Get well Tim Curry

News is emerging that actor Tim Curry is recovering from a stroke. Initial reports suggested that he had collapsed yesterday following a massive episode. More recent reports say that, while he collapsed in his LA home yesterday, the stroke occurred last July, and he has been recovering (well) ever since. In any event, I wish him very well.

rocky horrorWhen I was in High School I went to midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show week after week (after week) at the Coventry Cinema in Cleveland Heights. I think its fair to say that the experience had a profound effect on my adolescence, offering an indelible, albeit particular, affirmation of different ways of being. Watching and eventually joining the participatory irreverence, throwing toast, spritzing rain, singing and dancing along, offered me a kind of community I really needed at the time. Who knew musical theater could be like that?!

annieSpeaking of musical theater, I refuse to apologize for the fact that I love all things Annie. I just do. Ask me about Kristen Vigard’s casting as the original red-mopped orphan and her replacement with Andrea McArdle after previews in Conecticutt. Heck, watch the Julie Stevens documentary, Life After Tomorrow (SJP!) if you want to know more about it. Anyhow, Curry plays Rooster in the 1982 movie version. There’s lots to love about the film, if you’re me, at least, including his sneaky, sinister performance. He’s brilliant. And, thinking back, it’s a little striking how much Carol Burnett, as Miss Hannigam. looks like Frank N. Furter. Huh.

But today I remember Tim Curry as an extraordinary narrator of audiobooks. My introduction to audiobooks came with my very first ALSC evaluation committee experience as a member of Notable Recordings for Children. Back then each of us was assigned a sampling of eligible recordings (cassette tapes!), based on the first letter of the title. I was assigned A-C, and received, relatively early in the year, the first of  Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, The Bad Beginning. So charming. Curry’s arch, over-the-top narration makes the most of the tongue-in-cheek prose, honoring its playful irony and milking the humor. It’s just a little irresistible.

AbhorsenBut my favorite audiobook performance of all time must be his stunning readings of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy. It was such an interesting choice, casting a man to read these menacing novels about a family of necromancers in a centuries-old battle against conspiring evil, as all of the protagonists are young women. But once you hear Curry’s contemptuous reading of Mogget the familiar, and the positively dripping malevolence of Orannis, the baddest of the many baddies, you know the choice was just perfect. I have listened to all three, in sequence, at least five times, stem to stern, and they never disappoint. I recommend them all the time, and do so again today, to you.

So, here’s wishing Tim Curry a continued speedy recovery, with hopes that he finds his way back to the recording booth soon.

On the money (mostly)

Back in December we suggested some books as particularly holiday-giftable. Looking back, I see that among the eight books for young people we recommended, half were recognized at the ALA Youth Media Awards! We had the Newbery winner (The One and Only Ivan), The Sibert winner/Newbery honor book (Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon), a Caldecott honor book (Extra Yarn), and a Printz honor book (Code Name Verity). Not bad for a day’s work.

The One and Only IvanbombExtra YarnCode Name Verity





You can find a link to all of the ALA award winning titles here.

My Family Valentine

When I was growing up, Valentine’s Day was the biggest holiday going. The Valentine’s Day Peacock would administer the annual treasure hunt, hiding construction paper hearts around the house, each with a different clue on it, in Latin, and it fell to me and my sisters to hunt them down, translating one to lead to the next, and so on. Each of us was assigned a different color heart (lest they get confused) and as we grew older, the clues became more difficult and more plentiful. The trail invariably ended with particular paydirt: a cellophane-wrapped, heart-shaped box of chocolates and a pair of pink socks. I believe this went on all through our high school years (though my sister swears it was the Valentine’s Day Aardvark, so my memory may not be especially dependable) and was, even as a teen, a sweet, resonant tradition. To me, Valentine’s day will always be a holiday about family, more than romance, and so I offer you a bevy of picture books about family love, in its infinite variety, as my valentine.

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald no combina by Monica Brown,  illustrated by Sara Palacios, Children’s Book Press, 2011

Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton, Candlewick, 2010

The Dog Who Belonged to No One, by Amy Hest, illustrated by Amy Bates, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2008

All Kinds of Families, by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Marc Boutavant, Little, Brown, 2009

My People by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Charles R. Smith, Atheneum, 2009

I’ll See You in the Morning, by Mike Jolley, illustrated by Mique Moriuchi, Roaring Brook, 2008

Monday is One Day by Arthur Levine, illustrated by Julian Hector, Scholastic, 2011

A House in the Woods by Inga Moore, Candlewick, 2011

The Family Book by Todd Parr, Little Brown, 2003

In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco, Philomel, 2009

The Schmutzy Family, by Madelyn Rosenberg, illustrated by Paul Meisel, Holiday House, 2012

Mad at Mommy by Komako Sakai, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010

marisollittle owl lostdog who belonged to no one all kinds of families     my people ill see you in the morningmonday is one dayhouse in the woodsfamily bookin our mothers houseschmutzy family    mad at mommy

For your consideration 3

Why teach an old dog new tricks when the old dog is already perfect? Our Caldecott consideration continues.


Elisha Cooper

Greenwillow, 2012

Look closely here. On the surface this is a simple, lovely story about a nice old dog (a dog who doesn’t die, by the way, for those of you worried about that kind of thing). With sensitive brush and pencil work Cooper gives us an irresistible, flesh and blood (and fur) dog in Homer. But beneath that sweet surface is an especially sophisticated piece of storytelling. Copper lays the story out across a carefully structured set of panels. One by one, the members of Homer’s family pass him on the porch, inviting him to join in one outing or another. And with each cumulative turn of the page and subsequent invitation, we see the previous family member attending to his or her pursuit. And then the whole things plays back in reverse as the family returns. A wordless denouement finds Homer leaving his post on the porch and joining the family inside, hoisting his arthritic frame into what is clearly his chair. And there is peace. Cooper’s ability to paint such full-bodied characters, human and canine, is such simple linear gestures is, on its face, a little bit amazing. That he applies that skill to a brilliant narrative arc is extraordinary. It’s hard to imagine paying more respect to a child audience.

Novel Gifts

Our holiday gift recommendations continue with a few novels we think young readers might enjoy.

The One and Only Ivan

Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao

HarperCollins, 2012

Ivan the gorilla is resigned to his life in a glass enclosure at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. But when Ruby the baby elephant arrives, Ivan commits himself to winning a better life for her. Applegate crafts a natural and believable voice for Ivan, at once plain and poetic, and with it will break your heart (in the best possible way). And Castelao’s gentle gestures only add to the grace. Beautiful prose tells a beautiful story. Poignant, emotional and uplifting.

Shark King

Kikuo R. Johnson

Candlewick, 2012

A Hawaiian legend about a shape-shifting boy who becomes a king is just the thing for a picture-perfect beginning reader with graphic illustrations, comic book panels, word-balloon dialogue and ebullient excitement! Those familiar with the tropes of the graphic novel will appreciate the care with which they are observed, and those new to the format will enjoy its immediacy and its fun. Bright, smart and ebullient.

Code Name Verity

Elizabeth Wein

Disney-Hyperion, 2012

Shot down behind German lines during WWII, and enduring starvation and torture, Julie trades Allied secrets for prolonged safety and a few trifling comforts. Or does she? Wein’s startling novel weaves espionage, honor and indelible friendship into a gripping, revelatory package. Fierce readers will appreciate the investment required to dig through the obfuscation and retrieve a singularlygratifying literary reward. Dense, complex and thrilling.

Picture Book Gifts

Ready or not, holiday shopping season is upon us! The Butler Children’s Literature Center has your back. In a season overcome with ill-fitting sweaters and batteries-not-included gadgets, books make the perfect gift. These titles promise afternoons full of cozy, fireplace-adjacent escape, and there’s absolutely no assembly required.

Let’s start with some picture books:

Extra Yarn

Mar Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

HarperCollins, 2012

A young girl discovers a mysterious box full of a seemingly inextinguishable volume of yarm. She knits sweaters for all of the people in her coastal village, and, with yarn to spare, knits sweaters for the buildings, the trees, and everything else stationary. An evil Archduke absconds with the magical box, but the truth will out. Barnett crafts his story with care, paying special attention to the ace with which it unfolds, and Klassen yarn-bombs the entire outing with an irresistibly cozy charm. Warm, sweet and lovely.

Z is for Moose

Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

HarperCollins, 2012

Zebra is staging an alphabet book and is busy corralling a cast of characters to represent the different letters. When Moose’s letter is up and Mouse takes his place, bedlam ensues, with hysterical chaos leading to a heart-warming finish. Look for the (many, many) little alphabetical details happening off stage that only add to the boisterous clamor. Hilarious, irreverent and satisfying.

Nighttime Ninja

Barbara DaCosta, illustrated by Ed Young

Little, Brown, 2012

A stealth ninja sneaks through a house at midnight in pursuit of treasure of inestimable value. Just as the prize is in his grasp, his mother flips on the lights, seizes the ice-cream and sends him back to bed. With tight formatting, sinuous prose, and a masterful match of words and pictures, this one will be requested again and again. Gorgeous, funny and irresistible.