Archive for January, 2017

Author Panel and Book Signing at #alamw17

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

This morning I had the privilege of listening to an author interview in the big auditorium at ALA Midwinter 17 moderated by Dan Kraus, featuring Scott Westerfeld, LeUyen Pham, and Susan Tan, who all have new books coming out soon.  He began by asking them about their new books.

LP:  Real Friends is a graphic novel memoir written by Shannon Hale. It’s her story about her first group of friends.  After you read it, you realize the same thing happened to you.  She captures the pain of what happens whe you get ousted from your group.  It’s about very young friendships, but complete with all the emotion of that, and feels universal.

ST – Her debut novel is Cilla Lee Jenkins, Future Author Extraordinaire.  Her protagonist is growing up in a mixed race family, just like the author.  She’s 8 1/2 years old and getting a new sister.  She’s asked “what are you?” Because of being mixed race, and decides that what she is is a best-selling novelist.  She decides to write her novel before the baby is born so her parents can’t forget about her.

SW – His new book is a graphic novel named Spill Zone.  It’s about a 19-year-old raising her 10-year-old sister.  Their town was destroyed in a disaster no one understands.  He was into climbing buildings and urban exploration in college.  Those spaces are natural places to think about loss and about life.  He started it in 2006, after the tsunami when he realized the drama in having your home town disappear.

LP:  All three books are about sisters.

ST:  Working with the illustrator shaped the novel.  The illustrator found the heart of the scenes, sometimes in a way the author hadn’t realized.

LP:  Writing a graphic novel, especially a memoir, is trickier than writing a picture book and needs a lot more interaction with the author.  She usually strips out the art notes first, but does send the writer editing notes.  It’s like choreography.  A graphic novel gives you the perspectives of more characters.  And the faces of the characters make a big difference in the emotions conveyed.

SW:  The graphic novel gives you the ability to easily jump in and out of different points of view.  But you can still be inside someone’s head. Teenagers have lots of investment in reading to become another person.

ST:  Her book is in first person, but there’s lots of misunderstanding that the reader can see, and the illustrations helped with that.  It’s a child’s confrontation with a larger world.

SW:. Kids are still learning how Point of View works.  For them, books are a machine for becoming another person.

LP:  Writing a graphic novel with her husband when she was pregnant was good practice for parenting.  They had to learn to tell a story together.

They talked about working with an illustrator.

SW:  It’s not good in a movie when character’s say, “He’s getting away!” There’s a balance on when the pictures can and should do the work of telling the story.

Moderator:. All three of these books are earnest, without irony and sarcasm.

ST:  It was important to her to write a confident and exuberant character.  She wanted to capture her indomitable spirit without diminishing it.  Some day, this girl’s deep self-confidence will get shaken…
SW:  Good books for children don’t minimize the pain of being a kid and the pain of making choices.
On Diversity:
SW:  The explosion of the popularity of manga did a great thing for graphic novels.  They even have a different way of telling stories.  Kids are good at reading through difference and reading diversely.
Audience question:  All 3 books are about sisters.  Did you have relationships you pulled from?

LP & ST: Yes

SW:  He has an older sister who’s bad-ass and does real spelunking.  The artist did a great job making his character look like a knight.  She’s more overwhelmed by having to be a parent than by the monsters in the spill zone.  She’s bad-ass like his sister.

After that, we stood in line to get advance copies of all three books signed.  LeUyen Pham drew a picture of the person getting it signed! (Or she substituted a picture of Shannon.)  As usual, I met some great librarians for youth in the line.

Another inspiring session that gave me insight on the process of creating a children’s book and got me excited about three upcoming titles.

The Running of the Librarians at #ALAMW17

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

Here are librarians milling around, waiting for the Exhibits to open at 5:30 pm.  When they do open, the crush is not insignificant.

This year, I had a mission:  I wanted an Advance Reader Copy of Megan Whalen Turner’s fifth book in the Queen’s Thief series, Thick as Thieves.  I even reread the rest of the series this week.

I checked the publisher (HarperCollins), learned the booth number (2016), and headed straight for it.

I got a copy!

Mind you, they were in the back — you had to ask.  I got a tip from a friend years ago that if there are books you know you want, to be ready to ask for them.

But then — Book Frenzy began.  Publishers placed out Advance Reader Copies (and even some finished books) free for the taking.

You roam the crowded aisles walking past them.

I don’t have it in me to resist.  I’m afraid that I’m in good company.

What’s more, I have a medical reason why I should not carry bags of heavy books on my right shoulder, so I get to bring a wheeled bag onto the floor (with a doctor’s note).

Alas!  That tends to make me show even less restraint.

I came away with 35 books tonight.  (Well, 5 of those were from the Mini-Institute.)  I will use the ones for middle grade readers as prizes for a games program I do at the library.  Some, like Thick as Thieves and Frog Kisser!, a new Garth Nix book, I will probably read before I get home.

The only solution to Book Frenzy seems to be to stay OUT of the Exhibit Hall.  Unfortunately, some programs I want to attend are happening at the Pop Top stage or Book Buzz Theater in the back of the Exhibit Hall.  And I got a ticket to the YALSA Morris and Nonfiction Awards event, where they give you books if you attend.

I’m afraid once I pick up one book, I’ll figure I might as well fill my bag.

So the question of the conference for me becomes, can I learn restraint?

And also, where shall I ship today’s load of books?  FedEx in the hotel or the Post Office on the Exhibit floor?  (But if I go to the Post Office, I’m sure to pick up more books on the way….)

I’m not going to cart these books back to the conference, so it will be FedEx, but which morning should I bring them down?  If I don’t do it tomorrow, I’ll be tempted to keep adding to the load….

The trouble is, these are lovely problems to have.  I’m also afraid I’m quite unrepentant.  Which doesn’t bode well for my future self-restraint.

Jacqueline Woodson at ALSC Mini-Institute

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Our Closing Session speaker at today’s ALSC Mini-Institute was Jacqueline Woodson.

She talked about how in view of what today is, that it’s good to be with librarians.  We have to transform silence into action, and Libraries do Transform.

We can have empathy for those we disagree with because we all know what it is to have fear.

Begin a conversation across misunderstanding.

Memory keeps her moving forward.

Keep hope in the room and in your lives.

Don’t forget to vote at the local level, too.  We do have the power to create change.  It’s important to hold onto history.

We had a mini-Institute because we decided not to meet in North Carolina.  She said, “This country has always messed with bathrooms.”  She’s deeply proud of the Institute organizers for taking a stand, as a person deeply committed to making this place safe across lines.

These conversations are disruptive, but healing.  Healing begins by being willing to talk with people.

Conversations can begin in the library.

You’re so much stronger than you think you are — because look at the history that got you here.

Writing is a way of healing, a way to make sense out of this journey.

When you tell your story, some will be eager to hear who you are.

Carmen Agra Deedy at ALSC Mini-Institute

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Carmen Agra Deedy was our lunchtime speaker at ALSC Mini-Institute today, so I didn’t take notes.

But I can tell you what her talk was about:  Storytelling!

And she told stories to tell us about storytelling.  She kept us laughing, on the edge of our seats, and deeply moved in turn.

She also read from her wonderful new picture book, The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet.

The power of words mean everyone can talk.  We each fight the good fight.  In the end, where is your voice?

There is a time to be silent and a time to speak.

There are always those who resist being silenced.

May we be among them!

Early Literacy at ALSC Mini-Institute

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Going to ALSC Mini-Institute Break-out Sessions was a little overwhelming, because many of the programs presented seemed way beyond the scope of something I could do in my own library.

But I came away challenged, inspired, and invigorated.  I was reminded of the need out there and that Librarians are shining lights and touching people’s lives.

I recently got put as the only librarian on a Neighborhood School Readiness Team — so I chose as my focus programs about getting children ready for Kindergarten, “ECRR: The Next Generation,” “Fighting Intergenerational Literacy,” and “Kindergarten Bootcamp.”

All of them had a focus on teaching parents how to get their own children ready for Kindergarten.  They all have a lot more staff to devote to their programs than I do at my branch — but I think I can move in that direction, and it’s nice to see what big things can be done.

Just a few things that jumped out at me:

From Denver Public Library, I loved their summer activities for Early Literacy, especially their series of Saturday activities with passive programming that’s out all day:  Things like a Box Day (creating things with cardboard boxes), a Mo Willems Day, and Going on a Bear Hunt Day.  They create a setting where the kids explore and play and talk, and the parents get to talk with other parents and be there with their kids.

They also have Play and Explore Centers for babies and toddlers.  Again, the children play and the parents talk.

They’ve got a “Little University” program, mostly bringing in outside groups, but teaching the children in various topics.

They’ve got some YouTube videos of Early Literacy tips with a tip at the beginning, and then an example of carrying it out.

I love what they do with Early Learning Spaces — including 52 activities in English and Spanish, which they put out to do in the library.  An example was a Color Hunt.  (“Look for anything green….”)

They’ve got a central library of Early Learning materials.  I liked the idea of taking giant Legos to outreach events.  Kids can play with the giant Legos while the parents talk with the librarians at the table.

I liked the Mailbox that moves around the library, with varying prompts.  Children write letters to librarians.  Prompts can be as simple as “Say something kind.” Or for MLK Day, “Write about your dream.”

Their approach to parents is: “How can we partner with you?”  They might ask parents to write down a life goal for their child, and then point out that we’re working on that right now.  They honor parents as lifelong curious learners.

The next speaker, Jonathan Dolce, talked about doing Intergenerational Family programs to combat illiteracy.  They meet once a week for six weeks.

He showed books representing diversity and inclusion.  They talk about the books together and do activities based on the books — He gave us examples like making guacamole, watching author interviews, and dancing together.  They call it Family Reading Connection.

The Kindergarten Boot Camp with Phoenix Public Library is a 7-week program targeting children who haven’t gone to preschool, helping the parents learn how to help them get ready for Kindergarten.

All their outcomes are about the parents’ behavior.  And the curriculum was developed based on the state standards for Kindergarten.  They developed it with a staff member who is a former Kindergarten teacher.  They have a program for certifying the additional staff who offer the program.

Between all three of these programs together, I tried not to get overwhelmed, but I was prompted to think about what ways my own library can do more to help parents actively prepare their children for Kindergarten.

Picture Book Collaborators at Breakfast with Bill at #alamw17

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Today was my first day at ALA (American Library Association) Midwinter Meeting and the ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) Mini-Institute!

I’ve agreed to blog about the conference for ALSC, so my conference posts will happen in both places.

I was extra excited to go to Breakfast for Bill this morning, because I wore my Kevin Henkes t-shirt that says “Share Books With Friends”!  And I got a picture with him afterward.

The breakfast featured Kevin Henkes and his wife Laura Dronzek, as well as another married couple, Erin Stead and Philip C. Stead.  All four of them were delightful to listen to.

Some highlights:

Kevin said that a high school teacher told him, “I wouldn’t be surprised if some day I see a book with your name on it.”

He’d always known he wanted to be an artist, but that inspired him.  If someone else believed in him, it made it easier to believe in himself.

On the other hand, for Erin, art school professors discouraged her because they said she needed to do her art differently.  But her husband kept her going.

For Philip, a teacher handed him a pamphlet showing how Where the Wild Things Are was made.  That made him realize making picture books was something you could do.  He had a single-minded mission from there on out.  (Erin commented, “Phil has this ability to will things into happening.”)

Talking about process, Kevin said that he reads his picture book texts again and again and again.  Good picture book texts are like poetry, but they’re also like theater.

Both Kevin and Philip talked about the joy of letting go of a picture book text and passing it on to another artist.  (This is less easy to do when the illustrator is their wife.)  They both get excited to see what the other will do with it.  Erin thinks it’s easier for them to do because they’re illustrators themselves.  They are able to let go of their vision of the work and completely give it over.

Talking about specific books, Philip said he doesn’t like the question as to whether Ideas Are All Around is a book for children or adults.  It’s a book for some children and some adults.  As a kid, he was nervous about coming up with his own ideas, and it would have been nice for him.  Coming up, he’s doing a book called All the Animals Where I Live, which is its spiritual sequel.

They talked about Erin’s book coming up called Tony.  Philip found the text in a local paper in Nashville.  It’s a lovely and simple poem, and he thought it was the perfect picture book text, leaving exactly the right amount to the illustrator.  When they contacted the paper, the author had just passed away at the age of 96.  But their publisher was able to get the copyright.  It’s Philip’s favorite book Erin has ever made.  (We saw some of the art and it’s just lovely.)

Kevin and Laura have a book coming out, In the Middle of Fall.  It’s a companion to When Spring Comes.

Then questions came from the audience, so responses are a little more disjointed.

I like this quotation from Philip: “I’m consistently floored by how special a picture book is to a child who doesn’t have books at home.”

They were asked for titles of 3 picture books they’d give to every child if they had the chance.  They went with titles from their childhood.

Philip:  The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats; Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig; and Swimmy, by Leo Lionni

Erin:  The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats; Frog and Toad Are Friends, by Arnold Lobel; and Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

Laura:  The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats; The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton; and Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Kevin: The Little Fur Family, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Garth Williams; Is This You? by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Crockett Johnson; and Rain Makes Applesauce, by Julian Scheer.  

The last question got Erin talking about a new book that she’s not allowed to talk about, but check a big newspaper this weekend!  She started writing it two years ago, but there’s a character who’s a bullying tyrant.  It has a message that seems timely:  “Be nice to each other, for gosh sakes!”

It was a nice way to wrap up a lovely time with people who love the works of art that are children’s books and respect the child reader and want to bring light and goodness into the lives of children through their work.

Review of A Poem for Peter, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, pictures by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

A Poem for Peter

The Story of EZRA JACK KEATS and the Creation of THE SNOWY DAY

by Andrea Davis Pinkney

pictures by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

Viking, 2016. 52 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Children’s Nonfiction

This is a picture book biography — in poetry form. And the narrative poem is written addressing Peter, the hero of the classic picture book The Snowy Day.

We’ve got all the details of Ezra Jack Keats’ life. His parents were immigrants from Poland, and he grew up in Brooklyn, knowing about poverty and discrimination. Even as a child, he wanted to be an artist, and his father found ways to get him paints. There are a couple of special pages when he discovered the Brooklyn Public Library.

It tells about the art scholarship he won and had to give up when his father died of a heart attack, then about his struggles finding work during the Depression — eventually getting to work as an artist with the Works Progress Administration. Then he served in World War II, but after the war had to change his name from Jacob Ezra Katz to sound less Jewish in order to get work.

When Ezra started writing and illustrating picture books, he’d noticed there weren’t many picture book scenes like those in his Brooklyn neighborhood, nor many children who looked like his neighbors.

I especially like the pages when Peter is created and the book is born.

Peter, child,
you brought your stick.
Yes, you did.
Smack-smacked at a tree.
Some say you were whacking
at ice-packed intolerance,
shaking it loose from narrow-
minded branches.

When prejudice fell,
you rolled it, packed it,
put its snowball in your pocket
of possibility,
where it melted away.

Peter and Ezra,
you made a great team.
Together you brought a snowstorm
of dreams.
A blizzard of imagination.
Flurries of fun!

And soon readers called for
more of where are you?
And between you two,
the one-of-a-kind snowflakes
kept falling.
Onto sweet pages
of brown-sugar good.

More neighborhood friends.
More books with kids who
answered where are you?
with here we are!

The art is lovely as well, with many images of Peter straight out of Ezra Jack Keats’ work and lovely snowflake pictures, as well as a variety of images illustrating Ezra’s life.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Nanette’s Baguette, by Mo Willems

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

Nanette’s Baguette

by Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Picture Books

Hooray! A new Mo Willems book! With new characters!

Mo Willems recently spent significant time in Paris, so some of his recent books have a French theme. Nanette’s Baguette is a story with all the fun of any Mo Willems book about a frog who gets to go buy a baguette all by herself for the very first time.

My one quibble? Frogs with teeth able to Krack into baguettes? Okay, it’s odd, but he makes it work.

The book is full of –ette rhymes, and they are done well and add to the humor.

Here’s the beginning:


Today is a day Nanette won’t soon forget.

in the kitchenette,
Mom tells Nanette
that Nanette gets
to get the baguette!

Baguettes are warm.
Baguettes smell wonderful.

Getting to get the baguette is
Nanette’s biggest responsibility yet.

Is Nanette set to get the baguette?


When Nanette gets the baguette, it indeed is warm. It indeed smells wonderful. And there sure is a lot of it….

Or at least there’s a lot of it for awhile.

After much drama, here’s the scene when she gets home:

“Where is the baguette, Nanette?” asks Mom. Did you forget?”

Nanette did not forget.
Nanette is upset.
Nanette is beset with regret.
She sweats.

Mom is understanding and kind. (I love that Mom’s hug is as warm and wonderful as a million baguettes.) They go back to get another baguette. But that baguette, too, is warm and smells wonderful. This time Mom is the one who’s tempted….

The illustrations in this book are amazing. A note at the back explains, “The images in this story are comprised of photographed handcrafted cardboard-and-paper constructions digitally integrated with photographed illustrations and additions.” On the back flap, there are some small pictures of Mo Willems creating it, so you can see the small village with the creator standing behind it.

I was going to say that the pigeon isn’t hidden in this book – and then I found him in a clever place. So that will please Mo Willems’ many fans.

Again, I’m not so sure about frogs. I wouldn’t be sure they actually are frogs except for the pictures on the wall in their house. (Teeth? Really?) But his simple cartoon characters always do work. As always, I like the way he can put so much emotion into such seemingly simple faces.

And it begs to be read aloud. So much fun as it rolls off your tongue! I’m definitely using this book for my very next storytime.

Nanette’s Baguette may be Mo’s best yet!

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of How to Bake Pi, by Eugenia Cheng

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

How to Bake ?

An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics

by Eugenia Cheng

Basic Books, 2015. 288 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Nonfiction

I have a Master’s in Math, so I love math books for a general audience. Besides, my math degree is very old by now, so a book like this taught me about a whole field of mathematics I hadn’t known about before. And it’s written by a woman!

She had me from the Prologue, where she debunks some math myths and begins with a recipe. Here are some parts I especially liked:

Cooking is about ways of putting ingredients together to make delicious food. Sometimes it’s more about the method than the ingredients, just as in the recipe for clotted cream, which only has one ingredient — the entire recipe is just a method. Math is about ways of putting ideas together to make exciting new ideas. And sometimes it’s more about the method than the “ingredients.”

Here’s about the myth that you have to be really clever to be a mathematician:

Much as I like the idea that I am very clever, the popular myth shows that people think math is hard. The little-understood truth is that the aim of math is to make things easier. Herein lies the problem — if you need to make things easier, it gives the impression that they were hard in the first place. Math is hard, but it makes hard things easier. In fact, since math is a hard thing, math also makes math easier.

Here’s talking about what it’s like to do research in math:

It’s true, you can’t just discover a new number. So what can we discover that’s new in math? In order to explain what this “new math” could possibly be about, I need to clear up some misunderstandings about what math is in the first place. Indeed, not only is math not just about numbers, but the branch of math I’m going to describe is actually not about numbers at all. It’s called Category Theory, and it can be thought of as the “mathematics of mathematics.” It’s about relationships, contexts, processes, principles, structures, cakes, custard.

Yes, even custard. Because mathematics is about drawing analogies, and I’m going to be drawing analogies with all sorts of things to explain how math works, including custard, cake, pie, pastry, donuts, bagels, mayonnaise, yogurt, lasagna, sushi.

True to her promise, she begins each chapter of her book with a recipe, and uses the recipe to illustrate the math about the recipe on the conceptual level.

Abstract Algebra was always one of my favorite fields of math, and Category Theory is a level of abstraction higher. What could be cooler than that?

But if the idea of extreme abstraction doesn’t get you as excited as it does me, think of it as math concepts explained through recipes. That conveys better how friendly this book makes the concepts.

She has analogies for almost everything. Here’s where she explains what abstraction is:

Abstraction is like preparing to cook something and putting away the equipment and ingredients that you don’t need for this recipe, so that your kitchen is less cluttered. It is the process of putting away the ideas you don’t need for the present purposes, so that your brain is less cluttered.

Here’s her explanation of proof by contradiction:

Imagine trying to “prove” that you really need to boil water to make tea. You would probably just try to make tea without boiling the water. You discover that it tastes disgusting (or has no taste at all) and conclude that yes, you do need to boil water to make tea. Or you might try to “prove” that you need gas to make your car go. You try running it on an empty tank and discover it doesn’t go anywhere. So yes, you do need gas to make your car go.

In math, this is called proof by contradiction — you do the opposite of what you’re trying to prove, and show that something would go horribly wrong in that case, so you conclude that you were right all along.

I think this book is truly beautiful. And I suspect it might provide glimmers to people who have never before seen beauty in math at all. If that’s not enough to appeal to potential readers, well, it has recipes.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Sondy for Newbery!

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

I’m standing for 2019 Newbery committee!

I’ve got a page up with all the reasons why you should vote for me at

Check it out!