Monday, April 26, 2010

Once Upon a Time...

...there were two brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. They were born in the mid 1780's in Hanau. Little did they know that they would become two of the most influential storytellers of their time. The brothers wrote a German dictionary, studied linguistics--creating Grimm's Law--but most importantly, published a collection of folk and fairy tales that we still reference today. 

There are many elements common to most folk tales, like Cinderella, the Three Little Pigs, and Rumpelstiltskin.  
  • Clearly defined good and bad characters. You always know who to cheer for.
  • Descriptions are quick and to the point.
  • A promise of some kind is made--for example, Rumpelstiltskin promises to spin straw into gold.
  • The number 3--This can be characters like the Three Little Pigs, or the Three Ugly Stepsisters, or a sequence of events. The princess has three nights to guess Rumpelstiltskin's name.
  • Magic-Jack has three magic beans that make a beanstalk grow.
  • Extraordinary animals, often talking animals, or magical creatures like giants.
  • Many are cumulative. Phrases are repeated throughout.
  • Happy endings. The good guys always win and live happily ever after.
Before the Disney movie The Princess and the Frog, the Brothers Grimm wrote The Frog Prince. The basic story, as many of us learned it as children, is that a beautiful princess is playing by a well with her favorite toy, a golden ball. The ball slips from her fingers and falls to the bottom of the deep well, making her cry, and getting the attention of a talking frog. The frog offers to retrieve the ball, but for a price. She must take him home with her and love him, let him eat from her plate, and sleep in her bed. After initially being repulsed by him, she eventually agrees to give him a kiss, which breaks the spell that had been cast on him by an evil witch, turns him into a prince and they live happily ever after.

What many don't realize, is that in the original version, there was no kissing. The princess broke the spell by throwing the frog against a wall, and in other versions, she must cut off his head in order to turn him back into a prince. In folklore, shapeshifting spells were often broken by acts of violence. In fact, Grimm's tales are exactly that... grim. Most parents don't want to tell their children that the ugly step sister cut off her toes to fit into the glass slipper, or that the handsome prince falls out of the tower into thorn bushes and is blinded by the witch in Rapunzel. This is how variations came about. Certain elements are altered to accommodate and make a story suitable for a certain age or culture, but the core story remains the same. In 1971, Jim Henson did a Muppet version of The Frog Prince that introduced us to Robin, the frog, and the monster, Sweetums, which to this day is my favorite version. 

Disney brought the story to New Orleans and the bayou, while our very own, Jackie Mims Hopkins gave us The Horned Toad Prince set in Texas.

"'Now what?' asked Reba Jo.
 'Would you give me a kiss, por favor?' asked the horned toad.
'You've gotta be kiddin'!' shrieked Reba Jo. 'You know dang well a kiss wasn't part of this deal, you low-life reptile.'
'If you do this one last thing for me, we'll call it even, and I'll be on my way pronto,' the horned toad said.
'You'll leave right away?' Reba Jo asked suspiciously. 'You promise?'
'Si, te lo prometo,' agreed the horned toad.
Reba Jo thought hard for a minute. She glared at the horned toad. 'I can't believe I'm even considerin' this,' she said, 'but if it means you'll leave right now... pucker up, Lizard Lips.'"

You can see, even from this short excerpt, how the dialog, slang, and use of Spanish words help to set a very specific tone for a Texan adventure... a far cry from the Grimm brother's native Germany. The princess in this story becomes a cowgirl who loses her brand new hat after it is blown off of her head in the arroyo. Lucky for her, she comes across a horned toad who will retrieve her hat for a bowl of chili, a song, and a siesta in her hat.

All of these changes update the story and make it more accessible to young kids. Do you have a favorite folk or fairy tale? Have you looked up other versions and adaptations? How would you change The Frog Prince to make it relate more to your kids or students?

Other Folktales from Peachtree:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tips for Celebrating Earth Day from Melissa Stewart

It's Earth Day, and the EPA is calling for responsible citizens everywhere to share their personal Earth Day missions and to teach children the importance of environmental protection.

While it's easy to get stumped about how to protect the earth once you've tossed your water bottle into recycling, shut off the tap while brushing your teeth, and turned out the lights before leaving the house, Peachtree Publishers is proud to have published numerous nature titles, both fiction and non-fiction, by authors who know a thing or two more about how people of all ages can be environmentally conscious.  One expert in this department is Melissa Stewart, author of over one hundred science books for young readers, including the award-winning A Place for Butterflies, A Place for Birds, and  A Place for Frogs which was recently revised in both the hardcover and paperback editionsThis is what she had to say:

What first made you interested in sharing messages about environmental protection through children’s books?
When I was a child, my parents owned ten acres on one side of the street and there was a national forest on the other side of the street. They encouraged us to spend time outdoors exploring the natural world. We caught frogs and turtles in a small pond, built forts and trails for our bikes through the woods.
My dad taught us to identify trees, and my mom taught us the birds and bird calls. These early experiences made my brother and I care deeply about science and nature. Today, he is an environmental consultant and I write about science and nature for kids.

What’s your favorite Earth Day memory?
I usually visit schools on Earth Day and do programs related to some of my books. It’s a great way to share my love of the natural world and hopefully inspire the next generation of kids. As I’ve said many times before, if my books or my workshops encouraged kids to look under a rock or chase after a butterfly just to see where it’s going, then my job is done.

How are you going to celebrate this year’s 40th anniversary of Earth Day?
I won’t be doing a school visit this year because Earth Day falls during school vacation week. If it’s a warm day, I may spend the afternoon in my summer writing retreat—a little “room” I created under a giant spruce tree in our side yard. It’s quiet, and peaceful. I love to work there on my laptop.

If it’s too cool, I’ll probably go for a hike at a local pond that I love.

We all know about recycling, what are some other categories of environmental protection that we can contribute to?
Environmental protection. Those are two long words that sound cumbersome. I like to think of Earth Day as a chance to celebrate the natural world and to think of ways that we can help protect wildlife and wild places. That sounds a lot nicer, doesn’t it? More managable.
 We can help birds by keeping our cats indoors or putting a bell on their collar. We can help butterflies by planting gardens that include the flowers they like. We can help the ocean and all kind of sealife by using less plastic. For example, do you really need to use a drinking straw? There are so many simple things we can do everyday.

What are some fun things that parents and children can do together to enjoy and celebrate Earth Day?
 Many communities have Earth Day celebrations. I encourage people to take part in them. Or, even better, spend some time, in a natural place you love—just exploring. It could even be your own backyard.

What are some other things that people can do to make environmental protection part of their everyday lives?
It’s easier than you might think. Take shorter showers. Turn out lights when you aren’t using them. Turn down the thermostat just 1 degree Fahrenheit. Eat locally-grown fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Over time, all these little things can make a big difference.

How do you think children’s books about the environment play a unique role in environmental education?
Many kids don’t spend much time outdoors these days. I think books that inspire them to turn off the TV or computer and go see what the nearby woods or pond has to offer are wonderful. Also, many schools are now actively working environmental education into their curricula. Children’s books that celebrate the natural world can be a great addition to these programs.

What themes of Earth Day can be found in your new book A Place for Frogs? How can this book be used in the classroom to celebrate?
A Place for Frogs is a picture book that includes 11 mini-stories about ways scientists and citizens are working together to protect frogs and their habitats. It’s perfect for Earth Day. Kids really care about frogs, and they are disappearing at an alarming rate. When children see problems in the world, they want to start looking for solutions right away. This book gives them the tools to do that. 

I have a variety of materials for educators on my website—a curriculum guide, activity sheets, even info for using the book in Reading Buddies programs. I encourage teachers and homeschoolers to take a look at these. 

I also wrote an article in this month’s issue of Science Books & Films that discusses how to pair fiction and nonfiction books to appeal to students with different reading preferences. The article includes six great examples of amphibian books along with class discusssion lessons and activities.

What’s one of your favorite Earth Day books that you plan to read April 22?
Wow, there are so many great books out there it’s hard to choose. I might read The Salamander Room by Ann Mazer or Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. These are two of my favorite picture book of all time.

One of the best places for educators to find great Earth Day kooks is the Newton Marasco Foundation’s website. They sponsor the Green Earth Book Award, which is given to fiction and nonfiction books that promote environmental stewardship.

But even more important than reading about our amazing planet on Earth Day, I think it’s a good idea to take a moment and be grateful for what we have and look for ways to keep our world healthy for many generations to come.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Back to School Preview

Mr. President Goes to School

Written by Rick Walton
Illustrated by Brad Sneed
$16.95, 978-1-56145-538-6 
What does an American President do when he’s feeling overwhelmed?  He sneaks out of the White House in a disguise and walks 7 ½ blocks to a place he remembers very fondly…his kindergarten classroom!
Rick Walton’s fanciful story is a laugh-out-loud reminder that, while kindergarten may not supply all the necessary education required to run the country’s highest office, it does provide some very necessary fundamentals, not least among them the importance of snack time!

Hayley is excited for the first day of first grade, until she realizes it is different from kindergarten in all the wrong ways!  Rodman’s story will appeal to both teachers and students alike who understand what it takes to negotiate new expectations and challenges on the first day of a new school year.

First Grad Stinks! 
Written by Mary Ann Rodman * Illustrated by Beth Spiegel
HC: $15.95, 978-1-56145-377-1 * PB: $8.95, 978-1-56145-462-4 


Smitty is never late for school, and he’s not about to let thick, black tar, a Martian robot, or a T-Rex change that.  Reiss’ vivid and imaginative story demonstrates that getting to school on time can be an adventure! 

Late for School
Written by Mike Reiss * Illustrated by Michael Austin
HC: $16.95, 978-1-56145-286-6 * PB: $7.95, 978-1-56145-491-4 

The indomitable Little Rabbit is back for his first day of school, and he insists on bringing Charlie Horse, his favorite, but rather disruptive, toy.  This heart-warming story tenderly addresses the challenges of growing up 

Little Rabbit Goes to School
Written and Illustrated by Harry Horse HC: $15.95, 978-1-56145-320-7  

What will Jake do when he forgets to bring the special collection he’s going to share with his first grade class for their celebration of the 100th day of school? Luckily, he has a very kind principal who comes up with a creative solution. 

Jakes 100th Day of School
Written by Lester L. Laminack * Illustrated by Judy Love
                                               HC: $16.95, 978-1-56145-355-9 * PB: $8.95, 978-1-56145-463-1

Monday, April 19, 2010

Baseball and Children's Books: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

While most of the country was mailing their taxes this past April 15, I was busy watching baseball. The Atlanta Braves were playing the Padres at PETCO Park in San Diego. In case you were wondering, Braves rookie, Jason Heyward hit a pair of RBI doubles, Martin Prado hit a home run, and the Braves won the game 6-2... but that is not what made the game stand out in my mind. I was eating pizza with my step-dad and mom when I noticed that every player was wearing the number 42.

"Why is everyone wearing number 42? That number is retired! They can't do that."

Number 42 was Jackie Robinson's number.

Well that explained it. On April 15, 1997, Major League Baseball made #42 the first and only number to be retired and unwearable by any team in the present and future in honor of Jackie Robinson

For those of you that don't know, in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball when he was signed on to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Esentially, he engineered the integration of professional sports in America by breaking the color barrier in baseball, which was no easy feat. He endured taunts, threats, even deliberate spikings on the ball field. Despite it all, he played the game better than most and helped lead his team to victory. The Dodgers won 94 games during the 1947 season and finished first in their division. In 1962, his first year of eligability, he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

What many don't realize is how many people Jackie Robinson affected outside of the sport he loved. In Myron Uhlberg's book Dad, Jackie, and Me, we hear a fictionalized account of the 1947 baseball season from the perspective of a young boy and his deaf father as they follow the progress of Robinson's rookie year. 

The boy loves baseball and is thrilled when his father brings home tickets to see the Dodgers play at Ebbets Field. This is the first time that the boys father has shown any real interest in baseball and the young boy is somewhat embarrassed of his deaf father.

"When the game started and Jackie ran out on the field, Dad yelled real loud, "Jackiee, Jackiee, Jackiee!" Only it didn't come out that way. It sounded like, "AH-GHEE, AH-GHEE, AH-GHEE!" Since my dad couldn't hear, he had no way of knowing what the words should sound like.

Everyone looked at my dad.

I looked at my shoes."

Throughout the book, the father and son continue to go to games and keep track of everything Robinson did that season. You begin to understand, that, like Jackie, the boys father has to face and overcome prejudice in his own life due to peoples preconceived notions of what it means to be deaf. Being deaf doesn't mean you are dumb or incapable. Robinson became an icon for the father to look up to and a way to connect with his son.

Uhlberg states in his author's note that while the story is fiction, it is based in fact. 

"During Jackie's first year as a Dodger, my father took me to many games. He told me to watch carefully how the opposing team would single Jackie out for unfair treatment, how they would actively discriminate against him on the field just because his skin was brown. 'Just you watch,' he said. 'Jackie will show them that his skin color has nothing to do with how he plays baseball. He will show them all that he is as good as they are."

Dad, Jackie, and Me was illustrated by Colin Bootman and won the 2006 ALA Schneider Family Book Award and was a 2006 International Reading Association Teachers' Choice. Myron has also authored three other picture books with Peachtree and a memoir, Hands of My Father, with Bantam.

Other Baseball books from Peachtree:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Happy National Library Week!

Going to the library was big event when I was a kid. My sisters and I were each given a canvas tote bag and were told we could bring home as many books as we could carry. We would spend hours on the floor in the children's section of our local library trying to decide which books were good enough to win a spot in our bags. Dragging our heavy loads across the floor, we had with us favorites like King Bidgood's in the Bathtub, Gregory, the Terrible Eater, and the George and Martha series, all regulars in our home. However, I was always excited about finding something new. I never understood how new books were written, or that authors were living people who wrote new stories all the time. All I was aware of was that my librarian always had a suggestion that would pique my interest. This weekly routine of Saturday afternoons at the library helped to foster an early love of books, reading, and stories that I carry with me today. 

In honor of National Library Week, I would like to give away a copy of a Peachtree favorite, all about libraries... The Library Dragon.This copy is signed by the author and illustrator, Carmen Agra Deedy and Michael White. The contest will be going on all week. To be entered, just leave us a comment telling us what you love most about libraries.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Amateur Night at the Read-A-Thon

My first ever Read-A-Thon is over, one manuscript, one middle reader, a picture book and a young adult memoir later. Here are a few things I learned to keep in mind for next time:

  • It's really hard to read at the dog park. 
  • When your friends come over to read with you, it is a ton of fun, but very little reading actually gets done.
  • 24 hours is a really long time. 
  • When you think, "I'll sit and read in bed," you're actually going to fall asleep, so read in a chair in the living room instead.
  • Being home alone reading to yourself all day makes you do silly things like read to the dog (or your blog readers), just to hear a human voice.
  • Being a cheerleader is a sweet deal. Sign me up for that next time!
  • You won't actually have time to read as many blog posts and twitter feeds as you would like. 
  • Participate in lots of challenges. It's a nice way to break up the reading. 
  • Your mom reading to you over the phone counts. It's like an unofficial audio book. 
I wasn't good about keeping track of my pages read, hours spent reading, etc, but I enjoyed it all the same. Next time, I definitely plan on being a cheerleader, mostly because I really wanted to have more time to look at and comment on other readers blogs about the various things they are reading. I plan on checking out some this week though. Is there anything you learned during your Read-A-Thon experience? Let me know!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Read-A-Thon: Eleanor's Story: An American Girl in Hitler's Germany

I love reading memoirs, so this book has been in my to-be-read pile for a while. Eleanor was living in America with her German parents. Her father is offered a good paying job in Germany, so they move back at the beginning of the war.

Eleanor's Story has received numerous accolades including a starred review in Booklist, International Reading Association's 2000 Children's Book Award, and is an ALA (YALSA) 2000 Best Book for Young People. If you're a teacher, be sure to check out the teacher's guide for it here.

10:03 p.m. Time to start book 3! I guess it is book 4 if you count the picture book.

I completely fell asleep around 2 a.m., book in hand and light on. I'll be napping and relaxing today though, and finishing this book, because I'm really enjoying it.

Read-A-Thon: The Post Where I Read to You

I thought it would be nice change of pace to read to you. I'm a little sleepy now, but enjoy all the same.

Read-A-Thon: Moving on to the Ridiculous

Author and illustrator, Harry Horse, has long been a favorite of mine. His series of books about the bratty Little Rabbit are always fun to read out loud. I adore his pen and ink illustrations so much, that I used one for the header on this blog.

Harry Horse went on to pen a series of books for slightly older kids, referred to as "The Last..." series. Starting with The Last Polar Bears, a grandfather goes on epic adventures with his mischievous dog Roo. The story is told through letters sent home addressed simply to "My Dear Child." I thought that the first book was so weird and fun and quirky, that I wanted to read the other three books. Now I have a bit of time to do just that! Without further ado, I begin The Last Cowboys.

7:12 p.m. This is why I love Roo (the dog). She is going with Grandfather to America in search of her own Grandfather. Last Roo heard, he was in the Wild West:

"Of course, I have only Roo's word for it, and in truth I do find some of the stories about her grandfather a little hard to believe. According to Roo, he was a famous film actor. She has pointed him out to me on several occasions when we are watching television and, if truth be known, he looks like a different dog in each one. Roo says that's why he is an actor."

8:15 p.m. Grandfather and Roo are stranded in One Horse Town with a bunch of hooligan  riderless horses that just made Roo their sheriff. I love the insanity of it all.

"Bad news. The Riderless Horses have elected Roo as their new sheriff. I think it ridiculous that a small dog should even be considered for the position. Roo said that her breed was the obvious choice, being renowned as sheriffs. What nonsense! There are police dogs, it is true, but I have never heard of a sheriff dog."

Read-A-Thon: My Dog Can't Read

Since my dog can't read, he is not able to fully appreciate the joys of a 24 hour Read-A-Thon and desperately wants to go to the dog park.

How could I possibly say no to this adorable face?! So off to the dog park we go, book in hand for me, and for you, I give you Atlanta Falcons Thomas DeCoud reading Bark Park. This video is part of our Read With a Falcon program. You can see all the books read here.

Read-A-Thon: A Mouse, A Cat and Charles Dickens Walk Into a Pub

Let the Read-A-Thon begin... on my time. I didn't actually get up at 8 a.m., mostly because I strongly believe that no one should ever be awake that early on a Saturday. I'm up now though, which should count for something.

I'm starting out today's Read-A-Thon with a manuscript we've acquired at Peachtree Publishers entitled The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale. It's a middle reader novel co-written by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright.

The idea for this story came in 2002, when Deedy was in London and happened upon the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub on Fleet Street. Little did she know that she was not only entering one of the oldest pubs in London, but one famous for being frequented by Charles Dickens himself. The publican was kind enough to let her explore the old place, and hanging on the wall she found an illustration of a clowder of cats with tonsures sitting around a table. Curiouser and curiouser indeed... 

8:50 a.m. The reading begins... "He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms."

10:25 a.m. 32 pages and a mini nap later. Reading a manuscript in the works is always an interesting experience. The copy I have is annotated with editorial notes from the authors and editor, so I get to see where the story is going, as well as get a better understanding of the editorial process. As our story unfolds, we are introduced to a cat named Skilley who carries a shameful secret... a love of cheese, a mouse named Pip who appears to be hiding something, Pinch, who seems to be quite the villain, and Dickens himself, who writes at the pub and can't quite get the first line of his new book right. But who is this Melville they keep mentioning?

11:25 a.m. 60 pages in and now a seemingly haunted pub. However, I doubt there is an actual ghost. I'm guessing it's this Melville I keep hearing about. While there are talking cats and mice, the story is not fantasy. It is believable and realistic. What I am most appreciating is the distinction of characters. Even the secondary characters like the cook, Croomes, have distinct voices, accents, personalities, etc. They speak like they would for their station in that place and time. Another interesting thing to note is the language of the text. There are words like "rake," "mercurial," and "blunderbuss." Any of the vocabulary like this is easily defined at the bottom of the page for young readers, often in humorous ways. I am appreciating that the authors have enough faith in their readers to include interesting words, as well as references to Dickens, and the history of England.

12:00 p.m. Who is Melville. **Spoiler** I think it best described in his own words: 

"I am of the House of Battenberg: a Raven of the Tower of London, property of Queen Victoria of England. As I stand or fall, so does the Empire.

What an interesting turn of events... For those of you that don't know, since the reign of Charles II there have been ravens at the Tower of London. The legend says that should the ravens ever leave, the monarchy will fall. You can read more about the tower ravens here. No more spoilers though! I don't want to give away the whole story now!

3:54 p.m. Pip, Skilley and Melville seem to have quite the plan up their theoretical sleeves... I'm on page 127.

6:28 p.m. I fell asleep... but I wok up and have almost finished the book. Since the author seems to have given it away already in the comments, I don't feel bad about admitting that Queen Victoria herself has found her way into this story and is quite the amusing woman... but can she help Melville?

6:54 p.m. I have finished! There were some twists and turns, a battle of mice, and some deaths I mourn... I don't want to give too much away, so on to the next book!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Did Somebody Say "Read-a-Thon?!"

Last week on Twitter, I heard about this crazy thing called "Dewey's Read-a-Thon" from @the1stdaughter, @Vasilly, and @Wordlily. Twice a year, in October and April, bloggers across the internet read for 24 hours straight, while blogging about what they are reading, visiting other readers blogs and participating in mini-challenges. Some people even sign up to be cheerleaders to encourage readers along the way.

This all sounded too good to be true. I simply have to spend my whole Saturday reading and talking to other people about books? There are even prizes! Seemed like sweet deal, so I signed up.

Now comes the tricky part... what books should I add to my "to read" stack? Working for a publisher, I read a lot of books for my job. I enjoy getting to experience stories in every stage, from unedited first draft to the final product. Despite the fact that I read new books with every season, I still feel I have barely skimmed the surface of the catalog of books that Peachtree publishes, which brings me to my point... I have decided that I am going to read as many of our Peachtree books as possible in 24 hours. Do you have a favorite Peachtree book that you think I should read? Take a look through our website or YA catalog and let me know what you think I shouldn't miss on this little literary adventure of mine.

But wait! There is more! Carmen Agra Deedy (14 Cows for America) and Randall Wright (A Hundred Days from Home) are working on a new middle reader book and I just happen to have a copy of the manuscript, which will be item #1 on my Read-a-Thon "to-read" list. I am really looking forward to seeing what Deedy has up her sleeve for her first foray into the world of middle readers, so be sure to check back on Saturday to hear all about it, and of course, to cheer on me and the other Read-a-Thon participants.