Tuesday, January 31, 2012


An interactive evening with
Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman
I have been going to author readings and signings for many, many years.  Sometimes they are at big festivals and sometimes they are at bookstores.  Sometimes the authors are not very well known, and some I borderline obsess over.  (Yes, I have seen Kate DiCamillo 4 times, and I am very ok with that.)

You would think after all these events I would finally get over my childhood giddiness when I meet them.  Nope.  It is always the same.  I sit in the audience listening to them talk about their stories, the process, the joy.  I hear people ask questions, sometimes great, sometimes...well...embarrassing.  And then I get in line with my books to be signed clutched under my arm.  I creep closer while folks in line around me talk about the author, other books, etc.  Then, I get to the front.  And the whole time I am thinking what I would say to this person.  What could I possibly say to let them know how much I appreciate their work?  How their stories have changed my life and the life of other people I know.  (Have YOU read The Hunger Games yet!??)

So for a good 5 minutes in line I try to think of something.  I always go through the same routine -   wondering what to say as I make my way through the line, and then ultimately deciding on nothing.  I just stand there.  All my emotions are bottled up and I want to gush but I don't want to make a complete fool out of myself.  It's just like when you finally get up the nerve to talk face to face with that person you have a crush on and then when you get there you all of a sudden feel sick to your stomach and you run away to the bathroom.  The first time I met an author, Robert Fulghum who wrote All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, I had that moment.  All I knew is that I didn't want to say anything stupid.  As he signed my book, me standing in silence, mouth suddenly dry from fright, I blurted out, "OHMYGODIJUSTLOVEYOUSOMUCH!"  Yep.  Stupid.  I walked away with my head hanging, knowing of all the things I could have said, that was about the worst.

Kadir Nelson, he likes my hat. *Gush*
Only once in my life did I have something to say.  A few years back I met Kadir Nelson, author of lots of amazing things, including Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans which won the Coretta Scott King Award this year.  As he signed my book he told me he liked my hat.  So I told him to go to Salmagundi in Jamaica Plain, MA.  Go figure that is when I knew what to say.

Well, tonight I saw Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman at Vroman's in Pasadena.  Spectacular.  I have never laughed so much at an author event.  One of my favorite parts of the evening was when Handler (you all know he is Lemony Snicket, right?) described how he and Maira first started working together.  He had just written the manuscript for 13 Words and he took her out to a fancy restaurant.  He gave her the manuscript and then ran to the bathroom and hid as she read it.  "Everyone has had one of those moments," he said. Ha!  Imagine, I knew exactly how he felt. "Maybe I will tell him that!" I thought to myself. Of course, what did I say when I finally made my way through the line? "OHMYGOSH my students will never believe I met you!  Can I get my picture with you?"  Ugh.  Some things will never change.

They said yes!

Monday, January 30, 2012

On the Playground is Where I Spent Most of My Days

Thanks Wikipedia for this image!
No doubt some of you are going on with the rest of the story of how a young "Will" had trouble on the east coast, was swooped up, and moved out to Bel Air in sunny California.  What on earth has this got to do with children's literature, you ask??  Well, this week is National Storytelling Week!  Of course, that is, if your nation is the UK.  However, I am the Storytelling teacher at my school so I will be celebrating the 12th anniversary of National Storytelling Week.  If you go to the Society for Storytelling website you will read how this tradition started in 2000 as an attempt to promote one of the oldest art forms, storytelling.

A good story, short or long, real or made up, will stick in the minds of anyone who hears it.  Whether it is put to music, performed, or shared around the dinner table, it will rattle around in your brain bringing you something to think about later.  That is why some of you know Will Smith's story.  I'm sure if I asked some people what they were doing on September 11, 2011, they would have a story to tell.  Maybe you will even have something to share if I were to ask about your first kiss, or a time you had your heart broken.

My grandparents, before
the world had color.  The story of
their courtship for two years
while he was in WWII is one
of my favorites.
I'm lucky enough to say that I come from a family of storytellers.  No, we are not a traveling band of gypsies who make money off of spinning a tale, or even performers at one of the many storytelling festivals.  But we can tell one heck of a story!  When my siblings and I were little we used to beg our mother to tell us one of her "Uncle Steve" stories.  He, like many tricksters in traditional folktales, taught us the consequences of being a bit of a dare devil.  Every year, on our birthdays, our mom calls us and tells us our "Being Born" story.  It always starts the same, "It was a day, just like today..." and then goes off into the very day we were born.  Of course, at this point in my life, I have discovered that my "Being Born" story overlaps with some of my other siblings' stories.  The ability to add and take away is one of the best parts of storytelling and my mother has it down! And then, there is one of our family favorites.  One year, my darling sister asked my mom why all the old pictures were in black and white.  My mother, not missing a beat, went headfirst into a story about how the whole world used to be black and white and she even added enough details to describe the day the world first turned to color.  My poor sister.  It wasn't her fault she was born into a family of tale-spinners.

I continue our family tradition in my own way now.  As an undergrad in college I had the privilege of studying with Rosemary Vohs, who taught two storytelling classes, at Western Washington University.  We learned the history of storytelling, or as much as we could, we told stories, and heard stories, we even competed in storytelling competitions!  I also got to know Swil Kanim, a Native American violinist, actor, and storyteller extraordinaire.  He showed me how personal stories can bring people together.  Now I pass on their knowledge, just as many storytellers have done throughout history, to others.  I teach a quarter long course at my school and it is by far my favorite part of my job!  For 8 glorious weeks we spin tales, play storytelling games, change our personalities and voices, and put on one heck of a show. And then at the end of 8 weeks, I get a whole new group of kids who are raring to go.

One of my students tells
her version of "The Gigantic Turnip."
As I read about all the new-fangled E-readers and their threat to the printed word, I can't help but think about storytellers from long ago. (Maurice Sendak gives his opinion on E-books at around 6:48 in this video.) I wonder how they felt when their art form, the ever evolving story, changed into something permanent.  I can imagine them wondering why anyone would write a story down...how would you change it every time you tell it!?

This week, I will be celebrating National Storytelling Week, but it won't be too difficult for me.  If YOU would like to celebrate, I suggest you turn off your TVs (or whatever new-fangled device you hold...books included!) and tell someone a story.  Or maybe ask someone to tell you a story.  (I highly recommend little kids and grandparents!) Make it up, change one around, or keep it simple.  And now, to help you get started....

Once upon a time...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Awards!

I woke up, just a few minutes ago, to listen to the live webcast of the ALA Book Awards.  Here are some of the awards!

Belpre Award
Illustration: Diego Rivera: His World And Ours by Tonatiuh Duncan
Text: Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Odyssey Book Award for Audio Book: Rotters by Daniel Krauss

Batchelder Award: Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak

Robert F. Sibert Award: Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of the Macy's Day Parade by Melissa Sweet

Theodore Seuss Geisel Award: Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider

Caldecott Medal Book:  Honor Books: Blackout by John Rocco, Grandpa Green Illustrated and Written by Lane Smith, Me...Jane Illustrated and Written by Patrick McDonnell

Caldecott Medal: A Dog for Daisy Illustrated and Written by Chris Raschka

Newbery Medal: Honor Books: Inside Out & Back Again written by Thanhha Lai, Breaking Stalin's Nose written and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Newbery Medal: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Friday, January 20, 2012

Find Your Neverland

“It’s like Dinotopia!”

“What is Dinotopia? And what’s like Dinotopia, Kate??”

“The girl in the book, like when she escapes to her own world.  It’s like Dinotopia.  Dinotopia is the place where my friend and I go.  We can do anything we want in Dinotopia.  When we miss someone or if we want to see someone we can’t really see, we go to Dinotopia.  We know it’s not real, but it is where we go.  Like I don’t get to see my grandpa a lot.  So I can go to Dinotopia to see him.  Or like yesterday I got to hang out with George Washington but he got mad at me because I forgot to bring the peanut butter sandwiches.  And sometimes I just go to see things.  Like the butterflies that are as big as trees and when they fly by you, you can feel the wind from their wings swing around you.”

That.  That right there is what books do.  They ignite and explode the imagination.  This little girl, who revealed her own version of Neverland in my after school book club, had her imagination sparked by a new character we were reading about.  And I knew exactly what she was talking about. Because I have a Neverland of my own.

Just a friendly reminder to keep reading...it opens up worlds.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Get Up, Stand Up

The Coretta Scott King Award,
picture borrowed from http://jaysanalysis.com/2010/11/
Today we honored the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  As a teacher, I always feel conflicted about the best way to present this man's life and his message to kids.  This year, the teachers at my school decided we would show one of his speeches to our entire middle school.  We decided to show his last speech, the Mountaintop speech, rather than the typical "I Have a Dream." This week, in each homeroom, we will focus on the work of someone who was inspired by MLK or who inspired him.  Our hope is for our students to see that the movement for change does not stop or start with one person.  It is a constant battle that goes on everywhere in the world.  There are many ways in which we can each stand up for some sort of injustice.  Whether it is on a grand scale, such as the Civil Rights Movement, or on a smaller scale, such as being kind to others, we all have opportunities to make a difference in the world.

Just as I wondered the best way to educate my students, I also questioned which books were best to share today.  Books about the man himself?  Books about other movers and shakers?  Something different?  Well, a trip to Vroman's helped me decide.  I bring to you two books that won the Coretta Scott King Award last year.  (The new winners will be announced next week!)  The Coretta Scott King Award, named for MLK's wife, has been awarded every year since 1969.  In 1970, the award was expanded not only to a writer, but also an illustrator.  The quote below is taken directly from the American Library Association's website,

"Given to African American authors and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream of a pluralistic society.

The award is designed to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood."

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Bryan Collier won the CSK illustrator's award for this book.  It tells the story of a slave, known only as Dave, who lived in South Carolina in the 1800s.  He was a skilled potter who inscribed short poems on some of is pottery.  Much of his life is unknown, especially how he came to read and write.  Hill's words are accompanied by Collier's beautiful art.  Collier mentions in his note at the end that there weren't any photographs of Dave so he based his work on someone who he felt, "reflected the spirit of Dave."  His use of watercolor and collage bring the life of Dave, and his pottery, together beautifully.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

The cover of this book is decorated with almost as many awards a book can win.  Boasting the CSK Award, it was also a National Book Award Finalist, a Newbery Honor Book, and it won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.  This morning I discovered why.  Williams-Garcia unlocks the story of three little girls who visit Oakland, California in 1968.  They travel from Brooklyn to Oakland to meet their long-lost mother.  They discover that their mother is a poet and part of the Black Panther movement.  However, according to the girls, she is not much of a mother.  She does not hug, cook, or even spend time with them.  Not really sure what the Blank Panthers are all about, every day they are sent  to "The People's Center" where they learn about the founders, make posters, and try to keep a "normal" summer vacation.  The oldest daughter, Delphine, feels responsible to protect her younger sisters but also finds herself questioning her own beliefs.

At one point she struggles with whether or not she should attend a rally with her sisters.  "I wanted to watch the news.  Not be in it." I read this line thinking of my students, my friends, and my own life.  How many of us feel scared of taking risks reasons similar to this?

It takes a lot of courage to act.  It is much easier to watch, listen, and observe things in life.  Sit back and it will all work out.  Those other people will get things done.  And yet there is so much to be done in this world.  So today, my friends, take the time to ask yourselves, what are you fighting for?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Holy Molasses!

Today marks the anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood of Boston.  On January 15, 1919, a molasses tank in the North End of Boston burst and a tidal wave of molasses swept through the streets.  I remember reading this book, Patrick and The Great Molasses Explosion by Marjorie Stover, when I was little, not believing it was true.  I was thrown off that such an event could actually happen.

While the idea of a molasses flood sounds remarkable, it was actually a tragedy.  There was a significant amount of damage.  Check out the Boston Public Library Photos HERE.  In addition to the structural damage, 21 people lost their lives, including two 10 year old children.

Boston folks, I wish there were more kids books to share about this interesting part of history but this one will do.  In addition, here is a clip by Stephen Puelo.  He wrote a book called Dark Tide, an adult book, all about the events surrounding the Great Molasses Flood.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Find Out What it Means to Me

2012 is shaping up to be a literary year for sure.  I am excited about all the possibilities, the new books coming out, and the events.  For those of you with resolutions to give back, I have multiple opportunities for you to do this…and with books!

But before we get going I have to share one tiny story of what makes my job so amazing.  I’m a teacher by day and that job is more than just guiding kids to new understandings.  Some days I am a nurse (cuts and bumps and bruises), a dentist (many loose teeth), a mom (when you just need a hug), a judge (“I don’t care who started it...”), and a counselor (I don’t know why your parent hit you but it's not your fault and I can try to help.)

Then there are the days where we, as teachers, need to embrace a moment that doesn’t come along often.  Today during writing, all my students were diligently working on their final drafts.  We capitulated (our word of the day) to the writing process; we had a deadline to meet.  While we write we usually listen to soothing, quiet music brought to us by Pandora.  Today, however, without warning, the soul-moving voice of Aretha Franklin belted out her infamous first line, “What you want? Baby I got it!”  Heads lifted, smiles spread, and some eyes turned to me.  What to do?  I tried to calm the impending shoulder-shaking.  “Ok, ok, calm down.”  We have a class DJ who is supposed to handle this type of situation. “DJ, will you please skip this song?”  Our DJ walked over and glanced at the computer screen.  Then he looked back at me.  Hesitation.  A beautiful thing sometimes.  “Ok,” I caved, “Turn it up just a little bit.”  And then, on my signal, our impromptu dance party began.  For 3 groovy minutes we had our own version of Soul Train.  We formed congo lines, kids walked like Egyptians, some were just rolling on the river.  It didn’t matter how we did it, but we all got our groove on.

Yes, today I taught my kids that it is ok to break the rules every now and again.  And now, as I said to my kids, back to business.  What you need?  You know I got it! Here are some upcoming events!

LA Area
Storytime in the Garden
This Saturday, January 14th, and every second Saturday of the month, myself and a small group of other volunteers will be leading storytime at the Micheltorena St. School Garden.  Storytime is from 12 to 1.  Come on down! And, if you would like to help contact me!  I could use more readers, folks to lead art projects, and supplies.

Antoinette Portis
Author of Not a Box will be signing books at Vroman’s. Saturday, January 14, 10:30 am

Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman
These two folks, who joined forces for 13 Words, have once again paired up.  Their recently released Why We Broke Up is amazing.  (I just finished it and will review very soon.)  They will be speaking and signing books at Vroman’s on January 30. They will be at the Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica on January 31at 7 pm. (Handler, by the way, is better known as his pseudonym, Lemony Snicket.)

Boston Area

Grace Lin
Author of The Year of the Dog presents her new book Dumpling Days at Porter Square Books.  January 21, 7 pm.

Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman
Before heading to the west coast, this pair will be at Wellesley Books in Wellesley on January 21 at 4 pm.


World Book Night
World Book Night is an amazing event I just learned about.  On April 23 (the date of Shakespeare and Cervantes deaths) this organization will send books to 50,000 volunteers.  Those volunteers will each get 20 books and then they will be charged with the task of giving those books to people who don’t have books, who need to read, etc.  All you have to do to be a part of this is sign up on the website and choose from among the 30 books available.  The books are AMAZING.  Because of Winn Dixie, The Hunger Games, and more great books are available.  Also, the books are not just kids books.  You can choose from many amazing adult books to give out as well.  Check out THIS LINK

ALA Awards Show
Can't wait to find out who wins the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, and other medals this year?  Well you are in luck!  The award show will be available as a live webcast on January 23rd.  This amazing event takes place at 7:30 am, Central Time.  The website (CLICK HERE ) says it is a virtual first come, first serve so get there early!

Get your reading groove on!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Who Needs a Hug?

Today I visited one of my local bookstores to place an order.  I was ordering books for GAB, Girls and Books, the all-girl book club I run at school.  I decided to skip Amazon and give some business to a bookstore I love so much.  While I was there, I decided to peruse the children's book section.  I mean, why not, right?  And while I was there a book jumped out at me.  Not literally, of course, but it was a book I had not seen before.  Hugs from Pearl by Paul Schmid.  Sometimes, a book just wants to be read.  This book, it wanted me to read it.

In Hugs from Pearl we start off by reading that Pearl LOVES to hug.  But hugs aren't so great from porcupines.  And guess what Pearl is?  That's right, a porcupine.  Her adoring classmates love her hugs so they brave the acupuncture while the teacher keeps a supply of band aids in the classroom.  But Pearl doesn't want to hurt her friends so she tries and tries to find a way to make her hugs more huggable.

After reading this delightful little book I noticed another book about hugs on the very next shelf! The book was Big Bear Hug by Nicholas Oldland.  In this book, Bear is also a hugger. He hugs everyone and everything. He even hugs animals that bears usually eat!  Most of all Bear likes to hug trees.  He spends his days wandering around the forest hugging trees.  Then, he sees a man with an ax enter the forest.  The man looks at all the trees so Bear assumes that the man must love trees too.  (We all know about assuming...)  When Bear sees the man start to chop down a tree he does something he has never done...he growls! He is ready to attack but then realizes this is not like him.  The solution?  Hug it out!  He gives that man a big ol' Bear hug and it scares the jeepers out of the man so that he runs away.

These two books highlight the power of hugs.  They were also perfectly timed because I had a good friend today who needed a hug and I was too far away to give her one.  In fact, I know a few people who could probably use some hugs this week.  Cheers to the huggers!  XOXOXO


This resolution of putting my ducks in a row has turned out to be quite productive.  Yesterday I did some things around my apartment that I have been putting off since I moved in.  I also dropped my car off to get my brakes done and today...all done!  I am ever so thankful to my mechanic here in LA.  It is quite difficult to find a good one and I have been blessed in both Boston and LA.  So in honor of my mechanic, Chris, for fixing my car (her name is Foxy Loxy) I bring you two appropriately themed books!

Smash! Crash! Trucktown by Jon Scieszka

This book series is by one of my all-time favorite authors.  I bought this for my nephew Nate last year.  He is just the type of little boy who loves cars, trucks, tractors, and anything with wheels in general.  In this first book of the series, Jack and Dan (a truck and dump truck, respectively), decide to smash and crash into everything.  Nate loved reading the repeated lines of "Smash! Crash!" as the drove into everything.  Not sure if my mechanic would approve but Nate gave it two thumbs up!

Chicken Little

Some of you might know this story from the movie that came out a few years ago but I assure you it has been around for a looooong time.  There are lots and lots of versions with different endings and different characters.  Sometimes it is also called Henny Penny.  Either way, the story goes that the chicken character thinks that the sky is falling.  So she/he decides to tell the king and along the way finds a bunch of other friends with rhyming names, Ducky Lucky, Loosey Goosey, etc., to help.  Eventually they run into Foxy Loxy.  In some versions the sly fox eats 'em all. In others, they outwit the fox.  Either way the warning is to not believe everything you are told.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place

incorrigible: adj.  incapable of being corrected or amended

My resolution this year is to get my ducks in a row, to organize and better my life.  So what better book to review in the new year than one about incorrigible children?  I started this book after Mas recommended it and once again she has picked a winner!  (Seriously, Mas, how do you find all these wonderful books??)  While I was back home my sister Jessie and I started reading The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood aloud to each other.  We were hoping to finish it before I left home but we didn't get all the way through.  However, if you get a chance to read this to someone I highly recommend it!

In this book, Penelope Lumely has recently graduated from the Swanburn Academy for Poor Bright Females.  (cheeky, right?)  She takes a job as governess at Ashton Place, a sprawling estate in the countryside of England.  Here she discovers that her pupils were raised by wolves and have only recently been discovered by Lord Frederick on a hunting expedition.  However, armed with the training of Swanburn Academy, and the words of wisdon from Agatha Swanburn, Penelope takes on the challenge.  She proves to be a talented governess but faces a challenge when the Lord and Lady of the house want to present the children at the Christmas party.  The book never tells us why the children were raised as wolves and there are bits of mystery sprinkled throughout.  This is the first book in a series, so it only makes sense that not all questions are answered.
Jessie and I sip on smoothies before
we read The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place

I loved the references to classic literature and the bits of Jane Eyre that made it to the pages.  The words of Agatha Swanburn, founder of Swanburn Academy for Poor Bright Females, also make the reading enjoyable. My personal favorite is, "That which can be purchased at a shop is easily left in a taxi; that which you carry inside you is difficult, though not impossible, to misplace."  An added bonus to the book are the illustrations of Jon Klassen, author and illustrator of the fantastic I Want My Hat Back.  This guy is on the rise and it was a delight to find his work among the pages of this book.