Children's Book Columns

01/21/2011 - 12:03pm
Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel

I am thrilled to share my first column with Caroline’s readers. Through the years, I have helped many of you find the titles Caroline recommended so I know how enthusiastically the column was embraced and will endeavor to continue her tradition of sharing great books for children of all ages. Luckily, children’s literature is in my blood. I began shelving books in the Headquarters Library children’s department while still in high school.

11/18/2010 - 4:11pm

Was it only twelve short years ago that “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” changed the children’s book world forever? This Friday’s release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the first installment of the last Harry Potter film, brings it all back.

I can still remember eagerly reading an advance copy of the first book and falling head over heels into the world of Hogwarts. J. K. Rowling used familiar elements – a school setting, an orphan, wise teachers, magic – in a fresh story that was notable for its wild invention. Bertie Botts’ Every Flavor Beans, portraits that came to life, the sorting hat, Muggles: these clever new creations were what readers noticed first. It was only with the unfolding of succeeding books that Rowling’s masterful plotting became apparent. Like many others, I devoured the final book over the course of a weekend, tearing up in places and turning the last page with mingled satisfaction and regret.
 
The effect on young readers was the real phenomenon. Kids who might once have eyed thick books with trepidation now proudly announced that they’d read a whole Harry Potter book in one sitting! They read the books over and over, sharing jokes and sayings from the books with their friends. It’s not too much to state that J.K. Rowling created a new generation of fantasy readers.
 
10/20/2010 - 3:22pm

A recently published New York Times article, “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children,” is causing an uproar in the children’s book world.  According to reporter Julie Bosman, booksellers are selling fewer picture books than ever, and not just because of the economic downturn. “Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books,” she reports. One bookseller noted that parents are now buying their four-year-olds “Stuart Little” while classic picture books languish on the shelf. 

Some of this could be linked to standardized testing, but it may also be due to the pressure parents feel to accelerate their children’s learning at an ever faster rate.
 
Those of us who love picture books lament this trend. Even if your four-year-old is enjoying “Stuart Little,” what is he missing by jumping to chapter books three or four years ahead of schedule? What great picture books are going unread?  
10/14/2010 - 11:07am
          Two new novels for middle grade readers couldn’t be more different except for one thing: they both concern eleven-year-old girls who have more to offer than first meets the eye.
 
          In Jennifer Holm’s “Turtle in Paradise,” everyone is doing their best to scrape by. It’s 1935, the midst of the Depression, and Turtle’s flighty mother finally has a job as a housekeeper. But her mother’s new boss doesn’t like kids, and her new boyfriend Archie has no room for her, so Turtle is sent far away to Key West, Florida, where her mother’s sister lives.
 
There this tough, sharp-tongued girl finds a whole new world that’s entirely different from the New Jersey shore she knows. Turtle describes Key West as looking “like a broken chair that’s been left out in the sun to rot.” But it’s also green, covered with vines, brightly colored flowers and palm trees. All the kids go barefoot, most of them are related to her, and news of her arrival is soon all over the island thanks to the “Conch Telegraph.” 
07/19/2010 - 1:59pm

    Bastille Day (July 14) provides a great excuse for sharing a few French-flavored books.  Ludwig Bemelmans’ “Madeline” series, set in Paris, is just the thing for preschoolers.  The rhymed story about “twelve little girls in two straight lines,” the daring Madeline (”to the tiger in the zoo Madeline just said ‘Pooh-pooh’”), and the dramatic appendicitis attack in the middle of the night (“Miss Clavel turned on her light and said, ‘Something is not right!’”) makes a read-aloud that children will ask for over and over. 

07/07/2010 - 3:09pm

    Take one poor but resourceful young woman from any number of Gothic romances; mix her with the wise governess from Eva Ibbotson’s “Journey to the River Sea;” fold in the Victorian flavor of Joan Aiken’s “Wolves of Willoughby Chase” series; add just a hint of Lemony Snicket’s narrator from “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” and you’ve got it:  Maryrose Wood’s new series, “The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.”

The first book, “The Mysterious Howling,” introduces Miss Penelope Lumley, a fifteen-year-old graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females.  The governess position at Ashton Place sounds appealing to her, especially the notice that experience with animals is strongly preferred.  But to her astonishment, the animals in question are the three children she is to care for.  Raised by wolves and found in the woods by Lord Ashton, Alexander, Cassiopeia and Beowulf drape themselves in animal skins and communicate by howling.  Under Miss Lumley’s tutelage, they soon learn to wear clothes, bathe and even make a stab at learning Latin.

06/30/2010 - 4:05pm

    It’s high summer now, with the library’s summer reading clubs in full swing and the Fourth of July right around the corner.  Marla Frazee’s award-winning picture book, “A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever,” captures the best of summer from a kid’s point of view.


    James and Eamon are spending the week with James’s grandparents so they can attend nature camp.  While Grandfather Bill tries his best to interest the boys in Antarctica, and Grandmother Pam fills them with banana waffles and ice cream sundaes, the boys enjoy all kinds of fun, most of it unrelated to nature camp.  Identifying birds?  They have more fun training their binoculars on each other’s freckles.  Sleeping in the basement on the blow-up mattress, playing video games, and eating more banana waffles are the highlights of their week.

06/09/2010 - 4:43pm

 

          With the last day of school on the horizon, be sure to stock up on audiobooks for summer car trips. Whether you’re ferrying kids to day camp, day care or day trips to Kings Dominion, you’ll find that a good audiobook makes up for any traffic jams or backseat quarreling.
 
          Second grader Stink Moody is the shortest kid he knows. No matter how often he checks, he measures just three feet eight inches tall. He’s always in the front for class pictures, and he usually plays the mouse in the school play. Then something terrible happens – his big sister Judy discovers he’s shrunk a whole quarter of an inch since the morning! Listeners five and up will be entertained and sympathetic to his plight, as told in “Stink, The Incredible Shrinking Kid” by Megan McDonald. Narrator Nancy Cartwright, familiar to “Simpsons” fans (she plays Bart), voices each character with energy and humor. Kids who like this can listen to a half-dozen additional books about Stink and his family.
 

 

05/28/2010 - 9:52am
          The Gulf oil spill, terrible though it is, has focused attention on one of the least-known environments on earth. Scientists used to believe that the deep ocean was uninhabited. As scientist Tim Flannery explains, “The eternal dark, the almost inconceivable pressure, and the extreme cold that exist below one thousand meters were, [scientists] thought, so forbidding as to have all but extinguished life. The reverse is in fact true....(Below 200 meters) lies the largest habitat on earth.”
 
          While less than 10% of this area has been explored by humans, what we have discovered to date has found its way into children’s books filled with tantalizing glimpses of ten-foot-long red worms and the enormous clams, crabs and tube worms that thrive around deep hydrothermal vents. 
05/27/2010 - 4:00pm

          If you find yourself in New York City this weekend, stop by the 42nd Street Library at 2:00 on Sunday, May 23rd.  The New York Public Library is hosting a Margaret Wise Brown Birthday Sing-in on the steps in honor of the late author’s 100th birthday.  Cupcakes are promised, and all are welcome.

          Most parents who’ve raised children in the last fifty years are familiar with Brown’s most enduring work, “Goodnight, Moon.”  Written in hypnotic rhyme and illustrated in warm reds and greens by Clement Hurd, the book did not make a splash on first publication in 1947, selling a respectable but modest 6,000 copies that fall.  But the book gradually found an audience, and by now total sales reportedly top 11 million copies.