Monday, January 31, 2011

Dragon Dancing

The Chinese or Lunar New Year is one of the most important annual celebrations in Asian countries and communities. It was first recognized in 2600 BC, when Emperor Huang Ti introduced the Chinese zodiac. Whereas the calendar that begins with January and ends with December is solar -- based on the Earth’s rotation around the sun -- the Chinese calendar is lunar, based on the rotation of the moon around the Earth. Thus the Chinese or Lunar New Year falls on a different day each year, sometime between late January and mid February. It begins on the first new moon of the year and lasts until the full moon 15 days later. (A new moon is not visible from the earth.)

Dragon Dancing by Carole Lexa Schaefer, illustrated by Pierr Morgan, is a good picture book to read for the Chinese New Year. At school, the children listen to a story about dragons, and then make a dragon in art class. The colorful illustrations of the children dragon dancing are beautiful.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep

Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple have created a lovely rhyming lullaby in their 2007 picture book Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep. The book begins:

"Sleep, little one, sleep.
Your dreams are long and deep.
Sleep in your burrow, cave, or den,
Sleep till the winter's done and then
Rise up and start all over again.
Sleep, little one, sleep.

Each subsequent two-page spread features a stanza for one of 12 hibernating animals -- black bear, frog, bat, snakes, box turtle, gopher, skunk, badger, beaver, mouse, toad and chipmunk. Brooke Dyer's accompanying illustrations detail each animal and their home.

At the end a child tucked in with stuffed animals hears:

"And even YOU, it's time for sleep,
So snuggle down and burrow deep.
The sheet and quilt will keep you warm
Through winter or through summer storm
Till you awaken in the morn.
Sleep, my little child, sleep

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Where Writers Write

This morning at Bruegger's Bagel Bakery in Wellesley, MA, the man at the next table was reading the Boston Globe. The page facing me read, "Where writers write." I am a writer. I bought the paper.

The first few lines of Meredith Goldstein's article could have been taken from my mouth. "I am finishing my first book," wrote Meredith.

Okay, stop here for a comment. If these were my words, they would say, "I am starting my first book." Continue.

"I am finishing my first book. That is, I am finishing my first book when I am not doing laundry, watching marathons of 'House,' or reorganizing my closet."

As a writer, I, too, want to be more productive. Daily life and the responsibilities of being a single Mom working full-time outside of the home compete with my book. Then there are those lazy hours watching Law and Order marathons.

Like Meredith Goldstein, I dream of renting an isolated cabin to escape distractions and write. Last year I snow shoed to the Vermont cabin where Robert Frost wrote during the last years of his life. "It would be nice," I thought.

Also like Meredith, but for slightly different reasons, I will finish my book in my apartment. It's nice to dream. But in the end, it is best to write.

Friday, January 21, 2011

U.K. Plans February 5 Read-Ins to Support Libraries

The blog Voices for Libraries explains what read-ins are and why they are important. Can we apply this in the United States? The Guardian reported in December on these days planned in protest of library budget cuts.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Linda Asks - Picture Books for Two-Year-Olds

My friend Linda asked for picture book suggestions for a two-year-old. Boy or girl? What are their interests? In the meantime, what are some of your favorite picture books appropriate for preschoolers? I'll start the list with these five:

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Emily's House by Niko Scharer

Only One Woof by James Herriot (His Treasury for Children contains this and seven other stories, all superb.)

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen

I could list lots more, but it's your turn. Please add your favorite(s)!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Amos McGee Illustrator Wins Caldecott

Last Sunday I recommended the book A Sick Day for Amos McGee. I consider it one of the best picture books of 2010, and I've often recommended it since its publication.

On Monday the book's illustrator, Erin E. Stead, won the Caldecott Medal. Although I don't rely on award and best seller lists, because I often disagree with them, I felt validated by the Caldecott committee's choice. As my librarian friend Nancy said, "Susan called this one!"

Erin E. Stead is only 28-years-old, and A Sick Day for Amos McGee is the first book she's illustrated. Her husband is the book's author. This in itself is a nice story. Erin shared it with the Wall Street Journal.

The Randolph Caldecott Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association to the artist of "the most distinguished American picture book for children."

A Sick Day for Amos McGee is a book that both children and adults will enjoy. It has now earned both the Caldecott Medal and the LitLinx Seal of Approval.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Sick Day for Amos McGee

Zoo keeper Amos McGee takes time each day to visit his good friends. He and the elephant play chess. The tortoise always wins their races. The shy penguin appreciates McGee's quiet company, and the rhinoceros borrows McGee's handkerchief. And the owl, who is afraid of the dark, listens as McGee reads him a story.

When McGee stays home because he's sick, his friends wonder where he is, and set out to find him.

Philip C. Stead has written a lovely story of dedicated friendship. The illustrations by his wife, Erin E. Stead, bring each character to life and provide wonderful details that add to the pleasure of looking at the pictures.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee stands out from many of the picture books published in 2010. Both Steads, writer and illustrator, have invested thought and detail to craft an excellent book.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Small Brown Dog with a Wet Pink Nose

Amelia is ready for a dog, but her parents are not. To prepare her parents, Amelia brings home Bones. Bones is small and brown, and has a wet pink nose; and he can only be seen by Amelia. He becomes a real part of the family, so that when he goes missing, a hunt ensues. A clever story with cute illustrations, A Small Brown Dog with a Wet Pink Nose, turns out to be "Amelia's Guide to Getting Your First Dog." Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen is the author, and Linzie Hunter is the illustrator.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Picture Book Disappointment

In preparation for a monthly column about picture books, I've been reading 2010 titles owned by my local public library. I'm disappointed by the lack of originality and ingenuity, and shocked that publishers have churned out so much mediocrity.

Tomorrow I'll share two titles with some merit. Today, here are the books that disappointed.

Henry in Love by Peter McCarty (dull)
Subway by Christopher Niemann (ugly)
Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown (doesn't work)
Busing Brewster by Richard Michelson (wrong audience)
Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Kahn (weak)
Little Wolf's Song by Britta Teckentrup (nothing new)
My Mommy Hung the Moon by Jamie Lee Curtis (huh?)
What's the Matter, Bunny Blue? by Nicola Smee (stretches to keep rhyme)
Hip Hop Dog by Chris Raschka (inconsistent)
Cinco de Mouse-O by Judy Cox (poor transitions)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Books Read in 2010

For the third consecutive year, I've kept a list of books read. I count listening to a book as reading, and such titles are included on my list with a (CD) designation.

My least favorite for 2010 is The Last Time I Saw Paris by Elizabeth Adler, for what reason I no longer remember. I know it is my least favorite because my list includes a minus sign after the title.

My favorite is George Washington's Great Gamble: And the Sea Battle That Won the American Revolution by James Nelson. Nelson's research and writing make history come alive. I learned details I never before knew.

My complete list follows. What was your favorite read in 2010?

Books Read in 2010
A Desirable Residence by Madeleine Wickham
A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck
At Risk (CD) by Patricia Cornwell
Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe
Can You Keep a Secret? (CD) by Sophie Kinsella
Detour Berlin by Ruth Baja Williams
Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles
Emma by Jane Austen
Every Day in Tuscany by Frances Mayes
Four to Score (CD) by Janet Evanovich
George Washington's Great Gamble: And the Sea Battle That Won the American Revolution by James Nelson
High Five (CD) by Janet Evanovich
Hornet's Nest (CD) by Patricia Cornwell
Hot Six (CD) by Janet Evanovich
I'll Never Be French by Mark Greenside
Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
One for the Money (CD) by Janet Evanovich
Plain Truth (CD) by Jodi Picoult
The Birth of Virginia's Aristocracy by James C. Thompson II
The Body in the Library (CD) by Agatha Christie
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The Last Time I Saw Paris (-) by Elizabeth Adler
The Leap by Rick Smith
The Lightning Thief (CD) by Rick Riordan
The Phantom Tollbooth (CD) by Norton Juster
The Scarpetta Factor (CD) by Patricia Cornwell
Three to Get Deadly (CD) by Janet Evanovich
Two for the Dough (CD) by Janet Evanovich
Wandering Souls by S. Scott Rohrer
When You Reach Me (CD) by Rebecca Stead

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mark Greenside's "I'll Never Be French"

Knowing that I love everything French, a friend gave me a paperback copy of Mark Greenside's I'll Never Be French, published in 2008 by Free Press.  It is an easy read, mostly enjoyable.  It's Greenside's account of purchasing a home in Brittany.

The first two sentences of the book hooked me.  "It begins with a girl.  It always begins with a girl, and even though we don't make it through the summer -- through half the summer  -- she gets me there and changes my life."

I'm a sucker for these kind of memoirs, because I harbor a wish to live them.  Greenside introduces me to a part of France I know little about, and his descriptions of the quality of life enjoyed by the French ring true.

Greenside first goes to France knowing no French, and seems to progress very little with the language as he lives there.  This, and his refusal to dress neatly, seem to be the main reasons he will never be French.  It's his own choosing.

To illustrate his language deficiencies, Greenside records his attempts at conversations in French.  I don't understand why.  His faux-pas (French for "false step") with the language are lost on readers, like me, who speak no French.  These frequent passages become sections to skip.

The book ends abruptly.  The break between the story and the last two paragraphs reminds me of a bad finish to a term paper. 

Mark Greenside will never be French by his own choosing, but the stories of his part-time life in Brittany are interesting.  His book is not a literary great, but it is a quick, mostly fun, read for those who dream of living in Europe.