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Children’s Books

Sizing Things Up with Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant

You are not smallIn Anna Kang and New Yorker cartoonist Christopher Weyant’s new picture book, You Are (Not) Small, young children learn that size is relative—and that true friendship is always “one size fits all.”

Help kids to keep track of who is big and who is small with a growth chart featuring characters from the book. Click here to access the chart and follow the instructions listed on the PDF.

 

Nancy Drew and Other Mysteries for Budding Sleuths

SpycatchersMegan Frazer Blakemore, author of the new book The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, shares some of her favorite mysteries for middle grade readers.

As a child you could often find me slinking around my neighborhood with a pencil and notebook. I would collect clues and ascribe meaning to them. Sometimes I would even leave clues for myself to find--a single glove, perhaps, or a crumpled up note.

Although I was influenced by Harriet M. Welsch and the composition notebook she filled in Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, the biggest inspiration for my detective work was Nancy Drew. Nancy got into far more exciting scrapes than I could ever have hoped to encounter, but remained unflappable. She was independent, but was always able to return to her safe and warm home. I raced through the blue and yellow covered classics. My favorite was The Hidden Staircase, which layered a haunted house onto the mystery, an enticing blurring of genres.

Some of my other favorite mysteries for middle grade readers include:

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: When I decided to try to write the middle grade novel that would evolve into The Water Castle, this was the first novel I chose to revisit. What I remembered most of it was the way that Claudia and her brother, Jamie, make a life for themselves hiding out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In fact, I had forgotten all about the mystery of the Michelangelo sculpture! The mystery picks up when Claudia and Jamie venture to her house to find out once and for all the mysterious origins of the statue.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin: The story begins with the death of Samuel Westing. Sixteen heirs, who previously didn’t know they were related to Mr. Westing, are called to hear the reading of his will, which is actually a murder-mystery puzzle. Whoever solves his murder will inherit his fortune. Reading it as an adult you realize what an odd middle grade novel it is. There is only one child character in the book: Turtle Wexler, and yet this book stands the test of time. I think it’s the way that Raskin involves the reader in the mystery, and keeps them guessing right up to the surprise ending.

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne: Moxie’s beloved grandfather may have had a more exciting past than she realized: he used to hide things for a Whitey Bulger-esque mobster. One of his lackeys shows up trying to shake down Moxie for information on where her grandfather hid the gang’s biggest heist: the stolen artwork from the Isabella Stuart Gardner museum. The catch? Moxie’s grandfather suffers from dementia, and even he might not know where the treasure lies. Teaming up with her GPS-loving friend Ollie, Moxie races to find the art before the gangsters do in order to save her grandfather’s good name. I probably would have enjoyed this book for the Gardner Museum connection alone, but it was Moxie who truly won me over.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead: What I love about Stead’s novels, including the Newbery winning When You Reach Me, is that she carries you along on a lively story, only to offer a gorgeous twist at the end. In Liar & Spy, Georges must leaves his beloved apartment for a smaller place, where he meets Safer, the leader of a “spy club.” Together they work to uncover the dark mystery of one of the building’s other tenants. It is the secrets that Safer is keeping from Georges--and the secret that Georges is keeping from himself--that lend this novel devastating poignancy.

Cari Best's Top 10 Summer Books for Kids

DiggingCari Best, author of A Perfect Day for Digging, rounds up 10 books to keep young ones reading all summer long.

Each of the ten books on the list feels like a good friend, sharing a different experience with me every time we are together. And as I love certain things about each of my friends, I love certain things about each book: the joy of planting a garden; the awe-inspiring wonders of nature; a picnic and a funny dog; being cooled off by the rain on a boiling, hot day; watching a hurricane while safe inside my house; a caterpillar, a butterfly, a firefly, a hummingbird.

I realized after I'd completed my list that more than half the books I'd chosen were written by authors I had met during my time as a children's librarian, an editorial director of a film company that makes movies (and still does) from children's books, and later as an author. I have derived much pleasure from knowing these wonderful people–as well as inspiration–because their writing styles and stories stay with me wherever I go and in whatever I do.

My writing room is very small. I have a window that overlooks a pond with generations of goldfish, frogs, and snapping turtles— all but the turtles are a tasty snack for the great blue heron that stops by daily. I also saw a bobcat once from my window and even a robber who thought no one was home! But mostly the window to the world is in my head. I always have ideas to try and turn into books. And, at the same time, I always want to get outside and ride my bike. Sometimes the two factions argue with each other—writing and riding—but mostly my sweet dog, Jennie, wins out and we go for a walk in any weather. It’s a lot like the family in my book When We Go Walking

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The Baby-Sitters Club Grows Up

California-diariesAnn M. Martin, author of The Baby-Sitters Club books, discusses her spin-off series, The California Diaries, now available on Kindle for the first time.

Early in 1985 I was getting ready to leave my job as an editor of children’s books at Bantam. I had been working in juvenile publishing for seven years, had seen the publication of the first three of my own books, was lining up freelance work, and was desperately hoping that I could make it as a full-time freelancer and writer. Also, I was desperately trying not to look at the button my mother had recently given me, the one that read I just wander from room to room. It seemed less than helpful at that juncture in my life.

I made call after call, lining up the writing of everything from TV novelizations (Why, yes, thank you, I would love to work on Punky Brewster picture books) to encyclopedia entries. And then Jean Feiwel telephoned. Jean and I had worked together during my years at Scholastic, Inc. She had an idea for a four-book miniseries titled “the Baby-Sitters Club” and wondered if I’d be interested in writing it. So I created the characters of Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, and Mary Anne and wrote one book about each girl. That was supposed to be the end of the series. It had been a nice way to enter the world of full-time writing and had allowed me to throw out the awful button from my mother.

But the Baby-Sitters Club blossomed in ways no one had expected. The books sold well, so Scholastic signed up two more. The sixth appeared on the B. Dalton bestseller list. Two more titles were signed up, and then twelve at a time, a year’s worth, as the books were published at the rate of one per month. Baby-Sitters Little Sister spun off as a series for younger readers. Eventually, there were Baby-Sitters Club Mysteries and Super Specials and Portrait books.

My editors and I brainstormed monthly about adventures for the characters, who had aged one year by the end of book ten. However, since the series showed no signs of slowing down, we’d realized that the main characters would have to remain permanently thirteen. (If they had aged in real time, they would have been twenty-six by the time the series ended in 2000.)

Permanently thirteen and in middle school. It wasn’t something I would have wished for myself. Furthermore, plotting so many, many books for characters who didn’t age and therefore didn’t grow much emotionally was becoming difficult. At the same time, BSC readers were aging, of course, and they wanted to read about the characters facing more mature situations and challenges. On the other hand, new readers were discovering the series for the first time; some of them were as young as six or seven. What to do?

The California Diaries were the solution. Set in California, where Dawn Schafer, introduced in BSC book four, had grown up, they centered on Dawn and her West Coast friends who now attended a school for students in grades eight to twelve. Older readers could follow Dawn into more advanced territory. Same characters, higher reading level, more mature stories. To further distinguish the books from the BSC series, the California Diaries appeared as journals, complete with lined pages and printed in handwriting fonts.

It was wonderful to be able to stretch my wings as a writer and to address the wishes of older BSC readers. The California Diaries, the last of the BSC spin-offs, seemed a fitting way to say good-bye to the characters introduced almost fifteen years earlier.

Zita the Spacegirl is back!

In celebration of this week's release of "The Return of Zita the Spacegirl," check out Ben Hatke's exclusive original art below! Zita

Zita, the young girl from earth who finds herself hopping from world to world on a quest to get home, is the character through which I learned to be a storyteller. I started making Zita comics to entertain a very special girl (Anna, now my wife). I continued making Zita webcomics when I was inspired by Kazu Kibuishi's Copper. I wanted to teach myself to make better comics and distilling stories into one or two pages was the perfect method. Finally, it was time to write book-length stories and I sat down to tell the story of why this girl from earth was so far from home in the first place.

And so I'm thrilled to be sharing this last book in the Zita trilogy because it's kind of my senior thesis as a writer/illustrator -- not judged by a professor but by smiles and gasps of readers (both young and old, I hope) who turn the pages.

I hope I get an A.

Ben Hatke_Zita the Spacegirl original art

Bryan Q. Miller and Kelley Jones's Cosmic Adventure

Space-mountainBryan Q. Miller and Kelley Jones introduce Space Mountain, their new graphic novel based on the Disney attraction of the same name.

Bryan, tell us a little bit about Disney Comics’ Space Mountain:

BQM: In the future, two students (Tommy and Stella) travel to Space Mountain--a deep space institution dedicated to using a black hole to travel through time to learn about the past. Things go wonderfully awry and they find themselves taken on an adventure across time and space with a daring space ace (Captain Cole) and his robot sidekick (A.R.T.I.E.) as they try to save all of existence from a shadowy foe from beyond time.

Kelley, how did you approach the art?

KJ: A lot of the fun was combining the designs from Disney’s Imagineers with my own. The Imagineering designs are classic, and fit very easily into what I was trying to achieve in the finished art. I love classic science fiction films and wanted to capture that spirit of adventure in this book.

For you both, what's the appeal to working on a book based on a Disney attraction? And who is this book for? 

KJ: One of the big attractions was to be able to work with something as iconic as Disney. Space Mountain is as much of a part of Americana as Batman was for me. When working on this comic, it was very cool to work where such Disney greats such as Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, and Eyvind Earle worked.

And this book is really for me, which means that it’s for anyone from grade school on up. I read comics at that age, and still enjoy those same comics to this day. I wanted to do a book that kids and adults could equally enjoy. It's troubling that I don't see kids enjoying comics the way they did not too long ago, so this was an opportunity to do something fun and worthwhile.

BQM: The attraction of this specific attraction is that it brings together elements from all of Tomorrowland into one narrative--none of which had narratives of their own. It’s a whole section of the parks dedicated to imagination and potential and the future. Space Mountain and all the surrounding rides and attractions really lend themselves to being a clean slate for storytelling in the very best way. 

The book, just like the ride, is for anyone over 48 inches! It’s for any reader of any age who enjoys adventure, friendship, and derring-do.

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Frank Cammuso on Great Kids' Comics

Salem hydeFrank Cammuso is the Eisner-nominated author of The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Book One: Spelling Trouble and The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Book Two: Big Birthday Bash, available May 20, 2014.

Choosing great comics is a lot harder than it looks. That’s because there is so much fantastic work being done today. Here is a short list of books that stand out graphically and are wonderfully written. What is best about them is that they are all perfect examples of the seamless combination of words and pictures.

We are in a golden age of graphic novels for kids. Never before have we seen such a wide range of style and genres. There is something here for all ages.

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson This beautifully illustrated Hawaiian folk tale tells the story of a boy who seeks the answers to his own mysterious heritage.

The Secret Science Alliance by Eleanor Davis Gadgets, geeks, and criminal mischief always make for a compelling mystery. Combine that with charts, cut-aways, and maps galore, and Eleanor Davis takes storytelling to a whole new level.

Dogs of War by Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox The combination of snappy dialog and gritty illustrations give this book a cinematic quality. Sheila and Nathan take you behind the lines and introduce you to great characters; some just so happen to be dogs.

Hilda and the Bird Parade by Luke Pearson Luke Pearson’s scaled-back line work matches his elegant storytelling to create a fantasy world that is delight to enter.

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale Nathan Hale serves up another plateful of his Hazardous Tales series. This time we tuck in with the ill-fated Donner Party and see the grizzly leftovers of one of America’s weirdest stories.

I Am Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!

WrecksSudipta Bardhan-Quallen, author of Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!, discusses lessons kids can learn from her book's unintentionally messy main character.

I have a seven-year-old son who will proudly brag to friend and stranger alike that he is the original Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!

I’ll tell you a secret--he’s not. (Please don’t tell him.) But more on that later.

As an author, I am constantly examining my life for inspiration. A few years ago, when Sawyer was about four, he was a self-proclaimed “dino-expert.” He taught me the difference between a Stegoceras and a Stegosaurus, that a Gallimimus looked a bit “ostrich-like,” and that no boy under 25 will even consider any evidence that Tyrannosaurus rex was anything but the baddest carnivore to ever live.

At the same time that Sawyer was a dino-expert, he had another nickname: Sawyer the Destroyer. Everywhere that boy went, devastation followed in his path. It was never malicious on his part (although his older sisters would likely disagree). The inadvertent destruction was more just a fact of his stompy, whirly, flailing life.

You put these things together -- the dino-expert and the Destroyer -- and the concept of a dinosaur that unintentionally wreaks havoc starts to be obvious story material. And yet, Sawyer is not the original Tyrannosaurus Wrecks.

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Guest Post: "Ninja, Ninja, Never Stop!" Author Todd Tuell

NinjaNinja, Ninja, Never Stop! author Todd Tuell explains why playing can be the best education for a child.

How many times have you seen kids playing at being a superhero, a pirate, or a ninja? Playing is work for children. It’s their job. I saw it every day as a preschool teacher and as a stay-at-home father of three. By playing, a child is experimenting and exploring the world.

Playing is the best education for a child. Yet, when “learning” or class time starts, what do we ask kids to do? Sit still and be quiet. At least, that’s what I was doing. Quickly, though, I saw that some kids had a different idea about how a book should be read. One little boy, Gunnar, would jump up at exciting parts. He’d let out a hoot along with cowboys in one story. He’d throw his fist in the air triumphantly as we read about superheroes in another.

He was such a distraction... to me. I’d stop and get him resituated before I continued. Once recess came around, though, Gunnar was right back in one of our stories. He had become a pirate now, and had enlisted his classmates for a voyage across the sea in search of treasure.

Obviously, the books we’d read had engaged him. The stories had stimulated his imagination and inspired possibilities. Each time I’d asked my students or my own kids to sit still and be quiet, I was asking them to halt the imaginative processes sparked by words and pictures. I took for granted how children learn. By separating playtime from learning, I didn’t appreciate how interconnected these activities were.

Experiencing a story with a child goes beyond the pages of the book. While reenacting a story, I see kids experiment with newfound vocabulary through play. That connection between written and spoken language brings a child to a new level of literacy and language skills.

Kids want to explore their physical abilities in play. Who can run the fastest? Who can tiptoe the quietest? According to many researchers, even a little ninja mischief can be healthy. Children will naturally take on different roles as they play. It is important for kids to experience conflict and the cause-and-effect relationship of their actions. In their make-believe play, they learn to self-regulate while developing a basic understanding of empathy for others. While at play, children express both positive and negative feelings and become problem-solvers. Along this progression, kids then learn how to work together, to collaborate as a team.

As a children’s book writer, I’ve taken to heart the lessons learned as a parent and educator. In writing Ninja, Ninja, Never Stop! I wanted to encourage the same reaction I saw in young Gunnar during story time. I want kids to jump up and play-act the story. What kid doesn’t want to be as stealthy as a ninja? I intentionally wrote the text almost as commands, begging young readers to hide, sneak, and crawl; to hop, drop, and even chop! When it comes to playing, kids should never, never stop.

Author Q&A: Shannon Hale & Sarah Mlynowski

BadhairdayFairy tales, cookies, and strong heroines--if those sound sweet to your young reader, keep reading as authors Shannon Hale and Sarah Mlynowski ask the tough questions about happily-ever-afters.

Shannon: Hey, Sarah, you write the Whatever After series, and I write the Ever After High series. Clearly we need to join forces and take over the world. Or else just go out to lunch sometime.

Sarah: Since princesses are our thing, maybe we should go for tea? And cookies. Lots of cookies. Speaking of princesses, if you were on a deserted island, what princess would you want to have with you? Also, if you could only bring one giant cookie with you, what kind of cookie would it be?

Shannon: Ooh, high tea with a princess on a deserted island! Count me in. I'd definitely bring a princess who could hunt, forage, build shelter, and defend me from wild beasts while I nibbled on my enormous homemade chocolate chip cookie (the soft kind with huge milk chocolate chips).

Sarah: We should invite the Little Mermaid with us too in case we want to get off the island. She can swim out and flag down a boat while we eat cookies and read each other’s books. I loved Austenland, and the Ever After High books look like so much fun.

Shannon: Thanks! Ever After High has been a total dessert project for me—all fun, no bones. Mattel created the world—webisodes, dolls, games, etc.—and asked me to write books about the characters. I love the concept that the children of famous fairy tales are supposed to grow up and relive their parents’ destinies so that each generation has the stories. Apple White is keen to be the next Snow White like her mother was and claim her Happily Ever After, but Raven Queen is not terribly eager to be the next Evil Queen. And they’re roommates! So awkward. My favorite character is Madeline Hatter (daughter of the Mad Hatter). Maddie is mad, zany, funny, and can hear the narrator—which would be such a useful superpower. Now please dish about your fabulous Whatever After books.

Sarah: In the Whatever After series, Abby and her little brother Jonah fall into fairy tales and accidentally mess them up. In book 1, Fairest of All, they stop Snow White from eating the poisoned apple. But if Snow White never gets poisoned, she never gets saved by the prince. In If the Shoe Fits, they break Cinderella’s glass slipper; in Bad Hair Day, they chop off Rapunzel’s hair. After they unintentionally derail the fairy tales, Abby and Jonah have to help the characters find new happy endings. Ones that involve careers...and not just marrying princes they met three seconds ago. I love fairy tales, but I always disliked the save-the-damsel-in-distress endings. Whatever After is my chance to inject them with humor and girl-power. 

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