“'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, April 30, 2010

Meet the authors -- and enter to win some free books for your class or library!

New titles coming to The Picnic Basket next week for sure!  While I'm reading and writing up the basics and learning the story-behind-these-stories, you can still meet new authors and have the chance to win some free books for your class or library.  Head over to KidsBuzz to hear more from the authors!  You'll meet:
Laura Rennert, author of BUYING, TRAINING, AND CARING FOR YOUR DINOSAUR, who tells us "There is a Dino for every kid and a kid for every Dino!"  Can you guess which dinosaur she finds best for adventurous librarians?
- Barbara Dee who brings us "smart, fun characters" as she talks about friendship, school and families in her tween novel THIS IS ME FROM NOW ON.
- Adrienne Sylver, author of HOT DIGGITY DOG: THE HISTORY OF THE HOT DOG.  Need I say more?
- Amy Kathleen Ryan, author of the teen novel ZEN AND XANDER UNDONE, about sister love.
- Wouter van Reek who, as a child loved science and math and inventions and drawing.  See how this led to his creative picture book, COPPERNICKEL, THE INVENTION.  Plus, take a look at this award-winning animated short: 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson • Young adult fiction

Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Just out! April 2010  Dutton  Ages 14 and up
Meet Will Grayson and Will Grayson—two teens who meet accidentally and discover that a name isn’t the only thing they share.
Story:  One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical. Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both them legions of faithful fans.
Story behind the story:  Just published on April 6th, Will Grayson, Will Grayson has already landed on the New York Times Bestseller List (#3 Children's Hardcover Fiction).  What is it about this book that's prompted Jennifer Brown of Shelf Awareness to write that "this may well be the best novel that either John Green (Paper Towns) or David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy; Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, with Rachel Cohn) has written"? (And that's a very tall order!)  David Levithan explains a bit about where the idea for this story about big-hearted love, finding yourself in adolescence and learning about friendship and acceptance originated:  "Two boys with the same name – that’s how the idea for Will Grayson, Will Grayson began. I’ve always been fascinated with this kind of duality, since one of my best friends is named David Leventhal. I knew I didn’t want to write both characters myself, so I asked my friend John Green if he’d be interested in being the other character....One Will Grayson (John’s) is scared of emotion and scarred by love. The other will grayson (mine) is angry, bitter, and, deep down inside, really wanting to be in love and in life....And Will’s best friend, Tiny, entirely steals the show. I won’t say anything more than that, but I hope you really enjoy it."

Now, as John Green says, "Storytime!"  Here's Green talking about -- and then reading from -- the book just a few days before publication:
"Based on the premises that "love is tied to truth" and "being friends, that's just something you are," this powerful, thought-provoking, funny, moving, and unique plot is irresistible." -- School Library Journal, starred review

"Two superstar authors pair up and really deliver the goods, dishing up a terrific high-energy tale of teen love, lust, intrigue, anger, pain, and friendship threaded with generous measures of comedy and savvy counsel." -- Booklist, starred review

"Green and Levithan craft an intellectually existential, electrically ebullient love story that brilliantly melds the ridiculous with the realistic. In alternating chapters from Will and will, each character comes lovingly to life, especially Tiny Cooper, whose linebacker-sized, heart-on-his-sleeve personality could win over the grouchiest of grouches." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Read an excerpt

Read a Q&A with the authors included in this discussion guide (and don't miss the Character Karaoke and other activities).

But, most importantly, read it.

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, April 19, 2010

Alchemy and Meggy Swann • Historial fiction

Alchemy and Meggy Swann
by Karen Cushman
Just out! April 2010 Clarion Books Ages 10-14
Fans of Newbery winner Karen Cushman's witty, satisfying historical fiction will welcome Meggy Swann, newly come to London with her only friend, a goose named Louise.
Story:  The place:  London.  The time:  the Elizabethan era.  Meggy's mother was glad to be rid of her; her father, who sent for her, doesn't want her after all. Meggy is appalled by London,dirty and noisy, full of rogues and thieves, and difficult to get around in—not that getting around is ever easy for someone who walks with the help of two sticks. Just as her alchemist father pursues his Great Work of transforming base metal into gold, Meggy finds herself pursuing her own transformation. Earthy and colorful, Elizabethan London has its dark side, but it also has gifts in store for Meggy Swann.
Story behind the story:  "Meggy Swann, deformed since birth, walks with a halting gait using two sticks. Many believe she is cursed by the devil" (School Library Journal), but the author explains:  "Meggy... lives at a time when many medieval ideas and prejudices are disappearing, including certain attitudes toward the ill, infirm or disabled.  Although opinions were diverse, most people believed that such afflictions had supernatural or demonological causes....Ill or disabled persons might be suffering possession or intervention by the Devil or perhaps God's punihsment for some unspecified sin.  But the times were changing....The birth of the modern era and the development of scientific and medical theories saw more advocates for belief in natural causes."  "Cushman has the uncanny ability to take a time and place so remote and make it live. Readers can hear and see and smell it all as if they are right beside Meggy." (Kirkus)  In doing so, she presents a character whose "courage and confidence grow with each obstacle overcome." (School Library Journal)

Advance praise For Alchemy and Meggy Swann:
 "Ye toads and vipers!  Meggy Swann's coming of age story is way-fun and, thus, my trip through Elizabethan London was come and gone way, way too soon." -- Richie Partington, MLIS, Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com

"Writing with admirable economy and a lively ability to re-create the past believably, Cushman creates a memorable portrayal of a troubled, rather mulish girl who begins to use her strong will in positive ways."--Booklist, starred review

"Queen Elizabeth I is on the throne. London is a sprawling, chaotic city that teems with all manner of humanity. Meggy has come to London ostensibly to serve her alchemist father, a man she has never met. When he rejects her because she is not male and because she is unable to walk normally, she needs all her pluck and determination to rise above her plight...Cushman has the uncanny ability to take a time and place so remote and make it live. Readers can hear and see and smell it all as if they are right beside Meggy. She employs the syntax and vocabulary of the period so easily that it is understood as if it’s the most contemporary modern slang. A gem."--Kirkus, starred review

Read an excerpt.  Like what you read?  Then, lucky you, because on Tuesday, May 4, 2010, at 10:30 a.m. PST/ 1:30 p.m. EST, you can tune in for a live discussion/webcast with students from the TOPS K-8 school in Seattle, WA and the author about Alchemy and Meggy Swann. Classes, libraries, bookstores, and individuals are all invited. You can register here

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.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Celebrate National Library Week, Day 4: Amy Hest, Carolyn MacCullough, G. Neri and Mitali Perkins talk it up

Last year, during this celebratory week, 4 authors -- Amy Hest, Carolyn MacCullough, G. Neri and Mitali Perkins -- offered their memories, stories, celebrations.  They're so telling and varied and interesting that I want to share them with you again.  After all, this stuff never gets old.

(and a former New York City public librarian):
"I will never forget the day I got my first library card -- it was green -- and the thrill of signing my name -- oh, so carefully -- at that tall (and scary) desk as the librarian looked on, and my mother. Doors were opening ..."

Carolyn MacCullough, author of Once A Witch (September 2009):"My first job that came with a real paycheck was in the town library. I was a shelver. For four hours a day, three times a week, I made an endless loop of the shelves where I tucked books back into their proper home. If I could empty a cart in less than fifteen minutes, I let myself have five minutes to duck down in some semi lit corner and dive deep into whatever book I was reading at the time. Surrounded by the smell of ink, and the rustle of thousands and thousands of pages, it was then that I decided librarians were some of the luckiest people on earth."

G. Neri, author of Surf Mules (June 2009):
"When I first moved to Temple Terrace, Florida from Los Angeles 6 years ago, the local library was the first place that made me feel things were going to be alright. They had a great collection and super friendly people, and after I learned how to order from the Hillsborough County’s online catalogue, I found I could get virtually any book, DVD, or CD my heart desired, no matter how obscure. As I got to know the people who worked at my branch, they knew of me not as the author, but as the guy who had the most interesting holds waiting for him. Since then, they’ve come to know me as a writer and the guy who has 20-40 books and DVDs checked out at any given time. I love my library."

"I’ll never forget my first jaw-dropping visit to the Public Library in Flushing, Queens. I was seven years old and a newcomer to America, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. All of these books, for me, for free? My sister took me back every Saturday, without fail, so that I could hunt down and consume story after story — a habit that helped me survive life as an immigrant kid, and still keeps me sane to this day."

Anyone else? Come on... share stories of your favorite librarian or library or library experience with us!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Celebrate National Library Week, Day 3 (really): Librarians, Matchmakers

This morning, Rose Kent, author of the highly acclaimed middle-grade novel Kimchi & Calamari, and Rocky Road (coming in June for ages 9 - 12), gives us "Matchmaker, Matchmaker":

Swept back in time, I am nine years old. Small, freckle-faced and shy. Very shy. It’s a Saturday morning on a hot summer day and my father and I are walking into the public library, the smiles on our faces bright like the marigolds along the path. My father is humming a tune from “The Fiddler On The Roof.” We saw it last week. Wow was it good.

We drop our returns in the bin and turn right at the circulation desk as usual, past Biographies, past Reference and past the card catalog. My father stops and says what he always says. “Go on. Lose yourself.” Then he heads back to Biographies.

I step into the Children’s section feeling like Alice in Wonderland. Mobiles swing from the ceiling, brightly colored posters speckle the walls, and giant stuffed animals sit in rocking chairs, books open in their hands as if they are reading. Ceramic bookends shaped like fairies stare back from displays, and sunshine blasts through the wide windows, washing the bookcases in gold and making the air extra warm.

The regular children's librarian is here as usual, helping a boy carry a stack of science books to a table. She smells like the lilacs in our backyard, and she half-nods at me, as if she knows doing more might unnerve me. Back past three rows of shelving I go, breathing in the book-paper-ink smell. I like this smell.

I reach my favorite section. The Nancy Drew mysteries. Nancy Drew super sleuth who is clever, daring, and never shy. Everything I am not, yet somehow she is me when we meet on the page.

I am hungry this day -- not for food, but for a juicy new Nancy Drew adventure. There are only a few of the thirty-four mysteries that I haven’t gotten to, but they’re always checked out or listed as missing in the card catalog. My eyes scan the side-by-side titles. The Secret of Red Gate Farm. Nancy's Mysterious Letter. The Mystery of the Ninety-Nine Steps. The Whispering Statue...

Darn. I've read them all. I've read most of them twice.

I pull one from the shelf and put it in my bag anyway, along with a joke book and Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I’ve read this before too, but seeing the cover feels like meeting a good friend whose moved away. I look around. This room makes my heart happy, yet today disappointment settles under my shorts and T-shirt. I wanted something new.

My father waves at me through the glass door. Time to go. I turn to leave but my bag hits a display and picture books crash to the floor. A fairy bookend cracks and its wing lands by my sneaker.  Uh-oh.

"Young lady!"

I turn around. The librarian who smells like lilacs sits at her desk, gesturing for me to come over.

My heart pounds as I approach her. I feel my face redden like a tomato. I can hardly see her, what with how her desk and the space surrounding it is covered with boxes.

I should say I’m sorry. I should tell her it was an accident, but the words stay clogged in my throat. Being shy is worse than having the stomach flu. Why can’t I speak up like a normal kid?

“What’s your name?” she asks.

“Rose,” I say, as my hand trembles against my shorts.

“Well Rose, don’t worry about the books. Happens all the time in here.” She reaches in a box and pulls something out. “This just arrived. I was hoping you'd read it first and give me your opinion.”

I glance at the book. The Clue In The Jewel Box. Nancy Drew Book Number Twenty. I haven't read this one. I really want to!

Relief washes over me like a waterfall. “Sure. Thanks” I say, and I take the book and leave.

Driving home, dad hums another Fiddler on The Roof tune. This one is called “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and I like it too. The matchmaker in the village finds men for the girls to marry.

But I’m not thinking of men. I’m thinking of books and the librarian who smells like lilacs.

How did she know I hadn’t read that book? How did she know I’ve read all those other Nancy Drew books? She’s not the one who checks the books out and stamps the due date.

That’s when I realize…she’s a matchmaker, that’s how. A book matchmaker with extra sensory powers to pair readers and books!

Today I will finish The Clue In The Jewel Box, I decide. I’ll write a book review and give it to her next Saturday. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find the nerve to ask her to match me up with other books too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

National Library Week, Day 3: Deborah Heiligman reflects on first grade and her elementary school library

Deborah Heiligman has published nearly thirty books to date on subjects ranging from bees to babies, chromosomes to Christmas, metamorphosis to mathematics and more, including From Caterpillar to Butterfly, the Celebrate Holidays Around the World series and Cool Dog, School Dog.  Her CHARLES AND EMMA:  The Darwins' Leap of Faith, published last year, has been honored as the Winner of the YALSA Excellence for Nonfiction Award, a Printz Honor Book, a National Book Award Finalist and a Los Angeles Times Book Award Finalist.
"I grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and going to the library was one of my favorite things to do once I could read. The library was downtown, it was big, and it had a huge children’s room filled with books. But my very first library memory is from my elementary school library. For some reason we weren’t allowed to check out books until we were in first grade. I had to wait a whole year to bring a book home! I will never forget that moment of walking into the library. I can still smell the wood of the books shelves, the smell of new pages, the smell of musty old pages. I was so excited, I just walked straight over to the first shelf and picked out the first book I saw. It was called What Is a Butterfly? It was my first non-fiction book.
When I took it home and my mom read it to me, the whole world opened up to me. I took it back the next day and got another book in the series, What Is a Tree? And then What Is a Frog? and then What Is a Plant? I was hooked. I was hooked on nonfiction. A few years ago I bought an old used copy of What is a Butterfly. Because that book, from my elementary school library, changed my life."

National Library Week, Day 2: Christine Brodien-Jones on Borges and a reunion

Before we continue with our celebration from authors, I'd like to share some links from Diane Chen who writes the "Practically Paradise" blog at School Library Journal.  She posted "Small steps to celebrating libraries this month" with some very practical, easy-to-make-happen ideas:  an activities flyer, public service announcements you can use, a Library Bill of Rights, and much more.

Now, back to the authors:  Today we hear from Christine Brodien-Jones, the author of THE OWL KEEPER, a middle-grade novel just out from Random House that tells of a boy who's allergic to the sun, who finds he has the ability to fight the power of the dark.   

"I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library." -- Jorge Luis Borges 

"As with the mysterious libraries of Borges’ fiction, my hometown library still haunts my dreams: an elegant structure of shadowy interiors, labyrinthine halls and spiral staircases.  There was an upstairs room that in my dreams was always hard to find: its windows painted shut, shelves overflowing with odd fragile books.  For me, the library was a world unlike any other.  At the front desk, whispery librarians stamped our library cards.  Downstairs was the Children’s Room, where we sat in circles and stories were read.  Magical times.  Out front grew an old copper beech with low branches: a perfect climbing-tree where I could sit and read the afternoons away: fantasies like Edward Eager’s delightful time-travel books. 

A few summers ago I visited my hometown and noticed a book sale on the library’s front lawn.  There, among the jumble of discarded books, I spotted three familiar covers: Edward Eager’s “Knight’s Castle, “The Time Garden,” and “Magic by the Lake.”  I examined each book, breathing in the smell of moldy pages, marveling at N. M. Bodecker’s light-hearted illustrations.  These books, I knew, were the same ones I’d checked out of the library and read all those years ago.  I paid for them and walked off smiling, the books clasped to my chest.  To be reunited with them was, well, paradise."

What's your library paradise story?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Celebrate National Library week! I love librarians... don't you?

Let's hear it for librarians!  Yes, April 11 - 17 is National Library Week and my prompt to cheer it up for the people and places so integral to our communities.  I've asked some author and illustrator friends to share a few words, memories, stories to rally us all to talk-up librarians and I'll be running these pieces all week-long.  You'll hear from Laurie Halse Anderson -- the official spokesperson for the American Association of School Librarians' School Library Month 2010 celebration, Christine Brodien-Jones, Deborah Heiligman, Mark Stamaty, Adrienne Sylver and more.  Enjoy -- and please share your stories with us, too.

Laurie Halse Anderson, author of INDEPENDENT DAMES, CHAINS, SPEAK, WINTERGIRLS and many other acclaimed books for children and teens, talks of the importance of libraries: "School libraries [and I might add her words work for public libraries as well] are not luxuries, they are the foundations of our culture....Let's fight to make sure that every school in America has an amazing library staffed with an incredible librarian." She shares that math scores are up across the country, but reading scores are not. "We haven't asked parents to volunteer to teach our algebra classes... we haven't fired math teachers and let kids to figure it out on the Internet, but we've closed libraries and fired librarians, who are the central figure of literacy in any school."

Here's a short video of Laurie explaining to students at her local high school why every school MUST have a library and a qualified librarian.  Big thanks to this independent dame... 

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Reinvention of Edison Thomas • Middle-grade fiction

The Reinvention of Edison Thomas
Just out! April 2010 Front Street Ages 8 and up
For Eddy Thomas, science is easy.  Figuring out friendship is much harder.
Story:  "Maybe his invention would make him popular, like Mitch.  Eddy hoped not, because he wouldn't like to have so many people around him all the time.  He preferred to be by himself, or maybe with one or two people, like Justin and Kip, or Terry.  Otherwise, with too many people talking, Eddy had too many of those stupid, unwritten social rules to decipher at the same time."  Meet Eddy.  Eddy Thomas copes with the noise and crowds of middle school by reciting the periodic table of elements, memorizing Morse code, and jumping on the trampoline in the gym teacher's office.  His mind stores thousands of facts and the scientific names of animals and plants, but cannot decode the meaning of expressions on faces or the definition of a friend.  When the local school crossing guard is laid off, Eddy can't stop thinking about the dangerous intersection and the possibility that somebody could get hurt there.  Marshaling his talents as a scientist and inventor, he builds a traffic-calming device out of old machines.  Could Eddy's invention help with more than just the safety situation?
Eddy has known Mitch since preschool and Mitch talks to Eddy  more than anyone else at school.  That makes them friends, doesn't it?  Then a new kid invites Eddy to sit with him at lunch, and Eddy begins to take a closer look at how friendship really works.  Eddy discovers that even the mechanics of friendship -- trust, humor, and a willingness to help -- can be learned.
Story behind the story:  Jacqueline Houtman is uniquely positioned to create Eddy's voice and share his perspective in this, her first novel  A science writer, she covers biomedical topics including asthma, cancer, multiple sclerosis and AIDS for a wide range of publications, and holds a Ph.D. in Medical Microbiology and Immunology.  Dr. Houtman says she is "equally comfortable writing for students in Medical School and Middle School, because the writing really isn't that different.  Med students just use bigger words."  The writing she enjoys most is "sciency fiction for kids, where science is integral to the theme and plot but, unlike science fiction, it's all real."

One in 91 children, and one in 58 boys, are affected by autism spectrum disorders.  In telling Eddy's story through his eyes and ears, without ever speaking of autism, Jacqueline Houtman powerfully reveals that Eddy's view is just another way of seeing the world, as unique and reasonable as anyone else's -- and extraordinarily common.

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.