Tomie dePaola Dead at 85

Sad news out of New Hampshire: on Monday, beloved children’s book author and illustrator Tomie dePaola died at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center due to complications following surgery for head injuries sustained from a fall in his barn last week.

Born in Meriden, Connecticut, dePaola delighted generations of children with his tales of kindly and cheerful characters such as the beloved titular witch in dePaola’s Caldecott Honor-winning Strega Nona: An Old Tale (Prentice-Hall, 1975). Over 15 million copies of dePaola’s 270 + books have been sold worldwide and translated into twenty languages. 

strega

In a statement, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu praised dePaola as “a man who brought a smile to thousands of Granite State children who read his books, cherishing them for their brilliant illustrations.” An outpouring of remembrances from authors and illustrators are popping up across social networks as well.

 

 

Thank You for Being a Friend: Abby Reviews Two Picture Books for Kids and Adults

Abby looks at two titles today: a new picture book for grown-ups set to the lyrics of Andrew Gold’s theme song for The Golden Girls, and Castle of Books, Alessandro Sanna’s  joyous introduction to the worlds waiting to be unlocked by the gift of reading. Both are uplifting celebrations of friendships and a reminder that we’ve all got each other’s back, even when going gets a little dark. Brighter days ahead–

castle

La Dolce Vita: Abby Reviews Paolo: Emperor of Rome

With Italy and its people in our hearts, Abby brings you Mac Barnett’s latest children’s book about a dog who yearns for freedom in the Eternal City. The book will be available March 31 in both Kindle and print format.

If you’ve never heard of Barnett, check out Barbara’s 2014 interview with him when the Caldecott winner spoke about what he called the literary bargain children happily make when choosing something to read.

 

Abby Launches Video Book Reviews for Kids

Ok, we’re all home, but we can keep boredom at bay with great books. Abby, our roving 5th grade reporter, has stepped up with video book reviews for kids of all ages. Accompanying each review will be pertinent data (publisher, price, etc.) and links to where books are available in both digital and print format.

Here is Abby’s welcome video for a series we’re calling, “Book Reviews from Inside the Hot Zone.” The Hot Zone refers to where we are currently located–that this, a stone’s throw from New Rochelle. Be safe everyone. We will get through this together.

 

 

Green Day

Mother Earth needs our help. Easier said than done, right? The challenges are enormous and it’s tempting to simply buy a reusable grocery bag and call it a day. But every little bit–including that reusable grocery bag–helps, and plenty of options exist to make the world a cleaner place. But where to start? According to Jen Gale in The Sustaninable(ish) Living Guide: Everything you need to know to make small changes that make a big difference (Green Tree, 296 $16), taking Draconian measures to “go green” aren’t necessary to make significant change. Gale knows, because she went to those extremes by undertaking an entire year without buying a single new item for her and her family, which she chronicled on her website. That experience, though difficult, revealed that she and her family (which included two young children) were capable of becoming more thoughtful consumers. But going whole hog isn’t for everyone, and this book grew out of a desire to permanently change her behavior without having to pull up stakes and move to Amish country.

Sustainable(ish) provides easy, achievable ideas on how to reduce consumption and help save the planet. Topics run to the usual suspects, like reducing food and plastic waste, as well as the more unexpected and thought-provoking, from an examination of the astounding amount of waste that goes into producing our clothes to how the most mundane of items, like markers and baby wipes, can be toxic for the planet.  Each chapter follows a similar pattern of laying out the statistics, providing Gale’s experience with the problem, and a series of suggestions for the reader to implement that become progressively more involved.

Engagingly optimistic, there is much here to help readers find their way to a cleaner, greener future, but financial stats provided in pounds and UK-based resources will leave many American readers wondering where to turn for further guidance, but that is easily remedied via a quick online search. Our choices matter, and Gale helps us take realistic action that will benefit the health of our planet and the next generation–in other words, this is the earth-friendly guidebook for all of us.

giphy

Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos Debut TV Series on PBS That’s Anything But “Ordinary”

The men who brought you the Ordinary People Change the World book series have created a TV show! Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum premiered November 11, 2019. I spoke with author Brad Meltzer and illustrator Chris Eliopoulos about how they paired up, why they like writing and drawing, and what they hope kids will learn from the new series.

Chris and Brad share a love of comic books, and got closer with the power of Twitter. Brad proposed they write a series, and Chris was happy to help. They’ve written dozens of books in the Ordinary People series since 2014.

You might be a bit curious about the name of the new TV series: Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum isn’t something you hear too often. As a kid, Brad always liked names with the letter X in them. Xavier is one of these rare few. He also loved riddles. Puzzling things out was a favorite activity of his. Hence the name, Xavier Riddle.

Brad was inspired to become a writer thanks to his ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Spicer. She told him he could write. Brad was dubious — he didn’t expect to be a writer. However, when he wrote his first book, he visited his teacher’s classroom, thirty years later, and said to her, “My name is Brad Meltzer, and I wrote this book for you.” The teacher started crying. When he asked her why, she explained that she was planning on retiring that year, because she didn’t think she influenced anyone. Clearly, she was wrong.

I Am Marie Curie

Brad picks his subjects with a particular characteristic in mind: “I always chose a hero, not because they’re famous, but because their life provides a lesson that I can give my own kids, and, truthfully, that I need myself.” The hero’s childhood is what strikes Brad as the most interesting for young readers. When talking about his biography of Amelia Earhart, Brad said that, “I loved the idea that there was this little girl, and everyone said to her, ‘You’re never going to be successful. You’re never going to be able to do what you want to do.’ And she just didn’t care. She just kept plowing forward. She wouldn’t let anything stop her. That’s the lesson I want for my sons, it’s a lesson I want with my daughter.”

Now let’s talk about the illustrator. Chris always knew he was talented at art, especially as a kid. “If you’d asked me back then, ‘Would you rather go to Disneyland or would you rather sit and draw pictures?’ I’d rather draw,” he said. He grew up a shy child, and Chris drew pictures to tell other people what he was feeling. “I would give these drawings to my parents, and they would read these stories and go, ‘Oh, okay, now we know what’s going on in Chris’s life.’” As an adult, he decided that he wanted to be a children’s book illustrator.

Brad and Chris work closely when it comes to the book or television creating process, as Chris explained: “Brad writes a script, and then sends it to me, and we talk about it a little bit, and then I go off and I draw the whole book out in pencil, so that everybody can see it. We decide if something works or doesn’t work. He’ll suggest things, or I’ll throw things in. Once everybody’s in agreement, I go back and I fix the things that need fixing, and I ink it up in ink, and then I send it back again. And then they all decide what looks good, what looks bad, what needs to be fixed. And then I go back and fix it, and then I color the whole book and I send it back.”

I Am Walt Disney Cover

Sometimes, the people in the books have a say in how the book will look. During the creation of I Am Caring: A Little Book About Jane Goodall, for example, Jane read the book and made Chris go back and re-draw over ten pages because she was holding hands with wild animals in the pictures, and she didn’t find that appropriate for children. Chris told me that it was tiring to go back and redraw so many pages, but, in the end, the book did turn out to be better!

When I told Chris that his work seemed to resemble the Peanuts cartoons, he replied, “They’re my favorite thing in the whole wide world!” he explained why he adored them: “Peanuts was the biggest influence in my life. When I was a little kid, my uncle owned a remaindered book shop — basically where all the leftover books went. I used to take all of the Peanuts books–I still have them here in my studio–and I would just read them, cover to cover, all the time.” As he got older, Chris discovered Calvin and Hobbes, a popular cartoon by Bill Watterson about a boy and his tiger. Look at Chris’s drawings: big heads, tiny bodies, strange squished faces. The Peanuts cartoons look quite similar.

Xavier Riddle aims to teach kids the same message that the books do: that kids, no matter what, can be extraordinary. Brad said that making sure these stories are exciting is important to keep kids interested: “If you remind kids that these aren’t the stories of famous people, this is what we’re all capable of on our very best days, suddenly kids will look and go, ‘tell me more about that.’”

Abigail C. Richter is a fifth grader and lives with her parents and two basset hounds in New York. 

Tourists Overwhelm Beatrix Potter’s Beloved Lake District

Last month, the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) issued a statement declaring that off road vehicles would not be banned from the park, a move that has upset some locals who say dirtbikes and cars are ruining the countryside. 

**This article has been updated with new information.**

Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017, the Lake District has welcomed a surge of visitors over the past twenty years, and not all sightseers have left the land as they found it: according to a recent report in The Guardian, off road vehicles, 4x4s, and dirtbikes are increasinglychewing up the delicate lands forged in the last Ice Age, damaging dirt roads and surrounding fields. Farmers complain that the roads are so poor that they cannot drive their equipment on them anymore.

The Lake District ‘s spokesperson Sarah Burrows said in a recent email that The Guardian’s article “is inaccurate and, as such, we wrote to the editor in response. We highlighted that the headline Lake District heritage at risk as thrill-seekers ‘chew up’ idyllic trails is misleading and inflammatory, furthermore, parts of the article itself are factually incorrect. The two public roads are open to all users and make up just 0.09 per cent of our rights of way network, so to infer that this is a Lake District-wide ‘problem’ is misleading. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of people enjoying the national park’s 3,280km of trails are highly unlikely to encounter recreational motorists on these routes.”

Lake District residents say the tension between meeting the wants of tourists while preserving the bucolic landscape is at least a decade in the making. In 2006, the LDNPA posted the now-ubiquitous red and white “hierarchy of trails” guides, notifying visitors of proper road etiquette, however local groups say these signs have only encouraged thrill-seekers to take their ATVs off roading. Members of the Save the Lake District Group say that vehicles using these roads have leapt from 90 a month in 2008 to over 400 in 2017. Burrows, meanwhile, provided usage data on the LDNPA website saying that tracking motorized vehicles on the roads has been historically spotty and that the numbers quoted by Save the Lake District “may not be very reliable.” The LDNPA report goes on to state that it has noticed a decrease on vehicular traffic on those roads that have been repaired.

The roads bearing the brunt of these adventure seekers are High Tilberthwaite and High Oxenfell. Part of the appeal lies in these roads’ proximity to Potter’s farm, which she purchased in 1929 and is now part of the National Trust. Meanwhile, the LDNPA maintains that the Lake District trails have historically been a mix of dirt, asphalt, and stone, and that recent severe weather has deteriorated the roads that now require repair. Paving these highly trafficked roads would keep motorists from destroying the surrounding area, and the LDNPA posted before and after images of repaired roads on its website, where some of the “before” roads look downright impassable, but Save the Lake District maintains that these pictures aren’t telling the whole story.

Earlier this month, LDNPA committee members voted not to ban ATVs from trails despite a recommendation from the International Council on Monuments and Sites suggesting that banning these vehicles would drastically improve the quality of the trails and preserve the beauty of the area. The latest vote has lead to frustrated protests and angry outbursts from locals, who fear that this is only another step towards stripping the Lake District of its charm and turning it into a roadside attraction.

Burrows counters that the LDNPA is trying to meet the needs of all park users. “As a national park representing everyone’s right to enjoyment, the decision to restrict anyone’s right to use these roads must not be taken lightly. In line with government guidance, legal intervention through a TRO (Traffic Regulation Order) is a last resort and we should explore other management options first. We completed a comprehensive evidence gathering exercise and the findings were presented to our Rights of Way Committee on 8 October where Members decided on the future management of these roads and whether or not a TRO is required.

“The decisions we have to take are often complex, but we do this in an open and transparent way so that everyone can see in detail what the perceived issues are, how we’ve gathered our evidence, and how we’ve come to the reasoning behind our recommendation to committee,” Burrows wrote. The committee’s findings can be read here