8th Grade Reading: Books of Death vs. Books We Love

My 13-year old son came home from school today and complained about his reading assignment, Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom. My son said, “We’re on page 30, and three people have died already!”

This year in 8th grade literature is referred to as the Year of Death in my house. My older son went through it three years ago and still talks about it. He had to survive reading Tuesdays With Morrie, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers, Night by Elie Wiesel, and Romeo and Juliet by you-know-who. This September, the recommended book to read for fun is Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige (who took Judy Garland’s birth name for the narrator), a violent book that many people have enjoyed despite the blood and gore.

My son won’t touch it.

I have put a lot of effort into finding books for my boys to read. Reading is in direct competition with video games, so it’s important to have a book going all the time, too. The older one has enjoyed Gary Paulsen, Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, and lots of other pretty normal boy books. He also enjoyed Great Expectations, which I made him read two summers ago when I realized the school district did not have any Dickens in its curriculum. But my younger son has been a special kind of challenge. He liked The Giver but didn’t like the sequel. He liked The Lightning Thief but none of the others. He has refused to try the Harry Potter and Narnia books. I begged him to read Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone, but I was rejected. He liked several of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s books, but he seems to have outgrown them. Of course he has enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate books, but he’s outgrowing those, too. I have brought home stacks of books taken from recommended lists by our library, Goodreads, Guys Read, all great sources, only to have him choose only one book that sounds okay. Then he’ll read about a third of it before he gives up. This happened with A Wrinkle in Time and several other great books. I have been horrified about this for months.

I am happy to say that he loves nonfiction astronomy and cosmology books. He has read several books by Neil deGrasse Tyson, including Death by Black Hole a couple of times and currently Space Chronicles. He reads Astronomy magazine. When I emailed his teachers to ask them why he doesn’t read fiction, they told me he reads and understands well but doesn’t like a lot of books. Now, can I just say that the 8th grade reading list is not helping instill a love of books?

Miraculously, I recently handed him a book that he likes and is reading on his own. I couldn’t believe it when I first caught him reading it. He is two-thirds of the way through it, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to finish. And the winner is . . .



Now for some books we do love!

Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting
Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia
Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan
R.J. Palacio, Wonder
Jerry Spinelli, Wringer
Lois Lowry, The Giver
Bobbie Pyron, A Dog’s Way Home
William F. Hallstead, Tundra
E.L. Konigsberg, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Lana Krumwiede, Freakling, Archon, and True Son (The Psi Chronicles)
Margaret Peterson Haddix, Among the Hidden, Found, and Sent
Louis Sachar, Holes

Let me know what you think! Any other book ideas?

Categories: Books we love, Oldie but Goodie | Tags: | 7 Comments

The world is full of ideas. Why would you steal someone else’s?

In the last several months, I’ve heard from a few people who had their precious ideas taken by someone else. Sometimes, another person might have the same idea and get it published first, which is not stealing. It’s natural for that to happen sometimes in creative communities. But I have heard stories from friends doing research, going to small libraries to look for materials in the local history department and being told that someone had been there the week before looking for the same information for a picture book or an article. Turns out the person who got to the library first had been sitting in a discussion group or a workshop with one of my friends. Now that is stealing.

What I really don’t understand is why anyone would want or need to steal. There are way too many ideas in the world already! I have hundreds of ideas, and I do mean hundreds, and so far I can’t see my way through developing them all. When I get published, and my career gets going, I will get even more ideas. And I think they are all exciting. Some may turn out to be duds, but there will be plenty for me without turning into a green-eyed monster about someone else’s gold nugget. There are enough cookies for everyone, people!

See a great blog post by Kate Messner on how many of her picture book ideas actually turn into a book after running the gauntlet.

In the spirit of being part of a wonderful creative community, I want to share where I get my ideas. No, I have not been published, and I do not have an agent. But I have oodles of ideas, and I believe in them (thank you Best Critique Groups and Best Online Communities and Best Course Instructors . . . and wonderful husband!)

Each person is excited by different things and can own an idea in a unique way. I personally think the dumbest jokes are the funniest, but lots of you out there probably think they’re silly and not that funny. When I was kayaking with my son, he said, “Mom, what do you get when you cross a lake with a leaky boat? About halfway.” I thought that was hilarious. Everyone is different. If someone else has a gold nugget that excites you, take your excitement to a good website or library and read more about that topic, be it science or history or food or art. Gold nuggets are out there waiting for everyone.

These are the places I get most of my gold nuggets. These are primarily nonfiction, but fiction ideas aren’t far away. I got the idea for my latest fiction manuscript just from reading Judy Blume’s website. I’m sharing this because I’m certain no one will end up with the same crazy idea I did!

Here are my inspiration and fascination places and the sources for so many things I want to share with kids:

1. TED talks. I listen to the NPR TED Radio Hour podcast, and when I think kids should hear about something amazing, or if I get a kooky idea for a fiction picture book, I write it down. Guy Raz, the host of the TED Radio Hour, organizes each hour-long show around a theme inspired by the TED talks themselves. TED conferences began in 1984 (here’s the first TED talk), and Raz uses talks from every year in between then and now. He interviews the speakers, asking inspired questions and adding to the information in the talk. Then I go to the talk itself and listen (and sometimes watch the visuals, too). I think they are fascinating. One example is the talk given by Bernie Krause, a bioacoustician who talked about a part of our world we rarely think about. I listened to it months ago and still think about it. There’s a great kids’ story or two in there somewhere.

2. Marketplace and Marketplace Weekend podcasts from APM. These shows are about economics around the world, but their stories, even though they all have money connections, are all about people trying to make a life for themselves. The show includes book reviews, interviews, segments about people who have just passed away, anniversaries, histories, product features (like the foam noodle kids use in a swimming pool), new businesses, old jobs that people don’t do anymore, making a living in a refugee camp, and many things that might surprise you.

3. Magazines like Smithsonian, Archaeology, Discover, Popular Science, or anything else about history or science. I also read the magazines and newsletters I receive from nonprofits like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which puts out a beautiful quarterly magazine called Living BirdThe magazines from EarthJustice, the Humane Society, World Wildlife Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, Doctors Without Borders, or any organization you might be interested in are usually full of scientist and activist profiles and unique, interesting, relevant projects, like rescuing turtle eggs before they are buried by a housing development. I also get ideas from National Geographic Kids (we subscribe). They publish some kooky stuff.

photo 2 photo 3

Did you know a University of Maryland physics professor has built a two-story dynamo, a model of earth, filled with liquid sodium, to find out how the earth creates its magnetic field? He is in the process of spinning it a little faster each time and measuring the magnetism created by the motion. He is very nice and gives tours of his lab to people like us, who found out about his work from a single column in Smithsonian. Kids’ Magazine Article Alert!

4. Reading the display boards at museums. Seriously, museum professionals know what they are talking about. They know all the most fascinating stories about their collections, and they put those stories on display to invite you, the lifelong learner, to take a step closer to history or art or dinosaurs. I take pictures of boards. I took dozens of pictures at the National Cryptology Museum.

5. Researching books for my kids. My kids don’t always appreciate . . . let me rephrase that . . . my kids don’t have any idea how hard I work finding things for them to read. For fiction, keeping track of a maturing mind and changing tastes has been a challenge. Many times I go way outside their reading levels. I gave the new Captain Underpants book to a 15-year-old. Sometimes I come home with an armful of Gary Paulsen only to discover that the younger kid doesn’t like what the older one liked. Bummer! For nonfiction, it’s easier to go with the flow and find books on whatever they are fascinated by at the moment. Right now it is astrobiology, which I had never heard of till my son talked about it. But I have learned so much from their fascinations with dinosaurs, marine biology, marine geology, astronomy, bacteria, gross boy stuff, and all kinds of not-so-gross stuff. In other words, I’ve read a lot of kids books over the last several years and will be eternally grateful to the brilliant nonfiction authors who have helped educate my boys. And me.

6. Reading nonfiction for grownups, or even just the reviews. Are you paying attention to what is going on in the adult nonfiction world? Just browse a table or shelf at a bookstore. Anything that is interesting for adults is interesting for kids, too, with only a very few obvious exceptions. My husband joked that I should write a picture book about the Donner Party, but of course he didn’t realize that there are already several children’s books about that horrible tragedy. There are kids who want to know and authors like us who want to tell them.

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7. For other ideas, you have to take Nonfiction Archaeology with the amazing Kristen McGill Fulton. You will get way more than you can imagine.

There are plenty of other places to get ideas, but I have too many already. Hopefully my list will help someone.

What fascinates you?

Categories: Writing | 2 Comments

JUST PUBLISHED! New chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

BREAKING NEWS! Roald Dahl just published a new chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

No, really, the original Chapter 5, “The Vanilla Fudge Room,” was just published by The Guardian on August 29th. It’s an early chapter that was rejected as too subversive for innocent British children.

For those of us who try to write children’s literature, what a treat! I was thrilled to see that I am not the only person who futzes around with character names. Futzing is one of my favorite write-y things to do, for characters and flavors and places and everything else. Veruca Salt’s original name was Elvira Entwhistle. Violet Beauregarde was Violet Strabismus. (Strabismus is an eye disorder in which the eyes cross. Was Violet cross-eyed? What was Dahl thinking there?) Augustus Gloop used to be Augustus Pottle. And the factory workers are just workers. They turned into Oompa Loompas in a later version.

I was also very interested to note that Mr. Dahl dealt with a common problem for a lot of us writers: too many characters. He originally had eight children with Charlie, and later the cast was cut to just four.

I hope you will take the time to read Lucy Mangan’s wonderful article, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at 50,” also published in The Guardian on August 29th. She discusses the development of the book from early drafts to the final draft, thanks to the encouragement Dahl received to let his imagination really fly. She also gives us a few paragraphs on the history of the children’s literature industry, complete with the very conservative Anglophile establishment, the original African Oompa Loompas, and framing Charlie as a fairy tale at its most elemental. Mangan is publishing a book called Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory: The Complete Story of Willy Wonka, the Golden Ticket, and Roald Dahl’s Most Famous Creationavailable on September 9th.

Read the sweet, fudgy lost chapter and enjoy the delicious illustrations by Quentin Blake!

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 10.09.10 AM

Read the accompanying article, too: “Lost chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory published.”

Categories: Authors, Books we love | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou


Life Doesn’t Frighten Me: Maya Angelou’s Courageous Children’s Verses, Illustrated by Basquiat


A priceless primer on poetry and contemporary art for little ones, and a timeless reminder of the power of courage in all of us.

Fear is the enemy of creativity, the hotbed of mediocrity, a critical obstacle to mastering life. Few embody the defiance of fear with greater dignity and grace than reconstructionist Maya Angelou, who has overcome remarkable hardships — childhood rape, poverty, addiction, bereavement — to become one of today’s most celebrated writers. Like a number of other celebrated “adult” poets and novelists who have also written for children — including Sylvia Plath,Mark TwainAnne SextonWilliam Faulkner,James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Mary Shelley, Leo Tolstoy, Oscar WildeAldous Huxley, Gertrude Stein, James Thurber, Carl Sandburg, Salman Rushdie, Ian Fleming, and Langston Hughes — so has Angelou: The 1993 gem Life Doesn’t Frighten Me (public library), conceived and edited by Sara Jane Boyers, pairs Angelou’s simple, strong words with drawings by legendary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose signature style of child-like fancy and colorful emotional intensity offers a perfect match for Angelou’s courageous verses.

Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hall
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Tough guys fight
All alone at night
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don’t frighten me at all.

Don’t show me frogs and snakes
And listen for my scream,
If I’m afraid at all
It’s only in my dreams.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.

Hear Angelou read the poem herself, which she says she wrote “for all children who whistle in the dark and who refuse to admit that they’re frightened out of their wits”:


Life Doesn’t Frighten Me is an absolute treat in its entirety, a priceless primer on poetry and contemporary art for little ones and a timeless reminder of the power of courage in all of us. Complement it with Angelou’s stirring meditation on home, belonging, and (never) growing up.

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Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Reading Picture Books with Older Children

I have two boys, one 15 years old and one 12. They are interested in a lot of different things. They are also bored by a lot of different things. But I have had some success reading non-fiction picture books with them, sitting together on the sofa or on someone’s bed. They don’t sit on my lap anymore, but they do sit next to me and talk. Here are four of our recent ones.



Alien Deep by Bradley Hague, 2012, Ages 8-10. Like many families, we have always read a lot about the natural world, including animals, storms, lasers, and geology. Marine life was a favorite for a long time, and with the improvement in technology in the last several years, photography has brought us some stunning films and images and lots of new discoveries. Better technology has enabled us to visit the bottom of the ocean with better cameras, better lighting, and better safety for people. The deepest spot, Challenger Deep, was visited by two men in 1960 and then not again until 2012 by James Cameron. This means that all of the newer books feature creatures or places that were only recently discovered. We had a wonderful time looking at the new discoveries and talking about exploration in this book that focuses on hydrothermal vents in the Galapagos Reef. There are many books with amazing marine creatures to interest most readers.



Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices by David M. Schwartz and Dwight Kuhn, 2013, Ages 4-12. We had such a great time looking at the disgusting (through very high quality) images! I learned something I didn’t know about penicillin: it was discovered because Alexander Fleming noticed that the colonies of penicillin bacteria were surrounded by clean areas, and he asked why. Very interesting. This book was full of different bacteria (I have a child who is interested in that) as well as other creatures who clean up the world around us.

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Animal Grossapedia by Melissa Stewart, 2012, Ages 7-10. This book was not as gross as the pumpkin book (at least not to me), but very interesting in a different way. All of the gross facts in this book are scientific facts about something animals do to survive. Saliva can be poisonous or healing. We all love learning about the things animals do. Yes, a couple of pages brought out “EEW” for all three of us!



Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth, 2013, Ages 6-11. This is truly a wonderful, beautiful, and fascinating book. We stared at the breathtaking art on each page for a couple of minutes (how did Susan Roth do that?) before reading the story of the parrots. The book reads top to bottom like a legal pad, which was a little tiring for my arms but opened up many visual possibilities. How often do we get to read a picture book that has a sense of height, from the ground to the sky? I felt like I could see so much more. And I am a particular fan of seeing a long, comprehensive history told in a clear, big-picture way, like a saga, and this was enhanced by the vertical artwork. We could see people farming and birds flying far above. This book has it all: gorgeous, memorable art joined with history, culture, human interest, animal habitat loss and successful conservation efforts. Unforgettable.

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Read the Horn Book review.

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think! And please recommend more books for my kids if you can!

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

BlogShare: E-readers for children in developing countries

E-Readers Mark A New Chapter In The

Developing World

December 02, 2013 4:09 PM

Students at Ntimigom School in Kilgoris, Kenya, show off their e-readers. Worldreader now operates in 27 schools and two libraries in Kenya. (Jon McCormack)

A former Amazon executive who helped Jeff Bezos turn shopping into a digital experience has set out to end illiteracy. David Risher is now the head of Worldreader, a nonprofit organization that brings e-books to kids in developing countries through Kindles and cellphones.

Risher was traveling around the world with his family when he got the idea for Worldreader. They were doing volunteer work at an orphanage in Ecuador when he saw a building with a big padlock on the door. He asked a woman who worked there what was inside, and she said, “It’s the library.”

Deborah, a participant in Worldreader’s iREAD project in Ghana, reads her favorite e-book with her mother. Worldreader has delivered more than 700,000 e-books via its e-reader programs. (Worldreader)

“I asked, ‘Why is it locked up?’ And she said it took too long for books to get there,” says Risher. “[The books] came by boat and by the time they got there, they were uninteresting to the kids. And I said, ‘Well, can we take a look inside? I’d like to see this.’ And she said, ‘I think I’ve lost the key.’ ”

This, Risher thought, can be fixed. If it’s so hard to give kids access to physical books, why not give them e-books and the digital devices they would need to read them? Risher had joined Amazon at its beginning, helping it grow into the dominant online retailer it is today. He felt he could apply some of the lessons he had learned at Amazon to the problem of illiteracy.

“We were really trying to change people’s behavior, but once that started to happen, of course it took off because it was convenient and because the prices were lower,” says Risher. “In a way, we are trying to do something very similar here. … Here’s a culture where reading has never really gotten a chance to take off because the access to books is so limited. So we make it easy for people to get access to books and we try to put books on the e-readers that are appealing to kids and interesting to teachers so that we can, over time, help people shift a little in their behavior and their mindset.”

Working through schools and local governments, Worldreader launched its first program in Ghana and is now in nine African countries. As of last month, Worldreader says, it has put more than 700,000 e-books in the hands of some 12,000 children.

Donations from corporate partners and individuals help pay for the Kindles. E-books are donated by authors and publishers in both Western countries and the countries where the schools are located. Risher says it may seem counterintuitive to use e-readers in schools in poor, developing countries, but it actually makes a lot of sense.

A student at Ntimigom School in Kilgoris, Kenya, uses his e-reader. (Jon McCormack)

“[E-readers] turn out to be remarkably well-adapted to the developing world, in part because they don’t take very much power, they are very portable. It’s almost like having an entire library in your hand and, like all technology, they get less and less expensive over time,” Risher says.

A study of the Worldreaders pilot program in Ghana was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tony Bloome, a senior education technology specialist with USAID, says the initial results were mostly positive.

“We definitely found that it provided more access to materials. That wasn’t surprising at all,” says Bloome. “I think kids’ appreciation and use of technology is somewhat universal in terms of the excitement — so much so [that] the kids would sit on their devices because they were concerned they would be stolen. And that led to one of the challenges we had in terms of breakage.”

Worldreader has responded to the breakage problem with tougher e-readers and training for students and teachers in how to handle them. Even with the breakage problem, though, the USAID study found the program to be cost effective. It also found that kids who had never used a computer before learned to use e-readers quickly and it didn’t take them long to find games and music. But Bloome says that their excitement was contagious.

“Especially with the group that was able to take the e-readers home, basically the young people became rock stars in regards to being able to introduce their parents or other kids in the community to e-readers,” he says. “But really focused on content, which is really exciting. It’s about the provision of reading materials.”

Bloome says USAID is still assessing how the access to books is affecting learning in primary grades. In the meantime, Worldreader is moving on to smaller devices with a program that created an e-reader app for cellphones used in developing countries. Risher says the potential for getting access to books on cellphones is huge.

“It really is the best way to get books into people’s hands where the physical infrastructure isn’t very good, the roads are bad, gas costs too much … but you can beam books through the cellphone network just like you can make a phone call — and that’s really the thing that changes kids’ lives.”

Risher says he knows Worldreader alone won’t solve illiteracy, but he hopes it can be a catalyst for change.

Thanks for reading today’s BlogShare! What do you think about Worldreader?

Categories: BlogShare | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

PPBF: Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen

Perfect Picture Book Friday is here with the adorable Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen.

Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog feature Perfect Picture Book Fridays. She has compiled a complete list of recommended picture books with links to resources for home and the classroom. It’s awesome!


Title: Guji Guji

Author/Illustrator: Chih-Yuan Chen

Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2004


Ages:  4 and up

Themes: humor, animals, family, love, differences and acceptance, nature vs. nurture, adoption

Opening: “An egg was rolling on the ground. It rolled through the trees. It rolled across the meadow. It rolled all the way down the hill. Finally, it rolled into a duck’s nest.

Synopsis:  (Adapted from the New York Times) When fate rolls a crocodile egg into Mother Duck’s nest (she is too busy reading to notice), her three ducklings end up with a strange sibling. The fourth ”duckling” is the biggest of the brood. He’s less an ugly duckling than a clumsy one, however, and as his brothers learn to swim, dive and waddle, he makes the biggest splash of all.

Enter three conniving crocodiles with plans for the odd ”duck.” Since crocodiles eat ducks, they explain, it is Guji Guji’s duty to deliver his family to them. Our hero wanders off to hatch a plan. ”I am not a bad crocodile,” he thinks. ”Of course, I’m not exactly a duck either.”

The next day, when Mother Duck and her family go to practice diving, three bad crocodiles are waiting under the bridge, jaws agape. Guji Guji is ready for them. Instead of ”fat, delicious ducks,” the crocodiles get a very unappetizing surprise: ”three big, hard rocks” from the top of the bridge.

Resources and ideas: Teaching plan from Kane Miller; Lesson plan from StorylineOnline; Reading comprehension questions from TeachersPayTeachers

What I thought: Chih-Yuan Chen is an author and illustrator from Taiwan and has won the Hsin Yi Picture Book Award three times. I can see why! I love the style of the art, and I love the fact that Guji Guji makes the most of the fact that he is different from his duck siblings. Instead of feeling bad about himself, he shows those crocodiles the difference between right and wrong. Chen said, “It is my hope that children from all over the world can learn to accept different people and things, and see the world with broader views and minds.”

See also: Reading and discussion by Daniel Pinkwater and Scott Simon of NPR

And here is a video reading from StorylineOnline:

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Categories: Perfect Picture Book Friday | Tags: , , , | 16 Comments

The Fantastic World of John Lithgow

John Lithgow is an inspirational fountain of creativity. Most of us kidlit people know about his children’s books in addition to his fame as an actor, but the real extent of his work is almost unbelievable. He has won multiple Tonys, Emmys, Drama Desk awards, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, The American Comedy Award, and has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He graduated from Harvard, studied in London on a Fulbright Grant, and was awarded the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal. When he was honored with an honorary Doctorate from Harvard, he also gave the commencement address, concluding with the dedication of a children’s book, Mahalia Mouse Goes to College, to the graduating class. The book is intended to get small children interested in higher education.

What to make of a man who is a runaway train of talent and storytelling? His work for children includes nine best-selling picture books (some including CDs): 

The Remarkable Farkle McBride (2000), illustrated by C.F.Payne


Marsupial Sue (2001), illustrated by Jack E. Davis


Micawber (2002), illustrated by C.F. Payne


I’m A Manatee (2003), illustrated by Ard Hoyt


Carnival of the Animals (2004), illustrated by Boris Kulikov


Marsupial Sue Presents: The Runaway Pancake (2005), illustrated by Jack E. Davis


Mahalia Mouse Goes to College (2007), illustrated by Igor Oleynikov


I Got Two Dogs (2008), illustrated by Robert Neubecker


Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo (2013), illustrated by Leeza Hernandez


He has also created a few Lithgow Palooza activity books for parents and children; a series of Lithgow Palooza Readers, non-fiction co-authored leveled readers (I think there are 18 of them) featuring his characters Farkle and Marsupial Sue, about animals and the arts; and The Poets’ Corner, 50 classic poems presented for young people.

Lithgow has performed concerts for children with many American orchestras, appearing in his own shows, singing his own songs, and narrating his original text for Carnival of the Animals as well as Prokofiev’s classic Peter and the Wolf. He has also released three of his own children’s albums. All of this work has won him two Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Awards and four Grammy nominations.

Carnival of the Animals is a special piece. We flute players are often afraid of it, since the Aviary movement is one of the hardest things we will ever have to play. But as I watched Lithgow perform his original story (youtube video), which features a boy who is locked in the Natural History Museum at night and sees the creatures come to life, I wondered if he had been inspired by the 1993 children’s book The Night at the Museum, which in 2006 was adapted into the hugely successful film starring Ben Stiller.


Then I reread Ogden Nash’s delightful Carnival of the Animals poems from 1949 (honestly, who else would rhyme boomerangs with kangaroomeringues?), and discovered the same reference to a museum come to life in the Fossils poem:

At midnight in the museum hall
The fossils gathered for a ball
There were no drums or saxophones,
But just the clatter of their bones,
A rolling, rattling, carefree circus
Of mammoth polkas and mazurkas.
Pterodactyls and brontosauruses
Sang ghostly prehistoric choruses.
Amid the mastodontic wassail
I caught the eye of one small fossil.
“Cheer up, sad world,” he said, and winked—
“It’s kind of fun to be extinct.”

 On his Amazon author page, Lithgow talks about creating works for children: “Writing a children’s book was not something that I pursued. It pursued me. It started when I was asked to write a narration for a symphony for kids. I realized that it had the text for a book. From that text “The Remarkable Farkle McBride” was born. And once the first book was successful, others followed.

. . . .

“I credit my parents for fostering my love of literature and books. I have fond memories of my father reading chapters aloud from great thick books like “The Jungle Book” and “A Teller of Tales”.

“I have carried on my father’s tradition by reading aloud to my own kids when they were little. I have also started a few traditions of my own, like singing to them and playing really mediocre guitar, building castles with them out of refrigerator boxes and treasure hunts across museums. Once I even created a very elaborate paper chase across the entire campus of UCLA for my daughter Phoebe’s 16th Birthday. Some of these games were inspiration for all of the Lithgow Palooza books and books with kits that have been published by both Simon and Schuster and Running Press.”

What do you think? Are you a John Lithgow fan? Does children’s literature pursue you, too?

Categories: Authors | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Elise Broach’s Wet Dog!

Perfect Picture Book Friday is here with Wet Dog! by Elise Broach, illustrated by the much-loved David Catrow.

Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog feature Perfect Picture Book Fridays. She has compiled a complete list of recommended picture books with links to resources for home and the classroom. It’s awesome!


Title: Wet Dog!

Author/Illustrator: Elise Broach and David Catrow

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin), 2005, reprinted in 2007


Ages:  5 and up

Themes: humor, animals, weather, summer, manners, perseverance (and personally I would like to add facial expressions!)


Opening: “He was a good old dog and a hot old dog, as he lay in the noonday sun. And he dozed and he drowsed in the beating-down sun, with his long pink tongue hanging out.

“Well, that too-hot dog in the too-hot sun just had to cool off somehow. So he heaved to his feet, and he sniffed the air, and he trotted off down the road . . .”

Synopsis:  On a hot, hot day, a good old dog just has to get some relief! Around the steamy country lanes, he sniffs and searches until he finds a chauffeur washing a shiny car, a baker scrubbing some sticky pans, and a florist spraying a pink bouquet. they’re all getting ready for a country wedding, and this overheated pup just wants to plunge into the fun! and water! but will the wedding party in their fancy finery welcome this gotta-be-cool pooch?

Resources and ideas: draw-your-own facial expression chart for emotions; discuss hot-weather issues like heat exhaustion, sunburn, plants withering, and drought; discuss ways to warm up in a cold winter; discuss how other mammals regulate their body temperature

What I thought: HILARIOUS! The story is cute, but the illustrations really make the book what it is.

Wet Dog! was also reviewed in 2010 on Kate’s Bookery Blog.

Enjoy and let me know what you think! 

Categories: Books we love, Perfect Picture Book Friday | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

Celeste and the Adorable Kitten

I was thrilled to finally read Celeste and the Adorable Kitten, the sequel to Celeste and the Giant Hamster. Author and animal lover Melanie Typaldos  brings cat characters to life in a way I had never experienced before, with the story told completely from the cat’s perspective as a cat. It is not a story about a cat who basically acts like a human. Each cat has a distinct personality, some pleasant and some not, just as real cats are. There is a Cat Code of Conduct and a wealth of old cat’s sayings that guide the cats’ choices and behavior.

The adventure in the story is well paced, and all the cat characters are memorable. I loved it. This book is also illustrated by Alexandra Tayts.


From the back of the book: “It wasn’t easy but Celeste the Cat has managed to capture the perfect gift for Mother, a beautiful – and unharmed – red bird that almost looks like one of the ornaments when she tucks it under a strand of Christmas tree lights. Now she just needs to wait for the right moment to reveal it. But everything changes when Father brings home a tiny white kitten that he rescued from the grocery store parking lot. The family dotes on the kitten while Celeste is pushed aside. It eats her food, drinks out of her bowl, and plays with her toys. But not for long! With the reluctant help of her two faithful companions, Ruby and Tiger, Celeste plots to rid herself of the little menace. But instead of finding the kitten a new home, Celeste ends up rescuing Salt from one peril after another until at last she finds herself on a desperate mission to rescue the kitten from the pound.”

I highly recommend reading Celeste and the Giant Hamster first, just to get to know Ruby and Tiger before you jump into Celeste and the Adorable Kitten. But it’s certainly not necessary!

Melanie’s beloved capybara Garibaldi Rous, who makes a cameo appearance in the new book, passed away last week. For more information please visit GiantHamster.com.

Categories: Books we love, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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