Tag Archives: Characters

Another World: Children’s Lit

For the first months of 2017, I was immersed in reading children’s books.  They soothe my soul; they provide mentoring for my own writing; and I have the opportunity to share the best with my blog readers. 2016 provided a variety of excellent children’s titles, but I am most excited about sharing the best nominees of Easy Readers and Early Chapter books.  What a surprise when I met prize-winning authors in competition with new authors.

The creativity of well-illustrated books with original texts was obvious in this judging assignment.  Mo Willems and Kate DiCamillo were nominated in this eclectic mix of 10 titles for me to choose the “Best Of,” as shared with children’s bloggers in CYBILs (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards). I was honored to be among teachers, parents, and fellow bloggers led by the creative Jodie Helliker Rodriquez, whose “Growing Book By Book” blog has always amazed me with her own creativity and sharing.

Wait until you get the winning book for Early Chapter Books in your hand.  It is appealing from the cover illustration featuring Mango Allsorts and her new pet. Look for a black and white and lavender cover!  Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig begins a new series by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy.  What originality!  Faber’s endearing new character Mango Allsorts finds a Malaysian tapir stuck in the middle of a traffic jam. The setting is a busy city and Mango, on her own most of the time, discovers a strange sight as she walks home from karate class.  It’s “not a pig” is lying down on the busy street camouflaged in the white stripes of the highway!  This book of four experiences with new friends, Mango and her tapir Bambang, is difficult to describe. It would not be the same without the original illustrations by Vulliamy.  I want to purchase all the Mango books in the series. Each new book uses a different palate than the original lavender highlighted in this debut.

Mo Willems’ titles turned out not to be written by him.  Remember Go Dog Go, the P.D. Eastman title confused as a Dr. Seuss favorite?  That little Cat in the Hat in the corner of the cover made readers think we had another Seuss winner.  Of course, Eastman had his own classic even with “I Can Read It All By Myself” series stamp on the corner of the cover. Mo Willems did the same thing, adding his name to the title page of a book series called “Elephant and Piggy Like Reading! Despite the appealing title, We are Growing  and  The Cookie Fiasco  were not my favorites. Check them out from your library and see if you agree.

In the category of Easy Readers I discovered Snail and Worm: Three Stories about Two Friends by Tina Kugler!  This debut title is definitely an easy book for new readers.  The illustrations are delightful.  Kugler’s characters share values of friendship, pride and understanding.  Her tongue-in-cheek pictures with Snail and Worm’s animated and inanimate friends will resonate with her intended audience.  Repetition in the text will help these readers. This book was the winner for the Easy Reader judges from CYBILS nominees for 2016.

My second favorite Easy Reader is a longer story. The Infamous Ratsos by Kara La Reau is at first funny, cute and endearing when the Ratso brothers try to be tough like their single Dad.  I can see why it was nominated by the CYBILs first round of judges.  Readers will identify with the bullying scene, the plans to be mischievous, and the bonding with the father.  At the second reading I wasn’t certain if parents reading with their children would find the situations funny.  Who is going to buy this book?  We judged it too long for early readers; still reluctant older readers may enjoy the high jinx of these rat hoodlums.  There is a lesson by the end and the main characters all learn that being bad is not good!

Kate Di Camillo’s latest entry in the Early Chapter books category was a fun read.  She writes about neighbors of the popular pig Mercy Watson.  Baby Lincoln and her aged sister Eugenia are unusual characters introduced in Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? Adults will understand Lucille’s need for a “necessary journey,” but I am uncertain whether children ages 6-9 will find these strange characters engaging.  DiCamillo is an expert in plot, dialogue and voice, as well as a challenging vocabulary.  This title didn’t spark my interest as much as Faber’s Mango and Bambang  book did.

What children’s books do you recommend from your reading in 2016?  As usual, your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Happy Reading in 2017!

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CHARACTERS YOU WANT TO KNOW: PART 2

Google reminded me that Langston Hughes said:  “My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all human kind.” Google’s short biography on the anniversary of his birth reminds us that “[h]e hoped to inspire black writers to be objective about their race and embrace it, though felt the young writers of the Black Power movement of the 1960s were too angry.”  He was born on Feb. 1, 1902.   Not only an inspiration to African Americans, all writers and readers can reflect on his heart-felt comments.  My posts about “Characters You Want to Know: Parts 1 & 2” try to illuminate for all readers some memorable children in contemporary literature who will help us to understand humans who have foibles and troubles as we all do or “all human kind” as Hughes reminded us.

If you enjoyed the Characters You Want to Know in Part 1’s post,  here are more amazing characters which will add to your list of great books ones that teach us all empathy for children and any humans.

Another complex character I recommend is featured in What To Do About Alice?(with a long subtitle) by Barbara Kerley. (She is also the author of The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins).  We adults may remember Alice Roosevelt Longworth anecdotes from when her father was president, but this book takes a fun approach with imaginative illustrations to help us understand the point of view of a young daughter living in the White House. Some reviewers on Amazon say that this book will help to introduce a “character” children will want to read more about.  I agree especially when I read that Alice was an unhappy adult so her early life leads to her complexity.

As well as reading, I love to knit and cook.  All my hobbies require good eyesight, so I was inspired to read about the life of Laura Bridgman who held on to only two of her senses after a childhood illness.  Laura could only taste some food and could use her remarkable sense of touch after losing her sight, hearing, and sense of smell.  She could knit and tat and she learned to read and write before Helen Keller at the Perkins Institute in Boston.  What an inspirational story Sally Hobart Alexander wrote in She Touched the World: Deaf-Blind Pioneer !  This ambiguous true “character” intrigued me because she was not Helen Keller, the delightful deaf/mute writer who was loved by all who met her.  Laura was an impatient, jealous, demanding child who helped Samuel Howe become famous in the late 1880’s. I think Sally Alexander, a blind author and teacher, aptly named her book which is written for older elementary children.

How can Mia Winchell compete in school and in this character-loving post? She is the synesthetic narrator of A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Moss.  Thank you to my niece Gretchen Schmelzer for recommending this fascinating book to me.  We writers can only wish we shared Mia’s “gift,” for she can see sounds, smell colors and taste shapes.  Wouldn’t those extraordinary powers be helpful to us writers?  Since this section is about MEATY characters, I guess Mia would be uncomfortable with my language. I cannot describe the taste of this book, nor the smell of this “Meaty” child.   Mia’s “oddness” is not easy for her family to understand, but Wendy Moss shares this character’s feelings with the reader.  You will be amazed when you read about this medical condition which is rare, misunderstood, and real!

Another title with an Exceptional Setting I chose is An Unlikely Friendship by Ann Rinaldi, which takes place in the White House during the 1860’s. Ann Rinaldi’s book about this unusual attachment is a historical novel about Mary Todd Lincoln and her dressmaker, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Keckley.  There have been many books written about these two women, but I maintain that Rinaldi gets it just right. You may have seen the movie “Lincoln,” in which Lizzie has a minor role. Read An Unlikely Friendship and you will see her character revealed in the U. S Capital during this tumultuous time.

What is the special language of The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman?  The chapter titles are so intriguing!  Meg Wolitzer, the author of the adult novel The Interestings, writes for children in a language they will love. For Example, Chapter 1, “Lunch Meat and the Chinaman” and Chapter 3 “The So-Called Power is Revealed” will resonate with young readers.   Duncan Dorfman is not a typical elementary child nor are his new friends who are Scrabble geniuses at age twelve.  Her writing has been called “Juicy, perceptive and vividly written.”—NPR.org

What characters have you read recently which should be shared as “Characters You Want to Know”?  The theme of empathy is one that should resonate with many readers like youHappy Reading in 2015 as you find more characters you want to know and share with others!

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Characters You Want To Know: Part 1

“Never be without a good book” is a motto revealed to me, one I adopted many years ago.  Today, I plan to surprise you with book characters, originally written for children, but these are titles I love because the characters create empathy in us.

To put my suggestions in a framework, I will go back to CAMEL. We want to read books with complex characters, don’t we? Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper stars Melody, an eleven year old girl with a photographic memory.  Choosing Melody to narrate this book takes you into her mind for she cannot talk, walk, or write.  Wait a minute, you ask, how can she have a photographic memory when she is as described on the first page? How can she communicate with us, the readers, and with her family and friends?   She has cerebral palsy, is placed in special needs class, forever in her wheelchair.  Melody is a complex “Character You Want to Know!”  I will not tell you the plot of this human story, because you will want to see how it unfolds.

Although we sometimes read predictable novels while at the beach, still, for lasting impact, I think we want ambiguity in our reading choices.  Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a book I will re-read many times.  The books I have chosen for today’s post will help us to understand children who are different from the norm. Willow Chance, the character I want you to know, is a twelve year old genius who reveres the number 7.  She has many unusual quirks and interests so she is not a “popular” child in school. Her life takes a tragic turn and other adults reach out to care for her and try to understand this beautiful child.    I hope you will take Willow into your heart as I have.  Hear about Willow from a young reader who posted a review on Amazon:

“I guess I really enjoyed this book because I am a gifted child myself. I am 9 years old and have recently skipped 2 years of primary school. I loved this book; it really made me cry…. I agree with Willow that sometimes in school it is hard to fit in….’”

One Meaty character you will want to know is Auggie Pullman.  Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which stars this main character you will want to know, has appeared on many “Best Of” lists in the past few years.  I picked it up and recommended this realistic story to many teachers and parents.  Auggie’s face is never described because, as the narrator Auggie tells us, it is indescribable.  I cannot imagine his life in middle school as others taunt and react to a new boy who has his cranial-facial differences.  Auggie Pullman will surprise you with his resilience to the bullies and those who try to ignore him.

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech, has an Exceptional Setting and it is about a boy who does not speak. Jacob is discovered by a childless couple on their porch one day. This setting will remind you of Anne of Green Gables; it is a small farm near a simple village.  Jacob communicates best with a cow and the dog in this quiet setting, but the couple learn much from him daily. On her blog Sharon Creech says, “It was a challenge to write about a boy who does not speak, but I hope the reader learns as much about the boy through what he does and how he affects others as we might learn if he could use words.”

Language and Literary Devices wrap up my choices for you of Characters You Want to Know: Part 1.  Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is written entirely in free verse and won the Newbery Award in 1998.  It is a difficult novel for children, so I recommend that adults read this historical fiction gem first before giving it to a child.  Billie Joe is a fifteen year old who lives in the dust bowl of Oklahoma and yearns to play piano.  How can a poor farmer’s family during the Depression keep a large musical instrument such as a piano.  Hesse is remarkable when she describes the music in Billie Joe’s heart.  The lines are spare just as the land provided little, but you will love the language.

“June 1934

On the Road with Arley”

Here’s the way I figure it.

My place in the world is at the piano.”

Please read Out of the Dust yourself to get to know Billie Joe. I hope you enjoy meeting these characters who all exhibit gifts to share with readers who strive to understand human nature through empathetic literature.

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Filed under Award winning books, Children, Different Children, Historial Fiction, Realistic Fiction