Gird Your Loins: Summer Reading Begins!

As I was making the daily schedules this week for our children’s department, I wrote the phrase “Gird Your Loins: Summer Reading Begins” across the top.  Highlighted in yellow.

In our library, Summer Reading sign-up is no joke.  It is a level-five, all-out, nonstop event that is both physically and mentally demanding.  Case in point: yesterday we signed up well over 200 kids within the first six hours!  And we don’t expect that rate to slow down until at least the end of the week.

This onslaught- that has us speaking ourselves raspy after hours of talking about books, prizes, and passports, this torrent of activity that has us sneaking a quick lunch on the fly before jumping back into the fray alongside our comrades, this circuslike atmosphere that has us gasping for breath at the end of our day- this is the fruit of our labors from the past few weeks.  Believe it or not, this is exactly how we like it!

Since May, the Children’s Library team has been visiting every class, every child in town in order to get them riled up and excited beyond belief about Summer Reading.  Imagine that.  Mere days after school lets out, instead of riding bikes, or heading out to the beach, or playing a round of Wii, or signing into their Poptropica accounts, hundreds of children and families flock to the public library to sign up for a program that celebrates reading.  I’ve witnessed children literally running (running!) into the library, crowding around the info desk, tiny hands wringing in anticipation.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll sign up hundreds of kids, give out hundreds of free books, award dozens of cool prizes, and recommended tons of truly awesome summer reads.  And while statistics, sign-up numbers, and door counts can give us definitive proof, our sure sign of success is simply leaving each day totally exhausted and bleary-eyed.  When we librarians are all tuckered out and need a nap, it’s been a job well done!

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Understanding Sam and other books explaining autism to siblings

If you don’t already have a family member or close friend affected by autism, chances are you will in your lifetime.  Autism now affects 1 in 110 children (and 1 in 70 boys).

One issue that can often be overlooked is how siblings of a child with autism understand what their brother or sister has and how they can help.  Parents of newly diagnosed children are understandably overwhelmed and can find it hard to understand their child’s disorder, nevermind how to explain it to their other children.  While each child with autism is unique, and every family has its own dynamics, it is sometimes helpful to have resources to help jump start a conversation.

Here are five of my favorite books written for siblings of children with autism:

Highlights from the EJK Discussion Panel

I was surprised to find that yesterday’s Ezra Jack Keats event at the New York Public Library was not the announcement of the 2011 award winners (that will be May 10th), but a discussion about the award, its history, and the current state of picture books.  Although I was initially pumped up to hear the award winners announced, it turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise, as the conversation was smart, illuminating, and directed by some of the most interesting and well-read women in the biz.

The discussion ranged from the frustration in finding quality picture books about and by people of color, to the importance of arts education in shaping and encouraging future writers and illustrators, to the explosion of ebooks and children’s book apps and the place of picture books in this brave new world.

Although some of the arguments and predictions reiterated points that I have heard before, it was nevertheless refreshing to hear a panel of experts talk so passionately and confidently about the future of the picture book.  This was no doom and gloom affair, but rather a confirmation of what all savvy librarians and teachers already know to be true: the picture book is alive and well, thank you very much.

One point, made by Lisa Von Drasek, that really stuck with me was that librarians and teachers have a responsibility to spread the gospel of the picture book as a medium for all ages (not just babies and toddlers) to the parents in our communities.  It’s all well and good to attend panel discussions, conferences, and participate in the kidlit blogosphere, but that’s a little like preaching to the choir.  The places we really need to reach are the mommy, daddy, and caregiver networks.  This has really got me thinking about how to use this blog to reach out farther and better to parents and caregivers.  Hmmm….  Definitely some very good food for thought.

Many thanks to the amazing and brilliant panelists, and to NYPL and the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation for organizing and hosting the event.

NYPL lion photo courtesy of Flickr user Mike_fleming; picture book photo courtesy of Flickr user Enokson.

2011 Ezra Jack Keats Panel Discussion: Tomorrow @ NYPL

If you’re in or around the New York tri-state area and looking for a lovely way to spend Saturday afternoon, stop by New York Public Library’s Children’s Center for

An Afternoon with the Ezra Jack Keats Awards.

Saturday, April 2nd

New York Public Library
Children’s Center at 42nd Street
Room 84
42nd Street and 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10018

The Ezra Jack Keats Awards are presented annually by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and the New York Public Library to new authors and illustrators of picture books/illustrated books for children ages 9 and under.  I had the pleasure to attend last year when the stirring Most Loved In All The World and the graphic and delightful Only A Witch Can Fly won.

The extremely distinguished panel of children’s art and literature experts includes:

  • Deborah Pope, Executive Director Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
  • Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, 2008-2009 EJK Award Chair
  • Nina Crews, Children’s book author and illustrator
  • Pat Cummings, Children’s book author and illustrator
  • Lisa Von Drasek, Bank Street College of Education Library and EarlyWord.com

Moderated by Barbara Genco, the 2010-2011 Award Chair (Library Journal.)

Read 111 by 11/11/11

Last year, my coworkers and I participated in our own version of the brilliant Read 100 by 10/10/10 Challenge.  We created a shared iGoogle document to track our titles and each person created their own genre categories and goals.  While not all of us reached the goal, we had a blast sharing great books and comparing titles.

This year, we’re doing it again and upping the ante just a bit!  Our goal is to read 111 books by November 11, 2011.  Participants are encouraged to set their own category goals.  For example, read 10 graphic novels, 10 works of poetry, 12 novels, etc…

To play along, tweet your reads using the hastag #111111reading, join the Facebook group, or join the Goodreads 100+ Books in 2011.  Blog about it, comment below, and spread the word!

My Read 111 by 11/11/11 categories:

  • 11 Middle-Grade Fiction
  • 10 YA
  • 10 Picture Books
  • 10 Chapter Books (aka “Independent Readers” or “Young Readers”)
  • 10 Children’s Non-Fiction
  • 10 EBooks (any genre, cannot be counted in another category)
  • 10 Adult Books (any genre)
  • 10 Recommendations by others
  • 10 ARCs/Galleys (any genre, cannot be counted in another category)
  • 10 Guilty Pleasures
  • 10 Books that I would normally never read
photo courtesy of Flickr user Horia Varlan

My Favorite Picture Book(s) Blogfest

Today is the “My Favorite Picture Book BLOGFEST!”  Click the blue button on the left for a list of all the bloggers participating.

Hmmm.  Asking a children’s librarian to choose a favorite picture book is like asking a mother to pick her favorite child.  Almost cruel!

So, instead I’ve chosen a couple; one that I discovered and fell in love with as an adult and the series of picture books that turned me into the crazy voracious reader I am today.

The One that Could Be the Subject of an Entire Graduate-Level Course:

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith.

Stinky Cheese Man is one of my faves not just because it is insanely hilarious (which it is) or because it zany, kinetic illustrations are also beautiful and detailed (which they are) or because it is a collection of fractured fairytales (which I also love.)

It’s one of my favorites because it is a picture book about picture books.  It’s self-referential, post-modern, clever, and ingeniously designed.  There is no detail- no typeface or jacket flap or gutter- that is without thought.  It’s the kind of book that can be read, viewed, and discussed thousands of times and with each reading you will discover something new.  Besides that, kids adore it!

The Books that Helped Me Learn to Read (and Love to Read):

Little Golden Books

Oh, Little Golden Books.  My grandparents gave me a set for a birthday or Christmas when I was about four and I read them for what seems like years and years afterward.

I remember my grandfather (Pop Pop) reading the LGB Nursery Rhymes to me.  He would sing and chant the rhymes to me, bouncing me on his knee.  (And this was back before the research about phonological awareness.)  Over time, I memorized the lyrics to the rhymes and he would tap my finger on the words as we sang together.  One day, it just started to “click.” What we were saying and the squiggles on the page connected.  A reader was born.

These cheapy little dime store books were written and illustrated by some of the most popular children’s authors and illustrators, including Margaret Wise Brown, Garth Williams, and Richard Scarry.  For under 25 cents a book, Little Golden Books were accessible for families on a budget.  They helped me (and I’m betting thousands of children) start their own home libraries.  Mine were proudly displayed on a small shelf in the living room next to my toy box.  Sadly, after several moves, I no longer have my original set.  I still get a rich, warm feeling in my chest when I think about learning to read on my own and the pride I felt after reading a story to my Pop Pop.

Book Review: Betsy-Tacy

The Classics Crusade has begun!  After admitting my shame and detailing the various children’s classics I have never read, I have committed to reading and reviewing one per month for the next year or so.

First up: Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace, illustrations by Lois Lenski. HarperCollins, 1940.

Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly are two best friends who are nearly inseparable.  They eat together, play together, and one fateful night on a dark road, a terrible accident will bind them in the keeping of a dark secret.  A secret so dark, so sinister, that it threatens to destroy them both.

Oh, wait.  That doesn’t sound quite right.  So sorry.

[Ahem.]

Betsy-Tacy is actually an incredibly sweet and lighthearted story about friendship and the magical power of imagination.

Continue reading

2010 Cybils Winners

Yesterday, the 2010 Cybils Award Winners were announced!

Having had the immense pleasure of serving on the Fiction Picture Book panel as a first round judge, I was psyched to see that Interrupting Chicken, a hilarious and extremely clever story won the award.

Bravo and congratulations to all the authors, illustrators, and the hard-working Cybils judges!