We’re Not Afraid! Two Not-Too-Scary Stories

In the spirit of Halloween, we’d like to share two new picture books with characters who rethink their requests for scary stories.

i want to be in a scary storyLittle Monster is confident he wants to be in a scary story, until he’s stuck in the middle of one. Witches, ghosts, and spooky houses? “Golly Gosh!” and “Jeepers Creepers!” he says. Little Monster doesn’t want to be scared; he wants to do the scaring! The narrator (indicated on the page with black text, where Little Monster’s words are purple) acquiesces, putting Little Monster in charge of the upcoming frights. Is Little Monster ready to scare? With charming dialogue and just enough forewarning for what the next page holds, I Want to Be in a Scary Story will delight any child who wants to be in a story – on their own terms.

too scary story

Parents who’ve struggled to satisfy competing requests will recognize Papa’s burden in The Too-Scary Story. Grace and Walter settle in for a bedtime story, but they can’t agree on how scary it should be. The dark forest setting is “too scary” for Walter, so Papa introduces the “twinkling lights” of fireflies. But that’s not scary enough for Grace! Back and forth the story goes, scary to safe, until Walter and Grace agree – the story is too scary! Luckily, Grace has her magic wand, and Papa is never too far away to bring the story back to safety. Murguia’s mixed media illustrations follow the alternating moods of the text and complete this bedtime adventure.

What Post Should I Host? What Draft Should I Craft?

Pet CoverThose of you who are eagerly anticipating the soon-to-be-published (posthumously) Dr. Seuss book “What Pet Should I Get?” (Penguin Random House, 2015) will likely recognize my futile attempts to come up with a clever title “in the spirit of Dr. Seuss” for this, my first Butler’s Pantry blog entry since becoming curator of the Butler Children’s Literature Center this month. I’m not alone in my plight; children’s book creators ever since the publication of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (Vanguard, 1937) have been trying to capture Dr. Seuss’s unique blend of silliness and aptness. Anyone familiar with the children’s canon recognizes the creators who’ve successfully done it (Mo Willems! among a very few others) and those who struggle with it (we all know who they are; I’m not going to skewer anyone here). But I’d never actually tried to do it myself. It’s surprisingly hard to come with Seussian verse that isn’t clunky or awkward!

Last week I was pleased and a little nervous, when the Chicago Tribune reached out for comment on this upcoming new work from a perennial favorite author and illustrator. Pleased, because it’s always nice to be asked one’s opinion (and what’s more fun than talking about children’s literature, anyway?); nervous because, well, I haven’t actually seen the book. Turns out there is a strict laydown date of July 28, as is commonly done for books with built-in instant demand, such as every Harry Potter after the second one. It’s a bit of a reality check for those of us in the business of writing and talking about books; turns out in some cases, our opinions are pretty much irrelevant. Dr. Seuss is one of those whose names, and styles, resonate immediately with kids. It doesn’t really matter what we adults think (come on, who among you REALLY enjoys reading Fox in Socks out loud?).

So, what are your thoughts as P-Day (“Pet” Day, 7/28/15) approaches? Do you have concerns about posthumous publishing, especially in light of the current Harper Lee controversy (and she’s still with us!)? Will the kids and families you serve be lining up at your door to get their hands on “Pet?”

Read the article here (you’ll be asked to register, but it’s free at least):

http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/books/ct-prj-what-pet-should-i-get-20150726-story.html#page=1

LeUyen Pham to deliver the Butler Lecture!

LeUyenPham

Award-winning and best-selling author/illustrator/graphic novelist LeUyen Pham will deliver her lecture “Wandering Wonderland: An Immigrant’s Story Told Through Books,” on Thursday, March 5, 2015. Pham’s work includes a delightful variety of picture books, from the Orbis Pictus honor The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman and the Freckleface Strawberry books by Julianne Moore to her own stories Big Sister, Little Sister and A Piece of Cake; illustrations for the New York Times best-seller The Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale and the Scott O’Dell Award winner Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill; and a range of graphic novels with Jordan Mechner and Alex Puvilland, including Prince of Persia, Solomon’s Thieves, and Templar. For this, the third annual Butler Lecture, Pham is literally “drawing” on her own childhood, producing a series of comic panels that explore her earliest experiences with particular books for children.

The lecture will take place at 6 p.m., followed by a reception with refreshments and a book sale and signing; it is free and open to the public, though registration is required. This an evening not to be missed.

To register, please visit: http://gslis.dom.edu/newsevents/butler-lecture-2015-featuring-leuyen-pham

For more information, please contact me at tbarthelmess@dom.edu.

The Butler Lecture is generously underwritten by the Butler Family Foundation.

YMA thoughts

There were lots of surprises at the ALA Youth Media Awards this past Monday morning (you can read about all of the winners here) and they have already been much celebrated, dissected, and critiqued. I have my own thoughts (don’t we all) which I offer as a list, because I fear if I started writing something long form I’d be here until April. And I have some snow to shovel.

So, in no particular order, here’s what I think:

1) Diversity won the day. Everywhere. The Newbery medal and both honor books. The Wilder (ALSC lifetime contribution) and Edwards (YALSA lifetime contribution) awards. The Caldecott medal and three of the six honor books. The Arbuthnot lecturer. Three of the five Sibert honor books. The Geisel award author. Not to mention the slates from the Belpré, the Coretta Scott King, the Schneider Family, and the Stonewall, all of which are diverse by nature. Everywhere!

2) Back in December, in a comment on the Calling Caldecott blog, I suggested that it was entirely possible for This One Summer be recognized by both the Caldecott and Printz committees. Nobody was buying it. This is me, gloating.

3) Some of my favorites were overlooked. Harlem Hellfighters, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, The Turtle of Oman. But I still get to love and champion those books, and now I get to (re)acquaint myself with other books that other folks find to be extraordinary. It’s hard to think of that as a problem, really.

4) Some things I really don’t like were recognized, too. And that’s a terrific opportunity to remember that people see books differently from how I do, and people see the awards differently from how I do. And, ultimately, that the greater the variety of taste and appreciation we have among our ranks, the better able we are to meet the many different literary needs of the young people we serve. Win win, as it were.

5) What did you think?

harlem hellfighters Levy_Front_final 91xfx6cxaRL._SL1500_

 

CaldeNott Results!

Yesterday evening twelve dutiful children’s book discussers met to consider a selection of picture books of international provenance, applying the Caldecott Medal terms and criteria to picture books ineligible for the actual award, in hopes of learning about some wonderful books, and the Caldecott Medal itself, in the process. We began with 18 very different books (you can find our complete discussion list here) and ended up with one winner and three honor books.

Our honor books are:

tiny creaturesTiny Creatures: The World of Microbes

illustrated by Emily Sutton (England)

written by Nicola Davies (Wales),

Candlewick Press, 2014

A scientific exploration of microbes explains their natural existence and celebrates the intricacies of their ecological function. Our committee appreciated Sutton’s use of scale, visually explaining the size and amount of the microbes around us; the friendly, approachable tone of her watercolor paintings, reinforcing the book’s even, almost enthusiastic approach to its subject; and the repeated presence of two children, not mentioned in the text, who, in their constant dress and curious attitude, serve as a ready point of access for the young reader.

at the same moment around the worldAt the Same Moment Around the World

illustrated and written by Clotilde Perrin (France)

Chronicle, 2014

This magical book circles the globe, exploring different children’s experiences at a single moment in time. We begin at 6:00am in Senegal, and travel east across time zones, to France, to Bulgaria, to Iraq, as kids of all stripes work, play, eat and dream. Each spread moves from one country to the next, connecting otherwise disparate locales and delivering a powerful message of human continuity. We appreciated the tall trim size, reflecting the longitudinal time zones; the attention to detail, with watery endpapers suggesting the surrounding oceans; and the indelible warmth of the culturally specific depictions. The final, fold-out map, that names the children and fixes them on the globe, adds concrete understanding to the sensitive expression of community.

rules of summerRules of Summer

illustrated and written by Shaun Tan (Australia)

Scholastic, 2014.

Two brothers offer fantastical, superstitious interpretations of a collection of seemingly pedestrian rules, brought to bigger-than-life through Tan’s edgy, immersive, dreamlike paintings. While each of the rules comes to individual life in its own spread, Tan links them together in an emotional arc that traces a bumpy, competitive, and ultimately tender relationship between two brothers who appear together, at the story’s end, surrounded by drawings of their imaginative adventures. We appreciated the painterly precision of the drama; the powerfully depicted relationship; the curious, sometimes impenetrable symbolism of birds and crowns; and the way the sinister undercurrent of the imaginings resolves into dependable comfort.

And our CaldeNott Medal goes to:

foxs gardenFox’s Garden

illustrated by Princess Camcam (Germany)

Enchanted Lion, 2014

A fox seeks shelter for herself and her babies and, when chased from a house on a wintry night, takes refuge in the nearby greenhouse. The house’s boy delivers a basket of sustenance, and the fox repays the kindness, decorating his bedroom with flowers as he sleeps. Princess Camcam creates her illustrations in three dimensions, photographing dioramas of intricately cut and painted paper, carefully arranged and lit. The effect is intimate and tranquil, with hushed colors, soft shadows, and an immediate sense of place. The artist’s careful use of sharp and cloudy focus pulls the viewer into the images, and her supreme command of light conveys the chill of the air, the stillness of the snow, and the arrival of the morning. Simply breathtaking.

It was noted that ours is not a “mock” endeavor but is instead, as the only one of its kind, the CaldeNott. Boom. It was also noted that we have chosen a book about a fox two years in a row. Make of that what you will.

This fall we’ll (re)turn our attention to international picture books, to do this all over again in 2016. Feel free to send any candidate titles my way. In the meantime, I’ll be off to the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair with a group of students in March, in search of our own. We’ll keep you posted.

Snow Days

Across the country these days folks are busy carping about the weather. It’s a dangerous business, that. In Chicago, at any rate, complaints about snow or temperatures (don’t even MENTION the wind) are met with furious dismissal. Give it a try. The next time a cashier asks you how you are, offer up something like “I’m freezing, thanks, how are you?” Dollars to donuts there’s someone a person or two behind you in line at the ready with “We do live in Chicago, Wimpy McPutyourbootson” or some other upbraiding that’s just as helpful.

I grew up in Cleveland. I get it.

But if all of us are mentioning the weather all of the time, there’s probably a reason. And rather than complaining about the complainers, I’m fixing to join in the fun.

So, here are a few wintry picture books to make something magical, or at least memorable, of all of that brrr.

first snowFirst Snow

by Peter McCarty

HarperCollins, 2015

Pedro has never seen snow before, and he’s not sure he’s interested. His canine cousins assure him it’s the best, and set out to convince him, with all of the best things about snow. They sled and snowball, make angels and catch flakes on their tongues. Who could resist? Not Pedro. He’s a convert, and so, perhaps, am I. McCarty has a magical way with texture. Working in graphite, he manages to create the softest, fuzziest creatures, and contrasts that incredibly tactile fur with flat, solid bundle-wear, producing a cast of characters impossible not to warm to. Time for some hot chocolate.

supertruckSupertruck

by Stephen Savage

Roaring Brook, 2015

The city depends on trucks, to fix power lines, tow stranded school buses, and put out fires. The lowly garbage truck occupies the glamourless place at the bottom of the heap until a seasonal snowfall brings the city to its knees (shoulders?). With a plow affixed to his front (and without his Clark Kent spectacles) Supertruck saves the day. As he did in Little Tug, Savage imbues his transportational characters with extraordinary personality, especially given their simple, iconic colorations and blocky nature, and sets them all against a mid-century-style city brimming with life. Little kids will welcome Supertruck’s arrival. I’d be happy for him to drive past my house, too, right about now, come to think of it.

winter beesWinter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold

by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen

HMH, 2014

While there are surprises in this life, so are there predictabilities. When winter arrives in Chicago, it will be cold and snowy. When I go outside to shovel my walks, my dogs will ruin something inside. When Joyce Sidman produces a book of nature poetry, it will be lovely. In Winter Bees she examines the winter activity of various flora and fauna, combining poetry and science in her trademark way. Individually the entries, with their bright language and crisp, polychrome linoleum prints, celebrate the variety of life happening beneath the snow. And together they communicate the delicate ecological symbiosis that sustains us all. It’s all too easy to forget that winter has its purpose and its place, and I’m happy for this elegant reminder.

Playing Card Project (PCP) Ace of Clubs

Welcome to the first post in the Playing Card Project, a year-long series for 2015 through which we’ll build a deck of playing cards, one Tuesday at a time. We’ve established four suit-based themes and will investigate each theme in terms of how it is expressed in 13 different books for children and teens. 52 weeks, 52 cards, 52 books. Get it?

Our suit themes are as follows:

♣ Clubs – stories of belonging

♦ Diamonds – stories of strength

♥ Hearts – stories of affection

♠ Spades – stories of growth

And, yes, we will produce a physical deck of cards at year’s end, to be distributed widely, and free of charge, to anyone who is a friend of the Butler Center (so now would be a good time to start following this blog, btw).

I think things will make sense as we go, so let’s get to it!

For our first entry, the Ace of Clubs, I present

cradle meCradle Me

by Debby Slier

Starbright Books, 2012

This book is so full of charms it is hard to know where to begin, so I’ll begin with the babies. Each board page features a different baby ensconced on a cradle board, with a single word describing the baby’s disposition (peeking, crying, yawning, etc.). Individual babies represent different Native American tribes, with a color-coded key in the back (the background color on the baby page matches a decorative frame on the key page) to identify each nation. We know how much babies like looking at other babies (they LOVE it) and a board book built around that fascination is well-conceived. Add to that the exquisite photography, the easily manipulable trim-size, and the especially appropriate dispositional content, and this makes for a winning baby book.

We consider it here, though, not for its infantile excellence but because of its powerful message of belonging. On the surface, we see each individual baby, with specific dress and cradle board construction, as belonging to his or her nation. But in their universally recognizable circumstances and expressions we see that the babies belong to one another, too. And they belong to us, and we to them. Indeed, this is a book that proclaims our universal belonging, in the simple juxtaposition of eleven beautiful babies whose distinct identities serve, mostly, to demonstrate their community, and invite us right in.

One down, 51 to go. See you next Tuesday.