105 Ways to Give a Book

The Case for KidLitCon

When I go to Book Expo America, I say hello to Scott Westerfeld as he signs my book. When I went to KidLitCon Seattle, I joined him at lunch where we talked about his presentation about illustration as a strong component of middle grade and young adult literature. I think we also talked about preferred lunch meats. It was awesome.

When I go to book festivals, I spent a lot of time passing my friends as we head to different talks or signings and we promise to catch up "soon." At every KidLitCon, I spend the time with my friends - old and new - as we attend a select schedule with plenty of time for conversation, both during and around the event. No one is pulled to attend this publisher function or that committee meeting. It's all our time.

When I go to the ALA convention, I pick a few sessions that sort of cover what I want to learn. At KidLitCon, everything is what I want to learn because it's either blogging or kidlit or some combination. Plus it's being presented by the best people I know online.

When I go to any of these big shows for books, I come home excited, but overwhelmed. I am overloaded with books and less certain of my place in the world of children's literature. It's like the intensity of shopping for Christmas, where you might like the decorations and the exhilaration, but it's all so much. Instead, KidLitCon is like the Christmas Day with family and food and a few well-chosen gifts.

When I go to other conventions, I hold the real book in my hand. You know, the one I've been waiting to read that is finally out as an advance reader copy and I have it. It's pretty cool.

But when I go to KidLitCon, I hug the real people that I've known online forever. You know, the ones I've been reading for seven years and they are finally in front of me, exactly the same as they are online. It's extraordinary.

Register for KidLitCon 2013 and I'll see you there. I promise.
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Thursday Three: Facing Fear

Three new picture books that address fear at some level. Three good ones too. Remember these when Cybils nominations open on October 1st.

The Black Rabbit
by Philippa Leathers

Candlewick Press 2013
The Black RabbitWhen Rabbit comes out of his burrow to a bright sunny day, he isn’t alone. Frightened of Black Rabbit, he runs away, finally losing his large, dark counterpart as he enters the deep, dark forest. Where he runs into wolf! But the attack of the wolf is thwarted, “Because there, standing in the sunlight behind Rabbit, was the Black Rabbit.” So little rabbit makes peace with his shadow. That Rabbit never really figures out that it’s his shadow makes his original fear more real. He’s not scared of his own shadow, so much as he’s scared of something big and unfamiliar. But when real danger is at hand, it puts other things in perspective. A great story about fear, about shadows (for your light and shadow science storytimes.) and just a nice read aloud. Soft watercolor and ink illustrations add to the charm of the story.

That is NOT a Good Idea!
By Mo Willems

Balzar & Bray, 2013
That is NOT a Good Idea!Presented like silent movie but with color, a fox spots a goose and asks her for a stroll, to his kitchen, and then to inspect his pot of soup while in alternating pages yellow chicks yell versions of “That is NOT a good idea!” that grow in intensity. But the goose had a plan all along and turns the tide on the fox in a kind of dark ending. Well, for the fox. The chicks have no problem, because they DID try to warn him. I’m not sure how the goose is the chicks mother. Adoption? Baby sitter? Or did Mo make an artistic choice in portraying baby geese like chicks? In any case, it's an interesting turn on fear where it turns out to be not what you thought. Honestly, not my favorite of his books, but a fun read aloud.

The Dark
by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Little, Brown and Company 2013
The DarkOpen on a picture of a boy looking up with trepidation out the window where the sun is setting and the simple words, “Laszlo was afraid of the dark.” A somewhat spooky set of pictures shows all the places the dark creeps into the house – down the stairs, in a closet, behind a shower curtain. The house tour ends in the basement where the dark spends most of its time "pressed up against some old, damp boxes and a chest of drawers nobody ever opened. At night, of course, the dark went out and spread itself against the windows and doors of Laszlo’s house.” The texture of the words give the dark a leading role as an entity, and then it really is a thing of sorts, calling to Laszlo, having him venture down to the basement in the darkest part of night and open the bottom drawer where… there are a collection of light bulbs for his nightlight. The dark also tells him in a long bit of text unlike anything in the picture book before and unlike anything in most picture books I've read, exactly why Laszlo doesn’t need to be afraid of the dark. Brilliant combination of author and illustrator make this an unusual and most perfect book.

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Poetry Friday: "Wake Me Up"

Certainly more relevant in the song-as-poetry series than last week's The Fox (but c'mon, wasn't that one fun?) is a tune I heard on the radio and ran inside to google. Since I get most of my cooler music from my teen daughter, it was exciting to find something on my own. So from Avicii, here's "Wake Me Up:"
Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
I can't tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start
They tell me I'm too young to understand
They say I'm caught up in a dream
Well life will pass me by if I don't open up my eyes
Well that's fine by me
So wake me up when it's all over
When I'm wiser and I'm older
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn't know I was lost
It's an interesting storylike video too.

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Teach Mentor Texts.

Thursday Three: Clever Picture Books

I wish I had a better theme for these picture books, because no one searches for the keyword "clever." But hey, that's what they are and I feel like sharing them now. So there.

Lovabye Dragon
by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Randy Cecil

Candlewick 2012
Lovabye Dragon“Once there was a girl, an all-alone girl, in her own little bed, in her own little castle, who didn’t have a dragon for a friend.” But there is also a dragon out there waiting for a little girl. The princess's sad tears form a stream that wake up the dragon, who follows them to the girl, and they are immediately, perfectly best friends. Not a lot of plot or conflict to this tale, but it’s sweet in its simplicity. There’s a dreamlike quality of the story and the illustrations. The repetitive words, rhymes, and room under the text make this a good beginning reader book as well as a charming bedtime – or anytime – story.

The Chickens Build a Wall
by Jean-Francois Dumont

Eerdsmans, 2013
The Chickens Build a WallA hedgehog shows up in the middle of a barnyard, and the animals are confused by this new animal – especially when he rolls himself into a tight, unmoving ball. When he has disappeared the next day, the chickens get paranoid about the threat the creature represents. A rooster who wanted some attention from the hens, takes control and suggests that they built a wall about the henhouse. But they left the hedgehog inside, sleeping in the straw. Since it takes all summer for the rooster to dig him a way out, the chickens get used to him. “Meanwhile, the hens got used to the hedgehog. And the hedgehog wasn’t afraid of the hens anymore. And so he stayed.” Clever story about acceptance and insecurity that doesn't feel heavy-handed.

This Moose Belongs to Me
by Oliver Jeffers

Philomel, 2012
This Moose Belongs to MeWhen a moose comes into his life, Wilbur explains the rules of being a good pet. The moose is better at some of the rules than others, and it soon becomes apparent to the reader – and eventually Wilbur – that perhaps this moose is nobody’s pet. In fact there is a lady who has another name for the moose, even as Wilbur insists “this moose belongs to me.” With a (perhaps lucky) heroic act, Wilbur is able to forgive the moose and accept his freedom. Cute story with a gentle humor and interesting illustrations. I use “interesting” because of this statement of the artist, “The art for this book was made from a mishmash of oil painting onto old linotype and painted landscapes, and a bit of technical wizardry thrown in the mix here and there.” Fun book.

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Poetry Friday: "The Fox"

Honestly, this is a stretch even for me in the song-as-poetry series, but it's so freakin' awesome that I can't keep it to myself. This song is a techno cross of "Gangnam Style" and a Wiggles video with a huge helping of psychotropic drugs. And while I still can't decide if its sincere or satire, I know it's absolutely brilliant. Because, yeah... what does the fox say? So from the middle of the song, "The Fox" by Ylvis:
The secret of the fox
ancient mystery
somewhere deep in the woods
I know you're hiding.
What is your sound?
Will we ever know
Will always be a mystery
What do you say?

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Author Amok.

Thursday Three: Reading Help

With my kids going back to school this week, I updated this post I did at PBS Booklights about helping your child with reading during the year. It's broken it down to the three people involved in your child's reading development - the teacher, the child, and yourself. Here are ways to help each.

1. Helping the Teacher
With class sizes growing and budgets shrinking, teachers need the help of parents more than ever. While you can't present the state-regulated curriculum, any parent can help with building reading skills. If you're good at reading aloud, offer to come in and read to the kids once in a while. Better yet, ask about that state-regulated curriculum and find books at your library that can support it. When my children were studying Native Americans, I brought in folktales to read. How Chipmunk Got His Stripes is one of my favorites. When they learned about insects, I brought in Farfallina and Marcel. You can also use the storytime to bring more depth to issues the teachers don't have time to cover in class. During the 2008 election, I was happy to share Grace for President.

There may be other ways you can help if you're not comfortable being a storytime presenter. Our school had a pull-out program for children who needed a little extra help with reading. Volunteer parents would bring the kids out in the hall for fifteen minutes, select beginning reader books, read along with them, and send the books home for them to practice in the week. This take-home reading program worked very well in giving kids a little extra attention and needed very little training. Volunteer parents also came in on occasion to help the children write stories, to run small book groups, and to prepare materials.

2. Helping Your Child
Other than potty training, I've found nothing that has tested my patience on a continual basis more than the beginning reading stage. There are wonderful successes, often followed by the third laborious rendering of the word then. It can be very frustrating for both of you. So you can help your child by remembering that she will benefit most in her reading growth by mixing up the type of reading she does. Books that are easy for her will reinforce the feeling that reading can be just pure fun. Books that are in her comfort zone will give her confidence of her skills. Books that are a challenge will push her learning to the next level. In fact, while this approach seems somewhat natural for the early reading stage, it applies throughout a person's reading life even to adulthood. It is one of many reasons that kids (and grown-ups) are never too old for picture books. Please don't be one of those parents I see in the library telling their first graders that they can't bring home a "baby book." A better approach is to let that first grader bring home some books that he chooses, and some more challenging books that you choose.

3. Helping Yourself
My last sentence leads nicely to one of the main ways that you can help yourself, and that is to avoid The Reading Game. You know it. It starts with something like, "We can't tear Jacob away from Harry Potter. What is your child reading?" This parental competition starts early ("Lizzie was smiling at us at two weeks) and goes on ("Jamal made All-Stars again!") and on ("Well, Reggie is going to Harvard, but I'm sure that's a good school too."). You'll find the competition in many factors of a child's growth, but verbal skills and reading level seem to dominate. In all my years as a parent, no one has ever asked me if my kids can do long division or sing in tune or climb a tree. But from the first year, I've been asked to compare what words they were saying and then what words they recognized and then what words they were reading until it was all about reading and levels and books.

There is only one way to win this game, and that is not to play. Don't let yourself get sucked into the competition, don't let yourself feel bad, and don't let yourself push your kid based on these conversations. Also, don't let yourself get too proud either, because kids have a way of surprising you. My oldest daughter had a slow start to reading, made methodical progress in first grade, and suddenly made a huge leap in reading level. Now she's looking at Ivy League schools. My younger daughter started reading at four years old and plodded along thereafter. In high school, she's still not much of a reader, yet can memorize scripts almost instantly. My point is that The Reading Game is pretty meaningless anyway, so it doesn't pay to take it seriously.

To be fair, there are a lot of honest exchange between parents about what their kids are doing that is helpful in knowing when to give a little push and when to wait it out. But I trust that you know the difference. One makes you feel connected to another mom or dad, and the other makes you feel like a failure as a mom or dad. Looking for those connections and avoiding those competitions will be one of the best ways that you can help yourself.

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