The Ceeb

UPDATE: You can listen to the archived CBC Montreal Radio Noon show from today here - click on Wednesday, December 16th and then the book chat starts at about 29:30. Not nearly enough time to talk about all the things I wanted to talk about.

I mentioned the Dame Edna reading of Ian Falconer's Olivia stories. Here's a little teaser....

Thanks to Betsy at Fuse #8 and the lovely ladies of We Heart Books for the heads-up on this one.


Shopping List

Will be on CBC Montreal's Radio Noon program tomorrow (Wednesday) to talk about children's books and recommendations for holiday shopping. I'm making a list and checking it twice.

Picture Book
Perfect Snow
by Barbara Reid

The Olivia Audio Collection
by Ian Falconer, read by Dame Edna Everage
Simon & Schuster

Pop-up Book
The Incredible Book Eating Boy
by Oliver Jeffers
Harper Collins

Graphic novel
The Chronicles of Arthur: Sword of Fire and Ice
by John Matthews, illustrated by Mike Collins

Steampunk novel
The Hunchback Assignments
by Arthur Slade
Harper Trophy

Fantasy novel

Smudge's Mark
by Claudia Osmond
Simply Read Books

Young adult novel suitable for adults of all ages
The Bride's Farewell
by Meg Rosoff
Random House



We have been reading Grimble and Grimble at Christmas, Clement Freud's outrageously funny stories about a boy named Grimble (just Grimble as his parents didn't think to give him another name), who is "about ten," (his age is not quite certain as his parents can't remember when his birthday might be.) In the first story his parents have gone off to Peru and left him to fend for himself with an oven full of sandwiches and a fridge full of tea. Not only is this great fun to read aloud to one's young offspring, it also creates the illusion that by comparison you are remarkably competent in the parenting department.

In Grimble at Christmas, the poor boy takes on the responsibility for Christmas when he fears his parents will prove inadequate to the task:

That night when Grimble was in bed he started to think about Christmas very seriously. Christmas was a holiday and a time for eating interesting food and giving presents and receiving presents--someone had told him it was more blessed to do one than the other, but he kept forgetting which. Now the reason why children expected their parents to do things for them at Christmas was because parents are better organized than children and parents have more money than children.

In Grimble's case this was only partly true. His parents were not nearly as well organized as he; they kept forgetting to get up in the morning and sometimes forgot to go to bed for days on end and they never knew what time it was.

We were very sorry to read of the death of Clement Freud and realize there will never be any more Grimble.

The original Grimble is very difficult to come by, so may I humbly suggest that you hasten over to McSweeney's where you can purchase a copy of Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things...That Aren't as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn't Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out which includes the original story.

You can read Neil Gaiman on Clement Freud and Grimble here.



Julie Morstad and her brother, Paul Morstad, teamed up for the fantastic animation on this video for Neko Case's "People Got a Lotta Nerve."

I especially love the elephants, maybe because I've just finished reading Kate Di Camillo's The Magician's Elephant which was almost inexpressibly lovely.

And if you don't believe me, you can go and read an excerpt here. I used the opening of this novel as an example for my YA students the other day because it so beautifully and economically does exactly what it needs to do. Illustrations for the book are courtesy of Yoko Tanaka and are very lovely, but I would really like to see Julie and Kate Di Camillo work together one of these days.

You can read Adam Gopnik's fine appraisal of the novel here.



We're going to see A Christmas Carol this weekend. The play this time ... a mercifully Jim-Carey-free zone.

I've just come across this article in the NY Times where you can peruse the actual Dickens manuscript.

There's something weirdly fascinating about seeing the handwriting and the amendations - like seeing a mind at work. And speaking of Dickens, this looks promising, and the first part includes that Micawberism well worth keeping in mind this time of year: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."


More Alice

I checked on the release date for Alice Through the Looking Glass (Simply Read Books) and it is April. That seems like too long to wait, but I'm pretty sure it will be worth it.
Meanwhile, there's this:

UPDATE: Yes, there will be a poster to tie-in with Alice Through the Looking Glass (Simply Read Books). Huzzah! Of course, if you're waiting on the new book, you'll want to be sure you've got a copy of Simply Read's beautiful Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, also illustrated by Iassen Ghiuselev.

How can you resist?


Paper Cuts

Young son and I are going to a paper cut-out animation workshop at the NFB this weekend. Kind of exciting.

I couldn't quite picture what paper cut-out animation could mean. Think Terry Gilliam, said young son.

And then I stumbled on this trailer for There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (Chronicle Books) illustrated by Jeremy Holmes.

And here's the very cool looking book.


Passing the Torch

When We Were Small
By Euan O’Leary

Henry is a boy who is always curious about his mother and father's past. One day Henry asked, “tell me what life was like when YOU were small.”

“Well,” said his father, “when we were small, everything was in black and white, including Dalmatians, which never got rid of the power so they could be red and green.”

“Oh, yes!” said his mother, “Now I remember! When we were small, we had to play dodge-chicken at school, for balls hadn’t been invented.”

“Right,” said his father, “NOW I remember! When we were small we couldn’t watch television. Instead we had to watch paintings. I must admit, the programs got a bit boring now and then.”

“AH!” said his mother, “How did I forget? When we were small we spent every night dreaming of something we never knew would be so good. And now we have it.” Said his mother looking down at Henry.

“When we were small,” said his father, “We lived in a county that was missing from the world. We still live there, but it's not missing since we had you.”

“And when we got big,” added his mother, “we were still small enough to make our parents happy as a fish in water.”


Beautiful Things (Alice)

Was talking to a student today about the Alice Through The Looking Glass coming soon from Simply Read Books and now see Steph Aulenback talking about beautiful Alice images over at Crooked House.

So, I ask you. Is this not the most beautiful thing? 

Through The Looking Glass as imagined by the brilliant Iassen Ghiuselev.

I really, really need a poster of this!


O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night!

Robert Louis Stevenson is 159 years old. Or he would be, were he still with us.

Here he is, about 154 years ago:

And there is now a fabulous online archive of his work (ta to Maud for the link). You can read any number of things here including Child's Garden of Verse right here. You can actually flip the lovely, lovely pages one by one. There must be more beautiful editions of this book out there than practically any other.

My son used to go to sleep at night to this CD in which Ted Jacobs set some of the poems from Child's Garden of Verse to music. (In our house "The Lamplighter" always ran "O'Leary light the lamps again.") You can listen to the songs by scrolling down the Amazon page. I dare you to find a better bedtime album.


Henry on Facebook

I'd kind of forgotten that I'd made a facebook page for Henry awhile back. Just had a little look at it and see that he has friends that I don't even know. There's something rather touching about this.

Younger son and I had a long discussion the other day about whether he would ever sell the rights to Henry to the Disney Corp. (not that they've been banging the door down). We agreed that it really wouldn't be worth it ... particularly if they painted him orange and made him wear a shirt with his name on it.


Roald Dahl to Philip Ardagh

The Roald Dahl Funny Prize has gone to Philip Ardagh for his book Grubtown Tales. That was for the category of books for children ages seven to fourteen, while in the category of books for children six and under went to Sam Lloyd for his Mr Pusskins Best in Show.

My older son reviewed one of Ardagh's books for the Vancouver Sun a few years back (or at least helped me to review it) and we were both chuffed to meet Ardagh at a reading at the fabulous Kidsbooks ... I think he's one of the funnier people I've ever met and it's nice to see that publicly recognised and rewarded.


Gumby Does Dickens

Lately, my son and I have been very interested in the subject of adaptation.
Here is one of the odder Christmas Carols we have stumbled across:


What the Dickens

We want one of these:

And we are considering whether to go see the new film of The Christmas Carol and watching the Alastair Sim version while we consider.

We found the figure on the Archie McPhee site which boasts the slogan: "Slightly less disappointing than other companies." The Dickens figure comes with a quill pen and removable hat. He is also exactly the right size to go with the Christopher Eccleston Doctor Who figure and recreate "The Unquiet Dead" episode.

Update: We are now watching the episode of Doctor Who (favourite line by Dickens: "What the Shakespeare!") and bemoaning the fact that we can't get these figures shipped to Canada!


Of course it's scary

A very good piece about how scary children's books should be by Sam Leith in the Guardian:

Fear in children's books is more open, more ambient. Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are is a good example. It's unsettling rather than scary: it exists in its own world. The sound of it is spooky – those pregnant breaks that give its opening sentence the strangeness and gravity of poetry: "The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind . . . and another . . . " And that's even before Max sails off to where the wild things are, to join their savage carnival. "We'll eat you up, we love you so . . . "

Like Sendak's even stranger In the Night Kitchen, which has a naked toddler flying an aeroplane made of cake-mix through a kitchen filled with demented Oliver Hardy lookalikes, the story is unsettling – but it's better described by the German word unheimlich, meaning unhomely. That makes a sort of sense. These stories are a way of leaving the safety of home for a world created by someone else's imagination, where you are under their control. Suddenly, your bedroom is a forest. Suddenly, you are in a savage carnival. Of course it's scary.


Cut and Paste (Old School)

John McCrae

Linda Granfield will be in Montreal this week, launching her new book Remembering John McCrae, Soldier Doctor Poet.

And for those of you not sure of who John McCrae is, here's a gentle reminder:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Tuesday October 27th at 4 pm
Babar en ville, 1235 Greene Avenue, 514-931-0606.
This event is suitable for ages 8 and up.


Scrambled Humpty Dumpty

Oh, for the love of Old Mother Goose, do we really need such happily-ever-after endings for everything that it becomes necessary to have Humpty Dumpty end with all the King's men making "Humpty happy again?" Apparently somebody at the BBC thought so.

Here's a completely unreconstructed Humpty, courtesy of illustrator Rene Milot.

And here's a short story called "The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds," by Neil Gaiman in which Humpty Dumpty is portrayed as a murder victim in sort of noir nursery fable.

Zombies 'r' Us

Zombies are for boys and vampires are for girls. So says writer Charlie Higson in a recent Guardian piece. He writes:

Vampires are the undead of choice for girls, and zombies for boys. Vampires are cool, aloof, beautiful, brooding creatures of the night. Typical moody teenage boys, basically. Zombies are dumb, brutal, ugly and mindlessly violent. Which makes them also like typical teenage boys, I suppose.

Charlie Higson's new book The Enemy is out this month and has a very spiffy website where you can read an extract or even zombify yourself.

The book is just out and the press release makes me wish we were going to be in Toronto this coming weekend:

In Canada, Puffin Books will be celebrating the release of The Enemy at the Toronto Zombie Walk on October 24th in full zombie attire, with wound tattoo giveaways for the walkers. Be sure to visit us at 3:00 pm at Trinity Bellwoods Park bordered by Dundas St. and Gore Vale Ave.

Of course, here in Montreal we can see zombies walking the street any night of the week.

And in Victoria, my brother Graham McDonald is directing a zombie-ful version of Mary Shelley's novel: Frankenstein in Oblivion (adapted by Graham McDonald & Kirsti Mikoda) which opens next weekend. So we also wish we were going to be in Victoria.

In one of my favourite family photos, our older son is dressed as a zombie (as he was every Hallowe'en over a span of years), and is standing next to his great-grandmother who has her arm around him and is beaming like she couldn't possibly have been prouder of this horrible-looking creature. Such is love.


From Time to Time

Looking forward to the new Julian Fellowes film From Time to Time, which stars young Alex Etel, a remarkable young actor who was shockingly good in the Cranford adapation.

The film is based on the novel The Chimneys of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston and was filmed in Dorset in a house that was once used to film a Tom Baker episode of Doctor Who. (Lately, all roads seem to lead to Doctor Who around here. That's what happens when you live with a little Whoovian.)

I wrote about Green Knowe here some time ago but forgot all about it until now. Must go and find the books as I do love a good ghost story. I'm also particularly interested in the process of adaptation right now as it is something I'm working on with my screenwriting students, and also has to do with a particular project I have in mind. There is an interesting article about the recent spate of adaptations of children's books here (with thanks to the ever informative Betsy Bird for the link.)


Meg Rosoff on Procrastination and Inspiration

Quote of the day from Meg Rosoff:

I procrastinated about writing a book for about 35 years, always sure I’d never write one good enough. When I finally tried to write a novel, I was inspired by some really bad books I’d read, thinking, ‘at least I can do better than that’.

~From a piece on how children's writers got their start in the Times Online.

Can't wait to read the new book.


Max at Sea

Missed this at the time, but the New Yorker has a short selection from the Dave Eggers novelisation of Where the Wild Things (written after his work on the screenplay). The story, "Max at Sea," is online here and you can also read an interview with Eggers here. Required reading for both my Children's Writing and my Screenwriting students.

Here's a sampling of what he has to say:

The weird thing is that working within an established story was actually kind of liberating. You know the beginning and middle and end, more or less, so there’s less pressure to figure all that out. So it was a matter of probing deeper into who Max is, what he wants, what his life is like at home and at school. And on the island, looking deeper into who the Wild Things are and what they want from Max, his life as their king, and why he leaves. From the beginning, though, Maurice was clear that he didn’t want the movie or the book to be timid adaptations. He wanted us to feel free to push and pull the original story in new directions.

And, oh my sweet heaven, take a look at this:

Eggers came up with the idea for this special edition, which unlike Margaret Wise Brown's original edition of The Fur Family uses artificial fur.


Typing Manually

The youngest and most productive member of our writing family has just started using a manual typewriter, purchased at a church sale for the sum of five dollars. It is small and green and has the charming moniker of Hermes Baby.

Browsing around online for info on securing a new ribbon, I have learned that the typewriter used by Douglas Adams was an Hermes 8. We've just received a copy of the Eoin Colfer sequel to the Hitchhiker series: And Another Thing (Penguin Canada) which is amusingly subtitled Part Six of Three of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and are looking forward to reading it. We are also not impervious to the Doctor Who connection, given that Adams wrote for the series and that young son has aspirations in that direction. So it seems to have been an auspicious purchase. It's also funny to hear the sound of keys clacking in the house.


The Next Chapter

Wearing one of my other hats, I was over chatting with Shelagh Rogers at CBC about biographies the other week. You can listen to the podcast version here.

Boy Meets Penguin

This is just so lovely. Euan found it online this morning and showed it to me. He also pointed out that there is one Oliver Jeffers title which we don't have, and so obviously I have been delinquent in my duties as a parent.


Feely Wild Things

Oh, very cool:

a Feely copy of Where the Wild Things Are. And an audio accompaniment provided by Ethan Hawke.

Find out more about Living Paintings and their free postal library service which brings pictures to life for thousands of blind and partially sighted people of all ages here.


Summer's Over

And I'm back. Almost.

Will resume normal services once my fall courses are up and running, but in the meantime you should pop over to Simply Read Books (full disclosure: my publisher) and see the perfectly precious new trailer for Paulina P. Please.

You can learn more about Paulina P. and her creator, Lisa Cinar, over at Lisa's blog.


AIGA 50 Books/50 Covers

Where You Came From has been selected as one of AIGA's 50 Books/50 Covers in the category of Book Design.

Here's the info from the site:

After careful and considered review of more than 900 entries, the 2008 jury of the “AIGA 50 books/50 Covers” competition selected a group of 91 examples of outstanding book and book cover design produced in 2008.

The jury’s selections will be mounted as a public exhibition during the “Make/Think: AIGA Design Conference” in October 2009 and at the AIGA National Design Center in New York in December 2009, and will travel across the country to AIGA chapters and student groups during 2010. In addition, selections become part of the AIGA Design Archives, are documented in 365: AIGA Year In Design, and the physical artifacts join the AIGA Design Archives at the Denver Art Museum and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University.

Way cool. Only downside that I can see is that this design award fails to credit the designer by name. So - three times for luck - Robin Mitchell, Robin Mitchell, Robin Mitchell. And you can click through here to see comments and an interactive archive from when When You Were Small was honoured by AIGA.

And kudos, as always, to Simply Read for being simply the best.


Summer Reading List

Here's the list of books I plan to talk about in the CBC spot today. I tried to make up a list for all ages. You can find the link for the archived audio here.

Totty/ Ollie/ Saffy by Paola Opal
(Simply Read Books)

Watch Me Hop by Rebecca Young - A lenticular book

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
(Chronicle Books/Raincoast)

Jellaby: Monster in the City by Kean Soo

The Magician/ The Alchemyst/ The Sorceress
Three volumes in the series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
by Michael Scott (Random House)

Gwen by Carolyn Pogue
(Sumach Press)

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones
(Candlewick Press)


Monday, Monday

Will be on CBC Radio One here in Montreal tomorrow talking about children's books with the regular Radio Noon children's book panel. The program runs from 1 to 2 pm local time and you can listen in here

Then tomorrow evening, it's off to the Kirkland Library to talk with the Montreal Children's Roundtable.



Had a great time at book Expo yesterday, signed over a hundred books and met a lot of lovely people, including Neil Gaiman who signed a book for me. I really should have taken my camera.

Simply Read Books have created a fantastic booth with lots of beautiful wares on show. Kudos to Dimiter and the lovely Gillian. I really do consider myself tremendously lucky in my choice of publisher. It was nice to see all the great work done by Simply Read over the last few years and the attention it was garnering. Particularly crowd-stopping was a poster for the forthcoming Alice Through the Looking Glass to be illustrated by Iassen Ghiuselev. If you don't already own the Simply Read edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland then you are missing out.

In the Simply Read booth today will be signings by Doug Keith, illustrator of the The Bored Book and Stephen Parlato who will be signing posters for his forthcoming release Dragon Love. Parlato's previous book with Simply Read, The World That Loved Books is an absolute stunner, so trust me this is not to be missed.

Today's signings are at booth 3366 (on the third floor) at 1 PM for Keith and 2 PM for Parlato. Wish I could be there (and would love to score one of those posters!) but I'll be seeing Stephen Merritt's Coralinethis afternoon. Oh poor me.

Oh, and if I haven't already said this, you should take a look at The Picnic Basket, a blog about children's books run by Deborah Sloan who I finally got to meet in person yesterday. She's a sweetheart. And she gives away free books on her blog - go and see!


Book Expo America in New York

I will be signing copies of Where You Came From at BEA on Friday, May 29, 11 - 12:30PM (Booth #3366).

This is me (in a picture taken by Terence Byrnes for his Montreal writers project). Say hello if you see me!

Other Simply Read authors will also be signing books on Friday and Saturday:

Oliver Neubert, author of Chantel's Quest fantasy series, will be signing on May 29 from 1:30 -2:30 PM.

Award-winning illustrator Doug Keith will sign the picture book, The Bored Book on May 30, 1:00 - 2:00 PM.

Collage artist Stephen Parlato (of the PBS recommended The World That Loved Books) will sign posters from his new Dragon Love, May 30, 2:00 -4:00 PM.


Eggers, Hercules, Outlaws

Dave Eggers has been honoured for his work with 826 - which is exactly as it should be. Story here.

And from the 826 National site:

826 National is a nonprofit tutoring, writing, and publishing organization with locations in seven cities across the country. Our goal is to assist students ages six to eighteen with their writing skills, and to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. Our work is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

Just this weekend, I read the David Sedaris edited collection of short fiction, Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules which you should buy if you care anything about short fiction. (Note: despite the mention of children in the title this is not a children's book). Some of the most heart-rendering (as Anne Shirley would have it) stories in the universe are in this anthology, including Lorrie Moore's "People Like That Are the Only People Here" and Amy Hempel's "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried" - two stories that I would steal and call my own if I could possibly get away with it. And, if you need are still in need of convincing, by buying this book you will be supporting 826 and that is a very good thing. And as long as you're doing good, go ahead and order a copy of Noisy Outlaws as well. You won't regret it. And it is a children's book - which brings things neatly around to the avowed subject matter of this blog.


Young Adults

I have bought tickets to see Stephen Merritt's Coraline and I am very excited. Very, very excited. Almost insufferably excited, in fact. You can go here to see what Betsy Bird at Fuse #8 has to say about the show. I do like the idea of the child Coraline being played by an adult, I must say.

My older son has been on a bit of a Neil Gaiman kick lately. He went from The Graveyard Book straight to Neverwhere. He asked if I thought there might be a sequel to The Graveyard Book and I said I doubted it because Bod would be an adult. "I'd still read it," he said. It made me think about the way we generalise about YA - that young readers want to read "up" in terms of age, but not too far up. The most recent Tim Wynne-Jones novel, The Uninvited is an interesting example of something that is categorized as Young Adult but is actually about adults (albeit young ones). It's also about the incest taboo, although I've yet to see that mentioned in reviews.


Wonder Emporium

Young son and I watched Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (written and directed by Zach Helm) the other night and it was so much better than I expected it was going to be that I felt a little sad at the thought of how it had pretty much come and gone without making any noise at all.

One of the really wonderful things about it - in a satisfyingly long list of nice things which included a Buster Keaton marionette, a Kermit the Frog cameo and a boy actor (Zach Mills) who managed to do endearing without mugging - was the title sequence, which was credited to the wonderful William Joyce (George Shrinks, Rolie Polie Olie and many more).

I can't work out how to embed the title sequence but you can watch it here. It's beautiful.

And really the toys were amazing. I badly, badly want that Buster Keaton puppet. Here is an article about the company that made it. My son decided that what he really needed was one of the Ugly Dolls pictured in the film. Luckily he is more resourceful than his mother and made his own.

I see that on the Magorium's site they have a Toy Creator feature but I don't think that's what they meant.


Murder and Undoing

Not technically a YA novel, but certainly of interest to my resident young adult reader (what an odd phrase this is - does this make me an old adult reader?), is a release from last year called The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: A Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale. His eagerness to read the book may have to do with his having recently gone through a spate of Sherlock Holmes fever (and I am happy he's gone to the source before the release of the Guy Ritchie movie).

There is a fantastic website website which has a particular appeal to those of up growing up playing Clue rather than Nintendo. I haven't read the book yet myself - it keeps vanishing on me, but I am looking forward to it. Here's what novelist Sarah Waters (whose wonderful new book The Little Stranger I am currently reading) had to say about the book: “Brilliant...a pacy analysis of a true British murder case from 1860, the unraveling of which involved one of the earliest Scotland Y ard detectives and inspired sensation novelists such as Dickens and Wilkie Collins by exposing the dark secrets of the Victorian middle class home. Absolutely riveting.”

I'm also pleased to have a new adjective to add to my store - didn't know you could use the word that way but if anyone would know about pacy, it would be Waters.

Mr. Whicher is available through Bloomsbury/Raincoast here in Canada.

Save the Words

There are many good causes out there but here's one I'm prepared to get behind: Save the Words.

The site is brought to us by the fine folk at Oxford Dictionaries and you can sign up in seconds and then you are able to adopt a word of your choosing.

Oh yeah, what does it mean? Mutual kindness and care, especially of a child for his parent. It's one of the virtues I'd like to inculcate in my offspring ... completely out of self-interest, of course. And I've pledged to use it in my writing and conversation as much as possible. Go on and adopt a word yourself. You know you want to.


Monster in the City

We read Kean Soo's Jellaby: Monster in the City the other night and really loved it. But it was just a little scary.

Here's our favourite page:

Check out more from the new Jellaby here.


The Children's Book

Interesting piece by Robert McCrum in the Guardian about, or perhaps more aptly, around, A.S. Byatt's new novel The Children's Book, which I really do need to read.

Over at The Independent, Byatt suggests that "The children's writer on the whole wants to be a child, and takes up the central place in the child's story." Hmm.


Grimble excerpt here

The above note was as cryptic to me as it probably was to you. And then I clicked through and read it and Grimble is perfectly wonderful. And it's by Clement Freud, who died just lately, and Neil Gaiman blogged about it here and if I hadn't made this note I would have forgotten about my desperate need to find the Grimble books. And if someone could pretty please publish the unpublished ones then that would be a help.



Two videos about penguins from different ends of the spectrum.

First joy:

And then despair:

Actually, perhaps better to watch those in reverse order. The BBC one isn't new, but we've been watching it alot around our house over the past few days. Just something "uplifting" about it.

And to tie this in to my children's literature theme, here are the three books about penguins: Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers ( a boy-meets-penguin classic); Penguin and the Cupcake by Ashley Spires; and the yet-to-be-released The Pirate and the Penguin by Patricia Storms.

I once wrote a story about a penguin and a polar bear meeting up in Stanley Park. I wonder where I put it.


Getting the Girl

Best of luck to Susan Juby, whose novel Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance and Cookery is up for an Edgar Award for Best Young Adult book from The Mystery Writers of America.

Good review of the book here.

I first met Susan when I interviewed her for the Vancouver Sun about her breakthrough novel, Alice, I Think, and I have to say that while she is a very lovely, very grown-up woman, she does seem to be able to put herself right inside the head of adolescent boys (as in this book and also the excellent A Different Kind of Cowboy) and girls (as in all three of the Miss Smithers books). And she's funny as hell, too.


What Makes a Good (Children's) Story?

Have been having some interesting conversations with Steph Aulenback (chatelaine of the Crooked House) about the difference between writing for children and writing about children. Which leads me tangentially to this discussion of Laura Miller's The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia in this interesting review by Zsuzsi Gartner:

What Miller finds there is refreshing. "Narnia is a country of literature, of books, and of reading, a territory so vast that it might as well be infinite." There is also C. S. Lewis as ironist; Lewis as an exemplar of friendship (Miller devotes much space to the real-life friendship between Lewis and Tolkien); Lewis as a writer of fairy tales to be enjoyed by adults.

It was Lewis the critic who noted, "A children's story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children's story." I came as a full-fledged adult to Narnia (save for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), to the Harry Potter series and to His Dark Materials - the two former in my guise as a parent, the Pullman books with no excuses. I now wonder, did reading these marvellous stories trigger my current impatience with many literary adult novels, or did a nascent boredom make me more susceptible to the charms of more engaging narratives?

The many childless adult visitors I know to Narnia, Middle-earth, Hogwart's and the worlds of His Dark Materials (Pullman might cringe to be included in this company) is a testament to the power of "story" at a time when, as Pullman himself said in a speech in 1995, "In adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. ... The present-day would-be George Eliots take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs."
-from "In Defence of 'Fairy Tales'" by Zsuzsi Gartner, Globe & Mail, Feb. 7, 2009



Here's the dedication to Russell Brand's My Booky Wook:

For my mum,
the most important woman in my life,
this book is dedicated to you.
Now for God's sake don't read it.

I'd actually like to read this one ... since I'm not his mother.

Smart Cookies

Cookie Magazine has an article by Paul Collins about hosting autistic children at birthday parties. Very 21st century etiquette, and very useful as it's all too easy to be awkward in our own ignorance. As he points out in the piece: "As diagnoses rise—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimate 1 in 150 eight-year-olds nationwide—it's increasingly likely that your guest list will include an autistic child."


Cirrus & Endymion

I'm reading a book called Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton. It came out a few years ago, but I've just read an advance copy of Skelton's new novel which is called Cirrus Flux. (Thanks so much to the fine folk at Penguin for giving me a sneak peek).

Cirrus Flux is very, very good. But really I should wait to tell you about it as it won't be available in stores until August. So I won't tell you about how it's an eighteenth-century romp or how it gives an interesting view of London's Foundling Home and of peculiar hybrids of entertainment and scientific investigation during that period. I won't tell you that the book would make a very fine film, and that more than that, it makes a very fine book. I'll tell you all that closer to the date in August when you can go to a bookstore and get a copy of your own.

Incidentally, there's a very fine book called A Home For Foundlings by Marthe Jocelyn (Tundra Books) which is chock-full of fascinating detail and great pictures. One poignant aspect of the Foundling home which stuck with me from reading this book was the collection of tokens left behind by those who hoped to one day be reunited with their children, and this detail becomes an important plot element in Cirrus Flux.

So now I've gone back to Endymion Spring (both books are named for their heroes), which I somehow managed to miss when it came out. I may have filed it under L for later, which is where a number of books end up. I thought it was a fantasy title, but actually it's a sort of historical fantasy - blending a modern story about a boy whiling away the hours in the Bodleian Library and another boy, centuries earlier, apprenticed to the great Gutenberg.

Just by chance, I found this video online today and plan to spend a little time later on educating myself on things Gutenbergian before returning to the book.


Children's Writing in Lithuania?

In my other life, I have been doing some work with Mikhail Iossel who is the founder of the Summer Literary Seminars (which you can learn more about here). St. Petersburg faculty member George Saunders said of the program: "SLS is one of the most exciting and important intellectual venues in the world right now; absolutely the most important seminar of its kind. "

Right now SLS is gearing up for summer 2009 in Vilnius, Lithuania. And consideration is being given to adding a Children’s Literature Workshop to our curriculum, in part because we have an opportunity to bring in a Newberry Award winner to teach the subject. Personally, I think it's a fantastic idea - but it would help to have a few more voices join the chorus, so if this interests you, please take the time to send a note along to Mike Spry, Programs Coordinator, at mike@sumlitsem.org.

There is still time to apply for the 2009 summer program in Vilnius. The ‘New Prague’ is eagerly awaiting its first SLS program. It is going to be a unique literary and cultural event. Peter Cole, Dovid Katz, Phillip Lopate, Erin Moure, Darius James Ross, Antanas Sileika, Lynne Tillman, Laima Vince, Mac Wellman, and others lead a talented and enthusiastic faculty of the "general" SLS and SLS-Jewish Lithuania. The program runs July 19th to August 4th. Should you require supplemental funding please contact Programs Coordinator Mike Spry at mike@sumlitsem.org. The program is filling up fast, so now is the time to apply. Please visit our website here to apply.


Thanks to Lori Schubert at the Quebec Writers Federation and to Robin Sales and Elizabeth Macdonnell of The Montreal Children's Library, I had a lovely time yesterday with my favourite kind of readers. Small ones. The kind who chuckle and chortle, and who keep edging ever closer. The kind who politely enquire at the end of a story, whether you could "just read that book again, please."

Thanks too, to the Canada Council for funding this reading series.


Good Mail Day!

Hey, we just got the new Jellaby - it's shiny, it's gorgeous and it has a title we were not expecting... Jellaby: Monster in the City. Given that the first volume of Jellaby ended on a cliffhanger, and given that we've been waiting months to get ourselves off that cliff we've been dangling off, this is very good news indeed.

More later! Must go read.

Meantimely ... there's an interview by Kean Soo and Naseem Hrab (of Canadian Children's Book Centre) with Shaun Tan posted over at Drawn. And check out Kean Soo on livejournal here.

See earlier posts for our feelings for Jellaby. And thanks so much to Lisa Mior at H.B. Fenn.


Apparently We're Going to See This One

Thanks to Betsy for the link.

I never actually read Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs but my resident expert in children's-book-to-film adaptation tells me that they are taking lots of liberties here.


Bang Bang

I had no idea that Chitty Chitty Bang was written by Ian Fleming! (Although it does make sense of the name Truly Scrumptious which is like a PG version of ... well, those less PG names). Wiki-wisdom tells me that Fleming wrote it for his son Caspar. We watched the film today and I was also surprised to note that the adaptation was co-written by Roald Dahl.

I have to say I loved this little wiki-quibble:

The plot summary in this article is too long or detailed compared to the rest of the content. Please edit the article to focus on discussing the work rather than merely reiterating the plot.

How many times have I wanted to append that to a newspaper book review?

The best thing about the movie, I have to say, is that it has finally driven the song Chim-Chim-Chimlee out of my head (where it has been in residence since last weekend's viewing of Mary Poppins). The bad news is ... Bang, Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!



Had a nice time chatting about childrens' books on the CBC the other day - the time always flies by. Angus Byers of Montreal's fantastic Babar Books was there, as was Kathy Conroy of the Eleanor London Public Library. After making our own recommendations, we answered questions from callers.

One interesting query was about picture books with non-white protaganists. We talked about books like Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch, but one that occurred to me was Edward and the Lucky Eureka Wish Company by Barbara Todd with illustrations by Patricia Storms. I found it interesting that Edward's race was in no way a factor in the story being told and that the choice made by the illustrator could well be an example of what in theatre or film would be called colour-blind casting.

I was curious enough that I fired off an email to Toronto illustrator Patricia Storms and got the following reply.
"That's interesting, your thoughts about Edward. I have wondered about it myself. You are the first person to bring up the subject, though. To date, no one who has seen the book has made any comment to me about the colour of the boy's skin. All I hear is that it looks like a fun book (phew!). I'm inclined to think that this is a good thing, because it means that so far, the question has not been asked (out loud, anyway) as to why wasn't the boy white instead of dark skinned."

And yes, Edward and the Eureka Lucky Wish Company is fun - check it out. Meanwhile, I'm wondering if anyone out there can think of other examples where the skin colour of the child in a picture book isn't directly related to the story being told but is just who they are.


Excellence in Design

Congratulations several times over to the wonderful Robin Mitchell who has been honoured yet again for her wonderful work in design by the Alcuin Society's Book Design Awards. In the category of Childrens' Books, Robin Mitchell's work on Where You Came From tied for third place with ...wait for it, Robin Mitchell's work on Monkey World: An A-Z of Occupations by Matthew Porter. Both titles are from Simply Read Books who know a good designer when they see one.

Robin Mitchell and Hundreds and Thousands Design pop up again in the Prose Non-Fiction Illustrated Category. I also noticed that Robert Bringhurt has won first prize for his design of his own book The Surface of Meaning: Books and Book Design in Canada, which is, of course, just as it should be.


CBC Radio Noon

Will be on CBC Radio Noon here in Montreal tomorrow (Thursday, April 9th) to chat about childrens' books. We're on at 1 pm local time and you can listen to the program live by clicking through from the link above. If you're in the area you can even call in with your own childrens' book suggestions. (UPDATE: the show is archived on the site for one week).

Here's my list of things I plan to talk about ... not that there's ever enough time to cover everything.

Picture Book Picks
The Very Hungry Caterpillar- 40th Anniversary Pop-Up Edition by Eric Carle (Penguin)
The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket with illustrations by Carson Ellis (HarperCollins)
Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal with ilustrations by Jen Corace
(Raincoast Books)
Willoughby and the Lion by Greg Foley
Penguin and the Cupcake by Ashley Spiers
(Simply Red Books)

Chapter Books
(also known as the wish list as these are the books
stacked up on my bedside table)

The Last Apprentice: Wrath of the Bloodeye by Joseph Delaney
Half World by Hiromi Goto
(Puffin Canada)
Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston
Cirrus Flux by Matthew Skelton
(Penguin Books)

A Graphic Novel
(which is supposed to arrive next week - can't wait!)

Jellaby Vol 2: Jellaby in the City by Kean Soo

One That Isn't a Book at All
(but is so darned beautiful that if you see it you will want it)

ABC by Julie Morstad
(Simply Read Books)

If I was a nice person I would put up links for all those titles. But what I am is a very tired person -
will try to add some more info on all these great books sometime tomorrow.


I liked this little bit of trivia from a BBC article:

Last year, nine out of ten children in a National Trust survey were able to identify a Dalek correctly.

Only 47% of the children surveyed by the heritage charity were able to identify a barn owl.

Not sure how well those stats would hold up over here in Canada, but I will note that my son went to school today in a home-made Dalek t-shirt (part of his clever new promotional campaign for his Diary of a Dalek series of books.)


When You Were Small on TVO

Oh look, isn't this nice?

Somebody is reading our little book. Somebody is reading our little book on TVO. The show is called Gisèle's Big Backyard and the episode will run Monday the 13th. You can also watch the video here.

(In related news, my younger son began work today on a book titled When Mom and Dad Were Small--he has apparently decided it's never to early to take over for me.)


You Meet the Nicest People Here

I had a lovely email from a writer/illustrator named Rosie Winstead this week and am now looking forward to reading her book Ruby and Bubbles.

It looks charming.

My grandmother's name was Ruby and I keep thinking it's really one of those names due for a comeback.


Book Trust

Wouldn't you like to read a story called Teapot on Pluto? Of course you would. It's by Julie Bertagna and available online courtesy of the Scottish Book Trust and their Virtual Writer-in-Residence, Keith Gray who is also a YA writer.

Here's a list of the stories up online:

Whose Face Do You See? by Melvin Burgess
A Teapot on Pluto by Julie Bertagna
The Other Side by Marcus Sedgwick
Rip Tide by Ally Kennen
Falling by Anthony McGowan
Exclusive Alternative Ending to Henry Tumour by Anthony McGowan
Blog It by Keith Gray

You can also take a video podcast Creative Writing Masterclass.


Boy in the Dress

There's an excerpt from David Wailliam's forthcoming The Boy in the Dress included with this interview at the Timesonline.

The book has been dubbed by its publisher as Walliams's “first novel”, a description that the author dismisses with a chuckle (“I'd call it a children's book”). It tells the story of a young boy called “Dennis”, who is unremarkable in all but one respect.

How is he remarkable, you ask? Well, there's a clue in the title, and I don't think I'd be giving too much away by revealing that Dennis, while being attracted to the opposite sex, enjoys getting dressed up in girls' clothing, and posing as “Denise”.

The book is to be published this fall and I'm looking forward to reading it and to seeing what Quentin Blake does with the illustrations.


The Family Dictionary

An article by Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe and Mail this week suggests that it can be predicted which children will go on to post-secondary studies by the presence of a dictionary in the home.

A dictionary is not literally the ticket to university. It's more like a symbol of what's going on in the family, and what kind of family the prospective student comes from.

More research is now available suggesting that family income, while important, isn't the major determinant of who goes to university. It turns out that parents' own education levels – and, by extension, the importance they place on education – are more critical than income, and that what we might call “cultural” factors are more important than money.

Here's my question - can your preference in regard to said dictionary influence where your child will study?



Thanks to Betsy at Fuse#8 for the link.

And hey, that's Montreal's own Arcade Fire on the soundtrack performing Wake Up!


Taking the Curse Out of Cursive

I was very interested to read Maud Newton's take on cursive in the NPR piece she did on Kitty Burns Florey's Script & Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting.

I went looking for one of the teaching methods advocated by Florey and hit on Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting. You can order materials on the site - including guides for teaching young children (check) and guides for correcting bad habits in adults (check). You can also watch videos in which Ms. Barchowsky herself explains the methods.

On the Barchowsky site there is also a link to Gunnlaugur SE Briem's site which also contains very useful advice about teaching the italic method, and which contains this beautiful sample of the author's own handwriting:



Let the Wild Rumpus Begin!

Note: As you can see, I've misquoted the book in my title up there. It should be "let the wild rumpus start!" but for years I have mis-read it the other way. I want that extra syllable in there and the extra ring of formality in the language. With apologies to Mr. Sendak ... it just feels right. I just realised last night that I'd posted it this way when my son, reading me a bed time story, changed the word extraordinary to extraordinarily because it scanned better. Anybody else out there do this?


Top Ten Picture Books (with some notes)

The lovely and irrepressible Elizabeth Bird over at Fuse #8 (go ahead, just try and repress the woman!) recently announced she was starting a best picture books poll (see here). I've been meaning to make up a list of my own top ten but have been hampered by this pesky PK Syndrome*.

(Hello, I've just popped in and added a few notes. May pop back and add more pictures later if I get time.)

Top Ten Picture Books (in no particular order)

1. Sunny by Robin Mitchell and Judith Steedman

Robin Mitchell and Judith Steedman have created a whole series of these charming little books - so far we have Sunny, and Windy and then there's Snowy and Chinook and the latest installment, Foggy, will be coming soon. We were treated to a little sneak preview and it looks great. My son loves these books on such a deep personal level that he was inspired to build his own little clothes-pin character and named him Rainy.
You can buy these books - and also some lovely notecards - at the fabulous buyolympia.com site.

2. Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

It's hard to narrow this down to a favourite Oliver Jeffers title. The Incredible Book Eating Boy is quite simply brilliant. We were reading it just the other night and found new things to laugh at. Jeffers always has the best author photos and his bios are not too shabby either. In the one for BEB he says something to the effect that he once fed a book to his brother and that it taught him a lesson about recycling.

3. That's Not Funny by Adrian Johnson
This is a title that lies. This book is SO funny. It also is very useful for explaining the concept of schadenfreude to small children. If you aren't certain if that is necessary then perhaps you have never met any small children.

4. Jumpy Jack and Googily by Meg Rosoff, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Who knew a sock could be so funny?
Love Rosoff's books for older children and damn her, she's good at picture books as well. Want to read Meet the Wild Boars just on the basis of the title. And you must go look at Sophie Blackall's website - click through to bio and see the hilariously endearing self-portrait she posts there.

5. Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard

Jeremy Tankard has just published a sequel to this called Boo Hoo Bird. Apparently Grumpy Bird made Parents Magazine's list of 5 Books to Promote Good Behaviour. But I liked it anyway!

6. Little Pea by Amy Rosenthal, illustrated by Jen Corace

Little Pea or Little Hoot? Which do I chose? It's like choosing between your much-loved children.

7. Yuck: A Love Story by Don Gillmor, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay

I love this story so much. I really must insist you go out and find yourself a copy. I shouldn't even have to explain why.

8. Olivia by Ian Falconer
Oh Olivia, how do we love you. We can't even begin to count the ways!

9. Flotsam by David Wiesner
There's nothing more heartbreaking to a writer than someone who can tell a story without words. And Wiesner's a real heartbreaker.

10. Beckett for Babies by Stephany Aulenback
You just have to go see for yourself. Go ahead. Click.

* PK: Peptually Knackered

Eric Carle

I love this quote from an interview with Eric Carle at the Guardian:

"I often joke," he says, "that with a novel you start out with a 35-word idea and you build out to 35,000 words. With a children's book you have a 35,000-word idea and you reduce it to 35. That's an exaggeration, but that's what's taking place with picture books."

You can read the whole thing here. Go ahead ... I'll wait.