Tag Archives: author/illustrator

A Radiant Evening

6 Apr

Just as Spring Break began I received an email inviting me to a dinner event on April 5th, with Caldecott  and Coretta Scott King  Award winner Javaka Steptoe.


I knew he was going to be in town and visiting one or more local libraries. The invitation seemed odd because it came in my school email and I usually get these sorts of things through my personal email, which is the one I use for ALA business.

I hemmed and hawed for a day or two because that week was already busy. I  then told myself  You’ll regret this if you say NO, so I emailed back my acceptance.

So, last night, I said goodbye to Lucy again after her walk and dinner and drove to the Firehouse restaurant in NE Portland. I arrived a little early because I worried about parking and waited in the car for a bit before going in. It was self talk time. I didn’t know if I’d know anyone and sometimes I have to gear up for social events.

When I entered the private upstairs room, I worried because the two people already there had on conference name badges. Apparently, the American Bookseller’s Association’s ABC Children’s Institute   is going on in Portland this week.We made small talk and eyed the beautifully arranged room. More name-tagged people arrived and I worried I’d been invited by mistake. Then, my Sibert colleague arrived as did a few other locals on ALA committees, namely the Newbery and Caldecott. Altogether we were maybe a dozen people. Finally, Javaka arrived and the event got started.

I was seated next to Javaka for the first part of the meal, which learned it took him FIVE YEARS to make this book. I asked him about writing his speech for the Newberry-Caldecott Award and learned that he has already written it because he had to submit it this week and will have to record it soon. In, fact, he had to write two speeches because he has to give a different speech at the CSK Awards banquet!

Javake moved around the table for the second and third courses of the meal, but I was not without conversation partners. This was heaven for kidlit nerds!

At the end, we all got a personlized, signed copy of the book and, since there was a lot of food left over, a doggy bag! Lunch today will be delicious.

Thank you Javaka and Little Brown Books for Young Readers for an excellent evening.

El Deafo

17 Sep

Here is one of the best graphic novels I’ve read this year.


El Deafo by Cece Bell is the author/illustrator’s memoir of growing up deaf. El Deafo is the superhero character she creates because of the superpowers she gets when she wears her Phonic Ear. She can hear her teacher through walls and even when she is in the bathroom!


She manages to show how hard it is to be profoundly deaf without being maudlin. She deftly demonstrates  post-hearing aid dialogue the way it sounded to her, instead of writing what people actually said,  illustrating the difficulties she faced understanding the conversations around her. I found myself reading those parts out loud to try to figure it out, experiencing a bit of what Bell’s life was like.

Although the main character is female, I think this book would appeal to readers of both genders.

Art: from the beginning to the end

29 Oct

Did I ever mention the time one  of my students asked me if we were doing real art or art with science? I am not the world’s greatest art teacher, but I love teaching about art. When I moved into the library, I increased the collection of kids’ books about art. If I were still there, I would add these two books, which cover art’s early days, and the end of an artist’s life.

FIrst, we have The First Drawing written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, who imagines the life of the first artist.


The book has a basset hound with a wolf ancestor, just as does the main character has a prehistoric ancestor..


Stepping back into time, Gerstein imagines a young boy whose eyes are filled with wonder at the world and who sees pictures in clouds and fire. When he translates his ideas into concrete form to share with others their awe and fear are palpable. You really understand how powerful and magical art really is.

Unknown-2   images

Finally, we see Henri Matisse at the end of his life in Henri’s Scissors, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winters.


OK. I didn’t even know Matisse did paper cuts. I knew he painted, but somehow I missed the rest. When he became too old and ill to paint, Matisse did not give up art. He could no longer paint, but found a new way to honor his muse. See, here are Mother Superior’s words again: When God closes a door he opens a window. Bed-ridden as he was, Matisse created a world of paper cuts around his bed, so he could still enjoy the world’s beauty.


The book chronicles Matisse’s early life, but focuses on the later years. It is peppered with quotes by Matisse, that reflect his ease with the end of his life. “You see, as I am obliged to remain often in bed…I have made a little garden all around me where I can walk…There are leaves, fruits, a bird.”

What a beautiful, upbeat way to spend your last days.

Holy Unanticipated Occurrences!

28 Oct

In 1984, I read Blaise Pascale’s  Pensees in ny 17th century French lit class, and I learned about Pascale’s wager. Now, young people everywhere can learn about it simply by picking up Kate DiCamillo’s newest book


They can also learn about cynics, superheroes, poetry, love, and finding your way home. Holy bagumba!

The story is simple. A young girl rescues a squirrel, whom she names Ulysses,  that has been sucked up by a vacuum cleaner, only to discover that the experience has transformed him into a poet and a superhero. She must save him from his arch-nemesis (her mother) and learn to embrace the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart(her father).

Complementing DiCamillo’s text are K. G. Campbell’s black & white drawings.



I liked this book a lot, although not as much as I liked  The Tale Of Desperaux  or  The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  I think it would make a great read aloud. It is fast-moving, and the vocabulary is wonderful. I will add this to the list of books for my teacher read aloud book club, if we ever get it going again. It would also be fun to see how the Kids could take a superhero story of their own, write part, and illustrate part.


26 Oct

When I heard David Shannon interviewed on NPR about his newest book, I had to get it. It’s about head lice.


The artwork is classic Shannon, but I think the whole concept of Lice-a-palooza is brilliant, but still icky.


Head lice ice the power to make us shiver and giggle, often simultaneously. As a teacher, getting notice that someone in you class has head lice, just deflates you. And makes your head itch. The kind-hearted secretaries at my school chuckle the whole time they check my hair, at my request, after I find out that someone I teach has head lice.

Although, funny, Shannon manages to what the lice are doing (feasting on blood) with a cool vampire-lice picture. He talks about the shame and humiliation people feel, how they can get lice, and how to clear it up. It is a war and he explains the battle strategy.

This book would match up nicely with Nicola Davies’ more detailed What’s Eating you? – Parasites the Inside Story.


My apologies if I’ve made you itchy.


19 Oct

Two new lovely books for train fans!


Brian Floca’s Locomotive is a look at a family’s 1869 journey from Omaha to Sacramento via the newly completed Transcontinental Railroad. This is a wonderful piece of historical fiction that gives readers tons of information from the sights and the sounds to the machinery and the people who work on the locomotive.


Watercolor, ink, gouache, and acrylic illustrations give readers a variety of views from up close details of the locomotive to vignettes of the different stopping points along the trip.  The endpapers give details about the trip and steam power. Notes at the end provide information about the sources Floca used. Clearly train enthusiasts will love this book, but so will kids interested in history, historical fiction and westward expansion.

More amusing is How to train a Train written by Jason Carter Eaton, and illustrated by John Rocco.


Essentially this is a how to book for kids who don;t want a puppy, kitten or goldfish. This is a guidebook on how to catch and train a train. Told in a very straightforward manner, you can’t help but love Mr. Eaton’s  dry sense of humor the way Mr. Rocco captures it.


The opening pages describe different types of trains and suggest  how to get one.  The book  then describes ways to make the new train feel comfortable and earn its trust. We also learn that there are others who lean towards other modes of transportation, like planes, trucks or submarines. You can all meet up on the open road and make new friends.

It gets me thinking of  other things kids might like to have as pets, and the stories they can write to teach others how to have an unusual pet.

The Art of Kadir Nelson

13 Oct


I kind of know now what it is like to meet me for the first time. When Kadir Nelson walked up to the registration table yesterday I gave him my usual cheery greeting. He was very nice, but quiet and reserves. Just like I am in new situations with strangers.  People who know me don’t often remember how quiet I was when they first met me. I was an extremely shy child and it had taken me years to become more outgoing. The desire to change came from within, and that was a lot of what Kadir talked about last night.

He told us about his beginnings as a 3-year-old artist. He took us through his middle and high school years. And he talked about the people who really taught him and influenced him, like the English teacher that wasn’t going to give him a B just because he played basketball. But do you know what Kadir did? He took the initiative to g up tho that teach rand ask her to help him get better.

He talked a lot about perseverance, about doing the work so that, when an opportunity presents itself, you are ready to take it. He talked about finding your way home and the power of beauty to overcome negativity.

It was a great way to end a great conference!

I hate when that happens!

8 Oct

I’m part way through In Search of Goliathus Hercules  by Jennifer Angus.


It is due back at the library tomorrow & I can’t renew it because someone else has it on hold. I hate when that happens, especially when I am so enjoying a book.

In 1890, Henri Bell, sent England to stay with his elderly Great Aunt Georgie in America, discovers he can talk to insects. He decides to run away to join a flea circus and embarks on a great adventure that sees him in command of an army of beetles, and then on his way to British Malaya to find the mythical giant insect known as Goliathus Hercules. Along the way, he encounters Professor Young, an entomologist studying insect communication, as well as other explorers and scientists, Malayans, and the evil Mrs. Black.

The book feels old-fashioned, but with a modern sense of pacing. Angus’ illustrations are remarkable.

You can see some of Jennifer Angus’ artwork at The Midnight Garden.

I will return the book on time, but will put it on hold again so I can finish it.

Summers with Buster Keaton

7 Oct

When I first saw Bluffton by Matt Phelan, I thought it was going to be about a kid and an elephant.


Imagine my surprise, not to mention my delight,  when I realized it was about Buster Keaton.


Not the Buster Keaton of the silent movies, but the boy who would become the silent film star.

It’s the summer of 1908 in Muskegon, Michigan and Henry is bored. When a troupe of vaudeville performers arrive to vacation for the summer in Bluffton, a nearby neighborhood, Henry spends every free moment getting to know the animals and hanging out with the boys, one of whom is Buster Keaton. Keaton is already famous for his ability to take a fall better than anyone alive. The boys spend several summers together playing baseball and vying over the same girl. Along the way we learn about Buster’s life on stage and his transition to films.

My uncle ,Henry Smith, was a watercolorist and we had several of his painting in our house growing up. The watercolors of Phelan’s book seem perfect for this story, which I highly recommend.

Come to a great conference October 11th and 12th!

6 Oct

Here’s what I’ll be up to next weekend. i hope to see you there. I am also presenting a session about the Teacher Read Aloud Book Club we had at William Walker Elementary last year.


The Oregon Association of School Libraries is “Branching Out’ and sending an open invitation to all educators to join them for the annual Fall Conference.  We’re thrilled that the conference is moving to Portland for 2013.  Jesuit High School in southwest Portland will be hosting this year.  We will still have the same high quality keynote speakers, authors, workshops, concurrent sessions and vendors as before.

Click HERE for registration information.


Growing up in Pennsylvania, Amy Sarig King (who writes under the name A. S. King) was an avid reader and thought about being a writer. What motivated her to sit down and start typing on her Swedish typewriter was reading one book a day for six months, with Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses physically moving her into the writer’s chair. Along her circuitous career path, she has been a rare poultry breeder, photographer, master printer, contractor, summer camp counselor, adult literacy teacher, and pizza delivery driver. After writing seven novels over a fifteen year time span, King’s first book The Dust of 100 Dogs was published in 2009. Her subsequent writing has won numerous awards. Please Ignore Vera Dietz was a 2011 Printz Award Honor Book, as well as an Edgar Award nominee, while Everybody Sees the Ants was one of YALSA’s 2012 Top Ten Books for Young Adults and an Andre Norton Award finalist. Her last YA novel, Ask the Passengers, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for young adult literature, a Lambda Literary Award, and a spot on School Library Journal’s Best Books 2012 list. Three new books will be published in 2013 with King’s work in them (two anthologies and a novel, Reality Boy), which we certainly won’t want to miss.


Although she was born in Puerto Rico, Carmen “T” Bernier-Grand lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and their bilingual dogs, Falcon and Lily. She is a multiple national and local award-winning author of eleven books for children and young adults. Recently, she wrote Our Lady Of Guadalupe, as well as the biography in verse Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court Justice. In addition to biographies of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Alicia Alonso, Don Luis Muňoz Marín, Pablo Picasso, and César Chavez, she is also well-known for her two collections of folktales, Juan Bobo: Four Folktales from Puerto Rico and Shake It, Morena! And Other Folklore from Puerto Rico.

When Carmen was growing up in Puerto Rico, she had no idea that she would become a writer. Her teachers always told her that she had a great imagination, but she wasn’t sure how she felt about that because her sister Lisette used to say that making up stories meant you were a liar. In third grade, her teacher read one of Carmen’s stories to the class, and told them she wanted to publish it in the school newspaper.” Despite such an enthusiastic endorsement from her teacher, Carmen did not initially choose to become a writer. She studied and taught math and later became a computer programmer. After deciding to stay home with her children, Carmen felt the need to write. She took on the challenge of writing a story in her second language of English and submitted it to a Willamette Writers contest. When she found out she had won, Carmen determined that she would write for children with the hope of one day having her stories published in Spanish. We are pleased to welcome Carmen Bernier-Grand to the conference. She is presenting with Rosanne Parry on Saturday’s Session 3, 1:30-2:30.

 We are all excited to enjoy the work and words of Kadir Nelson, most recently author-illustrator of the children’s biography Nelson Mandela, as well as Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, and the award-winning We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. In addition, his gorgeous oil paintings have illuminated other authors’ work, including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s illustrated I Have A Dream, Matt de la Pena’s A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis, and Carol Boston Weatherford’s Moses and Ellen Levine’s Henry’s Freedom Box for which he won a Caldecott Honor Medal. Nelson has garnered both the Coretta Scott King Illustrator and Author awards, a Sibert medal, the NAACP Image Award, the CASEY award for best baseball book, as well as having his fine art collected by major public and private institutions worldwide.
In addition to Saturday evening’s 7pm presentation, Kadir Nelson will be presenting a session from 3:00-4:00 on Saturday.
Click HERE for registration information.
%d bloggers like this: