The Freezepocalypse in picture books

I’m typing next to an open window, and there has been a steady stream of pedestrian traffic outside.  It’s up to 28 degrees today, and it’s a comparative heat wave.  Last weekend, we were preparing for a Freezepocalypse of ridiculously low temperatures (even for Minnesota), and my family spend two and a half days stuck inside our small apartment.  Here are three picture books that, together, represent our Freezepocalypse:

imbored2  babypenguinsev soupday

 

I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black is for my six-year-old, for obvious reasons.  I felt more like the mama penguin who needed a little time to herself in Baby Penguins Everywhere by Melissa Guion.  Side note to parents: Do you need a time out yourself? Read your kids this book to introduce the idea.  You’re welcome.

Fortunately, my wonderful partner decided it was a Soup Day as in Soup Day by Melissa Iwai, so we were well fed.  Soup makes everything better.

Books and soup.  That’s how we got through our Freezepocalypse.   How about you?

What does winter sound like?

If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have looked for the answer in a picture book.  It seems like a picture book sort of question, doesn’t it?

photo (1)“Snow came singing a silent song,” writes Lynne Rae Perkins in Snow Music.  In this book, winter is quiet after a snow fall, but there is a whole symphony of sounds if you listen for them.  Cars, trucks, and animals all sound different in the winter.  There’s a beauty in the whispers of snowfall and the loud scrapes of trucks clearing the way.  There’s a beauty in the differences.

For the past several weeks, I have had a different answer to the question.  I have had Haley Bonar’s new EP Wntr Snds on repeat, and these six songs are spare and intimate in a way that creates just the warmth that we need in a cold, cold Minnesota winter.  “Like Ice and Cold” is my personal favorite.  In this song, winter sounds like change, like hope.  Maybe it isn’t so different from Snow Music.

If you need a little encouragement to see what winter can offer during this sub-zero week, try one of these and listen closely.

Find Snow Music at your local library or indie bookstore. Or get more wintery picture book suggestions here.

November Book Pick: Wild by Emily Hughes

Wild_by_Emily_HughesI was all set to write about a proper adult nonfiction titles as my November Book Pick when a package arrived at my door that set aside my well laid plans for something completely different.  There was just something about Wild by Emily Hughes that made it stand out in the sea of picture books that I see or read about.  The 100 Scope Notes review called it “Sendak-ian,” and I couldn’t agree more.  Maurice Sendak’s books might have been full of the fantastic, but there was a level of truth to them that not every book even tries to reach.  Wild reaches right for a truth that might not seem terribly kid-friendly–that some things cannot be tamed–and makes a story that will almost certainly get kids thinking.

wildthingsThere might be something in the timing of my discovery of this picture book.  You see, it arrived (courtesy of the publisher; see the disclaimer below) just after I’d finished reading an advance copy of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta.  I’m sure I’ll be blogging about this one again closer to it’s 2014 publication date, but for now I’ll say that it is a kidlit geek’s must-read.  For all those readers who think that books for young people are full of sunshine and lollipops, Wild Things will clue you in to all the subversive books in kidlit history and the stories behind them.  It will whet your appetite for something that seems to break the rules the next time you’re browsing in the children’s section.  I think that’s a good thing.

Wild breaks some rules.  Grown-ups might not completely appreciate it at first, but I hope you’ll give it a chance.

Find Wild at your local library or indie bookstore.  Wild Things will be published in April 2014.  More about it here.

Disclaimer: Wild was reviewed from a copy courtesy of the publisher.  Wild Things was reviewed from an ARC via my employer.

Miss last month’s Book Pick?  Check out Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Slowing Down & Looking Closely

“Let’s all slow down,” I said as I introduced one of my favorite picture books  in a recent presentation to a group of librarians and teachers.  I always seem to have a weakness for picture books that focus on little things.  Simplicity.  Patience.  Observation.

I suppose I wish my life were simpler and that I were more patient and observant.

I was reminded of how much I value slowness and observation as I listened to a recent episode of Pratfalls of Parenting in which visual artist Karen Kasel spoke of the role that slowing down played in her life and art–having kids forced her to slow down.  Now that her kids are school-aged, she wants to share the idea of slowing down and looking closely with them.  How do you convince a kid that slowness and patience are worth it when you have to compete with tech and all the other distractions we have?

I don’t know.  But I know that I would start with a few good picture books.

how-to ifyouwanttosee LittleBird

  • How To by Julie Morstad is one of my favorite picture books of the year for its look at the everyday beauty that we often overlook.
  • If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano is another good one for reorienting your perspective to the small joys.
  • Little Bird by Germano Zullo reminds us to cherish small things.

And for you?  Once you’ve let the picture books settle a bit, stop by the Hidden in Plain View exhibit–currently at the Minneapolis Central Library through October 26th–for several perspectives on everyday beauty from local photographers.  The exhibit is quiet and thoughtful.  The photographs contain people and places we’ve probably seen-but-not-seen a million times.  Here is your chance to stop, to remind yourself that there is much to see if we take the time to look.

hidden

Books, art, music.  These are my touchstones.  When I need to reorient my perspective to my values, I turn to these things.  How do you recharge?  What reminds you to live your values?

It’s okay to notice

“You probably noticed what’s different about me,” I said to a group of second and third graders this weekend. Their Unitarian-Universalist Sunday School class is celebrating differences this quarter, and I was invited to talk to them about my difference.

I had two main points I wanted to share with the kids. It’s okay to notice, and it’s okay to ask. But kids always have their own concerns. This group wanted to know how my fake arm worked and how I could do stuff with it. Are you left handed? Can you ride a bike? Can they make a robot arm for you? Yes. Yes. I wish! :)

It’s funny how the concerns tend to correlate with ages. Younger kids–the preschoolers and kinders in my daughter’s class–are less concerned with the mechanics of my prosthesis and how I live my life. They stick to the basics. How did this happen? Are you okay? These are more difficult questions to answer because the answers seem so incomprehensible to them. The idea that someone can be born without a body part just doesn’t make sense. And it often takes some convincing to get them to believe that my little arm doesn’t hurt.

“Everyone is born differently,” I say. “This is just another kind of different. Like hair or skin.” Sometimes kids will ask the same question again and again with slightly different phrasings. Parents cringe with each question, but I keep smiling. I’ve been through it before.

Back to this weekend, I read a book to the kids to close. Harry and Willy and Carrothead is about a boy who was born with one arm too. He’s a regular kid, of course. He even plays baseball. It’s odd at first, but by end end of the story, his limb deficiency is no different than another kid’s red hair. It’s my go to book for normalizing my difference.

I recently found another book to add to my first choices to talk about being different. Maybe next time I find myself in front of a group of kids I will read Jacob’s Eye Patch. It is essentially the book I’ve always said I would write one day. Instead of being about a little girl with one arm, it’s about a little boy who wears an eye patch. He gets lots of questions, and usually he’s happy to answer them. But this one time he’s in a bit of a hurry. (I’ve been in that situation, and I always feel bad when I can’t answer a question.)

It’s a great book, but I especially recommend checking out the website linked above for the extra material aimed at teachers and parents. It’s an insightful resource for potentially avoiding the awkward situations when kids notice someone’s difference in public and you want to sink into the floor because they’ve pointed and loudly asked “What’s wrong with that lady’s arm?” Now that I have a kid myself, I’ve been on both sides of that situation, so there’s no hard feelings when it’s me the kid is pointing at. I promise.

It’s okay to notice, and it’s okay to be curious. Everyone is different in some way. Mine is just a little more obvious that most.

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September Book Pick: Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

floraKate DiCamillo has won a Newbery Honor for Because of Winn-Dixie, the Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux, the Geisel Honor for Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, and more.  So when she publishes a new book, the kidlit world pays attention.  Flora & Ulysses has only been on shelves for about a week, and it already has four starred reviews  and a spot of the National Book Award long list.  That’s a good start, I must say.

I’d heard some of the buzz about the book, but I hadn’t yet had a chance to read it until I happened to catch Cathy Wurzer’s interview with Kate DiCamillo on MPR.  The author read the first several chapters of Flora & Ulysses.  I listened as the story began with a vacuum cleaner, then we were introduced to Flora Belle Buckman–a natural-born cynic–and the squirrel who may or may not be a superhero.  I found myself laughing out loud while listening to the program at my desk via headphones, and as soon as it ended, I went in search of a copy of the book.

It was, indeed, quite funny.  But it was also pretty serious, in a way.  Philosophical too.  I mean, how many children’s books talk about Pascal’s Wager?  No matter where one falls on the believer/nonbeliever spectrum as far as Pascal is concerned, this book sets out to remind readers that it is worth it to believe in love, to be open to wonder, hope, and poetry.  I was quite charmed.  I hope you will be too.

Find this book at your local library or at an independent bookstore.

Did you miss last month’s Book Pick: Hello, My Name is Ruby by Philip Stead

Where are you from?

I’m sticking with the theme from my last post and my new zine, Whereverland, for today’s Thursday Three post.  I have three books in which moving and/or exploring one’s roots plays a role.

  • Tlittlefishhe Language Inside by Holly Thompson – Emma spent most of her life as an American living in Japan–that’s home.  Now she’s back in the States re-orienting to the place her parents have always thought of as “home.”  Really beautiful teen novel in verse that explores connecting with people, places, and poetry.  Teacher/Librarian note: There’s a discussion guide here. (Teen Fiction – Find it at your library or indie bookstore)
  • Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer – Ramsey Beyer captures her first year at art school in this graphic memoir.  She’s a blogger, zinester, and an artist, so I was obviously a little biased toward liking this book even before I started reading.  It’s a more innocent look at college–no parties or hangovers here–than you might find in other books, and Beyer’s sincerity and sweetness make this a cute coming of age book that zinesters and other creative sorts will enjoy.  (Teen/Adult Memoir – Find it at your library or indie bookstore)
  • Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan – This is an oldie, but it is not to be missed.  When Naomi’s mom returns and wants custody of Naomi (and not her brother who has a birth defect), Naomi explores her father’s side with a trip to Mexico.  That one sentence description hardly does the book justice.  It is a thoughtful look at identity and family.  A long-time favorite of mine.  (Children’s Fiction – Find it at your library or indie bookstore)

Have you read anything that fits this theme?  What would you add?

A few recent reads

I don’t have the time to write something about each and every book I read.  I try to keep track in Goodreads, but I can never quite keep up.  In any case, here are a few sentences for some books I’ve read recently.

  • onceuponanorOnce Upon a Northern Night by Jean Pendziwol – I will freely admit that I have a particular weakness for winter-related picture books.  Like a good Minnesotan, I love to romanticize wintry weather for all the magic it offers.  This picture book turns the idea of winter into a lullaby.  The illustrations are striking and beautiful.  Well worth checking out.  Find it at your library or buy it at an independent bookstore
  • Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan – Technically, I suppose I still have a chapter left to read on this book.  I’m reading it aloud to my daughter, and we are quite enjoying it.  There are lots of fun words to say (dinglederrydoo and hoopalala) and plenty of alliteration, wordplay, and general silliness to make a good read-aloud.  Check out the author’s web site for instructions on drawing a bunny.  Find it at your library or buy it at an independent bookstore.
  • matteroflifeA Matter of Life by Jeffrey Brown – This graphic novel memoir of faith and fatherhood is a quick read full of real moments of life with a preschooler along with memories from Brown’s childhood.  He was raised in a religious family, but he has since moved away from his childhood faith, which makes for some awkwardness with various family members.  Brown won the Eisner Award for Best Humor Publication for his previous book Darth Vader and Son.  Find it at your library or buy it at an independent bookstore.

You can like this blog on Facebook for regular #Fridayreads posts.  As usual, it’s all over the map.  Some Fridays, it’s a picture book.  Other Fridays, it’s a teen novel.  Occasionally I even read books for adults. :)

Stories from Camp

woodticks

Earlier this week, I sat at the Wood Tick table at Camp Read-a-Lot.  Fortunately, there were no actual wood ticks.  Just teachers, librarians, and books.  Lots of books.  I started the morning by standing up in front of everyone and talking about books.  I made sure to wiggle my toes and listen for background sounds to calm my nerves as a friend had suggested.  I hope it worked.  It was all a bit of a blur, to be honest.

The real memorable Camp moments were later when William Alexander took the stage.  Here is a writer who knows what stories can do.  He spoke of the contradictory way people perceive fantastic fiction–it’s silly or foolish, but it’s also dangerous.  Not unlike the way comic books or video games are often perceived.  As a culture, we keep fighting over fiction without taking into account that we are wired for storytelling.  We need stories–foolish and serious.  Kids, especially, need stories of all sorts as they work out the intricacies of their worlds.

willalex

At this point in the presentation, I was live tweeting as quickly as I could.  Eventually I stopped trying to tweet it all, but not before he thanked librarians and teachers for perpetuating the love of reading aloud.  He said, “Read aloud always. Learn what delicious language tastes like.”

I have to admit, I haven’t read Goblin Secrets.  Even after it won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, I didn’t give it a chance.  Frankly, it’s rare that I pick up a fantasy novel.  But I have been won over.  In this PW interview Alexander said, “The thing about all stories, really, but especially about fantasy, is that they have the potential to throw our basic assumptions about ourselves into question.”  Perhaps it’s time I gave the genre another chance.

Want to be in a band?

wanttobe

I came across Want to be in a Band? at work recently as I was going through some new picture books, and I paused.  It isn’t often you find a picture book that is one part memoir, one part instruction manual for the music industry.  And it’s illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators?!  Love.

I wasn’t familiar with Suzzy Roche of the family folk-band The Roches before this book.  I’ll add it to the list of trivia I have learned from my work in the book industry.  In any case, Ms. Roche reveals the secrets to successful musicianship. Here they are for anyone secretly harboring a desire for family folk band stardom: A lot of practice, a lot of shows, and not letting the critics get you down.  Most of all, it’s about love.  Love for the music and love for your sisters.  That’s the important thing, she says.

Maybe I liked the book because I have a thing for memoirs and picture book memoirs are so rare.  Or maybe it’s because I really do want to be in a band despite my ridiculous lack of musicality.  Actually, it’s probably because I’ve been listening to a lot of The Ericksons (a local sister band with a folk/rock sound) lately, and I can’t help but wonder if they sing at breakfast.  Because that’s what being in a family band is like, right?    Perhaps Roche spoiled the fantasy a little bit with her pragmatism, but next to Giselle Potter’s folk art style illustrations, I’ll allow it.

Whatever the reality, sisters can make some lovely music.  Here is “Where Do You Dwell?” for you to listen to while you imagine a life in which you practice a lot, play a lot of small shows, ignore the naysayers, and just love music.

Find Want to be in a Band? from your local library or support an independent bookstore. No affiliate stuff here.  Just trying to support my fellowbook people. :)

Also, you can name your price for The Ericksons music here.