Category Archives: children’s books

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Love is an open door

Does the title of this post sound familiar? If you’re a parent of young kids, I’m sure it does–your kids have probably been singing it ad nauseum for months now…

Yep, I’m talking about Frozen. Actually, we’ve been talking about Frozen quite a bit here at DGLM over the past couple of weeks, trying to wrap our head around why it’s such a cultural phenomenon and whether there’s a book in it. Of course, anything that involves The Mouse would be hard to get an insider’s POV, but I’d love to know more about how the story evolved and how they thought about their audience.

Because while Frozen is clearly, even transparently, targeted at girls, boys love it too–just ask the New York Times!  I can personally attest to it as well, with daily requests from my two sons (ages 5 and 3) to “play Frozen music” and an Elsa doll taking her place of honor next to the Star Wars figures and Matchbox cars. And as much as Dad keeps hoping they will “let it go” and start singing something else, I don’t see this obsession ending anytime soon…

Okay, what does this have to do with books? Well, it’s long been a truism in children’s book marketing that girls will read books with boy main characters, but boys will only read about boys. And so while books with boy main characters tend to be marketed with less regard for gender (Harry Potter pops to mind immediately), books with girl mains are often pitched much more directly to girl readers, especially “girly” ones like Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious, Eloise, etc.

But with that, are the children’s marketeers giving our boys short shrift? My sons love Eloise, Ladybug Girl, and Olivia, who has gotten progressively “girlier” over the years. Granted, I already had these books on the shelf from my editor days, but we’ve also taken Fancy Nancy out of the library at their request. And when I talk to parents of boys in my oldest’s class or check out their bookshelves on play dates, I usually see some evidence of books that aren’t “meant” for their boys.

Now, of course my anecdotal evidence is flimsy at best, but I’m curious, dear readers: if you’re a parent of young boys, do they like books with girl main characters? Do they ever get Frozen-level obsessed? And if so, how do the books get into their hands? It’s a question for me as an agent, too, in terms of how I pitch certain projects–it’d be great to be able to say a girl main character will appeal to boys if there’s a way to back it up. So, please, lemme know!

 

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Tiny readers

As the absurdly proud aunt of exceptionally wonderful nephews—who we’ll call Fidge and Gus, because that is what I call them—I’ve actively made it my mission to get them to associate me with books.  Fidge once told his “Aunt” Gabby that “Aunts read books” and made her read him bedtime stories.  A few weeks after that, he unceremoniously announced his desire to go to bed by walking up to me and saying “You always read to me.”  Why yes, Fidge, yes I do.  Gus is a bit of a tougher sell—he’s rambunctious and not so fond of sitting still.  But if he can interact with a book or laugh hysterically while “At” Lauren makes faces or yells or roars, he’s game.  His biggest obsession is with Bill Cotter’s Don’t Push the Button, in which illicit button pushes lead to a whole host of multi-colored monsters named Larry.  He now “reads” that one to himself, turning each page to intone “Don’t push a button!” and then…pushing that button anyway.

As Gus’s birthd9780062247759_p0_v1_s260x420ay is coming up, I headed out of town last weekend to celebrate it with the family.  Naturally, I dragged Sharon to the bookstore with me last week to find some future favorites for him and settled on Press Here by Herve Tullet, I Am Otter by Sam Garton, and his autobiography The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee (which is really more for his parents).  I read the books to both boys separately, and Gus especially loved Press Here, which was no surprise since it’s very similar to Don’t Push the Button.  He’s also a fan of counting, so it suits him.  He did seem to think The Boss Baby was pretty funny, but now I’m worried it might’ve given him ideas.  And I Am Otter was definitely my favorite of the three.

But my favorite reading moment of the weekend was this one: in a crowded house full of family, with Gus trying to go to sleep in the bedroom, Fidge was clearly ready to wind down.  Fortunately, aunts know what to do when you need a moment away from all the bustle.  So I gathered up Gus’s new books and some old favorites and hunkered down in a Super Secret Hiding Spot under the dining room table with Fidge.  We read through the above three plus Madeline and Wild About Books, one of his absolute favorites, since it’s got books AND animals AND ample opportunities for counting and guessing and finding hidden frogs.  Not only did we get quiet time (where, according to Fidge at least, no one even knew where we were!), we also got to revisit old friends and make new ones.

I kind of miss Otter and Teddy, actually.

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Bernadette’s Busy Morning

One of my favorite picture books from my childhood vanished years ago, and I’ve never been able to find it since. I’ve scoured every corner of the internet, from Amazon to Powells, only to find no mention of it. I’ve raided the kids’ section at every used bookstore or library sale in my path hoping to see its familiar cover. I’ve interrogated children’s librarians and booksellers – none of them have ever even heard of this amazing story.

Bernadette’s Busy Morning is about a delightful circus bear who wanders away from her trainer’s trailer one day and has a bunch of adventures in the city. I loved Bernadette and read her story over and over and over, poring over every detail of every picture. And I’ve never stopped hoping that one day she would turn up – perhaps on a dollar cart at The Strand, or tucked on a bottom shelf at HousingWorks Bookstore. I’ve even considered blogging about Bernadette before this, in hopes that maybe, just maybe, one of you might hold a clue that brings my search.

So you can imagine my utter shrieking elation a few weeks ago when I opened a birthday present from my brother. THERE WAS BERNADETTE.

 

bernadetteC

 

There may have been some jumping up and down and screaming, maybe even a tear or two shed. I called him right away – “I can’t believe you found it!” She plays in the fountain! She marvels at the loud and constant traffic! She tries to make friends, but everyone just runs away screaming! (If this is a metaphor for NYC life, I don’t know what is.) Finally, tired and lonely, she’s reunited with her trainer and returned to her safe and happy home in the circus.

 My brother still won’t tell me how or where he tracked it down. I suspect a genie might have been involved.

Are there any long-lost books from your childhood that you wish you could find again?

Any success stories of tracking down a particularly rare book that you just had to have?

I wish I grew up reading…

It wasn’t too long ago that I became Uncle Mike. My cousin gave birth to a little baby girl, Eleanor. (I know that technically makes me her second cousin, but Second Cousin Mike doesn’t really roll off the tongue.)

It also wasn’t too long ago that a roommate told me he wished he read more growing up. He can’t remember the last time he read a book cover to cover and attributes this shortcoming to the lack of pages he turned as a kid.

Now I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me that if you develop a love of reading when you’re a child, you’ll be more likely to pick up a book in adulthood. And let’s face it, wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone read more? Numerous studies show positive correlations between reading and intelligence, empathy and emotional health. This is just one of many.

So I’d like little Eleanor to grow up reading. And when she actually is able to read, I’d like to give her a basket full of books similar to the one in my childhood room at my parent’s place—only with fewer books about aliens, wizards, knights, and trains. But until then, I’m in the market for some good board books that her parents can read to her.

So please help! What do you read to your children?

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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.