Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Where Am I?

Hi, all. *tap tap*. Is this thing on?

After a wonderful weekend at KidLitCon 2011, it occurred to me that I do have a book blog of my very own, sorely neglected though it might be. So, hi. I'm still here. Well, mostly not HERE, at least not at the moment. But around somewhere.

If you stumble upon this site and want to see what I'm blogging about these days, your best bet is the website, where I've been posting somewhat irregularly on science fiction and fantasy for kids and teens. I'm also on Twitter as elskushner.

Oh, and right before my birthday I won this picture-book manuscript contest. Then I screamed and babbled happily for a while. Now I'm waiting for more news and will share as it hits my inbox.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Well, hello there! Long time, no see!

I just found out that my last "Librarian Mom" post at the Scholastic Parent Voices website was just that: my last. Scholastic is switching to a new model with their upcoming new site design, and my services are no longer required. I'm bummed: it was a fun two-and-a-half years; I was thrilled to be part of Scholastic's site, and it was swell to be paid for writing about something that I love to write about.

So now I'm back here at my old Blogger kidlit blog, looking around, dusting the place off, thinking about what I can do with it. I have to admit, part of me is pleased to be back, even though I'm disappointed to lose the Scholastic gig. I feel a little more free to rant here in my own space. And it'll be nice to be able to link to other publishers' sites.

For now, though, since they've given me permission to repost my old posts, here's the one I wrote this morning. Sheesh. If I'd known it was gonna be my last one, I might've tried for something a little more substantial:

Canine Sibling Rivalry

One of my colleagues recently became a grandmother! I asked her yesterday how the new family was doing, and she said that the parents and baby are fine, happy, healthy...but the family dog is perturbed. I said, "There should be a new-baby-in-the-house book for dogs!" and we both laughed for a minute and then simultaneously remembered that there actually is such a book: Madeleine L'Engle's The Other Dog, in which Touche the Poodle catalogs the ways in which the new "dog" that her people have brought home is utterly inferior to her own charming self. Touche is particularly scornful of the diaper-changing that she witnesses, noting sniffily that "White cloths or no, I would never do it in the house," but eventually admits that "in spite of myself...I am getting very fond of our other dog."

L'Engle's book isn't the only one where a dog has to adjust to a tiny, screamy, attention-monopolizing intruder. As it turns out, there is a whole mini-genre on the topic. In McDuff and the Baby, by Rosemary Wells and Susan Jeffers, the scrappy little Westie, who first appeared as a stray rescued by Fred and Lucy in McDuff Moves In, faces disruption in his cozy retro household. With the arrival of the baby, Fred and Lucy no longer read the comics to McDuff, or take him for walks, and he can't hear the radio over the baby's crying. He retaliates, in charmingly understated fashion, by glowering at the baby (which no one notices), and then by refusing his food, which does get Fred and Lucy's attention. When they make an effort to include McDuff, he and the baby begin to enjoy each other's company, and the book ends with the two exchanging convivial "woof"s.

In Truelove, by Babbette Cole, the displaced hero is so demoralized by the change in the household that, after all his gifts and advances are ignored, and the love song he sings (or howls) for the baby gets him kicked out to the porch for being too loud, he runs away and joins a pack of homeless dogs and has to be rescued from the pound. The fact that this story is told mostly in the pictures, while the text is a series of cliched sayings about love ( like "Love gives you strength" and "Love makes your heart sing," ) makes it all the more poignant.

Any of these would be a great present for a family with a new baby and a beloved dog...or a beloved older sibling, who might be able to relate!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Where to Find Me

Well, I should've done this months ago, but better late than never:

For now, this blog is on hiaitus, though that chould always change; I'm posting once a week on children's books and divers related topics at Scholastic's Librarian Mom blog, and apparently that is all the kidlit blogging I am capable of without exploding into a mass of pathetic goo. So, go on over there and say hi!

(Just watch-- now that I've gone and posted this, I'll suddenly get the urge to post about something kids'-book-related that doesn't fit into the Scholastic blog's parameters, and then this post will be moot. Happens every time. Until then, though, this post will be up top.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Elijah Eureka

I've been reading through the Newbery winners (and working a couple different jobs, and setting up in a whole new city and country, and wrestling my kid into her clothes in the morning, and etc. Not writing here, alas, but not because I wasn't thinking about it)--anyway, reading the Newbery books, and I've been thinking about Elijah of Buxton.

Now, I liked Elijah of Buxton. I liked the colorful characters, and the impish narrator, and the sly humor, and the thing with his mom and the snake and the cookie jar, and the classmate who wanders around with the doll to welcome new escaped slaves, and the fish he gives away all over town, and all of that.

I liked it. A lot. And it earned that Newbery Honor, and that Coretta Scott King award, and whatever further honors (or maybe honours) it's going to win in both the U.S. and Canada (where author Christopher Paul Curtis has lived for the last several years, and where I now live too).

But, somewhere around the point where the Reverend takes Elijah to see the carnival, I started to get a bit impatient with Elijah of Buxton. It seemed sort of episodic and rambling to no great purpose. I knew there was a plot coming (from the front-cover flap if nowhere else), and had some general idea of where it was going to be taking us, but when I was over halfway through the book I started having little internal monologues along the lines of: Come on, Mr. Curtis! Enough with the charming anecdotes, and bring it on already!

And then he did, of course, with a pow-pow-pow of plot that lays out--with no sugar-coating whatsoever and yet still miraculously in a way a kid could take in--the horror that was slavery in the United States, and left me gaping, like everyone else did, at how good it was.

But still, I've been thinking about why it took him so long: the book is 341 pages, and the real plot doesn't get rolling until page 181, and only kicks into high gear around 270. That's about 2/3 of the book spent on setup and back story and voice. Curtis's voice is compelling enough, and his characters are strong enough, that he can carry it off, but why does he?

Then I remembered I felt the same way about The Watsons Go to Birmingham, back when that was the new book everyone was raving about: there's this great family, and they're funny, and quirky, and they get in a car, and drive, and that's funny and interesting, and...and...and...well, I knew we were going to end up in Birmingham with a church being bombed, I mean it was 1964 and obviously that was where it was going, and the ride was swell, but I started to feel like one of those kids on a car trip: are we there yet? How about now? Now??

And I knew he didn't have to do it like that; I mean, Bud, Not Buddy isn't like that: Bud hits the road on something like page 7, and after that we're off to the races. And while I wasn't as crazy about Bucking the Sarge, there was no pacing problem there, either.

But tonight I finally figured it out, and I had to write it up here. Here's what I figured out: he did it on purpose. Elijah of Buxton and The Watsons Go to Birmingham are both about Big Tragic Events in African-American History, with capital letters and bold-face. So Big and Tragic and boldface, in fact, that it's easy to lose sight of the reality that these big events happened to regular people, not cardboard cutouts, and that regular people have a way of living their lives in small letters, with no boldface, but plenty of goofy jokes and small emnities and weird little personal habits, even when they're living in the midst of those Big Historical Events.

So he did it on purpose. He undercut the boldface, with embarrassing anecdotes about when the hero was a baby, and surly teenage brothers who are driving everybody nuts, and dads excited about the newest coolest car gadget, and slapstick practical jokes, and anecdotes up the wazoo until you start to wonder, what is the point??

But that is the point. He doesn't need to grab you right up with a plot first thing: the historical setup is carrying the tension right along with it, and even a 10-year-old knows it. If he brought in the big history-related plot right away, that would be what the book was about. And the book isn't about that: it's about the people who lived then, living their lives in spite of the racism lurking all around them. He needs to lope along with the funny anecdotes, because the loping and the funny are what's subversive. In Bud, Not Buddy, he can move along right away, because Bud, Not Buddy isn't about a Big Tragic Event in African-American History. It takes place in the Depression, sure, but since most of us have almost no ready-made sterotypical images of African-Americans in the Depression, he doesn't have to fight quite so hard to make Bud a real kid as opposed to a Tragic History Cutout.

It's not a new thing, to take a big historical event and make it human-sized. It's what every decent historical novel ever written has done. But I'm not sure how many people have done it by writing as little as possible about the elephant in the room until close to the last minute of the book.

It may be that everyone else has had this epiphany already, or that it was so self-evident that no one else has felt the need to point it out, but it was the first I've thought of it. And I know I've neglected this poor blog to the point where there may be no one even reading this. But if there's anywhere where someone else might have noticed this, and/or might think it was kind of a cool thing for Christopher Paul Curtis to have done, it's the kidlitosphere.

So, Kidlitosphere, here it is, should you happen to stumble across it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Terrible Days and Pizzas: Books About Emotions

[Cross-posted once again at Librarian Mom.]

My kid had a terrible tantrum last night: a real humdinger of a meltdown over a Chanukah present. She’s kind of old to have those on a regular basis, but we still get them every once in a while. She was furious, then upset, then penitent, then furious again about the consequences for her first tantrum.

After she’d calmed down some, she started recounting all the awful things that had happened to her that made this the WORST DAY OF HER LIFE.

“Wow,” I said. “It’s kind of like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” I didn’t want to push the comparison, but it seemed to take her out of herself just a little to remember that other people have felt the way she did—enough that Judith Viorst wrote a whole book about a kid whose day goes so badly that he declares repeatedly that he wants to move to Australia.

Here are a few other books about emotions that might help a kid who’s stuck in her (or his) own anger or misery:

When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry, by Molly Bang. Enraged over a sibling dispute, Molly runs and runs outside, then cries, then climbs a tree and lets “the wide world comfort her,” until her anger is dissipated and she returns to her house to play a game with her family. What I love about this book is the way the vibrant, bold, pulsating colors of Bang’s painted illustrations make it absolutely clear what Sophie is feeling. A rare nonjudgemental book about a child’s totally believable anger.

How Are You Peeling?, by Saxon Freyman and Joost Elders. This duo has created a whole series of books in which the characters are played by fruits and vegetables, cleverly carved to resemble animals and people. This one, which introduces a surprisingly broad range of emotions, is my favorite: who would have guessed that lemons and onions and even turnips could be so expressive? (I’m particularly fond of the sulky red pepper who illustrates the concept of pouting.) The illustrations, along with the jaunty rhyming text, also help keep the book from bogging down with seriousness or preachiness.

Pete’s a Pizza, by William Steig. [out of print, but available used and at many libraries.] It’s raining, so Pete can’t go outside to play with his friends. He’s miserable, but not for long: his parents start pretending he’s a pizza: they “knead” him on the kitchen table, sprinkle paper (for cheese) and checkers (for pepperoni) on him, and drop him on the couch to be “baked.” All the while his expression modifies from full-bore crabbiness to mildly-amused-in-spite -of-himself to total giggling enjoyment, until he leaps off the counter (where’s he’s about to be “sliced”) and runs away, only to be caught and tickled. My daughter hates to be cheered up or jollied out of what she’s feeling, but sometimes she likes reading about it, and your child might too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Light up the Darkness with Hanukkah Books

[cross-posted at Librarian Mom]

Like many Jewish kids, my daughter ends up getting read a lot of Chanukah books around this time of year. It’s one way for her to connect to her Jewish heritage and traditions at a time of year when sometimes it feels like the whole known world is one big Christmas celebration!

Over the years, we’ve progressed from the very simplest board books to some meatier titles. Here are some picks from our Chanukah bookshelf:

This original tale has everything you need in a kid’s book, really: a wily trickster figure (Hershel of Ostropol, based on a famous character of Jewish folklore) a seemingly impossible task (to defeat the goblins and bring back Chanukah by lighting all eight nights of candles in the old, haunted synagogue) and, best of all, a cast of truly monsterish goblins, by turns dopey and irritating and purely, spookily wicked, depicted with all their glorious warts and teeth by the late, great, illustrator Trina Schart Hyman.

  • The Flying Latke, by Arthur Yorinks; illustrated by William Steig, with photo illustrations by Arthur Yorinks and Paul Colin

Opinions vary on this farcical restaging of the Chanukah miracle, wherein one single latke feeds an entire extended family that’s holed up in their New Jersey home for eight days after a Hanukkah party gone wrong. Some people might find it too in-jokey, but my kid loves the Borscht-belt slapstick humor, and I get a big kick out of the illustrations: the author and illustrator rounded up a stellar cast of actors, authors, and children’s book luminaries and their kids (John Turturro and Maurice Sendak each make an appearance) to act out each scene, which were then photographed and superimposed on a painted background. The resulting tableaux emphasize the over-the-top schtick-y nature of the book, and make it a treat to pore over for details.

Sara has a dilemma common to Jewish kids: Christmas envy. When the mysterious Tante Miriam shows up at the family Chanukah party and gives each kid a gift, Sara’s annoyance deepens; her present is a weird, huge, golden dreydl. Except, well, it actually sends her spinning into another reality, one that includes King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, a lost princess who needs rescuing, and the Demon King. Also, some highly satisfying riddles that my kid has been enjoying trying out on friends.
I can’t pretend to be unbiased about this new addition to the Chanukah canon: it’s by my cousin. But just as she’s more than accomplished enough not to need a plug from me, The Golden Dreydl had plenty going for it on its own to engage both reader and listener, even without the family connection, when I read it aloud to my daughter a few weeks ago. It was especially fun to find the “Nutcracker Suite” connections together (though I have to admit that the riddles were made even more enjoyable by my slowly dawning realization that most of them came from the stock of jokes my dad used to tell us).

These are just a few of my family’s favorite books about Chanukah (Or Hanukkah, or Hanukka…it’s always a challenge to figure out how it’s going to be spelled next). If you’re looking for more, there’s no shortage of resources:, Kidsreads,, and the educational website all have extensive annotated lists of Chanukah titles for children. Scholastic’s own website has a nice list of Hanukkah picture books, as well as an article about December holidays which includes some excellent Hanukkah titles, as well as books about Christmas and Kwanzaa, and tips on discussing all three holidays with children.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Heralding Robert's Snow with Giles Laroche

I’ve been pretty quiet on this blog about the amazing Blogging for a Cure effort (though I did write about it over at Librarian Mom a couple of weeks ago), so it’s a treat to have the chance to not only feature a snowflake illustrator in support of the Robert’s Snow: For Cancer’s Cure online auction, but to do so on the very last day before the first snowflake auction opens.

Giles Laroche has been drawing, according to this site,“as long as he can remember.” He illustrates using a technique he calls “paper relief,” a combination of drawing, painting, and paper cut that produces a three-dimensional effect.

I knew of Laroche through his illustrations for Sacred Places, by Philemon Sturges, but discovered through research for this post that his illustration credits include an impressive variety of other titles. On my desk right now are What Do Wheels Do All Day? written by April Jones Princes, and Bridges are to Cross and Down to the Sea in Ships, both written by Laroche’s frequent collaborator Philemon Sturges.

In each of these books Laroche takes on a specific and visually striking topic—respectively, wheels, bridges, and boats—and brings it alive in a way that’s meticulously detailed enough to satisfy the most mechanically-minded kid (I’m especially fond of the gears and pulleys in “What Do Wheels Do All Day?” and the individually cut and placed pieces spanning the Apurimac River Bridge in “Bridges Are To Cross”) and bright and accessible enough for even easily-distracted toddlers. Each page is a world in itself, and rewards multiple viewings.

Like his book illustration, Laroche’s snowflake, entitled “Compass and Cormorant,” is both stunning and simple. I love the juxtaposition of the medieval-esque angelic herald with that alert seabird on the other side, ready to take flight. Here; it's worth a closer look:

The Robert’s Snow: For Cancer’s Cure auction is ready to take flight too, as of tomorrow. Please take a look at all the snowflakes, and consider bidding on one (or more!). It’s a rare chance to support a truly worthy cause and to own an affordable piece of art by a children’s illustrator.