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.

“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.


Easy Reader Series That Boys Will Love

The question I  get asked the most often is — can you recommend something my 5, 6, 7-year-old boy will actually want to read?

It’s a tough age, for both boys and girls, because they’re used to being read to and frequently haven’t quite gotten into the habit of reading on their own.  Or they want to read, but get frustrated because the material that interests them is too difficult for their reading level.

Here are three different series, each of which has lots of books in the series so if he likes it you can get more.  I’ve included a sample page from each series so you can gauge for yourself if the reading level is appropriate for your little man.

The Fly Guy series by Tedd Arnold is adorable fun with quirky cartoons and zany plots that keeps kids reading and laughing.  In the first book we meet a boy who goes out searching for a smart animal to take to The Amazing Pet Show and bumps into a fly that is intelligent enough to say the child’s name, Buzz. Although his parents and the judges feel at first that a fly is only a pest, not a pet, the insect puts on a performance that astounds them all and wins an award.

Got a little superhero at home?   It doesn’t matter if his favorite crime-fighter is Superman, Batman, Spiderman or even, gulp, Wonder Woman, there are tons of these “I Can Read” books in which good always defeats evil. This series will have them reading without even knowing that it’s good for them.

The P.J. Funnybunny series is a very sweet series that deals with problems that feel relatable to kids.  For example, in this book P.J. thinks that camping is not for girls.  At least, that’s what P.J. and his pals tell Donna and sister Honey Bunny when they want to tag along on a camping trip. But when two mysterious ghosts frighten the boys all the way home, only the girls know the real story.

Next time, I’ll tackle the same topic except we’ll switch genders and talk about girls as emerging readers.

NY Times Best of 2010

Notable Children’s Books of 2010


Illustration by Jakob Hinrichs

By Richard Michelson.
Illustrated by R. G. Roth.

Unpaged. Knopf. $16.99. (Ages 6 to 10)

Brewster is a black child living in a segregated neighborhood in the early 1970s. He’s not dreaming of a way out, only of starting first grade with Miss Evelyn — until his mother announces that he and his brother will be bused to the “white school” an hour away. The understated honesty of Michelson’s writing and Roth’s art capture the period perfectly in this tale, one of this year’s New York Times best illustrated children’s books.

By Robert Lipsyte.
280 pp. HarperTeen/HarperCollins. $16.99. (Ages 12 and up)

Lipsyte’s pitch-perfect young adult novel follows a jaded but likable suburban kid who wants only to play center field, where it’s “open and clean, no foul lines or crazy angles.” But it takes time to get there. The suburb he lives in, with its neglected teenagers, overworked adults and scheming, self-serving authority figures, seems like a stand-in for early-21st-century America.

By Anne Isaacs.
Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky.

Unpaged. Schwartz & Wade. $17.99. (Ages 5 to 9)

In this gorgeous sequel to the Caldecott Honor-winning “Swamp Angel,” the brave and resourceful Angelica Long rider, all of 16 years old, once again proves herself worthy to wear the boots of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill or John Henry. Zelinsky’s precise and witty illustrations, in American primitive style, match Isaacs’ text, which captures the outsize tone of the frontier, where the soil is “rich enough to open its own bank.”


Best Boxed Sets Gifts for Readers 4 – 8

If Santa is looking for some gift ideas for good little emerging readers, I have a few suggestions.

1.  What do the Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones, A to Z Mysteries, Andrew Lost, and Nate the Great series have in common? Not only are the main characters spunky and lovable kids whose exciting adventures have captivated readers for decades—they’re also all found in one place in the Favorite Series Starters boxed set.

This is the first-ever sampler of its kind, introducing young readers to five favorite series through the first book in each. Kids will be clamoring to read more—and will have five different series to pursue—after they’ve read the “favorite firsts” in this collection.

This is an awesome collection for any young reader.

2.  How did four strange teachers get into this little box?

Meet a teacher who eats bonbons, a principal who kisses pigs, a librarian who thinks she’s George Washington, and an art teacher who dresses up in pot holders! They’re all inside this box! They must be getting pretty crowded in My Weird School Collection by Dan Gutman.

3.  Ivy and Bean are two friends who never meant to like each other. This boxed set, Ivy and Bean: books 1 – 3 by Annie Barrows,  is a delightful introduction to these spunky characters. It includes the first three books in the Ivy and Bean series and a secret treasure-hiding box with a surprise inside.

Previous Older Entries