“'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, October 27, 2009

Last Night I Sang to the Monster • YA fiction

Last Night I Sang to the Monster
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
September 2009 •  Cinco Puntos Press •  Ages 14 and up
"I cried with Zach all the way through this book: tears of rage and sorrow—sometimes laughing—and finally, tears of hope and joy. Thanks to Ben Saenz’ pitch-perfect writing, Zach will stay in my heart for a long time." -- Linda Sue Park, winner of the Newbery Medal for A Single Shard

Story:  Zach is eighteen. He is bright and articulate. He’s also an alcoholic, and he’s is in rehab instead of high school, but he doesn’t remember how he got there. He’s not sure he wants to remember. Something bad must have happened. Something really, really bad.
 I have it in my head that when we’re born, God writes things down on our hearts. See, on some people’s hearts he writes Happy and on some people’s hearts he writes Sad and on some people’s hearts he writes Crazy on some people’s hearts he writes Genius and on some people’s hearts he writes Angry and on some people’s hearts he writes Winner and on some people’s hearts he writes Loser. It’s all like a game to him. Him. God. And it’s all pretty much random. He takes out his pen and starts writing on our blank hearts. When it came to my turn, he wrote Sad. I don’t like God very much. Apparently he doesn’t like me very much either.
Story behind the story:  Sáenz is the author of two highly praised young adult novels, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood and He Forgot to Say Goodbye, and with Last Night I Sang to the Monster, Sáenz continues exploring the lives of young men in the most difficult of circumstances. He's received the Wallace Stegner Fellowship, the Lannan Fellowship and an American Book Award and has taught at the University of Texas at El Paso for the past twenty years; Benjamin Alire Sáenz lives, writes, loves, hates and breathes on the U.S. / Mexico border.

John Byrd, from Cinco Puntos Press, writes:  "I’ve read Last Night I Sang to the Monster a number of times in the editing process. Even after these repeated readings, I am surprised at the sense of calm that comes as I read this book. I’m surprised because this isn’t an easy book. Last Night tells the story of Zach, an alcoholic, a senior in high school. Only he’s not in high school, he’s in a rehab center and he doesn’t remember how he got there. He is pretty sure that he doesn’t want to be there. He doesn’t know if he has anywhere else to go. And the thing that he is being asked to remember is so horrible, he’s afraid it will kill him if he so much as tries, so he doesn’t try. He doesn’t want to remember, ever. It’s the sort of story that you wish wasn’t possible, had never happened....But it does happen. Benjamin’s book won’t change that. But his compassion creates a road to a place where recovery and healing can take place. That’s when Zach is finally able to sing to the monster."


"Benjamin Alire Saenz’s new novel is a gift of honesty and poetry and heart. Zach is a beautiful young man who desperately wants to forget the unforgettable. In order to deal with his addiction he must first deal with his lost childhood. Saenz has created one of the most unique and heartfelt friendships I’ve ever encountered in literature, and it’s through this friendship that Zach ultimately discovers his voice. This novel sang to me from the opening page and never once hit a false note." -- Matt de la Peña

"I cried with Zach all the way through this book: tears of rage and sorrow—sometimes laughing—and finally, tears of hope and joy. Thanks to Ben Saenz’ pitch-perfect writing, Zach will stay in my heart for a long time." -- Linda Sue Park

"Sáenz weaves together Zach’s past, present, and changing disposition toward his future with stylistic grace and emotional insight. This is a powerful and edifying look into both a tortured psyche and the methods by which it can be healed." —STARRED REVIEW, School Library Journal

"It is also a celebration of life and a song of hope in celebration of family and friendship, one that will resonate loud and long with teens." -- KIRKUS REVIEWS

"…there is never a question of either Sáenz’s own extraordinary capacity for caring and compassion or the authenticity of the experiences he records in this heartfelt account of healing and hope".-- BOOKLIST

Meet Benjamin Alire Sáenz in this video as he reads from LAST NIGHT I SANG TO THE MONSTER.

And read an interview with the author from School Library Journal.

FYI:  all the review copies for this book have been sent; please check back and click on the comments link to read what your colleagues have to say.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Opuestos: Mexican Folk Art Opposites in English and Spanish • Picture book

Opuestos:  Mexican Folk Art Opposites in English and Spanish
by Cynthia Weill • wood sculptures from Oaxaca by Quirino and Martin Santiago
August 2009 •  Cinco Puntos Press • Ages 2 - 7
Learn about opposites - in both English and Spanish - using colorful Mexican folk art wood carved animals.
Story:  Cynthia Weill’s book of Mexican folk art teaches kids about opposites in Spanish and English.  "At the turn of each page, readers see brightly painted wood characters set against equally vibrantly colored background pages that effortlessly convey the concept the author sets out to teach. On each spread, the English and Spanish words for a single concept face the opposing concept. This attractive volume conveys the concept in a unique and inviting fashion and provides youngsters with an introduction to some Mexican art in the process." (School Library Journal) Together/Juntos; Apart/Separados.  Alike/Iguales; Different/Differentes.  Asleep/Dormido; Awake/Despierto.  And more.  These whimsical little animals from Oaxaca, carved and painted by hand, make learning about opposites fun. Up and down, tall and short, left and right—all inside a beautiful book.
Story behind the story:  Cynthia Weill is an educator and art historian whose expertise is the work of indigenous artisans from all over the world; she was introduced to Martin and Quirino Santiago while in Mexico researching Oaxaca's famous folk arts.  A friendship formed and Cindy decided to use the brothers' charming figures in a children's books.  Over the years, she met other woodcarving family members.  Each one made a special figure to be included in Opuestos.  (See also her very successful ABeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art ABCs in Spanish and English.)

“OPUESTOS means opposites—right and left, up and down, asleep and awake,” says Cynthia, who explains that she traveled to La Union Tejalapan to collect work from brothers Quirino and Martin Santiago and others to illustrate the opposites that kids -- and adults -- experience in their every day lives. “I was fascinated by the whimsical carved alebrijes and instinctively knew children would be too; these colorful carvings have the power to delight both the new learner and the collector of Mexican folk art,” says the author.  Today, she says crafts are an economic lifeline for many Oaxacans, and she’s proud and delighted to have found an educational use for the work.  “Ideally, my books will help promote the sustainability of the craft and aid in the overall economic well being of the artisans,” she says.

FYI:  I've just discovered Cinco Puntos Press and so glad I did.  They're making their mark as a publisher of authentic voices in multicultural children's literature, priding themselves in bilingual children's books and the traditional folktales from various cultures in our books.

For more information about wood carving in Oaxaca, see this fabulous resource featuring photos of the area, info about the wood used to carve the animals, and the talented artisans who make the carvings.

"It's hard to take one's eyes off this book, the wood sculptures are so appealing, so re-readings are probable." -- Chicago Tribune

"Direct and charming."—Publishers Weekly

"A great selection for bilingual storytimes at preschools, elementary schools and public libraries. As a work of art, its display will enhance art exhibits and cultural programs as part of Hispanic Heritage Month or Children's Day/Book Day celebrations." —Kirkus Reviews

FYI, all the review copies of OPUESTOS have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday's thinkings...

Here's who and what have been on my mind this week (besides Laura Rennert's dinosaur book):

My friend Deborah Heiligman -- because her incredibly well-researched and well-told biography CHARLES AND EMMA:  THE DARWINS' LEAP OF FAITH (for ages 12 and up) was nominated, yesterday, for a National Book Award.  There's been so much written about this book, but I love this quote from a review from the Chicago Tribune:  “Suppose you, the reader, are 12 or so and don’t know if you care about the history of science or whether British naturalist Charles Darwin, author of “The Origin of Species,” was controversial in his time or in ours. In “Charles and Emma,” Deborah Heiligman will make you care…. Great for young readers to watch scientific work as a personal project: no lab assignments given, no deadlines other than self-imposed.”

If you've read CHARLES AND EMMA, let Deborah know (no writer ever hears it often enough) by sending her a tweet (@dheiligman) or drop her a line on her blog as she loves to hear from readers and is happy to talk with students, teachers, librarians... bookies of all types.

...this week's KidsBuzz authors Kathleen Benner Duble, author of QUEST; Carolyn MacCullough, author of ONCE A WITCH (which has gotten fantastic reviews here at the Picnic Basket); Susan Kuklin, photographer for BEAUTIFUL BALLERINA; and Suza Scalora, author/photographer of EVIDENCE OF ANGELS.  They're sharing the stories behind-their-stories -- and offering some signed copies, too.  Get 'em while they're available via KidsBuzz.

And, if you're looking for books for book groups, check out the latest edition of Kidsbookclubbing, too. Info on how to invite authors Amy GordonCarolyn MacCullough, and Kathleen Benner Duble to speak with your readers -- plus discussion questions, reviews, and more.

... plus INKTHINKTANK.COM, a new website/database that connects nonfiction books for children and teens to national curriculum standards.  So if you're looking for books to teach a particular subject or supplement what you're doing, this site is chock-full of suggestions about titles and authors to fit any subject.  Also includes additional resources like helpful articles and studies, and bios on each of the award-winning writers with info on their availability for presentations.  "INK THINK TANK fills an important gap in the world of reading and kids. Whether you are an educator, librarian or parent looking for engaging non-fiction books for kids, this is the place! And the incredible part is that the information in each listing can be presented to your students by the authors themselves. You can find books to feed a child’s passion, or thought-provoking information about the world of non-fiction books, including lots of suggested titles, for Pre-K through 12th grade in this one place." —Cathy Puett Miller, President, TLA, Inc. AKA The Literacy Ambassador®.  I couldn't agree more!

Plus let's lift a glass and toast to all the National Book Award finalists, children's and adult books. I know my to-read pile is growing and growing... 

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Buying, Training & Caring for Your Dinosaur • Picture book

Buying, Training & Caring for Your Dinosaur
by Laura Joy Rennert • Pictures by Marc Brown 
October 2009 • Random House Children's Books •  Picture book •  Ages 5-8
A hilarious guide to having a dinosaur . . . as a pet!  Illustrated by the creator of the beloved ARTHUR of picture book and PBS-TV fame.

Story:  Dogs are delightful. Cats are cute. And fish are fun. But the best pet of all is . . . a DINOSAUR! But how do you pick the dino that’s right for you? Spiky? Armored? Humongous? Pea-brained? Plant-eater? How do you take care of him once he’s (gulp!) home? How do you feed him, exercise him, take him to the vet, and give him a bath?! Not to mention train him, since he might like to chew on—er, swallow—Mom’s new shoes.
Full of little-known info and sage advice, this definitive guide to dino ownership is sure to thrill and delight kids everywhere!
Story behind the story: Author Laura Joy Rennert, a literary agent in California (this is her first book!) says:  "I went through a dinosaur phase when I was about six and still haven't grown out of it.  If I weren't in the book business, I would definitely be a paleontologist.  The dinosaur I'd most like to own is a Triceratops -- but I'm not sure how well a Triceratops would get along with my pet Chihuahua, Lola, or ...the furniture.  Plus Triceratops are herd animals, so like potato chips, it might be hard to stop at just one." 
Illustrator Marc Brown tells us:  "Having been born in the Jurassic Period, I could really illustrate this book with authority.  The paintings are done with a printmaking technique called monoprinting, and using gouache gave me vibrant colors.  I have been waiting for thirty years to use this style in a picture book.  It was important to me for the art to have a playful freshness that honors the honesty of children's art.  I was inspired a great deal by Picasso's thoughtful words:  'It took me fifty years to be able to paint like a child.' I now have one of the most extensive libraries about dinosaurs in the free world.  As an artist, it was interesting to learn how colorful many scientists speculate dinosaurs may have been."

"This starter guide will copy in handy, whether kids are in the market for a new fantasy pet, or just a fun read-aloud...Youngsters will quickly become absorbed in this enjoyable mix of facts, fantasy and fossils." -- Booklist

"From dino descriptions to basic commands—"STAY (Ha!)"—to exercising your dino and taking it to school, it's a cheery descendant of Bernard Most's classic If the Dinosaurs Came Back (1978)."
-- Kirkus Reviews

"The opening spread, filled with smiling dinosaurs and children's faces, sets the tone for this tongue-in-cheek guide .... [Marc] Brown helps the cause with vivid monoprint with gouache artwork—some of his best illustrations to date. His overly enthusiastic, sweet-faced, humongous patterned dinosaurs are—in defiance of natural history—irresistibly delicious."
-- School Library Journal

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

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Meet favorite and new authors with KidsBuzz

This morning I was at a meeting at the Boston Public Library (what a building!) for volunteers for the Boston Book Fest (Saturday, 10/24 for any of you in the area) and am so energized knowing in a few weeks, I'll meet and hear from some of my favorite authors.  Who wouldn't be?  Too bad that authors can't always be on the road meeting with us and our students and readers (but then again, we do want them doing what they do best:  writing!), but there's still a way to hear directly from them:  KidsBuzz

Every other week, different kidlit authors will share their story and tell you about what inspired them, how they do what they do, how they do their research, let you know about contests, reviews, book group availability (in person and by phone), Skype visits, Facebook chats to sign up for and more.  Feel free to use their notes in your newsletters/blogs and for your general information. Just click on the book covers here and discover what these authors have for you.  

This week, you'll hear from:  Mitali Perkins, author of SECRET KEEPER (reviewed here by many of you!); Tanya Lee Stone, author of ALMOST ASTRONAUTS:  13 WOMEN WHO DARED TO DREAM; Mary Pearson, author of THE MILES BETWEEN, and Catherine Murdock Gilbert, author of FRONT AND CENTER.

If you're looking for books for your book group, you might also want to check out the Kidsbookclubbing e-newsletter.  Next month's the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, so Deborah Heiligman's CHARLES AND EMMA may be just the right choice!

I'll alert you when the next authors are KidsBuzzing.  Until then, discover and enjoy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Journey of Dreams • Young adult fiction

Journey of Dreams
by Marge PellegrinoFrances Lincoln Children's Books •  YA fiction •  Ages 11-14
A modern day underground railroad set in the Guatemalan highlands of 1984.
Story:  Helicopters slash through the air like machetes, soldiers patrol the roads hunting down guerrillas...for the peaceful highlanders of Guatemala, life has become a nightmare.  Tomasa's mother has to go into hiding with her eldest son, and, when they see their house razed to the ground and the villagers massacred, Tomasa, Manuelito and baby maria set off with Papa on a perilous journey north to find Mama and Carlos. 

This is Tomasa's story of how her family survives the Guatemalan army's "scorched earth" campaign, and how their love, loyalty to each other and Papa's storytelling keep them going on their harrowing search for refuge in the United States.
Story behind the story:  "In 1998, I was working as a guest writer with the Pima County Public Library and freelancing magazine articles, when an acquaintance asked if I’d write about a social worker slated to win a statewide award. I went to visit the Hopi Foundation’s offices and heard about their work with survivors of torture. When they told me about the children’s group – I suggested some writing workshops I could offer their Central American youth.

Bent over their paper, images in writing and art emmerged to tell stories I thought might only happen to actors in an action adventure film. But the stories happened to these gentle children, whose lives had be altered by violence beyond the control of their villages or families.

Research that began as a means to better understand the families I served turned into a passion to share what had happened to force them from the highlands they so loved and continued to long for. I felt driven to understand their experience as best I could. I also wanted to offer children who were lucky enough to be born and live in a safe place a story to help them understand why refugee children might be in their communities.

JOURNEY OF DREAMS touches on challenges faced by many refugees -- the fear when their lives are turned upside down and the betrayal children feel when they don’t understand a parent’s flight. It shows symptoms of children who’ve witnessed violence as well as children whose parents kept secret the reason for their troubles, both often played out in dreams.

While that psychological thread in the story could speak to children in other times, Journey of Dreams took place in 1984-85, a specific time in history--when people stood up to make sure that the law surrounding refugees was being enforced. As I researched I had to ask myself if I could have put my freedom on the line to help a family I’d never met?

It took ten years from the idea to holding a copy of Journey of Dreams in my hands. Weaving the narrative with folktales and dreams, I had built a world so real to me that I grieved leaving Tomasa and her family behind when the writing wrapped up.

I continue to work with refugee children in the Owl and Panther and Word Journeys projects. Now, my students are mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan, Nepal and Africa. While I never ask about the details of my ever-changing charges’ past, it’s hard to avoid knowing. Their pain of separation and the feeling of being an “other,” echoes those original families I worked with in the late 1990s. But so does the resilience that grows from the love of their families, and each step they take forward."
-- author Marge Pellegrino

"As colorful as a traditional huipil blouse, with stories and legends woven expertly into the cloth.  Marge Pellegrino shows us the nightmare of genocide and dangerous border crossings, but she also gives us the human spirit at its best." -- Gayle Brandeis, winner of the Bellweather Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change

"A story of family love, loyalty, bravery and dreams, a fast-moving book that I couldn't put down." -- Wendy Cooling, children's book consultant and reviewer

For more on how to use JOURNEY OF DREAMS with students, see these discussion questions and writing prompts.

FYI: All the review copies for this title have been sent. But please check back and click on the comments link to read what your colleagues have to say.