Archive for the ‘children’s books’ Category

When You Reach Me

This is a terrific book. FLS gave it to the Snork Maiden, who read it and liked it, and then I plucked it out of the back seat of the car when I had to take the bus to the downtown library and wanted something to read.  It’s that rare middle-grades novel that (like the book to which it pays homage, A Wrinkle in Time) is utterly accessible, beautifully structured, lucidly written, and riveting.  Miranda is a New York City sixth-grader in 1979 who grapples with ordinary sixth-grade concerns about friendships and family, but also with a mystery: a tiny note mysteriously appears in her library book, followed by others.  Her unknown correspondent knows details about her life before she knows them herself, but she doesn’t understand why the notes are asking her for help, or what they want her to do.   

This book won the Newbery Medal last month, and I guess there’s been a lot of blogging about it and it’s been on the NYT bestseller list, but what with all the trips to urgent care (it’s been that kind of a month, this February) on top of everything else, I am coming late to a lot of things these days.  But that’s no reason not to tell you how good it is.

By the great horn spoon!

Via Snickollet, a link to the new online newsletter Notes from the Horn Book, brought to you by the people who produce the Horn Book, the classic (84 years old!) guide to books for children.  Awesome.  (Snickollet notes that a friend of hers is on the masthead at the Horn Book.  So’s a friend of mine from grad school–one of their reviewers.)

In honor of this link, these are a few of the books I secretly, or not-so-secretly, wish the Snork Maiden would someday love as much as I do–books that she could possibly discover this summer, even.  She has already fallen for Harry Potter, of course, and more recently, Harriet the Spy.  I can’t tell you how happy it made me to see her attaching a pen, a flashlight, and other tools to a belt in imitation of Harriet.

  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  • Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
  • The Westing Game
  • The Long Secret
  • Nobody’s Family Is Going to Change
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
  • The Borrowers
  • Emil and the Detectives
  • The Great Cheese Conspiracy
  • Henry Reed, Inc.
  • Misty of Chincoteague
  • The Saturdays

I’m at Starfleet Academy today, proctoring exams.  Not that I don’t have plenty of grading to do, but I might bring a nice book instead.

Horton hears a…

An editorial in The Onion, “Stop Making Movies About My Books”:

On the fourteenth of March, in towns nationwide,

In every cinema, multiplex, on every barnside,

Gleamed another adapting of one of my books,

CGI-ed and digitized by another sly crook.

(The rest here.)

First Indian on the moon

Took the Snork Maiden to the library over the weekend to get some books for her “Multicultural Fair Project.”  She wants to learn about a Native American people who are local to this area.  (I am conscious of not wanting to be one of those parents who take over their kids’ projects: a classmate’s mom remarked to me the other day, “We have to finish our project this weekend.”  But I do go as far as forbidding her to get all of her sources from the Internet.)  As New Kid recently remarked, U.S. schoolchildren are getting a slightly more accurate, respectful and nuanced portrayal of Native American life than they did a generation or two ago (of course, there probably wasn’t much of anywhere to go but up).  The juvenile 970 (General History of North America) shelves in our public library certainly bear this out, sporting multiple series of books about Native American peoples, such as The Library of Native Americans and Lifeways.  Two of the three books she got were published within the last five years.

I am doubly ignorant of her topic, having attended elementary school in the 1970s, and also having grown up in a different state and learned about its history in my elementary-school curriculum instead of that of the state in which we’re currently living–which means that my knowledge of state history is inferior to that of most fourth-graders.  (Do you remember the fellow from Ohio who became the first person in 59 years to notice that the Ohio statehood date carved into the Lincoln Memorial was wrong?  “It’s common knowledge that Ohio joined the Union in 1803,” he huffed to the New York Times.  “Anyone who has had seventh-grade history would know that.”  Well, maybe, although chances are you are more likely to know it if you are actually from Ohio.  Not that people from Ohio don’t visit the Lincoln Memorial in droves, of course.)

Anyway, I also notice that there’s a museum/interpretive center run by this particular tribe less than 45 minutes away, so–roadtrip!  Probably on Saturday, as it closes about an hour after school lets out. 

Looking up titles to pick the title of this post also reminded me of all the good reviews garnered by the amazingly multitalented Sherman Alexie’s new YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, so I’ve ordered a copy.  (For me; the Snork Maiden probably isn’t old enough.) 

And for the younger set, the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature looks like a terrific resource.  (The blogger, Debbie Reese, says that Alexie has a second YA novel in the works, titled Radioactive Love Song.  She also recommends the website Oyate for information about Native portrayals in children’s literature.)

A wrinkle in time

Farewell to Madeleine L’Engle.

The obit posted by The New York Times last night began:

Madeleine L’Engle, who in writing more than 60 books, including childhood fables, religious meditations and science fiction, weaved emotional tapestries transcending genre and generation, died Thursday in Connecticut. She was 88.

Perhaps an editor’s eye, like mine, was caught by the use of “weaved” instead of the more usual past tense “wove,” for this morning the lede was changed (and improved) to:

Madeleine L’Engle, an author whose childhood fables, religious meditations and fanciful science fiction transcended both genre and generation, most memorably in her children’s classic “A Wrinkle in Time,” died on Thursday in Litchfield, Conn. She was 88.

Although I loved A Wrinkle in Time (truly one of the great novels for young people; enjoyed, but didn’t reread, its sequels), I read just a few of her other books.  Her first novel, The Small Rain, is a sad and quirky bildungsroman which I read several times in my early twenties; older, I have also returned occasionally to Two-Part Invention, the story of her marriage to Hugh Franklin–a moving, often funny book, written after her husband’s death. 

Anyone out there who’s read all of her work, or almost all?

Moominsummer madness

Snork Maiden

Finally came up with a name for my daughter: The Snork Maiden, from the Moomintroll books. 

I have five boys roaming my house right now, along with the Snork Maiden: our twelve-year-old neighbor from across the street, modeling his Darth Vader costume; the Snork Maiden’s cousin, whom I’ll call Snufkin (also a Moomin reference); two five-year-old neighbors; and one four-year-old neighbor.   For the moment, all are getting along well, either playing with Legos or watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban(and if you think that might be a little scary for the smaller ones, rest assured that our TV is small and unintimidating). 

In about ten minutes, I have to gather everyone up, make them find their shoes, send the other kids home to their houses, and take the Snork Maiden and Snufkin over to Snufkin’s place, where we’ll babysit Snufkin’s new tiny brother so that his exhausted parents can go out for a quick dinner and fall asleep with their noses in their spaghetti.

One of the great features of this summer, not yet mentioned by me, is the acquisition of a brand-new nephew (five weeks old, Stubb’s brother’s son) and an even more brand-new niece (even more brand-new, my sister’s daughter).  Brand-new niece is in the hospital, lightly toasting under the bili-lights to get rid of a case of jaundice.  I’ll be going over there to check up on them all after Stubb gets home. 

I’d like to blog about the administrative b.s. I’m currently negotiating at 2YC, but the short version is that I probably shouldn’t be teaching at such an essentially exploitative institution in the first place. 

The Wolf and the Crane 

  A wolf who had a bone stuck in his throat hired a Crane, for a
large sum, to put her head into his mouth and draw out the bone.
When the Crane had extracted the bone and demanded the promised
payment, the Wolf, grinning and grinding his teeth, exclaimed:
“Why, you have surely already had a sufficient recompense, in
having been permitted to draw out your head in safety from the
mouth and jaws of a wolf.” 

In serving the wicked, expect no reward, and be thankful if you
escape injury for your pains. 

(Source: Aesop’

Do not read unless you want spoilers (not the title of a book, but I have to warn you)

I’m finished.  Couldn’t help it.  We went to the hoo-ha at our local Borders, and I took the kid home at 12:30 while Stubb waited for his turn to line up by wristband color.  He got home around 2, apparently.  I was asleep.  But I woke up at 6 this morning and the book was lying on the table…

The spoilers, such as they are, are in the (brief) rest of the entry.

Continue reading

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Can you hear it? It’s the whoosh of millions of readers’ attention being pulled away from the other books they might have read this weekend and sucked right into the last Harry Potter.

I realize that many of the people who will be reading it wouldn’t have been reading anything else this weekend anyway (there was a New York Times article recently–sorry, it’s already migrated to the Times Select archives–about how the Harry Potter effect on children’s overall reading doesn’t seem to be as powerful as it’s been given credit for). But since I’m reading more or less all the time anyway, it’s a funny feeling knowing that pretty much all I will be reading this weekend is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ll be setting aside a nonfiction book by a writer I’ll be working with later this summer, a couple of books of poetry by a writer I have to introduce at a reading, and the latest issue of the New Yorker.

I’m going to make a few predictions after the jump. Follow me there if you’re interested. But in the meantime: Are you going to be reading Harry Potter’s last installment this weekend? What’s going to go unread while you do? Continue reading

The bat-poet

My neighbor S. told me that the last couple of nights, she and her family have watched several bats flit around their front yard.  “Come out at 8:45 if you want to see them,” she said.  I was a little skeptical that the bats would be that punctual, but at 8:43 we were on their porch with S.’s family and another family from across the street—and the first flutter of wings came a minute or two later.  I couldn’t tell whether they were “little brown bats, the color of coffee with cream,” as Randall Jarrell describes the bat-poet in his children’s book, because it was the right time of day for seeing bats: dark on the ground but with some light still in the sky to see their silhouettes against.  They hustled flappingly around the yard, across the street, over neighbor R.’s roof, and back again.  They seem to love S.’s yard, perhaps because it is rich in mosquitoes?  Then they were gone.  According to the internets, the adult bats come out to find water and then to hunt.  They may be feeding young bats not yet able to fly. 

One of the smaller children stood on the edge of S.’s porch with a Batman cape on, flapping it.  All of the kids were pretty quiet, watching the bats.  This summer I’ve been imagining them in the future, saying to one another, Remember when M. drained her pool and let us all play in the two feet of water left in the bottom of it?  Remember the ice-cream truck with the jingle that was out of tune?  Remember how we used to play soccer across three front yards?  And now: Remember how we used to sit on S.’s porch when it got dark in the summer and watch the bats fly around?

Family dancing

Knight Bus

Stubb and the still-unpseudonymed kid are out at the movies (seeing Ratatouille, not HP).  I haven’t seen the kid all day, since I left home before she got up, and since I am just stopping at home to answer the most pressing email in my inbox before going out to do a couple of errands at Target and Kinko’s, it’s possible I won’t see her before she goes to bed.  We sometimes have some pretty weird scheduling issues, what with Stubb’s work and mine, but not seeing the offspring during any of the waking hours is pretty unusual for me.  Today it’s because I got up early to go pull a tutoring shift at 2YC before my afternoon class at GU.  Fortunately, this overlap only lasts a few weeks.

And tomorrow I have just one morning class at 2YC and then Stubb and I are going to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  Yay.  Going to the movies together in the daytime (or any time) is a treat.  In fact, the looking forward to it is one of the best things about having to plan dates together. (Did our parents’ generation not do this?  My parents didn’t have a standing Saturday night date or anything like that.  But neither did they call it a “date night” when they went out to dinner or a movie.  Can somebody tell me when that terminology kicked in?  Do couples without children use the term?)

The photo is from a while back, when the offspring and I went to visit the Knight Bus on its tour across the U.S. promoting Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for Scholastic.  The turnout was impressive–it was the only HP phenomenon of its type that I’ve seen so far, so I’ve nothing to compare it with, but it was just touching to see all the librarians (almost all the tour stops were libraries) running around with their witches’ hats on, and all the excited kids and parents.  My offspring drew a red scar on her forehead with a watercolor pencil (those are excellent for facepainting and for drawing on yourself and your friends) and I sketched a pair of glasses around her eyes.  She improvised a costume, too, and borrowed an unsharpened pencil for a wand.

[Edited because I couldn’t get the darned picture right.]