Sunday, August 21, 2005

Busy, busy, busy

Wow, Once Upon a Story is looking a little bit neglected these days. I've been preoccupied with a web design project (which I've been having a lot of fun with in spite of the fact that it eats into my "playtime" a bit). Anyway, posting may be sporadic for the next few days but I should be posting regularly again by the end of next week.

In the meantime, I've been feeding my 3-year-old son dinosaur books to keep up with his insatiable appetite for all things dinosaur... thanks to Kelly of Big A, little a for some great recommendations! I also caught up on Kate DiCamillo's books, having read Tiger Rising for the first time this past week. She is an amazingly versatile writer, all three books were wonderful and engaging. The Tale of Despereaux remains my favorite. In Harry Potter news, I finished Goblet of Fire (doing a series re-read in attempt to pick up clues about book seven) and am starting again on Order of the Pheonix. You know you're reading too much Harry Potter when you daydream about borrowing Hermione's Time-turner. And on that note, time to get back to my day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

This post is filled with misery and unhappiness, and I urge you not to read it

Here's some interesting news for Lemony Snicket fans:
Next month, Stephen King, Amy Tan, Lemony Snicket, Nora Roberts, Michael Chabon and 11 other best-selling writers will auction the right to name characters in their new novels. The profits will go to the First Amendment Project, whose lawyers have repeatedly gone to court to protect the free speech rights of activists, writers and artists.

Snicket, who will let the top bidder determine an utterance by Sunny Baudelaire in his upcoming 13th installment of his "Series of Unfortunate Events," said he holds the First Amendment dear because "the only trouble I should get in for my writing is the trouble I make myself."

His only caveat: The meaning of the utterance may be slightly "mutilated."

On saying goodbye

Cynthia Rylant's Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven are touching tributes to our furry companions, and wonderful selections for helping a child cope with the loss of a pet. Though these books tug at the heart strings, Rylant has a light touch and paints a beautiful picture that is as comforting as it is imaginative.

"When dogs go to Heaven, they don't need wings because God knows that dogs love running best. He gives them fields. Fields and fields and fields." But that's just the beginning of the adventures a dog will have in Dog Heaven. There are lakes filled with playful geese, angel children (because "God knows that dogs love children more than anything else in the world"), and dog biscuits in the shape of cats and squirrels. Heaven is not short on care or love, either. At night dogs sleep on fluffy cloud beds, where they are watched over--untouched by bad dreams. Dogs who once had homes remember the people who loved them, as Dog Heaven is "full of memories". Dogs who had no homes on earth are given homes in Dog Heaven furnished with couches to lie on, bowls with their names on them, and many reminders that they are good dogs. Rylant's descriptions are soothing, reassuring young readers that their beloved dog will be happy in Dog Heaven. After all, "It is where dogs belong, near God who made them."

Cat Heaven is written in beautiful, litlting rhyme. Similar to Dog Heaven, a cat's journey to heaven is a joyful and leisurely romp through fields full of butterflies to chase. When they arrive, a waiting angel gives them a bowl of milk. Cat Heaven is full to bursting with things a cat adores--trees, every imaginable kitty toy, and angel laps for napping.
"And when cats are hungry,
there's God's kitchen counter
all covered with
white kitty dishes,
full of tuna and salmon
and mounds of sardines,
and wonderful little pink fishes."

Cats are every bit as spoiled in heaven as they are on earth, being permitted to sleep on God's bed at night and wander with Him in the garden during the day. Cats never forget the people they loved, either.
"She will watch the old house
where she once lived and wandered,
and the people who loved her inside."

In the final lines of the book, Rylant leaves us with another lovely vision of feline contentment:
"All cats love Heaven,
they know the way there,
they know where the angel cats fly.
They'll run past the stars
and the moon and the sun... curl up with God in the sky."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Starting young

There was an article in the Orlando Sentinel today about a girl named Anna Johanson, a 14-year-old illustrator with two children's books to her credit (There's A Frog Trapped in the Bathroom and The Very Stubborn Centipede, both by Susan Snyder) and a third in progress. But get this: she started working on her first book when she was just 12!
This home-schooled 10th-grader from Deltona is imagining what it will be like in October to walk into any Borders Books & Music store across the nation and find her work on display, for sale. (...)

"Realizing that it would be in all those bookstores, I was like, 'Wow,' " said the teen, who also tap dances in her spare time, listens to alternative Christian music and plays with her orange cat, Moppet, and her terrier mix named Max. She draws inspiration for her art from Disney and from children's authors Shel Silverstein and Beatrix Potter.

Between her illustrating success and the fact that she's a homeschooler, I can't help but want to let out a whoop and a loud "YOU GO GIRL!" (But I will maintain dignity, as even my dog gives me a reproachful "Do you have to do that?" look when I get carried away.) I'm sure stories of those making a start in the publishing business remarkably young go back decades, but it seems I've read about several young authors/illustrators just in recent months. Pretty amazing. Children (and young adults) are capable of much more than they usually get credit for, and I suppose that's what makes them so irresistable to cheer along. I look forward to following Miss Johanson's progress in what I hope will be a long and successful career for her.

The Tapestry Cats

The Tapestry Cats, written by Ann Turnbull and illustrated by Carol Morley, is a near fairy tale (replete with Fairy Godmother) and one that I highly recommend. Ann Turnbull is a natural storyteller, and her descriptions are lovely to read aloud. A Publishers Weekly review says of the book:
One need not be ailurophilic to fancy this sprightly collaboration, which tells of a princess whose mother always decides what is best. The girl's resultant dull life, however, is magically enriched by the coming to life of two cats from the castle's beautiful tapestries. Turnbull has a sure, deft hand with description--one cat is ``as warm as honey and as heavy as sleep,'' the other ``as secret as moonlight and as quick as thought''--as well as a satisfying streak of mischief. Using cut paper, Morley creates unique visuals that are at once lush and playful, and that capture with energy and verve the characters' essential traits, from the liveliness of the princess to the bright-eyed inquisitiveness of her cats. The shape of the figures (tiny heads on large bodies, resembling old-fashioned clothespin dolls) and the fetchingly scattershot layout lend the proceedings a slightly surreal, highly stylized look. As if all this weren't enough, the tale ends with a low-key but rewarding moral: the queen begins to focus on what is best for the cats (salmon with fennel), and the princess learns to speak up for herself.

Here's another image from an inside page of the book. If you enjoy the artis's work in this book, take a peek at a few other images from her portfolio.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Story by Mark Sperring
Art by Alexandra Steele-Morgan

"One day, Marty's mom told him all about dinosaurs." Imagination peaked, Marty decides that a dinosaur would be an excellent playmate and makes up his mind that he's going to find one. Even though his mother tells him that they lived long ago and are now, unfortunately, extinct, Marty is sure they're just good at hiding. He sets out on a determined search in and around his house and uncovers elves, an alien, a sea monster, something-or-other and thing-a-ma-jig along with many other interesting creatures... but no dinosaurs. (Observant readers, however, may notice a few dinos-in-disguise throughout the book.) His mom gently tries again to convince him they don't exist, but his belief in real live modern-day dinos is unwavering. "I've changed my mind about dinosaurs being good at hiding," Marty said finally, "They're GREAT at it!" In the final pages, readers see Marty gazing out his window, unaware of the presensce of several dinosaurs camoflauged in nighttime shadows against the trees, and taking the shapes of clouds and constellations, among things.

Find-a-Saurus is fun, imaginative, and thoughtful. Parents will appreciate Marty's determination in believing the unbelievable with enthusiasm and pure faith that comes with childhood; Children will appreciate being rewarded with proof that Marty was right, and dinosaurs do indeed exist. Fear is also addressed, but more subtly (and maybe I'm just seeing this through the eyes of my own past childhood). Marty discovers creatures in the very places that children would most worry that a something-or-other might be lurking--in the closet, under the bed, in the attic. But there is such a humorous take on every creature he comes across (a monster making a silly face from under the bed, for example) that Marty is unconcerned by any of the potentially frightening discoveries, and children are sure to find the expedition hilarious.

The illustrations compliment the story wonderfully. The artwork is rich in color and energy, and the composition of each page interesting enough that even younger children will want to linger and notice the subtle details of the book.

is another great read for any young dinosaur enthusiast, although certainly not limited to children who love a good dinosaur tale. We have borrowed this book from the library frequently enough that I'm sure my son will find his own copy among birthday or Christmas presents this year. (Shh, don't tell.) We both recommend it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Back to school reading

The Houston Chronicle suggests some new back to school titles for preschoolers & up:
Mr. Monkey's Classroom ($14.99), by Jiwon Oh. Older schoolmate Cat helps Mouse get ready for his first day of class. School is a bit scary, but Mouse makes it through the day — and the lunch line.

School ($15.99), by Emily Arnold McCully. Bitty, the little mouse who also starred in First Snow and Picnic, follows her brothers and sisters to school.

Brand-new Pencils, Brand-new Books($15.99), by Diane deGroat. The opossum with glasses begins the first-grade in this prequel to the Gilbert series.

Bunny School ($15.99), Rick Walton, illustrated by Paige Miglio. Bunnies go through a day at school, with show-and-tell, music time, recess, lunch and a field trip.

In Kindergarten Rocks (Harcourt, $15) by Katie Davis, a boy with going-to-kindergarten jitters learns about school from his sister — a third-grader.

Jan Ormerod, author of I Am Not Going to School Today!, lets youngsters see a school day through the eyes of an elephant. When an Elephant Comes to School (Scholastic, $16.95) suggests an elephant new to the class may be a bit shy and will welcome a friend to point out important things such as where lunch boxes are stored and how to find the restroom.

Slippers the puppy stows away in Laura's backpack for Slippers at School (Dutton, $12.99), by Andrew Clements with illustrations by Janie Bynum. The teachers and students spot Slippers, but he slips away and makes his way back to Laura.

P.S. Kelly from Big A, little a has posted links to several back to school reading lists. Check them out!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Christopher Gunson

My son got out an old issue of Babybug magazine today, and one of the little poems we read was accompanied by such eye-catchingly wild and colorful illustrations that I had to get the magazine back out after I put him down for bed to goggle at them. I mean, Google them... I Googled the illustrator. Anyway, my search turned up some really cute prints of pigs, a tiger, and frogs at, which I would buy in a heartbeat for our boring walls. I don't think my husband would have quite the same appreciation for a home decorated soley in children's book art, however, which is probably the only thing holding me back.

This roly poly cat is from an Amazon poster that doesn't look to be available any longer but it sure is cute! Maybe I'll scan and post one of the images from Babybug (can I do that?) tomorrow, because the poem we read took up three pages of the issue and was all about a kitten. An even cuter kitten.

Christopher Gunson has written and illustrated two books, Over the Farm and Little Frog. I haven't read either, but I love the sheep on the cover of the farm book; they remind me of fluffy clouds. I have a soft spot in my heart for little sheep though. When I was very young my family lived on a farm, and I had a good friend in a lamb that I named Frisky. He'd go galloping across one side of his stall, then galloping back across the other side, then he'd plop down in my lap. This was even funnier because he was lame and only three of his legs worked properly, so he put on this show with something between a skip and a hobble. It was almost like he knew it was hilarious to watch and went dancing around on purpose, just to ham it up. Heaven for a young animal lover. Yeah, I know, I'm kind of weaving in and out of relevance for this post.

Booklist says this in their review of Over the Farm:

The popular "Over in the Meadow" folk rhyme gets a farm setting in this lively picture book that will draw very young children into counting the animals and joining in their actions. From the clever mother cat who stretches with her little cat one, to the kind mother pig who snuggles with her little piggies ten, the double-page, brightly colored paintings show the blissful animal families leaping, hopping, rustling, blinking, scratching, and flapping in the sun.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Author Tracker

I just stumbled across a website called Author Tracker. Heard of it? You can find your favorite authors and sign up to have email notifications sent to you when they have a new book ready to hit the shelves. Author Tracker is searchable by author/illustrator name, book title, or subject, and they have an entire section devoted to children's books.

The only downside is that it's not entirely author-comprehensive, but limited to authors who are published with Harper Collins. Still, there are lots of familiar names to choose from, including Meg Cabot, Beverly Cleary, Kevin Henkes, Jean Craighead George, Shel Silverstein, Arnold & Anita Lobel, Patricia MacLachlan, Jack Prelutsky, Maurice Sendak, etc.

Now, I'm not sure how helpful the email alerts will really be (what I was looking for was something more comprehensive about future releases in children's books) but I may sign up for a couple and see if it's worthwhile. Just thought I'd pass along the link in the meantime.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

I'm finally getting around to posting a few thoughts on Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which Mr. Husband and I finished last week.

The following contains spoilers for the book. (I've hidden the spoiler portion for those who haven't finished the book yet.)

So! Half-Blood Prince.

Wow, let me just say that I wasn't disappointed. I'm amazed at how tight the series has been. Ms. Rowling has maintained a strong focus of plot and matured her characters beautifully, all the while keeping the reader entertained. It was another great read.

Not surprisingly, there are still many unanswered questions, particularly regarding Dumbledore and the events surrounding his death. Was Dumbledore really wrong about Snape? Was Snape’s confession of and remorse for relaying the overheard prophecy to Voldemort, which resulted in the death of Harry’s parents, really the "iron-clad" reason Dumbledore had for trusting Snape--or was that just Harry’s assumption? And if Dumbledore was right about Snape, how will Snape's position with Voldemort benefit anybody now that the entire Order of the Phoenix knowns him as Dumbledore's murderer? Who is R.A.B, and did he succeed in destroying that horcrux? (Maybe Regulus Black, Sirius’s brother?)

Dumbledore's death was sad and disturbing, although not a surprise (by that point in the book). As Mr. Husband and I read, Dumbledore’s increased presence throughout seemed to me an ominous foreshadowing. He spent the entire year equipping Harry with information he'd need to defeat Voldemort alone. And now, as far as Voldemort is concerned, his greatest living enemy is Harry Potter. Dumbledore, the only wizard Voldemort ever feared, is out of the way. And in Dumbledore's own words in a conversation with Harry about certain theories Dumbledore held (p. 197):
"Naturally I do [think I'm right], but as I have already proven to you, I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being--forgive me--rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger."

The day Half Blood Prince was released, Rowling gave an interview to two individuals who run Harry Potter fansites. Three pages of Q&A proved to be an interesting read, shedding more light on book six and dropping subtle hints about book seven. One of the interviewers asked Ms. Rowling was how someone as intelligent as Dumbledore be so blind in regard to certain things. Her answer:

"Well, there is information on that to come, in seven. But I would say that I think it has been demonstrated, particularly in books five and six that immense brainpower does not protect you from emotional mistakes and I think Dumbledore really exemplifies that. In fact, I would tend to think that being very, very intelligent might create some problems and it has done for Dumbledore, because his wisdom has isolated him, and I think you can see that in the books, because where is his equal, where is his confidante, where is his partner? He has none of those things. He’s always the one who gives, he’s always the one who has the insight and has the knowledge. So I think that, while I ask the reader to accept that McGonagall is a very worthy second in command, she is not an equal. You have a slightly circuitous answer, but I can't get much closer than that."

I’m having a difficult time believing that Dumbledore was really wrong in assessing Snape's character, although I will admit that it's a bit of a tug-of-war. To have someone as wise as Dumbledore misjudge evil so badly would be devastating; BUT, like Harry, I’m inclined to want an even greater reason to despise the already loathesome Snape.

So in summary, I don't have any serious theories about what will happen in book 7, just a lot of fluff and vague questions. I suppose that's a credit to J.K. Rowling and her flair for keeping her readers guessing. In the meantime, I've spent the last two days re-reading books 1 & 2. I'm hoping that going through the whole series again will give me clues that I might have overlooked the first time around. Of course, I get so caught up in the books I sort of forget to take mental notes. Hrmpf!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Quills Awards

Check it out!
J.K. Rowling, Bob Dylan and Stephen King are among the nominees for the first annual Quills Awards, a glitzy literary affair for which the general public will cast the ballots.

(...) the Quills Awards consist of 19 categories, from sports to debut fiction, with five finalists for each.

Winners will be announced at an Oct. 11 ceremony hosted by NBC anchor Brian Williams, to be aired Oct. 22.

"This is the first consumer-driven awards program that acknowledges the power and importance of the written word and celebrates literacy," Jay Ireland, president of NBC Universal Television Stations, said Thursday in a statement.

From Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, the public can vote online at The prize will be promoted at bookstores and on NBC Universal stations.

There are some great nominations (Harry Potter! Knuffle Bunny!) I'll have to track down some of the titles I'm not familiar with in the next couple of weeks to see what they're like. The categories/nominations for children's books:

Children's Illustrated Book
- America the Beautiful: A Pop-Up Book, Robert Sabuda
- Egyptology: Search for the Tomb of Osiris, Nick Harris, Ian Andrew (Illustrator), Helen Ward (Illustrator)
- Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, Mo Willems
- Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook, Shel Silverstein
- Zen Shorts, Jon J. Muth

Children's Chapter Book/Middle Grade
- Dragon Rider, Cornelia Funke, Anthea Bell (translator)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré (Illustrator)
- Ida B...and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Katherine Hannigan
- Peter and the Starcatchers, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
- A Series of Unfortunate Events Book the Eleventh: The Grim Grotto, Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist (Illustrator)

Young Adult/Teen
- 47, Walter Mosley
- Abarat: Days of Magic Nights of War, Clive Barker
- Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood, Ann Brashares
- How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff
- Wormwood, G. P. Taylor

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs

Here's an article about a new book for young dinosaur enthusiasts: Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs, a pop-up dino book.
This book more than lives up to its rather grandiose subtitle as "The Definitive Pop-Up." That's right, a pop-up encyclopedia. It's an unusual combination of education and entertainment that offers a ton of clear information about dinosaurs along with detailed pop-ups of 35 -- yes, 35! -- different types of dinosaurs.

Open one of the book's six main two-page spreads and you'll suddenly see a mean-looking ankylosaurus pop up, ready to fight for food. Open another spread and a terrifying, sharp-toothed T. rex unfurls, looking awfully hungry. Each of these dinosaurs, like those featured in the other four main spreads, is surrounded by two or three small "books" of facts that readers can open to find more tiny pop-up dinosaurs.

The book is the creation of Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. (...) For both men, creating "Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs" was a labor of love, a chance to build on the fascination with dinosaurs that each has harbored since childhood.

The article adds that the creators are already working on the 2nd Encyclopedia Prehistorica book, the topic of which will be sharks and sea monsters. The third book planned for the series will focus on "ancient mammals like woolly mammoths."

We saw Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs on our last trip to the local Books-A-Million, and when our 3-year-old laid eyes on it he immediately begged to take it home. The pop-ups really are incredible, by far the most intricate pop-up book I've seen. The dinosaurs really jump out at you... in more than one way.

Note: link to location to full version of first image; article source from second image.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Daisy books

We love Daisy, the little yellow duck who is constantly forgetting herself and wandering away to play and explore. Jane Simmons, author and illustrator of the series, has done a beautiful job creating the world of this lovable little duckling, and capturing an innocence that endears Daisy to children and adults alike. Daisy's eager curiosity about the things around her sometimes get her into trouble, but who can blame her for wanting to chase butterflies (flutter, flutter) and frogs (bong, plop!) instead of keeping close to Mama Duck or going to bed? Simmons' illustrations are soft and full of color, and there is a simplicity to them that I adore. It's not that they are lacking in detail, but somehow even with the rich hues, the birds, bugs, and other critters that populate her stories, Daisy's energy and big feet take center stage.

On our most recent trip to the library, we borrowed Quack, Daisy, QUACK! in which Daisy and her little brother Pip spend the day with their mom visiting Aunt Lily. After scaring off everything fun to play with in their noisy exuberance, their Aunt decides to treat them to "a perfect place for being noisy." To Daisy and Pip's delight, it IS noisy, a whole pond full of ducks noisy. The two little ducks are encourgaed to make lots of noise and are rewarded with... bread! In all of the commotion, though, Daisy and Pip get separated from Mama Duck and Aunt Lily, and Pip pleads with Daisy to quack, which she eventually does with such gusto all of the ducks fall silent and she and Pip are reunited with Mama. We frequent a duck pond at a nearby park, and my son was delighted by this duck's perspective story starring his favorite little duck with big feet.

Oh, and if you have or know a little one who loves puzzles, snatch up a copy of Bouncy, Bouncy, Daisy while they're on clearance ($3.99) at Barnes & Noble. The story is a sort of combination of other Daisy books, but on each page there is a simple 4-piece puzzle built in. My son loves his.

Here's a list of other Daisy titles.