The Biebs and Ivan Connection: My (Serious) 2013 Newbery Insight

For the sake of clarity: this post is about making the connection between two very talented people from different spheres (Katherine Applegate and Justin Bieber) and how social media has contributed to the buzz about those talents.  It is not a post about calling into question these people’s talents (even if Justin Bieber isn’t your cup of tea, he writes songs, plays several instruments and is a pretty dang good singer while bouncing around on stage).

I do not think Katherine Applegate won a Newbery because of Twitter.  I think she won one because she is extremely, undeniably talented.  Same thing with Bieber: I don’t think he wins awards because of Twitter.  I think he wins them because he is also talented.

While anyone can, of course, disagree with my opinions on what constitutes talent, I want to make it clear that this post is about observing a tremendously positive, exciting change in the way readers are celebrating books for young people on social media.  I think Twitter has changed the level of excitement about the Newbery in a very good way.  I do not think Twitter had anything to do with the fact that a very deserving book – The One and Only Ivan – won the Newbery.  No matter the state of technology when it was published, Ivan would have won.  I really believe that. So…

Stay with me on this one.

So in November, Oprah interviewed Justin Bieber and commented that he is like no other celebrity in history because of social media.  Essentially she says (and quite smartly, I think) that Biebs can’t really be considered on the same level as Elvis or The Beatles or even Michael Jackson because of the role that Twitter played in his rise to success.

Y’all, I think the same thing happened to The One and Only Ivan this year.  It’s a Newbery game changer.

I don’t have Photoshop. Can you tell?

To my knowledge, this is the first time there has ever been a real concentrated rallying around a particular Newbery contender on Twitter.  Sure, there have been predictions and fan favorites and things, but nothing like what Mr. Schu and Colby Sharp started; from Twitter chats to vlogging to hashtagging ’round the clock, I’d say there was a definite Ivan movement. In 2011, there certainly wasn’t a Moon Over Manifest movement as no one had read the dang thing.  And while I remember tons of buzz around When You Reach Me for the 2010 prize, I don’t think there was the kind of mobilization that there was with Ivan. And in January 2009, only the really cool kids were on Twitter.

To further my point, has a Newbery award winner ever thought of a blogger(s) immediately after hearing the news of winning the award?

And has a Newbery award winner ever thanked a Twitter community or blogger(s) in their acceptance speech?  Not that I know of, and I’ll betcha my little blue bowler hat that’s gonna happen come Chicago.

It’s the future, folks. Let’s celebrate with this song from The Jetsons movie that, when I was eight years old, considered THE MOST ROMANTIC THING OF ALL TIME.


Post-ALA Midwinter Depression Spiral? Follow These 5 Easy Steps


That’s the sound of post-conference blues.  You’re overtired and feeling wired and crazed and still blinking from the Youth Media Awards light show and you come home and realize that you don’t have any eggs to hard-boil for breakfast and your favorite tights need washing and…BLURG.

Well, that’s how I was feeling Wednesday morning on my second day back at work post-ALA Midwinter.  But then I did some things that put a bit of the pep back in my pants.  If you’re having a D in the D (down in the dumps) day, follow my patented program.

Tip 1: Put Up Those Posters

For the most part, I’m an anti-swag person.  I hate lugging a bunch of stuff home and I live in fear of becoming one of those insane rolling suitcase librarians in the exhibits.  But I have started a nice little poster collection in my office and scored two additions this past weekend.  Behold, Olivia, matching perfectly with my office’s pink walls (yes, I have a boss that let me paint my office pink.  Though I originally tried for something more of the Pepto-Bismol variety but that was vetoed).

Don’t worry, those creases work themselves out over time.

I also made a bold statement by throwing this one for Lane Smith’s Abe Lincoln’s Dream right on the front of my office door.  This is a no-Confederate zone, y’all!

You know what people are going to think when they see this? Fancy.

Tip 2: Put a book you love (but many don’t know or under-love) up on display

My pick was Hamsters Holding Hands by Kass Reich, published by BC’s own Orca Books.  If this doesn’t cheer you up, you have major problems.  There is a HAMSTER holding a BALLOON ANIMAL.  Alternatively, you can put all the award winners from Monday up on display too for bonus points.

And remember this?

Tip 3: Weed Something Ghastly

Like this! Wheezy – a story about a little English boy with asthma published in 1988.

My favorite page is below where the little dude asks “Please could I have some of those leaflets for my asthma scrapbook?”  Then he joins “the Saturday Swimming Club for children with asthma” (YES, this is actually what it is called) and everything is hunky dory.  He probably grew up just fine.  I actually weeded this today, guys.  No jokes.

Tip 4: Order Those Winners You Missed

White Bicycle. ‘Nuff said (and it’s apparently third in a trilogy?! That’s gotta be some other record/gasp-worthy thing).

Tip 5: Have Someone Call You a Unicorn

I was helping out with a real reference question doozie on the desk when my girl Saundra sent me this email.  A good reminder of the power of a shout-out and what a boost it is to get compliments from colleagues.  Made my day and something I want to do more often for others.

And, if all else fails, pump some 90s jams.  I blasted this all the way home.  Just go ahead now.

ALA 2012: Top Ten Awesome People I Met/Pestered

I’ve been thinking about the best way to translate all my ALA notes and thoughts in blog form.  Originally I thought I would give reports on each day but they have all burred together.  So I’ve decided to do a series of posts this week that are less chronological and more categorical.  And contain numbered lists because those are always a gas.

I am going to kick it all off with a Top Ten list of awesome people I met over the three days.  Now, I obviously met more than ten awesome people, but these ones really made an impression on me in one way or another; some I only talked to for 30 seconds, others for hours.  Some I ended up chatting with after sessions or in the exhibits, others were simply trying to answer the call of nature when I forced myself upon them.  But they were all, to use a phrase I recently heard on reality television, (translation: the bee’s knees).

10. A.S. King

Ask the Passengers was on my list of ARCs to pick up and I happened upon A.S. King’s signing line at the very end of her hour. This meant that I didn’t have to wait in line for eight fortnights to talk to her.  She is the coolest person ever; so mellow and just cool. Not making fans feel like weird crazies is a rare gift that authors have and she excels at it.  Also, I learned that Vera’s last name is pronounced Deetz and not Dee-etz. Good to know.

9. Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray is one of my favorite audiobooks of all time.  I have listened to it over and over again, especially while running.   Whenever I feel like I can’t make it another kilometre, listening to Ruta’s book really puts everything into perspective: I’m not starving in a Siberian gulag so I can probably bust out another 3km.  I attended the fabulous USBBY panel on writing about war for young people and wanted to talk to Ruta afterwards but she was quickly bombarded with people. When I saw her in the bathroom at the Newbery Caldecott Banquet, I knew I had to make my move.  She has to be one of the most animated, lovely, genuine people on the planet.  She either is an incredible actor or sincerely didn’t mind hearing how much her book meant to me with a full bladder.

8. The Gals at the Little, Brown Booth

I’ve always had it in my head that Little, Brown is a very glamorous publisher.  I don’t know why – likely because all of their books knock my socks off.  But despite producing books that are consistently critical darlings, the gals at the LB booth were the friendliest, most enthusiastic people on the exhibit floor.  They talked excitedly about all the books while still gracefully managing the hoards of drooling librarians in clamoring hoards shouting “Is this free!?” while waving about hardcover books clearly marked with price tags.  There were a couple of LB gals, but we’ll count them as one entity for the sake of this list.

7. The LaJolla School Librarian I Met in the Scholastic Line

I don’t remember her name!  And we were instantly bosom buds after bonding over our love for Me…Jane. After picking up Drama ARCs we headed over to the Little, Brown booth way in advance for Patrick McDonnell and compared notes on books.  We also discussed the fine line between beloved books at ALA and that sad species of librarian who lugs around eight tote bags full of Proquest magnets and other things that really just aren’t worth carrying around in such large quantities.

6. Cara Pryor

Cara is actually a colleague from a neighbouring library system who I sort of knew before ALA, but only sort of.  But what I knew of her, I liked.  And when we randomly ran into eachother outside of the subpar Baja Fresh in the Hilton food court we immediately agreed to go to Disneyland together.  We had a great time and talked about everything under the sun.  And now we are real life friends! (I think.  Cara if you’re reading this and don’t want to be real life friends, I understand.  We’ll always have Splash Mountain).

5. Tracy Lerner

Tracy is the Senior Manager of Library Marketing at Random House Children’s Books and made all the arrangements for my trip.  She is also the sweetest person in the world and we are both obsessed with Friday Night Lights.  Although she has a soft spot in her heart for Matt Seracen and I have to say that I will never forgive that SOB for hitting it and quitting it with Julie Taylor so hard in Season 4.  But we both follow the Gospel of Tim Riggins.

4. Kathy Jarombek

Kathy is the Head of Youth Services at the Perrot Memorial Library in Old Greenwich, CT and I had the pleasure of sitting beside her at the Newbery Caldecott Banquet.  She was a very good friend and colleague of Kate McClelleand and Kathy Krasniewicz and it meant alot to me to hear about the librarians behind the Random House scholarship I was so lucky to win.  Kathy is also going to be on the 2014 Newbery Committee with Mr. Schu and I can’t wait to see what they choose! Oh, and she told me about the Morris seminar which I am most definitely going to apply for in 2014.  Given my audiobook obsession, I would love to be on the Odyssey committee one year.  And, one day, I would like to bring some Canadian love to the Geisel or Newbery committees.

3-1. The Trinity: Betsy Bird, Mr. Schu, Travis Jonker

I realize that using the trinity description here could rub some people the wrong way, so let’s use the Jay-Z triangle instead:

These are the three people I most wanted to meet at ALA.  I am huge fans of their writing and work and am always inspired by their passion and dedication.

As I detailed on my Day 1 post, I ran into Betsy about 3 seconds after getting to ALA.  So while I wasn’t prepared with cogent things to say, seeing her was like rubbing a magic monkey’s paw in that was a prophetic omen of the amazing time that was to come.

I also got to meet Travis and John after their standing room only session on apps. Then I saw them again at the Newbery Caldecott banquet. Both of them are so kind and open and gracious despite the fact that they are pretty big deals.  I’m talking about them like they are twins, but they just share a bunch of great qualities.  WAIT A SECOND – I think the children’s literature community needs to band together to fund a remake of Twins starring Travis and John.

I particularly like this picture of us as we appear most angelic:

I am also in possession of the most AWKWARD VIDEO OF ALL TIME wherein my boss was accidentally taking a video of us for many seconds as we pose for what we think is a still photo.

So there you have it.  Next up will be a list of ALA ARCs that I collected and am most excited about – and a Canadian title takes the number one spot!

Diary of a Holds List. Or, Engaging Chidlers With Generous Allowances.

I have the privilege of visiting every single elementary school in town (there’s only 7 so it’s not that heroic) to promote the Summer Reading Club.  The community is relatively affluent, so lots of the kids are super readers with their own respectable home libraries.  It can sometimes be challenging to engage these kids (especially the older ones) with the library when they can simply stop by Chapters to buy what they want, or pay to attend an event that seems way cooler than any library program.

So I have started throwing out tidbits of book news to the kids to peak their interest when I can tell that they’re not so impressed by the library.  The latest bone I’ve been throwing out is the release date of the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book and mentioning that kids can already put their name on the library holds list for the title.

Well, in about a week there’s been 18 holds on the book.  And it’s still five months away from being published!  And it’s not just Wimpy Kid. I’ve also been promoting the new Creepella Von Cacklefur series that comes out in August and each of the two books now have over 20 holds. Big Nate On a Roll, which also comes out in August, has a respectable 6 holds.

Now, from a collection development standpoint, it may seem like I’ve created a bit of a monster.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there are 50 holds on the new Wimpy book by November. You may be worried that poor lil’ Kid #48 will be using one of those assistive bath device seats before he gets his paws on the book.  But you should see how pumped the chidlers get when they hear that a new installment of a beloved series is forthcoming.  It’s insanity.  I have actually started prefacing the news with “I have something to tell you, but you have to promise not to freak out.”  And all the advance holds actually gives me a really good idea of how many copies to buy.  I’ve already purchased 10 copies of the new Wimpy book and I will gladly buy more as the holds list increases.  Even if I have to weed 20 of these books in two years (and I don’t think I will since the original Wimpy books are all out), the buzz that was created and the demand that was met will make the purchases well worth it.

So there’s yet another argument for librarians to stay current.  Knowing what popular authors have books on the burner, and when those books will be available, can help crack those tough nuts.  When we can give kids something they probably won’t find on their own (and can’t buy!) – like a brand new book announcement gleaned from Twitter or Publishers Weekly – we become valuable. It’s not just about selling what the library has, but what the library will have.  We have to show that we’re with it, we know what kids want, and it will be ready and waiting for them as soon as it’s released.

I Haven’t Been This Mad in a Long Time

Oh man.  Shannon angry.

Yesterday the Summer Reading Club chidlers got to pick a free book as props for cracking the covers all summer long.  While herding the chidlers and handing out stamps and “Congratulations!” and “Awesome!” I noticed something truly horrifying in the selection of books:


What the crap!?!

It seems that Brett Helquist is re-illustrating the three Scary Story collections compiled by Alvin Schwartz and originally (and brilliantly) illustrated by Stephen Gammell.

HarperCollins, I love you.  Brett Helquist, I love you too.  But there’s no excuse for this.

Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell are like peanut butter and chocolate.  Or Jay-Z and Linkin Park.  Or James Marshall and Harry Allard.  Together, they are perfection.

I don’t know how on earth I missed this.  It seems that More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was re-released at the end of August, right when I had a terrible case of food poisoning.  In hindsight, my body was likely reacting subconsciously to this loathsome event.  Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was re-released at the end of July.  I don’t know what I was doing then, but it must have been important.  Scary Stories 3 will be re-released in January 2011.  I’ll need to find a tree to chain myself to or something.

I’ve book talked the three Scary Story books more times than I can count – both to groups of kids and in the stacks. Gammell’s illustrations always sell it. The thing is, when you tell kids you’ve got something scary for them, they just don’t believe you.  I think it’s because kids have come to learn that a trusted adult’s version of scary usually equals lameness.

But Gammell’s style perfectly straddles “safe scary” and “creepy scary.”  Actually, cancel that.  They’re just a bit too scary.  But just the right amount of a bit. You can’t take your eyes off his work.  Each drawing is like a perfectly disastrous car crash – you are physically unable to look away.  And when you read one of Schwartz’s tales out loud to a group, and then reveal Gammell’s deliciously scary visual interpretation, the result is gold.  We’re talking audible gasps, mouths agape, the whole nine.

From Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

I’m not saying that Helquist isn’t talented.  He’s mad talented.  But in my opinion there was no reason to mess with perfection – even if Stephen Gammell said, “You can’t use my pictures anymore.  They are too awesome for you to use.”  If that happened (and maybe it did – what do I know?), there should have been a worldwide moment of silence for these books before they went out of print.

I know there are probably people out there who are in support of this and think it’s good to give the ol’ books a facelift.  I’m sorry, but I am too blinded by anger to hear you out right now.  Maybe after I’ve mellowed out with several glasses of wine and some George and Martha, we can talk.

A Category of Books I Like to Call “The Brad Pitts”

You know how Oprah always asks people, “What do you know for sure?” and they always answer with syrupy stuff like “My mom was always right,” and “There is nothing better in this world than a child’s laugh,” and nonsense crap like “I am finally myself.”  Well, this is what I know for sure:

Brad Pitt is an attractive man.

Even when he’s all bearded and dirty, you can still tell there is a really good-looking man under all that mange.

Wouldn’t you, too, acknowledge that Brad Pitt is a very attractive man, even if you are not attracted to him yourself?  If not, please pretend you do, because the entire conceit of this post depends on you agreeing that Brad Pitt is an attractive man.

I am one of those people who can see, objectively, that Brad Pitt is a stunner.  But the thing is, I’m not personally attracted to him.  It can be the same with books; I can objectively tell that a book is really great, has a definite audience, and meets a real need without truly loving the book myself.  Thus, I give you the definition of a Brad Pitt book:

brad pitt book n. a book that one can, no matter his/her personal preferences, recognize as possessing high merit.

When learning any new concept, examples are helpful.  Here are some of my personal Brad Pitts.  Before you go off your chain in the comments section, remember the definition of a BP.  I’m not saying that any of these are bad books or even mediocre books.  Far from it.  These are books that I know are great, and that I enjoyed reading, but just didn’t reach out and grab me by the throat.  If I had reviewed these books I would have given them a great review (just like I gave two thumbs up to seeing Brad Pitt’s tush in Troy).

Perhaps one of the greatest BPs of all time for me has been Harry Potter. I understood why others would eat their own foot to read the books, but I couldn’t get beyond a little nibble of my baby toe.  Again, like any BP, I enjoyed it, but didn’t fall in love.  Same with the Westing Game; got the decades of hype, but didn’t feel it myself.

A more recent example is Smile by Raina Telgemeier.  Fabulous book. I even had similar orthodontic drama involving pulled teeth and braces.  But, for whatever reason, my heart wasn’t in it.

I should also make it clear what a Brad Pitt book is not:

A book that everyone else likes but I really didn’t like

Comparable celebrities here are the likes of Josh Duhamel, Bradley Cooper, and Robert Pattinson.  These are all dudes that many people find scrumptious but I, well, don’t.

Savvy was a big one for me.  Also, Incarceron. Unlike the BPs, I didn’t enjoy these books at all and had trouble seeing what others saw in them.  To each their own kinda thing.

A book that looks pretty on the outside but (I think) is a stinker inside

Don’t forget that Brad Pitt is not only good-looking, but also a stand-up fella (wife swapping aside, he’s charitable).  Therefore, a true BP book has to be good on the inside and outside.

The Carrie Diaries is one hot little number.  The jacket feels kind of leathery and soft and I can’t resist that pink, spray-painty font.  But unlike two of my favourite, very insightful YA reviewers (Tea Cozy and Reading Rants), I dang well hated it.

I’m always interested to hear what other people consider BPs.  It’s also interesting to consider which books are true BPs (i.e. – have merit but didn’t grab you) and which have just been over-hyped (i.e. – BPs in Robert Pattinson’s clothing).

Picture Book Creators Dear and Dead – Readers Theatre Style

I haven’t yet done a post about how much James Marshall meant to me as a kid (and how much he still means to me as an old, festering adult) but the short version is that I was (and am) obsessed with his books.  It was just me and my mams growing up so I spent all of my time either reading or engaging in high-concept, multi-part dramas with my Maple Town figurines.  I found Marshall uproariously funny and would spend hours trying to draw Fox and Eugene and Emily (note: I am not artistically inclined).  This obsession bled into my adult life in the form of my easy reader thesis and hyperventilating in the Kerlan Collection.  Oh, and my general, all-encompassing personal and professional interest in young people’s literature.

I get giddy anytime I see anything about James Marshall; a new tidbit of information, a mention, anything.  So, when I stumbled across Multi-Grade Readers Theatre: Picture Book Authors and Illustrators by Suzanne I. Barchers and Charla R. Pfeffinger, I was so excited to see James Marshall’s name in the Table of Contents.  I scrambled to the page and found the header “The Trouble with a Pen Name: James Edward Marshall 1942-1992.”  Then there was “Summary and Background Information,” “Presentation Suggestions,” and some “Introductory and Follow-Up Suggestions”  followed by a three and a half page interview script with “James Marshall.”  I was so excited to see Marshall’s name that I didn’t really even bother to understand the premise of the book.

The premise of the book is this:

The scripts in Multi-Grade Readers Theatre: Picture Book Authors and Illustrators provides students with a snapshot of the lives of thirty-six well-known authors, illustrators, and poets.  Drawn from biographies, autobiographies, interviews, news articles, obituaries, and Internet sources, the essential facts of each person’s story have been carefully researched.  The conversations, however, are largely fictional.

Each picture book creator essentially has one “theme” that sums up the trajectory of their readers theatre script; Hans Christian Andersen’s dad was a shoemaker, Kate Greenaway liked dolls, and James Marshall sometimes used a pen name.

Oh yes, and every single person featured in the book is dead.

My initial reactions went something like this:

“Aaahhhh!  This book is chalk-full of  made-up words of dead people!  Children’s book zombies!”

“What the $*%*)@*!?  Marshall used a pen name, like, a handful of times!  Why the *#)($** would they have a **%(*#! pen name define the career of a #@)@## genius like Marshall!?  This is so reductive, I could spit.”

“HUH!?  Marshall would have never said that.”

“Oh, that’s convenient.  Leave out the part where he was tipsy when he made up Edward Marshall’s back story!  Looks like someone didn’t read page 98 of Leonard Marcus’ Ways of Telling!” [This is, of course, a ridiculous response, as primary grade children probably don’t need to know what is imbibed at lengthy publishing lunches.]

After having a good steam, and hunting for omissions and inaccuracies, I realized that my evaluation was, perhaps, coming from the wrong place – the place in me that thinks of James Marshall (and many of the other authors in this book) as someone I love and know, and therefore feel I must protect. Because the truth is, I would have loved to play James Marshall in my Grade 2 class (God help the teacher if she had selected someone else) and I think educators could really find this book useful.

But no matter how hard I try, I can’t shake my protective feelings.  Why invent words when, more often than not, these authors and illustrators left behind brilliant words on their own work and craft?  Aren’t there so many other, more authentic ways to get children excited about picture books?

Perhaps these feelings would be less acute if James Marshall (and all the other geniuses in the book like Lobel and Steig, etc.) were still alive and were still able to speak for themselves.  Or if my love and respect for Marshall’s work wasn’t cranked up so high.

My mom made me get super embarrassing "casual" photos when I got the mandatory picture for the graduation composite. I'm holding a Marshall book in every one (note that I stole the crappy, low-res version of the photo from the company website via the power of the screenshot! Stickin' it to tha man...)