Category Archives: children’s books

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Long ago favorites

Inspired by this Buzzfeed post from earlier in the week, I thought back on my favorite illustrated books as a kid. They were mostly fairy tales (or close to), as are the illustrations in that post. I know the trends in children’s book illustrations change drastically from generation to generation—even year to year—so when I went hunting, it was no real surprise to me, that it took some more serious digging to find examples of the types of books—both in story and design—that I loved the most.

It wasn’t hard, however, to remember the titles of my top favorites, since they still hold a place on my bookshelf (albeit in my childhood home, but they did withstand all the teenage and college year purges).

I remember reading Melisande by E. Nesbit and illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Harcourt 1989) over and over and over as a girl, fascinated as I was by the artwork (and envious of her lustrous hair) and drawn in by the recognizable elements of both Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty in a story that was an original unto itself.

 

Another favorite about another plucky, independent girl was Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully (Puffin 1992). Mirette has a very French Toulouse-Lautrec poster advertisement look about it and I remember thinking that I would have given anything for her outfits, hair and bravery. Similarly, I loved the Madeleine books as well, but I don’t think I need to post a reference picture for those!

 

In addition to these and the usual Berenstein Bears and Mr. Men picture books that crowded our shelves, I realized I had an odd penchant for inherently sad stories as well. Some of my favorites (when I was in the mood—otherwise I would make my parents skip them when reading to me) were stories like The Velveteen Rabbit, Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant and original versions of Grimm’s fairy tales—most notably The Little Mermaid wherein the Mermaid must kill herself with a dagger in the end. I don’t know what attracted me to these books, but I loved them.

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Books as gifts

I’m always trying to think of clever ways to give a book as a gift. Sometimes it might seem too impersonal or like it needs a little extra something to go with it, depending on the occasion or the person on the receiving end. I find this particularly true when giving books as gifts to kids. For birthday parties, I’ll often give a book along with something else – a little toy or craft, or a painting set with Christie Matheson’s Tap the Magic Tree, or a box of crayons with a copy of The Day the Crayons Quit. And sometimes when I’m inspired I’ll buy multiple copies and give them away until they run out.

I was pleased with my latest book gift inspiration when I decided to give copies of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to all the kids attending my daughter’s upcoming 9th birthday party. Since we’ll be watching the movie (not sure which version yet) and doing a candy/dessert-themed party, I figured giving a copy of the book with some sort of confection was a good idea for a favor. And so I ordered 19 copies of this adorable illustrated paperback edition. When the box arrived, we all grabbed the books like they were filled with golden tickets (which they were since there is one inside each copy)!

 

It has been such a pleasure seeing my older girls enjoy the book, and I dipped into it again myself and fondly remember reading it when I was young. All these years later, and the book still entertains and delights. It really is a timeless treasure. And speaking of books as gifts, I think I’ll order the Roald Dahl boxed set for my daughter’s birthday so all my girls can enjoy them, even the ones who are not yet reading!

I’d love to hear how you give books as gifts. Do you wait for specific holidays or birthdays? Do you buy books you love? New ones or classics? What categories? Do you pair them up with anything else? There’s no right answer here. Just a fun thing to think about – giving books as gifts. It really is the gift that keeps on giving as they can be savored for so many years to come.

 

 

 

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A few thoughts about writing YA

I’ve been working with a lot of authors the last few years on the adult side who are looking to publish on the children’s side. I know I’m not the only one, as the market has surged and become a destination for talented writers whose books can often cross over to the adult market. The obvious early megahits on the YA side like Twilight and The Hunger Games have made room for more recent realistic teen novels like The Fault in Our Stars and Wonder.

I thought it was worth sharing this advice column I found in Publisher’s Weekly from published author Seth Fishman. Now that I have a few young humans of my own, I love that he says: “You’re writing for young humans, people who are the most in need of answers, people who are the most curious.” And I like the way he positions his advice from a broad perspective. Rather than focusing on plot or characters, it’s about thinking and feeling and the emotion that is so critical for adults writing for teens to get right.

Take a look and see if you YA authors have anything else to add to his list. What do you do when you’re getting ready to channel your inner teen?

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Non-fiction for all?

I have a school-aged son, so like many other children across the country, he and his teachers are in the midst of transitioning to the new common core standards.  I think it’s too soon to tell whether these reforms are for good or ill, but I’ve been interested to note that there is a movement afoot to shift much of what children read to nonfiction http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/22/what-should-children-read/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 There’s a funny 2009 op-ed in The Washington Post that points up some potential weaknesses, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2012/12/07/the-common-cores-70-percent-nonfiction-standards-and-the-end-of-reading   I’m a true blue believer in the value of literature, and it’s inconceivable that a kid could get a high school diploma without being asked to read To Kill A Mockingbird, Huck Finn or The Catcher in the Rye (a novel I heard some high-schoolers referring to as “historical fiction”) but I’m not sure that ramping up the narrative nonfiction is such a terrible idea. By the time I hit high school, I’d been raised on a wonderful but self-selected diet of fiction.  I’d encountered so little of what my teachers called “creative nonfiction” or the “new journalism” that discovering its power and range was revelatory.  Books that stood out included John Hersey’s Hiroshima, Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night, John Gunther’s Death be Not Proud, and Paul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Boy by Roald Dahl, The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. While our history textbooks might have been comprehensive and lucid, they were seldom compelling, and  for me, narrative nonfiction brought the issues and actors to life.  Sure, we needed some frameworks and overviews—dates and names and context– but these were the books that made dead white guys, the wars they waged and the laws they passed interesting, mostly by giving voice to everybody else.

What narrative nonfiction would you nominate for the new common core? Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family is a bit of a doorstop, but certainly it could be excerpted. I’m not the first to say so, but I think Into Thin Air would be a good candidate.

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Books for young (and very young) readers

For those of you who haven’t read my recent Facebook posts, I have a brand new grandson: Leo Daniel Stein, born on January 20th.   

Leo joins his six-year-old big sister Elena who is thrilled to have a little brother.

This, of course, got me thinking about what I will be reading to my new grandson (after all, it has been years since I have done this).  And, because I always want to bring Elena a book to read as well, I’ve been thinking about what titles she might like.

For newborns I have chosen the traditional and ever popular Goodnight Moon, Very Hungry Caterpillar, Guess How Much I love You, and Pat the Bunny and then Brian Fiocca’s Locomotive which just won the Caldecott Medal.  For my granddaughter who is a terrific reader, there is Where the Wild Things Are, What Does the Fox Say?, The Polar Express, I Want My Hat Back, Make Way for Ducklings and Mrs. Rumphius.

I would love to hear your suggestions for titles for each of these age groups.  There can never be too many books!

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Ready for a little test of your literary instincts?

Don’t cheat and skip ahead to the pictures!

The following is the final paragraph of the galley letter for WHAT very popular book:

“I predict you’ll also face another quandary: whether to share this with a friend, or to keep it for yourself, knowing how much this Reader’s Edition of __________’s first book will be worth in years to come.”

Any guesses?

Here’s another clue. The galley letter is signed by Arthur Levine…

Written for a debut novel that his eponymous imprint at Scholastic purchased for $100,000…

And this galley mailing happened in the summer of 1998…

Being brilliant and super knowledgeable about publishing lore (as all regular readers of the DGLM blog are), I’m sure you’ve guessed that this mystery title is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

 

  I learned all this delightful trivia from The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter, an exhibit at the New York Public Library’s historic Bryant Park branch (yes, the one with the lions out front). The Harry Potter area caught my eye, as I am currently in the middle of a delightful re-read of the series, which I only read for the first time a few years ago. (I know, I know, hush!)

Sound philosophy, even for muggles

Now it’s no secret that I’m a sucker for children’s books. And the exhibit area was full of artifacts from other children’s literature. You can stop by and see the original Winnie-the-Pooh plushies that inspired A.A. Milne or Frances Hodgson Burnett’s handwritten manuscript for The Secret Garden. One display discusses classic NYC-themed children’s lit (hooray for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler!), and there’s even a Goodnight Moon reading nook with battered library copies of all your favorite picture books. Quite a few families were curled up on the rainy Sunday afternoon that I visited, and I was tempted to grab a Wild Thing and join them.

Not all attendees were as riveted as I was.

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A book can change your life

The title of this post might be overly dramatic, but if you look hard enough you will find some pretty incredible stories about people whose lives were changed by books and reading.

One of those amazing stories comes from YA author Matt de la Peña, whose piece this week in NPR is well worth your time. He touches on so many moments in his own life that were altered by books, and then when he goes into talking about his dad and how his life was changed by reading, well, I was in tears by that point so that tells you what kind of piece this is. In simple prose, he taps into why words and books and reading matter, and how the power of the written word can literally change your life. And I believe almost always for the better.

A love of reading doesn’t have to start early, either. Matt’s life-changing moment came in his second year of college. And you know what else I love about this article? That teacher. That amazing teacher who saw something in this young man and knew he had potential and needed a nudge so she gave him a copy of The Color Purple and asked him to read it before he graduated and then come talk with her about it.

I’m sorry for the way things go for Joshua, a tough young kid profiled here with a secret writing habit, and I hope that de la Peña or someone else can help him find his way through his writing, and through books. When I read pieces like this, it’s so validating to think that the work that we are all doing can make a difference, and in some cases, all the difference.

Do you have any stories to share about how a book changed your life, or the life of someone you know? Please share. And pass this article on too. It’s a great read, and an inspiring one.

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Last-minute Halloween costume ideas

October 31st is two days away. That means some of you have two days to put together a costume—I know can’t be the only one who consistently improvises with his costume at the last second. (By the way, I was a pirate clown this past weekend. My character had a very intricate back-story, but maybe that’s a story for another time.)

Be a character from one of your favorite books. The written word has inspired many a Halloween costume, and this year is no different. I mean, it may even be trendy—in some circles. Check out this “How to Pick Your Literary Halloween Costume” guide if you need some help preparing for this Hallow’s Eve:

http://www.bookish.com/articles/the-best-halloween-costumes-from-books

 

If you’re in relationship and want to be obnoxious about it, here’s your cosume:

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

 

If you want to be spooky and don’t want to mess with the classics:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

 

For the rambunctious, wild child out there—who also happens to be into classic lit: