Saturday, October 9, 2010

Decline in Picture Book Sales

This is an really interesting, if over-reaching, article on the decline in sales of picture books.

The author attributes this decline to parents pushing their kids too quickly into chapter books, but does little to examine other reasons that picture book sales have slumped.

One commenter, a librarian, ran stats on picture book circulation and found them up about 10%. Suggesting that picture books remain an important resource for families, jsut not one they will pay $18 for.

Now, I LOVE picture books, but I also have a hard time with the high price tag. I have noticed my local Borders carrying fewer and fewer paperback editions, except for the character driven books (Barbie's Whatever Adventure with Yo Gaba Gaba).

I really hope that kids are not pushed too quickly into chapter books, both because I think the visual literacy skills learned by decoding a picture book are critical and because the stunning art work is something to savor, not push through.

Read the article, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Maximum Ride, Or Beach Reading for the YA Set

If you have a reader in 4th through 8th grade, you have probably seen the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. The story follows Max (AKA Maximum Ride) and her "flock" of genetically altered friends as they attempt to save the world from a pharmaceutical-military company out to destroy it.

The stories are a mishmash of Third Reich meets X Men meets enviromental propaganda meets kid power action. The writing is weak, at best and the character development nonexistent. There is no nuance, no shading. Adults are almost uniformly bad, and have destroyed the world.

Still, the books move along at a clip and are certainly engaging, in the way candy corn is: it's great until your teeth hurt and then it's too late.

For an almost equally far fetched scenario but with better writing and character development, go for the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

First Tomato

First Tomato:
Far beyond the moon and stars
Twenty light years south of mars
Spins the gentle bunny planet
And the bunny queen is Janet

This sweet story from the bunny planet series by the genius writer and illustrator,Rosemary Wells, tells the story of Claire, whose cold wet, very bad day is inturrpted by a voayage to the bunny planet.

Claire, whose rounded, bunny body is bundled against the snow as she waits for her bus in the dark and snow, drifts in to a reverie and dreams of Janet. Janet, the gentle bunny queen, shows Claire the day that should have been. The illustration shows the gate to “first tomato”

It is a warm summer day when the “summer wind blows” and claires mother sends her out to the garden to bring back the bounty, including a ripe tomato. The illustrations capture the sunny happiness of a warm summer day and the pleasure of working in the yard.

All the senses are invoked in the simple poetry, the smell of the tomato, the feel of the sun. In the end, Claire's mother uses the first tomato to make a special treat for Claire.

Ultimately, Claire must return to her cold bus stop, but the memory of the Bunny Planet is enough to sustain her the rest of the way home.

This book is a pleasure to read and share with a young child. First Tomato is part of a trilogy that includes Island Light and Moss Pillows. Personally, I find Island Light as charming as First Tomato, and Moss Pillows, somewhat less so. All are full of Ms. Well's charming illustrations.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


A young adult novel by Lisa M. Klein retelling Hamlet through the eyes of Ophelia, this novel is intriguing but mixed. Ophelia is a bright strong willed young woman who chafes at the restrictions of her time. But aren’t ALL female main characters in YA like that these days?

Sent to the court by her father, who is a wheeler and dealer, Ophelia attracts the notices and approval first of Queen Gertrude, then of Hamlet. When retelling the traditional Hamlet story, the novel falters. Really, who can do it better than the bard, and the tropes of the story show through in the hands of a novice novelist.

However, when giving voice to Ophelia’s interior voice, the novel rises, and when ultimately Ophelia strikes out on her own and flees Denmark, the story is fascinating, well researched and compelling.

Ophelia’s life in a convent (aparantly, she does “get thee to a nunnery”) is well told. The author draws out parallels between the novices who are trying to please the prioress and in turn the prioresses need to appease the Bishop and her patron and finally, the nobility in Denmark trying to please King Claudius and Queen Gertrude, without over doing it.

This is a YA novel, Ophelia has sex with Hamlet and ultimately becomes pregnant with his child. The scenes are handled delicately, and without unnecessary detail. Due to the author’s sensitive handling, preteens and teens will not “learn” anything from these scenes. However, if a parent is uncomfortable with sexuality and pregnancy, they should read the novel first. Alternatively, read together or as part of a parent child book discussion, it provides an opportunity to discuss these issues and share values in the abstract.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

14 Cows for America

Beautifully illustrated and sensitively written by Carmen Agra Deedy, Thomas Gonzalez, and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, 14 Cows for America tells the story of an African village who donates 14 cows to America to help heal the nation brought to pain by the attack of September 11.

The story opens with the narrators return to his home village after a long absence in which he lived in New York City. In a tradition of his community, they gather to hear his story and he tells of the horrific attacks. The villagers are stunned to learn that even a country as mighty as America, can be wounded.

The American embassy is contacted, and the ambassador is dispatched for what he thinks is a routine visit. Upon arriving, he is stunned to learn that the villagers, in an area of the world considered poor and deprived, have resolved to sacrifice 14 of their cows to America. These cows will live in the community, but never be slaughtered for meat, for the duration of their natural life. The ritual is meant to bring peace to a community.

The story is sensitively handled, especially regarding the terrifying nature of the attacks which many young children, the audience for this book, may have little knowledge of. The illustrations are lovely and convey the message of the story without overwhelming the story.

Despite the fact that this book has been nominated for several awards, I wish it were written more lyricly. There is so much potential in the telling of this story, that is lost in somewhat wooden prose. The larger message of generosity and compassion between the poorest and the wealthiest is compelling, but I can’t help think that if the topic were not 9/11 and Africa, this story would not be getting the play it has.