Monthly Archives: April 2011

Something to do besides watch Will & Kate specials

I admit it. I am having difficulty turning off the Will & Kate specials that are suddenly all over the channels now that we’ve officially made it to wedding week. Is it her giant blue ring? Her perfectly just-so cascading hair? The suspense around who has designed her sure-to-be dazzling gown? I can’t say for sure, but whatever the reason, it would seem that I’m willing to watch. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that as a girl, I spent hours in my basement poring over glossy commemorative photo books about Princess Diana. It started young, what can I say?

So it is with some relief that tomorrow, I will have something worthy to do rather than watching another crappy Will & Kate wedding special. This is because tomorrow, Maureen Johnson’s new book, The Last Little Blue Envelope, will hit shelves.

Yay and yay some more.

It got a starred review from The Horn Book – not that I’m surprised. She’s so clever, that Maureen Johnson. Here’s the review, as posted at the author’s blog:

“Readers who finished 13 Little Blue Envelopes and wondered what was in the thirteenth envelope finally have an answer—and it’s a good one. . . .The group’s dynamic is always authentic, usually funny, and occasionally heartrending; Johnson excels at conveying emotions through natural-sounding dialogue. New readers and old fans will find much to like, right down to the final life-altering kiss, in this celebration of growing up, moving on, and embracing (sometimes literally) the unexpected.” – Horn Book, starred review

Sometimes, a book I really want to read just shows up in my mailbox, and when that happens, it feels magical and happy-making to be the Shelf Elf. Sadly, this has not yet happened with this much-wanted book, so tomorrow, I’m going to have to solve that problem myself.


Smiles to Go

Jerry Spinelli’s Smiles to Go is about not knowing. The main character, Will, finds it hard to live in the moment. He likes to be in control. He likes to be certain, and he believes that he is sure about a lot of things. The day he learns that protons can die forces him to face the fact that there might be a lot of things he doesn’t know. All of a sudden, his life seems full of not knowing. Not knowing if his only girl friend is actually meant to be his girlfriend. Not knowing if his pesky little sister is ever going to be become something other than annoying. Not knowing if there is anything in the world that is certain and forever. He figures out a lot of things in this book, but the best part is that he starts to realize there will be things he might never figure out. Life is mysterious and uncertain and freaky sometimes, but you’ve got friends and family to live it with you.

Smiles to Go is a quick read. It’s peppy and funny and moves along at a brisk clip. Sometimes books with short chapters leave me a little dissatisfied, and not feeling like I know the characters as well as I do when things aren’t stopping and starting all the time. Even with short chapters, I found Spinelli’s characters were believably satisfying and complex. It’s always a good sign when you find yourself imagining whole novels about secondary characters. Plus, Smiles to Go captures what it’s like to fall for someone for the first time, and how that is one of the most uncertain and awesome experiences life can bring.

You’ll read Smiles to Go fast, but you’ll be thinking about it for a while.

Smiles to Go is published by Harper Collins.

This post is cross posted at Guys lit Wire.

Julia Denos Spring Shopping Spree

Every so often I like to pop by Julia Denos’s blog, The Cinnamon Rabbit, because I love her artwork, and I like finding out a bit more about the behind the scenes life of an artist. It seems dreamy. Her blog inspires me.

I was over there today, just poking about, and I saw the cover of a new picture book she’s illustrated, coming out in Fall 2011. Look:

As soon as I saw it, it got me thinking, her illustrations just say “spring” to me. They’re light and a little wispy and free and full of delicate colour. I am thinking I may need to have a little Julia Denos Shopping Spree to celebrate spring. Wouldn’t it be lovely to open a box and see these three beauties all together?

Scaredy Squirrel has a birthday party

I am crazy about Scaredy Squirrel. It’s hard not to be. Adorable. Hilarious. Neurotic. He is a character adults can love and kids cannot get enough of. A new Scaredy Squirrel book is always worth cheering about. I cannot count the number of times I’ve read the Scaredy books to students in my class, and every single time there are laughs all round. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times they’ve read it or heard it, Scaredy just keeps on being funny, which is probably why these books are bestsellers. I swear there are cheers when I pull out one of the titles in the series for a read aloud.

I did a little hoot myself when I opened my package o’ books from Kids Can Press and found this latest Scaredy tale. A tiny part of me wondered: Would it be as wonderful? Would it still get me chuckling? I am pleased to report that everything I love about Scaredy is here, and that Scaredy Squirrel has a birthday party might be my second favourite of the bunch (it’s impossible to beat the original, I think).

It is no surprise that a squirrel as nervous and anti-social as Scaredy might just want to spend his birthday hiding out in his nut tree. Instead, Scaredy plans a party for one and as usual, he has thought of everything that might go wrong so that he can be prepared. Of course, it wouldn’t be a story unless something went way more wrong than Scaredy could ever have imagined. Hilarity ensues. You’ll end up loving Scaredy just a little bit more. If you didn’t think that was possible, read the book and find out.

One of my favourite things about Mélanie Watt’s style is how she offers a mix of uncluttered, bold illustrations with pages that are packed with very detailed images that beg readers to slow down, read, look, and laugh. I loved the two-page spread of the open file-folder containing all of Scaredy’s important documents and things to do for his party. It’s the details that will really crack kids up. For example, I’m sure they’re going to love the RSVP text on the invitation that reads: “Yes, I can / No, I can’t – I have to wash my fur.” The Nutty Cake Recipe advises: “Preheat oven to 348.9 degrees and keep fire extinguisher nearby. Verify expiration dates on all ingredients.” This is classic Scaredy fun.

One of the many remarkable things about these books is that they make such great read alouds, even though so many of the jokes are in the smallest details on the page. It still works in front of a crowd. The running jokes probably won’t ever stop being funny either, such as when Scaredy plays dead, this time with confetti scattered all over him. As a bonus, there are a lot of kooky looking, party-hat-wearing, sweet dogs in this book.

Charming, happy-making, and probably the best birthday gift you could give a kid, along with this:

Happy birthday Scaredy! And many more!

The Scaredy Squirrel books are published by Kids Can Press.


The Loud Book: Blog Tour

I’m very happy to be hosting Deborah Underwood today, for a guest post at Shelf Elf, as she completes her blog tour for The Loud Book. Before we get to Deborah’s post, you must know about an amazing promotion that her publisher, Houghton, is running for the book. They are offering you the chance to be the very lucky winner of a piece of original artwork by Renata Liwska, whose gorgeous illustrations grace the pages of The Loud Book. When I say gorgeous, I mean gorgeous. For more information on the contest, click here.

I asked Deborah to share her thoughts on Loud vs. Quiet, and what inspired The Loud Book. She decided to write, “In Defense of Quiet”:

Bored cat wants 7 a.m. playtime loud
Human pleading with cat loud
Cat wins loud

It would have made sense if THE LOUD BOOK! had been inspired by the loud things in my life. Heaven knows there are plenty.

Howl after burning the oatmeal for the 67th consecutive morning loud
Cupboard avalanche loud

But ironically, THE LOUD BOOK! came about because of two kinds of quiet: THE QUIET BOOK and the deep quiet that creativity requires.

After we’d finished up THE QUIET BOOK, my editor asked how I’d feel about doing a companion volume.

Of course I want to write THE LOUD BOOK! loud!

It was terribly exciting to have editorial interest in a book that didn’t exist yet. But even with the book’s concept settled, there was still the matter of, um, actually writing it. And given that we were all thrilled with the way THE QUIET BOOK had turned out, there was a teensy bit of pressure, since it was important to us that LOUD to live up to its predecessor.

Chocolate wrapper loud
Another chocolate wrapper loud

Coming up with ideas–whether they’re ideas for types of loud to include in a book or plot ideas for a novel–is an exhilarating but scary process. Sometimes you can trace the origin of an idea. But sometimes an idea just materializes in your head, as though your Muse sent it there with a Star Trek transporter.

Please stop meowing! I’m trying to think loud

Ideas don’t typically come to me while I am juggling messages in my email inbox or jumping between three open windows on my computer. They come when I am quiet, still, and receptive. And how often am I quiet, still, and receptive?

Not often.

Maybe if I listen to some loud music I’ll get loud ideas loud
Email notification loud
Bejeweled Blitz loud

So during every project, there comes a time when I must surrender to quiet. I turn off the music, shut down the internet, and allow myself to sit and think.

This is never easy.

I tell myself over and over that I am not being lazy or unproductive. In being quiet, I’m doing exactly what I need to do in order to let my creativity function. The value of being quiet has proven itself to me over and over again.

It’s still hard.

But once I do it, things start to fall into place. During my LOUD BOOK quiet time, my cupboard avalanches turned into the text “Garage avalanche loud.” Loud music became “Parade in the park loud.” Memories flooded back: the astonishingly loud crackling of campfires, the fourth of July fireworks at Borleske Stadium when I was growing up, the applause after my college glee club concerts.

After the initial ideas show up, then it’s a matter of editing: rearranging, chopping, adding. That can be tricky too. But it’s not nearly as difficult for me, because at least I feel like I’m doing something.

Go ahead and meow; I’m finished writing loud

Quiet time is hard to come by, but well worth making an effort to include in our lives. In this case, my quiet time resulted in two of my favorite louds:

(And maybe just one more celebratory chocolate bar loud.)


Thanks so much for being here Deborah, and getting LOUD at Shelf Elf!

Deborah is also stopping by There’s a Book, so be sure to visit her there too!

The Loud Book

I am half Irish, so I know how to be loud. But I love quiet. I crave it. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the gloriously silent middle of nowhere. Or maybe it’s because I spend my days with 27 children who have a particular gift for Loud. Whatever it is, I would definitely admit to being on Team Quiet. Reading Deborah Underwood’s companion to the national bestseller The Quiet Book, has made me look at loud a little differently. It would seem that loud has a lot to offer. (But SHHH!!! PLEASE don’t tell my students I said that. Seriously).

Each page in The Loud Book presents readers with a different kind of loud to consider: good louds, bad louds, accidental louds, gorgeous louds, annoying louds and more. There will be louds you’d never really thought of as being loud before, such as “crackling campfire loud” and others that you realize you knew all along, but never took the time to explain properly, like “deafening silence loud.” Underwood’s text is clever throughout, and allowed lots of room for her outstanding illustrator, Renata Liwska, to create humour, warmth, and plenty of noise in her images. They are gorgeous. In particular I loved the one for “fireworks loud.” You can see it at Renata’s blog, here. Amazing, yes? Each illustration is a story in itself. You can see a few more over at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

To keep it simple, and loud, I have to say: I LOVE THIS BOOK!

Because really, like its predecessor, The Loud Book is proof that a simple concept, beautifully executed, is hard to beat. I hope that Underwood and Liwska find a way to work together again, because I think their two books prove that they are a team worth shouting about. In a good way.

The Loud Book is published by Houghton Mifflin.

The Penderwicks are Perfect

Sometimes, when I feel like the real world gets to be too much (too busy, too full of work, too tiring, too rainy, too “meh”) I turn to my favourite books the way I would sink into a steamy bath. Last week I decided to start rereading The Penderwicks because I was beginning to feel that way about life, and because I know that the third book in the series will be out in May. I need to be ready. I need to be all freshly Penderwicked.

I’d say the Penderwicks are perfect. A large part of the reason why I believe this, is that these stories remind me of some of my most loved childhood books – the closeness of the family, the quirkiness of all of the characters, how the books are child centered without the adults being MIA, and the way that the girls find adventures in their backyard. I loved books like this as a kid, because this was how I wanted the world to be. You see, I was already a nostalgic romantic at the age of ten. The Penderwicks has all the warmth and charm and love of Little Women with a touch of the wildness and gumption and adult-free adventure of Swallows and Amazons.

On the weekend, I discovered this genius idea:

Embroidered book covers by Jillian Tamaki. A-mazing. Don’t you think The Penderwicks would be just the book to receive such glorious treatment? Someone needs to make the case for it.

Finally, how can an author who has loved this many animals, not restore your faith in our crazy world? Read all of her books. And then read them again. Balm for the soul.