V O L U M E 3 , N U M B E R 7 • J U L Y 2 0 1 0
In this issue
For a list of books mentioned in this issue, see link below.
Masthead art © by William Steig, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.
Author-artist Grace Lin has illustrated numerous picture books, written both by herself and by others; she’s also written and illustrated three novels, the most recent of which, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, garnered a 2010 Newbery Honor. Now she’s produced an easy reader, Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same!, which has been receiving starred reviews, including one from The Horn Book. Grace recently hosted a book party for her new release, handing out goody bags and her famous homemade cupcakes to guests. Those who came dressed like twins also received a special handmade gift — Ling and Ting cupcake toppers. In between baking and decorating cupcakes (and painting little wooden Ling and Ting heads), Grace graciously took some time to answer our questions.
1. Your first easy reader introduces identical twin sisters who have a lot of fun showing us that despite their similarities, they are indeed two unique individuals. Can we look forward to more books about Ling and Ting? Were there any easy reader series that you loved as a kid?
I hope there might be more someday! My editor and I have talked about doing future Ling & Ting books, and I already have ideas for their next adventure.
As a child I loved the Frog and Toad books and George and Martha, and still do, of course. But Ling & Ting are most indebted to two rather obscure Swedish early reader series by Maj Lindman: Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and Flicka, Ricka, Dicka. They’re both about triplets, and I loved them when I was a kid. Strangely, when I looked at those books recently, I found them not quite as enchanting as I did when I was younger. I suppose age has jaded me.
2. What led you to try your hand at an easy reader?
There are many answers to this question, but the one I find most interesting was an unplanned consequence. When I made the jump from picture books to novels, it was gratifying to learn that kids who loved my picture books became fans of my novels. Kids would show me photos of themselves (from five, seven, even ten years ago) with one of my picture books, and now they wanted the novels. It was really neat to think that my books grew with them. So, one of the reasons I tried an easy reader was to fill that gap between my picture books and my novels.
3. Have you ever wished you were a twin?
Well, I had two sisters, and we were the only Asians in town, so a lot of people mixed us up even though we weren’t the same size at all. And when another Asian girl who was the same age and size as me moved into town (Melody in The Year of the Dog, a.k.a. my friend and editor, Alvina Ling, in real life), a lot of people thought we were twins (or the same person when we weren’t together). So, I feel like I have gotten a little taste of it.
In fact, it was that experience that made me hesitate about the creation of Ling & Ting. I wanted to do a book about twins (well, really triplets) because of my fond memories of the Flicka, Ricka, Dicka books, but I didn’t want to encourage the whole “all Asians look alike” stereotype. It was only when I felt I could justify the characters being twins, only when I realized that the right theme was how even when people look the same, there can be many differences, that it came together as a book.
4. How did you decide to call the characters Ling and Ting? (Is Ling Alvina Ling?)
There was a joke in-house at Little, Brown about it being a mix of Alvina’s last name and the publisher Megan Tingley’s . . . but no, that wasn’t the reason I called them Ling and Ting. Originally the twins were Ling-Ling and Ting-Ting — one of my cousins has a daughter named Ting-Ting, which I thought was a really cute name — and Ling-Ling seemed an appropriate twin sister name (especially since my mom’s name is Lin-Lin). For the final book, we shortened both names for simplicity’s sake!
—Jennifer M. Brabander
Those who remember beginning reader books coming in two styles — either the decorous format of Frog and Toad and other Harper I Can Read books or the larger trim-sized Cat in the Hat — might be surprised to know that books for new readers now come in a variety of sizes and reading levels.
Mo Willems has several series for new readers; Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep! is the latest in the Cat the Cat books. As the title indicates, the repetition of a very few words provides the humor, as Cat the Cat informs all his animal friends of bedtime. Colloquial and irreverent, this series is just right for the newest readers, who can hear one reading from a caregiver and be off to the races themselves. (2–5 years)
Benny and Penny in “The Toy Breaker,” by Geoffrey Hayes, is slightly more advanced and appropriately takes the action away from bedtime and into the high noon of unsupervised backyard play, with mouse-siblings Benny and Penny confronting the trouble-making antics of visiting Cousin Bo. A comic-book format adds to the mischief. (4–6 years)
Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade, written by Stephanie Greene and illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson, is for kids who are almost ready for Ramona. Posey isn’t at all sure she is ready for first grade, where your parent is no longer allowed to walk you to your classroom. Kids at the other end of the same year will recognize Posey’s nervousness and rejoice at their own maturity — and their ability to read a whole big book. (5–8 years)
In these four picture books for younger kids, a nervous kindergartner reports from the front lines, peas run wild, a small boy runs away (to the backyard), and animal patterns get the spotlight.
Like Princess Posey, the new kindergartner in Antoinette Portis’s Kindergarten Diary is worried about what the school year will bring. The usual anxieties are accompanied by more original micro-plots such as negotiating a three-way friendship, imaginative play involving the monkey bars, and a hair-cutting scene whose punchline lies in a picture. The selective use of collage adds an extra tactile dimension to the very kid-friendly coloring book–style illustrations. (3–6 years)
The bouncy rhyming couplets in Keith Baker’s LMNO Peas roll through the alphabet, raising the lowly legume to new heights. “We’re acrobats, artists, and astronauts in space. / We’re builders, bathers, and bikers in a race.” With two dots for eyes, a mouth, and sprout-like arms and legs, a pea has a surprising amount of personality. Baker makes clever use of the letters — on the B page, builders work away at the top of the letter; bathers take a bubble bath inside the lower opening of the letter, and bikers race by on the ground below. Pass these peas, please. (4–8 years)
Kenneth M. Cadow’s Alfie Runs Away humorously and accurately portrays a young child’s headstrong emotions. Alfie’s mother wants to give away his favorite shoes just because they’re too small. So Alfie decides to run away, but his mother shrewdly suggests he take a lot of supplies. Alfie doesn’t get far before his bag becomes “very, very heavy.” The subdued colors in Lauren Castillo’s old-fashioned illustrations highlight the beloved red shoes and match the text’s reassuring tone and fresh twist on a familiar tale. (3–6 years)
Lois Ehlert’s newest picture book, Lots of Spots, celebrates the spots and stripes and colors of animals in short poems, rhymes, and the occasional tongue twister. The verses are witty and thoughtful, frequently tickling a child’s sense of humor: “There’s no dispute — / goat’s face is cute. / But its horns can hit / right where you sit.” Ehlert’s signature paper collage art reflects keen observation of each of the dozens of creatures depicted. (4–8 years)
Not just for boys, of course, these books are likely to reel in both reluctant and eager readers.
In Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail, Justin Krzeszewski shares his worries in an illustrated diary. His drop-dead funny observations are spot-on for third-grade humor. The diary format, including Matthew Cordell’s kid-like black-and-white illustrations, creates multiple starting and stopping places, and the narrative moves at a lively pace, allowing youngsters to grow as readers while identifying with familiar territory. (7–10 years)
Sixth grader Big Nate is convinced he’s destined for greatness. Readers of Lincoln Peirce’s syndicated comic strip about Nate know that this king of detention is great at only one thing: getting into trouble. In Big Nate: In a Class by Himself, Nate’s sarcastic and optimistic voice captures this goofy, awkward time. With many laugh-out-loud moments and illustrations or cartoon panels on every page, Wimpy Kid fans will be thrilled to find another simpatico buddy to read about. (8–12 years)
In My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian, twelve-year-old Derek looks forward to summertime and months of freedom, but this year his parents are sending their “reluctant reader” to Learning Camp. With smooth, strong, and humorous narration, Derek records the trials and tribulations of Learning Camp and begins to build on his strengths rather than concentrate on his weaknesses. Cartoon drawings by the author’s teenaged son, Jake, decorate the margins, making the book more approachable for kids like Derek. (8–12 years)
Are your teens too cool for school? While on summer vacation, they can dip into these books for some laughs, tears, or chills — and sometimes all three at once.
Jim Krieg’s Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol is a hilarious parody of the hard-boiled detective genre. Griff, new boy at Rampart Middle School, joins the hallway patrol and exposes a fake-hall-pass production ring. No stop is left un-pulled in a plot that includes a rigged school election, false fire alarms, and a shoot-out complete with caulking gun and shop vac. Three different narrators keep readers on their toes. (10 years and up)
In Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story, Adam Rex’s biting foray into vampire lit, Doug, undead and tubby, tries to attract girls with his sense of humor while avoiding a reality TV show crew that bumbles onto his trail. Rex offers freshly worded observations on modern life, teen angst, and “existential Frisbees.” The story is worth sticking with for the often-comical philosophical insights it tosses your way. (12 years and up)
Emily (from The Year of Secret Assignments), in her endearingly inquisitive way, becomes obsessed with a mysterious new couple — and with the ghost that’s been haunting the music rooms — in The Ghosts of Ashbury High. With sparkling, effervescent wit, author Jaclyn Moriarty puts her eclectic cast of characters through the paces of gothic fiction and ghost story. The inspired silliness combined with mystery and romance (contemporary and historical ones) should satisfy diehard fans and bring new ones into the fold. (14 years and up)
Seventeen-year-old Scarlet Hughes, the main character of Deb Caletti’s The Six Rules of Maybe, is always trying to help others. When her thoughtless older sister returns home married and pregnant, Scarlet feels it’s her job to keep Juliet from hurting Hayden, the sweet, devoted father-to-be. Caletti’s layered, engaging story includes lots of introspection, a multitude of fascinating characters, and loads of skillfully crafted sentences that will entice readers to slow down and re-read with pleasure before speeding on again. (14 years and up)
We’ve recently announced the winners of the 2010 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, and there is something for everyone. The picture book winner is I Know Here, by Laurel Croza and illustrated by Matt James, a lush, small book about a little girl’s intense loyalty to her community, a construction village in the wilds of northern Saskatchewan. The lyrical but simple text is suitable both for reading aloud and for five- to eight-year-olds to read on their own. Elizabeth Partridge, who won a BHGB award in 2002 for her biography of Woody Guthrie, wins the nonfiction award again, this time for Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary. For upper-elementary and middle-school kids, this is a dramatic account of the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, filled with the words of people who were there; Partridge has a brilliant eye for selecting just the right historical photographs to lure readers in and lead them along. In choosing the fiction winner, the judges echoed the sentiments of the 2010 Newbery committee, naming Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me the winner. While neither the Newbery nor BGHB committees pick their winners on the basis of popularity, this is a happy instance where child readers and adult judges have been in complete accord. We interviewed Rebecca in the July 2009 issue of Notes.For more about this year’s Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, including information about the six Honor Books the judges also named, see our website. The award ceremony will be held on Friday night, October 1, at Simmons College in Boston and will be followed, for the first time, by a one-day colloquium devoted to deeper exploration of the chosen books, and we expect many of the winners to take part. I hope you will join us.
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