Monthly Archives: November 2007

Poetry Friday: Little poem, little mind

Two poems to capture today:

Report cards finished
Time for a long winter’s nap
My words are all gone.
  (by me)

at its bottom
all things are visible
winter river
  – Kiyoko Tokutomi (Japanese poet 1928-2002)

That little gem can be found here:

(Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids: Haiku, by Patricia Donegan)

This book is fantastic for teachers who want to offer kids a much deeper understanding of an often poorly taught poetic form. There are cool art/poetry project ideas in this book, and Donegan has plenty of practical suggestions for getting kids to write better haiku. Plus, lots of haiku – new and old – by poets and kids alike.


(FYI – it’s part of a series of books about Asian crafts. There is one on Ikebana and another on the Tea Ceremony… curious…)

Asian Arts and Crafts for Curious Kids: Haiku is published by Tuttle.


Dog and Bear

You know when you’ve had a day that leaves you empty, brainless, lifeless? That was yesterday (well… actually, that was basically the past two weeks).  There are few better ways to perk me up than a perfect picture book, and yesterday, one such lovely was waiting for me at the library. Voila:


There are many reasons to love this book. Here are 3:

1) It’s simple. There isn’t a lot of fancy stuff happening in the story. Laura Vaccaro Seeger has brought the two characters to life using so few words. Every word counts and every word works. It isn’t easy to create a story with such simple text that also manages to be funny in a subtle way.

2) The illustration – so, so good. Dog (aka dachshund extraordinaire) could not look more charming, and more wiener-dog-ish. I want my own, framed copy of Dog on his motorcycle, or dog with his sock monkey, to hang up and look at and smile about every day.

3) There are 3 mini-stories in one volume. I think kids will like this. This book is a beautiful choice for parents to read aloud to their kids, since it won’t be long before the children can take over and read one of the stories themselves.

Dog and Bear has won the 2007 Boston-Globe Horn Book Award. 7 Imp loved it too, and School Library Journal has an interview with Laura Seeger herself.

Dog and Bear is published by Neal Porter Books.

Gimmee an epic!

I woke up this morning feeling cold, feeling winter tightening its grip on my little uninsulated house, feeling like staying in bed with my small Siamese cat pillow for the whole, frosty, can’t-believe-it’s-not-Christmas-yet Wednesday.

This kind of feeling makes me want to escape into a deep, engrossing read… an epic story. I need something exciting to take over my life right now so that I can make it through the next 3 weeks of teaching. Yes… I know I have, oh, about 30 books stacked high on my desk for Cybils Middle Grade reading. So I will probably have to dangle this big, epic story in front of me for about a month until I have some serious couch time over the winter break.

I’m wondering about this as a possibility:


My guy LOVES this series. A bookseller friend LOVES this series. It sounds cool and captivating.

Anyone out there read them? Are they epic enough to yank me out of my own life for a few days?  Recommendations and comments are welcome!

Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel


My dad thinks that there are books out there being written just so that they will win prizes. (He’s speaking of grown up books, of course). This gets him all fired up. (He’s Irish, so it doesn’t take much). While I don’t agree with him completely, I do think he has a point, and I don’t believe that his comments need apply strictly to adult books. I had a conversation with a parent of a former student just last week. Her daughter is a tremendous reader – confident and with eclectic taste. This mother was bemoaning the fact that so many prize-winning books get recommended to her daughter by librarians and booksellers, and then her daughter can’t get through them. This concern is not one that should be ignored by those who read, sell and recommend books to children. It’s a big problem, because honestly, we must always ask ourselves, “Will a kid like this?” It can’t just be about whether or not we feel the book has something important to teach kids, or whether it is beautiful and moving. And a lot of the time, prize-winners may have worthy themes and gorgeous writing, but turn out to be about as interesting as a doorstop to a child (even a child who is bright and book-loving).

Enter Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel.  Now here is a book that deserves plenty of critical attention and kids will love it. Ruth McNally Barshaw has got the whole package with this one. Ellie McDoodle’s Mom and Dad have a funeral to go to, and so they send Ellie and her crazy little brother Ben-Ben to spend about a week with their cousins. Ellie is none too pleased about this, since she finds all of her relatives profoundly weird (and totally irritating). But at least she has her journal/sketchbook/spy book to record all of the family happenings, and to give her space for emotional and artistic release. The book traces the events of the trip, all from Ellie’s perspective. There’s a little adventure, humour, mystery and budding romance along the way.

The book is part graphic novel (more of a gentle introduction to the genre than anything else), part scrapbook / art journal, part middle grade story. What I imagine will be appealing to kids is the honesty and naturalness of Ellie’s voice. Ruth McNally Barshaw has it pitch-perfect. I love how Ellie completely judges her extended family, on very little evidence, and then just moves right along, confident in her judgment. This is what kids do! There isn’t a lot of time spent describing or characterizing Aunt Ug and Uncle Ewing – and yet we get them. I think kids will appreciate how concise it is, and I don’t think much is lost in the believability of the characters. Barshaw’s drawings are funny and understated.

There are plenty of books out there for “reluctant boy readers,” especially graphic novels. I like that Ellie McDoodle will be just right for so many early middle grade girls, who aren’t sure if reading is exactly their “thing.” It will also be perfect in the hands of girls who love to be creative, wacky and who have artistic aspirations.

Ellie McDoodle is up for a Cybils award in the Middle Grade category. If it wins, kids and kids lit lovers, will both have something to cheer about. (By the by… Bloomsbury people, if you’ve got a copy for me – Middle Grade panelist that I am – send ‘er over!) 

For other bloggers’ reviews, see:
Fuse 8
Becky’s Book Reviews
read, read, read

Ellie McDoodle is published by Bloomsbury.

Treats! Philip Pullman Interview

Yesterday, on CBC’s Writers and Company, host Eleanor Wachtel presented the first part of her interview with Philip Pullman. You can listen to the interview here: Writers & Co. Philip Pullman. There’s more next week too!

(Note: the Writers & Co. techie goblins update the audio site every Monday, so if the interview isn’t there when you visit, check back later in the day).  

My Inner Lizzy B.

OK, so I know the last thing we really need is another literary quiz (but can there ever really be too many Jane Austen quizzes?) Hey, I’ll take every opportunity to flaunt my inner Lizzy:

Which Jane Austen Character are You? (For Females) Long Quiz!!!
created with
You scored as Elizabeth Bennet. As one of Austen’s most beloved characters, Elizabeth Bennet represents what most women would like to become: strong, independent, and loyal. Of course, she has her faults, including a stubborn will of iron and clinging to first impressions. Overall, Lizzie is bright and lovable…something to admire and aspire to.

Elizabeth Bennet
Emma Woodhouse
Marianne Dashwood
Elinor Dashwood
Charlotte Lucas
Lady Catherine
Jane Bennet

I’m feeling a P&P marathon coming on.

Fox Walked Alone


Barbara Reid is a big name in the Canadian children’s book world. As one of the pioneers of plasticine illustration, Reid is hugely successful in Canada, and a new  Barbara Reid book is met with much fanfare. Fox Walked Alone is not a new book. It was published last year. But it has recently been nominated for the 2008 Blue Spruce Award, an annual award given by the Ontario Library Association, in which school students across the province read a series of nominated titles for their age group and then select their favourite to win the prize. 

If you don’t know Barbara Reid’s work, Fox Walked Alone will surely make you want to seek out all of her books. It is a fine story, and the illustrations are jaw-droppingly good. Barbara has turned to the story of Noah and the Ark for a second time to create this tale. Her first take on the biblical story came in Two by Two, and in my opinion, Fox Walked Along is the better book, mostly due to the charm of the title character.

Having heard Reid speak on two occasions, I have the impression that she is a total perfectionist, and this comes through in the meticulousness of the illustration. I cannot begin to imagine how long she must work on each picture, but the textures, the emotions and expressions on the animal’s faces, and the panoramas she creates in this story are masterful. I remember her saying that she stores the works in progress, and the finished pieces, in pizza boxes in her studio! From time to time, the verse is not as flawless as the images are, but Reid gets it right on nearly every page. It works very well the way Reid has brought a hint of fable to the traditional story, as fox’s true cleverness emerges only at the end of the book.

Anyone who knows how to create individually-glistening raindrops from plasticine is worth knowing about. The kids are sure to cast many votes in Fox’s favour.

Fox Walked Alone is published by North Winds Press (Scholastic).   

Poetry Friday: Genevieve Cote’s Lady of Shalott

In the mood for something pretty enchanting? How ’bout this?


Tennyson meets Genevieve Cote and what we get is a gorgeous and fresh take on one of the world’s most oft memorized ballads. Cote’s art is luminous and light, just right for Tennyson’s flowing lyricism. This is a book you want to put into the hands of any teenage girl who is a real reader (not to mention every other reader you know).

Before we get to a little bit of “willows whitening” and “aspens quivering,” you might want to find out more about Genevieve Cote. Her website offers a short biography and a selection from her portfolio. Also, Genevieve is one of the many illustrators who created a snowflake for Robert’s Snow this year. I am sure you will agree that her snowflake, “Printemps”, is bound to get some serious bidding happening:


Utter sweetness. Genevieve’s art has a softness to it that renders all of her images completely magical. For an interview with Genevieve about her snowflake (and herself), head on over to a wrung sponge. To bid on Genvieve’s snowflake, join in for Auction 3 starting December 3rd.

Want some poetry now?

The Lady of Shalott

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shallot.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shallot…

Goosebumps? Keep reading at (that is if you don’t happen have it memorized like some super-geeks among us- ahem…).

This Just In…

I’ve been sort of compulsively checking the Robert’s Snow Online Auction 1 website and right now, one of our friendly flakes has cracked the $400 mark (Liza Woodruff’s “Shoveling”). How high will it go? Tune in tomorrow to find out.

Oh, and by the by:

cash advance

Tomorrow I will write a post containing many words with at least 5 syllables and then check again. See who’s smart now?

Nostalgia Moment: Brambly Hedge


When I started working in Toronto’s little corner of paradise known as The Flying Dragon Bookshop, I went through an initial period of glorious rediscovery, as I came across books that I had adored as a child, but had somehow managed to slip out of my memory. It was like meeting the best, best old friends completely by surprise and realizing once again why you loved them so much in the first place. Rediscovering Brambly Hedge during one of my days working at the store had just such an effect- I think I may have actually cried out in surprise and total delight. Now I suppose I can admit that Brambly Hedge books may not be for everyone. Some might find them too cute, too quaint. To those sad, sad individuals, I simply say, “Pshaw!” What is not to adore about families of tiny mice, wearing little waistcoats and dresses with aprons and capes, who make toast over the fire and drink coffee out of acorns? (The correct answer here is “Absolutely nothing.”)

I think the illustrations were what charmed me completely as a child. The detail, the cozy messiness of the cottages where the mice lived, the very fact that they slept in 4-poster beds and kept a storeroom filled with the most succulent treats just seemed like the right way to live. These books remain enchanting to me, even now. I don’t have many of my original childhood books, but I do still have my 4 Brambly Hedge books, one for each season, and from time to time I pull them out and I’m 8 again.

Last year, I bought my niece her own set of the season books. They came in a small suitcase-like package, complete with handle for easy toting about. I could hardly resist a set for me.

The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem can be found as a single collection, or as individual editions (better by far for little hands, I think). Give them to a child you know and give ol’ Beatrix a run for her money.