The Chicken Spaghetti Gift Guide 2011

Hark! Here is a gift guide for the holidays. Some books are for grown-ups, some for children. At the end of the post, I've linked each title to Powell's. I have no affiliation with the store, but have ordered from it successfully in the past.

For the writer who doesn't mind a fist fight or two (or twenty):
Townie, author Andre Dubus III's memoir of his surprisingly hardscrabble upbringing—one of the best books about writing that I've read in ages.

9780399239878For the preschooler on the verge of big-sisterhood or big-brotherhood:
Pecan Pie Baby, in which Jacqueline Woodson taps into the "What about me?" emotions of a soon-to-be sibling with humor and love.

For the subversive fifth grader in your life:
Spy vs. Spy Omnibus, vintage Mad Magazine cartoon comedy.*

For the friend who wants to cook more often and better:
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. The subtitle says it all: "How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices Into Fearless Home Cooks."

Cvr9780689855702_9780689855702For the toddler who scampers away at bedtime:
Hide-and-squeak, Heather Vogel Frederick's rhyming story of Mouse Baby and her papa. Featuring big, joyful illustrations by C.F. Payne.

For the student artist:
Drawing from Memory, Allen Say's fascinating picture-book memoir of an apprenticeship to a famous Japanese cartoonist.

For the grown-up fan of Doctor De Soto:
Cats, Dogs, Men, Women, Ninnies and Clowns: The Lost Art of William Steig, a collection of previously unpublished work by the New Yorker cartoonist and children's book author.

9781426308697For the viewer of TV shows like "Ghost Hunters" and "The Othersiders" who needs a dose of reality:
Witches! Rosalyn Schanzer's narrative nonfiction history (for kids 10+) of the Salem witch trials.

For the parade lover:
Balloons Over Broadway, a captivating picture book about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and the puppeteer who started it all. Readers of all ages will want to look at it again and again to see the details of the art.

*Note: The hardcover Spy vs. Spy Omnibus is the only one on this list that I haven't read. I am going by my son's love for the library copy of an earlier paperback collection, Spy vs. Spy: The Complete Casebook (2001).


Dubus, Andre III. Townie: A Memoir (W.W. Norton, 2011).

Flinn, Kathleen. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices Into Fearless Home Cooks (Viking, 2011).

Frederick, Heather Vogel. C.F. Payne, illustrator. Hide-and-squeak (Simon & Schuster, 2011).

Prohias, Antonio. Spy vs. Spy Omnibus (MAD Books, 2011).

Say, Allen. Drawing from Memory (Scholastic, 2011).

Schanzer, Rosalyn. Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem (National Geographic, 2011).

Steig, Jeanne. William Steig, illustrator. Cats, Dogs, Men, Women, Ninnies and Clowns: The Lost Art of William Steig (Abrams ComicArts, 2011).

Sweet, Melissa. Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade (Houghton Mifflin, 2011).

Woodson, Jacqueline. Sophie Blackall, illustrator. Pecan Pie Baby (Putnam, late 2010).

Found Poetry: Fascinating...and a Invitation (for Poetry Friday)

Rhymes with Fascinating


Aggravating, calculating, carbon dating,

figure skating,

in-line skating,

maid-in-waiting, nauseating, open dating,

operating, penetrating, suffocating, titillating.


Source: Merriam-Webster Online. Website accessed 12.15.12.

I am seeing poems all over these days. (Uh, oh.) Last week it was in a nonfiction YA book; today the poetry comes via the Merriam-Webster online dictionary entry on the word "fascinating." I cracked up when I read the above. It struck me as a delightfully weird collection of rhyming words. If someone were writing a poem, would she really like to rhyme "fascinating" with "carbon dating"?

Heck, yeah.

So, of course, I had to try my hand at it.


Rhymes with Fascinating II

Overrating, understating, mammal mating,

Silver plating, shark baiting, beagle crating,

Syncopating, procrastinating, cheese grating,

Enervating, table waiting, double dating,

Seven eighting, railroad freighting, irritating.


Other children's book bloggers are also talking about poetry on Friday. (I am posting a little early). See the Poetry Friday roundup tomorrow at Kate Coombs' blog, Book Aunt.

And go ahead. Take a shot at your own "Rhymes With Fascinating" in the comments.

Poetry Friday: Bootleg (Found Poem)

Bootleg: A Found Poem


Blind tiger, bootlegger, booze
Flapper, hooch, moonshine

Rumrunner, speakeasy, teetotaler

The days
of outright prohibition
and likely will
will never return.

Source: Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition, by Karen Blumenthal (Roaring Brook, 2011)

9781596434493I'm just starting Bootleg, which is popping up on year-end best-kids-books lists, including those from School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews, as well as the YALSA Nonfiction Award finalists.

I'm curious about the subject since saloon keeping and home brewing were activities enjoyed by a number of my kinfolks during the same era. Well, the saloon keeping (of one Bismarck Saloon on the town square in Waco, Texas) was just prior to Prohibition, for obvious reasons...

The glossary words in Blumenthal's book read like poetry to me, and I liked her conclusion at the end. That's where I concocted the poem above. The nonfiction book is geared toward readers 12 and older.

Other children's books bloggers are writing about poetry (and not moonshine) today; see the Poetry Friday roundup at Read, Write, Howl for more selections.

Updates to the 2011 List of Best Kids' Books

Since 2008, I've been compiling an annual master list of all the lists of best children's books; I include links to various newspapers, magazines, journals, and blogs, as well as different literature prizes and awards given out.

Other bloggers are making fantastic lists. Largehearted Boy's collection of links is amazing. See the Online "Best of 2011" Book Lists; he does the same thing for music.

Another holiday treat is 150 Ways to Give a Book, MotherReader's gift guide that pairs up children's books and toys to give together. 150 ideas!

The blog of the English Department at St. Columba's College in Dublin assembles "a 'delicious list' of books of the year from a myriad of different publications and websites," which is terrific, too.

I update the big list all the time, and please, chime in if you know of some I'm missing.

Here are some recent additions to Chicken Spaghetti's 2011 Best Children's Books: A List of Lists and Awards.

All About Manga. A compilation of links to various gift guides.

Amanda Craig (great UK book critic).

BoingBoing Gift Guide. Includes quite a few children's/YA books.

Brain Pickings (Maria Popova's blog) Fun, eclectic list.

Kirkus Reviews: Children's books and teens' books

National Outdoor Book Awards (including a category for children's books) Just One More Story blog's "For the Very Youngest Readers" Surprising Science blog's Ten Great Science Books for Kids

Better Parents?

[Economics expert Andreas] Schleicher explained to [Thomas L. Friedman] that “just asking your child how was their school day and showing genuine interest in the learning that they are doing can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring."

Oooh, ooh, I have this down. I am so glad to know that conversations like the following will lead to ratcheted-up test scores, according to the New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. His piece yesterday called for "better parents" and better parental involvement in children's education.

Picture this: a suburban mom picking up her 12 year old from school. Son settles into front seat of car.

Mom (brightly): How was your day?

Son (with indifference): Good.

Mom waits for more information. Mom hears none. Mom tries to think of engaging topic.

Mom: What did you have for lunch?

Son: [Long sigh.] I forgot. Maybe a sandwich? 

Mom, so devoted to her own lunch that she cannot believe anyone could forget what he ate, ponders a new subject.

Mom: So, I guess you played soccer at P.E.?

Perhaps the kind-of-a-statement/kind-of-a-question format will work.

Son [Shorter sigh, more like a huff]: We ALWAYS play soccer. It's soccer season. I'm gonna turn on the radio, okay?

I have more tips for great test-score-raising talks like this. Just ask!

National Book Award for Kids' Lit to First-Time Author

A debut author has won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Last night at the National Book Award ceremony in New York, Thanhha Lai took home the prize for her autobiographical novel in verse, Inside Out & Back Again. Elizabeth Burns, who blogs at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, reviewed the book here, adding, "Am I the only one hoping this becomes a series that follows Ha [the protagonist] through her childhood and teenage years?"

The other winners were Jesmyn Ward, for Salvage the Bones (fiction); Stephen Greenblatt, for The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (nonfiction); and Nikki Finney, for Head Off & Split (poetry).

For more on the awards and the evening, hop over to NPR's Monkey See blog.

Best Children's Science Books of the Year (According to the NSTA)

The list of best children's science books of the year is out! Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12: 2012 (PDF file) was announced last week at a meeting of the National Science Teachers Association. This list with the dry title is always a good resource for gift givers, librarians, teachers, parents, and scientifically minded kids. After a quick scan of the titles, one publisher looks overrepresented to me, but I suppose I'll just have to read up and see.

Picture Books: Mooing Babies, Blue Poultry, Sailing Cats, and More

Picture books. What a fun world they offer. Here are some recommendations from my reading of the past few weeks.

E-mergency! An alphabet book with a hilarious twist: E is injured and out of commission for a while. O must fill in, leading to newspaper headlines like "Man Bitos Dog!" and "Football Toam Wins Big Gamo." By Tom Lichtenheld and Ezra Fields-Meyer. (Chronicle, 2011)

Blue Chicken. An unfinished picture + a curious chicken + a full bottle of paint = watch out! Artist Deborah Freedman plays with perspective, telling most of the story through the adorable illustrations. (Viking, 2011)

Samantha on a Roll. Channeling the spirit of Curious George, Samantha must try out her roller skates, even though her mother is busy. A steep hill? No problem, if you know how to stop. How do you stop, by the way? A rhyming book written by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Christine Davenier. (Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011)

0763641642.medScrawny Cat. A lonely stray cat hiding on a boat accidentally sets sail. Will he find love and acceptance at the island in the distance? (Of course!) Written by Phyllis Root and illustrated by Alison Friend. (Candlewick, 2011)

Poindexter Makes a Friend. A gently humorous story with some practical advice, this book begins and ends with the theme of connection. I plan to read Poindexter, which stars a shy pig, to the second-grade class where I volunteer. Written and illustrated by Mike Twohy. (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2011)

I Want My Hat Back. A bear, a fast-talking rabbit, a missing hat. Hmm. Grownups' favorite picture book of the year is making a number of the Best of 2011 lists so far. By Jon Klassen. (Candlewick, 2011)

Baby Says “Moo!” A rhyming cumulative story, this one ought to tickle 2 and 3 year olds who know their animal sounds. Silly baby, cats don't say "Moo!" Written by JoAnn Early Macken and illustrated by David Walker.  (Disney/Hyperion, 2011)

The Runaway Tortilla. Eric A. Kimmel's Southwestern spin on "The Gingerbread Man" was a big hit with the second graders, who want more of this kind of story. Illustrated by Randy Cecil. (Winslow Press, 2000)

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

9780375868894Flesh & Blood So Cheap:
The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy
by Albert Marrin
Knopf, 2011
182 pages
for readers 11+

On March 25, 1911, 146 people died during a fire, most likely started by a tossed-away cigarette, in Greenwich Village's Triangle Waist Company, which manufactured women's blouses. Most of the deceased were women, some teenagers, and most were recent immigrants from Italy and Russia. Albert Marrin's book about the before and after of that horrific event, during which many jumped from the burning building, covers a lot of ground: immigration history, feminism, labor history, Tammany Hall politics, safety reform, and organized crime, but the most gripping chapters focus on the devastating fire itself, which "sent ripples of misery in all directions." Black and white photographs from the time period enhance the well-researched text.

Flesh & Blood So Cheap, a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People's Literature, is also on the long list for the Cybil Award in the middle grade/young adult nonfiction category. The National Book Awards are announced on November 16th, and the Cybil shortlists on January 1st. 

On Mondays a number of the children's literature blogs feature nonfiction; you'll find today's roundup at Charlotte's Library.

 cover image from Powell's Books

10 Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2011 Announced by New York Times Book Review

The New York Times Book Review's choices for the best illustrated kids' books of 2011 will be featured in the November 13, 2011, issue, along with a special section on children's books. Contributors include Leonard Marcus, Caitlin Flanagan, Roger Sutton, Maria Tatar, and Pete Hamill. 

A link to an online slide show of the art work from the honored books will be available at some point, and I will include it here. (Updated to add: link to slide show.)

2011's 10 Best Illustrated Children's Books, according to the Times, are as follows:

Along a Long Road, written and illustrated by Frank Viva (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

A Ball for Daisy, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka (Schwartz & Wade)

Brother Sun, Sister Moon: Saint Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures, written by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Pamela Dalton (Chronicle Books)

Grandpa Green, written and illustrated by Lane Smith (Roaring Brook Press)

Ice, written and illustrated by Arthur Geisert (Enchanted Lion Books)

I Want My Hat Back, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press)

Me … Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Migrant, written by Maxine Trottier, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Groundwood Books)

A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis, written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Dial)

A New Year’s Reunion, written by Yu Li-Qiong, illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang (Candlewick Press)

News via New York Times press release

Updated to add: ArtsBeat blog article by Pamela Paul, the NYTBR's children's book editor