“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


The Five 2011 Newbery Winners

Okay, technically, it’s one winner and the four honor books. I don’t know about you, but on lists like this I almost always find that I like one of the runners-up more than the winner.

Also, I am somewhat pained to admit that I’ve only read one of the five Newbery books. I won’t say which one because, honestly, I wasn’t crazy about it. Nevertheless, the winner looks like a good one. If you’ve read any of them, I’d love to hear what you thought about it.

“Moon over Manifest,” written by Clare Vanderpool, is the 2011 Newbery Medal winner. The book is published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

“Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.

Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”

Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.” (Booklist)

Four Newbery Honor Books also were named:

“Turtle in Paradise,” by Jennifer L. Holm and published by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc..

“In 1935, jobs are hard to come by, and Turtle’s mother is lucky to find work as a live-in housekeeper. When she learns that her employer can’t stand children, she sends her 11-year-old daughter from New Jersey to Key West to live with relatives. Turtle discovers a startlingly different way of life amid boisterous cousins, Nana Philly, and buried treasure. This richly detailed novel was inspired by Holm’s great-grandmother’s stories. Readers who enjoy melodic, humorous tales of the past won’t want to miss it.”    (Booklist)

Heart of a Samurai,” written by Margi Preus and published by Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.

“In 1841, a Japanese fishing vessel sinks. Its crew is forced to swim to a small, unknown island, where they are rescued by a passing American ship. Japan’s borders remain closed to all Western nations, so the crew sets off to America, learning English on the way.

Manjiro, a fourteen-year-old boy, is curious and eager to learn everything he can about this new culture. Eventually the captain adopts Manjiro and takes him to his home in New England. The boy lives for some time in New England, and then heads to San Francisco to pan for gold. After many years, he makes it back to Japan, only to be imprisoned as an outsider. With his hard-won knowledge of the West, Manjiro is in a unique position to persuade the shogun to ease open the boundaries around Japan; he may even achieve his unlikely dream of becoming a samurai.”  (Booklist)

“Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night,” written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen and published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

“Like Sidman’s Caldecott Honor Book, Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems (2005), this picture book combines lyrical poetry and compelling art with science concepts. Here, poems about the woods at night reveal exciting biology facts that are explained in long notes on each double-page spread. In a poem about crickets, lines describe “the raucous scrape / of wing against wing,” while a prose passage explains that the cricket’s wing has a serrated “file,” which the cricket rubs against a hard “scraper” on its other wing to attract a mate, creating a sound called “stridulation” that can swell to deafening levels. The facts are further reinforced in the accompanying picture, which shows the small file on a cricket’s wing.

In an opening note, Allen explains his elaborate, linoleum-block printmaking technique, and each atmospheric image shows the creatures and the dense, dark forest with astonishing clarity. Looking closely at a picture of a snail, for example, readers will see the physical detail, described in an adjacent poem, in the small animals’ moist, sluglike bodies, “riding on a cushion of slime.” The thrilling title poem captures the drama of predator and prey: a mouse in the undergrowth flees an owl’s “hooked face and / hungry eye.” A final glossary concludes this excellent, cross-curricular title.”  (Booklist)

One Crazy Summer,” by Rita Williams-Garcia and published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

“Eleven-year-old Delphine has only a few fragmented memories of her mother, Cecile, a poet who wrote verses on walls and cereal boxes, played smoky jazz records, and abandoned the family in Brooklyn after giving birth to her third daughter. In the summer of 1968, Delphine’s father decides that seeing Cecile is “something whose time had come,” and Delphine boards a plane with her sisters to Cecile’s home in Oakland. What they find there is far from their California dreams of Disneyland and movie stars. “No one told y’all to come out here,” Cecile says. “No one wants you out here making a mess, stopping my work.”

Like the rest of her life, Cecile’s work is a mystery conducted behind the doors of the kitchen that she forbids her daughters to enter. For meals, Cecile sends the girls to a Chinese restaurant or to the local, Black Panther–run community center, where Cecile is known as Sister Inzilla and where the girls begin to attend youth programs. Regimented, responsible, strong-willed Delphine narrates in an unforgettable voice, but each of the sisters emerges as a distinct, memorable character, whose hard-won, tenuous connections with their mother build to an aching, triumphant conclusion. Set during a pivotal moment in African American history, this vibrant novel shows the subtle ways that political movements affect personal lives; but just as memorable is the finely drawn, universal story of children reclaiming a reluctant parent’s love.” (Booklist)

“The Adventures of Nanny Piggins” by R.A. Spratt

Mary Poppins, move over—or get shoved out of the way. Nanny Piggins has arrived!

Why didn’t I come up with this idea?  The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt (grades 3 – 6) is irreverent fun that is impossible to resist.  This is a most excellent choice for out loud bedtime reading that I guarantee will have both parent and child giggling.

As the story opens we learn that Nanny Piggens was most recently employed at the circus as the pig shot out of a cannon.   She assumes the title Nanny when she spies a “Help Wanted” sign on the lawn of the Green family.  Mrs. Green is dead, and Mr. Green is so tight-fisted he refuses to pay a human nanny. So when a pig with no criminal record who will work for ten cents an hour applies, Mr. Green is delighted.

The children—Derrick, Samantha, and Michael—promptly fall in love with Nanny Piggins because she lets them eat sweets all day, watch as much TV as possible and stay up quite late.  She also comes up with the most marvelous ideas, like taking a boat to China to get Chinese takeout.

Even when things don’t exactly work out as planned (and they rarely do), the high-jinks and hilarity make them excellent adventures. Stuffing adjectives into this review is as easy as watching Nanny Piggins stuff pies into her mouth. This smart, sly, funny book is marvelously illustrated with drawings that capture Nanny’s sheer pigginess.

Readers may worry that this first novel is so full of stories about Nanny Piggins that there won’t be enough left for sequels. Never fear!  The last line of the book predicts Nanny will be stirring up more adventures, possibly even before breakfast. (synopsis excerpts stolen directly from Booklist)

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.”


Why Judy Blume is Still Awesome

We must, we must, we must increase our bust!

It’s true.  Judy Blume is kind of my hero.  I remember stalking the shelves of Arlington Heights public school library when I was in third grade hoping to find “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” so I could check it out for, like, the twenty-fifth time.  The librarian, seeing what book I was attempting to check out, yet again, would cheerfully suggest other titles that she hoped would inspire me to broaden my literary horizons.  I would listen, smiling and nodding, then thank her for her input and shoved “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” into my backpack.

Unlike many other beloved titles from a childhood long ago and far away, Judy Blume’s books continue to hold up.  Why?  Other than well-rounded characters and excellent plotting, one might posture that it’s actually because she dares to tackle controversial topics that pique kids’ interest like racism (Iggie’s House), menstruation (Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret), divorce (It’s Not the End of the WorldJust As Long As We’re Together), bullying (Blubber), masturbation (DeenieThen Again, Maybe I Won’t) and teen sex (Forever).

Ms. Blume has written 21 some novels with sales exceeding 80 million copies that have been translated into 31 languages.  Considering her brave approach to “controversial” topics, it shouldn’t be a surprise that she is one of the most censored authors of all time.  I say good for you, Judy Blume!  In fact, on the list of the top 100 most challenged books between 1990 and 1999 at the American Library Association, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, comes in at number sixty.

This book tells the tale of an eleven year old girl, Margaret Simon, who is growing up with no organized religion (her father is Jewish and her mother Christian).  She, nevertheless, has a close personal relationship with God who she sees as her friend and confidant, someone she talks to when she cannot seem to talk to anyone else about important issues in her life.  When assigned a yearlong independent project at school, Margaret chooses the weighty task of studying people’s beliefs.  Through serious yet sometimes comical situations, the book also deals with several other taboo topics: Margaret having to buy her very first bra; having her first period; jealousy over other girls having more curvaceous figures; and, of course, boys.

Apparently the book lands on the “most censored” list because it deals openly with sexuality and religion.

The Judy Blume books are awesome Christmas gifts.  If you have emerging readers, then start with “Freckle Juice.”  The publishers put together some excellent boxed sets for the holidays for slightly older readers.

“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (ages 8 and up) is a novel in words and pictures, an intriguing mystery set in 1930s Paris about an orphan, a salvaged clockwork invention, and a celebrated filmmaker.  It takes the illustrated novel to a whole new level.  Or it puts a spin on the current resurgence of graphic novels.  I’m not sure exactly which one.  Not that it matters because it’s a bit of a quiet masterpiece.

Once you open this book, you”ll understand how it can become addictive.  You want to pick it up over and over, paging back and forth, studying the illustrations, scanning the details and searching the character’s faces.

It’s the story of orphan boy, clock keeper, and thief named Hugo who lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life and his most precious secret are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

The result is somewhat similar to a graphic novel, but experiencing its mix of silvery pencil drawings and narrative interludes is ultimately more akin to watching a silent film.  This hybrid creation, which also includes movie stills and archival photographs, is unexpected and often poignant.

It’s no surprise that movie titan Martin Scorsese is directing the film adaptation to be released next year.  Please don’t tell Mr. Scorsese that I said this, but I sort of doubt even he can do cinematic justice to this fanciful tale.   Either which way, please please please read the book before you see the film.

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