Friday, December 4, 2015

HANUKKAH BOOKS

     The Festival of Lights begins on December 6 this year. Here are a few of my favorite Hanukkah stories. They are good to read any time of year, but right now, fry up some latkes, spoon up some applesauce, get cozy and read.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel
      It's the seventh day of Hanukkah, 1938, when Oskar, a refugee from Nazi Europe, arrives in New York City.

Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles by David Adler, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
     Sara's Hanukkah is enriched when she shares food with a hungry stranger.

Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown, illustrated by Stacey Schuett
      a Hanukkah miracle in Alaska.

How Mindy Saved Hanukkah by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
      As tiny as The Borrowers, the Klein family lives behind the walls at the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Will Mindy be able to find the Hanukkah candle, before the cat finds her?

Beautiful Yetta's Hanukkah Kitten by David Pinkwater, illustrated by Jill Pinkwater
     a Brooklyn hen and her parrot pals find a cold, lost kitten at Hanukkah.

Potato Pancakes All Around by Marilyn Hirsh, illustrated by the author
     A wandering peddler teaches the villagers how to make potato pancakes from a crust of bread.

Hanukkah At Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Greg Harlin
     A Jewish soldier lights a menorah, then tells General George Washington the story of Hanukkah.

Runaway Dreidel! by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker
     On the first night of Hanukkah, a boy receives a spinning dreidel which just won't stop.

Honeyky Hanukkah by Woody Guthrie, illustrated by Dave Horowitz
     An illustrated version of a lively Hanukkah tune written by Woody Guthrie. The book comes with a CD.

Hanukkah Lights by David Martin, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
     A lovely story for the youngest readers.


 
 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Holiday Reading

     It's that time of year again, time to curl up on a cold day with a cozy 
holiday read.  Today I am going to list a few of my favorite vintage children's
books for Christmas. Some may be hard to find, even in the public library, but  they are still the best! (I'll follow up in a few days with books for Hanukkah, and then some recent favorites.)

     In no particular order:

1. Star Mother's Youngest Child by Louise Moeri, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.
      She was so old no one remembered her. Then Star Mother's youngest child visits to learn what Christmas is all about.

2. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
     The war has ended, but Ruthie's father still hasn't returned to their Appalachian town. How will she and her mother find the perfect Christmas tree for the holiday celebration?

3. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger
           O. Henry's classic tale of a husband and wife who sacrifice to buy each other Christmas gifts, beautifully illustrated by Zwerger.

4.  A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
           My favorite illustrated version, her illustrations remind me of a scene in a snow globe.

5. The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
          A beautiful story of wishing, by one of my all time favorite authors.

6. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs 
         When his snowman comes to life, a boy goes on a magical flight.

7. Christmastime in New York City by Roxie Munro
          Panoramic illustrations of the glories of Christmas in New York

       Happy holiday season and happy reading too!

  

 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

FAVORITE AUTHORS

     I was recently asked who my three favorite children's book authors are. It took a while to answer because I found the question so overwhelming. Reading has been such an enormous part of my life ever since I was a young child. How could I categorize all of the books I've read down to three responses? Would I answer with the favorite authors of children's books I read when I was a child? Or would I go with authors of books I had read in the past year?

      My standard answer when anyone asks me what my favorite children's book is, is to say PETER PAN. I never tire of the story. I love the Neverland, I think children can fly, and I will always clap my hands when asked if I believe in fairies.

     I could just as easily say LITTLE WOMEN. I love that book, and the moment I begin to read, I still fall right into the story. I read all of Louisa May Alcott's books as a child.

     Yet there are so many other children's books which I hold dear.

      In the end, I went with three authors I read as an adult, John Burningham, Jacqueline Woodson, and Maira Kalman.

     I love John Burningham's illustration. If I could hang an original illustration from SEASONS or MR. GUMPY'S MOTORCAR on my wall I would be very happy. WOULD YOU RATHER? is always so fun to read aloud with children. Besides the gorgeous illustration are the imaginative stories like, COME AWAY FROM THE WATER, SHIRLEY and EDWARDO THE HORRIBLEST BOY IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, and so many more. I could go on and on about how much I like his stories.

     The first book I read by Jacqueline Woodson was LOCOMOTION, and I've been a fan
ever since. Her writing is beautiful and her subject matter is unique. I like the way she looks at the world. She autographed a copy of BROWN GIRL, DREAMING for me at the American Library Association convention last month, and that was so great. THE OTHER SIDE is another of my favorites by her.

      Maira Kalman is unique. I love the children's books she has written and illustrated, and I am especially taken with her two recent picture book biographies, LOOKING AT LINCOLN and THOMAS JEFFERSON, LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF EVERYTHING. I was privileged to hear her speak at Stanford about her work. She made it all sound so effortless, when  actually so much goes into her books and illustration.

      So there it is. I'm pleased with my answer, and also very happy that I don't have to make choices like this often.  

     

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

THE CALLENDAR FAMILY

   When I wrote my post about sequels, I remembered a series of books I had loved as a child. They were British children's books about a large family who lived in the countryside. I knew that one character was named February, and that was about it. For years I have wanted to reread them but could not find them. Thanks to Link+, a wonderful interlibrary loan service available at my public library, I was able to order the books!

     I am so happy I did - they were wonderful!

     The author is John Verney and the two books are January's Tunnel and February's Road. They are among the most sophisticated children's books I've ever read, especially when you consider they were published in 1959 and 1961. We have broken all sorts of barriers in children's books, yet that doesn't always translate into a sophisticated read. These two books deal with political intrigue, government scandal, international power grabs, yet in a way that doesn't talk down to children (or adults for that matter). I was probably about nine years old when I first read them and I don't recall questioning anything. It was still a powerful read now, and I was dumbfounded that the books could engage me so well. And I do love it when February calls things she dislikes, "Ghastly".

     Highly recommended!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

THE SEQUEL

     I recently started the new book in the Penderwicks series, The Penderwicks In Spring. The Penderwicks have a legion of fans. Although I loved the first book, I haven't been enthralled with any of the sequels. What is most interesting to me is that the first book was published in 2005, and this latest addition was published in 2015, ten years later. So let's say you were nine or ten years old when the first book came out, you would be 20 years old now. Would you still be interested in continuing to read this series? It's my understanding that a fifth book will complete the series. So is the series as a whole intended for the children reading it now rather than those who started it? Or does it actually matter? Because enjoying the first book doesn't mean a reader has actually committed to an entire series.

     In some ways this sheds light on the publishing wisdom of children's series books which are written as work by hire, by various authors under one fictitious name. For example, Nancy Drew or Rainbow Magic. Another book, in fact many more books, are available as soon as a child finishes one, so they don't have to wait or outgrow the series before reading more.

     A trend seems to be developing in children's books with most stories being part of a series or at least a trilogy. I have to admit a preference, with some exceptions, for stand alone stories. I loved Three Times Lucky. The sequel - Ghosts of Tupelo Landing - not as much. I felt the same about The Romeo and Juliet Code. Loved it, but only liked Romeo Blue. Although I do realize that an author may have more to say about her characters, so needs a second or third book to tell the story.

     An exception for me is the wonderful series by Hilary McKay about the artistic Casson family. I loved all of the books in the series. Perhaps the difference is that each book is from the point of view of a different child in the family.

     However, as a child I loved books in series. I read all of the Anne of Green Gables books, including when Anne is grown up and has her own family. I read Laura Ingalls Wilder, each Beverly Cleary books, everything about The Moffats. Green Knowe was a favorite. I longed for more books about terrible, horrible Edie and of course read everything about the March family. If there was a family I loved, I wanted to read and read about them.

     So it doesn't really matter whether I like sequels or not. Because these books are not written for me, or the other adults like me, who love children's books and read them for professional reasons. They are written for CHILDREN.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

THE PINK MAPLE HOUSE REVISITED

     I was able to request a copy of The Pink Maple House through interlibrary loan. It was the book both my mother and I had read during my childhood. I had hated it, she had liked it, and I wanted to see if I still felt the same way.

    The Pink Maple House was published in 1950. It is very dated. My guess is I read it in 1961. I think it was dated even then. It tells the story of Polly Trent, who moves to the "beautiful  beautiful"pink maple house with her family.

     Sadly, Polly moves away from her best friend, Jenny Spears. She starts a new school But not to worry, Jenny often comes to visit, and the two families spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas together.

     First of all, Polly and Jenny are terrible snobs. If I were Mrs. Trent, I would be concerned that Polly makes no new friends at the new school, and has to rely so heavily on Jenny coming over. The only girl she starts to know is Tilly Jenkins, but she and Jenny act very superior to Tilly. Tilly has a ramshackle house and her mother yells and hits. And of course, she is jealous of Polly's "perfect" life, so is portrayed as poor Tilly. She's described as fat, "the fat little girl", which really bothered me.

     I also couldn't stand the portrayal of the servants, the Trent's housekeeper, Delsey, and the Spears' man, Robert. Although they act like they have warm admiration for Delsey and her good cooking, she has to work on Christmas Day! They only had two guests for dinner, so why couldn't spoiled Mrs. Trent handle it? And whoop-de-doo, they give Delsey a whopping $5 and a new pocketbook for her Christmas gift. Come on! That was cheap even in 1950! She's treated as badly as Bob Crachit was by Scrooge, in my opinion.

    So verdict. I was a wise little girl. I didn't care for The Pink Maple House then and I still don't like it now. Reading it made me realize why a tumultuous decade like the sixties followed the 1950s. I can't help wondering - if there really was a Polly Trent, did she decide to "tune in, turn on and drop out" during the late 1960s? As for Tilly Jenkins, I hope she received a full scholarship to college, worked hard, and became the glamorous CEO of her own international firm!

    


    

Thursday, March 5, 2015

CRITIQUE SERVICE

     I am pleased to announce that I am now offering a critique service for picture book manuscripts. For the past year I have been a volunteer judge at Rate Your Story, critiquing three or four picture book manuscripts per month, using their rating system. Of course there is usually so much more I would like to tell the writers, but I'm limited to the Rate Your Story system. With my professional critiques I'll be able to give a much more detailed response.

     My second gig, as a children's librarian, is also helpful in giving critiques. I have read literally thousands of children's books and keep up with the current titles. Reading is second only to writing daily as a necessity for a writer. Sadly, it's often obvious when reading a manuscript that the writer really has no understanding of children's picture books, probably because they haven't read enough. So in some cases I'll be recommending a reading list too.

     If you're interested, you can read more about it at my website, www.pamelamayer.com.
     Click on Critique Service on the left hand side.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

FOOD II


      In my last blog, I wrote about a picky eater. Today I'll write about another of my characters, Dorcas Cummings, who longs for "something good to eat". The only child of brilliant inventors, Mr. and Mrs. Cummings are more interested in their fleet of robots than they are in Dorcas. They feed her health foods, green milkshakes, kale, sardines and soybeans. But sometimes children ought to have a cookie!

      Like my picky eater, Dorcas is another side of the same coin, that is, food obsession.

      Is it any wonder I am food obsessed? It seems most people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area are. New fantastic restaurants open in San Francisco on a weekly basis. All types of ethic cuisines are represented. Every town has a farmer's market, food trucks and specialty food shops. Add to that list artisan chocolates, coffee, craft beers and cocktails. Like tech, food is a part of the culture around here.

      Actually it didn't just start there for me. My grandmother was a fabulous cook. She was "old country", none of her recipes were written down, she had learned to cook by watching her mother. Grandma made so many wonderful desserts, cakes, cookies, strudels, homemade noodles, wonderful soups and chicken. She loved to invite the entire extended family over for a feast and would give everyone a "care" package to take home, enough food for dinner the next day.

     When my daughters were small, serving nutritious food seemed like a large part of the job of "mom" to me. They liked to pretend that our kitchen was a restaurant called The Sunshine Cafe.I had a chalkboard on the wall where they would write out each night's dinner menu. They are both excellent cooks now.

     Of course food has always been important in children's books. As a child, I remember longing to taste the foods the characters in books I read were eating. Treacle and toffee in British children's books sounded particularly enticing. I wanted to know how hardtack and salt pork tasted. Food is not only taste of course, it's smell and texture, all those sensory details which make writing, like one's palate, come alive.

     You are what you eat, which seems especially true when creating a character.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

FOOD I

    I've been thinking about creating a character who is a picky eater. So it got me thinking about the foods I disliked as a child, like runny eggs and lima beans.

     Or the revolting foods my parents ate, Tripe, Calves' Liver, Limburger Cheese, Pickled Pigs' Feet, Sweetbreads, Tongue.

     With the exception of the eggs, I still wouldn't eat any of the above.

     When I was in high school I participated in a program called The Experiment In International Living. I stayed with a family in Limoges, France. The Experiment instilled in us the importance of using proper French table manners, and of eating everything we were served. Although I loved my French family dearly, there were certain foods I could not bring myself to even taste - ox brains (the texture), raw horsemeat (they loved it with buttered bread), pate tete de chochon (head of pig, 'nuff said), rabbit (sorry, but no).

     If I were served these foods today, I still wouldn't taste them. And I don't have a hankering for raw oysters or escargot either.

      I've always considered myself to be a person who is open to new foods and eats everything. But I now realize the truth.

     I am a picky eater!

     

Sunday, February 8, 2015

OLD MOTHER WEST WIND

     The first book I remember loving was Old Mother West Wind by Thornton Burgess. Long after I read it, whenever I went to the public library, I would walk by the shelf where it sat and look at it, as if I were visiting an old friend. I doubt many children read it nowadays, and even whether it is part of many library collections.

     It's the same with my mother's favorite childhood book. She loved The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley. I read it at her insistence as a child, but not with the same passion for it that she had. My daughters didn't read it, and I'm certain modern children don't know much about it.

      I wonder if it will be the same with the favorite books of my daughters' childhoods. Stonewords by Pam Conrad was Rebecca's favorite, and Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson was Amy's.

      Fortunately certain classic books have survived, Peter Pan, Little Women, The Wind in the Willows, Mary Poppins. They are on the library's shelves, although I'm not certain they are read, even as a family read aloud. Just yesterday, a woman asked me for Peter Pan. I was so thrilled that she wanted to read it to her daughter I practically pranced to the shelf.

       Then I handed her the book.

       "Oh, no," she said, looking at it. "She's only five."

        "That will be fine," I said. "I think she will enjoy your reading it to her."

          "Don't you have a children's version?"

         "This is a book for children," I said, wanting to remind her that she was standing in the children's section of the library, after all!

           "Well, I mean like abridged, or like by Walt Disney or something."

           THAT WOULD NOT BE PETER PAN! Is want I wanted to scream at her. Of course, I couldn't.

           "No, we don't have anything like that," I said. I took the book back, giving it a little squeeze to remind it that it was still loved.

         Are old books like abandoned toys, desperately wanting a child to love them again?

         

Thursday, February 5, 2015

THE PINK MAPLE HOUSE

  I've been writing a series of early literacy tips for the library's facebook page. This week's was about having a Family Book Club, and it brought me back to a happy memory of my mother. Long before it was fashionable, back in my childhood, my mother and I had our own book club. I would read a book, she would read it too, then we would sit together to discuss it. It was fun, not only because I liked to read, but because she liked to read too. Her reading the same books as me let me know that they were important and good and they mattered.
      
      The book I remember us disagreeing about was called The Pink Maple House. I don't remember much about it, apart from the cover being pink, and the story being so sweet it made me gag. But my mother loved it and couldn't understand why I didn't.

      It's an old book, published in 1950, but available at ABE, and through World Cat, although not in our library system. Perhaps I'll get a copy to see if all of these years later I still find it too saccharine, or if I now agree with my mother about The Pink Maple House.




Hooray for Books!

Congratulations to the winners of all of the children's book awards. With so many wonderful titles this year, I'm sure it was hard to choose!