Children's Book-A-Day Almanac
By Anita Silvey
Roaring Brook Press Copyright © 2012 Anita Silvey
All rights reserved.
By Esther Forbes
Happy Birthday Jeanne DuPrau (The City of Ember).
It's the birth date of Maria Edgeworth (1767–1849), Moral Tales for Young People; J. D. Salinger (1919–2010), The Catcher in the Rye; and E. M. Forster (1879–1970), A Room with a View,A Passage to India.
It's also the birth date of Betsy Ross (1752–1836), credited with crafting the first American flag for the fledgling United States. Read Betsy Ross by Alexandra Wallner.
In 1788 The Times, London's oldest running newspaper, published its first edition.
On this day in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in the Confederacy.
It's National Soup Month. Read Soup by Robert Newton Peck, Mouse Soup by Arnold Lobel, Stone Soup by Marcia Brown, and Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak.
It's National Book Blitz Month, an opportunity to promote books we love.
On January 1, 1735, Paul Revere, patriot, silversmith, and engraver, was baptized in Boston's North End. Although made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," Revere's story has attracted many fine writers over the years, including one of the descendants of Samuel Adams, the organizer of the Sons of Liberty: Esther Forbes.
Although Esther Forbes would become a brilliant writer for both adults and young people, she suffered from a type of dyslexia. She could not spell words and used the dash as her only form of punctuation. These problems did not deter her from writing a biography of Paul Revere, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, that won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1943. An editor suggested that Forbes try her hand at writing history for young readers. Because American soldiers were going into World War II, Forbes reflected on how in peacetime adolescents are protected but in wartime they are asked to fight and die. Remembering the story of a young boy who delivered a critical message to Paul Revere, she produced the first draft of Johnny Tremain.
Normally, publishing a great story by a Pulitzer Prize winner would have been a "no brainer" for an editor — but Grace Hogarth at Houghton could not help but notice Forbes's issues with spelling and punctuation. Hogarth gathered her courage to tell Forbes that although she loved the book, she would have to standardize the spelling! Forbes merely said, "My editors always do that!" So a very messy manuscript got transformed into the greatest work of historical fiction for children in the first part of the twentieth century. According to editors on staff at the time, Forbes drove two aging proofreaders almost out of their minds in the process.
This complex and brilliant novel spans two years in the life of Johnny Tremain, an orphan and silversmith apprentice. While casting a sugar basin for John Hancock, he burns his right hand and must abandon his position. But he finds work as a messenger for the Sons of Liberty, becoming swept up in the American Revolution. Forbes brought an amazing amount of historical detail to life and takes young readers behind the scenes as the colonists decide to rebel against the British. As the New York Times said of her, she was "a novelist who wrote like a historian and a historian who wrote like a novelist."
I can think of no better way to begin a new year than rereading Johnny Tremain. It reminds all of us just how great fiction for young readers can be.
THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS
By Dav Pilkey
Happy Birthday Jean Little (From Anna) and Lynda Barry (The Good Times Are Killing Me).
It's the birth date of Crosby Bonsall (1921–1995), The Case of the Scaredy Cats, Piggle; and Isaac Asimov (1920–1992), Foundation series.
Happy Birthday Georgia, which became the fourth U.S. state on this day in 1788. Read Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia by Barbara O'Connor.
In 1959 Luna 1, the first spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the moon, was launched by the U.S.S.R. Read Beautiful Moon: Bella Luna by Dawn Jeffers, illustrated by Bonnie Leick, and The Moon Is La Luna by Jay M. Harris, illustrated by Matthew Cordell.
Today is set aside to "Run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes." The concept behind the day, and the phrase, is to get people to try out a new idea. But often for children, these sayings take on literal meanings, such as in Jerry Spinelli's Who Ran My Underwear Up a Flagpole.
For me, today, January 2, is a day for a new idea — a day of surrender. I have avoided talking about Captain Underpants for over ten years. Male friends have teased me about the book. Male journalists decried the fact that I did not include it in 100 Best Books for Children. Even when I borrowed the book from my local library, one of the staff said, "I never thought I would see you check this out."
But while I have been avoiding this book, the books in the Captain Underpants series have sold more than forty million copies; they have made children who think they hate books become readers; and they have made the author a household name. One of the standing jokes in publishing is that if you want to create a bestseller for children you should include underwear in the title. Comedic genius Dav Pilkey knew this a long time before publishers discovered it. Still in touch with the kind of child that he was — "getting into trouble for pulling pranks, cracking jokes, and making silly comic books" — he invented his famous character in second grade. Fortunately, he didn't listen to the teacher who told him to straighten up "because you can't spend the rest of your life making silly books." As an adult he returned to that character, and the rest is history.
In the first book in the series, The Adventures of Captain Underpants, published in 1997, readers meet the two anti-heroes George Beard and Harold Hutchins. The two BFFs find endless ways to create mayhem and end up spending more time with the principal, Mr. Krupp, than their teachers. After buying a 3-D Hypno-Ring, they hypnotize Mr. Krupp, causing him to run around town in his underpants and cape because he believes himself to be Captain Underpants.
The book contains so much silly, gross-out humor and action-filled drawings that young readers finish an entire book without meaning to. If you know a young reader, ages six through ten, who thinks books have to be boring, you might as well surrender. Your solution will be the ever-growing series — "lots of fun, lots of laffs" — that was first created in the mind of a prank-playing second grader. Today I am running Captain Underpants up the flagpole. We'll see if anyone salutes him.
By Helen Frost
Happy Birthday Patricia Lee Gauch (The Knitting of Elizabeth Amelia), Tony Chen (A Child's First Bible Storybook), J. Otto Seibold (Olive the Other Reindeer, Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf), and Chris Soentpiet (So Far from the Sea).
It's J.R.R. Tolkien Day, in honor of the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien (1892–1973), The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings.
It's also the birth date of Carolyn Haywood (1898–1990), "B" is for Betsey.
In 1870 construction began on the Brooklyn Bridge. Read Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse and Brooklyn Bridge by Lynn Curlee.
Happy Birthday Alaska, which became the 49th U.S. state on this day in 1959.
Today marks Alaska's statehood day, when in 1959 Alaska became the forty-ninth state in the Union. Of the myriad books for children that have been set in Alaska, my favorite, Diamond Willow by Helen Frost, appeared in 2008. Frost lived and taught for three years in a small Athabascan community in interior Alaska. Many years later she found the appropriate story, and poetic form, to pay tribute to those she had encountered there.
In this contemporary story Diamond Willow's father is a science teacher whose ancestors migrated across Canada and the United States for about 160 years before they settled in Old Fork. Her mother is of Athabascan descent, people who have lived in Alaska for centuries. The spirits of their dead relatives inhabit the birds and animals living around them. Most of the story is narrated from the point of view of twelve-year-old Diamond Willow. She loves her community and particularly the sled dogs that the family uses. Convincing her father and mother that she is old enough to handle them alone, she heads out to her grandparents' home, only to have tragedy strike. Their prize dog Roxy suffers an accident that renders him blind. Naturally, Diamond Willow feels responsible. So when her parents decide to euthanize the dog because he will never run and lead sleds again, the girl takes matters into her own hands. She sets out, on the night of a terrible storm, to beg her grandparents to protect the dog.
Diamond Willow's story, which is written in diamond-shaped poems alternating with prose pieces, is told by the animals themselves. Their comments provide context for some of the events happening to Diamond Willow. On its most basic level, Diamond Willow tells the love story between a girl and her dog: she is willing to risk her own life to save this animal. But this is one of the rare books for children that also explores the spiritual realm. In it the love and longing of those now dead intersect with the struggles of the living. Imagine Thorton Wilder's Our Town set in Alaska, and you have an idea of the power of this brief text, only 110 pages long.
As with everything Helen Frost writes, poetic form lies at the heart of her structure. Each diamond-shaped poem contains a message, hidden in darker ink. The form of this work was inspired by diamond willow bark, which reveals reddish-brown diamonds that have a dark center, the scar of a missing branch. As Helen writes in the introduction, "The scars, and the diamonds that form around them, give diamond willow its beauty, and gave me the idea for my story."
In this rare look at a small town in interior Alaska, Diamond Willow provides a haunting, impossible-to-forget story — that lingers long after the reader closes the book.
THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM: THE TREMENDOUS, STUPENDOUS LIFE OF SHOWMAN P. T. BARNUM
By Candace Fleming
Happy Birthday Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Shiloh trilogy, Alice series) and Robert Burleigh (Hoops, One Giant Leap).
It's the birth date of Jakob Grimm (1785–1863), Grimm's Fairy Tales.
Happy Birthday Utah, which became the 49th U.S. state on this day in 1896.
It's World Braille Day. Louis Braille (1809–1852), the creator of braille, a system enabling blind and visually impaired people to write and read, was born on this day. Read Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius by C. Michael Mellor, A Picture Book of Louis Braille by David A. Adler, illustrated by John and Alexandra Wallner, and Out of the Darkness by Russell Freedman, illustrated by Kate Kiesler.
On January 4, 1838, Charles Sherwood Stratton, probably the most famous small person in history, was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He was discovered in 1842 by another resident of the city, P. T. Barnum, and named "General Tom Thumb." Because the General performed for years for Barnum, the two men are inextricably linked in history. A showman, con man, great humbug, philanthropist, Barnum learned early on that "When entertaining the public, it is best to have an elephant."
Barnum's larger-than-life personality and his willingness to lie to his customers create a challenge for any biographer. Fortunately one of our most creative writers of narrative nonfiction, Candace Fleming, tackles this complex individual in a book for ten- to fourteen- year-olds, The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum.
All aspects of the book are adapted to be entertaining; even the acknowledgments have been written in the language of the circus. Readers first meet Barnum's joke-loving family who taught him that people love to be "humbugged" or fooled. As one of his first acts, Barnum toured Joice Heth as "the world's oldest living woman" — a hoax done at the expense not only of the public, but also of this aged African-American. Fleming's authorial voice is impeccable as she describes Barnum's dubious actions. While she acknowledges the moral issues involved, she still manages to show events from Barnum's perspective. Although he exhibited the unusual or misshapen — bearded women, Siamese twins, a giantess, or General Tom Thumb — Barnum also provided housing, care, food, and employment for people who otherwise would have been shunned in nineteenth-century America.
Besides creating circus acts, Barnum purchased John Scudder's American Museum and built one of the great showplaces of his time, redefining the idea of an American museum. Readers go on a room-by-room tour of Barnum's creation. The American Museum became so popular that Barnum needed to find a way to get people to leave. So he created a sign that said "To the Egress." Customers eager for the next exhibit hurried on, only to find themselves on the street.
A devout churchgoer and someone who gave generously to Bridgeport, Connecticut, Barnum seems like a contemporary American celebrity — a bit of fraud and a bit of genius, energetic and driven, capable of great cruelty and generosity.
Candace Fleming's superb biography can help us celebrate the birthday of Tom Thumb, the beginnings of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, or just the life of this quintessential American.
THE RACE TO SAVE THE LORD GOD BIRD
By Phillip Hoose
Happy Birthday Lynne Cherry (The Great Kapok Tree) and Betsy Maestro (How Do Apples Grow?, Why Do Leaves Change Color?).
It's the birth date of King Camp Gillette (1855–1932), the inventor of the safety razor, and Herbert Bayard Swope (1882–1958), the journalist who coined the term "Cold War."
On this day in 1759 George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis. Read George and Martha by James Marshall.
In 1781 British naval forces led by Benedict Arnoldburned Richmond, Virginia. Read The Notorius Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin.
Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge began in San Francisco Bay in 1933. Read Pop's Bridge by Eve Bunting, illustrated by C. F. Payne.
Today marks a relatively new holiday on the calendar, National Bird Day — to think about the birds we keep as pets and how owning them affects the bird population on earth. Our attitudes toward animals and birds and how we treat them has changed dramatically over time.
No one has ever captured the changing mores about birds better than Phillip Hoose, in his masterpiece The Race to Save the Lord God Bird. In this intelligent photo-essay for fifth to eighth graders, Hoose focuses on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, sometimes called the Lord God Bird, "a majestic and formidable species," and its struggle for survival. In a book that covers two hundred years of bird history, readers first see those bird lovers of the 1800s, who shot, drew, and preserved their specimens. Then Audubon, another hunter, comes on the stage, but he preserves details of his prey through art. Some years later women's hat fashions devastate the bird population. Everyone wanted a distinctive plume to wear in her chapeau. Consequently, the Audubon Society was created — to try to convince those with a fashion sense to leave out the birds. Hoose moves with grace and dexterity through American history — the need for timber, the shrinking habitat of the Ivory-bill, and the wanton collectors.
Hoose weaves the Ivory-bill in and out of his tale during this history, as the bird fights for survival while its habitat shrinks. Eventually the Cornell University ornithology crews head out into the swamps, with video cameras and microphones, to try to capture the sound of this bird. They are a different kind of hunter, seeking a scientific record.
By this point, anyone reading the book wants one thing — to actually see and hear one of these woodpeckers. How do you make people love something that no longer can be found? That, of course, has been the problem when it comes to all vanished species. If a child has never seen a passenger pigeon, how can he or she care what they were like? But Hoose manages to make readers care in this book. Through The Race to Save the Lord God Bird they can watch others come under the spell of this species and witness these creatures dwindle in number.
Shortly after The Race to Save the Lord God Bird appeared in print in 2004, a sighting of the Ivory-bill was reported and made national news. The sighting was never verified; but Phillip Hoose has made all his readers hope that some day, one will be seen again. Great for discussion, brilliant in its execution, The Race to Save the Lord God Bird should be read by everyone who loves winged creatures. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Children's Book-A-Day Almanac by Anita Silvey. Copyright © 2012 Anita Silvey. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
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