Children's Book Columns

02/15/2011 - 3:30am
Moo, Baa, La La La!

Today might be Valentine’s Day, but every day is perfect for sharing a love of reading with your child or teen. There’s nothing quite like settling down, cozying up and sharing a great book.

Way back, when my son was a toddler, his favorite book was

02/08/2011 - 9:39am
Sharing the Seasons: A Book of Poems

I have hope for spring! Every year, I reach a point where I can’t bear another minute of cold, ice or snow, let alone the barren, brown landscape. Then February and my first harbinger of spring arrives, the Maymont Flower & Garden Show. Despite it all, I am filled with hope. If the weather is wearing you down, a book full of spring may be just what you need to keep trudging along! 

Sharing the Seasons, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, celebrates each season with poems and David Diaz’s vibrant illustrations. My favorite spring poem is by Fran Haraway and describes someone who ignores the chilly, north wind, the leafless trees and the lack of crocuses and though it’s much too cold, sits outside. Focusing instead on the almond tree buds and insisting, despite all other evidence that spring is here.  
  
Old BearLike Old Bear in the book by Kevin Henkes, I even dream of spring. Throughout his hibernation, Old Bear dreams of being a cub again with “flowers as big as trees” and a crocus he can take a nap in. His dreams progress through the seasons, the palette changing from the pinks and purples of spring to the yellows and oranges of autumn until he finally awakens. At long last he pokes his head out and “it took him a minute to realize that he wasn’t dreaming,” spring was indeed here!     
 
02/01/2011 - 3:31am
Henry's Freedom Box

Black History Month begins tomorrow and the library has recently updated the bibliography, “Our Stories: The African-American Experience,” recommending many wonderful recently published titles.   Here are just a few of the historical picture books that made the list.

Two titles are Caldecott Honor winners. Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, tells the true story of Henry “Box” Brown. When his wife and children are sold to pay for their master’s debts, Henry can stand it no longer. With the help of a white doctor, he hides inside a wooden crate and mails himself to an abolitionist in Philadelphia. Travelling by train and boat he at last arrives to freedom. 

The details painted on every character’s face are a powerful complement to the text. Henry’s joy in his family and the pain at their loss are beautifully conveyed. The picture of Henry upside down in his box is my favorite. One hand is splayed, reaching towards the reader as he struggles to hold himself up just a little, attempting to relieve some of the pressure on his head, neck and shoulders. 

01/26/2011 - 9:48am
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Since March, Capitol Choices, a group of public and school librarians, booksellers and children’s literature specialists have been attending meetings monthly to find the one hundred best books of 2010 for young people. Members take their charge seriously, committing to read everything nominated in a specific age group.

01/21/2011 - 11:03am
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.

12/09/2010 - 5:08pm

           As the holiday gift-giving season kicks into high gear, we’re all looking for presents that will bring joy to the recipients without breaking the bank. The $16-18 average price of a children’s hardcover picture book may seem daunting at first, but not when you compare it to the price of toys. Considering how many times a picture book is read and re-read (say, a million in the case of “Goodnight Moon”), the cost per reading is quite low. And, of course, you are helping your child build reading skills for the future, and having fun doing it!

           Among the picture books published this year, the following stand out for their gift-giving potential.
 
          “City Dog, Country Frog” by Mo Willems, pictures by Jon J Muth. $17.99. When City Dog moves to the country one spring he meets a Country Frog who says “he’ll do” for a friend. As the seasons pass, their friendship grows, until one spring Frog is gone. The lessons Frog taught him help Dog to find a new friend. Understated text, brilliantly simple watercolor illustrations, and an ending that will bring a tear to your eye. Ages 5 and up.
12/02/2010 - 11:02am

          This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the death of Mark Twain. Although most of his books were written for adults, children and teens quickly found them, especially “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” 

          The library owns dozens of editions of this title alone. In e-book format, in paperback, in a scholarly edition from the Oxford University Press, in a children’s edition illustrated by Fredericksburg’s own Troy Howell – young readers have plenty to choose from. Tom’s scheme to get his friends to whitewash the fence for him, his infatuation with Becky Thatcher, his appearance with Huck and Joe at their own funeral – every young reader should have the chance to know and enjoy these stories. 
 
          Twain was not only a good writer, he was himself a lively character who caught the imagination of many other writers. Barbara Kerley’s new book, “The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy),” tells his story in the voice of his thirteen-year-old daughter. 
 
11/18/2010 - 3:11pm

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.
 
10/26/2010 - 3:30am

 Dave Hackenberg is not your average backyard beekeeper. He and his son run a business managing three thousand hives, moving them around the country in a tractor trailer to pollinate blueberries, almonds, and pumpkins from California to Maine. But one day several years ago, Dave opened a hive in Florida and was faced with a mystery: where were the bees?

What he found that day astonished him, as Loree Griffin Burns reports in “The Hive Detectives, Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe.”  Not only were the twenty million bees in his four hundred hives gone without a trace, but there was no sign of any other insects, either. Usually an abandoned hive is crawling with honey robbers, but not this time. “It was as if something was in the hives, something so awful that the bees who lived there were forced to leave, something so sinister that other insects refused to enter, even for free honey.”
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?  

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