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Susan: March 2010 Archives


Books for Passover

Posted by Susan on March 29, 2010 at 12:00 AM in RecommendationsSeasonal Books
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Tonight is the first night of Passover, and the perfect time for me to share some of my favorite Passover books with you. Of course, as mentioned a few weeks ago- they might be hard to find at your library today, but there's always next year.

A Tale of Two Seders.jpgI really enjoyed Rabbi Mindy Portnoy's new book, A Tale of Two Seders. It talks about how a child with divorced parents is able to celebrate in different and special ways with both of them. Plus, it also includes many different Passover traditions and some great charoset recipes from many different countries and cultures.

I always recommend the Sammy Spider books written by Sylvia Rouss and illustrated by Katherine Kahn for Jewish holidays. They're fun to read, creatively illustrated with great holiday descriptions and they always introduce a new concept such as colors, shapes or the five senses. There are three books for Passover: Sammy Spider's First Passover, Sammy Spider's Passover Fun Book and Sammy Spider's First Haggadah. I also like The Mouse in the Matzah Factory by Francine Medoff that explains how special handmade shmurah matzah is made.

For next year's Passover, Jaqueline Jules has a great new board book called Going on a Hametz Hunt due to be published in September. In simple, rhyming text it makes a fun counting story and Rick Brown's illustrations visually guide you to turn the next page.

Matzah that Papa Brought Home.jpgThere are several other books I'd like to recommend, but they all seem to have gone out of print, even those published in the last few years. Check your library (in a few weeks) for Passover! by Roni Schotter, This is Passover illustrated by Santiago Cohen, The Magician's Visit: A Passover Tale retold by Barbara Diamond Goldin and The Matzah that Papa Brought Home by Fran Manushkin.

Looking for a cookbook you can share with your kids? Try the Jewish Holidays Cookbook by Jill Colella Bloomfield and Matzah Meals: A Passover Cookbook for Kids by Judy Tabs and Barbara Steinberg.

There are many Haggadah options ranging from simple to complex. No matter which one you use, read it out loud to your children before the seder. This will help them prepare and know what to expect. If you're invited to someone else's house for Passover, ask if you can borrow their Haggadah to help get your kids ready.

Happy Pesach! Do you have any favorite Passover books? I'd love to hear them.


The Monkey in the Middle

Posted by Susan on March 24, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Authors and IllustratorsBook EventsClassics
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Sit back. I'm going to tell you one of my favorite children's book publishing stories.

No, wait. I already did. Go and read it or this post won't make much sense. I'll wait here.

What took you so long?

Journey that Saved Curious George.jpgIsn't that an amazing story? (I mean the Curious George story, but I love all three of them.) It's been a favorite of mine for a long time, even before I read Louise Borden's wonderful book: The Journey That Saved Curious George.

I happened to be in Manhattan this past weekend and luckily stumbled across an extraordinary exhibit at The Jewish Museum that thoroughly documents the Rey's four month trip from France to the United States via Brazil. There are countless original sources including the journals that H.A. Rey meticulously recorded. There's the hand drawn wedding invitation and incredibly creative New Year's cards. There are the letters from various publishers. There are the videos of interviews with the Reys. But there's so much more than that.

You get to see the artwork.

How a Book Is Made.jpgCreating picture books is a very involved process and there are numerous steps that have to happen in order for you to hold the finished book in your hands. For some great children's picture books with details and illustrations of every step, see Eileen Christelow's What do Authors Do? and What do Illustrators Do? and Aliki's How a Book is Made.

Original picture book art is the actual illustration that's used to make the image you see in the book. It's magical stuff. No matter how well you know the book, the real artwork will always surprise you. It will be smaller or bigger than you expected. It will have many more or less colors than you expected. It will have colored pencils where you thought there was paint. It will have texture and fabric that you're not able to fully appreciate in the book. At the same time, the image is so familiar to you that it feels like an old friend.

The remarkable thing about this exhibition is that there are nearly eighty original works. That's right, almost eighty. Usually, if you're lucky, you'll get to see a few pieces at a time or maybe even ten. But with this exhibit we get to see so much more than that. We get to see our friend George in pictures you'll recognize immediately. And not just him. There's Katy Kangaroo, Pretzel, Spotty and Whiteblack the Penguin and many other delightful characters that the Reys created. What does it look like? Hop on over to the exhibition's main page to see a tantalizing sample.

Okay, hop back. What struck you the most? For me, it was the physical shape of the of the pictures... which is the most obvious in the picture of George swinging from the trees and eating bananas. I'm so used to seeing the white pristine background but in reality the pictures were cut out (much more than in that one image you saw) and glued on to the pages. It makes perfect sense but was so surprising to see nonetheless. George himself was fairly small suspended in the middle of a huge white space. Once I got over that, I wanted to spend all day looking at the artwork. It was so beautiful I really can't put it into words.

This exhibit showcases many treasures from the extensive archive of the Rey's papers at the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. Take a look at the H.A. and Margret Rey Digital Collection. It's fascinating.

Curious George Saves the Day:The Art of H.A. and Margret Rey is at the Jewish Museum in New York City through August 1, 2010. It's appropriate for all ages and completely accessible to kids. There's a comfy reading area filled with many of the Reys' books which are begging to be read aloud.

Percy Jackson cover artIf you can't make it to New York, the best substitute is The Journey That Saved Curious George which contains lots of the archival material found in the exhibit.

And keep your eyes open for picture book art. Ask around. Maybe your local library (particularly if it's a large, central, urban library) has a few on the wall of their children's room. Maybe you'll find a picture or two in a children's bookstore. Watch for exhibits that come through your city. Visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts.

The artwork above that you're drooling over is for sale at the legendary Manhattan children's bookstore: Books of Wonder. It's all of the original cover art work for Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. The artist is John Rocco. There are also pictures you may not have seen before that were created for the deluxe edition of The Lightning Thief. You can see better pictures here and even order your own prints.

Whenever or wherever you find it, it will always be magic.


Library Tip: Check Out Your Books Early and Often

Posted by Susan on March 17, 2010 at 12:00 AM in LibrariesSeasonal Books
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Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Did you visit your library this week to find a book for St. Patrick's Day? Did you find anything? I'm guessing that you didn't. Or if you did, it was an old battered book that was published many years ago.

St. Patrick's Day.jpgHow can I be so telepathic? Because at every single library, on every single holiday, the relevant books are all checked out by the actual date of the holiday. And this doesn't just go for holidays. If you go into my library today, you'll find that all the books for spring are checked out. Pretty soon, as caterpillars start crawling onto the sidewalks, every book about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly will be gone from our shelves.

Here's a tip: Never wait until the last minute to find seasonal books. Check them out a month before the season or event (even earlier than that is fine too). If you look at the Christmas books in November, you'll find all the newest and most popular books available for your perusal. If you wait until the middle of December, you'll find the dregs that other people decided no to check out.

I can certainly understand the desire not to spread out the holiday. However, most libraries lend books out for three weeks (with the option of renewal for another 3 weeks.) Many libraries let you renew twice, which means that if no one is waiting for the book, you can have it for up to nine weeks (over two months).

Don't forget to be considerate and remember that you're not the only one looking for books on that subject. Try not to take more than one or two holiday books so that there's enough for everyone else. (Unless, of course, you check out all the Passover books in September, when no one's looking for them). Also, as soon as you're done with a seasonal book, return it to the library so other people can check it out. For example, even though the St. Patrick's Day books got checked out already, we were able to find a couple that recently came back to give to the people who were looking for holiday books this week.

Where is the Green Sheep.jpgIf the library is completely out of the books you're looking for, be creative. A book like Mem Fox's beautifully crafted Where is the Green Sheep? works perfectly well. Or try one of Tomie dePaola's Irish folktales.

My library has the holiday books in the regular collection, but not every library has the shelf space to do that. If yours doesn't, ask the librarians where the books are when they're not on display. Many libraries keep their holiday books in their storytime rooms.

Have a lovely holiday.


Board Book Suggestions

Posted by Susan on March 10, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Board BooksRecommendations
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We here at Booklights are thrilled to hear that our fellow blogger Jen will be having a baby soon! In her post announcing the big news, Jen said that she would love to hear book suggestions for babies. I'm more than happy to oblige (for Jen, and for everyone else who has a baby, knows a baby, or who has met a baby).

baby photoIf you're trying to figure out what to purchase as a gift, check out this How to Buy a Book for a Baby guide I wrote a few years back. It's got the answers to a lot of frequently asked questions such as what to buy for a third (or first baby), as well as specific recommendations, how to buy great books in every price range and which formats to choose.

For this post, I thought I'd give Jen and everyone else a list of board book recommendations, although you can certainly buy hardcover books that the babies will grow into. First, let's start with the previous board book posts that have appeared on Booklights. Here's a post I wrote about board books, why to use them, and why you should be a cautious consumer when you buy them. This post tells you how to have fun with two of my favorite board books, and it inspired this one about diverse board books. Pam also wrote a great post with board book recommendations.

Here's what not to buy: Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? These are almost always given as baby shower gifts. All of them are excellent board books, though, and feel free to buy them if you are absolutely positive that the parents don't already have them.

Here's some books that are less likely to be purchased by other people:

Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann is a wonderful picture book that adapts very gracefully into a board book. 10 minutes till bedtime.jpgSee this post about how to find every last thing hidden in the illustrations of this book. After you've found them all, try Rathmann's other terrific board book 10 Minutes till Bedtime. The gorilla is hiding on every page and so is the banana. Can you find the zoo keeper's house or Officer Buckle and Gloria?

The Lady with the Alligator Purse: Remember this song? The book is great too, and is so much fun to sing. For other fun board books featuring songs, Raffi has some great versions of old classics, such as The Wheels on the Bus.

Elmo's Big Lift the Flap Book: I'm not just mentioning this book because this blog is on PBS, home of Sesame Street. It's truly an excellent board book, and one the best lift the flap books available. It's sturdy, over-sized, has great variety and pictures, and I've never met a child who wasn't immediately mesmerized by it.

No discussion of board books would be complete without mentioning Sandra Boynton. It's not just that her books are funny. Barnyard Dance.jpgIt's not just that her books are very purposefully written for babies. It's not that the writing and illustrations are good. It's that her books are funny and well written and well illustrated and great for babies. Adults can read her books again and again without going crazy, something very unusual in the board book field. Start with Barnyard Dance, Moo, Baa, La La La! and Blue Hat, Green Hat... which will lead you to many more.

Nina Laden has several baby friendly board books. My favorite is Peek-a Who?

Click Clack abc.jpgBoard books have come a long way in the last decade. The quality has dramatically improved as more publishers are creating books for babies, as opposed to just abridging old classics and jamming them into a board book. Check these great contemporary books out:

Click, Clack, ABC and Click, Clack, 123 are both fun to read, plus they feature Betsy Lewin's buoyant illustrations that jump right off the page.

EyeLike Nature Leaves.jpgBabies love looking at other babies and there are many board books that fulfill that need. But, usually, the pictures are rather bland. The EyeLike Nature books solve that problem. The pictures of the babies are great and the background pictures are even better. Excellent use of photography and color make these books feel so realistic that you want to jump in the leaf pile.

Babies and toddlers love to play with their books. Lift the flap and touch and feel books are great for this age. But be careful. Babies can do amazing damage to board books (nope, they're not indestructible). Keep an eye out for books that have sturdy pages that make it hard(er) for a baby to destroy as they lift the flaps or feel the texture.

Fuzzy Fuzzy Fuzzy well loved version.JPGI mentioned Sandra Boynton above, and her book Fuzzy Fuzzy Fuzzy was the first book my son ever showed interest in. As hard as it is to write a novel, think about how difficult it is to write a coherent, funny and educational book with only 26 words (or less). Here's my Fuzzy Fuzzy Fuzzy review, and see the picture on the right to see what my copy of the book currently looks like. Like I said, nothing is truly indestructible.

Choo Choo.jpgThe irony is that while board books are made for babies and need to be sturdy enough to (attempt) survival from their demanding clientele, the stiff pages make it hard for a baby turn the the pages. Petr Horáek (yes, it's Petr, not Peter) has written several delightful board books with attractive shaped pages that are very easy for babies to turn. Plus, they feature great onomatopoeia and bold, colorful illustrations. Take a look at Choo, Choo to see what I mean.

Baby says peekaboo.jpgDK's Peekaboo! board books have lots of things that make them perfect for a baby who enjoys playing with their books. They include touch and feel; large, sturdy flaps; easy to turn pages; and bright colorful pictures of babies, all in the same book.

The most solid and sturdy touch and feel books (that I know of) currently on the market are Usborne's That's Not My... series. By this point, there are so many titles in this series that you can pick any animal or object you want such as That's Not My Kitten, That's Not My Train or That's Not My Monster. As an added bonus, a little mouse is hiding (in plain sight) on each page.

Dear Zoo.jpgI love Rod Campbell's Dear Zoo and Karen Katz's books such as Where is Baby's Bellybutton? have great flaps and simple illustrations, but the flaps are easy to rip off. Try those a little later after your baby has (mostly) gotten over their tearing apart books phase.

It's lovely to see so much progress being made in this genre. Several publishers have really stepped up to the plate with excellent board books.

What are your favorite board books? Which ones do your kids enjoy the most? Jen and I would love to hear all about them.

The adorable photo at the top of this post is of my kindergartner. He just walked in, looked at the picture and pointed out that it looks nothing like him.


The Good Doctor

Posted by Susan on March 3, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Authors and IllustratorsPicture Books
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Dr. Seuss (aka Ted Geisel) wrote 63 books for children. Looking for one of them? You won't find them at my library today. They're all checked out.

Michelle Obama reading A Cat in the Hat.jpgWhy the run on Dr. Seuss books this week? As Jen talked about yesterday, Dr. Seuss' birthday (March 2) is also designated as Read Across America Day. People from all walks of life read books to children on this special day and many of them select Dr. Seuss books to read.

Ted Geisel's popularity isn't limited to March by any means. As someone who has worked in bookstores and libraries, I've found that in both venues Dr. Seuss books are consistently the most frequently checked out, purchased, and requested picture books and early readers. His books just have that special, magical something that we all look for when we read a children's book. As President Obama said in his proclamation for Read Across America Day yesterday, Dr. Seuss' "imaginative tales have helped generations of children learn to read, and they hold a cherished place on bookshelves in homes across America."

When Ted Geisel started out, success seemed a long way off. After illustrating two books written by Alexander Abingdon, (Boners and More Boners) Ted decided to strike out on his own, but it didn't go so well. Twenty seven publishers rejected And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, the first chidren's book that he both wrote and illustrated. Here's how the book finally ended up being accepted:

"On the blustery day he learned of his twenty-seventh rejection, Ted fought back frustration and anger and decided to return to his apartment, stage a ceremonial burning of the now tattered manuscript, and get back to cartooning for adults. As he walked grimly along Madison Avenue, he was hailed by Mike McClintock, who had been a year behind him at Dartmouth.

And to Think That I Saw on Mulberry Street.jpg"What's that under your arm?" McClintock asked.

"That's a book that no one will publish. I'm lugging it home to burn."

McClintock smiled. Three hours earlier he had become juvenile editor of Vanguard Press. "We're standing outside my new office," he said. "Come on up and let's look at it."

Half an hour later McClintock took Ted in to meet James Henle, editor of Vanguard Press. Henle agreed to publish the book."

(From Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel by Judith and Neil Morgan, page 82, hardcover edition).

Ted Geisel drawing.jpgHere are some of my other favorite Dr. Seuss facts:

- He won the Pulitzer Prize, two Oscars, two Emmys and the Peabody Award, but the most famous American children's book illustrator never won the biggest award in his own field: the Caldecott medal. He received Caldecott honors for McElligott's Pool (1948), Bartholomew and the Oobleck (1950) and If I Ran the Zoo (1951).

- At the end of college, he was voted the "least likely to succeed" by his fellow members of the Casque and Gauntlet honor society at Dartmouth. Clearly his high school friends at Central High School in Springfield, Massachusetts were more omniscient: they voted him Class Artist and Class Wit.

Green Eggs and Ham.jpg- His editor, Bennett Cerf, bet him fifty dollars that he could not write a book with a vocabulary of fifty words. The result was Green Eggs and Ham, which in 2001 was ranked by Publisher's Weekly as the fourth-bestselling English-language children's book of all time. Bennett Cerf made good on his bet, but I have a feeling that Ted made more than $50 from the book.

- He was the Berenstains first editor. He wasn't wild about their idea to write books about bears, though. He said they'd never sell. Obviously they did and after their first book The Big Honey Hunt was published, they wrote 16 more books for Ted's Beginner Books company. He was the one that shortened the author's names to "Stan and Jan" from Stanley and Janice and he also named the series "The Berenstain Bears." For more information about how Beginner Books was started, see Terry's great post on the subject.

The advertisement for And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street urged: "Booksellers, hitch on! This is the start of a parade that will take you places!"

Truer words were never spoken. The parade of Dr. Seuss books stretched from Mulberry Street in 1937 to Oh, The Places You'll Go! in 1990. Three more books were published after he died in 1991. The parade is still going on; almost every one of Dr. Seuss' books are still in print, which is truly a remarkable thing. You can find a full list of his books here.

Dr. Seuss Collection.jpgIf you're ever in San Diego, be sure to check out The Dr. Seuss Collection at the Mandeville Special Collections Library at UC San Diego. It contains everything from the original art for nearly all of his books to notebooks he doodled on in college, fan mail and Seuss products.

What's your favorite Dr. Seuss book? Which ones do your kids love? What is the first Dr. Seuss book that you remember yourself or your kids reading? Did you read a Dr. Seuss book for Read Across America Day? What's your favorite Dr. Seuss memory. I'd love to hear all about it.

The Eye Book.jpgI've got my own brand new Dr. Seuss memory from something that happened after I finished writing this post. My son (who loved seeing all the pictures in the post) asked to read Dr. Seuss books last night. And for the first time, he read a book he'd never seen before by himself from beginning to end! It was The Eye Book by Theo. LeSieg (one of Ted's pen names). A great book for beginning readers.

The photo of Michelle Obama reading The Cat in the Hat yesterday is from Getty Images. The photo of Dr. Seuss drawing sketches for the television special How the Grinch Stole Christmas is from the Wikimedia Commons.

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