“'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

Thursday, December 8, 2011

All the Way to America • Picture book

All the Way To America: The Story of A Big Italian Family and A Little Shovel 
written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Available now  Knopf Books for Young Readers  Ages 5 - 8
The portrait of an Italian-American family from a beloved storyteller.
Story: This is the story of four generations of an Italian American family. It begins with an immigrant who came through Ellis Island with big dreams, a small shovel, and his parents' good advice: "Work hard, but remember to enjoy life, and never forget your family."
Now, many years later, the man's great-grandson, Dan Yaccarino, tells how he succeeded, and how the little shovel has been passed from father to son—along with the good advice.
It's a story that captures the experience of so many American families. One that will have kids asking their parents and grandparents, where did we come from? Tell me your story.
Story behind the story:  Dan has written more than 30 books and earned numerous awards during his nearly 25 years as a published author, and All the Way to America is by far his most personal book to date. It’s his family’s story. Starting with his great grandfather’s immigration from Sorrento, Italy to New York, NY, all the way to his own son, Dan connects the four generations of his family through images, food memories, love of family and history, and a special shovel. The book is dedicated to Dan’s grandmother who was alive to see the sketches and confirm family stories, but unfortunately she passed away before the book was published. The shovel that plays such a pivotal role in the story, is now in Dan’s possession and will one day be in his son’s.

To hear Dan tell his story, watch this interview with him and Vicky Smith, editor of Kirkus Reviews, at the Texas Book Festival:

Can't get enough? Want to know even more?  Read this interview with Dan and John Sellers from Publishers Weekly, check out the teacher's guide, watch the trailer,  tell your immigration story here at the book's blog.

A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2011

"A gloriously warm celebration." --Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★“Folksy and warm, this is a timely reminder that America is a nation of immigrants." --Publishers Weekly, starred review

★"Readers of varied backgrounds will be able to identify with the search for a better life in a new country, the passing along of values and heirlooms, and the addition of new family members. The story will make an excellent family-history discussion starter." –SLJ, starred review
FYI:  All the review copies for this title have been sent.  Please check back and see the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Scored ▪ YA fiction

by Lauren McLaughlin
Available now  Random House Books for Young Readers  Ages 12 and up
You already know you're being watched. But do you know you're being scored?
"The most rounded, thought-provoking and pulse-pounding exploration of the surveillance society I've yet read." - Cory Doctorow
Story: Set in the future when teenagers are monitored via camera and their recorded actions and confessions plugged into a computer program that determines their ability to succeed, everyone is a number in this dystopian near-future.  Surveillance cameras track your every move while a software program scores you on your mental fitness. Score above 90 and you’re set for life--a full college scholarship and the career of your dreams. Score below 75 and you’re on your own.  Scored's reluctant heroine is Imani, a girl whose high score is brought down when her best friend's score plummets.  Where do you draw the line between doing what feels morally right and what can mean your future?  Friendship, romance, loyalty, family, human connection and human value:  all are questioned in this fresh and compelling dystopian novel set in the scarily foreseeable future.
Story behind the story:  Here's what Lauren McLaughlin has to say about the inspiration for SCORED: "I was living in the Hackney section of London a few years ago, a neighborhood that would later make itself known as one of the locations of the London riots. Not a posh neighborhood. Every day as I walked to the park for a picnic lunch, I’d notice piles of shatterproof glass on the ground and a few cars with smashed-in windows. The cars that thieves couldn’t steal, they’d merely break into and take whatever they could find. Then one day I noticed there hadn’t been any piles of glass or smashed in windows for a while. I also noticed on that day that someone had installed surveillance cameras up and down the street. They were obviously working. The thieves had moved on. I remember thinking this was a perfect test case for the effectiveness of surveillance in crime prevention. And the conclusion was obvious: put surveillance cameras everywhere and you could eliminate street crime entirely. This was a lightbulb moment for me. I’d always been more or less anti-surveillance until then. I had opposed the Patriot Act’s warrantless wiretapping and, like many, I worried that we were “sleepwalking into a surveillance society.” But it wasn’t until that moment that I understood how seductive surveillance could be. I wanted those cameras there. Despite everything I feared about government overreach, corporate snooping and the vast potential for abuse that surveillance affords, I wanted more cameras. I wanted them everywhere. That’s when I became truly frightened of surveillance--not because it would be forced on us by a domineering government or a corporate giant, but because we would invite it. That was the genesis of Scored."

"The most rounded, thought-provoking and pulse-pounding exploration of the surveillance society I've yet read." - Cory Doctorow

"A tense and chilling look at a near future that's all too recognizable. Scored will bring out the rebel in every reader." -Scott Westerfeld, author of Goliath

"The bold, aggressive narrative condemns both No Child Left Behind-style testing and current financial policies, cautioning about what could happen to social mobility in the face of stark inequity." - Kirkus

"Most dystopian fiction takes place within an established totalitarian regime, but Scored allows readers to witness the very first stages of a changing society." - VOYA

Interested in sharing SCORED with teens?  Here's a discussion guide to help you get the talk going.

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

Friday, November 4, 2011

Always a Witch ▪ YA fiction

Always a Witch
Available now  Clarion Books  Ages 12 and up
Since the gripping conclusion of Once A Witch, Tamsin Greene has been haunted by her grandmother's prophecy that she will soon be forced to make a crucial decision—one so terrible that it could harm her family forever. 
Story:  When Tasmin discovers that her enemy, Alistair Knight, went back in time to Victorian-era New York in order to destroy her family, she is forced to follow him into the past. Stranded all alone in the nineteenth century, Tamsin soon finds herself disguised as a lady's maid in the terrifying mansion of the evil Knight family, avoiding the watchful eye of the vicious matron, La Spider, and fending off the advances of Liam Knight. As time runs out, both families square off in a thrilling display of magic. And to her horror, Tamsin finally understands the nature of her fateful choice.
Story behind the story:  From author Carolyn MacCullough: "Writing Always a Witch, the sequel to Once a Witch, was a bittersweet experience for me.  I was so happy to be back with these characters that I had come to love, yet I knew I was going to be saying goodbye to them soon.  Also, I was a brand new mom for the first time and was stumbling around in a stage of euphoric exhaustion.  All of a sudden, I looked at my main character, Tamsin, differently.  I was putting her in some dangerous situations and I couldn’t help but ask myself, “oh, no!  What will her mother think of this?”  The importance of family, which was always a central theme of the books, became even more resonant for me."

We featured Once A Witch on The Picnic Basket pre-publication (yes, you get some great sneak peeks here) in August 2009 -- 86 comments seem strong evidence of its popularity!  Read what your colleagues had to say about it here.  Plus, a few fairly popular authors and review journals liked it too:

"A fantastic urban fantasy with an enchanting romance at its heart." --Cassandra Clare, New York Times bestselling author of City of Bones

"Carolyn MacCullough casts a mesmerizing spell with Once a Witch. Family secrets and sibling rivalry, time-travel and magical 'Talents' all brew together to create a superlative--and supernatural--coming-of-age story. Add an epic battle of good versus evil and an enchanting first kiss and this bewitching novel commands a sequel." --Megan McCafferty, New York Times bestselling author of the Jessica Darling series 

"A light urban fantasy that goes down easy and will have readers asking for its sequel." --Kirkus Reviews

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

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite ▪ Picture Book with Audio CD

Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite
By Anna Harwell Celenza ▪ Illustrated by Don Tate
November 2011 ▪ Charlesbridge ▪ Picture Book with Audio CD
Hop-a-tooty and slim-slam-a-booty.
Story:  In 1960 the great Duke Ellington and his friend and collaborator 
Billy Strayhorn put a jazzy spin on a holiday classic and created the nuttiest Nutcracker of all. 

Anna Harwell Celenza has brought the story behind the story of some of the greatest musical compositions to young readers, including Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, Beethoven’s Heroic Symphony, and even Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. But now she swings with some jumpin’ new cats—Duke Ellington’s orchestra with Billy Strayhorn. These two jazz giants took on Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece and infused it with glitz and glam for a modern holiday celebration that goes crazy with the musical influences of the time. A fun story, full of the slang of 1960s jazz cats, and the sounds of New Orleans, Harlem, and Las Vegas. A CD of the original Columbia Records recording with the Duke Ellington Orchestra is included. 

Story behind the story: "Listening to music is liberating," says author Anna Celenza.  "For me, it’s like reading a book: sometimes I do it alone; sometimes I like to share the experience.  That’s why I wrote Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite.  For years, I’ve enjoyed listening to the Nutcracker. Now I hope to share this music with readers like you! My love of Duke’s music inspired me to look for the story behind the notes. There I discovered a close-knit group of friends and musicians: the “cats” in Ellington’s band.  As Duke’s best friend Billy Strayhorn once said: 'They’re beyond category!'

Duke and Billy didn’t like to be categorized, that’s why they blended classical music and jazz.  You can see the band in action here: 

Never has the Nutcracker been so hip!"

"If my books can make classical music more accessible to kids,
that would be a dream come true."

Anna grew up on a farm in Pleasant Garden, North Carolina. She played the cello in the Greensboro Youth Orchestra and the drums in her high school marching band and jazz band. Music and the arts have always been an important part of her life, leading her to a B.A in art history and music history from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, studies in art history at the Rijks-University Gent in Ghent, Belgium, and an M.A. and Ph.D.in musicology from Duke University. 

Her expertise in art and music history, combined with her passion for music and her love of literature, led her to write The Farewell Symphony, her first children's book. She realized that there were few books that introduce children to specific works of classical music. Children are exposed to classical music everyday in commercials and cartoons and even in pop music, but they aren't exposed to the stories and the history behind these compositions. In her workshops and children's classes, and now in her books, Anna ensures that children come away with an appreciation, even a love, of classical music.  Currently the Thomas E. Caestecker Professor of Music at Georgetown University, her work has been featured on nationally syndicated radio and TV programs including NPR's "Todd Mundt Show," BBC's "Music Matters" and "Prom Broadcasts," and C-Span's "Book-TV" and she's served as a writer and guest commentator for Michigan Public Radio and NPR's "Performance Today."  

"Love jazz? Want to pass that love along to your children? Then pick up a copy of Anna Harwell Celenza’s wonderful book, Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, illustrated by Don Tate and it includes a CD recording! Together with his friend, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington composed, orchestrated, and recorded some of the greatest jazz classics…. This one is a keeper!" – Alan Caruba

“Laced with invented dialogue and crisply delineating the close collaboration between Ellington and his brilliant, classically trained friend, Billy Strayhorn, the narrative traces the piece from radical idea to work in progress to exuberant recording session…. The brilliant music cues Tate’s full-bleed mixed-media pictures. … The delightful accompanying full-length CD is a must-listen, since text and art mesh with it in genuine symbiosis, song by song….real cool.” – Kirkus Reviews 

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


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Everyday Dress Up • Picture book

Everyday Dress Up 
written and illus. by Selina Alko
Available now   Knopf Books for Young Readers   Ages 5 - 8

It's no secret that little girls love playing dress up, but the little girl in this book ditches her princess duds in favor of costumes inspired by great women in history.

I used to only play princess
Until Mommy showed me pictures
And told me stories of real, great women.

Now dressing up is an adventure
When, every day of the week,
I am a daring new dame!

From Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to chef extraordinaire Julia Child to queen of jazz Ella Fitzgerald, our protagonist pays homage to the women who came before her and imagines herself in their shoes. Maybe someday she'll inspire little girls with her own gown of greatness.

Story behind the story:  Selina loved playing dress up as a child and now enjoys helping her kids play dress up—especially on Halloween. She was inspired to write Everyday Dress Up as a way to give her daughter alternatives to all the princess dress-up books on her shelves. Through her art, writing and childrearing, Selina believes in instilling open-mindedness in children, as well as sparking their imaginations to be and do whatever their little hearts and minds desire.  SELINA ALKO is the acclaimed author-illustrator of I'm Your Peanut Butter Big Brother and B Is for Brooklyn, and the illustrator of the beloved My Subway Ride and My Taxi Ride. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two children.


"A happy antidote to the princess plague." – Kirkus Reviews
'A well-meaning. . .reminder of girls’ potential." – Publishers Weekly

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

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Great Hamster Massacre • Middle-grade fiction

by Katie Davies   illustrated by Hannah Shaw
Available now   Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers  • Ages 8 - 12
"A top pick for slow or reluctant readers" (Kirkus) and "the first in a series that will appeal to fans of Roald Dahl and Dick King-Smith." (Booklist)
Story:  Anna and her brother, Tom, have always wanted a pet. And after their latest pestering campaign, their mother finally gives in and lets them choose a pair of hamsters from the local pet shop. But their happiness soon turns to horror when the hamsters are found mysteriously dead in their cage. Anna and Tom launch a full-scale investigation to determine who—or what—is behind the hamster homicides. Can they solve the case of the Great Hamster Massacre? 

Katie Davies' irresistibly funny mystery and Hanna Shaw's spot-on illustrations combine for a quirky, delightful read that is part detective tale, part diary, and altogether hilarious.

Story behind the story: 
Author Katie Davies has experience with hamster disasters. When she was twelve years old, after a relentless begging campaign, she was given two Russian Dwarf hamsters for Christmas. She is yet to recover from what happened to those hamsters. The Great Hamster Massacre is her first novel. Katie lives in North London with her husband, comedian Alan Davies, and their baby daughter. They do not have any hamsters.

Illustrator Hannah Shaw was born into a large family of sprout-munching vegetarians. She spent her formative years trying to be good at everything, from roller-skating to gymnastics, but she soon realized there wasn't much chance of her becoming a gold-medal-winning gymnast, so she resigned herself to writing stories and drawing pictures instead! Hannah currently lives in a little cottage in the Cotswolds with her husband, Ben the blacksmith, and her rescue dog, Ren. She finds her overactive imagination fuels new ideas but unfortunately keeps her awake at night!

Read an excerpt or, better yet, read and see this designed excerpt.  Here's just one sample spread below but there's much more to enjoy...

"Inspired use of simple words, straightforward syntax and effective repetition make this a top pick for slow or reluctant readers...Under the plot’s frothy surface lie serious depths...An auspicious debut." --Kirkus Reviews

"A flippy, fun and extremely fast-paced journey into the world of a very likable brother and sister--and their amusing family and friends. Intermittent silly pencil sketches fill the pages diary-style, creating a whimsical mood and adding comic relief.... Giggles are frequent among the kids in this book, and they will infect readers as well." --BookPage

"Whimsical, cartoonish pen-and-ink illustrations accompany the story and help lighten the seriousness....This is the first in a series that will appeal to fans of Roald Dahl and Dick King-Smith." --Booklist

"For young readers who can handle a bit of the macabre with their giggles, this strange little tale will be perfectly appealing." --Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"An interesting take on how children deal with grief and shock.... Anna’s voice is engaging, and portrayals of various pets and neighbors (with accompanying hand-drawn side notes and cartoons) will entertain...give this dark comedy to reluctant readers, mystery lovers, and fans of narrator-illustrated fare like Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books or Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (2010, both Abrams)." --School Library Journal

Order your reviewer's copy now.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Estie the Mensch • Picture book

Estie the Mensch
by Jane Kohuth  illustrated by Roseanne Litzinger
Available now   Random House Books for Young Readers  Ages 4 - 8   
Story:  Estie does not always like people. So when her grandmother reminds her to be a mensch (what's a mensch?), she'd rather not. She'd rather be a dog. Or a turtle. Or a seagull. Being a monkey can even make another kid laugh! But it can also make another kid cry, and that's when Estie and her grandmother find out what a mensch Estie can really be.  If being a meansch means helping a new friend, then maybe it's not so bad after all? 
Story behind the story: Jane Kohuth (also the author of DUCKS GO VROOM, a Ready to Read book) says, "I had been thinking, for some reason, about the Yiddish term, "mensch," which literally means "person," but which is always used to mean a truly exemplary person of high moral character.  It occurred to me that there might be a story in a child's coming to understand the difference between being a person (as opposed to being an animal) and being a "real mensch," a person of good character, generosity etc.  So many children love pretending to be animals, and I began to develop a picture of a child who deals with shyness and social awkwardness by avoiding being a person at all and instead pretending to be different creatures.  I felt like I understood this child, having been a shy imaginative child myself, and having had a similar but zanier little sister.  I didn't want the book to be preachy.  My character had to stay true to herself while uncovering in herself a mensch in the deep and most important sense of the term.  In my first draft my main character was a boy, but it didn't feel right.  The story only came to life for me when I invented Estie, who was a little bit me, a little bit my sister, and a little bit a person and a mensch all her own. My editor, Christy Webster, helped me to flesh out the second half of the story, which created  a better rhythm and pace to he story as a whole, and let me play up the story's humor."


"Litzinger's chalky illustrations have a tender, earnest quality, and Estie's red hair and green eyes give her animal impersonations pep in an offbeat story of gentle misbehavior, budding friendship, and close-knit family dynamics.- Publishers Weekly

"Estie’s six. Maybe. She doesn’t like people. She doesn’t like not being the way she wants to be. And when you’re six, that’s exactly where it’s at. When you’re six, you’re doing your thing. You’ve figured out that putting small stuff in your mouth is bad, but you probably, sometimes, accidentally-on-purpose still color the wall with crayons. And Estie? She would rather be anything but a person or a Mensch, and so she is every animal under the sun instead.  I love Estie." - Anne Tynham Blog

PJ Library Book

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

Monday, August 29, 2011

Night Flight Picture book

Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic 
By Robert Burleigh  illustrated by Wendell Minor
Available now  Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books Ages 4 - 8

An American Library Association Notable Children's Book Nominee
Story:  Award-winning author Robert Burleigh has captured Amelia Earhart's first solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932. She was only the second person to do this – and the first woman. Rich in detail, feeling and incident this is nonfiction with edge and action, a you-are-there experience made more dramatic and real by Wendell Minor's vivid paintings.
Story behind the story:  Wendell Minor -- who's worked on 50 children's books! -- talks about NIGHT FLIGHT, about Amelia Earheart as "an iconic figure" who "represents, for young women, anything that a man could do", his research (particularly with the Air & Space Museum), and much more... take a peek at this video:

"A gripping narrative and dynamic art immediately pull readers into the story of Earhart's historic 1932 solo transatlantic flight. Urgent yet lyrical, Burleigh's (One Giant Leap) account opens with Earhart's takeoff: "It is here: the hour, the very minute. Go!" .... Minor's (The Last Train) gouache and watercolor paintings easily convey the journey's intense drama, balancing lifelike closeups of Earhart with images of her imperiled plane. Stunning skyscapes are suffused with shadow and light; a breathtaking spread reveals streaks of multicolored clouds at daybreak as "Splinters of sunlight stab down through cloud slits and brace themselves on the vault of the open sea." Hearts will be racing. Back matter includes notes on Earhart's life. 

"A worthy new addition to the recent spate of books about the famous aviatrix, Burleigh's story concentrates on Earhart's 1932 solo flight from Newfoundland to Ireland, placing compelling poeticemphasis on her single-hearted struggle. "Why? Because 'women must try to do things as men have tried,'" writes Burleigh, quoting Earhart.... Minor's illustrations maintain tension by alternating between cockpit close-ups and wide views of the plane crossing the foreboding ocean. Predominant reds and blues convey the pure excitement of the nail-biting journey.Finally, Minor's endpapers, with a well-drawn map and mechanical illustration of the plane Earhart called the"little red bus," also work to inspire further learning."

Order your reviewer's copy now.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Who's YOUR favorite librarian?  Tell us -- well, tell the award committee.  While catching up on industry news today, I learned (from Media Bistro's Galley Cat) that it's that time, again, for the annual "I Love My Librarian!" award, organized by the American Library Association, with contributions from  The New York Times and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.  Got a favorite? Nominate yours.   To get nominating, click on these links: school librarian or public librarian or college, community college, university librarian.

10 librarians will win.  Open through September 12th. Prizes include $5,000 prize, a plaque and $500 travel stipend for the New York City awards ceremony. 
For more on the award, click here.
Plus you can read about last year's winners and download some bookmarks here.  
I know a few Picnic Basketers who seem award-worthy... let's see our colleagues get the recognition they deserve!
One last thing:  we know librarians inspire so many of us each and every day.  Here's some archived posts on librarian love from children's book authors Amy Hest, Laurie Halse Anderson, Mitali Perkins, G. Neri, Carolyn MacCullough, Christine Brodien-Jones and others ...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Who doesn't love a sale? Especially one that helps build your (digital) library...

If you're a fan of bestselling, super-creative pop-up master David A. Carter (author of ONE RED DOT) or seriously silly kids' poet Alan Katz (author of SMELLY LOCKER, silly dilly school songs), listen up: Ruckus Media Group announced special Back-to-School pricing of $0.99 per app on its entire digital library of 15 apps starting tomorrow, Friday, August 26 through the Labor Day weekend, ending Tuesday, September 7, 2011. The discounted pricing offers parents and students the opportunity to enjoy bestselling and award-winning interactive storybooks for iPad, iPhone and iTouch at savings of more than 50% off the regular price.  

“We’re always looking to provide our customers with tremendous value, but especially so as they kick off the school year,” says Jim Young, COO, Ruckus Media Group, “We’re thrilled to be able to help families grow their children’s mobile reading library with more affordable educational and entertaining digital experiences.”

Each Ruckus Media app features distinctive interactive elements that allow children of all ages to experience a story through an array of sensory-driven activities.   

Reading readiness begins for preschoolers and young children with stories featuring their favorite Hasbro characters, Chuck and Friends: Friends for the Long Haul, as well as the Parents’ Choice Award and About.com Readers’ Choice Award winner, A Present for Milo, with more than 80 touch-interactive objects that initiate more than 125 animations. Toddlers and preschoolers can learn their colors with Spot the Dot, a dynamic, eye-popping game and the first app from pop-up master and New York Times best-selling children’s book author David A. Carter.  Elementary schoolers learn to read and master use of language with Best Apps Ever Award finalist, Andrew Answers from bestselling author Alan Katz, while science-curious kids will learn all about the rainforest in Rainforest Survival Challenge, created with the Stepping Stones Museum for Children and the Rainforest Alliance.

As Rick Richter, Ruckus CEO (and and former President of Candlewick as well as Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing) says, “The goal of Ruckus is to combine the most creative minds in children’s media with tremendously exciting new mobile devices. We’ll be satisfied when a mom or dad can hand their phone or tablet to their child without one ounce of guilt, knowing that the experience the child is about to have will entertain them, challenge them, perhaps make them giggle, and be utterly satisfying.”  Here's to all of the above!

The entire Ruckus Media library of 15 interactive storybooks can be found on iTunes for $0.99 from Friday, August 26 through Monday, September 6, 2011.

PS Teachers and librarians -- Ruckus would love to hear how you use interactive storybooks with your students.  Share your thoughts on apps, what works, what doesn't, what you look for in an app, how you share them with the kids, if and how you incorporate them into your lesson plans or programming, and more by commenting here on the Picnic Basket -- and Ruckus will send you a sample for your Apple mobile device (25 samples available on a first-come, first-served basis).