins heads. We are making the interpretation ourselves. There is no gay penguin love agenda.

What is most important here — what we can’t forget — is how incrediblly cutting edge I am to have suggested the book in the first place.