Friday, April 29, 2016

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

Looking for your first summer read of 2016 that embodies everything that is perfect (and unexpected) about a summer spent at home in a job you never in a million years thought you would have? For fans of Jenny Han, Morgan Matson's The Unexpected Everything is everything a summer read should be, and more. It's available 5/3/16!

Andie Walker has every detail of her summer planned. She’s heading to John Hopkins for a very selective summer program for students who want to study pre-med in college. Her friends, Toby, Bri, and Palmer are thick as thieves, and she can’t imagine anything fracturing their friendship.

When Andie’s father, a member of Congress, is suddenly in the spotlight for a scandal involving misappropriation of funds, Andie’s perfectly planned summer goes down the drain in one fell swoop. She loses her prestigious internship at John Hopkins and finds herself without a job, or internship, stuck in Stanwich Connecticut for the summer. The bright side is that her friends will all be in town. Looking for something to do, Andie applies for a position as a dog-walker with Dave and Maya’s Pet Care, despite the fact that she’s never walked a dog in her life.

One of Andie’s first assignments is to walk Bertie, a large, white and fluffy dog named who would rather be escaping his leash than being walked. Walking Bertie leads her to Clark, a stranger from out of town who seems even more clueless about walking dogs than she is, but their friendship helps Andie survive the summer she didn’t think she wanted.

Morgan Matson has written the perfect summer read. Fun and lighthearted, it doesn’t shy away from the realistic portrayal of friendships between girls who are keeping secrets from each other, relationships between family members who haven’t sat down to a meal together in years, and above all, what it’s like to walk multiple dogs at once.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Finish National Poetry Month with a Book of Poems

In the first grade, I read Jack Prelutsky’s A Pizza the Size of the Sun. It changed the way I looked at words and at reading. If I could read one page of poetry, I could read two. I came to love reading first by loving poetry.

In my six-year-old mind, the rhymes were funny, the stories they told made absolutely no sense, and I wanted more of them. In these kinds of stories, pizzas could be as large as the sun. You could fall UP instead of down in Shel Silverstein’s book of poetry, Falling Up. What did I learn as a six-year-old reading poetry? The rules of the universe didn’t apply in poems.

Much later I learned that poems did reflect the real world, sometimes in flowery Shakespearean sonnets, and other times in quick stanzas of reality as in William Carlos Williams’ poems, i.e. “This Is Just To Say.”

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

We introduce words and language to children in rhymes. All of Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes are poetry. The children’s books that stick in our brains long past our childhood—they all rhyme! Madeline, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Green Eggs and Ham, and the list continues.

So I encourage those among you who may not enjoy reading poetry for yourself to pick up a poem and read it out loud to your child this last week of National Poetry Month. I promise, if the poem is funny, if there are accompanying illustrations, then anything is possible! You may end up reading two or three.

As Shel Silverstein says in his poem “Listen to the Mustn’ts” from Where the Sidewalk Ends:

Listen to the MUSTN'TS, child,
      Listen to the DON'TS
      Listen to the SHOULDN'TS
      Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
      Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.

Other Great Books of Poetry for Children:

The Maine Coon’s Haiku by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Lee White

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Tasha Tudor

Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer

A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children by Caroline Kennedy, Paintings by Jon J Muth

Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman & Rick Allen

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Julie Morstad

What Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About? by Judith Viorst

Little Poems for Tiny Ears Poems by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Tomie dePaola 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Interview Session: Erin and Philip Stead

When Erin and Phil Stead visited Lemuria Books in March, I was fortunate enough to speak with them about their writing, their art, who influences them, and what projects they have coming up. The live and work in a place that inspires their craft, and this conversation is between the three of us outside a coffee shop. 

Phil talks about his most recent book, Ideas Are All Around, and Erin talks about a time in her life when she wasn’t creating art, and the drawing that changed all of that and served as a springboard for the book that would change their lives—A Sick Day for Amos McGee

Both of them are as familiar with each other as a creative team who also happen to be husband and wife can be. Their conversation is organic, and reflects their calm demeanor and shy personalities. They both possess a very dry wit and keen sense of the world around them.

Thank you, Erin and Phil, for your kindness in speaking so honestly with me, and I hope that readers enjoy this interview!

Erin and Phil present "Storytime with the Steads" at Lemuria Books.

Where are you from and where do you live now?

Erin: We are from Michigan and we most of the time live in a place in Northern Michigan called Leelanau County which is right outside of a national park. It’s rural, and there are a lot of orchards and beaches too, so it’s a neat place to live.

Phil: We live in a 115 year old farm house on a lot of land. It’s a nice and quiet place to live and work.

What did you do before writing and illustrating great books?

Erin (to Phil): You tried to make books.

Phil: Erin and I have known each other since high school and we have always been trying to make books. 

Erin: There were a few years when I still loved books, but I didn’t think that I should make them, so I stopped trying. I stopped drawing or making any art. It was a strange time. It was a short period of time, but it was definitive because it made me realize that without art I was really boring. 

Phil: After Erin took three years off of drawing, a friend of Erin’s asked her to make a drawing for him. She worked on this little drawing at her kitchen table in New York City, and the drawing was of an old man and an elephant. 

Erin (to Phil): You saw me draw it, and you wrote me a story. That was A Sick Day For Amos McGee.

Phil: And then suddenly we did make books for a living. 

Buy one of Erin's amazing prints here.

What were some of your favorite books as a child?

Phil: That’s an easy one. I loved Roald Dahl more than anything.

Erin: We both did.

Phil: I still love Roald Dahl. My favorite book of Dahl’s was The BFG. I read everything by Roald Dahl, and I think I imagined that I would become Roald Dahl. He is described as a caustic and sometimes nasty writer. Wicked is a word that is used to describe him. I think that his books are, inevitably, about kindness. So I think that our books and Dahl’s books have a lot in common for that reason. Whenever I pick up a Dahl book to this day, I feel a kinship with themes that he wrote that are themes that I like to explore. 

I also really loved William Steig. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was definitely my favorite picture book as a kid. I really only remember owning two picture books. One was Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and the other was Swimmy, by Leo Lionni. I think that both of those books influenced the types of books I was going to make later in my life.

Erin: If Phil only remembers owning two picture books I remember owning a lot. I was the third child so I inherited books. My mom was really good at getting me picture books no matter what age I was, which was really important. My godmother also did that, she was an elementary teacher at an inner city school in Detroit, and she really had her finger on the pulse of what was new, so I have some first editions of books that went on to win the Caldecott.

The first book I remember reading out loud was in Kindergarten, but that was because we were all supposed to read it out loud. I had memorized the book, and it was Where The Wild Things Are. My other favorite book was The Snowy Day. I had good taste, but it wasn’t that I was an original child. 
I also loved being read aloud to, so any book that my teacher would read to me I loved. Those are the memories that I hold dear. Charlotte’s Web was also a big influence.

Who are some authors and illustrators who inspire you today?

Erin: Someone we have always loved is Carll Cneut. He is Belgian, and his work is amazing. He’s published a few of his books here, but they never caught. So we own a lot of his books that we can’t read because they are written in french. 

Phil: Before we were published, when we were just students, I really wanted my work to look and feel like Carll Cneut’s books. 

Erin: I was working in a bookstore, and when we received a few of his books I was so taken by them.

Phil: My favorite book of his is The Amazing Love Story of Mr. Morf. I just recently read it again and I was amazed at how much I had copied it in the way that I write. I must have read it so many times that I think it exists inside me. I think all of our books are some version of The Amazing Love Story of Mr. Morf. 

Erin: It was published by Clarion and I think we bought all of them.

The Amazing Love Story of Mr. Morf by Carll Cneut, Clarion Books, 2003 

Erin: I think one of the neat things now that I never expected is that a lot of the people we admire the most we are lucky enough to call friends. 
I love Mac Barnett’s writing and he’s a friend. I love Jon Klassen’s illustrations and he’s a friend. 

Phil: Maybe my favorite contemporary book maker that I consider a peer is Tao Nyeu. She’s only published a few books, but some of the ones that are out are some of the most influential, to me, now. Her first book is called Wonder Bear. It is beautiful, groundbreaking, and extraordinary. I think it is a book that will last a long time. I think it has been really influential in the minds of artists in the last couple of years. Her second book, Bunny Days, is my favorite. I think it’s absolutely brilliant. I’ve only read a few books ever that only exist in the mind of a five-year-old. 

Erin: Yes, and the way that it [Bunny Days] makes adults uncomfortable, specifically because it is true to kid logic. 

Phil: It is told in three short stories. In one of the stories, a bunch of bunnies get thrown into a washing machine. Parents have trouble with this part of the story according to online reviews, but to kids, they don’t even question it. But to five year olds, it’s perfectly normal. 

Erin: Their best friends get thrown into the washing machine all the time. 

Bunny Days by Tao Nyeu, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2010

How does your writing and illustrating process usually work? 

Erin: Every day is different. I think that Phil and I both wish we had a routine and we don’t. I also think that the Caldecott actually does change your life. Here we are five years later after Amos came out, and we are still trying to chase after a routine. We wake up in the morning, we walk the dog, and do some business. We have slow mornings, and we don’t start any creative work until at least after lunch.

Phil: No matter how many years we do this, I never stop being afraid to work. Every single day I avoid and procrastinate and avoid getting into the studio because every day is a little bit scary. There’s always something to overcome.

Speaking of getting your ideas, this question is for Phil. Can you talk about Ideas Are All Around and why you decided to write this book? It’s a poetic book; each page is poetry. It’s an ode to inspiring writer and artists.

Phil: Thank you. I actually didn’t intend to write this book in the way that I intended to write my other books. It actually came from different scraps and pieces of writing without any intention of compiling them into any kind of story. I was working on pitching a different project, Samson in the Snow, and while I was pitching that book to my editor, I also sent him some scraps of writing I had been doing. Neal Porter, our editor, was excited about those scraps, and asked if that could be a book. Thus began the process of finding the book within those scraps. It’s a book about creativity, a book about the process of finding an idea and developing an idea. More than that it’s about what it means to live an open life, to live in a community, to live with kindness and respect to the world around you. 
The nuts and bolts of the writing process are actually just the structure on which the rest of it hangs.

Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead, Roaring Brook Press, 2016

What was your favorite book to work on together?

Erin: Bear Has a Story to Tell was the easiest.

Phil: That one was the most fun. Erin was working on And Then It’s Spring, and Erin drew an illustration of three bears, and as soon as I saw that illustration, I knew that I wanted to write something about a bear because I loved the way she illustrated those characters. I wrote the first draft the same day I saw her illustration, and the first and final draft were almost identical, so it was an effortless writing process. Once it was handed to Erin it was as close to an effortless illustration process the we can get.

Erin: It was the first period of time that it really felt like we could pull this whole book making thing off, like something we could continue to do. Bear Has a Story to Tell was the first one we were able to make without as much terror. 

Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip and Erin Stead, Roaring Brook, 2012

Do you have the illustrations in mind before writing, or do the words come first?

Erin: It can happen either way.

Phil: In the case of Amos, [A Sick Day For Amos McGee], there was the image that came first. At first there was the image that Erin made at the kitchen table. Then more images appeared in mind, an image of the old man playing chess with an elephant and an image of an old man running a race with a tortoise. The visual middle of the story first came to my mind for that book. We developed the character and then developed the story. 

With Bear Has a Story to Tell, I saw an image of a bear, but the story just existed from start to finish, and then the story belonged to Erin.

Both of you illustrate, so what art style do you like to use?

Phil: I would describe myself as eclectic. I like to use different mediums and try different styles. 

In Ideas Are All Around, I love the page that is just pictures of the sky. 

Phil: In the case of my new book, that is as eclectic as I get. I didn’t plan that I wanted it to look a certain way, I just wanted it to look like a visual diary.

Erin (to Phil): Taking polaroids is how you tend to journal your life.

Phil: Polaroids, charcoal drawings, it all made it into that book. It was very natural to make. 

Erin: I consider myself someone who draws and has to figure out how to add color with every drawing. We change our medium with the story we are trying to tell and the characters we are trying to describe. We have to learn how to make art all over again because we are trying to be good illustrators. 

Phil: With A Sick Day For Amos McGee, that book is made with woodblock printing which is a slow and deliberate process. It fits with Amos McGee, who is a slow and deliberate character. Whereas Bear Has a Story to Tell, the main character, Bear, is neither slow nor deliberate. He’s bundling, off the cuff, a little bit of a mess, so we felt the art should reflect him.

Erin: The medium was different. It was painted with ground up chalk pastels so it was almost like painting with mud. 

Phil: If you take A Home for Bird, prior to that book, I had only made books using collage. Collage didn’t seem right for A Home for Bird, and in the end, I used crayon as my primary medium because crayon is an honest and simple material, and Vernon is honest and simple.

Phil demonstrates his illustration process to a captive audience

If you could walk into any of your stories, which one would you choose, and why?

Erin & Phil: A Sick Day For Amos McGee

Phil: It just seems like a nice place to be. It is a reflection of how we wish the world worked. place that we wish the world 

Erin: Amos was going to be my one shot to make a book. Even though I was trying to tell a good story, it reflects all my favorite things. The color palette is the truest color palette of what I’m drawn to. It’s orderly.

Phil: I might also want to visit Sebastian and the Balloon because it gave me strange dreams while I was working on it.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip and Erin Stead, Roaring Brook, 2010

Any new projects coming up? 

Erin: We both have books coming out in the fall. It has been a busy couple of years for us. I have a book called The Uncorked of Ocean Bottles. 

Phil: I have a picture book this fall called Samson in the Snow which is a simple story about a woolly mammoth who goes looking for a friend in a snow storm.

Erin: The reason I picked this book up is because it felt like a book my mom would have bought me. 

What do you love about creating picture books for children and adults?

Erin: The thing that I love about making picture books for children, and the adults who love picture books as well, is that the audience is about as honest an audience you could chase after. It’s scary because you can lose a two year old really fast in a book. At the same time, a two year old isn’t politically motive, or isn’t concerned about the ulterior motive of the rabbit [in Bunny Days]. Our job is to take these really broad feelings of what it like to just be human and distill them into very short stories that attempts to be relatable to anyone. It’s a really interesting problem to attack with every book. I really love the challenge that book making gives me, and the challenge of how to tell the story in such a short amount of time.

Phil: I think I was drawn to making books for children because I felt that children’s books were in some way subversive. They aren’t being scrutinized in the same kind of way that art or writing for adults is. you can get away with tackling really difficult stuff that matters. What does it mean to live in a world that has kindness and cruelty? What does it mean to live in a world where people are lonely? These things can be dealt with in any art form, but there is something about the purity of children’s books, and the fact that the audience still believes in a kind of magic that makes making picture books a worthwhile endeavor to me. 

Phil and Erin inside of OZ, the Children's Section of Lemuria Books.

**Giveaway Time**
I will be giving away one first edition copy of Ideas Are All Around, signed by Philip Stead. 

Rules to Enter: (U.S. Only) 
Must follow @20xJenny on Twitter or @20xjennybooks on Instagram. 
On Twitter, retweet the interview link with the hashtag #ideasgiveaway. 
On Instagram, repost the photo, and include the hashtag #ideasgiveaway.

Winner will be randomly drawn on Saturday, April 30, 12 p.m. EST. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Ollie's Odyssey by William Joyce

“Favorite. That was a very big word.
In the realm of toys, being favorited was a special distinction. It was as yum as it got. There can only be one favorite for every child, and Ollie was Billy’s.”

Ollie is a small and unassuming handmade toy. A stuffed rabbit with a tinkling bell for a heart and extra long ears, Ollie is a special toy, made by Billy’s mother when Billy was born with a hole in his heart. “Ollie’s head was usually pressed against Billy’s chest when he slept, so Ollie listened intently to his heartbeat. ‘I don’t hear a hole,’ Ollie thought, ‘but then, I don’t know what kind of sound a hole would make.’” Ollie is bestowed the highest honor in the Toy World: being a “favorite” to Billy.

As Billy and Ollie grow up together, they go on “A-ventures.” Sometimes, an “A-venture” is as simple as a trip to the grocery story. When it is just the two of them, Billy and Ollie go on especially “huge A-ventures [which] could be a trip to the moon via a rocket ship (really a refrigerator box), which sat in the backyard.” When an evil clown king, a forgotten toy named Zozo (who really despises favorite toys) has his henchmen toynap Ollie, Billy embarks on an epic “A-venture” to find his favorite toy. Ollie’s Odyssey is about the biggest “A-venture” of Ollie and Billy’s life, and it lasts the span of ten blocks.

William Joyce is the mastermind behind such books (and movies!) as The Guardians, A Day With Wilbur Robinson (which is Meet the Robinsons in movie form), and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which in addition to being an amazing book, is an Academy-Award winning film. His company, Moonbot Studios, produces movies and books and is located in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Ollie’s Odyssey is for those who enjoy Toy Story with the magic and creativity that is only found in Joyce’s work and will be a great addition to any library. Joyce knows the secret to childhood, how a child’s brain works, what constitutes “magic” in a child’s eyes, and it is evident in his mastery of illustration and writing.

Sometimes, the greatest adventures we take are the ones in our imaginations and the love that we share.

To purchase a signed copy by William Joyce, visit Lemuria Books!

This review originally appeared in The Clarion Ledger.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Sometimes the pain in her heart made her feel too terrified to go on. Sometimes it made her want to drop to her knees. But then she would remember that she had a plan.

And what a plan it is. Ramie Clarke is going to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. Her competitors? Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. Learning to twirl a baton from Miss Ida Nee brings the girls together in a summer they will never forget.

Louisiana, the daughter of the Flying Elefantes, could not be more unlike her throw-caution-to-the-wind parents. She is rather delicate, always fainting or wheezing, and she has a Granny who drives like a whirling dervish and who can barely see above the steering wheel. Louisiana wants to be Little Miss Central Florida Tire and win the “king’s ransom” of the prize money. 

Beverly Tapinski, on the other hand, is a champion baton twirler, but she is out to sabotage the contest. When she introduces herself to Raymie, she says, “My name is Beverly Tapinski and my father is a cop, so I don’t think that you should mess with me.” Her hands are perpetually grubby, but she is someone you want on your team.

Raymie Clarke wants to win Little Miss Central Florida Tire so that her father, who ran away with a dental hygienist, will return home.

Three girls, so very different from each other, but who’s mutual mission and loneliness brings them closer than they could ever imagine. Sometimes, we find friendship is in those we least expect. It takes rescuing a library book, A Bright and Shining Path: The Life of Florence Nightingale, and rescuing each other, time and time again throughout the book, for the three girls to discover it takes friends to help you be brave, to help you carry on.

Kate DiCamillo is one of those writers who makes the reader want to hold onto every line. Reading Raymie Nightingale, your heart will ache, and it will also leave you laughing out loud. As three little girls set out to win Little Miss Central Florida Tire 1975, they will win your heart as well.

This review originally appeared on Lemuria Books

Thursday, April 7, 2016

When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Julie Morstad

April is National Poetry Month, and Julie Fogliano’s When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons, with pictures by Julie Morstad, is a book of poems that makes you stop and read each one twice. They are joyful, childlike, and reflect the agonizing wait for sunshine to appear after a long winter.

Each poem is marked with a date. For instance, the poem for April 3 is an accurate depiction of a gray day after heavy rain.

april 3

the sky was too busy sulking to rain
and the sun was exhausted from trying
and everyone
it seemed
had decided
to wear their sadness
on the outside
and even the birds
and all their singing
sounded brokenhearted
inside of all that gray.

When Green Becomes Tomatoes starts and ends with the same poem on March 20 in the collection of poems categorized as “Spring.” Spring showers and daffodils gives way to “Summer,” a collection of poems focused on swimming in cool water, fireflies, and tomatoes on the vine. “Fall” is filled with leaves falling, pumpkins, and the first hints of winter. "Winter" arrives in a blanket of white with cozy poems, only to turn into spring again.

Morstad’s illustrations are so gorgeous that they would not look out of place framed on a wall. In a style that is similar to Gyo Fujikawa and Edward Gorey, Morstad’s illustrations are poetry themselves and bring Fogliano’s poems and the seasons to life.

Enjoy National Poetry Month by selecting a poem to read from When Green Becomes Tomatoes, where there is a poem for every season.

This review originally appeared in The Clarion Ledger.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Let's Play! by Hervé Tullet

Are you ready…to play? From the creator of Press Here and Mix It Up, interactive stories for children that explore color theory, Herve Tullet’s brand new book Let’s Play! explores emotions and the sheer excitement of playing with color and line.

If you are not familiar with his first two books for babies and toddlers, prepare to get your hands messy. Don’t be shy—when the yellow dot asks you to “Press the top corner to get me started,” put your finger on the page! Yellow dot is the main star of Let’s Play and will guide you and your child on a rollercoaster ride through the book. 

Expect to play hide-and-seek in a forest of trees with blue and red leaves, roll into a dark tunnel, and tiptoe up the stairs. You will flip, turn, and “clap your hands twice and say za-za-zoommm!” Yellow dot might even accidentally bounce off the page and into your hair! Finally, with the help of Yellow dot, your child will learn to STOP at a red light, and GO at a green light.

Tullet breaks the boundaries normally found in a picture book. Reading becomes interactive and playful. The story can only happen with the child’s finger pressing on the page and following the instructions. In Let’s Play, get ready to encounter a world of excitement, conquer obstacles, and explore fears (heights and dark places) in a way that will have your child begging to play one more time.

Hervé Tullet, author and artist of LET'S PLAY!