“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kahani magazine • A Literary Magazine for Children

Kahani magazine • A Literary Magazine for Children • Ages 6-11
No advertising • Published quarterly by Kahani Media
This Parents' Choice award-winning literary magazine for children “…reflects unique life experiences from which each of us can learn.” – Parents’ Choice Foundation
Story: Kahani is an award-winning children’s literary magazine illuminating the richness and diversity that South Asian cultures bring to North America. Completely ad-free, full of great contemporary stories, art, activities, and fun facts, Kahani is a must-have for any family, school, or library seeking to empower and educate global citizens. So far, the Picnic Basket has focused only on books for children, but why not a magazine? Kahani is an
eclectic collection that blends together original storytelling with relevant, real life articles. It is told from the unique perspective of a child of South Asian descent growing up in North America. As a secular and nonpartisan magazine, Kahani welcomes readers of all ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Story behind the story: As the founder of Kahani, Monika Jain struggled to come up with a pithy name for the magazine. English or Hindi? One word or many? Noun and/or adjective? Now living in the United States, but born in India and raised in Japan, she needed a title that captured the essence of the magazine, anybody could pronounce, and was short.

Talking on the phone long-distance with her mother one day, she explained the problem. "Without hesitation, my mother's answer bounded through the miles of ocean and time separating us: “kahani.” It clicked. It was perfect," Jain relates. "You see, in Hindi, kahani means story."

But while Kahani, the magazine, highlights the cultures and traditions of countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, it’s still an American story. Barack Obama put it best.

“Our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness,” Mr. Obama said not long ago in his inauguration speech. “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.”

Jain started Kahani all those years ago to give her young daughter a reading experience where she could see her multicultural life reflected. Today, the magazine reflects the American experience – an America that is not just white or black, but everything in between. Kahani is truly the story of all those children in between.

Kahani has won a handful of national awards including the just announced 2009 Parents’ Choice Recommended Award and 2008/2007 Parents’ Choice Approved Awards.

Here’s the buzz:
“An enriching, empowering, and entertaining publication…” – Curriculum Connections

“With colorful graphics and kid-friendly design, Kahani bridges any potential cultural divide.”

– The School Library Journal

“…reflects unique life experiences from which each of us can learn.” – Parents’ Choice Foundation

FYI: all the review copies for this wonderful magazine have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Song for Cambodia • Picture book (nonfiction)

A Song for Cambodia
by Michelle Lord
Illustrated by Shino Arihara

Spring 2008 • Lee & Low Books • Nonfiction picture book
The true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, Cambodian American musician and human rights activist, who survived the Khmer Rouge work camps by learning to play a musical instrument.
Story: When Arn was a young boy in Cambodia, his days were filled with love, laughter, and the sweet sounds of music. That all changed suddenly in 1975 when Arn’s village was invaded by Khmer Rouge soldiers and his family was torn apart. Arn was taken to a children’s work camp, where he labored long hours in the rice fields under the glaring eyes of threatening soldiers. Overworked, underfed, and in constant fear for his life, Arn had to find a way to survive. When guards asked for volunteers to play music one day, Arn bravely raised his hand—taking a chance that would change the course of his life.
Story Behind the Story: Author Michelle Lord first learned about Arn Chorn-Pond while watching a documentary, and wanted to share his incredible story with young readers. Arn Chorn-Pond spent four years in a Khmer Rouge labor camp before escaping to a refugee camp in Thailand at the age of 12. Eventually he was adopted by one of the volunteers at the camp, who brought Arn to live in the United States.

Years later, Arn (pictured in photo) founded the Children of War Organization and in 1988 received the Reebok Human Rights award for his work with survivors of war. He also created the Cambodian Living Arts program to support Cambodian artists and musicians who had been left in poverty after the Pol Pot regime.

A Song for Cambodia was named an honor book in Social Studies by the Society of School Librarians International (SSLI).

“Amazing and inspiring, this biography is an excellent choice for multicultural studies.”

“A sensitive reconstruction . . . effectively captures the terror and tension of life under the Pol Pot regime. Arihara crafts somber scenes in broad brushstrokes to illustrate this important story of devastation and rebuilding in Southeast Asia.”
Kirkus Reviews

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bring an author to your school or library (and no travel expenses!)

So, your class or book group is reading a book and you'd like your students/readers to be able to meet and talk with that author, but the author's not nearby or his/her travel schedule just doesn't allow for that in-person visit. Not to worry: you can still give your readers face-time with the author via virtual author visits. I've been thinking about them a good deal as I hear of more and more teachers using Skype and smartboards in their classrooms. Children's and teen authors and illustrators offer a variety of virtual programs via internet connections to fit your needs - and a variety of prices (some no cost at all). Worth exploring?

Middle school teacher and children's book author Kate Messner recently did a virtual visit with author Laurie Halse Anderson and provided a thorough explanation of the process in her blog post, Virtual Author Visits: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, & the Awesome. Messner includes photos of the set-up, details of what worked, what she'd do differently next time, and a how-to for those looking to set up a Skype virtual author visit. Definitely worth a peek for those looking for how-to advice. So, while I have virtual author visits on the brain, thought I'd share info on a few authors who are available to do just that:

Kate Messner is an author and National Board Certified middle school English teacher. Her titles include THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z (Walker Books, September 2009), MARTY MCGUIRE, FROG PRINCESS (Scholastic, 2010), and OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW (Chronicle, 2010) as well as two regional historical novels set on Lake Champlain, both available now from North Country Books. Kate offers virtual visits for kids in grades 3-8. They range from brief Q and A sessions that allow students to talk with her about specific books and her writing process to full-length presentations that tie in with your school's curriculum for English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science. To contact Kate about a virtual visit, please visit her website and click on the Email link. Also, www.twitter.com/kmessner.

CHAI and CHAT with Mitali Perkins! The author of SECRET KEEPER enjoys talking to middle-schoolers and high-schoolers about the life-changing power of story. She breaks the ice by sharing a few memories, some funny and some poignant, about growing up “between cultures” with traditional Bengali parents in an all-white suburb. Her goal is to create an atmosphere of hospitality during a virtual chat so that kids feel comfortable to ask questions about writing, publishing, or anything that comes to mind about her books. Brew up the tea, break out the biscuits, and invite your students to enjoy an inspiring, face-to-face conversation with the author of RICKSHAW GIRL, MONSOON SUMMER, and other novels for young readers. To book a virtual author visit with Mitali, visit her website or www.twitter.com/mitaliperkins.

Have racial tensions all gone away? Is race an issue anymore in our friendships? In our schools? In our elections? How is your world different from or similar to the characters' in MORNING IN A DIFFERENT PLACE? Former teacher and National Book Award finalist-author Mary Ann McGuigan discusses peer pressure in school. McGuigan says: "In my book, Fiona responds to pressure to behave like the popular group in school, even though she clearly finds the things that entertain them unappealing: their TV shows, their stiff parties, their music. In society, we all conform to different norms in the groups we want to be part of. It's crucial for us to recognize when the mandate of the group violates our fundamental beliefs--our understanding of what's right and wrong." Email Mary Ann or see her website for more info on virtual visits for 7th grade and up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia • Picture book

Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia
By Ted and Betsy Lewin

Spring 2008 • Lee & Low Books • Picture Book
Caldecott winners Ted and Betsy Lewin take readers to Mongolia for the incredible Naadam festival, where young jockeys race half-wild horses across the open steppes.
Story:“Giingooo! Giiiingoooooo!” Tamir and the other young jockeys sing to their horses in wailing, high-pitched voices. They are getting ready to ride in the Naadam, the Mongolian summer festival. Tamir is one of many boys and girls who will race half-wild horses across the open desert for honor and glory. It is these legendary child jockeys that Ted and Betsy Lewin have traveled to Mongolia to see. Who will emerge as the winner as the shimmering dust cloud of riders approaches the finish line?

Story behind the story: Before writing Horse Song, Ted and Betsy Lewin traveled to Mongolia to experience the Naadam festival firsthand. "We had read several articles about the Nadaam and it seemed to us that the story of the child jockeys would make a wonderful picture book," they said. "What interested us most was the fact that the jockeys are traditionally children from as young as seven years old. We were amazed at their skill and endurance."

In Mongolia, the Lewins stayed with a nomadic family so that they could see how horses and riders get ready for the race. While traveling, the couple kept daily journals and took hundreds of rolls of pictures in preparation for writing and illustrating the book. The main character, Tamir, is a combination of many of the young jockeys they met in Mongolia during their trip.

Horse Song was recently named an ALA Notable Children’s Book and a Parents’ Choice Recommended Winner for 2008. In a starred review, Booklist calls it “a handsome, heartfelt glimpse of a rarely explored culture.”

Check out an interview with Ted and Betsy.

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith • Nonfiction

Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith
Deborah Heiligman
Just out! •
Henry Holt • YA fiction • Ages 12 and up
A portrait of a brilliant man, a radical science, and a great love. Story: Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, his revolutionary treatise on evolution in 1859. Even today, the theory of evolution creates tension between the scientific and religious communities. This same debate raged within Darwin himself and played an important part in his marriage: Emma's faith gave Charles a lot to think about as he worked on his controversial theory. This biography takes a personal look at the man behind evolutionary theory. His children doubled as scientific specimens, and his wife's religious convictions made him rethink how the world would receive his ideas.

Story behind the story: Deborah Heiligman writes: "My new book is the true story of Charles Darwin's marriage. In 33 chapters and an epilogue I tell the story, letting it unfold so the reader can see how Darwin's marriage played a huge part in his scientific work. He had a close and devoted relationship with Emma [his first cousin], and she adored him. But Emma was religious, and Charles Darwin was working on a theory that would rock the religious and social world. It pained Emma to think that she and Charles might not be together for eternity. The Darwins' marriage, and how they coped with this gulf between them, even in the face of heartbreaking tragedy, is a real and poignant love story. For me, writing this book was a labor of love. I hope you enjoy it."

  • A Printz Honor Award Book
  • Winner of the first-ever YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award
  • National Book Award Finalist

Charles and Emma has received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Horn Book and The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books! -
click here to read them!

Plus Deborah Heiligman's website has a wealth of information so you can:

"Heiligman's writing is so good -- so rooted in particulars of time, place an Darwin's scientific thought, yet so light and full of drama -- that readers will care about Charles and Emma and their love story. The debate between science and religion continues today, but the relationship of Charles and Emma Darwin demonstrates that science and religion are not incompatible." -- BookPage
In the foreword, Jonathan Weiner, Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Beak of the Finch writes: "Authors by the hundreds have written about Darwin's genius and the way his ideas transformed the world....But as far as I know, this is the first book to focus on the adventure that began when Darwin, home from his voyage, took out a piece of scrap paper and made himself a quirky, funny, very candid list of the pros and cons of settling down....How Charles and Emma ... made a successful marriage of science and religion is the story told in this book. Reading it helps us understand in the most vivid, intimate, and personal way how shocking Darwin's ideas were for the people of his time.... Charles and Emma were the best of friends, and their story is an inspiration....one feels that their love story was one of the most significant adventures and greatest masterpieces of Darwin's life."
FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Secret Keeper • Young Adult Fiction

Secret Keeper
by Mitali Perkins
Just out! • Delacorte Press/Random House • YA fiction • Ages 12 and up
One girl's struggle, within the constraints of tradition, to establish her identity and claim her future.
Story: When her father leaves India to look for work in America, Asha Gupta, her older sister, Reet, and their mother must wait with Baba’s family in Calcutta. Asha’s solace is her rooftop hideaway, where she pours her heart out in her diary, and begins a clandestine friendship with Jay Sen, the boy next door. Then news arrives about Baba ... and Asha must make a choice that will change their lives forever. Set in the mid-1970s, a time of Indian political turmoil, Mitali Perkins probes the relationships between sisters, mothers and daughters, women and men.
Story behind the story: Mitali Perkins (whose first name means "friendly" in Bangla) was born in Kolkata. She shares this story about SECRET KEEPER: "The character of Jay in SECRET KEEPER came to mind when my mother told me one of her secrets. She was a teenager growing up in Kolkata, India, much like Asha and Reet, and they had moved to a similar house with extended family.

One afternoon, Ma went on the rooftop to let her long hair dry in the sun. A window next door flew open, and a neighbor guy started a conversation. It was sweet, innocent by Western standards, but flirtatious nonetheless, and risky for a girl and boy who could never marry for love. They spoke a few more times, and soon it was clear: he liked her, and she liked him.

Somehow, my grandmother found out. Next thing my mother knew, the servants had boarded up the door to the roof, and my grandmother was issuing a stern diatribe about shaming the entire family.

My own parents' marriage was arranged shortly after that. They saw each other briefly before their wedding in front of the extended family, and Ma served Baba tea, but they first spoke to each other on their wedding night. The good news is that Ma did get her happy ending, as I trust Reet and Asha both will in SECRET KEEPER: my parents (see photo) have been married for over fifty years now, and they adore each other."

Here's what the reviewers are saying about SECRET KEEPER:
"Well-developed characters, funny dialogue, and the authentic depiction of spunky Asha’s longing for romance and female self-determination, set in a culture that restrains women’s choices, make this book an attractive pick for teenage girls."— School Library Journal

"In an intimate and absorbing drama about a displaced Indian family in the 1970s, Perkins (Monsoon Summer) vividly highlights the conflict between traditional Indian values and feminist ideals....Besides offering insight into Indian culture, Perkins offers a moving portrait of a rebellious teen who relies on ingenuity rather than charm to prove her worth."— Publisher's Weekly

"I could practically smell and taste Calcutta in the 1970's, and I loved the characters, especially Asha. "— Jen Robinson, JKR Books

"The characters drew a hole in my heart from how life-like they were and how the ending wasn't exactly what I wanted. It was still amazing. If you want to discover a book that will pull your heart strings and make you wonder... How much would you sacrifice to save someone that you loved?"— Sarah Woodard, Sarah's Random Musings

"Asha, her older sister Reet, their mother, and the rest of their family, who take them in when Asha’s father leaves to find an engineering job in America, all leap off the pages. In most scenes, you can hear the music of Bengali accents, and the swishing of the cloth of brightly colored saris ... the book is compelling enough for adults to read as well as the younger readers being targeted." — Melissa A. Bartell, All Things Girl

Watch a book trailer. Join the ongoing conversation on books between cultures at Mitali's blog.

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tweet Me!

Twitter. What's it all about? I know that some of you are already on Twitter and are enjoying the connections you've made with fellow teachers and librarians near and far; I know I have. But I know others are asking what Twitter's all about. With just a few words and the touch of a button, I can ask questions and share information (for instance: Do you use Smartboards in your classroom? or Have any of you participated in virtual author visits with your bookgroups/classes?) and get immediate feedback. This couldn't have happened without the immediacy and openness of Twitter. When a school librarian I follow mentioned that she was giving a presentation on Twitter for her district, I invited her to share her thoughts on the all-abuzz-biz with Picnic Basket readers.

So over to Norah Connolly, a Librarian at W. S. Parker Middle School in Reading, MA:

"Tweet me!" "Find me on Twitter!" "She's following me on Twitter!" Have you heard people talking about Twitter lately? I don't know if it's because I'm now an avid Twitter user or if I happened to jump on the bandwagon with everyone else, but I feel like Twitter is everywhere these days: The Grammy's announcer encouraged people to find them on Twitter, NPR advertises its Twitter names, the morning news anchors talk about updates from Twitter followers. Twitter seems to be all around. I freely admit that it took me about two months to truly get what Twitter is all about. But I can say that now that I get it, I don't quite know what I did without it. Twitter has opened up a world for me that I now rely on for support, ideas, links, news, communication, and connections with the walls beyond the school in which I teach.

What is Twitter? According to
Twitternet: "Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows you answer the question, 'What are you doing?' by sending short text messages 140 characters in length, called 'tweets', to your friends, or 'followers'." Here are a few of my favorite top ten "Twitter To-Dos" by yours truly and various Twitter friends:

  1. You won't really understand until you try it for yourself. Twitter is difficult to explain and understand in words. So, start an account now!
  2. Decide how you want to use Twitter. Do you want a professional resource, a personal tool, or a mix of both? Don't be afraid to let your human side show. Which leads to....
  3. Especially for professional use, use your full name in your username. People will take you seriously if they know who you are.
  4. Build a bio that includes information about what you do professionally and what makes you who you are.
  5. Use Titter tips from @AngelaMaiers, especially her Twitter Engagement Formula.
  6. Download TweetDeck. Updates will become overwhelming without this nifty desk top application.
  7. Build your network! Use the mosaics on people's Twitter pages to follow paths to interesting people.
  8. Twitter is give and take, so engage in it daily. Try to send an update at least once a day.
  9. Be patient. It's not going to come alive instantly. Building a network takes a little time. But do know that it's worth the effort once the ball is rolling.
  10. Visit a few links to learn more: Tools, Resources, and Apps for using TWITTER!; So You Want to Try Twitter; The 10 Commandments of Twitter

No matter how you end up using Twitter, have fun. It's a resource, a support system, and just a great way to start each day. It's very uplifting to have a bunch of publishing houses, teachers, and librarians from across the country and the world greet me as I arrive to work each day. I now know the power and strength of professional learning networks and am so very glad to have found my own. -- Norah Connolly

Follow Norah on Twitter @nconnolly.
Follow me on Twitter @dsloanandco. Here's a partial screenshot of my profile page:

Plus, here are a few people I follow: @abowllan (blogger for School Library Journal and teacher); @mitaliperkins (children's book author extraordinaire); @angelamaiers (educational consultant and Edublog Award Winner 2008); @coolcatteacher (Edublog Award Winner 2008); @writereader (reading teacher/book blogger); @loonyhiker (educational consultant); @c_spaghetti (children's lit. blogger); @bookavore (indie bookseller/Twitter guru). This is just a start: there are so many more wonderful resources out there - and I'll be mentioning more of my favorites each Friday in a "Follow Friday" tweet. I'd love to add YOU to the list!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Every Human Has Rights: A Photographic Declaration for Kids • Nonfiction

Every Human Has Rights: A Photographic Declaration for Kids
Foreword by Mary Robinson, Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Fall 2008 • National Geographic Children’s Books • Ages 10 and up • Nonfiction
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights isn't a law and it isn't a treaty and not everyone agrees with it or follows its rules. It's a document translated into over 330 languages that calls on all of us to work as hard as we can to guarantee a world of freedom and peace.
Story: Compiled after the horrors of World War II, the declaration’s purpose was to state and protect the rights of all people. The 30 rights set down in 1948 are incredibly powerful. According to the U.N., every human – just by virtue of being human – is entitled to freedom, a fair government, a decent standard of living, work, play, and education, freedom to come and go as we please and to associate with anyone we please, and the right to express ourselves freely. Every Human Has Rights: A Photographic Declaration for Kids offers kids an accessibly written list of these rights, commentary–much of it deeply emotional–by other kids, and richly evocative photography illustrating each right.

The foreword by Mary Robinson, Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, gives perspective on one of the most important documents of human history. At the end of this deceptively simple book, kids will know – and feel – that regardless of individual differences and circumstances, each person is valuable and worthy of respect.

Story behind the story: Nancy Laties Feresten, VP and Editor in Chief at National Geographic Children’s Books, shares the fascinating story behind this book's publication:

Dear Picnic Basket Readers,

Deborah asked me to write to you about the making of Every Human Has Rights. Where should I start? This book has so many facets and is so different from any other book I’ve worked on. I guess the beginning is always a safe place.

For the past couple of years, National Geographic has been working with the Elders, an incredibly inspirational group of elder statesmen (and women) that advocate global respect for human rights. This group, including Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Kofi Annan, decided to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights with an on-line drive to get people around the world to sign the declaration, vowing to uphold human rights. They called this effort Every Human Has Rights.

When I learned about the Elders, I was eager to do something to support their work -- but then I read the Declaration! It was so dense, so legalistic, so difficult even for an educated adult. My goal was to take these very abstract ideas and make them concrete so that kids could incorporate them not only intellectually but emotionally.

The key – as it turned out – was ePals. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with ePals, but if you’re not, you should check them out. ePals is a safe social networking site that kids in classrooms around the world use to connect to one another, often doing joint projects. But what intrigued me most as a publisher was the possibility of harnessing those kids to demonstrate the emotional side of human rights.

National Geographic ran a contest in conjunction with ePals. Teachers who wanted to participate taught a lesson on human rights to their classes, using a children’s version of the declaration that I wrote to make the rights as clear as possible. Then each kid in the class wrote a short piece responding to one of the rights. The kids got the entry signed by a parent, and the teacher sent them to us. The entries were great, and we were able to include 16 of the entries in the book.

In addition to the list of rights and the kids poems, we wanted evocative photos that pulled no punches but didn’t leave the reader depressed either, captions that added additional information, and an edgy design that would convey the layered nature of the book. It was our mission that kids from late elementary school right through high school could connect with this book — information and emotion woven seamlessly together.

We showed the layout to Mary Robinson, former UN Commissioner for Human Rights, former President of Ireland, and one of the Elders, and we were honored when she agreed to write our foreword.

School Library Journal’s recent starred review sums it up best: “Speaking to children with the notion that learning means understanding rather than memorizing, this book impresses on students that they should always be searching for the definition of freedom, and what human rights really mean to everyone.”

So that’s it. The next step is yours. I know Deborah is offering some copies for you to read and blog about. I can’t wait to see what you think. If you like it, tell a lot of people. Wouldn’t it be something if we could raise a generation of kids who worked to make sure that everyone everywhere had their human rights recognized? If you have questions for me, I’d be delighted to answer them. Just let Deborah know, and she’ll get them to me.



Nancy Laties Feresten
VP, Editor in Chief
National Geographic Children’s Books

Curriculum Standards: Social Studies: People, Places, & Environments, Individuals, Groups, & Institutions, Power, Authority, & Governance, Culture FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.