Step into Storytime, January 27 *and* ALA Youth Media Awards

Last Monday we were closed for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and next week I get to do a double storytime (2- and 3-year-olds on Monday as usual, preschool storytime on Tuesday), but this week was a regular Step into Storytime session. Attendance was on the low end to start with, about seven kids (all boys, coincidentally), but a few more came in during our initial songs and first few books.

Goose, Dragon, Pirate, Bear books on chair

  • Welcome and announcements (including “storytime is my favorite part of the week.” I borrowed this lovely phrase from a librarian at the library in Arlington said this at her storytime last week. It is 100% true for me as well, as long as we’re talking about the work week)
  • “Hello Friends” with ASL
  • Name song (“___ is here today”)
  • Goose by Laura WallPirate Jack gets dressed felt pieces and list
  • There’s A Dragon in Your Book by Tom Fletcher (this book encourages plenty of interaction: blowing out fire, popping a water balloon, etc.)
  • Song cube: “The Wheels on the Bus”
  • Pirate Jack Gets Dressed by Nancy Raines Day, illustrated by Allison Black: This is such a fabulous book to talk about colors (and getting dressed). I made a set of felt shapes to correspond to each item of Jack’s clothing and placed them on the felt board as we got to their page in the story. Before starting the book, we also took a look at what colors we were wearing.
  • Mouse house game (by request). “Little mouse, little mouse, are you in the [color] house?” Apparently this never gets old!
  • Song cube: “Zoom zoom zoom, we’re going to the moon” (twice)
  • Make A Wish, Bear by Greg Foley: I had A Parade of Elephants with me too, but decided to save that for next week and made Bear the last book of today’s storytime. We noticed the star shapes on the cover and in the book, to tie in to our craft project.
  • “Goodbye Friends” with ASL
  • Invited questions, and one boy raised his hand and said, “I have a question! Will you put the paper out now?” (Later, a grown-up came up and asked for books for her kindergartener who likes funny books like Elephant & Piggie and Pigeon, so I helped her find several funny picture books.)
  • Craft: Butcher paper taped to the floor, pre-cut colored construction paper stars, glue sticks, crayons.

And when I was finished cleaning up from storytime, the ALA Youth Media Awards had been announced! I was so excited to see that New Kid by Jerry Craft won the Newbery AND Coretta Scott King, and that Dig by A.S. King won the Printz, and Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez won the Pura Belpré. Many other winner and Honor titles were books I’ve liked or loved this year:

  • Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Newbery Honor)
  • Bear Came Along by Richard Morris and LeUyen Pham (Caldecott Honor)
  • Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds (Coretta Scott King Honor)
  • What Is Given From the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack and April Harrison (Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award)
  • The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais (Schneider Family Book Award Honor)
  • Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya (Schneider Family Honor Book)
  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz (Alex Award)
  • The Swallows by Lisa Lutz (Alex Award)
  • Children’s Literature Legacy Award to Kevin Henkes
  • ALSC Children’s Literature Lecture Award to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop (if you’re heard of mirrors, windows, and doors in children’s literature, she is why)
  • Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka (Odyssey Award for best audiobook, though I read the print edition)
  • We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorrell (Odyssey Honor; American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book Honor)
  • We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (Odyssey Honor)
  • ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raúl Gonzalez (Belpré Illustrator Honor Book)
  • Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar (Belpré Author Honor Book)
  • Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal (Sibert Award; American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book Honor)
  • This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy (Sibert Honor)
  • Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis (Sibert Honor)
  • Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot! by Cece Bell (Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor)
  • The Book Hog by Greg Pizzoli (Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor)
  • Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed (Asian/Pacific American Picture Book Honor)
  • Stargazing by Jen Wang (Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature)
  • Frankly in Love by David Yoon (Asian/Pacific American Young Adult Literature Honor)
  • Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell, cover art by Marlena Myles (American Indian Youth Literature Middle Grade Award)

…and naturally I added several others to my to-read list this morning. Congratulations to all the authors and illustrators, thanks to the committee members, and happy reading to everyone! | School Library Journal ALA YMA announcement

Screenshot of SLJ tweet announcing Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz winners

 

Chunky Monkeys at Belmont Books

Tonight, seven of the eleven members of the Chunky Monkeys writing group spoke on a panel at Belmont Books. I’d seen Whitney Scharer, author of The Age of Light, speak once before (at the Arlington Author Salon) but hadn’t had a chance to hear the others speak, even though they’re all local (they meet in person) and many teach or have taught at Grub Street.

The group started in 2012 with Jennifer DeLeon (Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From) and Adam Stumacher, and expanded to nine members, then eleven. When the group started,  none of them had yet published a book; the goal was that, within a decade, all of them would. Grace Talusan (The Body Papers) said she believed in all of the others, but “I didn’t necessarily believe in myself – but all of you did.”

Grace, Jennifer, and Adam were on the panel tonight, along with Whitney Scharer, Celeste Ng (Everything I Never Told You, Little Fires Everywhere), Sonya Larson (who just won an NEA grant), and Calvin Hennick (Once More to the Rodeo).

screenshot of @bostonbookblog tweet and photo of panel at bookstore

They started by discussing tenets of an effective writing group (noting that, of course, the exact same rules won’t work for every group):

  • Discuss and agree on expectations and hopes for the group, and level of commitment, at the beginning
  • Rigorous feedback
  • Positive support
  • Specific systems in place (more rigid at first, more flexible now)
  • Deadlines!
  • Ongoing experiences together
  • Relationship with each other and each other’s work (“they know how to give feedback in a way that you can hear it”)
  • Inspiration and integrity; mutual admiration and “healthy intimidation”
  • Respect each other as readers and as human beings
  • Make decisions by consensus

Sonya described the “standard workshop”: a writer submits 20-25 pages, and receives a written letter and line edits. The group meets once a month for three hours on a Sunday, planned 5-6 months in advance (they use a Google calendar and a Doodle poll to set the dates). Hosting rotates, and they workshop three writers’ work each time, but there is not a strict rotation.

Sometimes, in order for the group to thrive, and to be useful to every member of the group, they do things differently. (“Ask the group for what you need on this project right now.”) In fact, the name Chunky Monkeys doesn’t come from the ice cream flavor – it’s because they referred to “chunks” of writing, sometimes asking for the group to review a “double chunk” (twice the usual length) or asking a few members of the group to form a “side chunk.”

They are also connected via e-mail, daily (though this isn’t a formal requirement for group membership). They share “yay-ables” and occasionally have family get-togethers. After many years together, they have a high level of trust, and Sonya said, “with high trust comes high freedom,” which is reflected in their feedback on each other’s work. And being in a group with other writers you admire makes you “up your game” in a way that is positive, not competitive. “All boats float.”

Celeste also talked about the high level of trust among group members: not only do they workshop each other’s writing, but they offer support in “meta-writing” activities, like practicing Q&As before a book tour, helping each other with book proposals, helping each other find agents (“and break up with agents”), and figuring out how to ask for an honorarium. Because they’re at different stages of their writing careers, and have different areas of expertise (fiction, nonfiction, memoir, short fiction), it’s useful to compare notes.

When bookstore employee and moderator Miriam Lapson asked, “How many of you are in multiple writing groups?” the reaction was almost comical, with everyone looking around at everyone else, asking, “Who’s cheating on us?!” (Only one admitted to being in another group, but others said they sometimes asked other people to read their work to get “fresh eyes.”)

Moderator Miriam asked the group how they manage conflict; Jennifer replied that there’s usually something underneath, but “there’s a level of maturity – it’s our passion, but also our profession.” Adam reiterated the group norm of decision by consensus, which means they have to talk through big decisions (such as whether to allow members who move away from the Boston area to stay in the group, or whether to add a new member). It can be a long conversation, but everyone gets heard. Celeste said, “All of us are very invested in making sure everybody’s voice gets heard.”

Once the Q&A time opened up, I observed that every member of the group had a background in teaching writing – how did that inform their workshop process? (At the beginning of the panel, they had said that any writing group could have their kind of success, which I thought was a tiny bit disingenuous, since all of them had taken and/or taught classes at Grub Street and some had MFAs.) Adam replied that when the group started, they’d had a facilitator/moderator for each session, and that, as teachers, they had a specific way of thinking about craft. Celeste added that their feedback is focused on the intent of the writer; they don’t read a piece and say, “You should do this,” but rather, “It seems like your intent is _____, here are some ways you can do that.” (As someone who hasn’t taken creative writing classes or done any formal workshopping, I found this particular piece of advice really helpful.)

Another person asked what the group members did when they had a complete draft ready for submission. Enter “side chunks”! Three or four people read the whole manuscript and critique it. This is also a point at which “fresh eyes” from outside the group may be helpful.

Thanks to Belmont Books for hosting, and to all seven of the Chunky Monkeys for sharing their time and expertise on a freezing Thursday night.

 

2019 Reading Wrap-Up

Here’s the 2018 reading wrap-up.

Using data from my LibraryThing account, my total number of books read in 2019 was: 779. Which seems stratospheric and/or false, but remember that some I didn’t finish (16), and more than half were picture books (452) or early readers (46).

Partially read / started-didn’t-finish: 16. Sometimes it’s a case of right book, wrong time, or right book, wrong reader. Whatever the case, if you’re reading for pleasure, and you don’t like the book – put it down and find another!

Picture books: 452

Early reader: 46. If you haven’t read the Charlie & Mouse books by Laurel Snyder, please check them out immediately. They have a Frog & Toad / Bink & Gollie vibe that is just – as Mary Berry would say – perfection.

Now we’re down to 265 books, which is still, even in librarian circles, respectable. I’ve broken that down into categories below, but math-minded folks take note: there’s a lot of overlap within those categories (particularly between chapter books and middle grade, middle grade and YA, audiobooks and pretty much everything except graphic novels, graphic novels and fiction/nonfiction).

Chapter books: 22. It’s been such a pleasure to revisit Ramona Quimby and Clementine, and to meet Ivy & Bean. Nate the Great, Anna Hibiscus, and Princess Magnolia are good, too.

Middle grade: 96! I’ve been reading more middle grade novels since I’m working more hours in the children’s department, and MG has some of the most amazing characters. (There’s setting and world-building and all that, too, but what sticks with me is the characters.)

YA/teen: 38 (including 14 that overlap with middle grade. For the uninitiated, “middle grade” does not mean “middle school”: it usually refers to upper elementary, but it can also include middle school territory.)

Adult fiction: 46 (approximate genre breakdown, keeping in mind that there is plenty of overlap between genres: 47 fantasy, 13 historical, 11 sci-fi, 6 mystery, 4 romance)

Nonfiction: 29 adult (including 11 how-to), 117 total (children’s/teen/adult). Kids’ nonfiction is often presented attractively and is really informative! Together with my kiddo, I learned a lot about ladybugs, the Northern Lights, and outer space this year (that “a universe of stories” summer reading theme was influential).

Graphic novels: 49. My appreciation for this format continues to grow. Standouts this year included Good Talk by Mira Jacob (adult, memoir) and New Kid by Jerry Craft (MG/YA), plus new books from Shannon Hale, Raina Telgemeier, and Ben Hatke. My standard line for adults who hem and haw about their kids reading graphic novels instead of “real books” is: Graphic novels ARE real books. Kids develop visual literacy along with print literacy, and they might read them fast, but they re-read them often. If they’re developing a love of reading by reading graphic novels, fantastic.

Short stories: 8. There’s some incredible speculative short fiction out there: see Kelly Link, N.K. Jemisin, and Ted Chiang for a start.

Audiobooks: 52. See note for graphic novels: audiobooks ARE books. In fact, they have one specific advantage over print: the narrators pronounce words correctly! There are so many words that I can spell and define but not pronounce confidently because I’ve never heard them out loud…until audiobooks. Also, many narrators bring so much talent and expression to their performance – like Jessica Almasy’s reading of the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker.

Author gender pie chart LibraryThing
Screen shot from LibraryThing stats on author gender

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: 92. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center collects statistics about diversity in children’s publishing. Looking at the infographic comparing 2015 with 2018, what struck me is that while the percentage of books featuring white characters dropped from 73.3% to 50% over three years, the percentage of books featuring non-human (animal/other) main characters rose from 12.5% to 27%. So, we still have a ways to go before our children’s literature reflects the actual children reading the books. More diverse books, more #OwnVoices.

Five star ratings: 26. The Ten Thousand Doors of January, The Secret Commonwealth, Invisible Women, City of Girls, Wordslut, Good Talk….See my “Great books of 2019” post.

Re-reads: 24. Mostly picture books, but a few others as well: Slade House by David Mitchell, because I bought the beautiful UK paperback at No Alibis in Belfast; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, because it had been ages; and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlotte’s Web with the kiddo.

Although I’m not setting any particular goals or reading resolutions for this year, I’m  looking forward to more wonderful books. I’m already in the middle of Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez (fun!) and Inconspicuous Consumption by Tatiana Schlossberg (not fun).

How was your reading year? What are you looking forward to? I’m always adding suggestions to my ever-growing to-read list…

Top Ten Books to Read in 2020

It’s the future now, no question. 2020! Well, whatever else happens this year, at least we can count on books. Here are some titles slated to be published in 2020 that I’m looking forward to:

  1. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel: Finally, the third book in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy.
  2. The Thief Knot by Kate Milford: Another Greenglass House book. Rejoice!
  3. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven
  4. Go to Sleep (I Miss You) by Lucy Knisley
  5. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
  6. Chirp by Kate Messner, author of Breakout
  7. The Night Country by Melissa Albert, author of The Hazel Wood
  8. Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir by Rebecca Solnit

There are also a couple from last year’s list: The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (After reading reviews and talking with several people who had read it, I elected to skip The Dreamers.) And a couple that have been lingering on my “currently reading” shelf: the short story collection Ghostly, edited by Audrey Niffenegger, and Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil, both of which I started and then set aside intending to go back to.

There were (more than) a few published in 2019 or earlier that are still on my to-read list, a few of which my book club is considering:

  1. Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys (YA, historical fiction)
  2. Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins (YA contemporary)
  3. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (adult fiction)
  4. The Line Becomes A River by Francisco Cantu (adult fiction)
  5. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (adult fiction, Booker Prize)
  6. The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri (memoir)
  7. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (fantasy/horror)
  8. Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby (YA, historical/ghost)
  9. Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire (adult fantasy)
  10. Falter by Bill McKibben (adult nonfiction), climate)

And if we’re really, really lucky, Philip Pullman will publish the final Book of Dust, and Audrey Niffenegger will publish Alba, Continued (or whatever it’s going to be called), and David Mitchell will publish…anything at all. Fingers and toes crossed.

Obviously this is more than ten. But who’s counting?

 

Great books of 2019

All year, every year, I read like it’s my job. (It kind of is, but in case anyone still believes the myth that librarians get to read while at work, let me swiftly debunk that one for you: NO.) However, I don’t hold a candle to librarian/reviewer extraordinaire Betsy Bird, so I want to recommend her “31 Days, 31 Lists” feature for School Library Journal, which is comprehensive. There’s also no shortage of year-end lists from other sources, including but certainly not limited to:

I do read a lot of new books, so there are plenty of 2019 titles on my list(s), but there are older ones as well. Publication year is noted along with author and title. If I listened to an audiobook, I’ll note that as well with “(audio)” (if I only listened to it) or “(+audio)” (if I listened and read it in print as well). I may winnow this down to a Top Ten list later in the month (after all, the #libfaves countdown on Twitter is starting soon has already started, see below), but it’s hard to leave out books that I feel deserve more eyeballs! All of my reviews are on LibraryThing.

Picture Books (Fiction)

Lambslide by Ann Patchett (2019)
Little Taco Truck by Tanya Valentine (2019)
The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol (2019)
Red Light, Green Lion by Candace Ryan (2019)
Truman by Jean Reidy (2019)
Is 2 A Lot by Annie Watson (2019)
Penny and Penelope by Dan Richards (2019)
Here and Now by Julia Denos (2019)
Twins by Mike Ciccotello (2019)
Just Because by Mac Barnett (2019)
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang (2019)
Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed (2019)
Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller (2018)
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora (2018)
The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker (2018)
Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack (2018)
Ginny Goblin Is Not Allowed to Open This Box by David Goodner (2018)
It’s Springtime, Mr. Squirrel by Sebastian Meschenmoser (2018)
Pirate Jack Gets Dressed by Nancy Raines Day (2018)
I Am Not A Fox by Karina Wolf (2018)
Waltz of the Snowflakes by Elly MacKay (2017)
I Really Want the Cake by Simon Philip (2017)
World Pizza by Cece Meng (2017)
Are You A Monkey? by Marine Rivoal (2017)
My Dog’s A Chicken by Susan McElroy Montanari (2016)
Best Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis (2016)
Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian (2016)
Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood (2015)
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev (2015)
Down Here by Valerie Sherrard (2015)
Spots in a Box by Helen Ward (2015)
The Angry Little Puffin by Timothy Young (2014)
Froodle by Antoinette Portis (2014)
Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder (2013)
I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry (2010)
Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig (1998)

Picture Books (Nonfiction)

If Pluto Was A Pea by Gabrielle Prendergast (2019)
Pluto Gets the Call by Adam Rex (2019)
Skulls! by Blair Thornburgh (2019)
The Spacesuit by Alison Donald (2019)
Magic Ramen by Andrea Wang (2019)
Just Like Beverly by Vicki Conrad (2019)
You Are My Friend by Aimee Reid (2019)
Ladybugs by Gail Gibbons (2013)

Early Readers/Chapter Books

Penny and Her Sled by Kevin Henkes (2019)
Charlie & Mouse; Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy; Charlie & Mouse Even Better by Laurel Snyder (2017, 2017, 2019)
Louise Loves Bake Sales by Laura Driscoll (2018)
The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale (2015)
Bink & Gollie; Bink & Gollie, Best Friends Forever; Bink & Gollie, Two for One by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee (2010, 2012, 2013)
Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems (2010)
Ivy & Bean by Annie Barrows (2007) (+audio)
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker (2006) (+audio)
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (2013) (+audio)
The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo by Judy Blume (1981)

Middle Grade

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell (2019)
Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly (2019) (audio)
All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker (2019)
The Year We Fell From Space by Amy Sarig King (2019)
Sunny and Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2019) (audio)
A Tale Magnolious by Suzanne Nelson (2019)
Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy (2019)
Roll With It by Jamie Sumner (2019)
The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart (2019)
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington (2019)
The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu (2019)
Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu (2019)
Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes (2019)
We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (2019)
Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (2019)
To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (2019)
The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (2019)
My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder (2019)
This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce (2019) (nonfiction)
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (2018)
The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (2018) (audio)
Blended by Sharon M. Draper (2018) (audio)
The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobsen (2018)
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (2018) (audio)
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (2005) and Princess Acacemy: Palace of Stone (2012)
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (2011) (audio)
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (2005)
Frindle by Andrew Clements (1998)
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1971) (audio)

Middle Grade Graphic Novels

New Kid by Jerry Craft (2019)
Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer and Matthew Holm (2019)
Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (2019)
Stargazing by Jen Wang (2019)
Guts by Raina Telgemeier (2019)
Best Friends by Shannon Hale (2019)
Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis (2019)
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (2018)
Princeless: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley (2014)
The Babysitters Club: Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgemeier (2015)
Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon (2017)
Awkward; Brave; Crush (Berrybrook Middle School) by Svetlana Chmakova (2015, 2017, 2018)

YA

The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman (2019)
The Poet X and With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (audio) (2018, 2019)
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (2019)

Adult fiction

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (2019)
Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess (2019)
The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz (2019)
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames (2019)
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (2019)
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz (2019)
Dominicana by Angie Cruz (2019)
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2017)
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (2019)
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey (2019)
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (2019)
Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen (2019)
Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger (2019)
Normal People by Sally Rooney (2019)
The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer (2019)
Milkman by Anna Burns (2018)

Adult Nonfiction

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (2019)
Dear Ally, How Do You Write A Book by Ally Carter (2019)
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? by Caitlin Doughty (2019)
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez (2019)
Wordslut by Amanda Montell (2019)
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson (2019)
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda (2016)
Peacerunner by Penn Rhodeen (2016)
Shakespeare by Bill Bryson (2016)
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2015)

YA and Adult Graphics

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (2019)
Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley (2019)
Good Talk by Mira Jacob (2019)
The Unwanted by Don Brown (2019)
The Mental Load by Emma (2018)
March (Books 1-3) by John Lewis (2013, 2015, 2016)

My #libfaves19 picks  (Updated 12/17/19)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
The Year We Fell From Space by Amy Sarig King
Good Talk by Mira Jacob
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
Wordslut by Amanda Montell
The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames
Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
Honorable mention #11: New Kid by Jerry Craft

SLJ Day of Dialog at Cambridge Public Library

The School Library Journal (SLJ) Day of Dialog at the Cambridge Public Library was a day-long event that brought librarians, authors, and publishers together. The day included:

  • Three keynote speakers: Erin Entrada Kelly (Hello Universe), Deborah Heiligman (Torpedoed), and Nikki Grimes (Ordinary Hazards)
  • Three panels: picture book, nonfiction, and tween/teen
  • Two “book buzz” presentations, where representatives from different publishers gave lightning talks highlighting their upcoming books

There was an hour break for lunch, and a few minutes between the keynotes, panels, and book buzzes to speak with folks from the publishing houses, meet authors, and get books signed. It really felt like we were all book-lovers, all on the same side: the side of making great books and getting them into the hands of readers.

Highlights from Erin Entrada Kelly’s keynote, which focused on honesty in middle grade literature:

  • The most important thing is to write honestly; it’s important for young readers to experience practical truths
  • In Blackbird Fly, bullies don’t get comeuppance. “A lot of times that does not happen…That’s how the real world works.” It’s important for young people to see the world mirrored back at them.
  • Young people are already their own complex beings with their own beliefs
  • “My hope is that young readers, when they finish reading my book” or any book, is that they can be their own hero, see their own worth and value…they don’t have to conform to our society.
  • “Walking around like an open wound” -being sensitive, empathetic, compassionate, etc. – is not a liability, as long as you’re the best version of yourself. “Characters don’t change the core of who they are, they accept the core of who they are.”
  • “Even though the world isn’t perfect, we can make it better….Change happens when ordinary people do extraordinary things”
  •  “Someone once told me, Everyone has a year in their childhood where things change, and there was a before and an after…for me that year was twelve.”

The picture book panel was Julia Denos, E.B. Goodale, Kyle Lukoff, Vita Murro, and Cornelius Van Wright. I was already a fan of Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale’s picture book Windows, and was delighted to pick up their new collaboration, Here and Now, which is a wonderful book for bedtime or any time you need to wind down. Kyle Lukoff (When Aidan Became A Brother) and Vita Murrow (Power to the Princess) were engaging speakers, and Cornelius Van Wright’s (The Little Red Crane) response to the question “How would your book have been different a decade ago?” made me laugh out loud: “A truck book would have been the same.” The moderator’s last question was what the authors’ favorite books were when they were kids, and if those influenced the kinds of books they create now.

In the first book buzz, I wrote down several titles from Candlewick and Charlesbridge to look up when they come out, including This Boy by Lauren Myracle and Not A Bean by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez. I also chatted with the editorial director of Owl Kids about Sloth at the Zoom, which was on the cover of one of their catalogs. (If you haven’t read Sloth at the Zoom, you should go do that right now. It’s about a sloth that gets sent to the Zoom instead of the Zzzzzoo.)

After lunch, Deborah Heiligman gave the afternoon keynote, about the process of writing her new book, Torpedoed. (See her interview in the Horn Book: Deborah Heiligman Talks With Roger.) She talked about “Deb’s Rules for Researching”: start with primary sources, don’t write everything down, only take “oh wow” notes. She also talked about writing for middle grade: what does that mean? What do they know, what don’t they know?

The nonfiction panel was Kim Chafee (Her Fearless Run), Marge Pellegrino (Neon Words), Melissa Stewart (Seashells, Feathers), and Carole Boston Weatherford (Box). The moderator, Maggie Bush, observed that children’s nonfiction used to be more “utilitarian,” whereas now it’s often more heavily illustrated, and there are more narrative nonfiction books than the type of dry fare students might use for book reports. One of the authors – I think Melissa Stewart – explained that her picture book nonfiction has “Multiple layers of text” to “make the book accessible to different age groups.” There’s the main text, secondary text, etc. I’ve definitely noticed this in picture book nonfiction (e.g. Gail Gibbons, Nick Seluk), and it’s great.

The teens & tweens panel was Craig Battle (Camp Average), Ryan LaSala (Reverie), Maulik Pancholy (The Best At It), Christina Soontornvat (A Wish in the Dark), and Karen Rayne (Trans+). Moderator Ashleigh Williams observed a “a common theme between these different books…how compassion shows up in difficult places.” All of the authors spoke about representation and diversity. A few key quotes:

  • Christina Soontornvat: “In your middle grade years, you are really ready to confront…Maybe it’s not working the way it should….maybe the way society is set up is not fair”
  • Maulik Pancholy: “Kids live complex lives…you can’t lie to them.”
  • Ryan LaSala: Internal fantasy worlds are sometimes a response to unkind realities… “just because you’ve gone through shit doesn’t mean you are absolved from having compassion for others”
  • Christina Soontornvat: “One small act of kindness or one small act of cruelty has these reverberating impacts”
  • Karen Rayne: “You are the expert on your self.”
  • Christina Soontornvat: Kids are eager to push back, ask questions, be activists, be aware of the world they’re living in, they want to be more inclusive.

I got fidgety during the second book buzz and went to visit the publishers’ tables. The last speaker of the day was Nikki Grimes. Highlights:

  • A tenth grade teacher told her “Good enough, isn’t” and taught her to strive for excellence.
  • “The words you traffic in have the power to save lives….reading and writing were my survival tools”
  • “The right story at the right time for the right reader is magical.” What is the right story? One to which the reader can relate in some special way.
  • Representation matters, and not just for children
  • Library card: “a magic pass I used to climb into someone else’s skin any time I needed”
  • “Stories unite us, stories transform us, stories anchor us”

Thank you to SLJ and the Cambridge Public Library for a fantastic day! I’m already looking forward to next year.

 

Arlington Author Salon: Love in Tumultuous Times

The theme for tonight’s Arlington Author Salon, an event held quarterly at Kickstand Cafe in Arlington, was “Love in Tumultuous Times,” and the three featured authors were Whitney Scharer (The Age of Light), Jenna Blum (The Lost Family), and Christopher Castellani (Leading Men). The Arlington Author Salon is supported by the Arlington Cultural Council, which is in turn supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. I’ve only been to two events so far, and both have been packed.

AgeofLightWhitney Scharer was up first, showing slides and then reading from her debut novel about Lee Miller, known as a model for Vogue and surrealist Man Ray’s muse, though she was a photographer in her own right, and co-inventor of the technique of solarization. (Aside: Every student should have a project like the one mentioned in Meg Wolitzer and Holly Goldberg Sloan’s new middle grade novel,  To Night Owl From Dogfish, “Give the right person the credit.”) Scharer discovered Miller at an exhibit featuring Man Ray at the Peabody Essex Museum in 2011, and was interested in the two of them “being in love and making art together.” (Miller went on to be a war reporter; she reminded me of Robert Capa’s partner, Gerda Taro, who was killed while documenting the Spanish Civil War.) Scharer read a scene from her novel in which Miller describes what she calls “wild mind”: her ability to set any expression on her face while modeling, yet thinking of anything she wants, setting her mind free. The scene (possibly the whole novel?) was in present tense.

LostFamilyNext, Jenna Blum (The Stormchasers, Those Who Save Us) talked about and read from her new novel, The Lost Family, set in New York and centered around a Holocaust survivor, Peter, who lost his wife and daughters. He now owns and runs a restaurant called Masha’s, after his late wife, and has sworn not to get involved with anyone again – but, of course, he does. The novel is about Peter and his second wife and their daughter, “a whole family trying to put its arms around a loved one’s PTSD.” Blum didn’t have slides, but she did share a cocktail of her own invention, and cream puffs called “Masha’s Little Clouds”; she said that she invented and kitchen-tested all the menu items in the book.

LeadingMenFinally, Christopher Castellani (A Kiss From Maddalena, The Saint of Lost Things, All This Talk of Love) talked about his newest novel, Leading Men, which imagines a party thrown by Truman Capote in Portofino in 1975, the guests, and the aftermath. Castellani said that people always want to know “how much is true and how much is not true,” so he explained that the party did happen, and that Tennessee Williams and his lover Frank Merlot really were invited, but that Williams’ journal does not mention the party in the days or weeks following it. Using both “real and invented people,” Castellani imagined and invented “between the cracks of what was known about these people.” Merlot is his main character; Williams isn’t a “point of view character” largely because he is too well-known, has written and been written about too much; Merlot, though not obscure, is less of a known quantity. Castellani admitted that it was daunting to write dialogue for characters like Capote and Williams; he would often use an “anchor quote” from their writings in order to get the tone of the dialogue and scene, and would sometimes remove the “scaffolding” once the scene was finished.

Though the book I’m currently reading (Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess, who, like these three authors, also has a Grub Street connection) is firmly speculative, I do love historical fiction and all three of these books are on my to-read list now. Thank you, Arlington Author Salon! (If you’re local, the next one is July 11.)