Thursday, October 23, 2014

What the....!?!?!

I swear like a sailor.  I try to tone it down on here because this is a blog focused on children's literature.  However, in real life, my language is a lot more colorful.  I've heard two opposite opinions on the use of foul language.  I get it when people say that there are better ways to express yourself, that choosing swear words is lazy, etc., etc.  But goddammit sometimes the best words are the kind that come in only 4 letters. Last weekend at the Horn Book Colloquium, Andrew Smith addressed the use of "profanity" in his book Grasshopper Jungle.  His point of view, and one that I strongly support, is that words are not bad.  It is the way words are used that make them bad.  He argued that words like ugly, stupid, idiot, etc, were far worse than shit, damn, and fuck.

Today, I saw this new advertisement from FCKH8.  It has the same basic idea.  Yes, the "f-word" is a "bad" word.  But their list of words that are far worse include "pay inequality" "rape and violence" and "be pretty."  (Sorry grammar friends, just couldn't figure out the commas there.)  I'm with 'em.  I could probably clean up my language but is that really important?  Am I using those words in a detrimental way?  Maybe I am.  Maybe I should stand up for equal rights and use words that are less offensive to some. Or maybe society does need to take a look at where our priorities lie.  I could start a list of other things that would take a higher spot on that list than curse words. How about finding value in education?  Let's talk about class in America.  Who gives a crap what words I use when there are kids who, from the moment they are born, are dealt a pretty shitty hand in life?  Knowwhatimean?  Or not. What do you think?

This video reminded me of the book The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch.  And this is a blog about books really.  So let's talk about that.  Have you read this?  Elizabeth and Ronald are a happy prince and princess couple until a fire-breathing dragon destroys everything, including Elizabeth's princess clothes, and takes Ronald off to his lair.  Elizabeth, through her brains and cunning, thwarts the dragon and saves Ronald.  His response?  

"Elizabeth!  You are a mess! You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag.  Come back when you are dressed like a real princess."

To which Elizabeth responds by telling Ronald to fuck off.  Well, she calls him a bum.  Could/should/would Robert Munsch have included a different word? I mean, we all know what she really meant. *wink

Ronald is about to get what is coming to him.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Stocking up on Picture Books

Cool air is finally making it's return to New England and the leaves are cooperating by really starting to do their thing. It is the perfect time of year to buy more socks, wear layers, and stock up on all the best soup-making supplies.

I've also been stocking up on some pretty spectacular picture books.  Last weekend I spent a day at Simmons College for their annual Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium.  This event is aimed at discussing the Horn Book Boston Globe award winners as well as discussing important happenings in children's literature.  Myself and about 200 other participants listened to the authors who won awards discuss this year's theme, minding the gaps in children's literature.  We talked about diversity, the balance of girls and boys being represented, how class is represented in children's literature, and where and how nonfiction fits in the world of children's literature.  It was one of the best events I have attended about children's literature because of it's willingness to delve deep into what is missing for our young readers.

I also got a lot of great books and the picture books stole my heart!  Here are some you should pick up!  (Note: not all of these were discovered at the colloquium but they are amazing enough to include.)

Rosie Revere, Engineer and Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

These two books were not featured at the event but talk about diversity!  Rosie Revere shows a young girl taking a risk to be an engineer when no one else thinks she can do it.  She gathers materials all around her to build things but is discouraged to do so and thus, hides her efforts.  Alas, all is not lost because her great-great-aunt Rose swoops in and tells her what's up.

Madame Chapeau is about a hat maker who fits the entire town with the best hats possible.  She's a successful single woman who has her own business and every year she takes herself out for her birthday to the fanciest spot in town with her favorite hat atop her head.  This year, her hat is snatched by a crow and all the towns people offer her their own hats.  One quiet observer, a little girl, knows the secret to a perfect hat and helps save Madame Chapeau's birthday.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and My Teacher is a Monster written and illustrated by Peter Brown

Mr. Tiger was a hot contender for the Caldecott last year but much to the surprise of the book community, he did not win.  However, all was not lost because Peter Brown did win the Horn Book- Boston Globe award for this book and it seems as if a little of that wrong was righted.  Mr. Tiger lives in a city where everyone just goes along with the day-to-day monotony.  Soon, he starts to feel antsy and wants a change.  So he starts walking on four legs, and then takes off his three-piece suit. Well, all the animals won't stand for this kind of anarchy so he gets booted to the forest.  However, this does not seem to solve his problems because he realizes he misses all his friends.  Mr. Tiger heads back to the city but is surprised to discover he was not the only one ready for a change.

Mr. Tiger's transformation

My Teacher is a Monster is a cheeky little tale about what happens when you see your teacher outside of school.  Robert is pretty convinced his teacher is a monster and is shocked to see her sitting on a park bench one day.  Make sure to pay attention, because the teacher doesn't look so thrilled to see young Robert, either.  I chatted with Peter about the book a bit and he said his mom was a fourth grade teacher (!!!) and he remembers how she reacted one time when she say a student outside of school.  He said he wanted to capture a little of that other side in this story.  So when a chance wind snags the teachers hat and sends it flying (p.s. LOVING all the hats in books these days), Robert and his teacher find that they can find some peace between them....until Robert starts flying paper airplanes in school again.

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby-Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson

This 100-page picture book tells the life story of a woman who was an important part of the civil rights movement and yet not widely talked about.  She was a dancer in the 1920s, making the charleston come alive, but was not allowed to dance in many clubs in the US because of her skin color.  She took herself to Paris, where they were more accepting of differences and she boomed as a dancing sensation.  She continued to voice her opinions of segregation in the United States and eventually headed back.  One amazing thing I learned was Josephine adopted 12 children from different countries and called them her "Rainbow Tribe" to prove that different people could live together in harmony.  Move over Brangelina!!

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

I've been waiting for these fine gentlemen to get another book together and at long last it has happened!  Their last book, Extra Yarn! was a HUGE favorite among my students and this book has already won them over.  In this story, two young boys, Sam and Dave, are joined by their dog in a quest to dig a hole.  Yep, just dig a hole.  They are hoping to strike it big somehow but their efforts seem to go unrewarded.  In the cheeky way that this bestie author/illustrator team know so well, there is more to the story than the words tell you.  The ending, is a perfect subtle way of making the reader say, "Wait...wait...did they?...wait....I think...." and then they leave you hanging.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

October Picks

Due to my tardiness, I have picked just a few events in October that I would attend if I could. Hope you are enjoying a crisp fall day somewhere.

Raina Telgemeier, author of Smile and Drama, will be at Wellesley Books tomorrow, October 6, at 7 pm.  If you have a child in 4th, 5th, or 6th grade they will definitely want to be there!

Chris Raschka is sweeping through town.  He will be at the Boston Book Festival on the weekend of October 25 and will also appear at Brookline Booksmith on October 26th at 2 pm.

Junot Diaz is the Cambridge Reads author this year and he will be featured on October 14 at 7 pm and the central library in Cambridge.  This is a first come, first serve event.  No tickets.

Tomie dePaola will be honored by the Concord Public Library October 18 at 6:30 pm.  Tickets are required and can be reserved here.

And finally, the Boston Book Festival is October 25th.  Tons of great folks, including one of my personal faves, Tony DiTerlizzi, will be there.

Friday, October 3, 2014


Sometimes sadness permeates. Despite the busying of schedules, the running around, the avoiding of responsibility and the putting on a good show, we just can't shake it.  I feel silly discussing such sorrow when the world struggles with bigger issues and there is so much in my life to be thankful for.  But when I stop running and when I finally pause for a moment, all of my heartache races back and I find that I can't stop tears from coming.

It has been one month since my furry companion died.  He was a cat.  I knew it would happen someday.  But suddenly, this world I created for the past 16 years was no longer the same.  I guess I didn't realize how much this little buddy became a part of me.  In the book The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman, we learn that a person's animal companion is more than just a pet, it is part of their soul.  When a person becomes separated from their animal or their animal dies, the person suffers excruciating pain.

The past few weeks, as I have wandered through my world, I see that the people I love all still have their companion.  They have one person who belongs to them.  Despite being surrounded with so much support, I feel alone all the time. I never felt like I needed that person and maybe it was because I had NJP.  I realize now I liked that feeling of belonging to something.  Yes, I have good friends and amazing family, but NJP was just mine and I was just his.  Is it silly to fill that role with a pet?  I guess it doesn't matter, because that is just how it feels.

So, my apologies for not posting new events, not writing about amazing books, and no dance videos.  I'm healing.  It's taking a bit of time. Tonight I am turning to music to try to sooth my soul.  Aoife O'Donovan happens to be the daughter of a dear friend of mine.  Her voice always captures my deepest emotions and it just seemed the right stuff to listen to.

Take care of those people and pets you love.  They matter oh so much.