Picture book read-alouds to make you laugh

What makes a picture book funny? A sense of humor is unique and personal – what makes one person laugh out loud might elicit only a small smile from another, and vice versa – but there are a few themes. Slapstick, physical comedy is one; “potty” humor is another (the farting pony in The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton, Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea). Cleverness is appreciated, especially the kind that winks at the reader and lets them in on the joke; kids like the feeling of knowing more than the main character does (hide-and-seek books use this tactic). Interactive, fourth-wall-breaking humor often works equally well in storytimes and one-on-one reading, as kids are ready and willing to engage. Some readers delight in the absurd (the increasingly strange to-do list in Bathe the Cat, the pile of unlikely “solutions” in On Account of the Gum). A twist or surprise ending can be very effective as well, such as in A Hungry Lion or Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!, especially if it follows a sweet emotional moment of resolution.

Recently I ran into a friend who is a youth services librarian at a public library. She said that they’d just put up a display of funny picture books, but realized they were not a diverse bunch. She thought I might have some ideas, and…I do!

onaccountofthegumTo be quite upfront, the first picture book that jumped into my head in the “funny” category was Adam Rex’s On Account of the Gum, which I maintain is one of the all-time funniest books to read aloud, and which absolutely does not get old, no matter how many times you read it. Though adults tend to think of picture books as being for little kids, this one appeals just as much or more to older kids, and even teens and adults; they can use the rhyme scheme to anticipate what’s coming next, and they have more context (e.g. they know what Picture Day is). But littles enjoy the over-the-top illustrations and the pattern and flow of the story…it’s just, hands-down, a brilliant read-aloud. Rex also wrote Pluto Gets the Call, illustrated by Laurie Keller (just think about the title for a minute) and School’s First Day of School, illustrated by Christian Robinson. (This book, narrated by a brand-new school building, contains the phrase “nose milk.”) Rex is a funny guy, but let’s move along…

Cover image of I Don't Want to Be A FrogI Don’t Want to Be A Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt, is told entirely in dialogue between a young frog (who, you guessed it, would rather be a rabbit or an owl or a pig or anything but a frog), their dad, and…I won’t give it away, but this book really lends itself to the read-aloud experience, and it has delightful companions (I Don’t Want to Go to Sleep, I Don’t Want to Be Big, and There’s Nothing to Do). Dev Petty also wrote Claymates, which has some of the most unique illustrations (by Lauren Eldridge) I’ve ever seen, and plenty of humor.

wolfiethebunnyIf you can hear the title Wolfie the Bunny and NOT want to read that book immediately, then we probably don’t have much in common. Ame Dyckman’s words paired with Zachariah Ohora’s illustrations absolutely live up to the promise of the title. In a neighborhood based on Park Slope, Brooklyn, a family of rabbits finds a wolf pup on their doorstep, but only little Dot is freaked out by the new addition to the family (“He’s going to eat us all up!”).

Tyrannosaurus WrecksZachariah Ohora also illustrated Tyrannosaurus Wrecks! by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. (Every list of picture books has to have a dinosaur book, right? Pretty sure that’s a rule.) This is a sure-bet hit for the toddler and preschool set, and there’s a sweet social-emotional learning (SEL) component in addition to the slapstick humor. (While we’re talking about Zachariah Ohora, he also illustrated Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea, another very funny book, despite its serious-sounding title.)

herecomesvalentinecatDeborah Underwood and Claudia Rueda’s “Here Comes…Cat” books (Tooth Fairy Cat, Valentine Cat, etc.) star a cat that only communicates through signs (sometimes with words, often with images), facial expressions, and body language. The narrator is in dialogue with the curmudgeonly cat, and these books definitely tickle my funny bone; Valentine Cat makes an appearance at our house every February.

sparkyJenny Offill has produced such delightful gems as Sparky! (a book about a girl and her pet sloth; just look at the juxtaposition between the name – with an exclamation point! – and the sloth on the cover), While You Were Napping, 11 Science Experiments That Failed, and 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore. The titles are descriptive enough, I think, and any grown-up who has read Offill’s books for adults is in for something completely different with these.

Cover image of A Hungry LionA Hungry Lion, Or, A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins: The sheer genius of this title, oh my goodness. And the vocabulary. And the smile on the little turtle’s face. And the moment the lights go out. And the double twist ending. And, and, and….If you liked the slightly macabre humor of Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back but you haven’t read this, go ahead and remedy that now.

grumpypantsGrumpy Pants by Claire Messer: “I’m grumpy,” declares a little penguin, and it tries a number of solutions to improve its condition, finally stripping off its clothes piece by piece and diving into a nice cold bath. Children (and adults, too!) might find that a bath, clean clothes, and a cup of cocoa are just the thing to soothe a grumpy mood.

stillstuckStill Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake: You’re getting undressed and your shirt gets stuck over your head – it’s happened to everyone, right? It happens to this kid, who definitely does not want assistance from Mom, and decides to accept their new state. In their imagination, they spin out what life will be like with a shirt over their head. Despite the kid’s adaptability (or resignation), Mom does swoop in to move the bedtime process along, but there’s another snag when it’s time to put on pajamas.

mightbelobstersThere Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Laurel Molk: Poor little Sukie is afraid of everything at the beach, but when beloved toy Chunka Munka is swept out to see, Sukie must find her courage. This is an excellent read-aloud for summer storytimes for all ages – get kids to repeat the titular refrain together –  and if you happen to have props with you for this read-aloud (a stuffed lobster, say, or a beach ball) all the better.

Cover image of The Oboe Goes Boom Boom BoomThe Oboe Goes BOOM BOOM BOOM by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Lian Cho: A band director introduces instruments one by one, but little Felicity just can’t wait to bang on the drums and keeps interrupting – until she’s blown away by the sound of the tuba. There’s actually quite a lot of information in here about different instruments, and the way that Cho translates sound into a visual medium is outstanding.

notapenguinI Am Not A Penguin: A Pangolin’s Lament by Liz Wong: A poor pangolin wants to give a presentation, keeping its cool while confused audience members interrupt, until a penguin arrives to steal the show. One little girl remains for the pangolin’s informative presentation. (See also: The Angry Little Puffin by Timothy Young, which taught me permanently that penguins live “at the bottom of the world” (i.e. Antarctica) while puffins live “at the top of the world.”)

kingbabyKing Baby by Kate Beaton might be funnier for adults than for kids, but kids enjoy it too; it’s one of my go-to recommendations for families who are about to add a sibling. And let’s not forget Beaton’s other picture book, the crowd-pleasing The Princess and the Pony (pony farts feature prominently).

bathethecatBathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty and David Roberts: A cat who definitely does not want a bath scrambles up a family’s to-do list as they rush to tidy before grandma arrives. Clever use of fridge magnet alphabet letters, plenty of pride, and increasingly ridiculous tasks all add to the joyful hilarity.

wedonteatourclassmatesWe Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins: Pink, overalls-wearing Penelope is nervous about the first day of school, and indeed, it doesn’t go as well as she’d hoped…she discovers that it’s hard to make friends when everyone is afraid you’ll eat them. Penelope learns to exercise self-control with the help of Mrs. Noodleman and a fearless goldfish named Walter.

Finally, every kid I know would insist that The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak be included on any list of funny picture books, and they’re right. BLURP.

What are your favorite funny picture books?

MSLA 2022: final session recaps

The final two sessions I attended this afternoon were “Building and sustaining an effective school library program: Exploring state impact studies for ideas to improve the evaluation of school libraries” and “Pleasure Reading for ELL.” I’m combining them into one post not because they are related but because I am tired.

Deeth Ellis, a PhD candidate at Simmons and the head librarian at the Boston Latin School, presented “Building and sustaining an effective school library program: Exploring state impact studies for ideas to improve the evaluation of school libraries.” It’s a pretty big topic for a 50-minute session, which started late because of technical difficulties, but here are some takeaways:

  • School library impact studies show that school libraries make a difference to student learning.
  • The role of the principal is important; a Mississippi study showed that the attitude of the principal toward the school library program had a significant effect.
  • “Advocacy is powerful. Research that underpins advocacy is really powerful.” Yet advocacy (”cheerleading”) takes time away from other library work and can lead to burnout. “We can do some things, but we definitely need partners to help us”; advocacy needs to be a combined effort.

Resources:

The Fault in Our Stars cover (Spanish)“Pleasure Reading for ELL” was presented by Katy Gallagher, library teacher at Hingham High School, and Erin Dalbec, library teacher at Newton North High School. Katy cited research on immersion and dual-language education programs that showed positive outcomes for students who maintained their native language in addition to English; libraries can support English Language Learners (ELL) by providing materials in other languages. First, however, you need to figure out what language(s) the students in your school speak. Even then, it may be difficult to build a collection of books in that language; librarians using the chat feature discussed the difficulty of finding affordable, popular titles in various language, from Portuguese to Arabic.

Public libraries can fill in the gap somewhat; high school students don’t need parental approval to get a public library card, and can request books throughout the consortium. School librarians can bridge the gap by showcasing some of the titles from the public library; Katy used a padlet to do this. She also went to the public library to pick up books for students who couldn’t get there on their own. Students can also get BPL cards and use e-books and audiobooks from Sora. (There was much love for Sora at this conference; it has been “a lifesaver” during the pandemic.)

For her part of the presentation (the last few minutes of which I missed because I had to go pick up my kiddo at the bus stop), Erin talked about identifying your ELL students, encouraging them to share their own stories via writing, reading, and speaking. Her students did active listening activities and podcasting: they listened to a sample podcast, wrote one page on a topic of their choice, practiced reading it aloud with peers, then recorded it. Erin and Katy also mentioned that ELL teachers and world language teachers could be good resources.

Resources:

  • Colorín Colorado
  • MA DESE School and District Profiles: you can look up the percentage and number of ELL in your district and school, although to get more detailed information about which languages they speak, you’ll need to ask your “district data person” or ELL teachers
  • WIDA
  • Deep L (an alternative to Google Translate)
  • Narrative4: “Share Today. Change Tomorrow.”

So that was my MSLA experience. Whew! Check out recaps of other MSLA sessions and keynotes here. Did you attend the conference? What were your key takeaways?

MSLA 2022: Book Challenge Panel

Bonnie McBride, Anja Kennedy, Collen Simpson, Lizz Simpson, and Luke Steere are all librarians who have experienced, or are currently experiencing, some form of book challenge in their school libraries, whether it’s a formal challenge or “soft censorship.” Although national news has focused on widespread challenges in states like Texas and Florida, Bonnie said, “Book challenges have always been a part of librarianship….They are happening here.”

A few themes and solid pieces of advice were repeated throughout the panel:

  • Be prepared. Have a collection development policy that includes selection guidelines and a procedure for the request for reconsideration of materials. This policy should be approved by the School Board and the administration should be aware of it. “Your first line of defense is a strong policy that people can’t argue with” – not even the superintendent.
  • A challenge or ban in one part of the country affects us all: Fears of challenges may cause librarians to self-censor (avoiding purchasing or promoting certain texts), and may cause teachers to make changes to the texts they use in their curriculum.
  • Some good things can come from challenges: while one panelist said “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” she acknowledged that some good things came out of it: there was a good examination of policy (which was strong), thoughtfulness about what we present in our curriculum, teachers chose more current books (in collaboration with librarian), more voice and choice in lit circles, students came to school committee meetings, increased transparency, and school committee has educated itself on public forum measures and the law.
  • “Promoting and defending our books should be a given.” A majority of the books being challenged have LGBTQIA+ content, and “there are LGBTQIA+ kids and families in every community, whether you know it or not.” Luke said, “I like using the word ‘challenge’ because it’s something to rise to” and not something to work against. Libraries are for everyone.
  • Be proactive. When a new administrator is hired, go and talk to them. They might not know the history of the district, if there have been challenges in the past and how they were handled. Ask them, “Where do you stand on this? What do we do when this happens?”
  • Keep the focus on the book. If it’s a student bringing the challenge, offer to sit with them and help them fill out the form. This can be a learning experience, and it keeps the focus on the book, not the complainant or the librarian.

Resources:

  • Library Book Challenge Resources Wakelet, curated by Bonnie McBride
  • Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) online manuals
  • Massachusetts Library System (MLS) Policy Collection
  • ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF) Challenge Support
  • the MSLA listserv
  • Library Link of the Day: there has been an significant uptick in links that have to do with censorship, book challenges, and bans in school and public libraries over the past several months.

MSLA 2022: Cynthia Leitich Smith keynote “Brighter Days”

Author, teacher, publisher, and Muscogee Nation citizen Cynthia Leitich Smith delivered this morning’s keynote, “Brighter Days: Decolonizing Hearts, Minds, and Books for Young Readers.” She began by zipping through a number of essential fiction and nonfiction titles for young readers, from picture books through YA; children’s literature created by Indigenous authors shows that “we have a past, a present, and a future…[we are] 3D human beings with a full range of emotion.” Still, Native books make up just under 1% of books published for kids. “Why does that matter? Because we are still here….There are Native families in your communities whether you realize it or not.” Some of these families may “fly under the radar,” partly because of distrust of schools due to past experience. That makes it more important, not less, to seek out, include, and promote literature from Native authors, because “erasure hurts kids” and “Native kids deserve more from all of us.”

Cynthia acknowledged that publishing is a slow-moving industry and “it’s hard to shake up the conventional wisdom,” but with new imprints, new interest, and demand from readers, librarians, and booksellers, change is happening. Ellen Oh and the WeNeedDiverseBooks movement have been a force for positive change, as have conferences like LoonSong and Kweli. “A single voice…is not enough,” Cynthia said, referencing times that she had been told by people within the publishing industry that there was no room, or no need, for more Native voices beyond one or two established ones. But we need more: Cynthia said, “factual information won’t matter or stick if we don’t focus on humanity. Native people are modern people. Every kid, Indigenous or not, can benefit from exposure to Native values” like honoring ancestors, and protecting land and water. Young readers deserve a chance to read the work of many Native authors.

Librarians, Indigenous or not, have an important role to play; we are ambassadors to young readers. “We can’t do it without your continued support and activism,” Cynthia said. When purchasing and recommending books, she had a few tips: look for tribal specificity, contemporary settings, present tense, accuracy, and stories of daily life. It’s important to balance the historical with contemporary, tragedy with joy. “Unfortunately, much of what happened in the past is terrible”: Acknowledge oppression, integrate joy and achievement, address miseducation, and be aware that there is diversity within each tribal nation and “identity is nuanced.”

This is year-round work and should not be limited to Native American history month or just around Thanksgiving. Cynthia encouraged us to integrate Native books into year-round reading, and across the curriculum: “We are Native every single day…[it is] otherizing and marginalizing” to limit reading books by and about Indigenous people to one time of the year. “All kids deserve a truthful education.” She closed on a hopeful note, declaring, “We are seeing tangible progress” in the publishing industry and in Hollywood.

Resources:

MSLA 2022: Melissa Stewart, champion of nonfiction

Melissa Stewart gave an excellent presentation (“Tips and Tools for Nonfiction Read-Alouds“) at last year’s MSLA conference, so I was looking forward to hearing from her again this year, this time on the topic of “The Role of Equity in Creating Passionate Nonfiction Readers.” She started out by asking attendees to do an activity: jot down “five children’s books you love.” Then, put a check mark next to the nonfiction ones. No check marks? You’re not alone. However, we shouldn’t let our own preferences, biases, and assumptions get in the way: research shows that kids love nonfiction, both expository (nonfiction that explains, describes, and informs) and narrative.

Melissa’s talk was heavier on the “nonfiction” part than the “equity” part, but she made one crucial point that became my main takeaway from this session: Expository nonfiction is straightforward and gets right to the point, which is good for beginning readers; it is more accessible than fiction for kids who haven’t been read to (emphasis mine). For children not yet comfortable and familiar with storytelling conventions, nonfiction is more accessible. Plus, kids enjoy learning about specific topics (animals, things that go, sports, etc.) and it’s empowering for them.

Melissa asked us to consider what barriers exist between students and nonfiction books in our libraries. These barriers might stem from the organizational system the library uses (does it make sense to kids? Can they find what they want?), teacher assignments (are kids allowed to use nonfiction books as well as fiction? Do they know that?), or lack of communication between departments.

There are many things librarians can do to help kids find the nonfiction books they want: highlight them on displays, read them aloud, promote them in book talks. But the most important factor in helping students find nonfiction they love, Melissa said, is TOPIC: “the number one way” to turn “an expository nonfiction kid” on to reading is to give them a book – or some other resource – on that exact topic.

Resources:

Since Melissa’s presentation last year, I’ve been much more mindful of incorporating nonfiction into my displays, book talks, recommendations, and lists, and reading more of it myself (I particularly love picture book biographies). If/when I get the chance to work with younger elementary kiddos, I will be keeping this takeaway in mind.

MSLA 2022: “We respond to many names”

Reset Recharge Reimagine logo

Although K.C. Boyd’s keynote was hampered with technical difficulties, we persisted. (All of us librarians, library media specialists, teacher librarians, etc. are familiar with tech hiccups after the past couple years.) In the first half of her talk, she spoke about the school librarians’ advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., after schools went remote during COVID. “Always remain ready” to advocate, she advised, even when things are going well, and keep the focus on the students: “It’s not about the librarians, it’s about the children.” It is unfair to students, especially those in already under-resourced schools, to lose access to school libraries and librarians.

(This reminded me of the Massachusetts Equity & Access study from 2018, available for download from MBLC. Even across the Commonwealth, there are dramatic disparities between schools, meaning that some students have access to fully staffed, high quality library media centers, while others have no certified librarian and less (or no) access to library resources. Research has shown that students in schools with a certified librarian and a school library have improved reading scores – something everyone wants – so funding school libraries equally is essential.)

When school libraries are threatened, librarians must become activists as well as advocates. (An advocate speaks on behalf of a person or group; an activist acts intentionally to bring about social or political change.) K.C. suggested that mid-career, late-career, and retired librarians are the ones who should be on the front lines of this advocacy work, and she provided some guidelines for teamwork:

  • listen to understand
  • be respectful
  • let go of your privilege
  • gently “check” your peers
  • wellness checks
  • we are all in this together

Library activists should BE PREPARED with messaging: one message, many voices. K.C. advises, “Remain student-centered at all times….Keep ‘I’ out of the conversation….[the message is] We care about students.” Root your message in research; K.C. cited Dr. Keith Curry Lance and Dr. Stephen Krashen. Librarians can testify at education hearings, write op-eds, use social media, and tap local and national organizations, like EveryLibrary, for help. The bottom line is that “Inequity in school library services is wrong,” and we must work toward equity. She closed by saying, “We all must be truth tellers. Tell the truth. There is strength in numbers.”

Hashtags: #GoodTrouble (a reference to a John Lewis quote, though apparently it is also a TV show now), #DCPSHasLibrarians (DC-specific), #FReadom

Photo of Read-In protest
Photo of read-in protest from NBC Washington https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/dc-school-librarians-hold-read-in-protest-over-funding/2690626/

NLP logoSeparately from her keynote, K.C. Boyd also presented a session on “The News Literacy Project and Digital Citizenship.” KC is a national ambassador for the News Literacy Project (NLP) for the DC/Maryland/Virginia region. K.C. said, “I think it’s very important that digital literacy is taught in our K-12 schools.” Students are bombarded and overwhelmed with information and sometimes it’s not reported well. “We want students to be responsible users of media” and “it is our responsibility…to create a digital world we want to live in.” Particularly in the turbulent past two years – the Black Lives Matter movement, the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and the COVID-19 pandemic – it is “important for kids to understand where they could get good information.” K.C. said that she wanted her students to have “a full understanding of what was taking place,” so she used the NLP and Checkology to teach media literacy. Those lessons helped kids understand the news and how it is presented in society. “We owe our students the truth,” K.C. said, acknowledging that every community is different and advising librarians to “walk the line.”

The Checkology program is free for educators to use. I first heard about it a few years ago from Damaso Reyes at the “Libraries in a Post-Truth World” conference.

MSLA 2022: Every library is organized…differently

“Ditching Dewey or Sticking With It?”

Demco Dewey poster 900sAnna Ring of Chickering Elementary School in Dover/Sherborn conducted an action research project, surveying hundreds of elementary, middle, and high school libraries to find out what organizational systems they use: the Dewey Decimal System, an adapted version of Dewey, or something else (Library of Congress, BISAC, or a homegrown system). She found that most elementary libraries are still using Dewey or adapted Dewey, while some middle and high schools are using other systems. A few key themes emerged from Anna’s presentation and from the discussion among the participants:

  • Students should understand that every library has some organizational system; it may not be the same in every library, but once you understand the system, you can learn how to use it to find what you want. Understanding that there is an organizing principle is a transferable skill, even if another library uses a different system than the one you’re familiar with.
  • Librarians want students to feel successful, and for collections to have “maximum browsability”: “I want to make it as easy as possible for kids to find things.” This might mean grouping certain series together (like the Who Is/Who Was books) instead of sticking rigidly to Dewey. Many librarians also championed labeled bins as a way to increase visibility, browsability, and findability – there might be bins for biographies, easy readers, I Survived books, Magic School Bus, animal books…
  • Reclassifying and reorganizing takes a LOT of time, so take a slow, considered approach, and get student input!

A final small but important point: some libraries choose to “keep Dewey but ditch the decimal,” as students don’t learn decimals in math until third or fourth grade. And good signage helps!

“We can do something about it now”: Pablo Cartaya keynote at MSLA 2022

The Massachusetts School Library Association annual conference began tonight with a keynote speech from Pablo Cartaya, author of the middle grade novels Each Tiny Spark, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, and The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora. The self-described “Cuban-American guy” spoke about the importance of reflection and representation. He talked about a code-switching childhood in which he spoke Spanish at home and English at school, and never saw a character like himself in the books he loved to read: “When I was growing up I never read one story about a Cuban-American kid.” However, as an author, Cartaya said, “We can do something about it now….I want to do something about the fact that those books didn’t exist for me.” How many people, he wondered, “imagined themselves as a hero that looked nothing like them?”

Cartaya shares a belief common among authors, librarians, and others in the book world: that books can ease transitions and increase empathy. He told our group, “You’re stewards of so many lives and so many stories.” And while it’s vitally important that kids see characters like themselves in the books they read (mirrors), the stories he and many others write are “human stories…about the human condition” (windows). Cartaya said, “I think if COVID taught us anything, it’s that we can have a little more empathy for each other….Books can do that.”  Books can show us what it’s like to “live in another person’s skin,” feel how another person feels; books are a way to experience and understand the multitude of people and stories in this world. Embracing multilingualism and multiculturalism, said Cartaya, is what makes our communities thrive.

Cartaya spoke about the importance of reflection as “integral to our way forward.” He is continually asking, “What went wrong, what can we do better, what did we miss?” He showed respect for young readers, and described how he changed his approach to in-person author events, saying, “I don’t think authors should presume” what kids are thinking and feeling, “we should ask them. They need a space to tell their story, not me telling them how they feel.” (In the chat, several librarians shared their pandemic prompts and writing projects they use with students.)

Overall, a great intro to MSLA 2022! I’m looking forward to tomorrow and Monday’s sessions, and will write about those here as well. For now, buenas noches.

Virtual event: Starfish author Lisa Fipps at the Newton Free Library

Cover image of StarfishBig thanks to the children’s librarians at the Newton Free Library for organizing, promoting, hosting, and moderating a delightful virtual author visit with Lisa Fipps, author of the novel in verse Starfish, a Printz honor book. Lisa was incredibly friendly and personable, doing only a short introduction before answering tons of questions from the Newton Free Library book club and other attendees.

Some snippets:

  • On the writing process: Lisa sees “movie trailers in my head”
  • On autobiographical fiction: Ellie got “the watered down story of my life” with authentic emotions
  • To those who say “things like that would never happen”: “They do.”
  • On growing up without seeing herself in books: “I didn’t know anybody like me” (#RepresentationMatters)
  • On wanting to make post-publication changes: “I don’t know any writer who doesn’t look back on a book” and want to change something. Lisa didn’t read Starfish until six months after it was published, and while there are small things she would change if she could, “I’m okay with it.”
  • On how to get published: “First you have to write the story.” Then find an agent (hers is Liza Boyce), who will help you find an editor (hers is Nancy Paulsen).
  • Will there be a sequel or prequel? The Printz committee asked this too! Not sure.
  • On future books: Nancy is editing book number two now, and Lisa is writing book number three.
  • How long does it take you to write a book? Starfish took eight months, the next book took six. Lisa is trying to write 2-3 books a year; “I want to be a full-time author and you need to write a lot to make that happen.” (Currently she works at the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library in Indiana)
  • On that stuff on the table behind you: the penguin collection is because Nancy Paulsen’s imprint is part of Penguin Random House (which at least two librarians agree should have been called Random Penguin when they merged). The “inspiration jars” (see photo) are full of good reviews, fan letters, kind words, etc. That’s a lot of warm fuzzies!Screenshot of "inspiration jars"
  • On the role of music in writing: Lisa creates a playlist for every book she writes, to get into the characters’ heads; when actually writing, she listens to music with no lyrics.
  • How have family members responded to Starfish? “I have no idea, I’m estranged from my [biological] family” (except for a nephew); “I have families of choice.”
  • Advice for young writers? Write. And read a lot. “I try to read 3-5 books a week.”
  • What time of day do you write? Evenings after work, with marathon writing sessions (8-10 hours!) on weekends.
  • Do you read other novels in verse? Yes! The first one she read was Stop Pretending by Sonya Sones. “I think verse is a way to tell a powerful story in a short amount of words.”
  • On Ann Patchett’s advice to read your work aloud to yourself: “You will hear any clunkiness in your writing like that.” Lisa even recommends doing this while wearing foam earplugs.
  • On the therapist character in Starfish: Lisa used the wisdom of therapists mixed with the personality of a critique partner. (Readers loved Ellie’s therapist. Librarian Ms. Bery included Starfish in her list of books that normalize therapy.)
  • On Catalina’s character: Catalina is a “composite character” (bits and pieces of different people).

Thank you so much, Lisa Fipps and Newton Free Library!

2022 ALA Youth Media Awards

It’s the Oscars of #kidlit! (And honestly, at this point in my life, I’m much more excited about the ALA Youth Media Awards than about the Academy Awards.) This year I was following the announcements on Twitter and relaying them to my co-worker while we prepared to teach a bunch of seventh graders how to find reliable results when searching the internet (pro tip: there are more results after the first result! O brave new world…).

SLJ posted the winners of all the awards, but didn’t include the honor books on the same page; American Libraries has a complete write-up. I was thrilled to see Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin, win the Caldecott medal (and a Newbery Honor and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature – Picture Book), and equally delighted to see Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff and Last Night at the Telegraph Club win the Stonewall.

Angeline Boulley’s Firekeeper’s Daughter won the Morris, the Printz, and an American Indian Youth Literature honor for YA; other AILA honor books I cheered for included Christine Day’s middle grade novel The Sea in Winter, Traci Sorrell’s picture book We Are Still Here, and YA novel Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger.

Cover image of UnspeakableI can’t imagine anyone was surprised that Unspeakable by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, won two Coretta Scott King awards (for author and for illustrator), as well as a Sibert honor and a Caldecott honor. I’m looking forward to reading CSK illustrator honor book Nina, but I’m really surprised that Christian Robinson’s other 2021 book, Milo Imagines the World, didn’t get any official recognition.

By the time the Pura Belpré awards were announced I was busy in the library, but I was happy to catch up later and see that ¡Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge by Raul III won the Youth Illustrator award, Yuyi Morales received an honor for Bright Star, and Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet got a YA honor!

Cover image of StarfishOther Printz honor books included Starfish by Lisa Fipps (a novel in verse!), Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas, Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, and Revolution in Our Time by Kekla Magoon (the latter is the only Printz book I hadn’t already read, but it’s on my list now).

Also added to my to-read list:

  • Pura Belpré Children’s Author Award and the Newbery Award winner The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
  • Schneider Family Book Award winner My City Speaks, and honor books A Walk in the Words, A Bird Will Soar, and A Kind of Spark
  • Sydney Taylor Book Award Gold Medalist How to Find What You’re Not Looking For and Silver Medalist The Summer of Lost Letters
  • Theodore Seuss Geisel Award winner Fox at Night, written and illustrated by Corey R. Tabor
  • Sibert Award winner The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art

greatstinkI’d actually read a bunch of Sibert honor books, though not the winner; I was super excited to see The Great Stink on the list. We Are Still Here by Traci Sorrell and Unspeakable also got honors, as did Summertime Sleepers (which taught me the word “estivate,” which is like hibernating but in the summer).

Finally, I was so happy to see A.S. King receive the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement, Grace Lin receive the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, and Jane Yolen recognized with the Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award. A.S. King’s particular brand of magical realism/surrealism is completely unique to her; her books are deep and weird and thoughtful. Grace Lin writes for children of all ages, and her novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a favorite in our house. And Jane Yolen is Jane Yolen.

Previous year’s incoherent ramblings about ALA YMA:

2021 ALA YMA

2020 ALA YMA

Edited 1/26/2022: Note to self: next year write a post more like Abby’s (ALSC blog).