Archive for January, 2008

Q & A with Author/Illustrator Steve Jenkins

h1 Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Just a quick note to say that over at the Cybils blog today you will find a Q & A that 7-Imp conducted for the Cybils with acclaimed author/illustrator Steve Jenkins. This Monday we here at 7-Imp will feature the entire interview — the extended edition, if you will. Shoo, go read! Enjoy.

(Thanks to Steve for this illustration from last year’s Living Color. See many more here at 7-Imp, including some new ones from forthcoming books, if you didn’t already see them last Sunday when he stopped by).

Good picture book biographies start here
(and o mercy! you just have to see these illustrations!)

h1 Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Illustration by Sean Qualls from Before John Was a Jazz Giant, used with permission from the illustratorAs a student in a graduate library school program, I was often reminded that Black History Month is of course important but that children’s librarians need to remember to avoid excessive tokenism. In other words, don’t pull all the books with black protagonists out for merely one month. To be sure, there has been controversy over such things, designating one month in the year dedicated to the history of one race, which can be reduced for some people to a perfunctory ritual with little meaning (this same tokenism can apply to poetry and the month of April as well as all the other months designated with themes).

Having said that, though, we are coming upon Black History Month, and there are some fabulous picture book biographies from last year and this year which feature prominent African-Americans. And the fact remains that — even if a librarian does a fine job of presenting a wide variety of so-called multicultural books throughout the entire school year and fully integrates African-American history into her regular curriculum, no matter the month — he or she is still expected to pull for teachers titles with African-American protagonists or ones created by African-American authors (as well as create that “Black History Month” book display). So here then are a small handful of outstanding recent titles, most of them new, that will work well for that cart o’ books for teachers and for that book display (which quickly will be raided if you’ve got the right books).

* * * * * * *

First, you’d be wise to treat yourself to this first biography, Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum (Schwartz & Wade; January 2008), which already has garnered several starred reviews (Kirkus, SLJ, Booklist). I am so in love with this book, particularly the illustrations, that I can’t possibly gush about it enough. This is the first book which acclaimed Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Robert Andrew Parker (himself a jazz musician) has written as well as illustrated, and it’s well worth your time and your students’. With an immediately engaging first-person, present tense narrative, we meet the young Art Tatum, who grew up to be a legendary jazz pianist and whom Count Basie called the eighth wonder of the world, in his home in Toledo where he was born. We also meet his mechanic father, his mother (“She often sings in the church down the street, but she isn’t singing here. She has too much cleaning to do”), and the rest of his family and friends. Though the young Art has “bad eyes” (“day and night, dark and light, don’t really matter to me”), he savors sounds and smells and plays on his mother’s piano as soon as he can reach the keyboard on tiptoe. Read the rest of this entry �

Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #63: Author and blogger Sara Lewis Holmes

h1 Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Sara as a punkin head puddin' babyI have a confession to make: I read a lot of blogs but often get behind and have to seriously catch up in one sitting. But there is one blog whose posts I never miss. It’s the first cyber-stop I make every morning after first turning on my computer and getting coffee in hand. I mean to tell you that my house could be on fire or the Grim Reaper could come for me, all snarly-like, or an exceptionally large-’n’-fiery meteorite could be heading straight toward the roof of my home, but I’d still holler, “Hold up! I haven’t read Read Write Believe today. You’re just gonna. have. to. wait.” And the site of which I speak is the blog of Sara Lewis Holmes, author of last year’s middle-grade novel Letters From Rapunzel (see here for a 7-Imp review). Sara gave birth to Read Write Believe last summer. It all began here when she asked us to enter. Lucky for us all.

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Nonfiction Monday: Now I know my ABCs . . .

h1 Monday, January 28th, 2008

Author and teacher Anastasia Suen over at the blog Picture Book of the Day has randomly declared Mondays as Nonfiction Mondays for any bloggers who’d like to join in. Just like with Poetry Fridays, the idea is that, if you post about a nonfiction title on a Monday and send her the link, she’ll round ‘em up over at her blog and, voila! You’ll have a cornucopia of posts about nonfiction titles.

I, for one, love this idea. I can still hear the words of one of my grad school children’s lit profs, knocking around in my head, reminding me that librarians, print journals, etcetera and yadaya don’t give enough attention to nonfiction titles. ‘Tis certainly true here at 7-Imp. Arguably, we should devote more to it than just one designated day a week. But for now I’ll leave it to an author who writes nonfiction to help whip me into shape with, at the very least, some Monday posts about nonfiction — when I can get to them, that is.

And here’s a fabulous nonfiction title I’ve been wanting to blog about for a while. It’s called Ox, House, Stick: The History of Our Alphabet by Don Robb and illustrated by Anne Smith, published by Charlesbridge last year. As the Booklist review pointed out, this title will find a happy home in both social studies and language-arts units. In describing the development of our Roman alphabet from the time of early Sinaitic peoples approximately 4,000 years ago to the present day, the book covers a large scope yet impresses with its conciseness. And the aged 9 to 12 readers at which the book is aimed are gracefully eased into the subject with an introduction about how people communicate; a discussion of symbols; and how we got from drawings that represented words to letters. The following spread explains in nine short paragaphs how through “caravans, commerce, and conquest” we developed what has become the modern alphabet, beginning with the 4,000-year-old carvings found on a rock wall in Egypt’s Nile Valley and ending with Rome, A.D. 100 — with stops in between to the
Sinaitic peoples of 1500 B.C.; the Phoenicians, who adapted the Sinaitic alphabet to their own language; and to the Greeks of 800 B.C. Read the rest of this entry �

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #47: Featuring Steve Jenkins

h1 Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Jules: Welcome to our weekly 7 Kicks list, the meeting ground for listing Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week (whether book-related or not) that happened to you.

We’re so happy that Caldecott Honor-winning author/illustrator Steve Jenkins (whom School Library Journal last year called “a master illustrator”) has stopped by to share some new illustrations with us as well as some from current titles. The image here and above is from the Cybils-shortlisted Vulture View, written by April Pulley Sayre (Henry Holt, 2007), in which readers are introduced to the world of the majestic turkey vulture.

Steve also sent us two spreads from a book that he and Robin Page created (Robin is the talented co-author of many of Steve’s titles, as well as his wife) and which will be published this Spring by Houghton Mifflin. It’s called Sisters & Brothers. “It’s about sibling relationships in the animal world,” Steve told us, “a subject we were surprised to find not much information on, when we began to look . . .” Read the rest of this entry �

A Friday Kick: Anna and Priscilla

h1 Friday, January 25th, 2008

As many of you know, when we gather on Sundays to list our 7 Kicks for the week, we feature an illustration (or two or three or four) from some of our favorite illustrators, whether they have a new book coming out or not. And I’m such a fan of good picture book illustration that it’s become my favorite feature of all here at 7-Imp (here’s a list of whom we’ve featured thus far).

Author/Illustrator Anna Alter was lined up to be featured this Sunday but later re-scheduled for another Sunday. And when that Sunday didn’t work out for her after all (but after I had already lined up another illustrator for this weekend), I told her that 7-Imp would gladly feature her any ‘ol day of the week. Her illustrations have a way of brightening our days. As a result, I asked my Poetry Friday entry for today to scoot on over — shoo, shoo and skedaddle, I told it, and it obliged me — so that we could feature some art work from Anna’s new illustrated title, Priscilla and the Hollyhocks written by Anne Broyles (but, hey, I snuck in some poetry yesterday anyway). Read the rest of this entry �

Poetry, uh, Thursday: Ted Hughes

h1 Thursday, January 24th, 2008

“Because it is occasionally possible, just for brief moments, to find the words that will unlock the doors of all those many mansions inside the head and express something — perhaps not much, just something — of the crush of information that presses in on us from the way a crow flies over and the way a man walks and the look of a street and from what we did one day a dozen years ago. Words that will express something of the deep complexity that makes us precisely the way we are, from the momentary effect of the barometer to the force that created men distinct from trees. Something of the inaudible music that moves us along in our bodies from moment to moment like water in a river. Something of the spirit of the snowflake in the water of the river. Something of the duplicity and the relativity and the merely fleeting quality of all this. Something of the almighty importance of it and something of the utter meaninglessness. And when words can manage something of this, and manage it in a moment, of time, and in that same moment, make out of it all the vital signature of a human being — not of an atom, or of a geometrical diagram, or of a heap of lenses — but a human being, we call it poetry.

-– Ted Hughes *

It’s Poetry Thursday here at 7-Imp, because we have something else lined up for tomorrow. I didn’t want to miss the chance to mention a wonderful poetry anthology, published last year. To the children’s poetry devotees who read this post this will seem So Last Year. I have been slooooowwwwwly reading and enjoying it, and I’m so behind on reviewing it that I’m pretty much going to offer up a review round-up post here for those of you who might be interested in this title. Read the rest of this entry �

7-Imp’s 7 Picture Book Tips for Impossibly Busy Parents #2 (Would You Like a Dinosaur With That?)

h1 Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

If you missed this post two weeks ago, you may not know that I’m going to attempt — as often as my schedule allows — a new 7-Imp series of sorts in which I round-up seven picture book titles with reviews for the impossibly busy parents of the world. As I said last time, there can’t be any advance-proof reviewing goin’ on in these posts, none of that this-book-is-filthy-cool-but-won’t-come-out-for-three-more-months bit in this new feature. I need to line up those titles that are new, yet should be available at your local library — or at least being processed and about to be added to the collection. You’ll notice in this post that most of these titles were released in September of last year; the most difficult one to find at your local library might be the one released in December, but JUMP BACK it’s worth waiting for, though I’m getting ahead of myself here. (And, yeah, I’m going to drop the “Alice’s tips” bit and just get right to it from now on). I’d like to do this weekly, but — as you can see with the timing of this second post — it might be more like every two weeks.

Last time my seven picks were geared at the preschool crowd. Here are some more sophisticated titles for your older picture book readers (I’m sorry I can’t be more precise than that. I’m no good at the Age Range Game, as it all depends on the child, though I know it’s sometimes necessary). I’ve even thrown in two titles in one entry. Bonus! Enjoy.

When Dinosaurs Came With Everything
by Elise Broach
Illustrated by David Small
Atheneum
September 2007

How I wish I’d thought of the premise for this picture book: Suddenly, it’s bizarre-o world, and instead of children getting such things as lollipops and stickers after hair trimmings and flu shots, they get to cart home a real, live dinosaur. Told from the point-of-view of a young boy, all in favor of this plan and who simply cannot believe his eyes, it’s a lively, clever, larger-than-life tale of (almost) every kid’s dream-come-true. At the bakery, you can buy a dozen and get a dinosaur (a triceratops, to be precise). At the doctor’s office, no stickers. Just stegosaurs. With a shot, you get two. Bonus! While the boy is doing an exuberant victory dance, his mother is near to passing out over the shock of it all — and the sheer number of dinosaurs they’re accumulating and must find a place for in their back yard. When it’s all said and done, though, she has found a clever solution to this problem, one that makes our gap-toothed, red-headed protagonist happy as well. I can’t imagine any other illustrator taking this text and bringing it to life as well as David Small, who has fun with perspective in his precise, detailed, and exuberant spreads and who is clearly still tight with his inner child. Guaranteed to make the day of your favorite dinosaur-obsessed child.

A Poet Bird’s Garden
by Laura Nyman Montenegro
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
September 2007

What happens when you get a group of poets together to attempt to solve a problem? This is an offbeat, but beguiling, tale that shows us just that. A young girl opens the door to her bird’s cage, and out Chirpie flies straight to the branch of a tree. She runs to tell her friend, Monica, and “{s}he calls the poets” (naturally! I love it). So, here comes Priyanka, Vincent, Lily, Pendleton, and Marion, all speaking in a rather bouncy rhyme: “You need not worry. Haven’t you heard? There are oodles of ways to lure a bird.” Read the rest of this entry �

Picture Book Review: Timothy Basil Ering’s
World of Wiggleskins

h1 Monday, January 21st, 2008

I should state up front my bias for any book illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering. If there were ever any doubt of my fan-dom for his style of illustrating, then my adoration was sealed with his playful and offbeat art work in 2006′s playful and offbeat Mr. and Mrs. God in the Creation Kitchen by Nancy Wood.

Candlewick has just released Ering’s latest title, one he both wrote and illustrated, Necks Out for Adventure: The True Story of Edwin Wiggleskin (January ’08; review copy). The protagonist, the titular Edwin, and his world look as far-out as the title sounds. Prepare to enter a world in which Ering channels his Inner Dahl in spirit and vocabulary (there are, for instance, red-spotted scrintalberry leaves, glimmering golden-eyes sliverstones, and a hideous hornly scratcher, who — in one particular illustration — seems himself to be channeling Seuss’ The Grinch and his never-ending diabolical grin). Read the rest of this entry �

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #46: Featuring Doug Chayka

h1 Sunday, January 20th, 2008

Jules: Welcome to our weekly 7 Kicks list, the meeting ground for listing Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week (whether book-related or not) that happened to you.

This week we’re happy to be featuring the art work of illustrator Doug Chayka, whose critically-acclaimed illustrated books are listed here and whose most recent title is the Cybils-shortlisted Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2007). The above illustration is from this title, a poignant tale of courage about two girls in a Pakistani refugee camp who share a pair of sandals that begins a friendship. The book was inspired by a refugee girl who asked the authors why there were no books about children like her. Here’s another one of Mr. Chayka’s beautiful acrylic illustrations from this title, the final illustration in the book:

Read the rest of this entry �