Monday, December 14, 2009

Complementary Cultural Holidays by Laura Krauss Melmed

As a child growing up in a household where both reading and tolerance were highly valued, I was exposed to a panoply of folk tales, myths, legends, and other traditional tales from around the world. I found wisdom, wonder, adventure, humor and the whole range of human emotions waiting to be mined from these stories. In addition, my extended family on both sides is ethnically, racially and religiously mixed. Growing up in such a milieu fed my fascination with cultural differences while helping me to understand how alike we really all are. Now as a writer, like other writers I draw on what I have lived, learned and am still exploring to create my stories.

In writing my original tale, Moishe’s Miracle, A Hanukkah Story (Chronicle), I called upon my own traditions and background. Set in a long-ago Eastern European landscape glowingly depicted by illustrator David Slonim, it tells of Moishe, a poor but generous milkman. When Moishe finds a magic frying pan that brings potato latkes by the dozens and even hundreds to his hungry neighbors, it causes unexpected problems and some big changes for him, his wife Baila and the whole village of Wishniak. This story was meant to be a rousing holiday read, but also to emphasize the importance of compassion and sharing during the winter holidays as well as in our busy everyday lives.

A more recent holiday title of mine, Hurry! Hurry! Have You Heard? (HarperCollins) had a different inspiration. Tenderly illustrated by Jane Dyer, it tells in verse of how a little bird flies out over the wintry countryside, inviting a variety of small animals to come celebrate a newborn baby. While the text contains no overt religious references, it is based on the Christmas story, with its theme of the hope that a new birth brings to an imperfect world. That is the point of Hurry! Hurry! along with the idea that even the smallest animal, bug or bumblebee holds importance in a grand scheme that we can only try to understand.

Both Hurry! Hurry! and Moishe’s Miracle are meant to describe the faith and optimism we draw upon to mark, with celebration, this darkest time of the year. Our various traditions, in some ways similar, in others gloriously different, serve to light the winter season with candles and song, food and drink, the closeness of family, and the joy of story. May your winter holidays be filled with warmth and cheer!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What Makes a Good Book (Part 1) by Marilyn Courtot

The following is the first in a six part series written by CLCD President Marilyn Courtot. Aimed at reviewers and writers, we will be running a new part every month.

Basic Construction and Illustrations

When evaluating a book for a child, there are a lot of characteristics to keep in mind. But lest you feel overwhelmed, remember that if you have been reading books, especially children’s books, you have probably developed an innate ability to select the good ones. You just may not realize what influences you and why. This, first in a series of columns, will address the features of a good book.

Let’s look at the basic construction of a book. Consider the quality of the fabrication—will it hold up to repeated handling and reading? Look in particular at the binding and cover construction. If the slip jacket is removed, will the cover still have appeal? Is the paper of good quality, or does it tear easily? Look at the book’s size and shape. If the book is for toddlers then keep it small for little hands. Oversized books are usually not appropriate for those under nine—they are just too big and too heavy.

Next, look at the illustrations. Are they clearly reproduced? Are the color registration and clarity acceptable? Although black-and-white helps babies clearly distinguish objects, color is very important for older kids. Colors do not need to be vibrant or garish to appeal to children; studies have shown that pastels are soothing and can encourage learning.

Also, are the illustrations appropriate to the story or text? Do they enhance and exemplify the text, or do they head off in an entirely new direction. Author/illustrator Chris Manson commented that “the children’s book market is really the best place in the publishing industry for full color art. Sometimes it blows away the story.” He believes that illustrations need to be in balance with the story. Illustrations should make the story bigger, but not different.

Marilyn Courtot
Publisher and Editor

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Connected! An Author Reflects on Her First "Virtual Visit" over Skype

"Well," I thought, the day before my first virtual author visit over Skype, "at least I won't get lost."

Not that I've ever been late for one of my regular author visits (though I did once park at the wrong school and discover my mistake when I noticed that all of the students were boys). But I've done plenty of worrying about being late—and about traffic and lunch and whether I'd get home before the babysitter needed to leave. There were always so many logistical concerns beyond the actual substance of preparing for the visit.

But this visit would be different. Using free Skype technology over the Internet, I would sit at home and talk with a group of kids at the Plattekill Public Library, 289 miles away in Plattekill, New York. I'd see and hear them over my computer, they'd see and hear me. We'd talk about Ethan, Suspended, which they'd read as part of their summer reading program, and about the process of writing, just as with other visits. I'd show them drafts, page proofs, and other materials I use in a traditional visit, by holding them up to my computer's camera. And we could address each other, answer questions, and form the kind of connection that brings books alive for kids and makes authors remember why we started writing kids' books in the first place.

Because the kids had read my book for an out-of-school, non-graded program, I wasn't sure how deeply they would have thought about the book, how many questions they'd have, or even how many participants we'd have. But I didn't need to worry: I was thoroughly impressed with the level (and number!) of their questions, and the small turnout actually worked to our advantage, as we created an intimate, book club-like exchange despite being almost 300 miles apart.

The only technical challenge I faced was remembering to direct my "eye contact" toward the camera—in my case, at the top of my monitor—rather than toward the images of the kids that I saw in the middle of my screen. My computer turned out to have a camera and microphone built in, as I discovered in preparation for the visit. On the library's end, I believe at least one of these components was hooked up externally by an IT person, using equipment the library already had.

More challenging than the technology has been the task of persuading schools and other libraries to give virtual visits a try. Maybe they're wondering whether the technology will be "hard"—but hopefully this concern may be waning, as a recent School Library Journal article( suggests that school librarians now "lead the social networking pack among educators." Maybe others wonder about the degree of engagement that's possible over the Internet—but for a generation that's used to socializing, studying, and connecting with people and information over the Internet, I think kids might actually open up more to an author they're meeting online, avoiding the shyness that can accompany meeting an adult in person. At the very least, I can attest that a high level of engagement is possible in a virtual visit.

And it's almost guaranteed that no one will get lost.

Pamela Ehrenberg is the author of Ethan, Suspended (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2007) and Tillmon County Fire (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2009). In addition to her Children's Literature profile, more information on her visits, virtual and otherwise, can be found at and She would enjoy hearing from other authors as well as schools and libraries about how others have experienced virtual author visits; she can be reached at And she is happy to offer a 10 percent discount on virtual visits booked for the current school year through Children's Literature—making virtual visits even more recession-friendly.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

BEFORE "MOON" by Mary Quattlebaum

Harold and the Purple Crayon scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid.

Let me quickly add that this seems not the usual reaction of children and certainly not of adult critics, who heap laudatory adjectives--“imaginative,” “original,” “ingenious”--upon the trim classic by Crockett Johnson.

But even as the book unnerved me, it drew me in. That was its delicious power. As a child, I’d carefully study the pages and think about Harold. Setting out for a nocturnal stroll, he seemed overly bold for a tyke in footie pajamas. And that purple crayon! It might bring adventure but could it stave off danger? I was skeptical. After all, Harold, feeling hungry, had drawn nine pies. But any four year old worth her P&J knew you couldn’t eat pictures of pies. Sure, the tot had managed to draw a ship when he was drowning and a hot-air balloon when he was falling but what if, in the future, he didn’t draw fast enough or drew the wrong thing?

And the closing pages—ai-yi-yi. Harold is tired but can’t find his bed or the moon and so decides to draw them. Draw them! Well, what would happen, I remember worrying, when he wakes up? He’d still have to find the real ones. And I could barely formulate the next thought: What about his mom? How could Harold draw her? (I’d seen his child-like depiction of the friendly policeman and didn’t put much stock in his ability to render the human form, especially one as important as “mother.”) That poor boy didn’t seem to realize how truly lost he was. Faced with the ending, sometimes I had to shut my eyes. The thought of Harold, smiling and tucked forever in his made-up world made me dizzy.

Even at the remove of many years, Harold and the Purple Crayon exerts a pull. It seems a perfect fable about the potential and pitfalls of the creative process.

Of course, my childhood memory of poring over the book is recounted in the reasoned language of adulthood. It is a language that has learned to temper, qualify and shape experience when, in actuality, a young child’s experience is raw, untutored and unlettered. I don’t remember a time before language, do you? I don’t remember when the circle-in-sky first became “moon” or the small-smelly-good became “flower” or more specifically “daffodil” or “lilac.” It must have been an amazing time.

For me, writing for kids has been about trying to creep ever closer to that time. That time when words were new and potent, ripe with sound and rich with texture. That time before coping mechanisms and caveats, that time when disappointment could crush and joy literally leap. Many children’s authors become so after a long time spent writing for adults—and it’s writing we still do: book reviews, articles, memos, reports, stories and poems. We’ve learned a facility with language, grammar, syntax and form.

But writing for children requires more than that type of facility. Picasso famously said that it took him “a lifetime to paint like a child.” Unlearning the tricks of language can be difficult. Can one’s unadorned sentence convey the explosiveness of a child’s emotions (as Maurice Sendak does so brilliantly in Where the Wild Things Are)? Will one’s rhythmic chant adequately smooth and soothe the way into sleep (as does Margaret Wise Brown’s Good Night, Moon)?

That’s why I’m still learning. Writing for children seems endlessly fascinating and challenging—and humbling. With playful thought, hard work and careful revision, might our writing someday connect with a child? Might it entertain, unnerve, reassure? Like Harold, we might begin by putting crayon to paper, pen to notebook, finger to keyboard. We might start by creating that first important “moon.”

Mary Quattlebaum is the author of seventeen picture books, novels and books of poetry, including the forthcoming Pirate vs. Pirate (Hyperion) and The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans (Random House). She regularly reviews children’s books for the Washington Post and Washington Parent presents frequently at schools, and teaches at the Writer’s Center.

This essay first appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of The Carousel, published by The Writer’s Center, Bethesda, Md.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Take to the Skies

If you’ve read this month’s newsletter or been following CLCD on Twitter (@CLCDreviews) you will know that November is Aviation History Month. John Abbott Nez, a member of our Author and Illustrator Booking Service, has a new picture book about a young boy’s dream to build his own flying airship.

John is an illustrator and author of over fifty books of every sort for children. His newest book, published in May by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, is titled Cromwell Dixon's Sky-Cycle. It tells the amazing true story of America's forgotten 'Boy Aeronaut', who actually built and flew his own flying bicycle over the skyscrapers of Columbus, Ohio in 1907.

“1907 was an amazing age. It was a period when an obsession with flying swept the nation. For the first time in history people were flying and even building flying machines in their own backyards,” says John.

A story of adventure, determination, courage and perseverance it is also filled with amazing home-made inventions in Cromwell Dixon's workshop. John hopes his book “might encourage today's children to get out from behind their computers and go build something out in their backyards.” To see images and a book trailer visit

The CLCD feature with suggested book titles and reviews on Aviation History Month:

The Smithsonian Air & Space Museum has several teaching guides on flight available:
Airmail to Airlines:
How Things Fly:
Milestones of Flight:

USA Today article on the “10 great places to let your imagination fly”:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


My first Thanksgiving as an elementary school librarian in a Title 1 school in Northern Virginia, I came home discouraged. After reading what I thought were the best books on Thanksgiving, depicting happy families eating turkey and stuffing, my students seemed either bored or puzzled. In class after class, no one was interested in my turkey songs. No one could play my call-and-response games about the traditional Thanksgiving menu. Finally, one student politely explained, “We don’t do that at my house.”

My students came from over sixty different countries. Many of them did not speak English at home. But Thanksgiving is a holiday for Americans of all faiths and births. After all, it celebrates the landing of the pilgrims on Plymouth Rock. In many ways, my students were pilgrims—people who came to America for religious freedom or to find a better life. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the diversity in America. I felt bad that my students seemed to feel so uncomfortable with Thanksgiving. Did they really not observe the holiday at all?

So when we came back after the holiday, I asked them what they did. At first, they were hesitant to tell me. I asked more questions. Did you have a meal with your families? “Oh yes,” they told me. “But we didn’t have turkey.”

That’s when it dawned on me! It’s not that my students were ignoring Thanksgiving. They just were celebrating it with holiday foods from their birth countries. It reminded me of my own childhood. My father was an immigrant from Switzerland. Turkey and pumpkin were American foods he had never experienced before. Growing up, I often didn’t eat traditional American foods on Thanksgiving day, either! My father preferred duck on Thanksgiving. He thought turkey often tasted too dry. This memory inspired me to write my picture book Duck for Turkey Day, released by Albert Whitman & Co in September 2009.

In Duck for Turkey Day, a little girl named Tuyet is concerned because her family seems to be breaking the “rules” for Thanksgiving. Her Vietnamese-American grandmother explains, “Our family likes duck better.” The book validates the idea of gathering on Thanksgiving Day with ethnic holiday fare, rather than American foods that may not be appealing to immigrant families. And as Tuyet’s teacher says in Duck for Turkey Day, “It doesn’t matter what you eat on Thanksgiving, as long as you have a good time with family and friends.”

Please visit YouTube to see a book trailer for Duck for Turkey Day

Jacqueline Jules

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Hello and welcome to the brand new blog from Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. We are an ever-growing online subscription database that provides reliable one search access to important and relevant information about PreK-12th grade media. Robust full-text searching and innovative features make this database the number one choice for many children’s and young adult teachers, librarians and other professionals.

By writing this blog we hope to cultivate a sense of community and build a platform for discussion. Our goal is to continue to connect our subscribers with information about books, authors and illustrators around the world, and to connect children and young adults with the books that will make a significant difference in their lives.

Whether CLCD is new to you or you have been with us since the beginning over ten years ago, this blog will give you an inside-look into CLCD—what we are up to at trade shows, conferences, and other events, plus you can expect to hear the buzz on new books and news in the children’s book world. We will share tips and ideas from subscribers on how they best utilize CLCD and how schools, libraries and authors/illustrators are connecting and learning from children all over the country.

Our blog team consists of Marilyn Courtot, President of the CLCD company; Sharon Salluzzo, Newsletter Editor and Library and Education Consultant; Sheilah Egan, Mid-Atlantic Sales Representative; and Emily Griffin, Publicity and Marketing Director. In addition, you will hear from our reviewers, authors and illustrators from our booking service, sales reps, and other support staff. We are all eager to provide you with the latest information on children’s and YA literature.

CLCD contains bibliographic details for 2 million MARC records, more than 350,000 full-text reviews from 38 respected and reliable review sources, reading metrics, American and international awards and prizes, resources for teachers that include curriculum tools and reviews of professional materials, as well as the largest and most up-to-date links to author and illustrators websites available. While traditional books are the mainstay of our service, our database includes reviews of audio books and offers links to e-books. CLCD is updated monthly. Cataloguing records come from the Library of Congress, the Canadian National Library and the British Library. In addition to American review sources, CLCD monthly updates include reviews from Canadian, British, Australian, and Irish review sources and we average more than 2,000 new reviews a month. Sign up for a free trial at

Children’s Literature is an independent review source, whose reviewers read and critically appraise more than 5,000 books annually. Our review staff of over 125 people is comprised of book authors, librarians, writers and editors, teachers, children's literature specialists and physicians. Our mission is to help teachers, librarians, childcare providers and parents make appropriate literary choices for children. We also offer a free monthly e-newsletter and a series of new and updated features each month that highlight authors and book reviews relevant to events that take place during a given month. For example, our November author features include Lois Lowry and her new picture book Crow Call, Jim Murphy and his new book Truce; and Lyn Miller-Lachmann with her brand new title Gringolandia. November is Aviation Month, so we offered a series of reviews addressing the very short history of flight. November also brings one of our favorite holidays—Thanksgiving and we have some tasty offering in that feature. These features and more can be found at

Our Author/Illustrator Booking Service grows weekly and we are proud to have more than 125 participants, such as Susan Roth, Audrey Penn, Mordicai Gerstein, Sneed Collard, Cheryl Harness, Joan Carris, Jacqueline Jules, Carolyn Reeder, Uma Krishnaswami, J. Patrick Lewis, Mary Quattlebaum, Candice Ransom, Lindsay Barrett George, Susan Stockdale, Vicki Cobb, Moira Donohue, Wendie Old, Claudia Mills, Janet Morgan Stoeke, and many more. You can find all of the details at