Great Chinese New Year Books.

The Year of the Rabbit by Oliver Chin (ages 4- 8 )

This is the sixth in a planned 12-book series that introduces children to the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Oliver Chin introduces young readers to the characteristics of each zodiac animal through lively stories accompanied by exuberant illustrations. The Year of the Rabbit follows the escapades of Rosie, a long-eared hare with a nose for adventure. Along the way, she meets the boy Jai and other animals from the Chinese lunar calendar. By story’s end, Rosie discovers that her unique traits serve her well.

Bring in the New Year by Grace Lin (ages 4 – 8 )  reading level 2

This exuberant story follows a Chinese American family as they prepare for the Lunar New Year. Each member of the family lends a hand as they sweep out the dust of the old year, hang decorations, and make dumplings. Then it’s time to put on new clothes and celebrate with family and friends. There will be fireworks and lion dancers, shining lanterns, and a great, long dragon parade to help bring in the Lunar New Year. And the dragon parade in our book is extra long–on a surprise fold-out page at the end of the story. Grace Lin’s artwork is a bright and gloriously patterned celebration in itself! And her story is tailor-made for reading aloud.

The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac by Dawn Casey (Ages 4 – 8 )

And they’re off! Thirteen creatures in China have come to the river to join in the Emperor’s race. Who will win the ultimate honor of naming the first year of the new calendar? And what will happen to the thirteenth animal? Join Rat, Monkey, Dragon and all the others in this exciting race to the finish.


“Madeline at the White House” by J.B. Marciano

Madeline Visits the White House by John Bemelmans Marciano
By Sally Lodge/ Publisher’s Weekly, Jan 27, 2011

“In John Bemelmans Marciano’s Madeline at the White House, 12 little girls arrive—in two straight lines—at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue just in time for the annual Easter Egg Roll. Along on the trip is Madeline’s magician friend, appearing here as a fez-wearing rabbit, who escorts her and the president’s delighted daughter on a fantastical nighttime tour of Washington. Published this week by Viking, the book evolved from several stories initially conceived by Ludwig Bemelmans, Madeline’s creator and Marciano’s grandfather, who died in 1962.

While looking through his grandfather’s files in preparation for writing 1999’s Bemelmans: The Life and Art of Madeline’s Creator, Marciano found material for a book that Bemelmans had never completed. Entitled Madeline and the Magician, the story brought back the magician introduced inMadeline’s Christmas (which first appeared in McCall’s magazine in 1956 and was published posthumously by Viking in 1985).

The original "Madeline"

“In this new book, the magician was meant to fulfill the girls’ fantasies, but Miss Clavel sends him away and he goes up in a puff of smoke,” says Marciano. “My grandfather had made a sketch of the magician’s fez resting on top of his funeral carriage, which I always thought was such a great image. In the end, the magician transforms himself into a cat wearing a fez, and comes back to stay with the girls.”

Also providing inspiration for Madeline at the White House was another book project Bemelmans had in the works at the time of his death. The author was a friend of Jacqueline Kennedy and, in a series of letters written to her in 1961 and early 1962, he proposed the idea that the two collaborate on a book in which Madeline visits the White House. “The thought was that she would write the text, and the book would be titled Madeline and Caroline, or perhaps Madeline at the White House,” says Marciano. “But it never came to fruition.”

“Since I unearthed the material on both of these projects, I’d been thinking of combining elements of them in a book,” says Marciano. Also fueling his interest in creating Madeline at the White House was his Austrian-born grandfather’s love of his adopted country and of the Washington, D.C. area. “He came to this country as a teenager, and was very proud to become a U.S. citizen,” explains the author. “He served in the army during World War I and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.” In fitting tribute, the book’s endpapers picture Madeline and her entourage visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Yet another source of inspiration was Marciano’s daughter Galatea, now almost two, to whom Madeline at the White House is dedicated. “It took me 12 years to come up with the right story, and somehow it all came together just about the time she was born,” he recalls. “I became focused on the idea of adding a new little girl to the story.”

That girl, the president’s daughter, is named Candle for the flame-like curl that springs from her head. “My daughter has curly, blondish reddish hair, and when it first grew she had a curl on top of her head that looked like a candle,” explains Marciano. “It occurred to me then that Candle would make a great name for a book character. And lo and behold, the curl became a nice little feature to distinguish the president’s daughter and give her a personality.

Marciano’s editor Regina Hayes, president and publisher of Viking Children’s Books, is thrilled that the author (who also wrote Madeline Says MerciMadeline Loves Animals, and Madeline and the Cats of Rome) has added to his Madeline oeuvre. “John conveys so wonderfully how important it is to Candle, whose parents are too busy to spend time with her, to find a friend,” she notes. “He has an amazing flair for drawing and captures the characters so well. I love his color sense, but I think his hugest gift is as a caricaturist. His scenes have such exuberance.”

Hayes also praises Marciano’s writing, calling him “as talented a writer as he is an artist.” She has signed up a middle-grade chapter book by the author, The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfeld, which introduces a boy who asks a mad scientist to give him extra lives. The not-yet scheduled novel will be illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Marciano’s friend and fellow Brooklynite. “John continues to grow, not just as an artist, but as a writer,” Hayes observes. “He inherited a real gift from his grandfather.”

Marciano will promote Madeline at the White House, which has a 100,000-copy announced first printing, with a 20-city tour. Appropriately, the first leg kicks off in Washington, D.C., with a launch party today at Politics and Prose. The author has created new Madeline art for signage at this spring’s Los Angeles Times Book Festival, where the feisty redheaded heroine will be the featured character.”

That’s all there is.  There isn’t any more.

Kids pick their top 100 books

The National Education Association did an online poll a while back and here’s what kids picked as their favs.

1. Harry Potter (series) by J. K. Rowling

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – AR 5.5
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – AR 6.7
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – AR 6.7
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – AR 6.8
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – AR 7.2
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – AR generic 7
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – AR 6.9

2. Goosebumps (series) by R. L. Stine

Beware, The Snowman by RL Stine
The Haunted School by RL Stine

3. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Accelerated Reading level – 1.5

4. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Accelerated Reading level – 2.1

5. Arthur (series) by Marc Brown

6. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
Accelerated Reading level – 4.4
(read aloud edition)

7. Shiloh (trilogy) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
(boxed set)
Accelerated Reading level – 4.4, 4.8, 4.9

8. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Accelerated Reading level – 5.7

9. Holes by Louis Sachar
Accelerated Reading level – 4.6

10. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Accelerated Reading level – 5.7
by Lois Lowry


“Chester Cricket’s Tale of the City” by David Ulin

From David Ulin’s LATIMES blog.  January 5, 2011 |  6:00 am.  My mom sent me this review when it was reprinted in the Chicago Tribune. It reminded me how much I love both Cricket in Time Square and Charlotte’s Web by Garth Williams.  It’s a classic that stands the test of time from generation to generation.  Perfect bedtime reading for you and your kidlets.

CrickettimessqMy favorite books for kids are those that start out naturalistically and then go quietly, gently off the rails. “Charlotte’s Web” is a perfect example: E.B. White’s descriptions of New England farm life are so precise, so deftly rendered, that it seems entirely believable when the animals start talking and Charlotte begins to spell out words in her web.

This, of course, is one of the wonders of children’s literature, its sense of the world as mysterious, even magical, its recognition that there is much in daily life beyond our reach. At its best, childhood is like that also, although more often, it can be a landscape of arbitrary rules and inexplicable adult tension, in which too much happens (literally and figuratively) above our heads.

George Selden’s “The Cricket in Times Square,”which celebrated a quiet 50th anniversary in  October, is another book that, like Charlotte’s Web, takes place in a recognizable universe that has been tweaked to make a place for the wondrous alongside the mundane. It hasn’t been overlooked exactly — it won a Newbery in 1961 and was made into a 1973 animated film by Chuck Jones — but somehow, I think, it’s never quite received its due.

Maybe that’s because of its similarities to “Charlotte’s Web” — both are evocatively illustrated byGarth Williams, and both involve, in part, a child developing an intense relationship with a creative insect — or maybe that it takes place in Manhattan, where I grew up. It’s hard, as a kid, to see the miraculous in the familiar, or at least that’s how it seems to me.

Either way, “The Cricket in Times Square” is a subtle masterpiece, a story that unfolds almost entirely in the Times Square subway station, where a family named Bellini owns a small, beleaguered newsstand. One evening, the Bellinis’ young son Mario hears the chirping of a cricket and makes the displaced insect his pet. We see the development of a bond between them, as well as the growing friendship between the cricket, whose name is Chester, and two other animals who call the station home: Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat. The first time, Chester sees Harry, he is terrified that the cat is after Tucker, but the two city-dwellers set him straight.

“Hello,” said Chester. He was sort of ashamed because of all the fuss he’d made. “I wasn’t scared for myself. But I thought cats and mice were enemies.”

“In the country, maybe,” said Tucker. “But in New York we gave up those old habits long ago. Harry is my oldest friend. He lives with me over in the drain pipe.”

This is my favorite scene in the book, with its understanding of the urban promise, the idea that in the city, we can (must) somehow set our tribalism aside. It’s as hopeful a moment as can be imagined, because if cats and mice can get along, why not human beings?

The same is true of the rest of the book, which is expansive, optimistic, marked by a sense of New York as a place of wonder, “full of the roar of traffic and the hum of human beings,” in which “Times Square were a kind of shell with colors and noises breaking in great waves inside it.”

That’s great writing, concrete enough for kids yet nuanced enough for adults, and each time I read it, I fall in love with Manhattan all over again. How could I not, especially after Chester begins to play arias and pop standards that draw hundreds of customers to the Bellinis’ newsstand? Fifty years later, the message remains consistent: Everything is possible, after all.

— David L. Ulin

Image: A Garth Williams illustration from “The Cricket in Times Square,” in a limited-edition lithograph available from Every Picture Tells a Story. Credit: Used with permission of Every Picture Tells a Story.

Mind your own beeswax! Take a secret peek into “Amelia’s Notebook”

Got a pretty little reader who isn’t crazy about actually reading?  All the Junie B’s and Judy M’s of the world hold no appeal for her? “Too many words!”  Then check out this fun, colorful series.  Your kidlets will be reading without even knowing it’s good for them.

Amelia’s Notebook by Marissa Moss (ages 7-10, strong girl appeal) is designed as an upbeat, first-person story which resembles a real diary.   The cover bears the familiar black-and-white abstract design of a .99 cent composition book, decorated with color

Got a sweet young reader who isn’t crazy about actually reading?  All the Junie B’s and Judy M’s of the world hold no appeal for her? “Too many words!”  Then check out this fun, colorful series.  Your kidlets will be reading without even knowing it’s good for them.

Amelia’s Notebook by Marissa Moss (ages 7-10, strong girl appeal) is designed as an upbeat, first-person story which resembles a real diary.   The cover bears the familiar black-and-white abstract design of a .99 cent composition book, decorated with color cartoons by Amelia, the book’s nine-year-old “author.”

Inside, on lined pages, Amelia writes about her recent move to a new town, doodles pictures of people she meets and saves such mementos as postage stamps and a birthday candle.

She misses her best friend, Nadia, but her moments of sadness are balanced by optimism-she distracts herself by drawing and by writing short stories. In appropriately conversational terms, Amelia complains that her big sister invades her privacy (“So Cleo if you are reading this right now-BUG OFF and STAY OUT”); gripes about cafeteria food (“Henna says they use dog food); and jokes in classic elementary-school gross-out fashion.  

Readers will understand Amelia’s wish to put her “top-secret” thoughts on paper, and they’ll notice that even though she’s uneasy about attending a different school, she’s starting over successfully. (Reed Business Information, Inc).

Keep in mind that there are some 15 books in the series.  Also, a mildde-school aged Amelia has another series of journals about life after elementary school.


How much would you pay for an unpublished Dr. Seuss?

LA TIMES  October 18, 2010 | 10:16 am


Dr. Seuss’ book that wasn’t, ‘All Sorts of Sports,’ up for auction

Los Angeles auction house Nate D. Sanders has acquired a lost Dr. Seuss manuscript from a former assistant of Theodore Geisel; the hand-drawn and hand-lettered pages are now up for auction.

The book, “All Sorts of Sports,” was abandoned in the 1960s. It has rhymes and rhythms like many of Geisel’s books: “What am I going to do today. Well, that’s a simple matter. Oh, that’s easy. We could play. There are so many sports games to play. We could swim. I could play baseball … golf … or catch. Or I could play a tennis match.”

But around Page 6, his sports ideas peter out, with the text turning into nonsense. “I could blumf. Or blumf blumf blumf blumf blumf. Or blumf. Or blumf blumf blumf blumf blumf.” After that, the remaining dozen pages are lettered by an assistant and include notes from Geisel.

The auction runs through Thursday; the bidding, currently at about $1,600, has not yet reached the reserve price.

The lot includes a 1983 letter from Geisel on “Cat in the Hat” stationery, in which he remembers the “All Sorts of Sports” manuscript but finds the story lacking. “When you picture these negative scenes in illustrations, you will find that negatives are always more memorable than positives. And I think the reader’s reaction will be, ‘What’s the matter with this dope?’ ”

Perhaps that understanding of what stuck with readers is what set Dr. Seuss apart. After all, who can forget “Green Eggs and Ham”?

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Manuscript pages up for auction. Credit: Nate D. Sanders

Easy Reader Series for Girls

Do you have a close personal relationship with a 5 – 7-year-old girl who doesn’t understand why you keep insisting that she go read something when she’d rather do something more fun like eat brussel sprouts or clean her brother’s room?

As promised last week, here are a few “I Can Read” choices that they’ll love.

Amelia Bedelia and the Cat by Herman Parish

Leave it to Amelia Bedelia to find a real cat on a day it’s “raining cats and dogs.” She names him Tiger, and in no time, the two are inseparable and as happy as clams.

But then Tiger gets into trouble. Will Amelia Bedelia go out on a limb to save him?

The cat’s out of the bag—this is an irresistible Amelia Bedelia adventure!

Pinkalicious: Pink Around the Rink by Victoria Kann

After Pinkalicious colors her white ice skates with a cotton candy pink marker, she feels ready to spin, glide, and soar with the best of them. But as the color starts to run off of her skates, she is embarrassed. When Pinkalicious thought she was going to leave her mark on the skating rink, she didn’t mean it so literally. . . .

This I Can Read story will have young readers laughing out loud—until they get pink in the cheeks!

Fancy Nancy: Pajama Day by Jane O’Conner

Nancy is all set to wear something special for Pajama Day at school. But when Bree and Clara show up in matching outfits, Nancy feels left out. Will this Pajama Day be as fun as she thought?

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