105 Ways to Give a Book

Cybils: More Random Picture Books

You wouldn’t believe the holiday drama of the extended family if I told you, so for now, I’m just going to throw out another batch of random Cybil-nominated picture books. Hold it, you say, didn’t we already decide the winners? Oh yes we did, and I’m very excited about them. But that will wait until tomorrow. For today, I give you Books That I Just Happened To Have Some Notes About:

Fancy Nancy and the Posh PuppyI’m not a big Fancy Nancy fan. Generally, I find the whole “I’ll dress however I want” thing to be a little annoying. Call it the conformist in me. In Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy, though, the focus is on the kind of dog that Nancy will get. She wants a posh little pet — kind of a Paris Hilton puppy in training. When she takes care of her neighbor’s dog, she finds that maybe this is not the right kind of dog for her and her family after all. It’s great that the story shows how having a dog is real work and how the family compromises at the end, with a bigger dog — but a pretty breed. Oh, and the glitter seems to be confined to the cover (and in my copy, under a plastic wrap), so it’s not breaking policy to read it.

The Police CloudIn The Police Cloud, by Christoph Niemann, there’s a cloud who has dreamed of being a police officer. He asks a police helicopter for help, and together they go to the police station to plead his case. He’s given a chance to try, but his cloud-like nature makes the job impossible. As he cries over the loss of his dream, he puts out a burning building — and is welcomed into the fire department. Interesting and a little surreal.

Hungry Monster ABCI rarely say this, not being a font geek, but I think Hungry Monster ABC, by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe, would have looked better with another type style. The pictures by Lynn Munsinger are good, of the ten hungry monsters at school. They’re funny and personable. Somehow though, the type gives it a self-published look. Silly light text about going to school. The book comes with paper flashcards for extra ABC practice.

The EndThe End, by David Rochelle and Richard Egielski, is a story told entirely backward, with an interesting cast of characters to explain. I thought it was fascinating to read the story backward, and then turn the book backward and read the story forward — if you follow me here. The book starts with, “And they all lived happily ever after. [page turn] They lived happily ever after because... the soggy knight fell in love with the clever princess.” Makes you need to find out how it all began. Cleverly written and nicely illustrated.

It’s possible I’ll be back with some sort of wrap-up for the year, or some view into my life this past week, but in case that doesn’t happen, Happy New Year!

Cybils: Random Picture Books

What’s the sound of one blogger blogging?

It seems so quiet in the kidlitosphere as the the Christmas week rolls by and everyone catches up on their Cybil-nominated books. I’ve been quite lucky in the picture book category, having seen many of the titles in my library even if the publishers never sent them. Also, the books are 32 pages long. Here are a few brief reviews of some random titles.

Orange Pear Apple BearIt really takes looking at Orange Pear Apple Bear, by Emily Gravett, to get why everyone is talking about this book. It is so simple, but so perfect. Using just four words — okay, one extra word at the end — the book shows us order and color. The apple and pear are together, but on the other page is an orange bear. Eventually the bear gets hungry, and everything goes on down. Fun book for young ones, with lovely watercolors over charcoal sketches. (It’s interesting how the “extra” lines of the sketch make the pictures look so right.)
 
Pest FestPest Fest, by Julia Durango, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus, is a bonanza for bug-lovers, with all your favorites in great detail. It’s interesting to see the scale represented by the bugs against acorns, flowers, and dogs. The bugs are competing to see who should be the winner of the Pest Fest, and while the butterfly is lovely and the cricket fiddles a great song, the ugly, lowly housefly bemoans his lack of talent. But it is found that to be pesky is the best gift of all. While the story is cute and informative and told in rhyme (props on noting that the Cricket fiddles, not sings), I’d give the real prize to the illustrations. While seen from the bugs’ perspective the whole time, at the last end page we are treated to the view of a human awakening and running from the bug party that has collected on his sleeping form. Lots of fun.
 
The Magic RabbitThe Magic Rabbit, by Annette Le Blanc Cate, is your typical magician-has-rabbit, magician-loses-rabbit, magician-gets-rabbit-back story. A magician and his rabbit are best friends, but one day they get separated during a magic act. Though they both try and try, they can’t find each other in the big city. Then the rabbit sees the magic yellow stars, follows them, and finds his magician once again. A sweet story of friendship and perseverance. The illustrations are very detailed in black and white, with only the stars in yellow. Readers will enjoy looking in the background of the pictures to find the magician, even when the bunny can’t. Very nice book.

Now I’m off to the mall to let my niece play on the toddler playground and to allow my preteen to show me the wonders of Abercrombie and Fitch.

Yeah, Yeah, Merry Christmas

Instead of talking about the joy of Christmas, the spirit of giving, and all that jazz, I’d like to focus my attention on the little things that really bring the holiday home to me.

Of course, there’s always not getting what you wanted. In this case, not making the Brotherhood 2.0 Happy Dance video. We were disappointed. We posted a video response with the girls dancing at, yes, The Land of Little Horses. John did comment, which was nice, but too little, too late. ;^)

MR's up-doThere’s the delight of a fancy party where you know very few people and feel very old because when did the dresses get so short and the music get so loud? But, hey, at least for once in your life you’ve got an “up-do.” Gotta love complicated hair.

Christmas cookiesWhile other families bake cookies and decorate them lovingly, you make sugar cookies that you cut from the roll and cover with random bits of candy, making the whole thing look like an exercise in modern art. (Though you’re rather fond of the Mr. Bill cookie. Oh no!)

Catnip frenzyAnd what’s Christmas, really, without the cats getting stoned on catnip?

MR showing off her new BACA mugOr shameless, shameless self-promotion. (BACA merchandise is still available at the MotherReader store. Just think how fun it will be to carry the tote bag — just $14.99 — to the ALA conference or the bookstore.)

Merry Christmas to all.

Festivus: The Airing of the Grievances

I’ve come to believe that I killed someone in a past life. Based on the karma I’ve got going on lately, it’s the only reasonable explanation.

But today is Festivus, the holiday for the rest-of-us, and it’s a good time for the airing of grievances. You’re welcome to contribute in the comments if you so desire, or even go to the official website. Here are the grievances top of the mind today.

Teachers don’t need to assign projects that absolutely require extensive parental assistance, and if they feel compelled to do so, then perhaps those projects don’t need to be assigned during the week before Christmas.

People who feel they have to buy these huge SUV and minivans need to be able to park them, specifically pulling up closer to the car in front of them on the street so another car can park behind them. It would also be great if they could manage to get out of a parking space without a major production.

Prices of hotel rooms shouldn’t go up a hundred dollars overnight months in advance of the date, and if they do, then the managers should work with the needs of a tired Girl Scout Leader who’s just trying to do a good thing.

Friends whom you’ve stuck by through a personal crisis should not ditch you when they’re happy again. Even if their new girlfriend is ten years younger than them and really hot.

People who keep making the same mistake shouldn’t expect everybody to cover for them when they do it again.

Bloggers should keep commenting, because sometimes they feel like the only friends you’ve got.

Children whose moms have spent a lot of time on their activities should not roll their eyes when asked to help with the household chores.

Tires shouldn’t come up with a flat over the holidays. Period.

Husbands can put their own beer bottles in the recycling. Even if it is their birthday today. (Happy Birthday, Bill!)

I’m off now to put up the Festivus pole and set up the feats of strength. Oh, and celebrate a nephew’s birthday and my hubby’s as well. Tomorrow it’s all wrapping and cleaning, cleaning and wrapping. I can’t wait.

Poetry Friday: Christmas Songs as Poetry

Before I introduce today’s Christmas songs as poetry, let me make sure that you are well aware of the fantastic Carnival of Children’s Literature that is up at Big A, little a. It’s all about books that would make great gifts, so there are tons and tons of great recommendations there for the holidays and beyond. DO NOT MISS IT!

Now, Poetry Friday is hosted today at AmoxCalli, and I wanted to put in a little something different, as I love to do. These are two of my favorite alternative-type Christmas songs — the ones that get the most play on my iPod. First, “River,” from Joni Mitchell:
It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

But it don’t snow here
It stays pretty green
I’m going to make a lot of money
Then I’m going to quit this crazy scene
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
I wish I had a river I could skate away on
I made my baby cry
Since I’ve become a parent, Christmas has become as much a stressful time as a joyful time, and there are periods when I just want a river to skate away on. Read the rest of the lyrics here.

I love this next song for its chutzpah (can you use the word “chutzpah” about a Christmas song?) and clever ironic tone. Oh, and it has a great beat that you can dance to. Here’s Simple Plan’s “My Christmas List”:
Santa is coming tonight
And I want a car, and I want a life
And I want a first class trip to Hawaii
I want a lifetime supply
Of skittles & slurpees and Eskimo pies
I want a DVD, 
A big screen TV
Just bring me things that I don’t need

’Cuz now it’s Christmas
And I want everything
I just can’t wait
Christmas
So don’t stop spending
I want a million gifts,
That’s right
Don’t forget my Christmas list tonight
Listen to it and you’ll fall in love with the irony too, I’ll bet you. Lyrics are here.

Some bloggers are taking off for the holidays, but not me. I’ve got a ton of Cybils books on my shelf and those puppies aren’t going to review themselves. So before and after the holidays, be looking for some suggestions to blow your gift card on, or to return the Steve Martin book at Borders in exchange for one of these. However if you’re heading offline for the week, then Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Great Present: Hamsters!

My eight-year-old really wants a hamster. She asks every once in a while, and we go to the pet store to see them every chance we get. She doesn’t whine about it, but she brings home a school library book about hamsters every single week. Her approach is to wear me down slowly, and with books. Clever plan. I’ve told her that she could have a hamster if she could manage to take care of herself without constant reminders to brush her hair, put on her socks, and eat her breakfast. We’ll see how that goes. I actually wouldn’t mind a hamster. Neither would the cats.

The Great Texas Hamster DriveSo when I saw The Great Texas Hamster Drive, by Eric Kimmel, at ALA, I had to have it. It looked like it combined two great things: hamsters and that Superbowl commercial where the cowboys were rounding up cats. I loved that commercial. Anyway, I requested a copy of The Great Texas Hamster Drive from the publisher, got it, loved it, and forgot to mention it. Until now.

Honestly, I don’t know what I’ve got in my bag of tricks that is a better recommendation than what I’ve already said in the preceding paragraph. Because kids love hamsters, adults love that cat herding commercial, and everyone loves Eric Kimmel. Oh, it’s also an original tall tale, and teachers love tall tales, particularly if they are part of the curriculum like they are here. Even the cover is its own sales pitch, what with the cute hamsters all over everything, including the horse’s face.

In the story, Pecos Bill and Slue Foot Sue have four boys and one girl, and they all work together on the ranch. Being the only girl, and the youngest, Sue tends to get what she wants... and she wants a hamster. So the little mouse-like creature is ordered from Chicago — and since one would get lonely, they get two. Of course, two turn into five, and then fifteen, and then twenty-eight. The brothers build bigger cages to hold them all, but not well-structured cages, because the little guys get out and head out on the range. Left out on their own, they take over the prairie by the thousands. So it’s time to round them up and send them to the city kids, where they can all find homes.

I loved the story. Lots of fun. The illustrations by Bruce Whatley were just perfect, with wonderful watercolor images of the horses rounding up the hamsters, close-ups of the little hamsters out in front of the pack, and funny views of the hamsters in underground tunnels. Maybe someone you know won’t be getting a hamster anytime soon, but sure as shooting, they’ll love this book. Yee-haw!

Cybils: Old-Fashioned Picture Books

The Christmas season makes old-fashioned feel so hip. We watch classic movies and fantasize about horse-drawn sleighs. We dream about a few decades ago when things seemed simpler. Well, here are three books nominated for the Cybil awards — one Christmas, two not — that have that old-fashioned feel about them.

Great JoyGreat Joy, by Kate DiCamillo, is set in the past — let’s say the 1940s. A little girl sees an organ grinder and his monkey out in the cold and wonders where they go at night. When it turns out that they sleep on the street, the girl wants to invite them into her house. The mother objects because they are strangers — which, I’m sorry, seems kind of logical to me. On the way to her Christmas play, the girl invites the organ grinder to attend the play at church, and when he does, it spurs her to remember her all-important line in the play. The pictures were lovely, though it was mentioned elsewhere that there is a disturbing lack of diversity in the city streets. I’m back and forth on the story, which is sweet in the girl’s concern and caring, but a bit heavy on the “little children know best” for my taste. My sympathies tend to run with the mother, who’s probably very busy with the holiday season, not to mention pretty stressed, and she’s trying to get the kid ready for all the seasonal activities that they’ve booked  — and it’s not like those four dozen cookies for the church Christmas party are going to bake themselves — but she’s the one who takes the rap for being uncaring in this book.

The Story of Cherry the PigThe Story of Cherry the Pig, by Utako Yamada, looks and reads like it was done fifty years ago. Cherry the pig loves making — and eating — desserts. When she hears some mice call her pie incredible, she decides to enter a baking contest. Later she finds out that they thought the pie was incredibly awful, and her feelings are hurt and her confidence shot. But then she sees that the mice like dry, cheesy biscuits, and she understands that everyone likes different things. And, I suppose, that we can’t base our opinion of ourselves on what someone else likes. Particularly mice, who are notably off-base when it comes to personal judgment. The message was fine, but it felt like it took the long way around to get to it.

The Growing StoryThe Growing Story, by Ruth Kraus, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, does feel old-fashioned, and indeed was originally written in 1947. A boy notices everything around him growing — the chicks and the puppy and the flowers — but he doesn’t see himself growing. As spring goes to summer, the mother puts away the boy’s warm woolen clothes, and he sees all the farm springing to life in the orchard and the fields. But he can’t see himself grow until he tries on his old winter clothes again, and they don’t fit. It’s a good depiction of the seasonal cycle of a farm and a gentle discussion of growing up. Sweet book with cute illustration, and the message seems to be that everyone grows up sometime. Well, at least physically, since I have several examples of people who haven’t really grown up all that much. (No, Bill, we’re not getting a Playstation 3 for Christmas because we already have a Playstation 2. Stop hinting.)

Just a Day

A day where you wake up to the anguished cry of, “Mom! The cat threw up on my social studies project!” is not going to be a good day. Oh, it may get better. In fact, one might say that it pretty much has to get better from that point. But it’s probably not going to be a good day.

As you carefully clean the cat vomit off your daughter’s project, you try to reassure her and yourself that it was lucky that she was using crayons, because the waxy finish made this much easier to clean and really it’s not noticeable at all. Well, except for the smell of regurgitated cat food. But you’ll take care of that with air freshener, and when that doesn’t work, with Febreze.

In the end, you wave the paper around to dry it of the attack of the smell-reducing chemicals, and advise your sixth-grader not to sniff it herself, as her strong gag reflex will certainly make it impossible to turn in — because of course it’s due today. You pray that the teacher has a cold with a very stuffy nose.

In tucking the project into the sixth-grader’s backpack, you have a moment to reflect on this accident waiting to happen — because face it, half of your earthly belongings are on the floor these days, and it was just a matter of time before something important was lost, or broken, or vomited upon. And the best chance to tackle it was yesterday, when instead you spent about three hours with the other daughter on her social studies project — because if you leave her alone for two minutes, she’ll stop working and start playing with the tree ornaments. So, in accepting her ADD, you sat on the floor with her and kept her on task, only resting your eyes — not napping — on the couch for ten minutes toward the end of the project. This turned out to be the ten minutes in which she wrongly drew the only scene in the whole stupid project that had to be done exactly the way it’s been told. But she drew Pocahontas saving John Smith from an Indian with a bow and arrow, not by putting her head over his on the pile of stones, and whether or not we want to verify the accuracy of that event or even look upon Pocahontas as an American hero for basically saving Jamestown and in doing so setting the events in motion which will eventually wipe out the Native Americans, the fact remains that the accepted scene has not been drawn because you took your eyes away for ten minutes.

Oh, and that project is spread out on the floor too.

None of this will make the Christmas letter.

Perhaps today is a day best left to the secret project that’s cooking over at Brotherhood 2.0, sure to be a winner. Or searching out fifteen tiny gift bags for the fifteen bracelets I bought for the Girl Scouts in my troop. In any case, I think it will be later today that I’ll post more Cybils reviews. Surely you understand.

Poetry Friday: Poet-Trees

Poet-TreesI was pretty sick yesterday and am not really up to writing a post today, so it seemed like the perfect time to let Threadless stand in for me. My favorite T-shirt shop is having a $10 sale, and this shirt seems like a great Poetry Friday submission: the Poet-Trees.

Personally, I’m fond of the shirt that says, “The internet was closed, so I thought I’d come outside today,” which is here. I also like “MOVIES: Ruining the Book Since 1920,” which is here. So enjoy the Poet-Trees, and then head over to Threadless and do some shopping.

The Poetry Friday round-up is over at Miss Rumphius Effect.

Cybils: Spiritual Picture Books

In one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, Jerry complains that he thinks that his dentist became a Jew for the jokes. In a reverse, I can’t go all-in on Judaism because the music sucks. I mean, 5768 years and the most memorable song we’ve come up with is “I Have a Little Dreidel.” It’s just so sad.

Now Christian music rocks. (And I don’t mean that Christian Rock rocks, because that’s a whole other thing going on there.) There are great hymns, Christmas carols, and centuries of amazing classical music. And let’s not forget gospel music — or the earliest gospel music, the spiritual.

Let It Shine: Three Favorite SpiritualsWhich brings us to one of the most beautiful books of the year, Let It Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals, by Ashley Bryan. The text is from the spirituals “This Little Light of Mine,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” Don’t be shy about singing instead of reading this book, because that’s the way to do it. The words to several verses are included, and the illustrations complement the text.

What am I saying? The illustrations are the point of this book. This beautiful, beautiful book. Put together with cut paper in amazing and intricate patterns, the visuals are spellbinding. The cover doesn’t do justice to seeing the artwork taking over two-page spreads, with the text underneath in the bottom inch of each page. It’s absolutely breathtaking. While there is a focus on African-Americans in the illustrations, so many pictures are done (like the cover) with multicolored (like orange and purple and pink) people, that it keeps a universal, inclusive feel. I won’t be the least bit surprised to see this title on the Caldecott list next month.

Angels Watching Over MeAnother possibility for the Caldecott list, in my humble opinion, is Angels Watching Over Me. The simple, traditional song is adapted by Julia Durango with a additional storyline that takes a young African-American boy through a perfect summer day from dawn to dark. Of course, as the title would suggest, angels are always watching over him as he enjoys all the world has to offer him. The text is simple, rhyming couplets interspersed with the song lyrics — which are, almost in their entirety, “All night, all day, angels watching over me.” And what angels! Not only do they represent different races, but different species too. There are lion and elephant angels in the hovering circle. Now I’m making it sound silly, but it’s not. It really fits. Hold it — did I mention the illustrator? No? That’s the problem here. It’s Elisa Kleven, and she’s a genius.

She’s made every page, every spread, a celebration of color and detail and shading and vision and imagery. I’m not sure whether to read the book or pull the pages out and frame them on the wall. I would say that the first two-page spread is one of the most exquisite pictures I’ve ever seen. The angels hover in the dark blue sky circling the earth and the sun is rising in a brilliant yellow glow and on the land there are tiny zebras in Africa and tiny bridges in North America and tiny pagodas in Asia and tiny boats on the ocean and every angel is unique and colorful and vibrant... anyway, it’s gorgeous.

Two beautiful books about music and angels and God. Don’t try to choose. Get them both — whether from the bookstore or library — and thank me later.

Break For Hanukkah

Now I’m Jewish like Britney Spears is a brunette — occasionally and with some effort — but Hanukkah brings out the need to express my heritage. But being half-Jewish, I only lit the candles on the menorah four nights this year. I wish I were kidding, but it would have been funnier if the negligence were deliberate.

The Latke Who Couldn't Stop ScreamingI did celebrate with my grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins on Saturday. One of the highlights of the evening was my reading of the new Lemony Snicket book, The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming. Just hysterical. A latke runs screaming from the frying pan, and encounters various Christmas icons along its path. As the latke explains what it is and its significance in the celebration of Hanukkah, it keeps getting compared to Christmas. And so it keeps screaming.

Lemony Snicket actually gets in a fair bit about the meaning of Hanukkah, while keeping a wry tone throughout. One of my favorite parts is when the latke is explaining to Christmas lights why it is fried in oil:
“Because I’m a latke,” said the latke. “The olive oil reminds us of the oil used to rededicate the temple following the defeat of Antiochus at the hands of the Maccabees. The oil was only supposed to last for one night but there was a miracle and it lasted for eight. Plus frying makes my skin crispy and brown.”

“So you’re basically hash browns,” said the flashing colored lights. “Maybe you can be served alongside a Christmas ham.”

“I’m not hash browns!” cried the latke. “I’m something completely different!”
And then it runs screaming, “AAAHHHHHHHHH!” for two pages.

It’s lots of fun to read aloud, either to a crowd of adults and kids at a Hanukkah celebration, or to a class of third or fifth graders at school. This book will be a must-read every year.

Tonight is the last night of Hanukkah, and before I try making my own latkes, I wanted to leave you with my favorite comedy bit of the season. It’s Steven Colbert on The Daily Show, and it cracks me up every time. (“Rosh Hashanah?” “Okay, now you’re just making words up.”) Enjoy.

Cybils: Library Picture Books

For the next two weeks, it’s going to be a picture book reviewapolooza, as I try to cover at least a decent proportion of titles nominated for the Cybils awards. Hang on tight, and enjoy some great books for the kiddies (and you too)! By the way, either of these books would be great gifts for your school librarian. I’m just sayin’

Library MouseLibrary Mouse, by Daniel Kirk, is a cute story about a mouse who lives in the library and loves it there. He reads at night when all the people have gone home, and one day decides to write his own books. The librarians are impressed with three books they come to find in the shelves, and invite the secret author to come to a meet-the-author day. (They put a letter on the bulletin board since, of course, they don’t know who he is.) Sam doesn’t know what to do at first, but then comes up with a great idea. He sets up a box with a sign: “Meet the Author.” When the kids look inside, they see themselves in the mirror. Then they see a stack of tiny blank books. And they realize that they are the authors.
All that day, and for many more thereafter, people came to the little display to Meet the Author. Soon there was a whole shelf full of books written and illustrated by people who had never written a book before, telling stories that had never been told.
It’s a sweet book with a good message, but it hits the point a little strong for my taste. It would be great as a storytime book, and should definitely be in every library collection.

The Boy Who Was Raised By LibrariansThe Boy Who Was Raised By Librarians, by Carla Morris, shows every librarian’s dream of Making A Difference. Melvin spends a lot of time in the library because he is curious about everything. The librarians always talk to him and help him find out what he needs to know — each of the three in their own way. For instance, when his bug collection escapes:
Marge, Betty, and Leeola quickly organized an emergency rescue squad. The bugs were retrieved, identified, classified, and cataloged within twenty minutes.

“How’d you do that so fast?” asked Melvin.

“That’s how we are,” explained Leeola.

“When we see chaos...” began Betty.

“...we organize and catalog,” finished Marge. “It’s in our nature.”
They help Melvin with his play, they help him with his baseball card collection, they suggest books for the spelling bee, and science fair, and tv quiz shows. He gets a part-time job at the library when he’s in high school. He writes them when he’s in college. And later he comes back to work there, right where he started.

The book is basically a love letter to librarians — deserved, yes, but it feels a little pandering. On the other hand, who doesn’t enjoy a love letter? I know I do.

Mo’s Elephant & Piggie Books

There Is a Bird on Your Head!If you’re going to buy your beginning reader one present this holiday season… then buy Magnetix! (One present? C’mon.) Okay, but if you’re going to buy him or her, say, two or three presents, then certainly consider the Elephant & Piggie series from Mo Willems. These books for the earliest readers will have you and your child in stitches while the learning just slips in.

Since the books are not that new, and I’m such a Mo fan, you may wonder why I haven’t mentioned them before now. Well, I had committed to doing a tri-review of the four titles with the fantastic team at Seven Impossible Things. In like, August. Delays ensued, other projects were pursued, Robert’s Snow intruded, but the in-depth review is now up and ready for your personal enjoyment. It is a thorough and even intellectual review — well, disregarding the use of the words dude and WORD. It includes the following sentence, which took four days to germinate in my brain and come into flower on my drive to work:
Now, I don’t think that Mo woke up one morning and said, “I’m going to write a set of beginning readers that addresses the psychological ambivalence of today’s parents who want to provide mature guidance to better enable the growth of their offspring, and yet are eager to embrace their own inner child — and in doing so, to embrace their actual son or daughter with a joyful and playful spirit.”
Where does this fantastic phrase fit in? Find out in the Elephant & Piggie review and see if Mo owes me lunch.

Yes, Twenty-One More Ways To Give A Book

Today’s re-posted list from last year again has some classic favorites and some often new-to-you 2006 highlighted titles along with a matching gift idea. If you’ve become inspired by the match-up game, throw out your titles and gifts in the comments. I’m very disappointed that I couldn’t think of a good gift match for some of my favorite books, including Clementine (other than a box of the fruit, which could be a huge disappointment to an eight-year-old), but it’s fun to try.

Speaking of book suggestions, before I turn you over to the list, let me point out that the new Edge of the Forest issue is up with a wonderful compilation of suggestions from the editorial board (me included). Check it out for more great ideas about books to give or just to read this holiday season. Among the other wonderful reviews, features and interviews, this issue includes my round-up review of four of the picture books nominated for the Cybil awards that also happen to be bedtime books. And I’ll be sure to read the interview with über-cool blogging writer Sara Lewis Holmes. She rocks.

Before I go, I must point out that right now, I have the best collection of posts ever on my front page. Three lists of books as gifts. A BACA rant, along with the announcement of BACA-brand material now available at the MotherReader store. A review of an incredible book by Grace Lin. The Carnival of Children’s Literature, with tips, tricks, and suggestions galore. And my tips on adding humor to your writing. Looking at this lovely line-up — if I do say so myself — I may never post again. Scroll and enjoy.



When the going gets tough, the tough get going... making more obsessive lists of books ’n stuff. I went back to look at some of my favorite books of the year — and ever — to see if I could match ’em up. I’ve already covered many of the ideas with the first list, but here are some more.
  1. Pair Mo Willems’ book Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus with a toy bus and a cargo truck.

  2. Pair The Moon with a flashlight and a promise for a nighttime walk or two.

  3. Pair new-classic Duck and Goose with a bright spotted ball (fans will know why).

  4. Pair MotherReader favorite The Day the Babies Crawled Away with a baby doll.

  5. Pair the funny wordless book Once Upon a Banana and a stuffed monkey — but show your sense of humor by throwing a banana into the gift bag.

  6. Pair silly beginning reader book The Monster in the Backpack with a cute backpack (monster additional).

  7. Pair classic A Bargain For Frances with a tea set.

  8. Pair the offbeat book Pecorino Plays Ball with a bat and ball. You can throw in a coupon book for practice sessions.

  9. Pair Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs with a kazoo.

  10. Combine sweet Jenny and the Cat Club with a red scarf (don’t worry if it’s too long — so is Jenny’s) and a black cat.

  11. Pair Clarice Bean Spells Trouble with a game of Scrabble, and some of your time to teach it.

  12. Pair a drawing book like Draw 50 Airplanes, Aircrafts, and Spaceships or Draw 50 Cats with a couple of nice sketch pads.

  13. Pair Phineas MacGuire... Erupts! with a science kit, or the next book in the series, Phineas MacGuire... Gets Slimed! with the slime science kit.

  14. Pair a spy-themed book like Steal Back the Mona Lisa! (picture book), The Case of the Climbing Cat (beginning reader), Harriet the Spy (chapter book) or Secrets, Lies, Gizmos, and Spies: a History of Espionage (nonfiction) with rear-view sunglasses and/or a fingerprint kit.

  15. Bigger girls like stuffed animals too. How about Hoot with an owl, The World According to Humphrey with a hamster, or Room With a Zoo with a puppy?

  16. Pair a magic book of your choice with magic tricks.

  17. Pair The Crafty Diva’s D. I. Y. Stylebook: A Grrrl’s Guide to Cool Creations You Can Make, Show Off, and Share or The Girls’ World Book of Friendship Crafts: Cool Stuff to Make with Your Best Friends with a gift card to a local craft store, and maybe some shopping and crafting time together.

  18. Pair Knitgrrl: Learn to Knit With 15 Fun And Funky Projects and/or Chicks with Sticks: It’s a Purl Thing with yarn, knitting needles, and a promise for some lessons.

  19. Pair Ductigami: The Art of Tape with... well, rolls of duct tape.

  20. Pair King Dork with a CD of The Mr. T Experience.

  21. It’s not really a toy or separate gift, but take a special book, like Wow! It Sure is Good to Be You (which is about an aunt loving her far-away niece) and make a CD recording of you reading it.

Original Twenty-One Ways To Give A Book (With Updated Links!)

Yesterday’s list focused on 2007 books. This re-posted list from last year has some classic favorites and some often new-to-you 2006 highlighted titles along with a matching gift idea. Tomorrow I’ll put up yet one more list, again with updated shopping links. Altogether, I hope these ideas make your holiday shopping more fun.



I can be a little bit obsessive. When I get an idea in my head, I can’t let go. And lists... oh, am I obsessive about lists. So after thinking about the idea of books as gifts and talking it over with my ten-year-old daughter about how to make it more exciting, we came up with a few ideas. Then I thought of a few more. And then I thought how cool it would be if I found some of the places these items could be found. And then the list took on a life all its own, after successfully taking over my life for most of yesterday afternoon and a good part of this morning. Now, while I don’t approve of Scholastic packaging trinkets with books to make kids buy them, in terms of gifts, I come down solidly in favor of pairing a book with something extra to give it that fun factor. The links to products are to make it easier for devoted online shoppers. Many things could be found cheaper at discount and even dollar stores. Anyway, here are some suggestions.
  1. Pair a classic Raggedy Ann or Winnie-the-Pooh book with its character stuffed animal.

  2. Pair a book with a related stuffed animal, like Where’s My Teddy? with a teddy bear. Or Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type with a stuffed cow — or if you prefer, a slingshot cow.

  3. Pair Bubble Bath Pirates or Beasty Bath with a cool rubber duck at Captain Quack... or hey, even a rubber duck version of the nativity.

  4. Pair The Snow Globe Family with a snow globe.

  5. Pair Lilly’s Big Day or Fancy Nancy with dress-up clothes.

  6. Pair Toys Go Out with a red bouncy ball, or a stuffed stingray or buffalo.

  7. Pair a nonfiction book about dinosaurs, like Boy! Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs, with a bunch of plastic ones.

  8. Pair Amazing Sharks! and A Shark Pup Grows Up for beginning readers and throw in a shark on a stick.

  9. Pair a book like The Spiderwick Chronicles with a gift card to a local movie theater to see the movie when it comes out.

  10. Pair a theme book like Katie and the Mustang with a horse charm and a satin cord from a craft store.

  11. Pair a theme book like Fairy Realm with a charm bracelet.

  12. Pair a detective book with a magnifying glass.

  13. Pair Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon with a homemade coupon for a visit to the Air and Space Museum (okay, this might only work around Washington, DC) or astronaut ice cream.

  14. Pair any book with another book from the bargain section, maybe something silly or crafty or gimmicky.

  15. Pair a diary-format book like Lucy Rose: Big on Plans (3rd/4th grade), Amelia’s Notebook (4th/5th grade), or The Princess Diaries (6th/7th grade) with a journal and a cool pen or two.

  16. Pair a book like Eragon or Charolotte’s Web with a gift card to rent the movie.

  17. Pair The Art Book for Children with watercolor paints or an art set.

  18. Pair Poetry Speaks to Children with hot chocolate, a mug, and a gift certificate for time to read it together.

  19. Pair a teen or tween poetry book with poetry beads, alone (provide some stretchy cord) or in a kit.

  20. Pair a special teen favorite with a gift card to Starbucks and a promise to talk about the book over coffee.

  21. Give a book all on its own, carefully picked and lovingly wrapped, with no excuses and no guilt.
Update: The list continues with Twenty-One More Ways to Give a Book!

Even Twenty-One More Ways To Give A Book

Last year, I came up with twenty-one different ways to give something extra — and yet related — with a book. And then I came up with twenty-one more ways. Now, it’s a new year with new books just brimming with gift-matching possibilities. So here are even twenty-one more ways to give a book this holiday season. I’ll be reposting the other two lists this week, with updated links. Of course, you can always give your book blogger buddies BACA logo mugs, T-shirts, and bumper stickers — now ready at the MotherReader store — with any non-celebrity book. But we won’t count that suggestion in the twenty-one.
  1. Take a bedtime book like The Bunnies are Not in Their Beds or At Night and add a personalized pillow.

  2. Give your favorite girly-girl Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy with dress-up jewelry and/or a fancy poodle and its own dress-up clothes.

  3. Give your rough little boy Pirates Don’t Change Diapers along with genuine pirate gear.

  4. Take sweet picture book Lissy’s Friends and pair it with an origami kit.

  5. Picture book stunners The Zoo or Pssst! would be perfect with a zoo animal collection or game.

  6. Taking a Bath with the Dog and Other Things That Make Me Happy is a book that deserves its own bathrobe and/or bubble bath.

  7. Looking for something a little offbeat? Maybe Cowboy and Octopus with a cowboy hat or an octopus.

  8. For business-minded kids, pair The Lemonade War with a coin counter bank.

  9. All the elementary school kids will love The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but you can pair it with tin wind-up toys for extra flair.

  10. Give Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little with um, Stuart Little.

  11. Give Kimchi & Calamari with a promise for a dinner out Korean style, or Italian style, or both.

  12. Perhaps Fabulous Hair with a hair accessory kit will make someone smile.

  13. Wrap up A Crooked Kind of Perfect with those excellent socks from the cover. (Maybe these are closer?)

  14. Treat a tween to Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf along with pink nail polish, lipstick, post-it notes, and special bubble bath, as mentioned in the book.

  15. How about Diary of a Wimpy Kid with a the Do It Yourself Journal?

  16. Or maybe Here Be Monsters! with a Nightmare Snatcher Journal.

  17. Or Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer with a fairy diary.

  18. Buy His Dark Materials Trilogy along with tickets to The Golden Compass.

  19. Give Young Adult book Beige with a mix CD of the songs in the chapter titles (or an iTunes gift card).

  20. Give Young Adult book The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl with How to Draw Comic Book Heroes and Villains (or an iTunes gift card).

  21. Match poetry books with poetry beads or magnetic poetry. Some 2007 suggestions: Animal Poems, This is a Poem That Heals Fish, Tap Dancing on the Roof, This is Just to Say, or Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems.

BACA’s Back, ALL RIGHT!

BACAAs president, I guess, of Bloggers Against Celebrity Authors, I try to live by the code that I created. Namely this:
As BACA members, we will strive to shun celebrity authors in the blogging world... We will, as members, avoid giving undue publicity to celebrity authors, with the possible allowance of subjecting said celebrity authors to scorn and ridicule.
Often I bypass opportunities to mention celebrity work. Other than my initial outrage about Jenna Bush writing a Young Adult book, I’ve remained quiet. At this point I have read the book, Ana’s Story, and the best — and worst — I’ll say is that I no longer believe that a ghost writer was involved.

But occasionally, along comes a book so wrong that I must employ the “scorn and ridicule” part of the BACA code. I’d be doing the community — nay, the nation — a disservice to do any less. It’s even forced me to take the MotherReader offerings to a new level, which you’ll see at the end of the post

The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z!So: The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z! by Steve Martin and Roz Chast. At first glance, such a wealth of possibility. Good title, for one. Steve Martin is an accomplished author of adult books that are pretty darn good. He’s a funny guy, a former wild and crazy guy. One can assume he’s a person in touch with his inner child.

Apparently, his inner child on hallucenogenic drugs.

I’m sorry, but as a children’s picture book, the book is bad. Bad, bad, bad. The rhymes are nonsensical, but not in that playful way that some writers can pull off. The text is more surreal, with a so-sophisticated tone. It’s hard to even pick the worst, so here’s a fairly random sample:
Clunky Clarissa, all clingy and clueless,
Left California and now she is shoeless.
WTF? On how many levels is this couplet just wrong? I’d say clunky as a body description is pretty disturbing. Clingy and clueless seem pretty adult to me, and shoeless is a pretty random rhyme for the sadly used clueless. Maybe it should have been a tip-off that several of the rhyming dictionaries wouldn’t match the word clueless with anything. Take a hint.

Another stellar writing example:
Pedro the puppy piled poop on his paws
And Papa Dog published his photo because.
Here, the inappropriate nature of this rhyme is supported by the illustration of an angry papa dog scolding Pedro while showing him the magazine cover of him proudly posing with poop on his paws. What kind of weird mixed messages are going on in this household? Can you say long-term therapy?

Which brings us to the illustrations by Roz Chast... Hmmm, don’t know that name. Hold on. Yes, New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. Of course, because I’ve always thought, “If only there were more New Yorker cartoons for kids.”

No, no, no! These cartoons are so wrong and sometimes even dreadfully inappropriate for kids. I’ll give her teeny, tiny props for managing to include lots of items in each illustration using the featured letter. But I can’t forgive using a drunk under the letter D. I’m not happy with the misspelled text in the balloon, “Kids! Kome back! Have some kosher kasha! I kovered it in ketchup!” or on a book on the floor, “Inglish for Idiots.” Overall, I hate that the cartoons are definitely from an adult world — even when children are featured — and are presented with a surreal quasi-sophistication that is NOT FOR KIDS.

And yes, I meant to shout that, because one thing that will force me to employ my powers of snark is when people market books to children that are NOT FOR KIDS. And all the BACA sirens are wailing because (1) people are buying this book (how sad), and (2) it would never have been published if it weren’t coming from a celebrity.

Hey, I’m not happy about this myself. I like Steve Martin. I think he’s a talented man — as an actor, yes, but I was also willing to cut him slack as a writer based on his adult books, which were pretty good. Man, he was even awarded at the Kennedy Center Honors last night.

The official CafePress MotherReader store!But I have to say it, and I have to say it loud: BACA OFF KIDS’ LIT! (That goes double for you, Roz Chast.) If you need to say it too, the MotherReader store is now open.

(The post title would be better sung to the tune of “Backstreet’s Back,” just in case you missed the reference.)