105 Ways to Give a Book

Kidlit Con 2010

I haven’t talked about Kidlit Con 2010 because I really, really want to go. That statement may seem nonsensical — unless you consider my luck lately, whereby I seem to have offended the universe. To proclaim my intentions to attend the coolest conference of the year seems to tempt fate.

But tempt I must, as the date is closing in. October 23rd, to be precise. My hesitation was not due to my everyday superstition, but the real possibility of my mother’s health care needs conflicting with the conference dates. At this point though, I’ve committed to speaking, sent my registration, arranged for a roommate (Hey, Maureen!), and booked my flight. It’s happening, people.

With all the conferences, seminars, and events out there in children’s and young adult literature, you may wonder why Kidlit Con 2010 is top on my priority list. Well, you might wonder that if you haven’t been to one of our four other conferences.

While I love getting the books from BookExpo America, and I love meeting the authors at the American Library Association’s Convention, at Kidlit Con I get to connect with the people that are my blogging best friends. They are my people. We talk about books and blogging, for sure. But we also talk about movies and shoes and politics and families and vacations and writing and... everything. It’s so easy to interact because we all know each other from our blogs, and being able to visit in person is just fun.

I hope you’ll join us this year. Take a look at the website for information about the weekend, and of course, registration itself. I’ll be arriving on Friday afternoon, and would love to meet my peeps for coffee, cupcakes, or whatever afternoon food/drink fits the Minneapolis scene. See you there?

Knuffle Bunny Free

In June I talked at PBS Booklights about the anticipation surrounding the latest in the adventures of one special, stuffed bunny. As the book drops today, I’ll share that post here.

Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected DiversionKnuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion
by Mo Willems

Certainly if I went to the Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical with my tween daughter, then I must have a fond spot for the books. (Okay, and Mo — no secret there.) The plot of the picture books is simple: girl has bunny, girl loses bunny, girl finds bunny again. But it’s not about the plot. In the first book, the subtext is the frustration of a toddler in not being understood (“Aggle Flaggle!”) and the helplessness of the parent in not understanding. The reward at the end is Trixie’s first word — and by extension the family moves to the next level of communication. In the second book, the loss of the bunny is surrounded by a conflict with a peer and ends with a discovery of real friendship. The parent conflict contained within is that of mothers and fathers struggling with encouraging strength and independence, yet wanting to save our dear children from any hardship. The third book sees Trixie on a trip to Holland to see her grandparents, and losing Knuffle Bunny this time exposes the whole family to the idea of When Hope May Be Lost. And then what it means to grow up — both for the child and for the parent watching the transition. A lovely, bittersweet conclusion to the series — and dare I hope, to an extended, full-length Knuffle Bunny musical.

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Thursday Three: Surprise Endings

Another installment of a repost from PBS Booklights, one that ties over to a fuller discussion of the last book on the list.

Because I want to leave the reading experience to the potential reader — whether child or adult — I don’t tend to reveal spoilers in my reviews, even in picture books. But today I’m bending that rule to talk about three surprise endings that gave me pause.

The Grasshopper Hopped!
by Elizabeth Alexander, illustrated by Joung Un Kim

The Grasshopper Hopped!The grasshopper does indeed hop from different settings with the help of pull tabs and a cute, quick storyline. The art is sweet, the text is slight, and the tabs are workable. The grasshopper does seem make some questionable hopping choices, including into a refrigerator and the ocean, but that’s part of the fun. At the end of the book though, he hops into a frog’s mouth. GULP! Wow, I thought to myself on the first read, that seems kind of dark. But the page turn reveals a safe grasshopper and a smiling frog and the assurance of “Just kidding.” I think the surprise ending works here because the age of the intended reader, who isn’t likely to be thrown by the idea that yeah, the frog would eat the grasshopper. And the surprise stayed with me, though I don’t think that it’s a real issue.

Barry, the Fish with Fingers
by Sue Hendra

Barry, the Fish with FingersIt’s a boring life under the sea, until Barry the fish shows up with fingers stuck on his fins. He explains to all the other fish how many things he can do with these new fingers, and soon everyone wants them. The question of supply and demand is answered with a timely drop of a box that falls to the bottom of the ocean and allows all the fish to enjoy this new discovery. The box also reveals to the reader that the fish fingers are fish sticks — which is funny and clever, but at the same time a little disturbing. Which, of course, is what makes the reveal funny and clever. I liked the book and the art, but the ending kept coming back to me. Should I explain to my four-year-old niece that the ending is funny because the fish are wearing fingers made of other fish — dead, cut-up fish made into sticks for kids’ dinner? See when I write it out like that, it feels kind of wrong. But yet, I don’t know that it’s so wrong.

It’s a Book
by Lane Smith

It’s a BookAt the very beginning of this book, we are introduced to the characters — a monkey, a mouse, and a jackass. That’s the tip-off. The rest of the story involves a lack of understanding of what a book is, does, and requires — i.e., not hardware, not tweeting, and not charging — as the monkey keeps up the refrain that “It’s a book.” The book trailer that portrays this part of the story got a lot of rave reviews for the cleverness of the concept, perhaps tweaked with the irony of this ode to the non-technical being on a video or presented through the Internet. The official press and media reviews of the book itself were very positive. But here’s the thing: The book ends with the line, “It’s a book, jackass.” Okay, I get the joke in that the donkey clearly is being a fool in not understanding what a book is and the monkey is clearly tired of explaining it and yes, we all know that jackass is both another word for a donkey and a expression for a dummy, so it’s allowed to be in a picture book. Right? I don’t know. I’m having some trouble with this, and it’s not just me. I did notice that the Amazon reviews are very divided, with many parents uncomfortable with the ending. And I wonder if all the positive reviews are looking at this in that higher level of literature as Art, as opposed to actually reading this book to a preschooler. Or a classroom of kids. Or having to explain it to a parent at the front desk of the library. Or is this book really for older kids, even if the marketing and text might indicate differently? I asked this question early in the summer on MotherReader with some great replies in the comments. Check it out and let me know what you think, here or there.

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Cybils Judges Announcements

The announcement of all of the judges and panelists for the Cybils started on Friday, and today my own category of Fiction Picture Books is featured. Congratulations to all the folks selected throughout the Cybils, and a special shout-out to my crew. I’m looking forward to working with you, and here’s a bit about me.

I did want to take a moment to paraphrase what Anne Levy, Cybils founders and administrator, said about selecting the judges: It was really hard. We had about twice as many candidates as positions. All of the organizers take it very seriously, trying to place people in their first- or second-choice categories, while trying to get a balanced group in a variety of ways. When we can’t place someone in our group that we had in last year’s, we’re often recommending them to another category. But that’s still tough, because it is pretty likely the other group also has more volunteers than they need and they are doing the same thing.

While we look at a number of things — including blog, occupation, experience, credentials, and more — I’d advise potential candidates to think of their email request to the Cybils as a résumé. Follow the instructions given on the site. Tell us a bit about yourself. If you want consideration for a category that isn’t represented on your blog, tell us why. Show some enthusiasm if you feel it — and if you don’t feel it, you probably shouldn’t apply. Highlight your credentials — which can be as simple as being a parent of preschoolers. That certainly matters to me. Do this even if you think we know you, because if the person who does know you well has to pass for some reason, than the other organizers need to get a little flavor of who you are.

I would have loved to take everyone who wanted to work in Fiction Picture Books, but I had to narrow my choices down. Even so, I expanded my panelists from five to seven in order to accommodate a few more bloggers. And here they are:

Panelists (Round I Judges):
Judges (Round II):
Congratulations!

Guess Who Was at Johns Hopkins Yesterday

I have talked about my mom’s stroke and the subsequent finding of a large, benign tumor in her brain. She is recovering from the stroke quite nicely, although when she is anxious or tired, her symptoms of confusion and impaired cognitive functioning become more pronounced. The problem now is a large tumor that is encasing one of her optic nerves and pressing on the other. Along with being in a pretty inaccessible section of the brain, this is a situation that requires extreme specialization.

Like the kind you’d find at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Where we were yesterday.

At the time of the shooting.

If I’m counting my blessings, I will say that the standoff occurred in the hospital, not the outpatient center we were visiting. I will also express relief that the doctor who was shot is likely to recover from his injuries.

But for me, personally? Oh, come on! Is all of this not hard enough for me and my mom? We haven’t had one visit to Johns Hopkins that’s gone smoothly. All of our drives there have taken twice as long as they should — by which I mean over two hours instead of one — which has been exhausting. The first day we were late, but they were able to see us. But the doctor was also late, so we ended up spending all day in the office. Leaving us with perfect timing to encounter a huge storm on the Beltway, giving us a three hour drive home. Totals were seven hours spent for a forty-minute appointment.

The next visit we stayed in a hotel overnight in Baltimore to be sure to be at the early appointment, but there was a mix-up with the hotel calling our cab, so we made it there just on time. Following protocol we had been chastised about before, we took a number and didn’t check in until they called our number. That’s when they told us that the time we arrived was the time scheduled for the MRI, and so by waiting to be called, my mom had missed her slot. They thought they might be able to fit us in late afternoon. I almost cried. There was a bit of luck when another appointment was suddenly canceled as we sat there, but it was too late for my anxiety level, which was already through the roof. We had another terribly long drive home.

So for this visit, we did everything right. We left super early, counting on a two-hour drive. We double-checked the appointment and the map. We arrived at the outpatient center at 11:25 a.m., where I dropped off my mom to wait inside while I parked the car. By the time I walked back at 11:30 a.m., they were putting the Center on lockdown and wouldn’t let me in. I finally was able to convince a guard to walk me in to find my mother, but they wouldn’t let us proceed to the fifth floor for her appointments. No, we had to go outside and wait for ninety minutes where we heard reports of the situation from the other patients and visitors. The police helicopters overheard also clued us in to something really big going down.

The office called me to reschedule, but I told them that we were outside, my mom had come from Virginia Beach for this appointment, and if that building opened before 5:00 p.m., we were coming in. With the specter of keeping my mom with me for another week to wait for another set of Thursday appointments, I pretty much would have scaled the walls with my mom on my back to get us in to see those doctors.

Once we did get in, we had a pretty easy time of the scheduling as they had told most of their afternoon patients not to come. However, we did not get the information we needed to start on our treatment plan, because our main doctor didn’t compare the old MRI with the new one before we came, and then didn’t have the right files by the time he saw us at 4:00 p.m. And he was kind of cranky about it, too. So, after all of that, we left with little more information than we had coming in. Oh, and since we stayed in the hospital for a quick dinner — Baja Fresh! — before driving home, our total time in the parking garage went thirty minutes over six hours, for which our fee went from $6.00 to $11.00. Just a final indignity to the visit.

But not that final, because we also had a two-and-a-half-hour drive home, as we seemed to be hitting rush hour traffic still at 8:00 p.m.

Clearly I have in some way offended the Universe, and would like to make amends. If anyone has suggestions on how to do so, I’m open to them.

For now, I’m taking the rest of the day off after this vent. And then taking my mom back to Virginia Beach tomorrow — along with my ninth grade Girl Scout troop — because I don’t do anything the easy way. God, give me strength.

Thursday Three: Classroom Reading

Yeah, I know. I say I’m back to blogging, and then am just as scattered as I’ve always been. I may have made that announcement a little prematurely, as my mother has been staying with me for the past ten days, and it has really thrown off my mojo. Anyway, here’s another repost from PBS Booklights, on reading aloud in the classroom setting:

With school starting, parents may find themselves presented with the opportunity to share books in the classroom as guest readers. It is something I’ve done in my kids’ classrooms from preschool through fifth grade, and have always enjoyed. While parents are usually aware of reading with expression and showing the book to the students, there are other tips that can help you shine as a guest reader:

1. Try it out
Before reading a book aloud to a class, try it on your own child. As you read, notice factors of the book that are relevant reading it aloud to a group. Is it appropriate in length and topic for the age group? Is it is keeping your child’s interest? Are there any words or concepts that need explanation? Are there key parts where you might pause the story for impact or to ask questions? Are the illustrations big enough that they could be shown to a group? Are you comfortable reading it? Some of these questions seem obvious, and yet I’ve seen a teacher grab a book from a shelf to read it to the class with apparently no knowledge that it was about the death of a family pet. Oops! I’ve also had parents come into the library looking for a book to read to the class that same day, so I know that these are mistakes that people make. But you don’t need to make them. Go in prepared and you’ll feel better.

2. Plan the order
If you are reading multiple books, keep in mind the order in which you’ll present them. Read longer books first while the kids are at their maximum attention. If you have a funny book, save it for last. If you are reading on a theme — like seasons or apples or ocean life — start with the more informational book, and progress to a more storylike title. Also, if the book is not working well, allow some abridgment. You can also allow for a break where the kids can talk about their favorite part, share a connection, or ask a question. Remember that kindergartners and first graders tend to be unclear about what constitutes a question, but will take any chance to raise their hands to share something.

3. Bring a back-up
You may arrive with your carefully chosen selection to find that the librarian has read that book the previous day — which the kids will be delighted to tell you. Always have an extra book that you can use instead or can toss in the mix if you have more time than you think. If you don’t have enough books on the particular topic of the day, have a seasonal or a school story. I’m particular to A Fine, Fine School, because it’s a lightly funny book that translates to a variety of ages, but there are many other books that would work.

Most of all, have fun!

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The Checklist Manifesto

In 2001 at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Peter Pronovost did a little experiment. You see, a number of patients would get infections from central lines put in to, you know, help them get better. But the infections would, of course, make the patients worse. So he came up with a five-step checklist for putting in a central line with basic directives, which were as simple as washing hands with antibiotic soap.

Pronovost then asked nurses to observe doctors for a month and record how often they carried out each step. In more than a third of patients, they skipped at least one. After recording that explosive bit of data, for the next year the hospital asked and authorized the nurses to stop the doctors if they saw them skipping a step on the checklist.
The results were so dramatic that they weren’t sure whether to believe them: the ten-day line-infection went from 11 percent to zero... So they followed patients for fifteen more months. Only two line infections occurred in that entire period.
This remarkable story is from the book The Checkist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande. The author’s theory is that many jobs — especially in the medical profession — have become so complicated that training and intelligence aren’t enough to achieve the best results. He offers a solution in the humble checklist.

The main comparisons he explores are two professions that have incredible amounts of potential scenarios, along with incredible consequences for failure — physicians and pilots. What he finds in his research is a huge difference in how each profession handles the problem, with implications for change in many industries. While doctors tend to bristle at being followed with a checklist — it’s why the nurses had to be authorized to stop the doctors in the above example — pilots embrace their checklists, which are standard to the airlines. In fact, pilots are taught not to go with their instinct as problems arise but to turn to the checklist first. That doesn’t mean that instincts, training, and quick thinking aren’t valued for the pilots. Instead, the idea is to take the guesswork out of basic steps and protocols so that the pilots can do their jobs with more focus.

The author shares another story from the airline industry, about a plane that suffered a complete engine shut-down in January 2008. Luckily, the plane landed safely enough that the passengers were fine, but the industry was puzzled as to the cause. The possibilities were researched, a theory was proposed, and new guidelines were established for particular flights. A new checklist was distributed and within a month of the recommendations, pilots had it in hand and were using it. How do we know? Because in November 2008, the same situation presented itself and the pilots were able to use the new checklist to recover the engines.

While new procedures can take years to establish themselves in medicine, compare that to this scenario of identifying a problem, recommending a solution, and distributing the information within a year. The author also shows uses for the checklist in financial and legal industries, but all have shied away from the solution as being too simple.

Will this next generation of thinkers be able to get beyond that mindset? I hope so, and that’s why I would recommend this book to high schoolers in hopes that they can change the way we approach problems in a society only growing in complexity.

Nonfiction Monday is hosted today at Rasco from RIF

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Thursday Three: School Days

Since Booklights is closing down due to funding issues, I am going to be moving my past posts (starting with this one) over here for archival purposes. So the good news is that you’ll see a steady flow of reviews from my Thursday Three segment. The bad news is that you may have already seen them. But repetition is the strongest form of flattery... or something like that.

Kindergarten Cat
by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Alice Busby
Kindergarten CatThe kindergarteners come to school to find that their room has its own cat — and what a smart kitty she is! She may not know her colors or numbers, but she listens to the teacher’s lessons and responds. And boy, is she cute. While many books approach kindergarten with a list of all the things kids do, this slight story allows the reader to see what happens in a more natural way. The illustrations are engaging with a childlike feel, rich colors, and a diverse class. The rhyming couplets seem a bit strained, but it’s unlikely to bother the target audience, who will be thrilled with the idea of a cat in a classroom as even a remote possibility.

The Exceptionally, Extraordinarily, Ordinary, First Day of School
by Albert Lorenz
The Exceptionally, Extraordinarily, Ordinary, First Day of SchoolAs the new student, John, describes his old school to his new librarian, everyone gets the idea that it may not have been the least bit ordinary. Particularly the readers, who are treated to the pictures that accompany John’s often ordinary descriptions. For instance, while he simply talks about his school being really old, we can see that it is a bizarre castle with talking ravens and hungry stone lions. There is also a sidebar with definitions and facts and related notes about items in the pictures. The oddities, facts, and little jokes in the illustrations make this a fun book for older kids heading to school.

Junie B.’s Essential Survival Guide to School
by Barbara Park
Junie B’s Essential Survival Guide to SchoolWhile the Junie B. Jones books begin with her as a kindergartener, everyone knows that books titled just Junie B. indicate that she is in first grade — and so we find in this book of school tips. Fans of the series will enjoy the usual banter and antics of Junie B. (though superfans may miss the artwork of Denise Brunkus). The advice isn’t all that vital, tending more toward, “Do NOT NOT NOT pour chocolate milk from your thermos on the head of the person in front of you!” But actually, that chapter summary of riding the bus is right on target: “Sit Still, Behave Yourself, And Be Glad You’re Not Walking!” At the end of each chapter is a section for the reader to add his or her own thoughts or drawings on the topic — like favorite clothes to wear or funny ways to get to school. Overall, the book isn’t — despite the title — an essential Junie B. purchase, but is a fun way to approach back-to-school with a light touch and a bit of learning. (Because the little parent secret of Junie B. is to see what NOT to do so as to learn and discuss what one SHOULD do.)

For more back-to-school books, look at this earlier Booklights post.

Links to material on Amazon.com contained within this post may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which this site may receive a referral fee.

Back to School Blogging

I didn’t announce a summer blog break, though I pretty much took one. It’s actually just one in a series of “I didn’t” statements for the summer. A series that is weighing me down, and holding back my return to blogging.

I didn’t review the summer books I intended to cover. I didn’t really read many books, for that matter. I didn’t talk about my week in New York, even though it was wonderful. I didn’t talk about the end of PBS Booklights, even though it was terrible. I didn’t use the time to format my strategy for this blog or KidLitosphere Central. I didn’t work to get my picture book manuscript published. I didn’t announce the call for Cybils judges, even though I’m the organizer again for Fiction Picture Books. I didn’t promote KidLit Con 2010, even though I plan to go and hopefully to speak. I didn’t answer many emails or participate in many discussions. I didn’t read Mockingjay until yesterday.

I didn’t get my house in order — literally or figuratively. And to be honest, I didn’t do all that much for my mom over these months. I mean, I talked to her a lot on the phone. Visited a few times. Arranged a few medical appointments, five of which are in the next ten days at Johns Hopkins Hospital. But it’s not like I was on dedicated family medical leave.

Knowing “I didn’t” has made it harder to get back to blogging. Maybe in the same way an ice cream binge ruins a dieter’s progress or an injury derails a newbie’s exercise program. But the longer I break from writing, the harder it is to start again. And I don’t feel better for not blogging, but less tethered to the commitment of it.

As it turns out, I’m not at my best untethered. So I’ll do as the dieters, exercisers, and rehabbers do and take it one day at a time. One post at a time. As my teen and tween head back to the work of the school year, I’m getting back to the work of blogging. Because the truth for all of us is that the work is easily countered by the time hanging out with friends — whether at recess, in the halls, or online. As they headed back to school today, groaning about waking up early and anticipated homework, they also put on their coolest clothes and talked about friends. I’m doing the same with my coolest clothes (have you seen my newish template?) and talking about you, my friends. Back to blogging we go.

Links to material on Amazon.com contained within this post may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which this site may receive a referral fee.