Monthly Archives: January 2014

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Darcy Pattison’s Wisdom, the Midway Albatross

Today I want to feature a gorgeous self-published book that I really wish I’d written myself…. Darcy Pattison and Kitty Harvill‘s Wisdom, the Midway Albatross.  It’s exactly the kind of book I love to read, a biography that paints a bigger, clearer picture of the world we live in.

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!

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Author: Darcy Pattison

Illustrator: Kitty Harvill

Publisher: Mims House, 2012


Ages: 6-12

Theme: birds, endangered species, conservation, world ecology, natural disasters

Opening: “Many years ago, on the tiny Midway Atoll in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, a wild chick hatched. She was a gooney bird-a Laysan Albatross. The crowded, noisy rookery could be a dangerous place. Many chicks would not live long enough to learn to fly.”

Synopsis: The oldest bird in the world, documented with banding, is Wisdom, the Midway Albatross. She was on Midway when the Japanese Tsunami hit and this is her amazing story of survival of manmade and natural disasters for over 60 years. She has survived the dangers of living wild, plastic pollution, longline fishing, lead poisoning, and the Japanese earthquake. At 60, she’s still laying eggs and hatching chicks. It’s a story of survival and hope amidst the difficulties of life. (from Amazon)

Resources: There are many sources for further reading and study listed at the end of the book, including Save the Albatross: A Global Campaign by BirdLife International and the North American Bird Banding Laboratory. I found a good explanation of tsunamis for kids with graphics and a video. There is information about plastic pollution at the Plastic Pollution Coalition. I also think it would be interesting to start a discussion about events that other animals or people may witness or survive over a lifetime (for example, we know a lot of people who were born before or during World War II and have seen a lot since then), which can provide a framework for looking at history. The books about Owen and Mzee tell the story of an animal friendship that formed after Owen, a baby hippo, was stranded and orphaned after the tsunami of 2004.


Categories: Books we love, Perfect Picture Book Friday | 23 Comments

Meet Melanie Typaldos, kidlit author and animal lover

Many people already know Melanie Typaldos from her blog Capybara Madness, where I found a wonderful photo of her pet Caplin. She generously gave me permission to use the photo as the header image for this blog (yay!), and then she told me she had written the book that Caplin was reading! Her middle grade novel Celeste and the Giant Hamsterwhich I reviewed last week, is the first in a series.

So, I have a dog.


He’s cute and everything, but Melanie, on the other hand, has a much more interesting menagerie!


Melanie, what other animals do you have? 

I can’t imagine a life without animals. I had a little Pekingese dog named Dolly when I was growing up, and two cats, Pussywillow when I was young and Frodo when I was older, along with a couple of parakeets and some fish. In junior high, my brother Stephen got interested in snakes and after that reptiles became a big part of all of our lives. In fact, I currently have two rainbow boas and two tortoises. The older tortoise I have had for over thirty years!


I also have two rabbits, three rats, a guinea pig, three chickens, and three horses (one for over 25 years) in addition to my pet capybara Garibaldi Rous. Does that sound like a lot? To me, it seems normal. Luckily we live in the country where there is room for my animals.


Garibaldi is my second capybara. He came to me shortly after Caplin Rous died because Gari’s previous owners could no longer care for him. Caplin’s death was sudden and unexpected and it hit me very hard. When I heard that Gari was looking for a home, it seemed like we were two lost souls who needed each other.


Have your other pets also inspired you to write?

My daughter’s cat, Flopsy, is a major character in the second book in the series, Celeste and the Adorable Kitten. Flopsy is a very unique cat and I hope that comes across in the book. All animals have their own personalities, just as people do, and I try to capture that when I write about them. Garibaldi also has a cameo appearance.


Can you tell us about your journey to self-publishing?

I did not start out with the intention of self-publishing. I wrote Celeste and the Giant Hamster and then shopped around for a literary agent. I was thrilled when an agent agreed to shop my book around. But an editor at Random House read it and said that its vocabulary was too advanced for young children and that older children would not be willing to read about cats that talk. I don’t believe in dumbing down vocabulary for children. I think they learn from what they read, both the content and the vocabulary, as long as it is used in a way that they can guess at the meaning. As for whether older children will read about talking cats, I like to think that even adults will enjoy my books. Maybe I think we’re all children at heart.

As all this was going on, I got an opportunity to film a segment for an Animal Planet show called Most Outrageous Pets. I decided I wanted to get my book out in time for that show so I just went ahead and self-published.

I’d like to stress that if you go the self-publishing route, don’t do it blindly. Make sure that you are in a critique writing group that seriously reviews submissions. I was very fortunate to be in the Austin writing group Novels In Progress (NIP). I learned almost everything I know from that group because they are ruthlessly honest, and not just about my work but about the work of all the members. You really need to see the mistakes other people make to understand the mistakes you are making yourself in your writing.

Tell us about the foundation you started to benefit capybara health. 

I started the ROUS Foundation for Capybara Veterinary Medicine in conjunction with the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine after Caplin Rous died. Caplin’s Facebook friends and his blog (Capybara Madness) followers nearly overwhelmed me with their empathy and support. When I suggested that people purchase one of the items from my store if they wanted to help pay for Caplin’s veterinary expenses, I never expected to generate so much money. It more than covered his vet bills so I took the remaining money and started the ROUS Foundation.

There is so little known about capybara veterinary care that every bit we learn could save lives. Each year I donate $1 from the sale of each item from my online store to the RF along with half of any monies earned through Gari’s appearances in person or on TV. This year (2013), I donated $1780 to the RF. The money has been used to do routine testing of capybara liver function, since Caplin Rous died of liver failure, along with helping to pay veterinary bills and performing necropsies.

You are about to publish an updated version of Celeste’s first adventure as well as her second adventure, Celeste and the Adorable Kitten. Are you working on a third?

I started working on the third book in the series, Celeste and the Big Move, but I’ve been sidetracked by having a major stroke. I am currently working on a book about it, Left Side Blind, The Truthy Story of My Quirky Stroke. Obviously, this is not going to be a children’s book. I am hoping it will be a light-hearted but insightful look into what it’s like to suffer an event like I had. Once I’m through with that, I will complete Celeste and the Big Move.


You are a software engineer. How did you become a writer?

I think I have always been a writer. I remember writing short stories when I was very young. And then i wrote a novel for each of my kids when they were in junior high. But I didn’t take it seriously until about ten years ago when I joined Novels in Progress. Then I learned how much I needed to learn! Having a group of people read my submission and give it a really serious critique motivated me to write more and to write better as well as to take my writing more seriously.

Oddly, I have also always been an engineer. I just have that kind of logical mind that looks at a problem and sees it as a series of steps to be solved. I know engineers have a terrible reputation as writers and documenters, I’ve seen first hand that the reputation is based in fact. But in some ways writing a a novel and solving an engineering problem are similar. The novel has a beginning and an end and in between are a bunch of subproblems that have to be solved.

Melanie, a huge thank you for your stories and insight! We wish you the best in your continuing recovery, and we wish we could visit you and all your animals!

I want everyone to know that Melanie recently went to Brazil and saw a lot of wild capybaras and wonderful birds. She also saw a gorgeous, hungry jaguar who wanted to eat a capybara!


That’s quite a photo! (And the capybara escaped.)

For a Melanie’s educational article for kids about a day in the life of a pet capybara, visit

Categories: Authors | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Janell Cannon’s Stellaluna

Perfect Picture Book Friday is here with Stellaluna by Janell Cannon, one of my household favorites. I have saved the book and the little Stellaluna finger puppet for my future grandkids.

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: Stellaluna

Author/Illustrator: Janell Cannon

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (Harcourt), 1993


Ages:  4 to 8

Themes: adoption, differences, animal adaptations

Opening: “One night, as Mother Bat followed the heavy scent of ripe fruit, an owl spied her. On silent wings the powerful bird swooped down upon the bats.

Dodging and shrieking, Mother Bat tried to escape, but the owl struck again and again, knocking Stellaluna into the air.  Her baby wings were as limp and useless as wet paper.

Down, down she went, faster and faster, into the forest below.”

Synopsis:  Knocked from her mother’s safe embrace by an attacking owl, Stellaluna lands headfirst in a bird’s nest. This adorable baby fruit bat’s world is literally turned upside down when she is adopted by the occupants of the nest and adapts to their peculiar bird habits. Two pages of notes at the end of the story provide factual information about bats.

Resources and ideas: Storyline online video of Pamela Reed reading Stellaluna (also featured on SchoolTube); simply type Stellaluna Lesson Plans into Google to find tons of lessons and activities

What I thought: My kids and I loved the sweet story of the lost baby learning how to get along with new siblings who try to understand her but aren’t like her at all. She learns to eat food she doesn’t like and follows the rules of her new home. But as she matures, she discovers how to be herself as well as how to let her bird siblings be themselves. She still visits her bird family after she has found her way back to her bat family. The illustrations show details about the differences between bat bodies and bird bodies. Stellaluna is a beautiful, well-loved book.

I need to add that not everyone appreciates the way Stellaluna is treated by her bird family. I read about more than a few negative reactions from mixed-race families. The mother bird accuses Stellaluna of teaching her bird babies to do bad things, and she agrees to keep Stellaluna only if she will deny her bat instincts. The situation is hard for Stellaluna, gagging down the bugs instead of the fruit she likes, and not being allowed to hang upside down. In a discussion about the story, I would include ideas about how the mother bird could have been more open-minded or might have helped Stellaluna find her bat family. I would definitely talk about how difficult survival can be for animals and how sometimes they have to adapt to circumstances that are less than ideal just to stay alive. I know this book is used as an adoption story, but the animal survival element should be emphasized to balance out what comes across as prejudice from the bird mother. Those are just my thoughts about a book that we really love for its storytelling more than anything else.

What do you think? How has your family discussed Stellaluna? 

Categories: Books we love, Perfect Picture Book Friday | Tags: , , , | 19 Comments

Reblog Thursday: Alice in Wonderland by Salvadore Dali

Enjoy, and let me know if you are as surprised as I was to see these illustrations!

Salvador Dalí Illustrates Alice in Wonderland, 1969


What the Mad Hatter has to do with one of the most inspired collaborations in Western culture.

Last week, we marveled at Leonard Weisgard’s stunning illustrations for thefirst color edition of Alice in Wonderland, circa 1949. But it turns out they might not be the most culturally intriguing. As reader Varvn Aryacetas points out on Twitter, exactly two decades later a collaboration of epic proportion took place as the Lewis Carroll classic was illustrated by none other than Salvador Dalí. (And let’s not forget what a soft spot I have for obscure children’s illustration by famous artists.)

Published by New York’s Maecenas Press-Random House in 1969 and distributed as their book of the month, the volume went on to become one of the most sought-after Dalí suites of all time. It contains 12 heliogravures, one for each chapter of the book, and one original signed etching in 4 colors as the frontpiece, all of which the fine folks at the William Bennett Gallery have kindly digitized for your gasping pleasure:


Down the Rabbit Hole

The Pool of Tears

A Caucus Race and a Long Tale

The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill

Advice From a Caterpillar

Pig and Pepper

Mad Tea Party

The Queen’s Croquet Ground

The Mock Turtle’s Story

The Lobster’s Quadrille

Who Stole the Tarts?

Alice’s Evidence

As you might expect, the book isn’t exactly easy to acquire — Amazon currently spots just a single copy, handsomely priced at $12,900, and there’s even a video tutorial on what to look for when you hunt for this treasure.

But the collaboration brought together two of the most exceptional creators of Western culture, both ticklers or curiosity and architects of the imagination, and who can really put a price tag on that? Besides, if this sucker can rein in $4.3 million, what’s $13K for a Dalí?

Categories: BlogShare, Reblog Thursday | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Celeste and the Giant Hamster by Melanie Typaldos

I just finished reading the middle-grade novel Celeste and the Giant Hamster by Melanie Typaldos, and I feel compelled to blog about it right away because I enjoyed it so much. Celeste is an adventurous cat who goes out looking for a giant hamster one night, hoping to capture it and teach her owner that hamsters are not good pets. She discovers parts of her friends and herself that she never imagined.

I will be interviewing Melanie shortly and am looking forward to sharing her love of animals and books with you!


Title: Celeste and the Giant Hamster

Author: Melanie Typaldos

Ages: 9-12

Publisher: BookSurge Publishing, 2009

Synopsis: Celeste the Cat is tormented by her human’s insistence on keeping a dwarf hamster, appallingly named Celestina, as a pet. Enlisting the aid of two friends, the brave but intellectually challenged Tiger and overly-enthusiastic Ruby, she sets out to trap a giant hamster that is loose and living in a nearby field. She plans on placing the giant hamster in front of Celestina’s cage to show her owner what she thinks of pet rodents. The giant hamster–actually a capybara–proves to be a larger, stronger and more intelligent adversary than the cats expect, resulting in a series of humorous mishaps that leave the trio battered but not dispirited. Slowly the cats come to realize that the capybara is not the frightening monster they imagined. When the capybara has a litter of eight precocious capy-kittens, Celeste, Ruby and Tiger find themselves doing things they never imagined, like going for a swim and protecting baby rodents from a tough gang of tom cats.

What I thought: I could not put this book down while I was reading it. The cat characters were lovingly drawn with tons of personality, and I enjoyed watching Celeste learn about herself. She is a lovely, loyal cat with a real hankering for adventure. She and her pals Tiger and Ruby are truly cat-like but think and feel on a human level about fitting in, having fun, and the difference between right and wrong. And the book is funny in so many ways, like when Celeste is horrified that the monster with hideous feet (ahem, capybara) is actually having baby monsters.  What is she going to do with monsters running all over her territory?

Celeste is a wonderful book in the same category with Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. It is much harder to find great fiction for the quieter, more tender-hearted children who love animals. I actually have a child who refuses to read JK Rowling, Rick Riordan, and Philip Pullman, but he loves Charlotte’s Web and Mrs. Frisby. So I am particularly grateful to find a book like Celeste. And it’s soon to be re-released with all-new artwork! I can’t wait!

Just for fun, you can watch Animal Planet’s Most Outrageous Odd-Looking Pets episode featuring Caplin Rous, who was Melanie’s beloved pet and the inspiration for the giant hamster.

Celeste and Caplin were also featured in a great blog post by Jeff VanderMeer on Omnivoracious. Jeff also posted an extensive interview with Melanie, with a great deal of information about capybaras, on Ecstatic Days.

What do you think? Are there any other capybara fans out there?

Categories: Authors, Books we love, Reviews | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

For the love of Madeline

I want to share a wonderful interview of John Bemelmans Marciano from National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.  Next year is the 75th birthday of the first Madeline book by Ludwig Bemelmans, loved by children everywhere. Four new Madeline books have been created by Marciano, Bemelmans’s youngest grandson, who has also written a gorgeously illustrated biography of his grandfather and the board book Madeline Loves Animals.

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One commenter on the NPR article page wrote, “Bemelmans fans may want to visit his murals at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, where he painted scenes of Central Park in exchange for lodging for himself and his family.” Has anyone been to Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle and seen these murals or the painted lampshades? I am going for a drink on my next trip to New York!



Another commenter wrote, “Ludwig Bemelmans lived in Shoreham, NY for a time and the school from the story was based on Briarcliff Elementary School (the exterior of the school and his illustrations are are a delightful match), a school right around the corner from his house. The school still exists today as a wonderful public community school and is of a French architectural design.” Has anyone seen the school?

Enjoy this illustrated interview article or listen to the story yourself!

October 11, 2013 2:56 AM

Madeline may be about to celebrate her 75th birthday next year, but the beloved little girl never seems to grow up. After more than seven decades she’s still having adventures donned in her coat and big yellow hat with a ribbon down the back.

Readers were first introduced to Madeline in 1939 by author and artist Ludwig Bemelmans. He would go on to write a series of stories that each began in the same way:

In an old house in Paris
That was covered in vines
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.

Today, Bemelmans’ grandson carries on the colorful, rhyming legacy.

John Bemelmans Marciano has written and illustrated books like Madeline and the Cats of Rome, Madeline at the White House, Madeline’s Tea Party and his latest, Madeline and the Old House in Paris.

Throughout, Madeline is a courageous, plucky heroine. Marciano tells NPR’s Renee Montagne that he thinks Madeline’s fearlessness is what appeals most to children. Here’s how Bemelmans introduces Madeline in the first book in the series:

She was not afraid of mice —
She loved winter, snow, and ice
To the tiger in the zoo
Madeline just said, “Pooh-pooh.”

That image of the tiger really sticks with young readers. “It’s incredible how many kids know that specific line and that specific image,” Marciano says.

"To the tiger in the zoo, Madeline just said, 'Pooh-pooh.'"

“To the tiger in the zoo, Madeline just said, ‘Pooh-pooh.'” (Ludwig Bemelmans/Penguin Young Readers Group)

Over the years there have been some misconceptions about Madeline and the people who inhabit her world. Many readers assume that Madeline lives in an orphanage, and that her teacher, Miss Clavel — who wears a headpiece — is a nun.

“It’s not an orphanage; she’s not a nun; and Madeline is not French,” Marciano clarifies. “I used to get almost indignant over it, but these things take on a life of their own and sometimes misperceptions are the stuff of legends.”

In fact, young Madeline attends boarding school — which probably didn’t stick out to Madeline’s original readers — but seems more surprising today. Still, part of the appeal of the books is the sense that Madeline takes care of herself.

“Kids think they are out in the world on their own,” says Marciano. “So there isn’t really anything strange about it.”

"... and brushed their teeth ... and went to bed."

“… and brushed their teeth … and went to bed.” (Ludwig Bemelmans/Penguin Young Readers Group)

“She loved winter, snow, and ice.” (Ludwig Bemelmans/Penguin Young Readers Group)

There was no one model for Madeline, but all the women in Bemelmans’ life — including his wife, his daughter, and his mother — may have played a role in shaping the spunky character. Bemelmans’ wife was named Madeleine, but “that doesn’t rhyme with anything nearly so well as Madeline,” Marciano says. He created an elaborate sketchbook for his daughter (Marciano’s mother) called “Your First Trip to Paris” which depicts a little girl — dressed up exactly like Madeline — visiting the zoo and seeing the sights.

But ultimately, the story of the little girl was actually based on the story of a little boy: Bemelmans himself. “He was the littlest kid in class,” Marciano says. “He always felt like an outsider. He was getting into trouble. So I think it was very autobiographical.”

Bemelmans’ family relocated several times when he was a child, and English was not his first language.

“He didn’t speak any language without an accent,” Marciano recalls. “I don’t know that he really had a first language. He spoke French, basically until he was 5, then he moved to Germany until about 13 or 14. And then he moved to America. By the time he was 18, I think he had all three of those languages in his head.”

That led to some surprising and delightful rhymes in his Madeline books.

Ludwig Bemelmans (above) started the Madeline series in 1939. His grandson, John Bemelmans Marciano, continues the legacy today. (Penguin Young Readers Group)

“He must have driven his editors crazy,” Marciano says — for example in Madeline’s Rescue, he insists on rhyming the words Genevieve and beef. “In German … the v and the f is the same,” Marciano says. “I can just imagine [the editors] saying: No. It does not rhyme in English.”

Bemelmans’ playful couplets keep kids engaged: “I think there’s something great about inconsistency,” Marciano says. “It keeps you on your toes as a reader.”

Marciano has a daughter of his own now, and says it can be hard to predict which books will be a hit.

“One of the hardest things in the world is to figure what is that magic thing that makes kids love a character?” he says.

Whatever it is, it’s a magic that Ludwig Bemelmans mastered, and his grandson now carries on for new generations of young readers.

A page from John Bemelmans Marciano's Madeline and the Cats of Rome.

A page from John Bemelmans Marciano’s Madeline and the Cats of Rome.

What do you think?

Categories: Authors, Books we love | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

It’s Reblog Thursday with Mark Twain for girls!

Happy New Year and a huge Thank You to Maria Popova for bringing to light this gem from Mark Twain. Enjoy!

Advice to Little Girls: Young Mark Twain’s Little-Known, Lovely 1865 Children’s Book


“Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged. You ought never to ‘sass’ old people unless they ‘sass’ you first.”

In the summer of 2011, I chanced upon a lovely Italian edition of a little-known, playful short story young Mark Twain had written in 1865 at age of 30, with Victorian-scrapbook-inspired artwork by celebrated Russian-born children’s book illustrator Vladimir Radunsky, mischievously encouraging girls to think independently rather than blindly obey rules and social mores. I was instantly in love. So I approached my friend Claudia Zoe Bedrick of Brooklyn’s Enchanted Lion Books, whom I’d befriended through her beautiful books and with whom I’d already begun collaborating on another side project, to see if she’d be willing to take a leap of faith and help bring this gem to life in America. It took a bit of convincing, but we eventually joined forces, pooled our lunch money to pay Vladimir his advance, and found a printer capable of reflecting the mesmerism of the Twain/Radunsky story in the book’s physicality — rich colors, crisp text, thick beautiful paper with a red fabric spine.

I’m enormously delighted to announce that Advice to Little Girls (public library) is officially out this week — a true labor of love nearly two years in the making. (You might recall a sneak peek from my TED Bookstore selections earlier this year.) Grab a copy, enjoy, and share!

While frolicsome in tone and full of wink, the story — like the most timeless of children’s books — is colored with subtle hues of grown-up philosophy on the human condition, exploring all the deft ways in which we creatively rationalize our wrongdoing and reconcile the good and evil we each embody.

Good little girls ought not to make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense. This retaliation should only be resorted to under peculiarly aggravated circumstances.

If you have nothing but a rag-doll stuffed with sawdust, while one of your more fortunate little playmates has a costly China one, you should treat her with a show of kindness nevertheless. And you ought not to attempt to make a forcible swap with her unless your conscience would justify you in it, and you know you are able to do it.

One can’t help but wonder whether this particular bit may have in part inspired the irreverent 1964 anthology Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls and its mischievous advice on brother-sister relations:

If at any time you find it necessary to correct your brother, do not correct him with mud — never, on any account, throw mud at him, because it will spoil his clothes. It is better to scald him a little, for then you obtain desirable results. You secure his immediate attention to the lessons you are inculcating, and at the same time your hot water will have a tendency to move impurities from his person, and possibly the skin, in spots.

If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won’t. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.

Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged. You ought never to ‘sass’ old people unless they ‘sass’ you first.

There are no words to describe how much Advice to Little Girls makes my heart sing — let’s make a choir.

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