“'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

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Sky Is Everywhere • YA fiction

The Sky Is Everwhere
Coming March 9, 2010! Dial  Ages 14 and up
This remarkable debut is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Francesca Lia Block.  Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie's struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.
Story:  Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery sister Bailey.  But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life -- and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two.  Toby was Bailey's boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie's own.  Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent.  For Lennie, they're the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it.  but just like their celestial counterparts, they can't collide without the whole wide world exploding.
Story behind the story: The Sky Is Everywhere is Jandy Nelson's first novel and she talks about where it came from: "Lennie crashed into my psyche and came fully formed, with her copy of Wuthering Heights and her clarinet in her hand. It was like she crashed through the roof. I knew that her sister had died, and I knew the triangle was there, with Joe and Toby. I saw it as a movie in a way. The first thing that came was the girl scattering the poems everywhere and I knew she was grief-stricken. In the inception was California. I invented this river town, though I felt like I know the area where it was, with the redwood forest, and this rushing river was part of the emotional landscape of the story."  

I'm going to lay it on the line here and share that this book struck me very personally, as I too, lost one of my sisters suddenly and unexpectedly; I felt that Nelson expressed so perfectly much of what I've experienced and helped me to explain to others what I was/am feeling.  She explained in an interview that "One of the reasons I wanted to write the story was I lost someone very close to me very suddenly, and I was blown away by the experience of grief and how transformational it is. It's a cataclysmic event but it takes you to the beating heart of the world and the preciousness of life. Loss can be so huge and almost geological--at one point Lennie talks about "tectonic plates shifting."

But I also think it's the sort of emotional journey that can make you live in a more hopeful way. Not that you get over it or even come out the other side. But that idea that grief and love are conjoined brings you to a place of peace--for me it does. Grief is a measure of how much we love and how much we can love in the future.
"  I couldn't have said it better (thus why I'm not an author!).

Read more about and with author Jandy Nelson.

“Okay. I admit it. I’ve got a huge crush on this book—it’s beautiful, brilliant, passionate, funny, sexy and deep. Come to think of it, I might even want to marry this book…” —Sonya Sones, author of What My Mother Doesn’t Know

“Full of heart, quirky charm, and beautiful writing, The Sky Is Everywhere simply shines.” —Deb Caletti, National Book Award Finalist and author of The Secret Life of Prince Charming.

“Jandy Nelson completely won me over through Lennie, whose story of grief somehow manages to be an enchantment, a celebration, a romance—without forsaking the rock-hard truths of loss.” —Sara Zarr, National Book Award Finalist and author of Story of a Girl and Sweethearts

“WOW. I sobbed my eyes out and then laughed through the tears. I have not fallen in love with a story and its characters like this in a long time. Stunning, heartbreaking, hilarious. A story that shakes the Earth.” —An Na, Printz Award Winner and National Book Award Finalist

The Sky Is Everywhere evokes the intensity of desire and agony of heartache with breathtaking clarity. This beautifully written story will leave an indelible impression upon your soul.” -Susane Colasanti, author of When It Happens

“Jandy Nelson (remember that name), has written a YA novel with the best voice I have read since Laurie Halse Andersen’s Speak.” —Jane Yolen

Watch the trailer. And then read it and see for yourself.

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

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mockingbird • Middle-grade fiction

coming April 15, 2010! Penguin Books for Young Readers Middle-grade fiction Ages 10 and up
In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing.
Story: That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead and Dad is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of closure, she realizes that is what she needs. In her search for it, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white—the world is full of colors—messy and beautiful, and it is through this discovery that she embarks on a road which leads her to find both healing and closure.  Kathryn Erskine has written a must-read gem, one of the most moving novels of the year.
Story behind the story:  From an interview with Becky Weinheimer: "I'd been wanting to write a book about a child with Asperger's, since I have one, to help people see what it's like. It can be both fun and frustrating for everyone, including the kid with Asperger's. I wasn't quite sure of the framework for the novel, though, so I was letting it mull around for a while. After the Virginia Tech shootings on April 16, 2007, I felt truly stunned, shaken, and I had to do something. In my mind and heart, the two seemed connected somehow. I felt that if someone had been able to get to the killer when he was a child and work with him, maybe he wouldn't have felt the need to murder people. I'm not saying he had Asperger's -- I don't know what all of his issues were -- but I do think that if he'd felt heard, and received help, maybe, just maybe, 4-16 wouldn't have happened. That's why I wrote this book, in hopes that we might all understand each other better."

"No one should miss this remarkable and moving experience." -- Andrew Clements, author of the bestselling Frindle and Things Not Seen

"A lovely, perceptive and poignant story." -- Sharon Creech, author of the Newbery award-winning Walk Two Moons 

"Much more than a story about a determined girl dealing with a disability, Erskine’s moving and insightful masterpiece delivers a compelling message for all—that striving to understand others is a beginning point for addressing the incivility and hostility present in today’s world." -- Publishers Weekly

“Allusions to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the portrayal of a whole community’s healing process, and the sharp insights into Caitlyn’s behavior enhance this fine addition to the recent group of books with autistic narrators.” -- Booklist

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

Monday, February 15, 2010

What an honor -- and let's keep the celebration going

What a way to start the week!  Big grins here as I received a Prolific Blogger Award from Rebecca Fabian from Afterthoughts.  Here's some background on the award from the original post at Words World and wings. 

And here's a bit of background on Rebecca:  she's the Children's Department Manager for the Odyssey Bookshop, an independent bookstore in South Hadley, an MFA Grad student in the Simmons College Master of Fine Arts for Writing Children's Literature program, and as she says a "Full-time reader. Part-time traveler."  She shares her thoughts on reading and books (and children's books in particular) with posts that make me take a deeper look at books and what goes into them, like this one on Mixed-Media Artists.  So if you're in western MA, drop into the Odyssey and say hi to Rebecca -- and, if not, visit her at Afterthoughts.

As every winner of the Prolific Blogger is to pass on the award to at least seven other deserving bloggers, it's my time to pay it forward, so let's celebrate:

a. Mitali Perkins, author of books for young people with strong characters trying to bridge different cultures, and her blog Mitali's Fire Escape, a "safe place to chat about books between the cultures."  Mitali is a giver extraordinaire and you'll always learn something new at her place.
b. Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness of Books on the Nightstand, bringing you great book recommendations, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the world of books, bookstores and publishing through their weekly podcasts (and sometimes videocasts) and blog posts.
c. Bowllan's Blog from Amy Bowllan via School Library Journal, a blog on libraries, learning and technology. I'm a huge fan of her "Writers Against Racism" series.
d. I.N.K.(that is, Interesting Nonfiction for Kids), where you'll discover 25 writers whose words are presenting nonfiction in a whole new way.  Learn how these writers practice their craft and rethink nonfiction for kids.
e. Susan Thomsen's Chicken Spaghetti, named after a favorite Southern casserole and "on books for children and the rest of us, too!"  (PS:  in a recent post about Cybils Awards winners, you'll see a few Picnic Basket favorite titles.  Wahoo!)
f. Planet Esme:  The Best New Children's Books from Esme's Shelf, by Esme Raji Codell, whose "book-a-day plan" is for "anyone who would like to play a supporting character in a child's reading life story."
g. and Cynsations from Cynthia Leitisch Smith, an author of fiction for young readers and faculty member at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.  Cynsations is chock-full of interviews, book give-aways, links, lists, and more.

To all ye Prolific Bloggers, per the rules of the game, I ask that you:  

1. link to the blog from which you've received the award.

2. link back to This Post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.

3. visit this post and say hi (via post a comment), so that we all can get to know the other winners.

Know that I could have added many others as I'm also a big fan of Elizabeth Bird's Fuse #8 Production via School Library Journal, where she offers "tidbits, news, reviews, and oh-so shiny points of interest regarding anything and everything kidlit related;" Elizabeth Bluemle and Josie Leavitt, owners of The Flying Pig Bookstore and their ShelfTalker:  A Children's Booksellers' Blog via Publishers Weekly; and Chris Brogan and Malcolm Gladwell's blogs, to keep me thinking about things beyond the children's book world, to name just a few.

Congratulations to everyone who received this award! And be sure to visit these sites -- worthwhile trips indeed!  Plus, Picnic Basket readers, I'm curious:  what's on your blog reading list?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend • Picture book

by Ann Ingalls and Maryann Macdonald illustrations by Giselle Potter
Ages 6 - 9
What if you loved music more than anything?
Story:  Suppose you had just learned to play the piano.  Imagine that your family has to move to a new city and you have to leave your piano behind.  People don't like you in the new city because of what you look like.  How will you make yourself fell better?  Mary Lou Williams, like Mozart, began playing the piano when she was four; at eight she became a professional musician.  She wrote and arranged music for Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and was one of the most powerful women in jazz.

This is the story of Mary Lou's childhood in Pittsburgh, where she played the piano for anyone who would listen.  Just in time for the centennial of this jazz legend's birth, The Little Piano Girl is the perfect story to share with budding musicians everywhere.
Story behind the story:  Ann Ingalls and Maryann Macdonald are sisters and lifelong music lovers.  They grew up in a family of eight children (and lots of pets) so, as Maryann says, "it's not surprising that I grew up loving stories and wanting to write my own."  The Little Piano Girl is Ann's first book -- and Maryann's 22nd!  If you'd like to meet the authors, Ann's doing a lot of events in MO and in DC; check out her schedule to see her on the road (she'll even be at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts!).  Plus, you and your students will enjoy Maryann's recipe for a good story.  And, for fun, here's a link to the official rules of Hopscotch, which was Mary Lou’s favorite game.  

Want to hear Mary Lou's music and watch her play?  Plenty of footage at the Mary Lou Williams Foundation site. (I'm being serenaded right now!).

"Acknowledging Mary's long, worldwide career as an elegant, accomplished performer "in beautiful shoes," this sweet tribute neatly fills a niche in the panoply of titles about jazz greats." 
-- Kirkus Reviews 

"Potter's folks-art style gouache paintings provide a vivid portrait of industrial Pittsburgh at the beginning of the 20th century, yet have an iconic quality, too.  Ingalls and Macdonald provide a touching memorial to a jazz great who is not a household name -- a valuable contribution." 
-- Publishers Weekly

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

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember • Picture Book

    Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember 
    written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins
    October 2009 • Houghton Mifflin • Ages 4-8
    Find out what you should NEVER do if you encounter one of these surprisingly dangerous animals.
    StoryWhen it comes to wild animals, everyone knows that there are certain things you just don't do. It's clearly a bad idea to tease a tiger, pull a python's tail, or bother a black widow spider. But do you know how dangerous it can be to pet a platypus, collect a cone shell, or touch a tang fish? Some creatures have developed unusual ways of protecting themselves or catching prey, and this can make them unexpectedly hazardous to your health. As the Chicago Tribune writes, "Jenkins’s message is that real animals must be dealt with in ways that acknowledge how they behave. So, never smile at a monkey, who might take a show of teeth as aggression and respond with equal aggression. Never pet a platypus, never bother a blue-ringed octopus. The object is not to reduce the child reader to hiding under the bed and not coming out on a vacation, but to explain that animals’ behavior and their physical characteristics make sense in their world."
    Story behind the story: Author-illustrator Steve Jenkins uses cut-paper collage as his medium:  "I think children look at cut-paper collage as different kinds of paper, but they can also read it as a representation of a scene or an animal. There’s some kind of sense of participation that maybe you wouldn’t get looking at just an absolutely true, pictorial representation," shares Jenkins in an interview with Teaching Books. Jenkins grew up with a scientist father (astronomer and physicist) and says "I’m sure that he was responsible for a lot of my interest in science. I think he kind of subtly reinforced whatever I was interested in."  As far as his goal in creating nonfiction books for kids, Jenkins adds, "If children can see science not as a process of memorizing facts, or learning names, and dates, and locations, and so on, but see it as a way of investigating the world, and asking questions and demanding evidence to support what people are telling them, then they’ll be much more prepared for what’s going to be thrown at them." 

    ★"A visually stunning book illustrated with cut paper and torn collages....This superlative illustrator has given children yet another work that educates and amazes." -- School Library Journal, starred review

    "With his trademark cut-paper technique, Jenkins proves there may not be a texture that he can't mimic on the page. The high-interest marriage of animals and danger, along with large, vibrant visuals, makes this a prime candidate for group sharing, and additional details and artwork at the end will flesh out some of the finer points for older children." --Booklist 

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