Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Advent Calendars

Have you noticed all of the cool advent Calendars based on children's books that are out right now?  Here are a couple that I think are cool.24 Penguins Before Christmas by Jean-Luc Fromental

Eric Carle's Dream Snow
Olive The Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold
I'm tempted to buy them all!

I also think that it would be really fun to to fill a normal advent calendar with christmas book titles to read each day.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Patrick the Somnambulist - written and illustrated by Sarah Ackerly

I fell in love with a penguin today.  His name is Patrick.  He may seem like a normal penguin because he eats normal food like spaghetti and he plays normal games like chess, but sometimes Patrick wakes up in the middle of the night to find himself doing things that are anything but normal.  At first, when his parents find him in the middle of the night hiding in the mailbox or wrapped in toilet paper wearing a plunger on his head, they think Patrick is just weird, but as his antics go on, they worry there might really be something wrong with him.  

After a trip to the doctor, Patrick discovers 
that he is a Somnambulist (AKA a sleepwalker).  Patrick is not distressed by this title, he's claims it with pride and is perfectly happy to be not-quite-normal after all.  With his newfound confidence, he begins to do amazing 
things.  You really have to read this book to see what that clever penguin is up to.

Sarah Ackerley's beautiful pen and watercolor illustrations add so much to her witty text.  I was amazed by how much emotion she was able to convey with such simple drawings of penguins.  Just look how anguished Patrick's parents appear to be in this illustration.  

Kids will get a big kick out of the funny things Patrick does in his sleep, while parents will be laughing out loud as the recognize penguin versions of the human world (my favorite is the Conan O'Brianesque penguin interviewing Patrick on a talkshow).

The downside to this book is that this is Sarah's first book, so you can't rush out to pick up another book about Patrick, and believe me, you will want to.  To tide you over in the meantime you can check out her online portfolio or her blog.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ducks Don't Wear Socks by John Nedwidek

Emily is a serious, no-nonsense kind of a girl so one day, when she's taking a serious walk and she meets Duck riding a unicycle, dressed in a pair of socks, she feels it is her duty to inform him that ducks do NOT wear socks. Does duck get embarrassed? Does he take his socks off or try to cover them up? No! He simply replies, "Cold feet!" and continues on his way.
Day after day, Emily continues to run into duck around the city and day after day he's wearing some ridiculous item on clothing that he always has a good explanation for (of course he need a tie, he's on his way to a big meeting). The readers see Emily transform from a serious girl to one who giggles at the site of duck and find a way to make duck giggle too.
Lee White's comical illustrations add much to the text as readers see Emily dragging her cello to her lesson and duck proudly sailing in his underwear. The way duck always has one eye visible off to the side of his face enhances his comical nature. Duck's statements are always displayed in a different
font that's bold and slightly bigger than the rest of the text, which should help encourage young readers to add a little emotion when the read the book aloud.

I can't help but feeling like everyone needs a silly, confident friend like duck. My friend's second grader came home before Halloween to inform her that he could not wear his magician costume on Halloween; the other second graders told him that second-grade boys only wear scary costumes like goblins and skeletons and they would make fun of him and scare him if he came dressed as a magician. If only Duck could have been there to prove that boys CAN pick whatever they want be for Halloween, girls CAN indeed play football on the playground, and of course, ducks CAN wear socks.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Can I have Martha Stewart's job?

Ok, I'm not interested in some of the things featured on her show, but I've noticed recently that Martha gets to have a lot of amazing children's authors and illustrators on her show. Have you noticed that?

Matthew Reinhardt and Robert Sabuda have been on the show multiple times. You can learn how to make Christmas cards with them here, and Valentine's Day cards with Matthew here.

Matthew Van Fleet was recently on the show making moving Dog cards.

Fancy Nancy Author Jane O'Connor made felt purses with Martha

Last week David Macaulay was on talking about his new book The Way We Work.

Jon Sciezska was on the show in August discussing some suggestions for way to make reading fun for your kids (fast forward through the video clip a little bit to see the segment with Jon).

The video clips are a fun way for kids to see some of their favorite authors, and the projects are pretty fun too.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Dinosaur Vs Bedtime - by Bob Shea

Ok, I know, I alluded that I would be reviewing some of the lesser known fictional picture book Cybils nominees, but I have to start with Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime because my toddler has adopted it as his own so I've had ample opportunities to examine this book (every morning before breakfast, every morning after breakfast, every morning before we put on our shoes . . . ) Besides, I'm shocked at how many of my friends have not already snapped up this title.

You may know Bob Shea from the beautifully designed picture book No Socks or the text he wrote for Big Plans, a little book that came out this year illustrated by some guy named Lane Smith (maybe you've heard of him?). Well, Bob is at his best with his latest title Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime.

At the beginning of the book, a little dinosaur boldly declares that nothing can stop him. Readers then follow him on some of his big matches: dinosaur vs. leaves, dinosaur vs. a big slide, dinosaur vs. a bowl of spaghetti. Little dinosaur conquers them all, that is, until dinosaur vs. bedtime.The illustrations are simple, beautiful, and guaranteed to entertain preschoolers. If you mixed Mo Willems' pigeon and Lauren Child's Charlie and Lola, you would end up with dinosaur. Dinosaur is a simple character with a black crayon-like outline much like Pigeon with elements of real photos and textures mixed in to add details of the fabric of his pajamas and spaghetti, mush like Lauren Child's illustrations. Shea seems to be a master of typography. There is so much emotion behind the way the text is laid out that it's hard to resist reading aloud and I daresay you'll be roaring right along with dinosaur.

Shea also has a great website that's not to be missed, especially because you can flip through most of the book there and experience it for yourself right now. And funny that I should compare him to Mo Willems, there is an audio clip there from Mo stating how much he hates the book and it's beautiful illustrations because he didn't think of it first.

But wait there's more! Noggin featured a video of Shea sharing Dinosaur vs. Bedtime so you can actually watch it right now!

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime from bob shea on Vimeo.

Another reason to check out Shea's site is the bio that made me laugh right out loud multiple times. How can resist a bio that begins like this?
"Here's a photo of a bear I fought this one time. I totally won. Yeah, I know, I'm pretty brave."

Oh, that Bob Shea, he's one funny awesome guy!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Cybils Judge

So each committee is a little different and I'm not an expert on the subject or anything, but I know a few of you are wondering about behind the scenes of the Cybils Awards. Two years ago, I was on the middle grade fiction committee and this year, I'm on the fictional picture book committee. Both years, I opted to be a judge on the first panels that takes all of the books nominated for their category and narrows it down to a few finalists. After the finalists are announced in January, a different panel of five judges in each category will take the finalists and come up with a winner.

I like being on the first committee for several reasons. Most of all, I think it's less pressure than coming up with one winner. Debates can be very heated, and I think it's a lot easier to come up with several finalists than one winner. Plus, being the book lover that I am, that would be like choosing my favorite child (ok, I only have one child so that would be easy, but you know what I mean!). I also love the extra motivation to be up-to-date on what's out there this year. Anyone can read all the nominates, but I would probably skip several if I wasn't a judge and it's good to be forced to branch out a little and make some new discoveries.

There is a designated leader for every panel, and for the most part, they decide how they want to run that category. This year, Sheila from Wands and Worlds has set up a database for all of the Cybils judges so every judge can log in and see an organized list of all the nominees in their category. Each judge is constantly updating which books they've read and which books they've received free review copies of from publishers, as well as adding comments about them. Publishers do not have to send review copies to judges in order for their books to be considered, but it certainly makes it easier on the judges so many of them do send review copies.

I love opening my door to find this site most days (although most days, it's a padded envelope with one or two books, not a box full of several of them, and how appropriate that my little helper made it in the shot).

This year, I really wanted to get a headstart so I wouldn't feel crunched for time around the holidays so as soon as nominations closed, I started reserving as many titles as I could from the library. I make biweekly trips hauling books back and forth. I take notes on each book before I return it, and I hold on to some of my favorites as long as the library will let me. They are nestled in a pile in the corner at this very moment.

This year there are 186 nominees in the fictional picture book category (it was originally 175, but a few books were sifted over from other categories because they are a better fit in our category. It's up to the categories' leaders to make those calls so I'm not involved in those debates). After serving on the middle grade fiction committee, I feel like we have it easy. Right now there's a tally that shows up with you log into the database for Cybils judges that tells you which judges have read the most and my name is at the top of the list at 68, but I feel like a cheat because reading 68 picture books doesn't exactly take as much time as reading 68 young adult novels.

As you might imagine, in some categories it just isn't possible for all five of the judges to read each and every book, but they sure do try. In general, I think each category makes sure at least two judges have read each book, and if they think the book may be a contender then all the judges are sure to read it. That was the case when I was on the middle grade fiction committee, but on the picture book committee I would not be surprised if all five of us read each and every book on our list (at least as long as we can manage to get our hands on copies).

So far a lot of the review copies that I've received are from small publishers or even self-published books. It always makes me smile to see these packages on my doorstep because I love that the Cybils are all about helping good books get the notice they deserve, whether they are from big publishers with big budgets or books hardly anyone has seen at all (and oh yes, that means some of them are not so good, but it's worth it to come across a few lesser known gems).

My panel has been busy reading away, but soon the debates will begin. The first step is that each judge will put together short lists of their favorites so far and the debates will begin from their. I'll keep you posted on any other interesting tidbits along with reviews of some of my favorites so far that I'm excited to share. I won't be highlighting the book I don't like here because who wants to waste time on that when I could be telling you about books you must check out yourself.

Happy reading!