Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New picture books: from moon dazed piggies to family farms' tractors

Is there anything more fun than getting a brace of new picture books, with staff members all crowding around book crates exclaiming over long-awaited titles, and customers peering into the pile to get a jump ahead on exciting books? This week has brought in some real crowd-pleasers.

Deborah Underwood had a fabulous spring last year with the popular Quiet Book, illustrated by Renata Liwska (Who wrote and illustrated a title I blogged about a few weeks ago, Red Wagon), and the graduation book, A Balloon for Isabel, illustrated by Laura Rankin. This season, Underwood and Liwska are back together for The LOUD Book, another endearing romp through the various sounds and reactions both kids and adults can relate to: "fireworks loud", "dropping your lunch tray loud," and the last page's heart-squeezing homage to summer, a lone bunny lying in a moonlit field to "crickets loud."

There are many truck and tractor books out there, as many a toddler-toting parent can affirm, but not all vehicles books have the soul and love that Grandpa's Tractor by Michael Garland contains. Grandpa Joe takes Timmy back to his childhood's farm, and while they walk by the abandoned barn to see the rusting tractor, Grandpa Joe tells him about planting alfalfa seeds, picking apples, and hauling firewood for their wood stove.

This next title, Ten Moonstruck Piglets by Lindsay Lee Johnson, I am going to beg Jess to read during story-time, it has such engaging rhymes. Just imagine the sounds you can make to this page: "They squeal! They snort!/On legs so short,/rollicking piglets/gaily cavort." I love the illustrations just as much, the black-on-blue scenery and piglet characters are so detailed that they deserve the kind of poring over that Richard Scarry and Don and Audrey Wood require.

We are a very animal friendly store - pets are very welcome (and welcome to the treats at the front door!) and our book buyer has been known to come upstairs to see any particularly adorable puppies. Which is why when such an adorable picture book as Say Hello to Zorro! by Carter Goodrich came in, we all pretty much melted. Mister Bud (with an hilarious large snout to stick over bedspreads and couches) is very set in his canine schedule, until a wee grumpy bull dog joins the family. Fans of Emily Gravett's Dogs will rejoice at another pup picture book that captures dog characters so very well.

My last pick of new picture books is the lush, lyrical and socially aware Migrant, written by Maxine Trottier and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (who happened to illustrate the Emily Dickinson installment of the Visions in Poetry series. Delicious.). Every year, Anna and her large family move with the seasons following the work from Mexico to Canada and back. The beauty in this potentially heavy story is the lightness and sweetness of the language: Anna's family is continually compared to geese flying, bees working, kittens sleeping, and the families that stay in one place are like trees rooted deeply: "But fall is here, and the geese are flying away. /And with them goes Anna, like a monarch, like a robin, like a feather in the wind."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Neighborly love

The staff here today was having a lovely day, grooving a bit to some mo-town tunes and finally feeling used to our new upstairs arrangements, and all of a sudden, our collective day skyrocketed from pretty good to pretty AWESOME. Would you like to know why? Kristin Cashore, author of popular fantasy novels, Graceling and Fire, stopped by to say hello and sign stock!!!! All of us here today are major fans of hers - not only does she write great novels with adventure, romance, strong female characters and all those other necessary components, she also keeps an articulate and well-rounded blog which I read fastidiously. And as I can attest after our quick meeting this afternoon, she's just the sweetest peach! Apparently she lives in the neighborhood and we all hope we'll see more of her around here. In the meantime, if you haven't yet read this incredible new talent, come by and pick up some freshly autographed copies!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

For the competitor in all of us...

I love this month, honestly, I do. Kids in rain boots, the occasional sunny day to eat lunch in the Brattle square park, and all kinds of entertaining brackets! I know I already blogged about Persephone Magazine's Middlemarch Madness, with readers voting on their favorite female characters from Shakespeare to Hunger Games. That "madness" is down to the Sweet Sixteen - I just voted between Hermione Granger and Lyra Belacqua. (Whew!).

School Library Journal's annual Battle of the Kids Books has also begun, with some quite notable authors as judges (Karen Hesse! R.L. Stine! Mitali Perkins!). There are no specific rules for the decision, each judge chooses which requirements are crucial: child appeal, plot and character complexity, level of fun or potential for being enduring classic, or whichever other factors they favor. Regardless of your favorites, there are always great reviews and comments for each book.

Monday, March 21, 2011

New York Teen Author Festival

I can't believe I missed this - granted, I live in Cambridge not New York City - but it would have been worth the trek!

The New York Teen Author Festival gathered together multitudes of young adult writers across the boroughs for readings and symposiums. Authors from Barry Lyga, Maggie Stiefvater, and John Green to Melina Marchetta, Matt de la Pena, and Gayle Forman read, performed (I never knew Libba Bray was in a band called Tiger Beat!), and led talks on writing. If you went, I am incredibly jealous and I hope you'll come by and tell me stories. If you also missed it, there are some great articles up about it - I like the videos (and E Lockhart's tights!) on Random House's Random Buzzers website.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Big monkey business news

When you first walk through our store these days, you may notice a few changes - actually some pretty big changes! Our building is over a 100 years old and will undergo various renovations this year. During this process, our chapter book room will be closed. The early readers, chapter books, older kids' toys, puzzles, and science kits have moved upstairs - And yes! We did fit everything! For the time being, we will still have an arts and craft room at the bottom of the stairs.

We will maintain the same variety of quality children's toys and books, they will just be in different places! Thanks for supporting us through these changes.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Annual Art and Writing Contests

It is early spring, and you know what that means - our annual art and writing contests are kicking off! All kids (excepting relatives of Curious George employees) between the ages of 5 and 13 are eligible. Each contest will be subdivided into age categories: 5 to 7, 8 to 10, and 11 to 13.

Art Contest
Illustrate your favorite fairy tale, poem, short story, or book. Label your artwork with the author and title of the story you're illustrating.

Writing Contest
Write an original story, poem, or essay. Please keep your submissions to 3 pages.

Entering both contests means illustrating your favorite story as well as writing an original story: we're very excited to read stories you have illustrated, only tell us which contest you would like us to judge it for!

With all entries, please include our submission form that tells us your name, address, phone number, school and age. This submission form, which you can pick up in the store or download from our blogs (right click on the image above), enables us to contact the winners. Winning artwork will be on display in the store, and winning writing will be posted to our contest blog. Winners will also receive store gift certificates!

The deadline for entries is Friday, May 13th. Winners will be announced the following Friday the 20th.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The best March bracket: Middlemarch madness

I love Rajon Rondo as much as the next person (although maybe not as much as our book buyer!), but I don't follow the March Madness basketball brackets. I'm much more of a fan of the pop culture and children's lit brackets like School Library Journal's Battle of the Books, which is why I'm exorbitantly excited that the witty women of Persephone Magazine have started a Middlemarch Madness. Their bracket pits female characters from stories across the genres and decades. I've been watching with bated breath for a few days - Lyra Belacqua of The Golden Compass versus Tiffany Aching of The Wee Free Men?! How could one ever decide? Other great pairings include Harriet the Spy versus Nancy Drew and Offred from A Handmaid's Tale versus Jordan Baker of The Great Gatsby. Ah, the world of book lovers, it never ceases to amuse.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Weekly news bits, including: Muppets, moors, Muggles, and a new kind of mafia

I can finally start the countdown and plan for withdrawal afterwards: A release date has been set for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. July will be here before we know it!

I am beyond thrilled for the Jane Eyre movie adaptation from Focus Features coming out this March. Jane will be played by Mia Wasikowska, the actress from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right. Stormy menfolk and moody moors. Sigh.

Another kids movie coming out this month is the second Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. In my opinion, Rodrick has entirely too much hair to look like his cartoon alter ego, but who's counting?

There's going to be another Muppet movie?! How did I not know this? I hear it will involve the reunion of separated Muppets, including finding Fozzie performing at a casino! It will be released November 23rd. Thanks to Katie at Out of the Box for mentioning it on her Muppet comics post.

The YA Mafia: a coterie of writers so influential and prolific it has its own twitter hashtag. But wait: Holly Black revealed last week that it does not exist, and in fact, could not exist. For a play by play across the blogs, YA Highway has the best wrap-up I've found yet, (and as a sidenote, some of the best mash-up YA cover art I've seen!). It makes sense to me that people are passionate about the same things (bird-watching, YA literature, raw vegan cooking) are going to know each other, or want to know each other, or bump into each other in common places (national parks, book signings/trade conventions, Grezzo in the North End), but that doesn't necessarily mean they are colluding on book blurbs or plotting to take down common genre-enemies. Whether or not YA authors, editors, or booksellers are scratching each other's backs, it's still pretty entertaining to envision a "secret cabal" of all those people I talk about all day.

Lastly, the Guardian has launched a children's books website for children's use, kicking it off with Philip Pullman answering questions from his fans. I love what he has to say to aspiring writers: "We shouldn't bother about other people at all when we write. It's none of their business what we write...One of the reasons for JK Rowling's success was that she didn't give a fig for what people thought they wanted. They didn't know they wanted Harry Potter till she wrote about him. That's the proper way round." Take heart, you future entrants to our upcoming art and writing contests!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Moon over the March Book Club

This Thursday at 5pm will be our third meeting of our monthly reading group. We'll be discussing this year's Newbery Medal winner, Moon Over Manifest, the debut historical fiction novel by Clare Vanderpool. You can still pick up a discounted copy in the store to read in time for the meeting, or come for the cookies, conversation, and choosing of our next month's book.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Staff picks under my umbrella

It may still be precipitating, but at least it's warmer out! Nothing says (almost) spring to me like stomping in puddles and then reading a new favorite book while my feet dry. Here are our latest staff picks.

Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem
Bookseller: Jose-Luis
Genre: fantasy, humor
Suggested reading level: ages 10 up

Mellie believed in "small persons with wings" as a kid, earning her the nickname "Fairy Fat." For years she abandons whimsy, Roald Dahl, and fairies altogether, thinking magic can never be real. But when her family moves into an inn, guess what it's infested with? Don't call them fairies; they might turn you into a frog! This is a hilarious book that keeps getting weirder and better with every chapter.

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Bookseller: Michelle
Genre: realistic fiction, humor, environmentalism; mystery
Suggested reading level: ages 9 up

Florida is chock full of weird characters and mysteries. It starts when new kid Roy sees a strange barefoot boy running from the school bus - chasing him leads Roy to discover sparkly painted snakes, the dangers of flapjacks, and how to handle all kinds of bullies. Look for Hiaasen's other books, Flush and Scat.

Harvey by Herve Bouchard
Bookseller: Shara
Genre: graphic novel
Suggested reading level: ages 12 up

Following a toothpick race down Rue Tremblay, Harvey and his brother come home to find their father has suffered a fatal heart attack. With its combination of poignant prose, muted colors, and generous use of white space, this book offers a subtle and heartbreaking glimpse of a boy's experience of loss.

Nate the Great by Marjorie Sharmat, illustrated by Marc Simont
Bookseller: Teresa
Genre: early reader, mystery
Suggested reading level: ages 5 to 7

Do you like pancakes? Do you like solving mysteries? If you answered yes to both of these questions, then this is the book for you! In this story, Nate the Great has a very important case. He needs to help his friend Annie find the missing picture of her dog, Fang. Can you help him gather clues and solve this mystery?

Sad Stories of the Death of Kings by Barry Gifford
Bookseller: Shara
Genre: short stories, realism
Suggested reading level: ages 16 up

Set in 1950s Chicago, this collection of stark short stories brings together the grit of post-war city living with the disillusionment that so often accompanies coming of age tales. Still, Gifford manages to include just the ring amount of surprise and delight to make the harsh realism bearable.

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
Bookseller: Jose-Luis
Genre: realistic fiction, LGTBQ
Suggested reading level: ages 12 up

Born biologically female, high school student Grady has taken the bold step to be himself and live as a male. He knew it was going to be difficult, but he never imagined the wide variety of reactions he receives. Grady misses his best friend, Evie, who is now friends with the biggest bully in the school. And will his mother ever accept his new identity?

Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater
Bookseller: Michelle
Genre: fiction, humor
Suggested reading level: ages 9 up

Don't let this black and white cover deceive you: this book is weird beyond weird! Victor is left home alone and so stays up late watching the late news shows (he's a big fan of Walter Cronkite) - until he sees human-sized lizards playing music on TV. The lizard coincidences pile up until a man with many names and a chicken under his hat becomes Victor's guide, though he inspires more questions than he answers...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Zut alors, it's Zutano!

We are so excited to announce that we now carry Zutano baby clothes! These adorable clothes come in a variety of styles, sizes, and designs.
We carry wrap dresses, body wraps, T shirts, pants, coveralls, bodice jackets, and leggings, with designs ranging from gumballs, zoo animals, sputnik, and a variety of stripes.

The sizes are primarily infant sizes at 6, 12, 18, and 24 months, with select styles in toddler sizes.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Read Across America Day - Dr Seuss

Today is the NEA's Read Across America Day, which is also Dr. Seuss's birthday! The National Education Association started this annual program in 1998 to celebrate the importance - and the pure fun - of reading, and motivate children especially to read. Celebrities, mayors, school principals, athletes, and many other public figures participate in activities and reading challenges across the country.

Random House's Seussville website has ideas for activities and a resource for finding events near you.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Shaun Tan: picture book creator, graphic novelist, Academy Award winner!

I've been trying to see the Oscar nominated film shorts ever since I first heard Australian graphic novelist Shaun Tan was nominated for an animated adaptation of The Lost Thing. I'm definitely going to have to get out to Kendall Cinema soon because Shaun Tan won! He's such an incredibly talented storyteller and artist, with such popular and lauded titles as The Arrival and Tales from Outer Suburbia under his belt, I'm very happy for him to have another acknowledgment of his talent. You can see a trailer for The Lost Thing on its official website.

Lost and Found, a collection of three previously published stories, The Lost Thing, The Red Tree, and Rabbits, will be published early this spring.