Monthly Archives: September 2011


Posted by | September 29, 2011 | No Comments

Banned Books Week goes on and today’s booktalk is GEOGRAPHY CLUB by Brent Hartinger.  It was successfully banned for its homosexual content in Brent’s own hometown in 2005 – read Brent’s great post about it – and has continued to appear on the most challenged lists.  In Brent’s blog post, he quotes a local parent who defended GEOGRAPHY CLUB at the time: “This is the most bogus thing I’ve heard of […]  It is about gay students.  However, the most important part of the book is that it’s about bullying, outcasts, about tolerance […] This is a really good book for any student to read.”

Generously contributing a booktalk today is the eloquent, often provocative, teacher, librarian, and blogger Jonathan Hunt (you can also visit him over at School Library Journal‘s blog Heavy Medal):

When is a Geography Club not a Geography Club?  When it’s the front for a Gay-Straight Alliance, of course!  Russel Middlebrook believes himself to be the only gay student at his high school, but when he makes an online connection with a job from his school, he begins to realize there may be others, too.  Ultimately, seven students will come together to form the Geography Club, offering support to each other through thick and thin.  Readers will fall in love with Russell – regardless of sexual orientation – because his voice just rings so true: funny, angsty, yet wise.  There’s been an explosion of gay and lesbian young adult fiction in recent years, but this gem remains one of the very best.

Thanks so much, Jonathan!  For more information, you can see this interview with Brent, check out Brent’s website (in particular, his information for LGBTQ kids is a wonderful resource), and follow Brent on Twitter.


Posted by | September 28, 2011 | No Comments

A regular on the top banned and challenged books list, ANGUS, THONGS, AND FULL-FRONTAL SNOGGING by the fabulous Louise Rennison has a cult following (um, include me in that cult!).  The book has been challenged for a multitude of reasons: age inappropriateness, profanity, and sexual content.  It has also made the Top 100 list, which we can’t help but consider a distinction!

Today’s booktalk is by the uber-fabbity-fab Sarah Bean Thompson, librarian and blogger (GreenBeanTeenQueen).  She’s also on the 2013 Printz committee!  She’s a fan of Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicolson stories and contributed a booktalk that you can use all year long in your programming:

Join Georgia Nicolson and The Ace Gang for a fabbity fab adventure through the craziness of high school.  Georgia is madly in love with the sex god, Robbie.  Too bad Robbie has a girlfriend who happens to be the annoying wet Lindsey.  Georgia knows that she could get Robbie to fall in love with her if only she had the chance.  And if high school and love triangles weren’t bad enough, Georgia has to deal with her fat cat Angus who is always causing problems and her embarrassing three-year-old sister who is not as cute as everyone thinks.  Georgia’s adventures are always full of laughs as her entries into her diary recount her attempts to survive school, boys, and big noses.  Growing up is never easy, but at least Georgia Nicolson manages to make it fun.

Thanks, Sarah, for joining us!  For additional info to support your programming and curriculum, check out the Georgia Nicolson reading guide.  I’m also a bit of an evangelist for the Georgia Nicolson website so check that out for a glossary, the complete snogging scale, and quizzes.

Last but not least, I’ll leave you with the trailer for the the ANGUS, THONGS, AND FULL-FRONTAL SNOGGING trailer:


Posted by | September 27, 2011 | 1 Comment

Like BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA yesterday, Maurice Sendak’s IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN makes the list for one of the top 100 most frequently banned books of the decade, 1990-2000.  It was also made the Top 10 most challenged book of 2004.  It’ll be no surprise to those of you familiar with the book that the sticking point is the illustrations of naked Mickey, the young protagonist of the story.

We asked children’s literature consultant Connie Rockman to contribute a booktalk for IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN – feel free to use this booktalk year-round to share Sendak’s Caldecott Honor winning book in your classrooms and libraries.

Ever had that unsettling feeling of waking up to the sound of “thumps” and “bumps” in the night?  When that happens to Mickey, he reacts with a shout of his own: “Quiet down there!”  But I’ll bet you never had the experience Mickey did of falling – gently, slowly – through the house and ending up in a bowl full of batter in the Night Kitchen.  Dreams often recreate images of our waking lives with bizarre alterations, and Mickey’s dream features buildings made of jam jars and flour kegs, coffee cans and kitchen utensils, along with a toy oven and a bread-dough airplane.  Mickey is in charge of this wacky world, not the bumbling adult bakers who try to cook him up in the oven.  You’ll soar with him to the top of the milk-bottle Milky Way, swim your way with him to freedom, and slide with him into the safety of his cozy bed … all without leaving your own comfortable nook.  Don’t miss this adventure with Mickey in the wonderful world of the Night Kitchen!

Thanks so much, Connie, for sharing your booktalk!

Check out Weston Woods video of IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN, created in 1987 (and the study guide that accompanies the video):


Posted by | September 27, 2011 | 1 Comment

Eek!  We forgot to post the winners of our EVERYTHING GOES: ON LAND giveaway contest yesterday as promised!



Jennifer Coffelt

Holly Baker

We’ll contact you shortly to get your mailing address and congrats!


Posted by | September 26, 2011 | 2 Comments

In addition to appearing on the list regularly, Katherine Paterson’s BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA was a Top 10 Banned Book in 2003.  It is also ranked in the Top 10 Banned Books of the decade, 1990-2010.  It has been challenged and banned for using the lord’s name in vain, secular humanism, occultism, offensive language, and death as a major theme.

So let’s booktalk it!  We asked Jen Bigheart – blogger at I Read Banned Books, librarian, and founding member of Literary Lonestars – to contribute a booktalk for BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA; feel free to use it in your own classrooms and libraries to support the Freedom to Read year-round:

Living in a small, rural town in the late 1970s with his parents and four sisters is far from exciting for fifth-grader Jess Aarons.  When tomboy Leslie Burke moves into the house down the hill, the two strike up an unlikely friendship that doesn’t go unnoticed by Jess’ family and classmates.  The two sneak deep into the woods as King and Queen of Terabithia, conquering hostile savages and getting lost in their imaginative play.  When an unexpected tragedy strikes, Jess realizes that Leslie was more than just a friend and play partner.  She was his ticket to freedom from his mundane home life and gave him a gift beyond measure: courage.

Thanks so much, Jen!

For further assistance in teaching BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, download the discussion guide.  Scholastic also has put together Literature Circle questions.

Banned Books Week: Booktalks

Posted by | September 26, 2011 | 1 Comment

It’s well-known in book-ish circles that it’s Banned Books Week.  This week is a wonderful celebration of the freedom to read and to raise awareness against censorship.  But one thing that comes up each year – by myself, included – is that Banned Books Week needs to happen every day of the year.  As book people who are passionate about the right to read whatever one chooses, we must remain vigilant in supporting that right.

With that in mind, this week we’ll be featuring booktalks of banned books by well-known librarians, school media specialists, and bloggers.  That way, you can support the freedom to read year-round.  (Not to mention that, should you be working on your programs, these booktalks can set you on your way!)

So stay tuned and visit here all week for the booktalks.  Before I post the first one, I thought I’d share what others are doing around the interwebs to celebrate this week:

Al Yankovic’s WHEN I GROW UP App: A conversation with editor Anne Hoppe

Posted by | September 22, 2011 | No Comments

From Book to App with Al Yankovic’s WHEN I GROW UP, Illustrated by Wes Hargis, Digital Development by Bean Creative

I thought I’d hate it.  It’s not a book.  And I love books, with their fusion of author and illustrator’s visions into a carefully crafted whole, results showcased on the printed page.  An app, I considered, is an intangible electronic thing, a jumped-up computer program whose relationship to books is dubious. Tasked with creating one, I wondered what, as a book editor, I could even contribute to the effort.

Turns out, the answer is everything—everything I know and value about making picture books goes into creating an app.

“Memo to Bean Creative: The last time I was cutting-edge, I was in Tenth Grade Computer Science, learning BASIC.”

I’m not a programmer. But neither am I an author or an illustrator, and every day I work with people whose skills differ from my own. I quickly realized that an app developer is only one more artist to understand, encourage, and question: What happens to the narrative arc if we highlight this piece of text? How is the art impacted if we collapse two scenes into one dynamic screen? Does this animation or that interaction serve the storyline; is it in character; does it deepen the world? What if we try this instead…?

Soon I faced the obvious—the editorial habit of scrutinizing each component, for its own merit and for its impact on the whole, transcends the printed page.

“Excellent narration, Al. Now I’d like you to scream like an enraged gorilla.”

Picture books are not meant for silence—they live when read aloud. Maybe none of my books have talked to me before, but I certainly talk to them, sounding their cadences, feeling the rhythms, and hearing theambient noiseemanating from the art. Incorporating audio files into the app felt surprisingly natural. Indeed, step after step of the app’s creation felt unexpectedly familiar, much more a simple and direct continuation of bookmaking than I’d ever imagined.

“Dear Wes: Please draw five (5) game screens, two (2) new classroom scenes, and one (1) naked, shorn spider.”

As the app grew, my fear of it as something alien and inimical to the book evaporated. While the app contains all the text and art of WHEN I GROW UP—as well as exclusive extras from Al and Wes—it is not an attempt to be the book. Instead, it invites readers into the story in new ways. Whether it’s an animation triggered by a tap on the screen or a game inspired by the narrator’s delightfully improbable career choices, what matters is that each element of the app is forged with the care and sensibility that shaped the original story.

For some, the app will spur creativity. For others, the book will be close at hand. It will always be there. This electronic thing, this intangible—yet infinitely touchable—fusion of author, illustrator, and developer’s visions does not supplant the printed page.

It’s not a book.

It’s an app.

And I love it.

by Al Yankovic
Available Now
ISBN 9780061926914

Download the app!


Posted by | September 21, 2011 | 12 Comments

When I was a teenager, my little sister got into the Where’s Waldo? books.  I certainly didn’t admit it at the time – so of course I’ll admit it publicly now as a blogger – but, at 17, I totally loved those books too.  It took me so long to memorize where Waldo was on every page and, after I did that, I was able to look at all the other people and look for all the other objects.  The fun was endless, it seemed.  At any age.

That’s exactly how I feel about EVERYTHING GOES: ON LAND by Brian Biggs.  In this oversized picture book, Henry and his dad drive around town, looking at everything that goes.  It’s interactive and bright, and we have so many ways you can use it in your libraries and classrooms:

And check out this darling book trailer:

So here’s the great news!  We’re giving away THREE COPIES of EVERYTHING GOES: ON LAND!  Post a note to us in the comments telling us what your preferred method of transportation on land is and we’ll enter you to win a copy of the book.  You have until Sunday, September 25th at 11:59 p.m. EST to enter, and I’ll announce the winners next week.  Open to U.S. and Canada only.


Posted by | September 20, 2011 | No Comments

The day has come!  Shel Silverstein’s newest poetry collection, EVERY THING ON IT, is on sale today!

You can get a peek at the book by using our Browse Inside feature, and check out the downloadable activities.  The New York Times also wrote a lovely piece about Shel Silverstein as an unexpected “authority on education.”  And don’t forget to check out Shel’s poems on NPR’s Morning Edition (seriously, you haven’t lived until you hear Shel’s editor Toni Markiet read “Italian Food” out loud!).

The reviews are coming in and they positively glow about EVERY THING ON IT:

“This posthumous collection of Silverstein’s poems and illustrations is not only familiar in design, but chockfull of the whimsical humor, eccentric characters, childhood fantasies, and iconoclastic glee that his many fans adore.” ~ Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Like the boy holding the delightfully absurd hot dog with everything piled upon it, this collection offers a Silverstein smorgasbord that won’t linger on the library shelves.” ~ School Library Journal (starred review)

“Adults who grew up with Uncle Shelby will find themselves wiping their eyes by the time they get to the end of this collection; children new to the master will find themselves hooked.” ~ Kirkus Reviews

It’s a historic day, and we’re so excited to share it with you, readers.  And if you’d like to share memories and/or favorite poems by Shel Silverstein in the comments, please feel free – we’d love to hear it!

Teaching Writing Through Music with author Ben Winters

Posted by | September 16, 2011 | No Comments

Doing classroom visits with young writers is probably my favorite part of being a writer, narrowly edging out the actual writing. Kids inspire me; they give me new ideas for characters and stories; and, most importantly, they crack me up.

Plus, when it comes to doing classroom visits and giving “writing prompts” to the kids, I’ve got a head start: my first middle-grade book, THE SECRET LIFE OF MS. FINKLEMAN, actually has a writing prompt as a central plot element. The ogreish Social Studies teacher, Mr. Melville (spoiler alert: he has a heart of gold) assigns his seventh graders to deliver a report that solves some mystery in their lives. Our enterprising heroine, Bethesda Fielding, tackles the assignment by digging up some dirt on a particular teacher (spoiler alert: her name is in the title), and all heck breaks loose.

The problem is, the teachers who invite me to their classes wouldn’t be too happy if I assigned their students to dig up dirt on them.  Thankfully, I have an alternate prompt, one that touches on another big theme in Ms. Finkleman and its companion novel, The Mystery of the Missing Everything: Music. Long before I was a fiction writer, my early efforts at creative expression came in the form of song lyrics, written for various bands in which I played bass, beginning in middle school and extending through my college career. (One of my former bandmates, a guy named John Davis, is today the driving force behind a terrific pop band called Title Tracks).

Music has remained one of my primary wellsprings of inspiration, and I love to bring it into the classroom and see how it can inspire and excite young writers. So here’s the prompt, which never fails to generate some excited conversation and really interesting writing.

1. I give them the quote, often attributed to Elvis Costello, that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” We bat this around for a while, eventually landing on  some version of the main idea, that the sublimity of music is basically impossible to express in words, and then I deliver the punchline: “but we’re going to do it anyway!”

2. I play some tunes. I then plug my iPod into some speakers and play two pieces of music, one after the other, pointedly not revealing the titles or artists. (You should pick stuff you know and love; I usually do the fourth movement of Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major, followed by the deeply weird Tom Waits song “Kommienzuspadt.”) The students are to be either listening carefully or writing the whole time the music is playing. They write either…
a. about the music. “What instruments do you hear? how fast or slow is it?”
b. about how it makes them feel, or
c. a little story INSPIRED by the song.

3. We share.

The sharing is always the really fun part. I never tire of hearing the incredible sentences that come pouring out of young writers when they let themselves be carried away by songs:

“I hear trombones, and about a million violins, and I think someone hitting a piano with a trash can lid.”

“This song makes me feel like I’m super excited, but in a sort of sad way.”

“There’s a bunny, and she’s hopping in circles around a bonfire, and then a train comes rolling by and it’s got her a carnival on it.”

These gems cue up a long and wide-ranging conversation about the special way that music makes us feel, and also the vocabulary of writing about music, the specificity that’s required — and, hey-what-do-you-know, it turns out that that kind of specificity should be a part of all great writing. Other lessons are abundant: Writing doesn’t have to be a dry and serious activity; good writing is a combination of wild emotional uplift and careful, meticulous craft; sources of inspiration are all around us, if we know where to look.

Around there is when I pack up my iPod and go home; usually to go put on an old favorite song I haven’t heard in a while and do some writing of my own.

Thanks so much for joining us, Ben!  These are such fantastic ways to get kids writing!  And just for fun, pageturn readers, here’s a cover of Tom Waits’ “Kommienzuspadt”:

by Ben H. Winters
Paperback available 9.20.11
ISBN 9780061965432

by Ben H. Winters
On-Sale 9.20.11
ISBN 9780061965449

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