Happy Birthday, E.B. White!

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” — E. B. White

When I volunteered to do a #FridayReads post, and randomly chose the July 10th slot, I already knew I’d be writing about E. B. White. What I discovered only as I began to write was that that was the day before White’s birthday! He was born 116 years ago, on July 11, 1899.

Charlotte's Web

It may be a bit of a cliché to claim Charlotte’s Web as my favorite children’s book, but I can’t help it. From the moment I first read (and reread) it as a child to the dozens of times I shared it with my own children, it has never failed to move me to tears. The book is more than 60 years old, but is freshly beguiling on every read. And how can you resist a story that kills off one of its main characters, but still uplifts you, ending with (slightly abridged):

[The barn] was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. . . . She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

Absolute perfection.

That’s not to pass over Stuart Little or the sometimes overlooked but beautiful homage to wilderness, The Trumpet of the Swan. What E. B. White gave me was an early appreciation for nature and the natural ebbs and flows of life—“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder,” he advised—and though I didn’t know it at the time, he probably planted the seeds that led to my becoming an author. His prose was witty, wise, and gorgeous; he always chose the right words—and just the right words, no wasted verbiage. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered White also wrote for adults.

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I still consult his Elements of Style (the newish version, with the bonus of illustrations by the great Maira Kalman). Check out White’s story and poetry anthologies; they’re a revelation. His poem, “Natural History” is undoubtedly the most romantic poem ever written about a spider (E. B. White is a one-man PR marvel for spiders).

E.B. White

So tomorrow, have a piece of cake for E. B. White—or better yet, revisit one of his classics. Prepare to be utterly enchanted. He was SOME WRITER!

Leslie Kimmelman is a children’s book author and works part-time as an editor at Sesame Street Books. She also works from home as a freelance writer and editor. She lives just outside of New York City, where her and her husband have brought up two children and two dogs.

Happy Birthday, E.B. White!

Brazilian Picture Books: My childhood

Albert Whitman author Ana Crespo shares some of her favorite childhood picture books from Brazil in this week’s #Fridayreads. Ana is the author of The Sock Thief (Spring 2015), J.P. and the Giant Octopus (Fall 2015), and J.P. and the Polka-Dotted Aliens (Fall 2015).

I love picture books. So, as you can imagine, I read lots of them. For now, I have a good excuse – a five-year old who loves them as much as I do. However, I don’t think I will have the excuse for too long, as the five-year old will soon move on to more wordily adventures.

Born and raised in Brazil, the books I read as a child were not the same ones you probably read. Throughout my childhood, my two favorite picture books were Flicts by Ziraldo (a renowned Brazilian cartoonist) and Chapeuzinho Amarelo (Little Yellow Riding Hood) by Chico Buarque.

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Flicts tells the story of a lonely color. No one wants to play with Flicts because he’s different. Flicts travels the world looking for a place where he’s accepted, but finds none. He ends up in the moon. As Ziraldo tells it, “nobody knows, except maybe the astronauts” what color the moon is. On the very last page of the edition I have (but can’t find), Ziraldo says he met Neil Armstrong when the astronaut visited Brazil. After telling him about Flicts, Neil Armstrong confirmed, “The moon is Flicts.”

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Chapeuzinho Amarelo is about a little girl who spends her days doing nothing, because she’s afraid of everything. “She was afraid of thunder. For her, worms were snakes. And she was never caught under the sun, because she was afraid of the shadow,” Chico Buarque writes. Eventually, Chapeuzinho Amarelo gets over her fears, thanks to a play with words that just works in Portuguese. So creative!

Because I grew up abroad, I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to American picture book classics. The first time I read an Eric Carle book, for example, was in 2002. I had never heard of Lois Ehlert, Shel Silverstein, Leo Lionni, or even Dr. Seuss, until about a decade ago. And I am sure there are lots of wonderful authors and illustrators that I still don’t know.

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Of the most recent American picture books, some of my favorites are Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, The Dot by Peter Reynolds (and almost anything by Peter Brown and Peter Reynolds. What is it about Peters?).

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I also love Stuck by Oliver Jeffers, and Mark Pett’s The Boy and the Airplane and The Girl and the Bicycle. The five-year old excuse loves My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza, and The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle.

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However, I don’t read only picture books. I have a lot of catching up to do in other genres too. I love the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, and Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. Angela’s Ashes is possibly my favorite book ever. I just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which I also enjoyed.

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Before that, I went through some of Albert Whitman’s recent titles–Down from the Mountain, The Black Crow Conspiracy, Biggie, and The Poisoned House. I enjoyed all of them!

What’s your favorite childhood book?

Brazilian Picture Books: My childhood

#Fridayreads: Story time tales

Marketing Manager Annette Hobbs Magier discusses some of her and her daughter’s favorite story time tales in this week’s edition of #Fridayreads.

I’m not going to pretend I’m not still reading kids books only. I am. But now the little lady is on a “vintage classics” kick and it’s awesome. Sure, I’m the one that collected all these kitschy, vintage titles over my years in publishing, but they’re mixed in with all the bright, flashy new stuff, so I’m giving all the credit for this reading kick to her.

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For the last month, every night before bed she wants to read The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio and illustrated by Roger Duvoisin. It was first published in 1954 and the sweet story still holds up. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s the story of a lion that is quite content with his life in a little French zoo in the middle of a quaint town. Each day, the townspeople come to say, “Bonjour, Happy Lion” and leave the lion “meat and other tidbits.” One day, though, the zookeeper leaves the door open and the Happy Lion decides to go out and say hello to his friends. As he roams the town looking for his regular visitors, the townspeople scream and scramble to get away. The lion can’t understand why they’re all acting bonkers and just before the fire department captures the lion, Francois, the keeper’s son, appears and offers to walk his friend, the lion, back to the zoo.

My little gal LOVES it when the ladies scream in fear and faint, when the marching band plays “ratatatum, ratatatum, boom, boom, boom,” and when the fire engines roar into view with their sirens screaming “wwwhooooooooooo, whooooooo.” And she especially loves changing the title a few times before we begin reading, The happy…Tiger! No. The Happy…Turtle! Nooo. The Happy…Porcupine! Noo…The Happy LION!

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Whatever “long” book we read first, we always finish our bedtime reading with The Carrot Seed by Ruth Kraus and illustrated by Crockett Johnson. It’s so short and sweet, that sometimes we read it twice. And my pint-sized lady is convinced (!) that the little boy in the Carrot Seed is also Harold from Harold’s Purple Crayon.

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Speaking of Harold, he’s also a staple in our reading. It’s strange, I was just thinking as I was reading through Harold for the one thousandth time the other night, “I’m not getting tired of these books yet.” I love reading them aloud to the nugget and watching her eyes widen as Harold eats through 9 different kinds of pies at a picnic, or as the ground rumbles and a giant carrot pops out of the earth right in front of the patient little boy’s eyes. It seems a trip to the library is in order to find more Happy Lion adventures and Ruth Kraus classics! Happy reading!

#Fridayreads: Story time tales

What Children’s Book Editors Do on Their Summer Vacations

Years ago, I remember reading a post on children’s writers’ online message board (yes, we editors lurk) about how slow things are at publishing houses during the summer months. “All the editors are at their vacation houses in the Hamptons!” a writer complained.

HA. Here in Chicago, there are no jaunts to the Hamptons for us, only trips to the Lake Michigan beaches.  But sometimes we manage to escape to other fabulous Midwest destinations, such as Mankato, Minnesota. I’m a big fan of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, so when the first-ever LauraPalooza academic conference and fan fair was announced at Minnesota State University, I knew I had to go.

A LauraPalooza Lecture

The conference was everything I’d hoped it would be and then some, with more than two dozen  presentations and a field trip to one of the Little House homesites in Walnut Grove, MN. I met scholars, book authors, independent researchers, teachers, illustrators, librarians, and even a meterologist who gave a great talk on the weather conditions behind The Long Winter. (And yes, I met some people who were wearing sunbonnets, too.) Continue reading “What Children’s Book Editors Do on Their Summer Vacations”

What Children’s Book Editors Do on Their Summer Vacations