It’s baseball season!

9780060555221I recently had a lovely debate with a friend over which sport was better—baseball or ANYTHING. Baseball is boring, my friend told me. Baseball requires no athleticism—all the players are fat. Baseball is totally ridiculous and inane and Europeans make fun of us for it! Baseball is…America, I countered. It’s lying on the grass with your grandmother, under the stars, listening to the game. It’s history. It’s nostalgia. The rules are totally convoluted, the games take hours, you can go for long stretches without any action—and we love it for all those things.

Those loveable elements make it tailor-made for a picture book subject, and sure enough, the shelves are full of baseball books. (I’ve never seen a football, basketball, or hockey picture book. Just sayin’.) The other day I brought one home called This Is the Game, by Diane Z. Shore, and I’ll treat you to a few pages of its magic:

“This is the Dodger
fulfilling a dream
a Negro Leagues star
joins a Major League team.

This is the season
And this is the inning—
A Major League change, a historic beginning
When young Jackie Robinson
Wears Dodger Blue
And helps to make one single league out of two—

While a crackling radio
Broadcasts the sounds,
And on the front porch,
Neighbors gather around
Marking their scorecards,
Awaiting their call,
As all kinds of people, together,
Play ball.”

Oh, if only I could write in rhyme!

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My favorite holiday picture book: Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo

great joyA little girl notices an organ grinder and his monkey sleeping on the freezing city streets, and just can’t get them out of her mind. Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo, sends a powerful message of caring and tolerance for the holidays, and all throughout the year.

Some books are dripping with emotion. As unsubtle as a Lifetime Christmas special, they will reliably have the tears trickling down my cheeks by the halfway point. The absolutely lovely Someday, by Alison McGhee, fits this bill. (See my earlier post about books that make me cry.)

And then there are the ones that wrench your emotions in a way you can’t quite explain. Great Joy packs an unbelievably poignant punch without a bit of sentimentality. I just love, love, love this book.

What makes it special? The emotion comes at the very end and takes you by surprise. The whole book is quiet and somewhat wistful, even haunting, and you don’t have any sense that something amazing is going to happen. And then, when it does, it just slays you.

What else do I love about it? The way Kate DiCamillo lets the illustrator help tell the story. She doesn’t waste her words. She’s wordy and descriptive when it counts (she tells us several times that the monkey’s little vest is shiny green; this is important), but on several occasions she intentionally keeps her prose spare, letting the beautiful illustrations fill in the blanks of the plot. The very last spread has no words but tells the joyful conclusion; you can easily spend a few minutes looking at it.

Did I mention the beautiful illustrations by Bagram Ibatouilline? They have an ethereal yet detailed vintage quality. Although DiCamillo never specifies the era, the illustrations suggest the 1950s—that most American and Normal Rockwellish of decades.

Another reason I love it? It seems like a departure for Kate DiCamillo. I think it’s her only picture book, and it has a quieter, gentler voice than we usually see from her. Add it to your holiday picture book list!


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More books that make me cry

Part two in the exciting installment!

Willoughby & The Lion,
by Greg Foley

This is a quiet book, and it took several readings to grow on me. It’s magical and lyrical, and tells the story of Willoughby, who meets a lion who tells him that he can have ten wishes. For his first nine wishes, the boy asks for what you might expect: a huge house, a roller coaster, x-ray glasses. Then, about to make his ninth wish, he turns to the suddenly-quiet lion and asks, “What’s the matter?”
“I miss my home,” the lion answers. “I want to run through the fields with all the other lions.” For his last wish, the boy makes a choice that takes away all the grand things he had asked for before, but grants him something more special: the title of “True Friend.”

, by Shirley Hughes

I’ve read this one so many times that I’m no longer susceptible to it, but I used to always choke up at the part where big sister Bella goes out on a limb to rescue little brother Dave’s stuffed dog from the stubborn girl at the fair.

“Then Bella did something very kind.
‘Would you swap this teddy for my brother’s dog?’ she asked. Right away the little girl stopped crying and began to smile. She held out Dogger to Dave, took the big teddy instead, and went off with him in her arms.
          Then Dave smiled too.
          He hugged Dogger and he hugged Bella around her waist.
          ‘Thank you, Bella,’ he said.”

It gives me hope for my two kids!

miss rumphius
Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney

In the beginning we meet the little girl Alice, who tells a story of her great-aunt, also called Alice. When great-aunt Alice was a little girl, she told her grandfather that she wanted to, like him, travel to faraway places and then come home to live by the sea. He responded that that was all very well, but that she must also do one third thing: somehow make the world more beautiful. Alice said alright—“But she did not know what that could be.”

Fast-forward to the end of the book, when great-aunt Alice is frail and old, and has accomplished all three goals.

“My Great-aunt Alice, Miss Rumphius, is very old now. Her hair is very white. Every year there are more and more lupines. Now they call her the Lupine Lady. Sometimes my friends stand with me outside her gate, curious to see the old, old lady who planted the fields of lupines. When she invites us in, they come slowly. They think she is the oldest woman in the world. Often she tells us stories of faraway places.

‘When I grow up,’ I tell her, ‘I too will go to faraway places and come home to live by the sea.’

‘That is all very well, little Alice,’ says my aunt, ‘but there is a third thing you must do.’

‘What is that?’ I ask.

‘You must do something to make the world more beautiful.’

‘Alright, I say.

‘But I do not know yet what that can be.’”

I love full-circle endings.

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More lovely middle grade books

Why read adult books at all, really? There’s so much going on, so many great characters, such awesome plotting and suspense and denouement, in middle grade titles like these. Polly Horvath is a newish author find for me (though not for many, I know), Cynthia Rylant is the reason I started writing kids’ books (and this wonderful story about animals in an ice storm is so rich and atmospheric I’m drawing it out as long as possible), Clement Andrews is another new find for me (and I love him so much I’m going on a binge of his books), and I finally read Because of Winn-Dixie, which I’d been putting off forever because I wasn’t crazy about the title (but it was great, of course).

books 2

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A trio of delicious middle grade novels

award books

Flora and Ulysses, The One and Only Ivan, and The Year of Billy Miller. Yum.

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Books I read this week

Psst: This is an interruption from our regularly-scheduled programming (“Books That Make You Cry Cry [While Your Kids Remain Annoyingly Dry-Eyed]”). I’m hoping to make this a weekly post.

Picture books:

watermelon seed
The Watermelon Seed
, by Greg Pizzoli. The bottom line: A very Mo Willems-esque style. Funny. Great choice to read in a kindergarten class to get them howling. (A first book for this author–impressive.)

exclamation mark
Exclamation Mark
, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. The bottom line: Similar tone to some of their other creations, such as Little Pea. Modern and clever, sure to please teachers and librarians as well as kids.

mitchell goes bowling
Mitchell Goes Bowling
, by Hallie Durand and illustrated by Tony Fucile. Full of action and movement, with emotion and conflict and a satisfying resolution. Dynamic illustrations and a little-covered subject make this fresh and fun. The illustrator also does the Bink and Gollie books.

Chapter books:

vanishing coiin
The Vanishing Coin (Magic Shop),
by Kate Egan. Bottom line: Cute new series (this is the first) about a fourth-grade boy with learning issues who discovers that performing magic may be the first thing he’s really good at. Excellent dialogue and plot, likeable themes of friendship, and fun magic theme to keep readers interested. I enjoyed this one.

hank zipzer
Hank Zipzer, the World’s Greatest Under-Achiever: A Brand-New Me
, by Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler. Bottom line: Like The Vanishing Coin, stars a boy with learning challenges. This one lives in New York City and is about to move on to middle school. This is the 17th in the popular series. With snappy, sassy dialogue, this is a good pick for boys who may have similar learning problems at school. If you don’t like kids tossing barbs back and forth at each though, this may not be for you.


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Kids books that make you cry–in a good way!

I can’t be the only one who does this: I’m reading a picture book to my kids, and suddenly it gets sad. I tear up, I choke up, I stop reading. They look at me curiously to see what’s going on. I manage to squeak, “Sorry, guys, this is just so … sad,” and then I’m at it again. It’s so bad that when we re-read certain books, my daughter will peek over at me expectantly when she knows the crying part is coming up. It’s slightly humiliating, and yet, at the same time, I love a good cry over a book! In the next three posts, I’m going to mention some of the major culprits in the Kids Books That Will Make You Cry (While Your Kids Remain Annoyingly Dry-Eyed) category.

where wild things are

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

Short but oh so honest and true, this used to make my throat go tight with empathy when our son was young and rascally and I felt that he’d be able to relate to the naughty-but-endearing Max.

‘Now stop!’ Max said and sent the wild things off to bed without their supper. And Max the king of all wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.”

His mother, it’s his mother that loves him best of all! Sigh.

 ten little fingers

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox

All babies are sweet, but the sweetest one of all is mine, think all moms (or at least thus thought I, when both my kids were tiny). The combination of the rhyme and illustrations make the ending of this book tug at your heart.

“But the next baby born was truly divine,
a sweet little child who was mine, all mine.
And this little baby, as everyone knows,
Has ten little fingers, ten little toes,
And three little kisses
On the tip of its toes.”


Someday, by Alison McGhee

I dare you to read this one without sobbing. It’s not really a great read for kids, as it’s big on lyricism and sentiment. Oh, and also, kids tend to tire of adults breaking down by page 10. But I can’t think of many other picture books that cultivate such a sense of nostalgia—real and imagined—for childhood and motherhood and the passing of the torch to the next generation.

“One day I counted your fingers and kissed each one,” it begins.
“One day the first snowflakes fell, and I held you up and watched them melt on your baby skin.
One day we crossed the street, and you held my hand tight.
Then, you were my baby, and now you are my child.”

It just gets more bittersweet from there, ending on a devastatingly affecting note:

“Someday I will watch you brushing your child’s hair.
Someday, a long time from now, your own hair will glow silver in the sun.
And when that day comes, love,
You will remember me.”

Nopt crying yet? I guess you just had to be there.

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