Thursday, January 19, 2012

Monday, January 16, 2012

100 Best children's books in 2011

Librarian Booktalk with Elizabeth Bird – Part 2
Continuation of transcribed phone interview with Elizabeth Bird, Youth Materials Specialist at the New York Public Library as she discusses her favorite books of the different sections listed on the 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2011 recently released by the New York Public Library.

Picture Books
Elizabeth: For picture books, the title is Everything Goes on Land by Brian Biggs. I like to describe it as Richard Scarry meets Robert Crumb. A boy and his father drive through a city and you just see the sheer swath of vehicles that you run into when you’re in a city. It’s so involved, so complicated, and so much fun. It’s easy to follow the storyline, if that’s what you want to do, or you can try to find all the little details. For example, there is always a bird wearing a hat hidden in the pictures somewhere. It’s just a great book that if you want to spend some time with it, it really rewards the reading.

Folk  and Fairy Tales
Elizabeth: Folk and fairy tales have always been very important to the New York Public Library. So, we always have a folk and fairy tale section, but it’s tough because recently folk and fairy tales have been disappearing. Publishers are less willing to publish folk and fairy tales. They don’t sell as well as some other things. So the numbers have really depleted over the years, which is too bad because teachers want them more than ever right now. So we always try to find just the best of whatever is out there. We have some really good ones this year. My favorite without a doubt was The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred. It’s sort of a cumulative tale, sort of a recipe. It’s beautiful art. It teaches Spanish along the way, but in a fun way. It incorporates the Spanish words into the text so beautifully, so effortlessly that the kids are learning Spanish and they’re not even realizing it.

Early Chapter Book
Elizabeth: The hardest books to find every year are early chapter books. There are tons of easy books, but to get to the chapter books where you’re transitioning from easy books into chapter books, it’s so tough. You have to really search for them. There is a really good one that came out this year by Atinuke called The No. 1 Car Spotter and it’s just fantastic. This is certainly the first and maybe only African boy I’ve ever seen in an early chapter book published in America. It is funny, well written. And Atinuke is clearly a professional storyteller because the language is the book is just top notch.

Middle Grade Chapter Book
Elizabeth: The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander flies off the shelves. I cannot keep this book on the shelf. Kids adore this book. They do not get the Godfather reference. They don’t care. It’s just a really fun story about a kid who gets other people to owe him favors. He takes over an abandoned bathroom in his school and kids come to him in the fourth stall where he has set up a whole desk area where they can ask him for favors. It’s very enjoyable, and a great boy and girl book.

Elizabeth: Some years poetry is really strong and some years it’s not. This year we had the weird sensation of having to deal with a lot of dead people who suddenly have new works coming out. There was a Dr. Seuss poetry book and a Shel Silverstein poetry book. Fortunately, both these poetry books were really good, which is not always the case in these situations. The new Shel Silverstein (Everything On It) was done really well and really looks like his other previous books. The Silverstein estate was very careful about which poetry selections they chose. And his art is just fantastic.

Graphic Novels
Elizabeth: This is a new selection that was not on the list 100 years ago. This is maybe the second or third time we’ve had the graphic novel section, because now we’re seeing really good graphic novels. I selected Dan Santat’s Sidekicks.  It’s the idea that these sidekick animals of superheroes have their own adventures. I run a book group for kids and suggested we do Sidekicks. They loved it. It’s beautiful. It’s full color. It’s a lot of fun.

Elizabeth: The last one that I chose is actually because I am sort of bias. Coral Reefs by Jason Chin takes place in the main branch of the New York Public Library. Chin just did a beautiful job. The architecture is spot on. The idea is that this kid is reading a book and it sort of feels like she’s been submerged into the world of coral reefs. It looks like it’s a fantasy because on the cover she is swimming around with a shark. The text is straight nonfiction, talking about coral reefs, the different animals there, how they’re threatened by pollution and things like that. It has beautiful watercolors. Chin is a true artist.

In addition to being the Youth Materials Specialist at the New York Public Library, Elizabeth is a former Newbery Committee member (2007), blogger for FUSE #8 Production, professional reviewer for Kirkus and New York Times, regular contributing author to “The Horn Book”, author of CHILDREN'S LITERATURE GEMS: CHOOSING AND USING THEM IN YOUR LIBRARY CAREER (ALA Editions, 2009), and author of the forthcoming children’s picture book GIANT DANCE PARTY (HarperCollins).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Great Books in Children's Hands

Librarian Booktalk with Elizabeth Bird – Part 1
Partial transcript from a phone interview with Elizabeth Bird, Youth Materials Specialist at the New York Public Library; former Newbery Committee member (2007); “School Library Journal” blogger for its FUSE #8 Production blog channel; professional reviewer for Kirkus, New York Times, and TimeOut Kids New York; regular contributing author to “The Horn Book” and author of CHILDREN'S LITERATURE GEMS: CHOOSING AND USING THEM IN YOUR LIBRARY CAREER (ALA Editions, 2009); and author of the forthcoming children’s picture book GIANT DANCE PARTY (HarperCollins).

From librarian to blogger, author and committee member, with your active involvement in so many different facets of children’s literature, how do you hope to make an impact or difference?

Elizabeth: My goal in life is to bring all the different aspects of children’s literature together; booksellers, academics, librarians, parents and bloggers. To do that I have to sort of spread myself a little thin, but I’ve tried to touch into a bunch of different areas to get good books and the books that I love publicized as humanly possible in the hopes of getting them into the hands of as many kids as possible. There are just so many different places for people to look for and discover books. So, I sort of try to find every place that a person might possibly go to find a children’s book and tell them about the good ones there.

My position at the New York Public Library (NYPL) allows me to do that in a very direct manner. My reviews on my blogs, Amazon and Goodreads let me alert people to good books there. But a lot of librarians don’t read blogs. They just read the professional reviews. That’s why I review for the New York Times, which will also be seen by the general public. What I’d really love to do would be to review or get a column in a parenting magazine, because that’s another area where people are really paying attention. I just want to reach as many people as possible to tell them about what’s out there, what’s new, what’s great, and what’s being overlooked in a given year.

What do you say to parents or librarians to help them get reluctant readers or any child or teen to take better advantage of all the good books that are available?
Elizabeth: The librarian mantra is always “The right book for the right child”. There was a great book that came out last year called Miss Brooks loves Books (And I Don't). It’s about a little girl who hates books until her librarian reads her Shrek, which is so gross and disgusting and then the girl is like “THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVER!” That is my take on it. There is a book for every kid. You just have to find that book, which can be tough, especially for parents.

You have to find a resource that you can trust, that’s not going to lead you astray, and that can consistently give you great books for your kids. That’s tricky, unless they’re getting something like the School Library Journal. So what they have to do is go to their local librarian or local bookseller and consistently ask for recommendations.

You have to let parents know to a certain extent that a book for a child does not have to be War and Peace. You can give children Captain Underpants and it will not rot their brain. It may even make them want to read another book. From there you can kind of move them into Diary of a Wimpy Kid, to a book with slightly less pictures, and then into longer novels. That is sort of a path that you can follow. There are a bunch of different techniques for getting kids to read, but my favorite is definitely parental involvement.

NYPL just came out with its latest 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2011. Tell me a little about it’s history and how it comes about.
Elizabeth: The library has been doing the list for 100 years. It began in 1911 by Anne Carroll Moore, who was the great children’s librarian of NYPL. She was also the person who started Children’s Services within the library system. There weren’t recommended lists like this back then or one-stop shopping places for parents to go for recommend books. We think it’s tough today, but back then, oh man, you couldn’t find them anywhere. So, the list originally began sort of as a gift list that she would bring out before Christmas every year.

Now the librarians meet through the entire year, reading everything they can, debating, and winnowing it down to just 100 titles out of all the books that are published in a given year. Generally speaking it comes out before Christmas, although this year it came out a little later. Still, it has consistently come out every single year since 1911. So this year we had the 100th list of the 100 titles.

What are some of your favorites on this year’s list?
Elizabeth: Actually, on my blog post I show a sample cover of my favorite from each section on the list, but I can tell you why I selected each one. (Elizabeth’s discussion on her favorites from the list will be posted in Part 2 of this interview on Monday.)

Tell me about your experience with the Newbery committee.

Elizabeth: My experience was strange because it’s not how people typically get onto the committee. Usually you are either appointed or you’re voted onto the committee long before the first meeting in January and then you have a full year until the final decisions are made the following January. Around June of that year, I was having dinner at a restaurant with my husband and my phone rang with an area code that I didn’t’ recognize. It was the president of ALSC, who said we had someone drop out of the committee, can you fill in? I was like, “Oh, Yes. Yes. I will.”  But I came in half way through the year, which is not normal. And usually when someone drops out, they pull somebody from the ALA Notable Committee. I’m not sure why they didn’t do that that year, but I’m very grateful that I was plucked up instead.

Do you have any predictions for this year’s Newbery?
Elizabeth: This year I’m going to make a weird prediction. All the talk has been about Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now. Often when people are on committees and they get down to the wire with five books still in front of them, their inclination is to disregard anything that they can object to and make it an honor instead. People love Okay for Now, but it has a problematic ending. The ending tears people apart. They either think it’s fine or they hate it more than anything in the entire world. So, I think Okay for Now is going to get an honor.

The book I think that is going to win is the one that I have not been able to hear a single objection to and everybody loves, but no one has seriously considered it because it’s non-fiction. I’m pretty sure Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming could get away with the gold. That book is brilliant and there hasn’t been a non-fiction winner since something like 1988 when Lincoln: A Photobiography won. She has a really good shot.  And if a Honor goes to The Trouble with May Amelia, then this will be the year of the Amelias, which would be awesome.

Last question. Tell me what you enjoy most about being a librarian?
Elizabeth:  What it is, doesn’t even take place when I’m in the library. But if I’m on the subway or somewhere else, and I see a kid with a book that is a library book, it makes me so happy. I really have a practical way of getting books into the hands of kids. Right now it’s more direct than ever. I can get people to read good books. I can really highlight good books. I can buy great books. And that’s what I like best. I like to get books into the hands of kids.

To get more children’s literature insights and advice from Elizabeth Bird, visit her blog at

The New York Public Library first officially opened its doors on May 24, 1911 on a two-block section of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. Today the Library has 90 locations, four research centers, and a network of neighborhood libraries throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. The library provides free and open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as to its services for people of all ages, from toddlers to teens to adults. For more information about the New York Public Library visit

Monday, January 9, 2012

Book Covers & Reading Choices

Newer cover
Last night as I was reading one of the Lightning Thief books with my 10-year old daughter, it reminded me of the first time the book was introduced to me shortly after it came out. I was looking for a book for my pre-teen son and myself to read. Our local librarian recommended Lightning Thief. I took one look at the cover, and I had no desire to read it. Which is strange for me since I love reading children’s books, especially if they have plenty of action and adventure. I also enjoy fantasy and mythology. But the art cover turned me off. It looked old-fashion and faded. Still, I checked the book out for my son, which he read and enjoyed. Of course, Lightning Thief went on to become a huge success, in spite of what I thought about the cover. It's interesting though that when the publisher reprinted it based on its high demand, that they changed its cover with what I think is much nicer and appealing art.

Older cover
How does the cover art of a book affect you and your children’s reading choices? They say don’t judge a book  by its cover, but I think sometimes it’s hard not to. What do you think?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Getting Children to Read

Librarian Booktalk with Carla Morris
Interview with Carla Morris, current Chair of ALA’s 2013 Theodore Geisel Committee, former Caldecott Committee member (2004), librarian for the past 32 years at the Provo City Library and its current Children's Service Manager, and  children's author of “The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians” (Peachtree Publishers  2007). Carla has a special interest in Emergent Literacy and teaching parents how to get their children ready to learn to read.

What advice do you have for parents who want their children to read more?
Carla: Read yourself!  Let your children see you read. Let your children see you cry over a book or laugh. Talk about what you are reading to your kids.  Have books in your home.  Have big shelves of physical, real, tangible books.  Your children should own copies of their favorite books.  Give them books for Christmas, their birthdays with something personally written to them inside the cover.  Those books will outlast their toys.  You should have copies of your favorite books so your children can see what you value. Children should always have bookshelves with books, and reading lamps in their bedrooms.  I know everyone is moving towards e-books, and that’s good too.  So call me old fashioned, but BOOKS  need to be in your home!

What do you see as the main challenges that parents, librarians, and/or educators face in getting young people to read and what are some of the best ways to overcome those challenges?
Carla: It’s a matter of setting priorities and balance. Kids who spend a lot of “screen time” are actually reading…just in a different way than what we think of as reading.  However, if they are spending a lot of time on social media, are they learning new vocabulary? Learning about characters, settings, problem solving that they would learn from reading a book?  Acquiring movies at our fingertips allows us to spend hours viewing movies that may or may not be mind expanding.  We don’t fully know the outcomes of so much screen time. Turning everything off and reading a book (actual or on a notebook)  just a few minutes a day should be a part of our daily routine…..working on the intellect!

What do you say to teens or young readers to encourage them to read?
Carla: I say have you heard about???????, then give them a short synopsis of something new, point them in that direction and let them browse.  Be there for them when they have questions…..give them the tools and let them explore.

What are some of the more popular books you see kids reading today?
Carla: Children love the series: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Rick Riordan books, Magic Treehouse, Alchemist, Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious, Olivia, Dora the Explorer, Horowitz's Alex RiderRanger’s Apprentice, Captain Underpants, books on super heroes, and Star Wars. Brandon Mull books are popular here.  Kids still ask for GoosebumpsAnimorphs are being reissued. Kids will love those. 

What are some of the more recent books you recommend to young readers and why?
Carla: This is a broad and complicated question. Children are varied!  Our motto at the Provo Library is "Get the right book into their hands at the right time of their life." To help with that, we have a whole wall filled with brochures of more than 50 Book Lists: Adventure, Books for Girls, Books for Boys, Fantasy, Fairies Historical Fiction, Mermaids, Horses, Trucks and Trains and Things that Go, Wordless Picture Books, and more. You can also find those book lists on our website at

What’s your favorite book to recommend to teens or young readers and why?
Carla: I love children’s non-fiction.  Usually heavy on graphics and short, concise text. You can always find something great to recommend to a child who will give you even a little hint of what they are interested in. Children are all about fantasy right now, but there is a world of absolutely beautiful non-fiction books!  Graphic novels are branching into non-fiction, especially history.  The reluctant reader can learn about history through comics!

I love magazines and always have.  The brevity, slick pages-- very visual.  Children should be introduced to them. Check them out and take them home.  A recent trend that I love is the Picture Biographies--a little slice of life (in picturebook format of historical figures), such as “Me Jane” by Patrick McDonnell. 

What are some your favorites that you recommend and that readers seem to enjoy? 
Carla: I have always loved Cynthia Rylant. She has written a variety of Fiction, Easy Readers and picture books.  She is a master at developing characters and scenes.  I love the feeling that comes from reading her writing.  I frequently recommend Kate Di Camillo, Ian Lawrence, Cornelia Funke, Gary Schmidt:  all beautiful writers. 

I love the I Spy Books and books by Tana Hoban because they encourage adults and children to cuddle up together and point, talk, have discussions about life-- all while having fun with books.I refer patrons to Mo Willems and Kevin Henkes who both seem to remember what it’s like to be a child. Rosemary Wells, Mem Fox are classic.   My all time favorite illustrators would be Barry Moser, Kadir Nelson, David Small, David Catrow, Christopher Bing, and (this always surprises people…. Holly Hobbie…I LOVE the Toots and Puddles series). And I can’t forget the classic illustrations of Garth Williams, Ernest Shepard, Robert McCloskey, Barbara Cooney (so dear to my heart). There are hundreds of favorites--these names just pop out of my head. I know that I’m leaving out so many!!!

With the Caldecott Awards coming up and your past experience as a committee member, tell me why you think such awards are important.
Carla: Keeping our standards high!

Can you share any experiences you had on the committee that might be of interest to other librarians or book lovers?
Carla: Mostly the fun of Caldecott is receiving close to 800 free picture books and carefully analyzing them and having discussions about them with other committee members. The networking and friendships formed are amazing.

Do you have any predictions for this year’s award winners?
Carla: I’m sure Lane Smith’s Grandpa Green will be a winner.  However, my personal favorite is “Me…Jane” by Patrick McDonnell.

What do you enjoy most about being a librarian?
Carla: Being a librarian has greatly expanded my life and has made me and my children better people.  When you work in a library you learn something new every day.  You are exposed to the richness of ideas, illustrations, books, multimedia which rubs off on you and makes you so much more interesting than if you were not exposed to such a wealth of thinking!!!

I love the books.  I love the kids.  I love the people I work with.  I have a great library director Gene Nelson who supports the Children’s Department.  My staff are all experts in customer service and.great storytellers who put their whole being into doing our story times.  I love and appreciate the parents who take the time (and gas) to find their kids shoes and books and bring  them to the library regularly. They are “the heroes” and their children and the world they will ultimately live in  will be the benefactors. 

Any last words?
Carla: The public library has always been an important part of American life.  The world of writing, publishing, e-books is currently in a state of flux.    I wrote my picture book “The Boy Who Was Raised By Librarians” to bring attention to the contribution of libraries in our communities and to show the relationship between librarians who work together, as well as the relationship formed between librarians and patrons.  Many times the public library is referred to as the “living room of the community.”  I frequently tell library staff as well as our patrons, ”I hope you will always feel comfortable at our library, and you are always welcome home here.” 

To learn more about Carla and her work as a children's author, visit her web site at

Located in Provo, Utah at the historic Academy Square, the Provo Library is known for age appropriate programming.  It offers 24 age specificprograms every week geared towards children 0 – 12 years of age.  It's also know for 2 signature annual events:  "Fairy Tea Party" and "Big Guy Little Guy parties." More information on the Provo Library can be found at