Archive for the ‘Picture books’ Category

Alternate title: I think I’ll try/defining/Gravity (performed by Adele Dazeem)

Jason Chin‘s latest picture book, Gravity, caught my eye because it got dinged by a review in The Horn Book Magazine (May/June 2014) for simplifying the science “to the point of inaccuracy.” But let’s be honest, without an advanced understanding of calculus and physics, we’re all getting the simplified version of gravity.

“Everything has gravity,” writes Chin to his pre-K audience, prompting Roger Sutton to complain:

Despite the text’s assertion, objects, whether the sun or a banana, do not ‘have gravity’; they have mass (which affects gravity). And to say ‘without gravity, everything would float away’ misses the rather more essential point that without gravity there would be no anything to float anywhere.

According to Newton, gravity is a fundamental force that depends both on the mass of objects and distance between them. The more mass objects have, the greater the gravity; the farther apart they are, the weaker their attraction. Chin makes this connection for young readers by saying “massive things have more gravity” and drawing bold pictures of outer space that depict size* and scale in a really fun way. Now if gravity is a property of matter, and all objects have mass (which Sutton correctly points out they do), then surely they have gravity.

Einstein updated Newton’s definition by scrapping the idea of gravity as a force. Instead, his theory explains gravity as the distortion of space-time geometry in response to matter and energy. (For example, the topology of space-time around the sun dictates the earth’s orbit around it.) With this in mind, if Sutton wanted to criticize Gravity for the inaccuracy of the everything would float away line, he should have nitpicked that floating away implies force.

Instead, Sutton’s second assertion–that without gravity, nothing would exist–is more of a chicken-and-egg quibble. Matter and gravity are intrinsically related, but good luck proving causality.

It’s gutsy of Chin to tackle a tricky subject for a young age in such a vivid, memorable way. When I asked physicists with PhDs how they’d explain gravity to five-year-olds, they wouldn’t stop laughing.


*We all know size matters not, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s pretend mass and size have a positive relationship


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I just discovered The Guardian’s delightful series, How to draw…, where children’s books illustrators teach you how to draw characters from their books. Today’s model: Weasel Leader and friends, of Elys Dolan’s Weasels (which I haven’t read.)

That didn’t stop me from drawing some weasels, though.

Swan Lake weasel pas de deux (paws de huit?)

Swan Lake weasel pas de deux (paws de huit?)

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floraLisa: Hello! So, Newbery reactions!
It was a good year for squirrels
Jen: and a good year for Floras!
Lisa: yes. I haven’t read Flora and the Flamingo but I could see Ulysses’ Flora attempting to dance with a flamingo
Jen: really? I think she’d be too cynical
Lisa: well, if her mother stuffed her into a tutu…
and there was a pink bird nearby…
soooooo, anything surprise you about this year’s ALA youth media awards?

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“Oh, the places you’ll go…”

Unlike Lisa, who trekked the gorgeous wilderness of CA this summer, I opted for a “staycation” in the Berkshires. (Although, technically, I only went for the day. So daycation?) On my way to Tanglewood, where picnicking is an art form, I made a pit stop in Springfield, home to the Doctor Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden and birthplace of Theodor Geisel himself!

Free and open to the public, if you can find the proper parking lot–hint: it’s not the Catholic church by the entrance–the park is a great place to stretch your legs before heading onward to other delightful destinations. See for yourself!


Doctor Seuss at his desk.

...someone like YOU...

…someone like YOU…


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Inspired by Mo Willems’ dinner doodles, my friends and I attempted our own. Behold!


Happy spring!IMAG0162


A snail with attitude. (more…)

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The New York Times had a fun article earlier this week on Dr. Seuss’ amazing hat collection. His love for headgear and this year’s chapeau sporting Caldecott winner got me thinking: what do you get when you mix the Cat in the Hat with This is Not My Hat?

This is Not My Cat in the Hat

This is Not My Cat in the Hat by Jen

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Thanks to Anita Silvey’s Book-a-Day Almanac, I now know yesterday was Ask Your Cat Questions Day. I have no felines to interrogate, so I did the next best thing and recreated Jean Craighead George’s How to Talk to Your Cat book cover:


What I used: wooden statue and construction paper

Original coverHow-to-Talk-to-Your-Cat1

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Basically, a year-end roundup of our favorite books from 2012. Any of these titles would make an entertaining and enriching gift, whether it’s for the holidays or just because you are the definition of awesome and enjoy gifting books.

Picture Book 

extraWhat’s great about Extra Yarn is that while everyone has a different opinion on the story’s takeaway message, they’re all absolutely right. Also wonderful are illustrator Jon Klassen’s quirky pictures of a boring gray town bursting into variegated color as a result of Annabelle’s knitting, particularly when it’s worn by Klassen’s recurring Hat animals. Finally, this story celebrates yarn bombing. What’s not to like?

Middle Grade

mg pic

We can totally see Liar and Spy or In a Glass Grimmly winning accolades in the coming year. Other standouts include The Secret of the Fortune Wookie and The One and Only Ivan.  However, if you’re looking for that (elusive) distinguished book starring a female protagonist, look no further than Earwig and the Witch for some wonderfully ordinary magic.

YA fiction


It pleases us to proclaim what a good year 2012 has been for YA. On the top of our list is the not-very-festive but absolutely gripping Code Name Verity, which features a fantastic friendship between two very different young women. Also in the depressing but good category are The Wicked and the Just and The Drowned Cities (the prequel/companion novel to Ship Breaker.)  Alternatively, if you’re looking for something more upbeat, we recommend Team Human, which cheekily references the vampire genre yet has fully-fleshed characters (human and otherwise) and a story line that stands on its own.


montmarayFor those who enjoy book sets, the third and final installment of The Montmaray Journals was published this year. Like the previous two books chronicling the plight of the noble (literally) but penniless FitzOsbornes through WWII, The FitzOsbornes at War is a wonderful mix of frothy and serious drama.

We’ve shared our favorites. What are your recommendations for 2012? 

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So, I went to the bookstore in Taiwan and, being curious at how the translations from English to Chinese would be handled, started going through the shelves like crazy. Here are some titles that caught my eye:

Picture Books


Blackout and A Ball for Daisy are translated literally, while Grandpa Green has become “The Garden Remembers Everything.”

Verdict: It makes sense not to translate Grandpa Green directly. Something like this (阿公的公園 aka Grandpa’s Garden) would have been cute, too, if just for the repetition. (I took the liberty of using 公園, which means park, rather than 花園, which means garden.)

Middle Grade

Middle Grade

I am the Cheese, Tuck Everlasting, and King of the Wind are direct translations. However, My Louisiana Sky (which I’ve yet to read) has become “Clear Days Between People,” and When You Reach Me is poetically, “Reaching Through Time and Space to Find You.”

Verdict: All these titles sound pretty good to me in Chinese (in terms of rhythm and phrasing), except I am the Cheese, which sounds funny in any language, but especially in Chinese, because there isn’t a culture built around cheese. The translators should have re-titled that one. The Chinese version of When You Reach Me is very appropriately re-titled, and now I want to read My Louisiana Sky to see how those “clear days” factor in.



YA isn’t my forte, although this has been a year of good YA reading for me. Still, I didn’t realize Snow White and the Huntsman was a book before it became a movie, but it and Daughter of Smoke and Bone are translated literally, down to the precise order of “smoke” and “bone.” Between Shades of Gray is now “Area of Grays.” And I don’t recognized the book on the bottom left, but it’s been translated to either “Life” or “Fate.” Speaking of life, it would have been fun to see Life: An Exploded Diagram, just to see how it would be translated.

Verdict: I’m just surprised and thrilled to see Gray and Smoke and Bone there at all! I know these are hits, but they’re not blockbusters, so I didn’t expect them to get this kind of attention.

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New project: we’re turning cover art into photographic art, one book at a time. We’ll keep the Photoshop to a minimum because we don’t believe in airbrushing!

First up: Make Way for Ducklings

What we used: nine stuffed/glass/ceramic ducks and a green sleeping bag.

Original cover:

Bonus: our homage to the duckling statues in the Boston Commons (in sepia!)

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