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

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go: Best Children's Books of the Year

I love this time of year! I've been making my list and checking it twice, and today posted the 2011 Best Children's Books. It's a little sparse right now, but will grow exponentially as we get closer to the end of the year. Since 2008, I've compiled an annual list of lists of the best children's books of the year, grabbing links from online magazines, journals, blogs, and newspapers, as well as from the various awards for children's literature. Prime season runs through late January, when the Caldecott and the Newbery Medals are announced. 

The 2011 Best Children's Books roster is in the sidebar to the right, under Pages.

Next week will see some List Madness. On Monday, November 7, Publishers Weekly unveils its Best Books of the Year. On Friday, November 11, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) announces the Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12. Despite the dry name, the latter is a terrific guide, a must-see for ideas for all the mini-scientists and engineers in your life.

And we're off!

Drawing from Memory, Allen Say's Autobiographical Journey

9780545176866_xlgDrawing from Memory
by Allen Say
Scholastic, 2011
64 pages

Allen Say won the Caldecott Medal, our country's highest honor for children's book art in 1994, and he may win it again for his latest work, Drawing from Memory. Some prize-watchers have also mentioned the book in regard to the Newbery, the equally prestigious award for writing. 

In this picture-book memoir, Say (b. 1937) looks back at his childhood in Japan, with a particular focus on his apprenticeship with Noro Shinpei, a famous newspaper and magazine cartoonist. Say began working with Shinpei at the same time that he moved into his own apartment in Tokyo—as a middle-school student. The author is remarkably nonjudgmental about the family decision that led to his solo move at age 12. "I was dazed with happiness..."

Drawing from Memory is a beautifully produced book, which, like some of Say's other work (Tea with Milk, Erika-san), appeals as much to adults and older teens as it does to children. Perhaps even more so. A high-school senior we know is going to art school next year, and I keep thinking that Drawing from Memory is the perfect gift for him.

Say uses watercolors, pen and ink, pencils, photographs, and quite a bit of text (at 64 pages, Drawing from Memory is very long for a picture book) to tell the story, and, reflecting his work with Shinpei, Say renders some of the illustrations in sequential panels. 

Allen Say left Japan for the U.S. in 1953; today he lives in Portland Oregon. He writes in an author's note that Drawing from Memory let him "journey through my memories of becoming an artist." How lucky for us readers that he invites us on the trip!

On Mondays a number of children's book blogs post about nonfiction. You can find the roundup of entries today at Jean Little Library.

5 Things I Like About "Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat"


1. The art. Collage! It's so very cool, incorporating stamps that author-illustrator Philip Christian Stead has collected since he was a kid, and lots of cut paper, as well as lettering from antique toy letterpress sets. It's equally cool to learn exactly how he does it: at the blog Seven Impossible Things, Stead gives a step-by-step guide that will have aspiring artists headed out the door for supplies. Really, if your favorite kid likes art, share the Seven Imp post with him or her.

2. The theme.  “After all, a big boat needs a big crew," i.e., friends can make all 
the difference. When Jonathan’s parents trade his teddy bear for a toaster, Jonathan takes sail in a Big Blue Boat to find his bear, Frederick, who “could be anywhere in the whole wide world.” On his travels, Captain Jonathan assembles an unlikely crew—a mountain goat, an old circus elephant, and a whale—who each have a unique skill to contribute.

3. The story. Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat makes a good read-aloud, ideally suited to preschool 4's and kindergarten classes.

4. The setting. At sea. On a huge steamship. Oh, those oceanic hues. Lovely.

5. The homage. The illustrations call to mind the work of Ezra Jack Keats. Published almost fifty years ago, Keats' The Snowy Day was the "first modern full-color picture book to feature an African-American protagonist," as the Jewish Museum points out in its current exhibition "The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats." Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat also features a child of color.

In a new-book display at a nearby library, all the other books with nonwhite main characters concerned grim historical experiences. In an essay about the 2010 year in publishing, some experts at the Cooperative Children's Book Center* asked, "Where are picture books featuring contemporary African American children (Hooray for A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams!) Why are we asking the same questions today that were being asked thirty years ago in terms of stagnating numbers?"

 Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat was my nomination for a Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award in the fiction picture book cateogry.


Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat
by Philip Christian Stead
Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 2011
32 pages

*Link to article referenced:  "Thoughts on Publishing in 2010," by Kathleen T. Horning, Carling Febry, Merri V. Lindgren, and Megan Schliesman. CCBC Choices 2011