Interview: Barbara Bietz, Jewish Books for Children

Jewish Children's Books, Like a Maccabee, Barbara Beitz
Here’s another in my series of interviews with children’s book bloggers. Today I report on my interview with Barbara Bietz (abbreviated “BB” below), who blogs at Jewish Books for Children. As you will see from the interview, Barbara is a children’s author and has a special place in her heart for Jewish Children’s Books.  The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent children’s literature blogs out there. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Barbara’s blog, Jewish Books for Children; its focus on Jewish children’s books makes it a unique and important member of the kidlitosphere.  Click here for the previous interview in this series, with Monica Edinger of educating alice.

Q: I understand that you write children’s books.  How and when did you decide to become a children’s author?

BB: I have always enjoyed writing and did quite a bit of academic and technical writing. From the time I was young I would write poems and stories but was afraid to share them with others.  Finally, I took a class on children’s literature with Alexis O’Neill. In the safe environment of a critique group I gradually became brave enough to share my work. Over the years I have met some wonderful writers in classes and workshops. Writing is a passion but it is also a skill that needs to be developed and nurtured. Continue reading

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Interview: Monica Edinger, educating alice

educating alice monica edinger

"What a curious feeling!" said Alice, "I must be shutting up like a telescope!" And so it was indeed: she was now only ten inches high.

Here’s another in my series of interviews with children’s book bloggers. Today I report on my interview with Monica Edinger (abbreviated “ME” below), who blogs at educating alice and the Huffington Post. As you will see from the interview, Monica is a teacher and an author, and she has worked around children’s books for a long time.  She has even served on the Newbery Medal committee. The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent children’s literature blogs out there. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Monica’s blog, educating alice; it is one of the most widely read and respected blogs in the kidlitosphere. Click here for the the previous interview in this series.

Q: How and when did you become interested in thinking and writing about children’s books?

ME: I have always been interested in children’s books.  Drawing and art was what I did as a kid and so in high school I consciously decided that when I grew up I was going to be a children’s book illustrator.  I worked on a number of projects, most notably illustrations for Madeleine L’Engle’s  A Wrinkle in TimeA Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle and J.R.R. Tolkien’s  short story, “A Leaf by Niggle” [in The Tolkien ReaderThe Tolkien Reader, by J.R.R. Tolkien].  In college and after (say, when I was in Sierra Leone as a Peace Corps Volunteer) I continued to do art—fairy tales, Kipling’s The Elephant’s ChildRudyard Kipling, The Elephant's Child, and a few chapters of another favorite book, Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandAlice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.  I had an agent or two and took my work around, got a few nibbles, Continue reading

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Stories of Virtue and Vice: Stories and Character Development

Aesop's Fables, Character Building Stories of VirtueAesop's Fables, Character Building Stories of Virtue
Stories can have a powerful influence on the formation of character and values in children.  As such, the potential for character formation via stories is an important criterion for adults to consider when selecting books for children.  In this article, I will describe how stories of virtue and vice can shape character in children, and I will offer some advice on choosing children’s books with character-building stories.

This article is an installment in my continuing series on how to choose children’s books, which begins here.  In the previous article in this series I discussed the question of how adults should handle mischief in children’s books.

Stories of Virtue: Character-Building Stories

Historically, story telling for children has been a feature of most cultures.  Often, this story telling has had the purpose, at least in part, of forming the character of children.  Aesop’s FablesAesop's Fables, Character Building Stories of Virtue and Grimm’s Fairy TalesGrimm's Fairy Tales, Character Building Stories of Virtue are good examples of character-building stories, i.e., traditional stories that have aimed at developing character in children.  As I noted in “Character Development in Children: Books with Exemplary Characters”, the success of books like William Bennett’s The Book of VirtuesThe Book of Virtues, by William J. Bennett, Character Building Stories of Virtue suggests that many in our contemporary culture also recognize the connection between stories of virtue and character formation in children.  This connection with character formation is part of what can give stories developmental value for children. Continue reading

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Criteria for Choosing Books for Children: Mischief

Olivia by Ian Falconer cover artOlivia by Ian Falconer cover art
Mischief is a very common feature of children’s books.  But is reading about mischief good for kids?  In this article I will discuss the developmental value (or disvalue) of mischief in children’s books, as one of several criteria for choosing books for children.  I will try to distinguish benign mischief from pernicious mischief, and to give adults some guidance on choosing or avoiding books that feature mischief.

This article is an installment in my continuing series on criteria for choosing books for children.  For the last article in this series, “Character Development in Children: Books with Exemplary Characters”, click here.  To read the series from the beginning, click here for “How to Choose Children’s Books.”

Criteria for Choosing Books for Children: Mischief

So, what do I mean by “mischief” in children’s books?  By “mischief” I mean intentional behavior by the characters in the book that strays, to some extent, from what is appropriate or good.  The function of mischief in children’s books is generally to elicit laughs.  Some examples will help clarify what I mean. Continue reading

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Character Development in Children: Books with Exemplary Characters

The Book of Virtues, by William J. Bennett, cover artThe Book of Virtues, by William J. Bennett, cover art
Today I continue my (lately dormant) series of articles on how to choose children’s books.  In the last article in this series, “The Complexity of Children’s Stories and Social Development”, I discussed the “developmental value” of complex stories for children.  Specifically, I argued that children’s books with complex plots and characters can promote important aspects of child development, such as reasoning abilities and memory.

In this article I will discuss a further feature that can give children’s books developmental value, namely exemplary characters. By “exemplary characters” I mean characters—fictional or non-fictional—that exhibit traits or activities that we hope for our children to value and embody in their lives.  In this article I will explain how exemplary characters can encourage character development in children, and how adults can identify such characters in choosing books for children.

If you would like to read this series from the beginning, start with “How to Choose Children’s Books”. Continue reading

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Children’s Literature Guide: Elizabeth Kennedy, About.com

Elizabeth Kennedy, About.com Children's Books, a children's literature website

Elizabeth Kennedy, About.com Children's Books

Here’s another in my series of interviews with bloggers at children’s literature websites. Today I report on my interview with Elizabeth Kennedy (abbreviated “EK” below), who blogs at the children’s literature website About.com Children’s Books. Elizabeth is one of the hardest working children’s literature bloggers you’ll meet.  In this interview she shares some great insights on helping reluctant readers to embrace reading, and the impact of e-readers on children’s literature. The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent children’s literature websites. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Elizabeth’s blog (link above). Click here for the the previous interview in this series.

Q: I understand that you studied both English literature and children’s literature while in college.  What spurred your interest in children’s literature?

EK: My interest in children’s literature grew from the time I read The Secret GardenThe Secret Garden as a child.  It was the first book I had ever read during which I felt that I was actually there: seeing what was going on, feeling what the characters were feeling.  Like a lot of kids, I had a somewhat difficult childhood and found great comfort Continue reading

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Cynthia Leitich Smith: Children’s Book Author Interview

Cynthia Leitich Smith face graphic

Cynthia Leitich Smith

Here’s another in my series of kidlitosphere blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with children’s books author and blogger Cynthia Leitich Smith (abbreviated “CLS” below), who blogs at Cynsations.  Cynthia is a New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author, and is a member of the faculty at the Vermont College M.F.A. Program in Writing for Children and Young AdultsCynthia’s official author website was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her blog, Cynsations, was listed as among the top two read by the children’s/young adult publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column.

The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent websites in the kidlitosphere. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Cynthia’s blog (links above), her fantastic website, and the other children’s books resources she mentions in the interview. Cynthia Leitich Smith, ladies and gentlemen!

Q: How and when did you become interested in writing children’s books?

CLS: I’d just graduated from law school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and took a clerkship at the Department of Health and Human Services in the loop in Chicago. I’d been haunting local bookstores and begun reading children’s and YA books.

Then after the Oklahoma City Bombing, Continue reading

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ZooBorns: The Newest, Cutest Animals from the World’s Zoos and Aquariums

zooborns: the newest cutest baby animals from the world's zoos and aquariumszooborns: the newest cutest baby animals from the world's zoos and aquariums
Title: ZooBorns: The Newest, Cutest Animals from the World’s Zoos and AquariumsZooBorns: The Newest, Cutest Animals from the World's Zoos and Aquariums
Authors: Andrew Bleiman, Chris Eastland
Genre: Non-Fiction Picture Books
Age Category: 6 to 9 years

Non-Fiction Picture Book Summary

ZooBornsZooBorns: The Newest, Cutest Animals from the World's Zoos and Aquariums is a non-fiction picture book portrait gallery of roughly 100 baby animals born in zoos and aquariums around the world.  Each “zooborn” is featured with several photos, and basic biographical information—name (if the baby has one), species, location of the zoo or aquarium where it lives, date of birth, and the conservation status of its species (e.g., extinct in the wild, endangered, critically endangered, threatened, etc.).

Along with the basic data, the book provides information and anecdotes about each animal, sometimes including part of the story of the particular baby animal in the photos (e.g., if it was rescued, what its personality is like, what it likes to do, etc.), and interesting facts about the species.  In particular, the book highlights connections between zoo breeding programs and efforts to conserve threatened or endangered animal populations. Continue reading

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Kidlitosphere Interview: Blogger and Author Colleen Mondor, Chasing Ray

book-loving stingray image from Chasing Ray about page

A book-loving stingray

Here’s another in my series of kidlitosphere blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with Colleen Mondor (abbreviated “CM” below), who blogs at Chasing Ray. Don’t miss her hilarious anecdotes about flying small charter planes in Alaska! The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent blogs in the kidlitosphere. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Colleen’s blog (link above), as well as the other children’s books resources she mentions in the interview. Thanks Colleen!

Q: How and when did you become interested in thinking/writing about children’s books?

CM: I never left my affection for children’s books behind – probably because several of them (esp Little WomenLittle Women and A Wrinkle in TimeA Wrinkle in Time were so significant to me. I worked in an indy bookstore in the mid 90s and we were very involved in reading contests at the local schools (this was basically the only bookstore in Fairbanks, AK) so I kept up on new children’s and YA [Young Adult] titles as part of my job. And then my son was born in 2001 and that started me back on picture books again for obvious reasons. As a reviewer at Bookslut when I saw there was no one doing a YA column there I pitched the idea to Jessa [Bookslut editor-in-chief] and she thought it was great. And I’ve been professionally reviewing kid and YA books there ever since. Continue reading

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Interview: Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Library

kira kira by cynthia kadohatakira kira by cynthia kadohata
Here’s another in my series of children’s books blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with Charlotte Taylor (abbreviated “CT” below), who blogs at Charlotte’s Library.  As you will see from the interview, Charlotte’s blog focuses on fantasy and science fiction children’s books (especially for middle-schoolers and teens).  The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent websites focused on children’s books. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Charlotte’s blog, and the excellent resources for fantasy and science fiction children’s books it provides. Thanks Charlotte!

Q: How and when did you start your children’s books blog?

CT: It all started in September of 2006 with a hardcover first edition of Kira-Kirakira kira by cynthia kadohata I picked up at a library booksale for fifty cents. My sister saw it lying around my house, and let me know it was worth something. Indeed, it was—more than enough to cover that pesky sewer bill. Knowing that next September would bring a fresh sewer bill, it occurred to me later that fall that it might be useful to buy another first edition Newbery winner, so I went online to find out if anyone had predictions. And this led me to this post on Linda Sue Park’s blog—the very first blog post I remember reading.

I was in a bad patch, bookwise, constantly running out of things to read. I would wander into book stores, not know what I wanted to buy, and leave again empty handed….very sad. Linda Sue Park’s list of recommended books seemed like manna from heaven—not just these specific titles, but the realization that there were people out there who could help me. Continue reading

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Interview: Terry Doherty, The Reading Tub

The Reading Tub logo
Here is another in my series of interviews with kids books bloggers. Today I report on my interview with Terry Doherty (abbreviated “TD” below), who blogs at Children’s Literacy: Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub Blog. Terry’s blog reflects her passion for children’s reading and literacy. The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent websites focused on kids’ books, including children’s reading and literacy resources. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Terry’s blog (link above), as well as the other excellent resources she points to in the interview.  Thanks Terry!

Q: How and when did you become interested in children’s reading and literacy?

TD: I have always loved reading. I was one of those flashlight-under-the-covers kids. The literacy light bulb turned on when First Lady Barbara Bush started talking about the importance of reading.

I was a young bureaucrat at that point, steeped in my career, so the spark just sat quietly and waited. Fast forward 12 years … I am a full-time mom and I want to share my love of reading with our new baby girl. As she grows as a reader, so do I. I volunteer in her school, and I have learned so much by watching her and her peers. Even in your (cough) 40s (cough) you can learn a lot from Kindergartners! Continue reading

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Interview: Carol Rasco, Reading is Fundamental

Reading is Fundamental logoHere is another in my series of interviews with kids books bloggers. Today I report on my interview with Carol Rasco (abbreviated “CR” below), who blogs at Rasco From RIF.   Carol is a prominent children’s reading and literacy advocate in the United States and is currently CEO of Reading is Fundamental (RIF).  In her blog she shares reviews and reflections on the world of children’s books.  The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent websites focused on kids’ books, including children’s reading and literacy resources.  RIF’s website has some particularly good resources that can help children learn to read.  So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Carol’s blog (link above), as well as the excellent resources on the RIF website. I also encourage you to consider making a donation to RIF.  Thanks Carol!

Q: How and when did you become interested in children’s reading and literacy?

CR: I was an avid reader from an early age, always wanted to have plenty of books in case I finished one book, ready to start the next.  And I found studying authors great fun, loved many genres early on but in particular biographies, poetry, and travel books in addition to the more traditional novels.  My undergraduate degree was in elementary education and I then taught sixth grade until going into elementary / early childhood counseling when I used bibliotherapy in many situations.  While I then took a pause from the “paid workforce” as my two children were born, I re-entered that workforce in the policy field for the next 20 years.  When that period came to a close I chose RIF as the place I wanted to be, back to the children’s books! Continue reading

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Catching Fire: Summary and Review

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins cover artCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins cover art
Title: Catching FireCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult Fiction (Books for Teens)
Age Category: 16 to 19 years +

Today, in honor of Teen Read Week, I review the second book in the Hunger Games TrilogyHunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.  As it turns out, teen readers across the country recently chose Catching Fire as their favorite book of 2010.  I will not spoil any important plot twists in this Catching Fire summary and review.  For a review of the first book in the trilogy, The Hunger Games, click here.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins: Quick Review

I highly recommend Catching Fire by Suzanne CollinsCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins. First, the book is bursting with subjective appeal. The plot has the many exciting twists we’ve come to expect from The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the deepening characters make us care about what happens next, and the tastefully developed love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale is enough to pique the interest of any teen beginning to think about love. Second, Collins’s thoughtful examination of ethical issues—particularly those related to war, and moral psychology—stimulates productive thought and emotion, giving the book developmental value. My one caution is that the book, like The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, is quite violent (though, I think, in a productive and justified way), and so sensitive readers should be forewarned. Keep reading for an in-depth review. Continue reading

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Plato on Developmental Value in Children’s Stories

Raphael's Plato pointing to the heavens: stories children values
I couldn’t resist posting this quote I came across recently in Plato’s Republic about stories, children, values, etc.:

“Socrates: You know, don’t you, that the beginning of any process is most important, especially for anything young and tender?  It’s at that time that it is most malleable and takes on any pattern one wishes to impress on it.

Adeimantus: Exactly.

Socrates: Then shall we carelessly allow the children to hear any old stories, told by just anyone, and to take beliefs into their souls that are for the most part opposite to the ones we think they should hold when they are grown up?” (The Republic 377a-b)

Continue reading

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Interview: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan, Bookends

Bookends Blog - A Booklist Online Blog, bannerHere is another in my series of children’s books blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan (abbreviated “CD” and “LR” below), who blog together at Bookends – A Booklist Online Blog.  Their “Bookends” blog is one of several hosted at the Booklist Online website.  Cindy and Lynn take a refreshing tag-team approach to their children’s book reviews. They are also both middle-school librarians, as you will see from the interview, so they have special insight on teen and tween readers. The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent websites focused on children’s books. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Cindy and Lynn’s “Bookends” blog (link above), as well as the other excellent resources they mention in the interview. Thanks Cindy and Lynn!

Q: How and when did you become interested in young adult and children’s books?

CD: In the fourth grade I was a library helper and soon decided that I wanted to become an author of books for children. I decided that a career in library science would be a good back up and would put me in touch with the market. Then I had a YA Literature class in college and was hooked. Now I just need to write that first book…

LR: I have always loved children’s books – I probably just have never really grown up.  Early in my library career I fell in love with that wonderful magic of connecting kids with good books.  My own children were big readers, which just reinforced my love of youth books.  As much as I love adult books, I think my heart has always been with youth books. Continue reading

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