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Here’s what’s great about today: I found out from Educating Alice that dwarves in Sweden have been hiding inside of suitcases in order to steal from tourists.  Eoin Colfer’s referenced as a . . . what?  An authority on fictional criminal dwarves?  The hey?

Also, I discovered that there is such a thing in the world as Gummi Lights:

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Thanks to Children’s Illustration for that.

But here’s what’s bad about today: I discovered the horrid collection of recipes that the Girl Scouts of America created to use with their cookies.  You know, I’ve no problems with such things as the Thin Mint Brownies or the Tagalongs Shake (although why anyone would want to consume Thin Mints in any fashion other than scarfing them from the box as fast as possible eludes me).  But “Do-Si-Do Peanut Thai Chicken” and “Samoas Sweet Potatoes” — that’s where I draw the line.

Actually, I drew the line way, way behind the sweet potatoes.  Shudder.

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. . . and by “Potter” I am of course referring to Beatrix, not . . . you know.

I thought it would be nice to dig up some Potter-themed videos to kick off the Potter Project (more books coming soon, I mean it!). Here’s an interesting little segment about the Royal Opera House ballet production of the “Tales of Beatrix Potter.” If you’re able to dig up the old VHS release of this production, I highly recommend you do so:

This is from the GO-ORGEOUS animated series of the books. Love that theme music:

And in case you’re still confused as to what this Peter Rabbit business is about, this should fill you in pretty well:

peter-rabbit-cover.jpgPeter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.

Here’s why I love this book: it uses the word “implored.” Also “dreadfully,” “fortnight,” and “chamomile.” There are a lot of abominable dumbed-down versions of this story on the market, and I detest them all. Not just because it marrs with perfection, but because I’ve learned that the prose of Beatrix Potter has a similar-yet-gentler effect as that of Shakespeare: when you read it out loud, you sound like an embroidered-tongued GENIUS. Even the bunnies’ names ring out with a simple rhythm that I love: “Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter.”

This book is the Big One — the Potter story that just about every kid in the English-speaking world is somewhat familiar with; if not with the story, then with the cartoon, the film, the puppet show (my library puts on one of these every spring), or the various P.R. merchandise that was invariably given to their parents at a baby shower. (The levels of Peter merchandise is astounding — almost reaching Pooh-levels of stuff.)

It’s also one of the few Potter books that I have a strong memory of being read to by my mother. I still remember dutifully repeating the Moral of the Story afterwards to her, and feeling awfully lucky that I wasn’t as naughty as poor Peter. There’s something to be said for that little feeling of smugness that comes with a book wherein the protagonist is far, far dumber than you are.

Let’s start with the pie, shall we? I love how specific Mother Rabbit is with her warning: not to stay away from Mr. McGregor’s garden because of “danger” or “Because I Told You To,” but because “your father had an accident there; he was put into a pie by Mrs. McGregor.” And yet — “accident.” As if — whoops! — Mrs. McGregor mixed up her bunnies and cherries and put Father Rabbit in a pie by mistake. Silly misunderstanding, that.

Peter, one of the great dim bulbs of children’s literature, runs off to the garden the secondpeter-rabbit.jpg Ma makes for the bakery (oh, how I love the way his jacket turns up at the edges when he ignores his mum!). He then proceeds to stuff his bunny belly until he is sick, setting an odd custom in the Potter books — characters who eat lots of vegetables almost always end up getting sick. Alert the pediatric nutritionists, if you will.

Then — the exciting part of the book! Mr. McGregor pops up from behind a cucumber frame and proceeds to chase our hero until he’s in naught but his nuddy-pants, but then — just gives up. No, he doesn’t fall down a cliff like a Disney villain, or get outwitted by Peter, he’s just “tired of running after Peter” and goes back to his work.

It’s here that I really notice what makes the Potter books different from other stories with anthropomorphized animals — although they walk, talk, and wear clothes, humans and animals tend to have the same kinds of relationships as they would in the real world — that of hunter/prey, or bandit/gardener, in this case. Mr. McGregor responds to Peter in the way that any middle-aged gardener would — he chases him for a while, then gives up — and Peter is very bunnyish in that he spends most of the book randomly running around scared without any sense of direction.

It’s that lack of direction that makes the middle of this story sag a bit; Peter runs in random circles around the garden before finding his way out (again, not through wit or cleverness, but by randomly passing the gate through which he came in). Every kid I’ve read this story to tends to get bored during this part. But perhaps Edwardian children knew more about the various pitfalls lurking in an English kitchen garden. Beware the white cat! Look out for that gooseberry net! The SIEVE! Stay away from the SIEVE!!!

Finally, Peter escapes, his clothes are scarecrow-ed, and once at home he is punished with — oh no . . . I can’t even type it! Camomile tea.

Nooooo! Er, well . . . I suppose I’d yell “noooo!” if I’d ever drunk camomile tea.

Again, this is something that I think the children of 1902 would appreciate more than the kids of today. Except maybe the children of hippie herbal tea enthusiasts.

However, every kid, Edwardian or not, can appreciate the good bunnies’ reward: “Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail had bread and milk and blackberries for supper.” That’s good eatin’, folks.

The Potter Project

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I grew up in the kind of household where I was given a cross-stitch sampler to do when I was nine years old. Where antique washboards and darning tools were artfully displayed on the wall. Where rotary fabric cutters were considered a newfangled contraption for lazy seamstresses. A house where the old-fashioned and antiquated were held in high regard.

But best of all, it was a household in which I received a new Beatrix Potter book every birthday, Christmas, and Easter until I had them all. They were the old-fashioned, greenback editions, and I loved to see them lined up in perfect numerical order on my bookshelf (a portent of my future career as a librarian, if ever there was one).

As for reading them, I found them enjoyable but cryptic. I was definitely entranced by the books’ charms — anthropormorphic animals in cute little outfits! — but puzzled by others. A world where pigs trotted off to sell themselves at the market? Where mice sewed buttonholes with “cherry twist” (which I was certain was some sort of Twizzler)? And what the heck was a “patty pan” or a “pinny”?

As I’ve grown up and had children of my own, I’ve passed on a few of the books to my kids, but only the “safe” ones — the ones that made sense to me in childhood — like The Tale of Miss Moppet or, of course, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The strange ones like The Roly-Poly Pudding or Little Pig Robinson? Sadly, they’re gathering dust.

Which brings me to the new project: a fresh re-reading of all 23 Beatrix Potter books, with the keen hope that the contrast between the child and adult perspective will prove, if not interesting or enlightening, at least bloggable.

Tomorrow: The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Or: Do As Your Mother Says or Someone Will Steal Your Clothes

I promised you the books I wish had gotten some attention from the ALA Youth Media Awards, didn’t I? Bob’s yer uncle, I did! Here they are, in no particular order, other than the order in which they occured to me:

thearrival.jpgThe Arrival by Shaun Tan

It ain’t American, so therefore disqualified from the Caldecott runnings, but what a pity the Printz committee didn’t pay more attention to what is obviously the best book for young readers of 2007. You may say the intended audience is too young, but then remember — the scene with the village destroyed by war. The girl trapped in the incinerator mines! The DRAGONS! The FREAKING DRAGONS! Yeah, that could make it YA.

missspitfire.jpgMiss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller by Sarah Miller

Huh. I’d have thought this was a shoo-in, given how the Newbery committees of yore tend to love their girly historical fiction. And this lil’ beaut has a strong girly protagonist, gorgeous writing comin’ out the yin-yang, and a Doll that is used as a Symbol. But the committee was apparently goin’ against the grain this year.

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At Night by Jonathan Bean, or possibly The Apple Pie That Papa Baked, by Laruen Thompson and illustrated by Jonathan Bean. Bean Something.

I’ve noticed that the Caldecott committee frequently likes to give an honor to quiet little books (Barbara Lehman, anyone?), so I thought that At Night certainly had a chance. The committee also likes gorgeousapplepiethatpapabaked.jpg retellings of traditional-style rhymes and folklore (too many to mention), so I thought The Apple Pie That Papa Baked might stand a chance, as well. Alas, both of these gorgeous numbers were outshone by . . . Knuffle Bunny Too. Which is a fine book in many ways, but . . . alas.

red-shoe.jpgThe Red Shoe by Ursula Dubosarsky

Somehow, the Printz committee chose to honor Australian YA fiction with One Whole and Perfect Day, and not this book OR The Arrival. Not that I have anything against One Whole and Perfect Day, but it just seems to pale in comparison to Dubosarsky’s little gem. It haunts you. The kids are so real! The setting is so well realized! The plot starts slow, but tightens up quickly. When I started reading it, I didn’t think it would be something I’d enjoy, but that was six months ago, and I still can’t get it out of my mind.
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The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Shelley Jackson

What?!? It wasn’t even recognized by the Coretta Scott King Award! WHAT the HECK happened?!? This was one of the best-written picture books of 2007. How good is it? Rarely a morning routine goes by without the phrase “I brushed my teeth white as a biscuit” floating through my head. Really. And the illustrations — oh, they are gorgeous, well-designed, memorable. Oooh, it hurts that this one got looked over. But perhaps the Charlotte Zolotow Award can make amends. One can only hope.

Oyez, oyez, oyez!  Congrats again to the ALA Youth Media Award Winners!  (Ugh, there’s got to be a better way to refer to these awards . . . )  Here are a collection of videos to salute you!

First off, I found fabulous montage based on Peter Sis’s The Wall.  It intersperses images from the book with Polish newsreel footage from the ’50s and ’60s.  Plus, it has a nice beat.  Very helpful if you’re thinking about teaching a unit based on the book:

Next up: Expanded Books’ lovely piece on The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  This is what the “Today Show” SHOULD have done.

One of the most puzzling books of 2007, in my opinion, was Jacqueline Woodson’s Feathers.  Yeah, I liked it, and I’m happy it got a Newbery Honor, but you gotta admit: the book is darn hard to describe, and I’ll have a difficult time booktalking it.  Or, I could simply let everyone watch this video (posted online by Woodson herself) and let technology do the work for me.  It’s pretty:

Lastly, I was able to fish up this brief lil’ clip from a stage production of Bud Not Buddy.  Put together by the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, it looks pretty stylish and fun.  Best of all, it’s currently on stage, so all of y’all in the Midwest better get hoppin’: 

Book Award Chime-In

good-masters-sweet-ladies.jpgYES!

WOOP! WOOP! WOOP!

(I churn my fist in the air, Arsenio Hall-style)

WOO HOOOOOO!

BOO-YAH!

. . . Yes, that would have been the general scene here at my house on Monday. Can I tell you — I just loved it when I found out that the Newbery and Caldecott committees had actually been receiving my ESP messages to them all year. So satisfyin’.

So, yes — I was thrilled to hear that Laura Amy Schlitz Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! brought home the Big One: La Newbery. I was on the judging panel that gave Schlitz’sdrownedmaiden.jpgA Drowned Maiden’s Hair the Cybil last year, and we were all a bit disappointed when that novel didn’t get more recognition outside of the kidlitosphere. There’s nothin’ like the sweet, sweet, sound of vindication. Ahhh, how nicely it flows.

But truly, it wasn’t that much of a surprise, considering how much Newbery committees of yore have lauded historical fiction set in the Middle Ages. You got your Adam of the Road. You got your Midwife’s Apprentice, and your Catherine, Called Birdy. You got The Apple and the Arrow and The Trumpeter of Krakow. Sheesh, the very first year of the award featured Cedric the Forester. The Newbery: Oh, how it likes them swords and serfs.

inventionofhugo.jpgI emitted quite a few screams regarding The Invention of Hugo Cabret winning the Caldecott, as well. Longtime readers of this blog (all three of you) might remember that the longest post I’ve ever ever done was all about Cabret. The book even got a flippin’ cameo in my Christmas card this year — that’s how much I love the illustrations.

Okay, okay, that level of admiration is now coming off as creepy, I realize. Let me just say that, in regards to the writing — eh. People keep talking about how so-so it is. I admit that it didn’t blow me out of the water (although I love the storyline) but there’s many a Caldecott winner with meh text. (I’ll choose one at random for you: White Snow, Bright Snow. Can you think of any memorable lines from it? There you go.)

As for the Printz Award — I’m very happy with Geraldine McCaughrean’s win. My onlywhite-darkness.jpg regret is that I didn’t read The White Darkness when I had the chance. See, I checked out that book from the library when it first came out, but that was back in February yes. Wintertime in Pennsylvania is best memorialized via Bill Murray’s line from Groundhog Day: “It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be dark, and it’s going to last the rest of your life.” It just was not the time when you want to read a book about the Antarctic. Even an Antarctic with a sexy imaginary explorer.

And may I also mention the backflips I did when Ashley Bryan’s Let it Shine grabbed the Coretta Scott King Award? I’ve been talking up that book all year. (I letitshine.jpgseriously want a print of the mother-and-child spread from that book. It can be proudly displayed either in my living room or the inner chambers of my heart.) Back when I was in library school, Bryan stopped by my children’s resources class to do a workshop/astound everyone. I’ve been a worshipful follower ever since. The man doth rock.

As for the rest of the awards — ah, there were pretty much no surprises, as far as I’m concerned. Peter Sis’s The Wall may have been a bit of a surprise to some, but biographies aren’t that uncommon in the land of ALA book awards. I was pretty happy to see Nic Bishop Spiders get some attention (go-orgeous photography) as well as Brian Floca’s Lightship — if anything, because I feel like the world owes Floca something for writing Five Trucks. If you’ve ever been stuck on an airplanenic-bishop-spiders.jpg with tired toddlers, you’ll understand why Five Trucks is darn amazing. Also — it was good to see Nicholas and the Gang get some attention from the Batchelder committee. Hopefully, this will encourage Phaidon to keep bringing us more Euro-kidlit from the ’50s and ’60s. One can only hope, eh?

Up Next: Books that I wish could have gotten some award-lovin’ attention — stay tuned!