Fartiste—A Collaboration

This week I had lunch with some of my favorite local writers: Kathleen Krull, Paul Brewer, Carolyn Marsden, Jean Ferris, and editor Jeannette Larson. We all had much to share about writing, favorite new reads, and the recent ALA conference.

Kathy and Paul updated us on one of their newest books. They collaborated on FARTISTE (An Explosively Funny, Mostly True Story), illustrated by Boris Kulkov (Simon & Schuster, 2008). It’s the story of Joseph Pujol, a real person, born in Marseille, France in 1847. He found he had an unusual talent and became “Le Petomane—a polite variation of the French peteur, one in the habit of farting.”

He performed in Paris at the famous Moulin Rouge and became wildly popular. Sigmund Freud kept a portrait of him in his office and Thomas Edison filmed some of his show. Pujol’s friends included Pablo Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec.

Kathy and Paul included an eyewitness account of a Moulin Rouge performance of Le Petomane in 1895:

”I can truthfully say that I have never seen [people] laugh, cry, shout and scream as they did when this little man with his . . . deadpan face pretended to be unaware of his incongruities. People were literally writing about. Women, stuffed in their corsets, were being carried out by nurses.”

The story is told in rhyme and an “encore” section provides readers with additional information. The book has received star reviews and is a unique and fascinating new picture book biography.

Tilapia Tasting

Last night we went to Red Lobster and I had Macadamia Tilapia with White Chocolate Beurre Blanc (half order!). I’ve been watching THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR (guilty pleasure) and this was the winning fresh fish dish on one of the episodes. It was created by contestant Kelsey Nixon—a really positive and talented cook. I hope I see more of her on future cooking shows!

The dish features fresh tilapia topped with toasted macadamia nuts and coconut over a buttery sauce with a hint of sweet white chocolate. (Think LOW cal.) I had a Christmas gift card for Red Lobster, so off we went to try it. I can’t tell you how yummy it was—I love tilapia and I couldn’t resist trying it with white chocolate. The photo is from the Red Lobster website.

Bon appétit!

Terra Cotta Soldiers

We visited the Bowers Museum yesterday. It currently has the largest exhibit of Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta Army ever seen outside of China.

From the Bowers Museum website:

“China's First Emperor, the boy king who united the country in 221 BC and began construction of the first Great wall, was not only obsessed with building but also a fanatic about death. After experimenting with potions to prolong his life, the megalomaniac king resigned himself to death on his own terms. He would build a standing army of 7,000 soldiers to enforce his rule over the afterlife.”

“Since his birth in 259 B.C., China's First Emperor was destined to become one of the most important political leaders to rule the country. Beginning at age 13, and for the next 38 years, he assigned over 700,000 workers to build an enormous mausoleum with life-size terra cotta warriors to protect him throughout eternity.

This terra cotta army of soldiers, servants, musicians, acrobats, and animals silently remained underground for two thousand years. Until, in 1974, Chinese farmers digging a well made the startling discovery of a terra cotta head.”

There was another visiting exhibit, GEMS! Colors of Light and Stone, an amazing collection of colored gemstones, diamonds, and gems.

The Terra Cotta Soldiers exhibit will be at the Bowers Museum until October 12, 2008, but the GEMS exhibit is closing in August.

Deborah Ford in Annie Get Your Gun

Last night I saw ANNIE GET YOUR GUN staring one of my all-time favorite children’s book lovers—Deborah Ford! Hooray for Deborah. She was Adorable with a capital “A.” I always admire Deborah for the professional and snappy way she shares her favorite books including her “Books for Boys” sessions, and I have even more admire after watching her strut her stuff in this endearing production. What amazing energy. She’s like the Energizer bunny!

The play is based on the book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields and Vanguard’s production reflects the revisions done for its 1999 Broadway revival by writer Peter Stone.

The fun is at the Westminster Theater, 3598 Talbot St. in Point Loma. Performances will run through the weekends through July 27 with an added Thursday performance on July 24. Friday and Saturday performances start at 8 p.m. and Sunday performances begin at 7 p.m. For reservations and more information, call (619) 224-6263 or visit www.westminstersd.org.

What's Cooking

Here’s what’s cooking with me: We left for the cabin on Tuesday right after I took a cooking class at my local cooking school. How cool is that? I’ve got a cooking school within walking distance of my house.

This is the second class I’ve had with Phillis Carey. She’s a great cook and teacher—what a combo! She taught the soup class last spring that I loved. She always has wonderful new gadgets to talk about and easy/helpful tips. Her website, www.philliscarey.com, lists upcoming classes and posts recipes.

Tuesday’s class was: “Quick and Easy Lunch—Mediterranean Summer Style.” The lesson and luncheon featured chicken with fennel-paprika spice rub with a caper, olive, and tomato salad; orzo with fresh thyme, grilled corn, zucchini and feta cheese; and blueberry turnovers with lemon curd cream. Yum-O.

The photo is of the cooking class.

Here’s the info for Great News:

Great News!
Pacific Plaza
1788 Garnet Avenue
Diego, CA 92109
(858) 270-1582

I’m ready to sign up for another class asap! I promised myself I would take another one this summer.

Two Miserable Presidents

TWO MISERABLE PRESIDENTS (EVERYTHING YOUR SCHOOLBOOKS DIDN’T TELL YOU ABOUT THE CIVIL WAR) by Steve Sheinkin and illustrated by Tim Robinson (Roaring Brook Press, 2008) is sure to make readers interested in the events and people of the Civil War.

Sheinkin writes in the preface, “Confessions of a Textbook Writer,” that he was a textbook writer who loved finding interesting stories about historical events, but they never made it into the textbook. He says he “filled up notebooks with good [stories]—funny, amazing, inspiring, surprising, and disgusting.” This book is a result of his research and it makes history zing off the pages.

I was fascinated by the interesting pieces of information I read (and had never heard before). The backmatter includes biographical sketches, source notes, and quotation notes.

I’m hoping Sheinkin has other notebooks filled with stories—We could use companion books to this offering.

A fabulous read for history lovers, but also an appealing read for those who find history “dull.” Sheinkin proves history isn’t dull . . . not at all.

A Pig in Provence

Who would have guessed it? Yes, I found (and read) another book about Provence: A PIG IN PROVENCE: GOOD FOOD AND SIMPLE PLEASURES IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE by Georgeanne Brennan. Georgeanne fell in love with Provence and returns time and again over many years to enjoy the community, customs, and food of that glorious place. Ah. Every time I read a travel memoir I’m tempted to buy a villa and restore it. Of course, I love living in San Diego and I would be miserable at restoring an old place, but that doesn’t stop me from daydreaming.

Her website at www.georgeannebrennan.com describes her other books and her cooking classes.

Gene Autry Museum

I went on a Joyce Swan Tour to the Autry National Center yesterday. A bronze statue of Gene Autry and Champion with the label “Back in the Saddle Again” welcomes guests. The museum “is committed to displaying, explaining, and sharing its extraordinary collections and program.” They are “keepers of the tradition of storytelling as each object” they conserve, preserve, and share is a “collective history of those who have come before us.” I especially liked the area with the TV and movie cowboys and their outfits and vintage collectibles. Who wouldn’t enjoy a room where you can see the Lone Ranger’s outfit along with Gene Autry’s guitar? I had a buffalo burger for lunch! Yum. Here’s their website: www.autry-museum.org/.

We also stopped at the W.K. Kellogg Arabian horse center at Cal State Poly Tech in Pomona. The great race horse, Abu Farwa, was born here. We were guided through the complex and the horses were quite amazing.

Here’s a little history from their website at www.csupomona.edu/~equine:

“The W. K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center traces its origins back to 1925, when the late W. K. Kellogg, founder of the Kellogg Company in Battle Creek, Michigan, purchased land and built his ranch in Pomona. In 1949, Kellogg donated his ranch to the state of California, providing that (1) the property be used for educational purposes, and (2) the traditional Arabian horse shows, started by Kellogg in 1926 to demonstrate the beauty and versatility of the Arabian horse, be continued. The program at Cal Poly Pomona has been developed with these wishes in mind.”

Happy Trails to you!

Blogging Class

I took a blogging class today with Teri. Hope it helps! It was great fun and there's so much to learn. And, of course, we had to have lunch at Ruby's Diner after class. 

The Sorta Sisters

“What if your best friend was
someone you’d never met?
And what if that best friend
you’d never met wrote you a letter?”

Anna is a foster child who hopes she’s found a permanent home with Miss J. Mica has been living on a small boat with her father. They are never in a place long enough for Mica to make true friends. Mica and Anna begin writing letters to each other and a friendship is started. The book contains illustrations by the author. (Impressive.) Visit www.adrianfogelin.com to learn more about the author and this fascinating read.

Here are some reviews I got from Adrian’s website:

“Fogelin offers a readable combination of narrative and letters that are infused with details about science, as the girls send seed pods, shells and other specimens to each other. Readers will appreciate the pen-pal friendship and the hopeful ending.” Kirkus

“The lively, third-person narrative alternates between each girl’s perspective, and the frequently inserted letters bring intimacy and depth to the characters. Lovely sepia drawings by the author depict wildlife and the packages that the girls send to each other throughout the novel. A heartfelt story that shows the many factors that create family, friends, and a home.” Booklist

I don’t have a sister, but I wish I did. If I had read this book when I was young, I would have easily tapped into the idea of having a “sorta sister” and I suspect there are many young readers out there who will embrace this book and the joys of a close friendship—a “sorta sisters” friendship.

Bird by Bird

A quote of inspiration from one of my all-time favorite books about writing: BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE by Anne Lamont.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

These are the basic instructions Lamont provides as she encourages you, me, and even herself (I suspect!) to write. Just take that writing challenge . . . “bird by bird.”

Sourpuss? Sweetie PIe?

Are you a sweetie pie? A sour puss? Norton Juster and Chris Raschka have teamed up for SOURPUSS AND SWEETIE PIE, a companion book to their Caldecott-winning THE HELLO, GOODBYE WINDOW.

I had the pleasure of attending Scholastic’s Literary Brunch at ALA and Juster (author of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH) read his newest picture book. He explained that his young granddaughter was the inspiration for the book as she was capable of moving from a sour puss to a sweetie pie without a moment’s notice—in a blink of an eye. Of course, the librarians at the table I was at giggled and saw themselves in the granddaughter’s seesaw of emotions.

Here are the details:

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Michael di Capua Books (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0439929431
ISBN-13: 978-0439929431

Deborah Halverson

On Saturday, July 12 at 2:00 Deborah Halverson will be speaking at the Barnes & Noble on 10775 Westview Parkway, San Diego, CA 92126, 858-684-3166.

Deborah will be talking about her recent book, BIG MOUTH.

I love Deborah’s blog: www.deborahhalverson.com. (Click on BLOG.)

Hate That Cat: A Novel

I loved LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech and at ALA I found an Advance Reader’s Edition of HATE THAT CAT: A NOVEL (HarperCollins). I read it just after I found RIVER OF WORDS and the two books are a great pairing. Creech presents some of the poetry of William Carlos Williams as Jack continues his second year in school with his favorite teacher, Miss Stretchberry.

Due on sale September 23, 2008, teachers who loved LOVE THAT DOG (like me!) will want to be sure and find this companion work to read and share with their students. There’s a “Teach Creech” button on her website (www.sharoncreech.com), but right now there’s no info on HATE THAT CAT. I’m hoping something will be posted as the book’s publication date nears.

On a personal note: We went to the Norton Simon Museum and the Irving Museum with daytrippers (www.daytripper.com) today and had a lovely time. What amazing art treasures. We’ve never been to either and were quite impressed.

One Thousand Tracings by Lita Judge

I’m a very lucky lady to have Lita Judge illustrate my book, S IS FOR S’MORES: A CAMPING ALPHABET. I admire her work, and wanted to mention ONE THOUSAND TRACINGS: HEALING THE WOUNDS OF WORLD WAR II.

Lita was inspired to write this story when she discovered hundreds of tracings of feet in her grandparents’ attic. After World War II, they sent packages of food, clothing, and shoes to Germany offering help. Tracings of shoes began arriving at their home and they enlisted their friends to help meet the needs of Europeans.

The illustrations are a combination “of paintings and collages of original photographs and foot tracings.” This is a fascinating story and one that make each of us think, “What can I do?”

It has definitely been an award magnet:

ONE THOUSAND TRACINGS Awards and Recognition!

• 2008 Winner of the IRA Children's Book Award
• 2008 ALA Notable Children's Book
• 2008 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Honor
• NCTE Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts
• Bank Street Best Books of the Year 2008
• 2008 Michigan Notable Book
• CCBC Choices 2008
• IRA Teachers' Choices for 2008
• IRA Notable Book for a Global Society
• New York Public Library 100 Books for Reading and Sharing (2007)
• 2007 Society of School Librarians (SSLI)
• NAPPA Gold Award
• 2008 Storytelling World Resource Award
• 2007 Cybil Award Finalist
• Book Links Lasting Connection of 2007

You’ll want to visit her website to learn more about her and her work at www.litajudge.com. The November 2007 issue of BookLInks features the on the cover and there is a great article also.

I’ll say it again—I was so lucky to have her be the illustrator of S’MORES!

Elijah of Buxton

I’m probably one of the last people to read ELIJAH OF BUXTON, the Newbery Honor winning novel by Christopher Paul Curtis, but this weekend . . . that’s what I did. What a voice Curtis has developed for his Elijah. From the moment the novel begins you are interested in the character. And, I just read in “Booklist” that the novel has been made into a CD (Listening Library, read by Mirron Willis) and that it received a star review. That’s a CD I’m looking forward to hearing.

ELIJAH OF BUXTON also received the Coretta Scott King Award. The award is “given to African American authors and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions. The Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream. The award is designed to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.” To learn more about the award and to read a list of past recipients, go to the American Library Association’s website at www.ala.org.

I say this frequently, but it always surprises me how much I learn while reading a children’s book. I was intrigued by the historical facts Curtis reveals in his Author’s Note. I particularly liked learning about the Liberty Bell and how it was rung whenever a newly freed person reached the Settlement. I confess: I like to read the Author’s Note before I read the book and then reread it when I complete it.

Christopher Paul Curtis received the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award for BUD, NOT BUDDY the year I was on the committee. It makes me even more interested in his success as a writer. Info about the award: “Children’s and Young Adult’s Book Awards are given for an author’s first or second published book written for children or young adults (ages birth to 17 years). Awards are given for fiction and nonfiction in each of three categories: primary, intermediate, and young adult. Books from any country and in any language published for the first time” are considered. For a list of past winners visit the International Reading Association’s website at www.reading.org.

A River of Words

The American Library Association’s exhibit hall is packed with the best new books for all ages. But, I’d like to tell you about one of my favorite finds: A RIVER OF WORDS: THE STORY OF WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS, written by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2008). It is fabulous and I have to confess I went a bit nuts at the booth when I saw it.

I have always liked his poem, “This is Just to Say.” It’s one of my all-time favorites—so simple and clearly expressed.

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast.

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

I remember reading a lot of work by William Carlos Williams when I was in college, but it never was presented in such an attractive way.

The book is a picture book biography of Williams. Sweet’s illustrations are fascinating collage. There is an Author’s Note and and Illustrator’s Note and three parallel timelines present the life of Williams, his poems, and what was happening in the world at the time. Teachers will love the timelines—they fit so nicely into the California Standards.

A fabulous new read and a wonderful way to share poetry with your students.

Fortunately by Remy Charlip

Brian Selznick mentioned FORTUNATELY by Remy Charlip during his Caldecott speech and the mention of the title swept me away to high school. I had “Teacher Prep” during my senior year. We visited the local school, Briar Patch Elementary, and helped a teacher for our class credits.

One day my teacher asked me to select a book to read aloud to the entire class. This was a big responsibility for this seventeen year old. After much careful consideration, I selected FORTUNATELY. It was the first book I ever read aloud to a group of first grade students. It’s a terrific book so the kids sat spellbound as I read. I was a huge success or at least I felt like one.

Brian’s mention of this book is sure to bring it to the attention of some folks who have never heard of it and others, like me, will enjoy reminiscing about their past encounters with the book.

Books and Friends

I haven’t finished writing about my ALA adventures, but today I had a fun adventure with my friend, librarian Teri MacDonald. We met at Barnes and Noble, had lunch, and then went back to Barnes and Noble for more talk about books.

We found I'M THE BEST ARTIST IN THE OCEAN! by Kevin Sherry. It’s the companion book to last year’s I'M THE BIGGEST THING IN THE OCEAN.

If you do direct drawing with your students or just want to savor a bit of art in a picture book read aloud, this is the book for you. We loved it and here’s what the reviews are saying:

“This new outing should, like its predecessor, excite enthusiastic responses from young audiences.”

“The enormous squid has a childlike enthusiasm that encourages youngsters to follow him past doodling efforts and an exhibition of his artistic flair.”


Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Dial (June 12, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0803732554
ISBN-13: 978-0803732551

More about ALA later . . .

Roaring Brook Press Bowled Me Over

That’s right: Roaring Brook Press did bowl me over at ALA! It happened on Friday evening. I was invited by Lauren Wohl to attend this lovely event. Lauren is responsible for many literacy memories for me.

I walked into the bowling alley where Roaring Brook had an entire room of lanes reserved for their event. Lauren instructed me to get some bowling shoes and find a lane that could use another bowler. I looked down the lanes and the lane farthest away had only one bowler. Plus it had the added advantage of being against a wall on the left side of the lane (rather than having lanes on either side.) So, I grabbed some bowling shoes and scooted down the lanes finding a just-right, light, red bowling ball along the way.

I trotted up to the bowler and introduced myself. He introduced himself to me. It was David Macaulay. What good luck I have! (He won the Caldecott for BLACK AND WHITE.) I joined him for a few practice frames and then Simon Boughton, publisher of Roaring Brook, joined us. Did I say what good luck I have?

During our practice frames, before starting our game, I released the bowling ball and slid down the alley. I fell, landed on my rear end, and started to slide. You know how when you are in distress you see things in slow motion? I could see the pins getting closer and bigger and I thought I might slide into the pins. Fortunately . . . I guess you could say fortunately . . . I slid into the gutter and that stopped my free-sliding. I thought for a second I was going to slide down the entire lane and end up knocking down the pins!

I bet David and Simon will both remember me . . . okay they might have to be prompted by the event, but I think there is a pretty good chance that they’ll always remember the woman sliding into the gutter.

Now that’s a literacy memory.

Brian Selznick's Caldecott Acceptance Speech

Perhaps you’ve already heard, but Brian Selznick’s Caldecott acceptance speech was award winning. He had all of the 1000+ attendees in the palm of his hand as he shared his journey to THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET and the Caldecott Medal. He presented a sequence of illustrations showing Hugo receiving word that he had won the Caldecott and how Hugo boarded Air France and flew to Anaheim. On the plane, Hugo read the Caldecott Honor winning books. Adorable.

Brian described how he was at a point in his career where he didn’t quite know which direction his work would take him. He shared how he was inspired by Remy Charlip (the book is dedicated to Remy) and Maurice Sendak. He spent six months reading and not writing or illustrating.

He learned a lot about children’s books by working in a children’s bookstore in New York. One day a woman came in to buy a book for her grandchild and he struggled to please her. Finally, he showed her GREEN EGGS AND HAM and she responded, "Do you have it without the ham? They're Jewish." As always—it's about getting the right book in the right hands.

Brian’s illustrations graced the program and it was absolutely the most beautiful dinner program I have ever seen.

Brian wore a black, sparkly shirt and his speech was kind, insightful, delightful and sparkled even more than his shirt.

Each attendee received a CD of the Caldecott and Newbery acceptance speeches, so if you know someone who attended, be sure and give it a listen. The disc also includes “Sous le Toit d’Anaheim” (“Under the Roofs of Anaheim”), the illustrated sequence I tried to describe above that opened Brian’s acceptance speech.

As always, an upcoming issue of “Horn Book” will include Brian’s Caldecott and Laura Amy Shiltz’s Newbery speech.

A is for ALA

ALA was fabulous! I had an amazing time including the opportunity to sit with editor Paula Wiseman at the Simon & Schuster booth where she shared her upcoming titles with me and just one other librarian. Such personal attention . . . I couldn't believe it.

As you probably can guess, I love alphabet books and I was impressed with A IS FOR ART: AN ABSTRACT ALPHABET (Paula Wiseman Books, 2008) written and illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson. (He received a Caldecott Honor for ALPHABET CITY.) This is truly a book for all ages and one that older students (and adults) will find as fascinating as young readers.

For this book, Johnson created abstract art for each letter of the alphabet and paired it with an alliterative caption. Each letter is hidden within the art work and a guide at the back of the book shows exactly where each letter is hidden.

Art and alphabet book lovers will embrace this smart and imaginative book. Johnson has a website under construction: www.artandideas.com.

I'm presenting at San Diego State University's literacy conference next week on "Easy as A, B, C . . . or Is It?" so this book fits perfectly into that presentation. What a great find at the right time.