Q&A and Cover Reveal: After Zero by Christina Collins

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/04/20/qa-and-cover-reveal-after-zero-by-christina-collins/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=31233

A lot of librarians are familiar with books in which a character, maybe the main character or a sibling or a friend, does not speak. The term I always thought applied to this situation was “selective mutism”. It’s so common in books that when I keep track of the books I read on Goodreads I’ve actually made it its own category. Turns out, I may have had my terminology wrong all along. Today we sit down and talk with Christina Collins. Christina suffered from low-profile selective mutism as a child and has written the book After Zero, informed by her knowledge of what that entails. I was able to ask Christina some questions that cleared up a lot of my confusion and assumptions:


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Betsy Bird: Selective mutism is so common in children’s novels that it is sometimes considered a subject heading in libraries. But while a lot of books contain characters that exhibit signs of selective mutism, not a lot is known about it above and beyond the fiction. From your own experience, what do you feel are some of the common misunderstandings connected to children that go through this?

Christina Collins: Great question! I’m glad you brought up the subject heading, because there is still confusion around that classification. Selective mutism actually isn’t common in children’s novels. Traumatic mutism is common, and it is often confused with selective mutism, though the two are crucially distinct. Indeed, many novels featuring traumatic mutism have been mis-assigned the subject heading “selective mutism” in library catalogues. In these novels, a character suddenly stops speaking in all situations as a post-traumatic response to a shocking incident, such as witnessing a loved one’s death. Sounds familiar, right? Selective mutism (sometimes called situational mutism), on the other hand, is an anxiety condition referring to someone who chronically doesn’t speak in certain situations where speech is expected, such as school, despite speaking freely in at least one other situation, such as home. There’s no causal link between selective mutism and trauma, and this condition can affect anyone, including kids with a loving family like I had.

So, to answer your question about common misunderstandings, the confusion between traumatic and selective mutism is definitely a big one. Another is the assumption that kids with selective mutism are choosing not to speak. In truth, their silence serves as an involuntary defense against extreme anxiety, which may cause them to physically tense up or freeze. A third misunderstanding is that kids with selective mutism are just very “shy”; shyness is not paralyzing in the way that selective mutism is. Mistaking selectively mute behavior for shyness, defiance, or a post-traumatic response can mean that children won’t get appropriate help and thus their condition may grow worse, even to the rare point where all situations eventually trigger silence (known as progressive mutism).

BB: How common is selective mutism? And do you feel that children’s books reflect the reality of the situation accurately, or are there misconceptions they inadvertently reinforce?

CC: Selective mutism primarily affects young people—reportedly about 1 in 150 children and 1 in 1,000 adolescents.[1] However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is an underestimate because many cases go unrecognized. As for children’s novels that portray selective mutism, I’ve found only a dozen or so middle grade and young adult novels in the English language featuring a character identified as having selective mutism; just over half of those characters are protagonists. Most of the books help to correct the misconceptions I mentioned above, which is wonderful.

However, they overwhelmingly reflect a specific kind of experience—diagnosed, high-profile selective mutism—thereby overlooking undiagnosed and low-profile experiences. More specifically, the characters in these books are usually already aware at the start of the novel that they have selective mutism, and they’ve been receiving professional treatment for some time. While this experience is absolutely worth telling, so is that of undiagnosed kids who are struggling alone in confusion, unaware that what they’re going through has a name and convinced that they’re just “weird.” Furthermore, the books generally focus on high-profile selective mutism, but low-profile patterns exist and are just as important to represent. What’s the difference? Well, each person’s experience is nuanced and unique, but generally, individuals with selective mutism speak freely in at least one situation; however, in certain other situations, those with a high-profile pattern don’t speak at all, and those with a low-profile pattern may manage to speak minimally when absolutely necessary but don’t initiate contact or make requests. Both experience high anxiety levels in these situations, but low-profile selective mutism is more likely to be overlooked or dismissed as shyness because it’s less obvious.

BB: Let’s talk a little bit about your own book AFTER ZERO. You yourself suffered from low-profile selective mutism as a child. How did your experiences influence the creation of the book?

CC: Yes, while After Zero is a work of fiction loosely inspired by the Grimm tale “The Twelve Brothers,” the moments in which my protagonist Elise experiences anxiety about speaking are inspired by my past adolescent experience with low-profile selective mutism. As with many other kids and teens around the world, my struggle went unrecognized and undiagnosed, and understandably so, considering the lack of public awareness and knowledge of not only selective mutism in general, but also the differences between low-profile and high-profile selective mutism. I didn’t even encounter the term “selective mutism” until I was in college and had thankfully already overcome the worst of the condition on my own. Though my selective mutism fortunately never got as bad as Elise’s gets in the second half of the book, writing After Zero was a cathartic way for me to work through what I had experienced, drawing on memories from late middle school and early high school. I was later surprised to discover that none of the authors of novels I found featuring selectively mute characters seem to have had selective mutism themselves.

BB: What readership would you particularly like to reach with this book?

CC: I would love to reach kids who, like Elise, are struggling with anxiety and speaking, so they can know that they’re not alone, that help is available, and that their silence does not define them—that they are so much more than a textbook term like “selective mutism” or a label like “quiet.” I hope, too, that the book reaches readers of all ages who might know someone who has or had selective mutism, to hopefully foster empathy and raise awareness.

BB: Is there a reason you chose to write a work of fiction rather than a work of nonfiction?

CC: As a writer I’ve always gravitated toward fiction, but I also knew from the start that this book would be fiction because the idea for it came to me in the form of a retelling of a Grimm fairy tale, “The Twelve Brothers.” It did not end up as a retelling per se, but if you’ve read the tale, you’ll find most of its basic plot points in the novel. I’ve loved fairy tales since before I could read, but I discovered this one as a college student, shortly before I came across the term “selective mutism,” and the tale resonated with me for obvious reasons—it has a mute heroine. The tale seemed like a fitting pre-text for a modern story about a girl with selective mutism, so I derived the plot of After Zero from this tale while channeling some of my own experiences into the novel. Plus, I couldn’t resist a touch of raven-themed magic, which might broaden the book’s appeal to readers who normally stick to fantasy.

BB: Finally, the big question, what are you working on next?

CC: I can’t say too much yet, but I’m working on my second novel for Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, and I’m really excited about this one. It will be another middle grade, contemporary, standalone novel that tackles anxiety, this time concerning body image, a topic that’s just as important to me as selective mutism. Stay tuned!

[1] Source: Selective Mutism in Our Own Words: Experiences in Childhood and Adulthood by Carl Sutton and Cheryl Forrester


 

Many thanks to Christina for answering my questions. And now (drumroll please) . . . .

The Cover!

afterzero

Many thanks to Stefani Sloma and the folks at Sourcebooks Jabberwocky for putting me in touch with Christina and giving me this reveal.

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Review of the Day: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/04/19/review-of-the-day-the-parker-inheritance-by-varian-johnson/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=31274

ParkerInheritanceThe Parker Inheritance
By Varian Johnson
Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-545-94617-9
Ages 9-12
On shelves now.

The other day I was asked to come up with ten children’s book equivalents to Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen (which, should anybody ask you, is not for kids). To do this, I wanted to include a range of different kinds of books at different ages. Picture books and nonfiction titles. Early chapter books and poetry. And, of course, socially conscious middle grade novels (books for kids between the ages of 9-12). But as it turns out, books for young people that take a long hard look at systematic oppression in America in the 21st century are nine times out of ten written for young adults. On the surface this makes sense. Parsing the complexity of racist systems requires brains. Still, I wanted to include something on the younger end of the scale. Something that’s interesting and fun, but also manages to bring up some pretty serious issues at the same time. You can see where I’m going with this, and it shouldn’t surprise you that that middle grade novel I selected in the end was, The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. Until I read that book I’d never encountered a fun, casual middle grade puzzler that was, at the same time, socially conscious regarding the topic of race in America, with a clear, keen sense of how the past affects the present in every way. Come for the puzzle, then. Stay for the biting glimpse of America’s intolerant past.

Candice’s grandmother wasn’t crazy or corrupt or anything like that but try telling that to the residents of Lambert, South Carolina. About ten years ago her grandma used her position in the city to dig up some tennis courts on some kind of a treasure hunt. When nothing was revealed she resigned and helped raise her granddaughter elsewhere. Now Candice and her mother have moved to Lambert, temporarily, for the summer while her father attempts to sell their house after the divorce. Candice knows for a fact that her grandma was never the loon some people in town still consider her to be, and she’s even more convinced of this when she finds a mysterious letter in her old things. A letter that insinuates that there’s a treasure to be found if you just look deep enough into the past. Now with the help of the boy next door, Candice is off to clear grandma’s name, find the treasure, and maybe even save Lambert itself.

The natural comparison this book practically requires in blood is The Westing Game and that’s understandable. There are innumerable similarities. First and foremost, like Raskin’s classic, the clues aren’t linear or even all that comprehensible. This isn’t a book where each clue is neatly tucked away as a little rhyme in a little envelope, one leading to another. The letter contains all the clues and it’s up to the characters to pick that apart. There is good and bad to that. Unlike, say, an Agatha Christie book, the average child reader is not going to be able to figure out these clues on his or her own. You don’t read a book like this to actually solve the mystery yourself. That’s where the other readalike to this title comes in. As the action started to shift more regularly between Enoch Washington, Siobhan Washington, and other people from the past, to our present day heroes, I was reminded strongly of Holes by Louis Sachar. Think about it. The sins of the past have repercussions in the present day and it’s the kids that have to shoulder that burden.

As an author, Varian Johnson doesn’t make this book easy on himself. It would have been the simplest thing in the world to just “Mr. Lemoncello” it and be done with it. You know. Focus on the puzzle, include a single main character with a problem and some bit characters on the side, and keep focused on the goal. Instead, Mr. Johnson prefers to give not just his main characters depth, not just his side characters depth, but the state of the city and, let’s face it, 21st century America as well. The danger he runs in doing this is bogging the story down. He works in a boy who may or may not be gay, divorce, loving but intolerant grandparents, police brutality, the act of passing (and its long-term emotional effects), and much much more. At times it can feel like Mr. Johnson is throwing in everything and the kitchen sink into his story, but as you read on, the plot stuff settles into place. Personally, I read this book in fits and starts, and I can tell you that that is not the way to read “The Parker Inheritance.” This book requires a dedicated, steady read without interruptions. Otherwise you find yourself saying, “Wait. Who’s Siobhan again?”

The author also touches on topics that I’ve never seen any middle grade novel for kids discuss. Take the end of segregation. At one point the grandparents are explaining to our baffled heroes that when the black schools were dissolved it had an detrimental effect on the community. “…if you were black, Perkins was your school.” And they go on to mention that back then high school was like college to them and that it meant something to graduate from there. There are other examples. I’ve been looking for the middle grade equivalent to The Hate U Give for a while now and though this book doesn’t really veer too deeply in that direction, it does address issues of police and the abuse of adults in power. Oh. And it mentions that the Hoo family in The Westing Game is stereotypical. Good points all.

And I liked the character moments. Those little telling details that say so much more about a person than a thousand lines of text ever could. One great example comes in the description of Big Dub. Describing why he was a fan of tennis the book says, “He liked that he didn’t need to depend on anyone else to win a match.” The flashbacks to the past are interesting because in the present day you are seeing everything alongside Candice. You don’t know anything contemporary that she doesn’t know. The past is different. There the reader is omnipotent. You can get into the heads of every player, understand every motivation, and never be left in doubt of why they do what they do. The tradeoff for that kind of knowledge is that the author has to let you have everything in pieces with trust, on the reader’s part, that this is all going to make sense at the end. I am happy to report that though it’s a little shaky at the start, once the author gets going he really sucks the reader in. And, best of all, there’s not a single dangling plot thread left by the close. Plenty of questions for a sequel, oh yes indeed. But nothing dangling.

I’m going to ask you a question now, and I want you to take it seriously. Here goes. Should a book that discusses incredibly serious topics have a sense of humor? The answer to that question is one that I’ve been pondering for a long time. I don’t limit it to books either. What is the role of humor, whatever its bent, in documentaries or novels or anything really? We’re living in an age of peak comedy, but writing a book with serious themes, and then working in some humor, poses a definite risk. Too flippant and the tone of the book is off entirely. The goal of an author unafraid of levity is to use it to break tension, humanize the characters, and endear the written pages to the reader. Yeah it’s a risk, but it’s a risk worth running. The Parker Inheritance isn’t what you’d call a laugh riot, but it definitely keeps things light and, many times, amusing.

It’s all in the title, of course. The Parker Inheritance. It seems on first glance to be a reference to the actual monetary inheritance that would go to the person that solves the puzzle. Like a natural counterpoint to a title like The Westing Game (another story of rich men with multiple names and masks they hide behind). But take a closer look at that word. “Inheritance”. This whole book is about what we inherit from the past. We get the genes of our ancestors, sure, but we can also inherit their prejudices, views, and systems. Systems that ensure that some folks stay at the top and others at the bottom. I know almost no books that have found a way to clarify this point for young readers. Now I have one. It’s not a lot. Not nearly enough, but at least there’s one out there now. The puzzle may be impossible, but nothing about this book is implausible. The new required reading.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Notes on the Cover:

Pause for just a moment and admire this cover. Did you notice that all four main characters are featured? Look closely now.

ParkerInheritance

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Fusenews: Eat Your Heart Out, “Awful Library Books”

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/04/17/fusenews-eat-your-heart-out-awful-library-books/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=30951

LogoAs a librarian I know that reading aloud to children is necessary for their growth and development. And I know that periodically new parents that happen to be writers in other fields will come to children’s books through their offspring and suddenly be overwhelmed with the importance of reading. In cases such as these they will typically write articles that range from “Am I the only one out there that hates Maisy the mouse?” to “Golly! Books are good!”  Then they’ll say something about Dr. Seuss. Case closed. So I am not overly impressed when I see yet another article from a parent/writer on the topic. That said, Reading to Children to Save Ourselves by Daegan Miller is one of the finest pieces I’ve seen in a very long while on the topic. Along the way he makes a might strong case for the book The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I am now desperate to get my hands on this title. Well played, Miller. Expect the book to hit American shores via The House of Anansi Press in October, by the way.


 

My child does not care for competition. Not even slightly. When I present to her any kind of a writing or art contest she is immediately put off. You may know kids that are quite the opposite, however, and I have to admit that the Roald Dahl Imaginormous Challenge that is being offered to kid writers right now does sound appealing. Know a child that like to conjure up wild tales? This may be for them.


 

MoreBirdhouse1I spend an inordinate amount of time watching blogs with content similar to my own with a mixture of longing and envy. They’re just so friggin’ talented! Case in point, the ShelfTalker blog at PW. Man, I remember when Alison Morris used to write it, back in the day, and just fill it with these CRAZY long posts. Remember the one she did about making birdhouses out of F&Gs? Still stands up. Most recently, Elizabeth Bluemle wrote a couple articles that I’ve loved. First up, a post on Redesigned Book Jackets that shows me a Half Magic (by Edward Eager) cover I’d been blissfully unaware of until now. GAH! Another post was Greetings, Literally which discusses children’s illustrators that make greeting cards. What a two way street that is! I know of a couple illustrators that started with greeting cards and then made books later (Sandra Boynton, Jan Thomas, etc.) so the idea of starting with the books and then going back to the cards is fascinating. Extra Points to Elizabeth for giving mad props to Monica Furlong’s books. *chants* New covers, new covers, new covers, new covers!!!


 

Me Stuff: Back in my beloved hometown of Kalamazoo, Zinta Aistars of WMUK interviewed me about good old FUNNY GIRL. Thanks, Zinta!


 

The Frances books by Russell and Lillian Hoban get star class treatment in this article by Marjorie Ingall in Tablet Magazine called Art and Words for Frances. Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library just finished their run of a Hoban show, but Marjorie will tell you everything you need to know about what went on and what went into the books.


 

Daily Image:

I like this “Instagram” thing I joined, but it does have a way of just sucking all the good pictures out of my phone and onto that site and that site alone. Here is a selection of what I’ve posted recently:

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“Current mood. Hat tip illustrator, and personal favorite, Walter Tripp.”

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“My sister stole my Pocket Rocker! Send for the police!”

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“Just came across this book which J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to comfort his son when he lost his toy dog at the beach. It’s about a toy dog that goes on adventures and Tolkien illustrated it as well. This, combined with my knowledge of the Santa Claus letters he’d make meticulously for his kids each year, leads me to the conclusion that he was a pretty awesome dad.”

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“Oh, Scotland. Just because you CAN do a think doesn’t mean you SHOULD do a thing. And yes. That is indeed haggis on the cover. Can you tell that today is weeding day?”

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I didn’t comment on this next two, if only because I felt they stood on their own.

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“Pretty sure that wasn’t a recommendation. #weedingday”

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“Okay, see, at this point they just weren’t trying anymore. #weedingday”

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“Undoubtedly a coincidence, but there are few discoveries sweeter to me than finding children’s librarians in books that share my name. A hat tip to the lovely Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke.”

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Fuse 8 n’ Kate: Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zelinsky

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/04/16/fuse-8-n-kate-rumpelstiltskin-by-paul-o-zelinsky/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=31240

RumpelstiltskinMother’s Day isn’t exactly around the corner, but this episode is basically our present to our mom. She’s been bugging us to do this particular book for ages. Certainly that Caldecott Honor in the corner of the cover gives it the necessary picture book classics cred. Rumpelstiltskin is, indeed, one of my favorites. As you know, accuracy in the fiber arts is one of my picture book bugaboos.

Listen to the whole show here on Soundcloud or download it through iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or your preferred method of podcast selection.

Show Notes:

– Here is the moon Kate can’t stand.

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– I can’t just make a claim that Paul is the natty-est dresser at the ALA YMA Banquet without some evidence. So here are some of his highlights. The gold Caldecott bow-tie:

CaldecottBowtie

A tie he made:

Paul+ZelinskyA vest he made:

paul

Here is a better shot of the previous tie Paul made alongside me wearing something pretty goofy to interview him.

– For more info on Rumpelstiltskin from Paul’s p.o.v. check out this interview on SLJ.

– This is the wheel in question. No pedals in sight.

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– “Kid, you’re not that cool. Your tights are two different colors.”

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– Coin. Coin? Coin!

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– “Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

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– Happy baby

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– For the record, the story “Little Man” in the book A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham is the story I couldn’t conjure up while recording. It’s the most sympathetic telling of this tale.

– The Paul Galdone version:

Rumpelstiltskin9

– The one illustrated by Edward Gorey:

Rumpelstiltskin10

– And don’t forget to vote on the 100 Best Board Books Poll!

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Video Sunday: I Walk It Like I Talk It With a Wocket in My Pocket

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/04/15/video-sunday-i-walk-it-like-i-talk-it-with-a-wocket-in-my-pocket/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=31130

Maybe it was School of Rock that started the interest in working with children. Certainly the Goosebumps movie was an indication, and who can forget Jumanji? However you want to look at it, Jack Black at some point in the proceedings became the friendly face of children’s books adapted to the big screen. Considering the fact that this book would make a difficult movie to begin with, I take no issue with the liberties you’ll see on screen. There appear to be creepy moving automatons involved in some way which, for me, spells awesome. So am on board with this. Fully.

If you watched this and thought it had a bit of a Brian Selznick influence to it, you are not alone. How much more appropriate, then, to discover this video that introduces us to Selznick’s new Harry Potter covers. My only question is whether or not he’ll have done any interior art as well (please say yes, please say yes, please say yes . . .).

I got that video from 100 Scope Notes, by the way. You should check out his post What’s Your Emergency? for a truly great video he discovered on YouTube when he plugged in the search term “children’s books.”

Next up, the concept of acceptance. Teaching it to kids was always considered an easy enough activity, but as the decades have shown it takes more than a bit of the old “I’m okay, you’re okay” to drill that message home.

Enter Anny Rusk and Christina Hoover Moorehead. Two women giving it their all with a new YouTube series. They explain it far better than I:

“Can we be honest here? Anny just can’t accept that her dog doesn’t understand human speech. She is worried she’ll never be able to tell her dog how much she loves him. She tried licking him on his head—as a mother dog would—but her tongue swelled up. Christina can’t bring herself to agree with Anny’s dog-licking experiment, and to be honest Christina isn’t quite sure she approves of dog-licking as a form of pet owner communication. But Christina accepts that it is important to Anny that she show her dog love. The ability to accept that which is different is an on-going challenge for humans—and is something about which we are desperately curious. Our goal is to join with other equally curious people to explore acceptance. Our exploration will dig into the roles that fear, personal identity, playfulness and a sense of wonder have in our interactions with each other. Our guiding question: must we have agreement or approval in order to accept that which is different?

Your Hosts: Anny Rusk, www.annyrusk.com, Twitter: @annyrusk

Christina Hoover Moorehead, YouTube: Nerdopause, Twitter: @shoganai”

And here we go:

Good news. We’ve finally determined the best possible rap pairing with Dr. Seuss. Turns out, if you pair a Migos flow with either a Seuss book or Anna Dewdney, you get gold. NPR was the first to point this fact out, and I tip my hat to them.

Here you will find rapper Win Nevaluze doing a dramatic reading of the Dr. Seuss easy reader Wocket In My Pocket, to the time of Migos’ current single “Walk It Like I Talk It.”

As for our off-topic video of the day, I don’t really know this fellow. He showed up in my Facebook feed and I fell for him. Or, rather, I fell for the feelings behind this video. In terms of getting out the door, the zipper part is dead dead dead on.

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Review of the Day: A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, ill. Lane Smith

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/04/13/review-of-the-day-a-house-that-once-was-by-julie-fogliano-ill-lane-smith/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=31226

HouseThatOnceA House That Once Was
By Julie Fogliano
Illustrated by Lane Smith
Roaring Brook Press (an imprint of Macmillan)
$18.99
ISBN: 978-1-62672-314-6
Ages 4-7
On shelves May 1st

When I was growing up there was an empty house across the street. A melancholy, haunted structure that seemed to wear its sadness like a badge. No one ever moved into it that I can recall, and the neighborhood kids would attempt to conjure up ghost stories to match its tired visage. I never went in it. Never even peeked in the window, though I longed to. To a kid, an abandoned house is better than a snow fort, a play structure, or a climbing tree combined. An empty house has history and mystery all wrapped up in its very foundations. And now, since the housing crash of 2008, abandoned houses are not the rare structures they once were. Many have been abandoned mid-occupation, their former occupants leaving behind clues about their very lives. You might look on that fact and think about how sad it is. It takes a true children’s writer to see the potential there. To cast their mind back and remember what it was like to be a kid and to explore the unknown, if only for a little while. Now Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith (a duo that feels as old as time but have only just now been paired together on a project) have brought a little life back to a dilapidated home. Better than pirates. Better than princesses. The ultimate fantasy: A house that once was.

A walk in the woods takes two children to a house that can no longer be called a home. Windows are boarded up, it slants slightly to one side, and an oddly cheery whale-themed weathervane perches on the roof. Apprehensive at first, the two kids approach with caution, and then enter. There they find the remnants of a life. Books and old toys and a bed “still made”. Old photos. Broken frames. Together they imagine the people that might have lived behind these walls. People with dreams and talents and hopes. Are they okay? Are they happy? They are gone but the house is still here, but whether it’s waiting or content with its lot we can never know. So the kids go back to their own house, not yet mysterious, leaving behind “a house that once was but now isn’t a home.”

HouseThatOnceWas1Ms. Fogliano is a difficult woman to pin down. In many ways, she is one of our most accomplished picture book writers working today. I say that, but you won’t find her name plastered all over Times Square or bandied about the pages of The New York Times. Because her specialty is concentrated, contemplative quiet, by the very nature of her style she is doomed to dwell under the radar. I suspect that this may suit her. And I also suspect that if she keeps cranking out books as good as this one then that quiet beauty she’s so cornered the market on may become downright fashionable. In A House That Once Was I felt the tug of so many other picture books lurking just beneath the text. Consider the last sentences in the book. “Back to a house where our dinner is waiting. Back to a home that is cozy and warm. Deep in the woods is a house just a house that once was but now isn’t a home.” I don’t know about you but I felt hints of This Is the House That Jack Built, Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, and the ending of Where the Wild Things Are in those sentences.

Look too at how Fogliano’s books beg to be read aloud. Her magnum opus (until now) was the poetry book When Green Becomes Tomatoes, a book too easily forgotten for all the beauty it was capable of conjuring. That book was a readaloud dream. In this title Fogliano put her lines in the form of a poem with natural breaks, soft rhymes, and hard rhymes too. Here’s one example:

“At the top of a hill
sits the house
that is leaning.
A house that once wasn’t
but now it is peeling.
A house that was once
painted blue.”

Fogliano is going so far as to tackle the idea of nothingness and not being, a heady concept for a picture book. When the children enter the home, for example, the text says, “We whisper though no one would mind if we didn’t. / The someone who once was / is someone who isn’t. / The someone who once was / is gone.” Paging, Emily Dickinson, anyone?

A child hasn’t been alive very long. Anything that happened before they were born is ancient history. We mark our lives in what we’ve experienced, and even in what existed on earth since the beginning of our own existences. We’re a little self-absorbed that way. But kids are also natural detectives. They’re constantly reimagining the world around them in their own images. And if they were raised right and strong and true, then they’re using stories to make sense of what they see. We all do that. Kids just happen to be better at it sometimes.

HouseThatOnceWas2You would not be out of line saying that the imagination of a child can be sharper and clearer to them than the reality all around. I was thinking along those lines when, after a second or third read, I finally noticed that artist Lane Smith has two very distinctive and very different art styles going on within these pages. He says as much on the publication page where it reads, “The illustrations in this book were done in two different techniques. The ‘present day’ illustrations were made with India ink, drawn on vellum with a crow quill pen, then pressed while wet onto watercolor paper creating a blotted line effect. The colors were painted in oil over gesso then scanned and added digitally under the ink-line. The ‘imagined’ scenes were painted in oil paint on hot press board and scanned along with paper collage elements that were combined digitally.” Phew! The end result is extraordinary. When the kids imagine the house’s inhabitants, who they were, and where they might be now, the book takes on a crispness and a clarity of a sort. There’s still a great deal of texture, but people and objects escape the impressionistic splotches of paint that pulsate around them. Compare that to the kids that have entered the house with all their wonderings firmly in place. The colors at work, while beautiful, are muted. The lines appear and disappear in fits and starts. The kids themselves, the ones telling this story, they are the ones that look like they’re just a sneeze away from fading into the walls that surround them. Only their dreams feel substantial.

And yes. There are bound to be irate parents that read this book and bristle at the idea of two kids exploring abandoned homes on their own (scenes from The Florida Project come immediately to mind). They’ll read through this book and they won’t see the brilliant red bushes of the endpapers, the family of bluebirds that crop up throughout the story, or the tamed elegance in the swoop of a sea captain’s hair. They won’t hear Fogliano’s rhymes, almost hidden between page turns, or watch the font change color as the book progresses. They will see one thing: Kids crawling through windows into abandoned houses. But this book is as much a fantasy as anything else. Admit it, grown-ups. If the universe provided for you an opportunity for full-fledged snooping, devoid of fear or consequence, you’d hoist yourself up on that windowsill too. I can’t read this book and not want to keep peeling its layers off of it like an onion, but if I do that I won’t have anything left. So for all those children out there that never even imagined that exploring an abandoned home was an option yet feel the pull of hidden histories they are still incapable of understanding, let them experience the sheer beauty and mystery embedded in Fogliano and Smith’s latest. This is a house that is waiting for them.

On shelves May 5th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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The Readalike Conundrum: What Netflix Can Tell us About Predicting Predilections

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/04/12/the-readalike-conundrum-what-netflix-can-tell-us-about-predicting-predilections/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=31221

invisabiliaFond as I am of podcasts, I do have a tendency to view them as conveyance systems for blog fodder. I plug in my earphones, walk home from work, and get ideas for posts. That’s the hope anyway, but nine times out of ten a podcast is just a podcast. Even the most inspirational ones (which, for whatever reason, seem to be science podcasts from NPR) yield bupkiss more often than not.

Not so the other day. Invisabilia touts itself as the podcast that hopes to look closer at “Unseeable forces control human behavior and shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions.” As a longstanding RadioLab fan, this was an instantly appealing idea. The episodes have evened out over the years from their early herky-jerky ways, and I was enjoying one the other day about patterns. Ostensibly, the podcast episode was about whether or not patterns of human behavior are true indicators of future misbehavior. If you fall into bad patterns in your youth, are you doomed to repeat them while old?

What does this have to do with children’s books? In the course of the discussion the subject of computer programs that can predict what a consumer may want came up. We’re familiar with this when it comes to Amazon (Customers that bought [blank] also looked at [blank]) and, most notably, Netflix. Netflix, in fact, went so far as to offer a prize for (and here I’m quoting Wikipedia), “an open competition for the best collaborative filtering algorithm to predict user ratings for films, based on previous ratings without any other information about the users or films, i.e. without the users or the films being identified except by numbers assigned for the contest.” It was called The Netflix Prize.

NetflixNow any librarian working in the field of Reader’s Advisory is going to be able to tell you that a cornerstone of the profession is Readalikes. This is where a patron comes up, says they liked one book, and wants recommendations that are “like that”. Remarkably, there is no quick fix for this kind of a question. No replacement, really, for a knowledgeable librarian familiar with their field. And I say this as someone who has to fill in on the Adult R.A. desk pretty regularly. So that “collaborative filtering algorithm” that Netflix uses starts to look pretty darn good. Can we get some of that on the book side of things, please?

This is not to say that we don’t have some Readalike recourse. My library, like many, subscribes to the database NoveList. Your library probably does too, for that matter. If it does, then you can see that it’s an effective method of coming up with a list of readalikes. I say “effective” because what NoveList does is provide you with a list of books. The list will have justifications for each inclusion written by real people who sign their names. This is good because each person likes a book for a different reason. With this list, you’re able to find the books that speak to you the most.

Novelist is not, however, foolproof. Many times it will recommend overly well-known titles in lieu of something a little more creative. That’s why I supplement my NoveList searches with Kirkus searches. As I’m sure you are already aware, for every new review Kirkus provides, way down on the lower right-hand side of the page are “Readalikes” provided by its reviewers. A good idea, if a haphazard one. Unlike NoveList, you never really know why one book or another is included.

The other day I was handed a unique challenge: Come up with a list of ten books for children that would act as natural companions to Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen. Basically, I wanted a list of socially conscious books for children, unafraid to face the question of race in America in the 21st century. Now, if this list was supposed to be for YA readers I could have whipped up something immediately. As it stood, I had to really wrack my brains. I would come up with a good title (like Can I Touch Your Hair?) and then look around desperately for anything like it. I tried NoveList. I tried Kirkus. And ultimately I just had to sit down and think long and hard about the books I’ve seen over the past few years.

To date, there is no go-to Readalike search engine for children’s books. Nothing to replace the brave librarians in the field that man their desks every day, prepared to do battle with the kids that come wielding The One and Only Ivan, asking for something “like this”. But while I don’t want to put us out of a job, I feel like there’s some solution out there. Maybe that’s the next step with all the book recommendation apps we’ve seen crop up over the years. Maybe Readalikes is the next great challenge. Whatever the case, until someone sets the standard for recommendations, we’re going to see a lot of piecemeal recs over the years.

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Surprising Jolts of Children’s Literature

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/04/11/surprising-jolts-of-childrens-literature-3/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=31205

It’s that time again! Time to take a gander at what’s happening in the world of books for grown-up types. Oh sure, half the time it’s quickie diet books and memoirs of Churchill (I can guarantee that if there’s a Churchill book out there, the patrons of my library will snap it up, lightning quick) but once in a while I’ll find a title with a connection to the world of books for kids. Here are the latest titles to slot neatly into that category. Some are already out. Some are on the horizon. All of them have a kidlit connection. Can you find it for yourself?

All descriptions are from the publishers’ annotations:

MoreThanTrue

National Book Award-winning poet and author of the internationally best-selling Iron John, Robert Bly revisits a selection of fairy tales and examines how these enduring narratives capture the essence of human nature.

Few forms of storytelling have greater power to captivate the human mind than fairy tales, but where do these tales originate from, and what do they mean? Celebrated poet and bestselling author Robert Bly has been asking these questions throughout his career. Here Bly looks at six tales that have stood the test of time and have captivated the poet for decades, from “The Six Swans” to “The Frog Prince.” Drawing on his own creative genius, and the work of a range of thinkers from Kirkegaard and Yeats to Freud and Jung, Bly turns these stories over in his mind to bring new meaning and illumination to these timeless tales.

Along with illustrations of each story, the book features some of Bly’s unpublished poetry, which peppers his lyric prose and offers a look inside the mind of an American master of letters in the twilight of his singular career.”

MerrySpinster

“From Mallory Ortberg comes a collection of darkly mischievous stories based on classic fairy tales. Adapted from the beloved “Children’s Stories Made Horrific” series, “The Merry Spinster” takes up the trademark wit that endeared Ortberg to readers of both The Toast and the best-selling debut Texts From Jane Eyre. The feature has become among the most popular on the site, with each entry bringing in tens of thousands of views, as the stories proved a perfect vehicle for Ortberg’s eye for deconstruction and destabilization. Sinister and inviting, familiar and alien all at the same time, The Merry Spinster updates traditional children’s stories and fairy tales with elements of psychological horror, emotional clarity, and a keen sense of feminist mischief.”

And, as I was gently corrected the other day, Ortberg is now officially Daniel Mallory Ortberg.

AllEverAfters

“In the vein of Wicked, The Woodcutter, and Boy, Snow, Bird, a luminous reimagining of a classic tale, told from the perspective of Agnes, Cinderella’s “evil” stepmother.We all know the story of Cinderella. Or do we?

As rumors about the cruel upbringing of beautiful newlywed Princess Cinderella roil the kingdom, her stepmother, Agnes, who knows all too well about hardship, privately records the true story. . . .

A peasant born into serfdom, Agnes is separated from her family and forced into servitude as a laundress’s apprentice when she is only ten years old. Using her wits and ingenuity, she escapes her tyrannical matron and makes her way toward a hopeful future. When teenaged Agnes is seduced by an older man and becomes pregnant, she is transformed by love for her child. Once again left penniless, Agnes has no choice but to return to servitude at the manor she thought she had left behind. Her new position is nursemaid to Ella, an otherworldly infant. She struggles to love the child who in time becomes her stepdaughter and, eventually, the celebrated princess who embodies everyone’s unattainable fantasies. The story of their relationship reveals that nothing is what it seems, that beauty is not always desirable, and that love can take on many guises.

Lyrically told, emotionally evocative, and brilliantly perceptive, All the Ever Afters explores the hidden complexities that lie beneath classic tales of good and evil, all the while showing us that how we confront adversity reveals a more profound, and ultimately more important, truth than the ideal of “happily ever after.”

AstridLindgren

“The first English‑language biography of Astrid Lindgren provides a moving and revealing portrait of the beloved Scandinavian literary icon whose adventures of Pippi Longstocking have influenced generations of young readers all over the world. Lindgren’s sometimes turbulent life as an unwed teenage mother, outspoken advocate for the rights of women and children, and celebrated editor and author is chronicled in fascinating detail by Jens Andersen, one of Denmark’s most popular biographers.

Based on extensive research and access to primary sources and letters, this highly readable account describes Lindgren’s battles with depression and her personal struggles through war, poverty, motherhood, and fame. Andersen examines the writer’s oeuvre as well to uncover the secrets to the books’ universal appeal and why they have resonated so strongly with young readers for more than seventy years.”

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well this has been circulating in my library, by the way. Wouldn’t necessarily have pegged this one as a circ buster.

SpringGirls

“Four sisters desperately seeking the blueprints to life—the modern-day retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women like only Anna Todd (After, Imagines) could do.

The Spring Girls—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—are a force of nature on the New Orleans military base where they live. As different as they are, with their father on tour in Iraq and their mother hiding something, their fears are very much the same. Struggling to build lives they can be proud of and that will lift them out of their humble station in life, one year will determine all that their futures can become. The oldest, Meg, will be an officer’s wife and enter military society like so many of the women she admires. If her passion—and her reputation—don’t derail her. Beth, the workhorse of the family, is afraid to leave the house, is afraid she’ll never figure out who she really is. Jo just wants out. Wishing she could skip to graduation, she dreams of a life in New York City and a career in journalism where she can impact the world. Nothing can stop her—not even love. And Amy, the youngest, is watching all her sisters, learning from how they handle themselves. For better or worse.

With plenty of sass, romance, and drama, The Spring Girls revisits Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women, and brings its themes of love, war, class, adolescence, and family into the language of the twenty-first century.”

HistoryChildrensBooks

A History of Children’s Books in 100 Books takes a global perspective and traces the development of the genre from ancient stories, such as Aesop’s Fables and the Indian Panchatantra, through the Puritan primers of the 17th century to the Harry Potter series and books as technology.Taking the approach of its precursor, The History of the Book in 100 Books, this book is about children’s books as artifacts, as well as the texts they contain, and the industry and society that produced them. It covers aspects of selection, design, production and marketing of books for children. For the most part, illustrations are key components of children’s stories, visualizing fantastic scenes and making them instantly recognizable, and such artwork is beautifully reproduced throughout.

The chapters, with topic examples, are:

1. Oral traditions and pre-literacy; baby’s first book; folk tales; nursery rhymes; board books; Sumerian “lullaby” tablet; Dr. Seuss.
2. Fables around the world for the young; Panchatantra (India 200 AD).
3. ABC of Aristotle (Middle English); pop-ups, picture books, early learning; alphabet books.
4. Educational books, non-fiction; adult influence; behavior; The New England Primer.
5. Smaller books for small readers; child protagonists; miniature books; chapter books.
6. Animal Magic; Mother Goose; Charlotte’s Web; Beatrix Potter; The Jungle Book; A. A. Milne.
7. Innocence, experience, genre books; imperialism; religion; Little Women; Black Beauty.
8. Fairies and Frighteners: Grimm Brothers; Japanese Fairy Tales; Edward Gorey; Maurice Sendak; Der Strewwelpeter.
9. New genres, adventure stories; pulp fiction; C. S. Lewis; Pippi Longstocking; H. G. Wells.
10. Wartime: Destruction of books; series; awards; Le Petit Prince; Nazi button book; Roald Dahl; Matilda.
11 Comics; new media; Manga; survival manuals; cartoons; advertising; political correctness; awards.

This is an authoritative introduction for general readers, for those interested in illustration arts, and for students of children’s literature, its history, and the history of books. It is an essential selection for specialty and general collections.”

One of these days we’re going to read a chapter title like “Fairies and Frighteners” and we’ll finally see Stephen Gammell and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark get its proper due. Someday.

Curiouser

“A miscellany of sorts, preeminent author and critic Nicholas Delbanco’s Curiouser and Curiouser attests to a lifelong interest in music and the visual arts as well as both “mere” and “sheer” literature. With essays ranging from the restoration of his father-in-law’s famed Stradivarius cello—known throughout the world as “The Countess of Stanlein”—to a reimagining of H. A. and Margaret Rey’s lives and the creation of their most beloved character, Curious George, Delbanco examines what it means to live and love with the arts.

Whether exploring the history of personal viewing in the business of museum-going, musing on the process of rewriting one’s earliest published work, or looking back on the twists and turns of a life that spans the greater part of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, Delbanco’s Curiouser and Curiouser invites adventurous readers to follow him down the rabbit hole as he reflects on life as a student, an observer, a writer, a lover, a father, a teacher, and most importantly, a participant in the everyday experiences of human life.”

I can’t speak for you but I did NOT see that inclusion of the Reys coming there.

LandscapesAnne

Anne of Green Gables is a worldwide phenomenon that has sold over fifty million copies and inspired numerous films, plays, musicals, and television series. It has turned Prince Edward Island into a multimillion-dollar tourist destination visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year. In The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables, Catherine Reid reveals how Lucy Maud Montgomery’s deep connection to the landscape inspired her to write Anne of Green Gables. From the Lake of Shining Waters and the Haunted Wood to Lover’s Lane, readers will be immersed in the real places immortalized in the novel. Using Montgomery’s journals, archives, and scrapbooks, Reid explores the many similarities between Montgomery and her unforgettable heroine, Anne Shirley. The lush package includes Montgomery’s hand-colorized photographs, the illustrations originally used in Anne of Green Gables, and contemporary and historical photography. “

ThisIsMSasek

A charming biography of the artist behind the bestselling “This is…” series of children’s books—which have sold over a million copies since being reissued by Universe—illustrated in the style of Miroslav Sasek himself.

Replete with documents, memories, and images from the life of Miroslav Sasek, this book is richly illustrated with material from Sasek’s books as well as such archival material as previously unpublished illustrations, photographs, and vintage fan letters from children inspired by his books.

Born in Prague in 1916, Sasek studied architecture but worked as a painter and illustrator for most of his life. Having moved to Paris in 1947 to study, he chose not to return to Prague after the Communist takeover. He earned a living as a graphic artist and from 1951 worked for Radio Free Europe until his death in 1980. Starting with This is Paris, published in 1957, his books painted a charmingly cosmopolitan and evocative picture of the world’s great places. Beginning in 2003, all the This is… books have been reissued by Universe Publishing. This book about the beloved illustrator will delight graphic designers, illustrators, and lovers of classic children’s books.”

VonSpatz

“Walt Disney is exhausted both physically and mentally. After a breakdown where he trashes his office, his wife Lilian brings him to a retreat to recover—the Von Spatz Rehabilitation Center. With a campus that includes studio buildings, a gallery, an art supply store, a hot dog booth, and a penguin pool, the clinic is a paradise for artists in crisis. There Disney meets Tomi Ungerer and Saul Steinberg, and together, they embark on a regimen of relaxation and art therapy. Anna Haifisch looks at the fervent drive and crippling insecurities of the average artist and places those same issues on the shoulders of three celebrated 20th century artists. Part study of isolation, part tale of a begrudging camaraderie, daily life at the center mixes with reminiscences from the world outside. Wryly written, precisely composed, and glowingly colored, Von Spatz is a hilarious, heartwarming absurdist tale.”

Yep. You read that right. Ungerer and Steinberg. This I gotta see.

ParisByBook

Once a week, I chase men who are not my husband. . . .

When eccentric novelist Robert Eady abruptly vanishes, he leaves behind his wife, Leah, their daughters, and, hidden in an unexpected spot, plane tickets to Paris.

Hoping to uncover clues–and her husband–Leah sets off for France with her girls. Upon their arrival, she discovers an unfinished manuscript, one Robert had been writing without her knowledge . . . and that he had set in Paris. The Eady women follow the path of the manuscript to a small, floundering English-language bookstore whose weary proprietor is eager to sell. The whole store? Today? Yes, but Leah’s biggest surprise comes when she hears herself accepting the offer on the spot.

As the family settles into their new Parisian life, they can’t help but trace the literary paths of some beloved Parisian classics, including Madeline and The Red Balloon, hoping more clues arise. But a series of startling discoveries forces Leah to consider that she may not be ready for what solving this mystery might do to her family–and the Paris she thought she knew.

At once haunting and charming, Paris by the Book follows one woman’s journey as her story is being rewritten, exploring the power of family and the magic that hides within the pages of a book.”

Cake

“In Cake, renowned artist and author Maira Kalman and food writer Barbara Scott-Goodman bring us a beautifully illustrated book dedicated to their mutual love of cakes. Kalman’s enchanting illustrations, in her inimitable style, and Scott-Goodman’s mouthwatering recipes complement each other perfectly, making Cake a joyful whimsical celebration of a timeless dessert.”

MrLear

“We know Edward Lear as a genius of nonsense, full of shocks and surprises, and as a poet of strange loves—“The Owl and the Pussy-Cat,” “The Dong with a Luminous Nose.” We may know him, too, for his paintings of parrots and owls, or for his luminous landscapes. But do we know that he taught Queen Victoria to draw, traveled alone across the wild Albanian mountains, and waded through muddy fields with Tennyson?

Lear lived all his life on the borders of rules and structures, of disciplines and desires. Children adored him and adults loved him, yet somehow he was always alone. In this beautiful volume, a fresh and joyful appreciation by the award-winning and compulsively readable Jenny Uglow, we follow Lear from his troubled childhood to his striving as an artist, tracking his swooping moods, passionate friendships, and restless travels. And, as we travel with him, his “nonsenses” are elegantly unpicked—without losing any of their fun.”

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Fuse 8 n’ Kate: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/04/09/fuse-8-n-kate-sylvester-and-the-magic-pebble-by-william-steig/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=31184

SylvesterMagicPebble“50% of this book is just depressed donkeys.”

In lieu of Shrek (which I had zippo information on hand to bandy about) I decided we’d go with what is arguably the second most famous Steig picture book out there. You know. The one chock full of sadness and woe. Along the way we tackle grammar, fetlocks, sitting on children, and donkey boulders. Lots and lots of donkey boulders.

Listen to the whole show here on Soundcloud or download it through iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or your preferred method of podcast selection.

Show Notes:

Shrek was actually published in 1990, but I think that means it was published in the 80s in spirit.

– William Steig started making picture books when he was 61-years-old.

– For more on my hatred of knitting needles that stick straight up, be sure to check out my previous blog post The Scourge of Upside Down Knitting.

– “Quack?” “WTF, mate.”

Sylvester3

– fet-lock: (noun) “The joint of a horse’s or other quadruped’s leg between the cannon bone and the pastern.”

– He does look sad, but I don’t think for one second that lion was look for a pal.

Sylvester1

– RBF. Or, perhaps more accurately, RLF.

Sylvester4

– The P-I-G!

Sylvester5

– Correct knitting needle placement seen. Well done, Steig.

Sylvester6

– This dog will NOT SLEEP until he finds his donkey.

Sylvester7

– Too depressed to smoke your pipe? Try a cigar!

Sylvester8

– Before you send in your angry letters, I did indeed get it backwards. It was Ronald Reagan that called Nancy “Mommy”. Not the other way around.

– Sylvester came in at #55 on the old Picture Book Poll.

– Actually, I got the title wrong. It was The Amazing Bone I loved as a child. Here’s the cover. Fans! Give it up!

AmazingBone

– Loreli’s Sambo books appear to be worthy of an entire dissertation in and of themselves.

Sambo1

Sambo2

– Here’s Kate and her sign at March for Our Lives:

katemarchnelson

– Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s book, The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror. My favorite new thing:

MerrySpinster

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Review of the Day: The Cardboard Kingdom, edited and illustrated by Chad Sell

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2018/04/06/review-of-the-day-the-cardboard-kingdom-edited-and-illustrated-by-chad-sell/

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/?p=31179

CardboardKingdomThe Cardboard Kingdom
Edited and Illustrated by Chad Sell
Written by Jay Fuller, David DeMeo, Katie Schenkel, Kris Moore, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Manuel Betancourt, Michael Cole, Cloud Jacobs, and Barbara Perez Marquez
Knopf (an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)
$12.99
ISBN: 978-1-5247-1937-1
Ages 9-12
On shelves June 5th

The other day I listened to a very interesting speaker as she defined in crystal clear terms the words “equality” and “equity”. Simply put, “equality” is leveling the playing field and “equity” is getting the same end results. And, as with all things, I turn to the world of children’s literature to see how this applies to the books we’re handing kids. We’re seeing a small increase in the number of books for children that feature groups that have been historically pushed to the side and/or ignored entirely in literature. And, inevitably, since we’re dealing with literature for children, a lot of that stuff is heavy-handed, didactic, and clunky with its messaging. Or, far far worse, not fun. There is no way to turn a child off a message faster than boring them to death with it. Do that and not only do you fail to instill in them any sense of the world in which we live, but you could turn them off of reading as well. How to face this foe? Enter comics to save the day! Specifically, enter The Cardboard Kingdom. You want inclusion? You want diversity? You want positive messages so wrapped up in a bubble of colorful high-octane fun that you swallow the whole pill with glee and beg for more? Chad Sell and his cadre of clever writers are here and they might just be the wave of the future we’ve been waiting for.

Consider the cardboard box. Easily accessible. Available. The perfect tool of children everywhere. Consider its applications. With a cardboard box you can cut and reform it into anything. The headdress of an evil enchanter. The enchanted sword of a knight. A monster. A dragon. The possibilities are endless. In a suburban neighborhood, a large group of children have created a whole other world. They can be anyone they want to be. The boy with a violent father becomes a nighttime vigilante, protecting his home. The girl with a big voice becomes a she-hulk of epic proportions. The boy in desperate need of becoming someone powerful and awesome transforms into a gorgeous sorceress. There are robots, scribes, mad scientists, beasts, anything you want to be is possible. Every home has its challenges. Even a world as beautiful as this has to deal with bullies. But in this little cardboard kingdom, every kid belongs. Particularly the ones reading this book.

When I was a kid I read a lot of old Doonesbury comic strip collections. And sure, I didn’t get a lot out of the sections involving the White House, but when it came to a group of friends living together in a commune, I was entranced. For me, this represented a kind of idealized world. Lots of friends living with you all the time, each person with their own particular quirks and kicks. I got a very similar feeling when I read The Cardboard Kingdom except instead of a 1970s commune, we’re dealing with an extended neighborhood filled to brimming with kids who are all approximately the same age. Even without the inclusion and diversity on show here (and it is present and accounted for), that is already an idealized situation. Because Sell’s art is so enticing, it would be easy to attribute this book’s success (no question, it will be successful) on just the art and the writing. Less obvious, but just as important, is the world it creates. Where kids create quests for other kids, cardboard is a substance that can pretty much be turned into anything, and no two children ever want to play the same character. Expect this book to be read, reread, re-re-read, and delved into on a pretty regular basis.

On a preliminary read I found myself puzzled by something I discovered at the beginning of each section. Chad Sell’s name is featured prominently on the cover of this book and is mentioned with each mini story inside. Yet there was often another name listed next to his. Why? Turns out, this book was co-written, after a fashion, with ten other people. That, in and of itself, isn’t too surprising. Such collaborations have happened before. The tone of the book stays the same throughout too. At first I thought this was because all eleven people aligned their writing styles to make the book the best possible product. Later I discovered it had more to do with the fact that Sell is the driving force behind the project and the other writers are helping him mold and shape the characters. Character is key in this book, and for good reason. More than anything else, The Cardboard Kingdom is a short story collection ala Ray Bradbury’s fellow ode to kids in the summer Dandelion Wine. Coming up with tales as consistently good as this (I can honestly say there’s not a weak one in the bunch) is no mean feat. Now to be fair, because you have so many different writers, there are some interesting tropes that perhaps would have been avoided if there had been a single author. For example, moms are almost universally understanding in this book. Dads and grandparents? Significantly less so, though I think it’s fair to say that with the possible exception of Seth’s dad, no grown-up is beyond hope (and even he knows when he’s beat).

But what’s going to draw kids in is the art. Chad Sell has this accessible style that’s inevitably going to be compared to Raina Telgemeier, what with its clean lines and bold colors (not sure who did the coloring on this book, but they should get extra points since they’re doing about 50% of the heavy lifting visually). You immediately grasp the internal logic of cardboard that can be turned into pretty much anything. This magical substance is without limit in Sell’s world, and we buy in completely. Couple that with the imaginative sequences. If you like the kids then you’ll LOVE their alter egos (particularly that sassy Sorceress with the hips that just won’t stop). But getting beyond the glitz and glamour, the real lure here is Sell’s artistry as a storyteller. You need only look at his wordless sequences (and there are a LOT packed in here). Sometimes a story with dialogue will turn into a tale without a word and the transition is seamless. “The Big Banshee” is a great example of this. When Sophie is sad, all words disappear. Sell even silently shows the grandmother that silenced her, taming down her magnificent hair, an act that speaks volumes without a single syllable. None of this would have worked without Sell putting his heart and soul into each storyline.

As with any anthology, it’s not like the book is flawless. That skill with wordless sequences I just lauded so highly does occasionally lead to confusion. The opening story with The Sorceress is a good example of this. It’s not essential, but it’s a pretty big point that The Sorceress is brought to life by a boy. This might partially account for why he’s so initially shocked and frightened when discovered by his neighbor. However, at that point in the book it’s easy to assume he’s a girl with short hair. To Sell’s credit this is quickly corrected in the second storyline, but it does speak to the problems that inevitably come up when you eschew words. Confusion is inevitable, but by no means a deal breaker.

There has never been a time when there has been as much widespread acceptance (or, at the very least, tolerance) of dressing up as your favorite creature or character. Walk into any comic convention and instantly you’re in a space where people feel safe to live out their fantasies in as flamboyant a fashion as possible. Of course, they learn from the best. Kids are the true geniuses when it comes to full immersion into an alternate world. And children’s literature has always been in love with those kids that could wholly give into those imaginings. Everything from Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson to Doll Bones by Holly Black. And now that comics for kids have gained widespread acceptance, we’re taking that to the next logical level. We can see their imaginings and get just as wrapped up in their storylines as they do. Costumes are, naturally, just a nice bonus. So is the fact that for many The Cardboard Kingdom has the potential to become the norm. Imagine that.

On shelves June 5th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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