#FridayReads: Kristin in Austenland

It’s Friday once again!  And that means it’s time for another installment of #FridayReads, where our Associate Editor, Kristin, will take us to Austenland!

Happy first day of spring! You’ve heard of eating with the seasons—I like to apply the same concept to reading. It was an idea introduced to me when I was a college student working in my spare time at my local bookstore by one of its managers. I was having a difficult time getting into Middlemarch, which I was reading for pleasure that summer, and she explained that focusing on the great works in July is a self-defeating task. She recommended saving the epic tomes for winter and picking something more appropriate for the beach in the meantime. (Some hundreds of pages are a burden in a beach bag.) I’ve been reading with the seasons ever since.

For spring, I like to pick a transition book, something that is both literary and beachy. I cheated a little earlier this week when the city was experiencing unusually warm weather and started Austenland by Shannon Hale, author of the Newbery-honored Princess Academy. An homage to the enduring work of Jane Austen—or rather, if the main character of the novel, Jane Hayes, is being honest, an homage to the swoony movies her work inspires—it’s a romance set in an Austen-themed resort. It met both my requirements for a spring read.


Like the start of so many rom-coms, Jane is a thirty-something single woman in love with Colin Firth and ready to swear off men…when a distant relative dies and bequeaths her a trip to the aforementioned resort. Anyone who’s ever considered a vacation to Lyme Park or Chatsworth House or even Highclere Castle can relate here! Is it a dream come true…or a confession of obsession? Jane decides to go, determined to find her happy ending there or give up her romantic hopes for good. Throw in some dashing actors pretending (…or not pretending?) to woo the resort’s guests, and hilarity ensues as Jane maneuvers the maze of her fantasies and reality.

As I’ve gotten into the book, I’ve realized it’s not the Jane Austen references that make the book literary, but the strength of Shannon Hale’s writing. The story reads like a beach read, but it’s sophisticated stuff. Hale exposes and finds the humor in the truths universally acknowledged by Jane Austen fans. The book pokes fun at romantics but sympathizes with them too. It is the Northanger Abbey of romances. Jane is a heroine more like Bridget Jones than the composed Elizabeth Bennet. She’s wholly believable and relatable and utterly charming, and that’s what makes this a terrific spring read. I can’t help but cheer—er, tally-ho—her on in her misadventures.

Will Jane find her Mr. Darcy? …Will I ever finish Middlemarch?

#FridayReads: Kristin in Austenland

#Fridayreads: Middle-grade audio books

Editorial Director Kelly Barrales-Saylor shares her thought on a couple audio books for this week’s edition of #FridayReads!

A couple weeks ago Wendy wrote in her #FridayReads that she recently discovered audiobooks. There must be something in the water at AW&Co, because I recently made the same discovery. I have a fairly long commute to and from work, so I have plenty of time to listen to books on tape (when I’m not singing along to my iPod or listening to Howard Stern). So I borrowed a couple audiobooks from my local library and here are the results: sometimes audiobooks are awesome and sometimes they are not.

I’ll admit, I’m a little behind on my middle grade reading list… Er, maybe I’m a lot behind since I’m still working my way through the 2013 and 2014 Newbery lists. I picked up Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (read by Tara Sands) and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (read by Adam Grupper). Both of these books, as beautiful and imaginative literature, are awesome. But one worked perfectly as an audiobook and the other, not so much. Can you guess which is which?


For those of you as behind on middle grade books as me, Flora and Ulysses is the story of a young girl (Flora) with divorced parents who witnesses her neighbor accidentally vacuum up a squirrel (Ulysses) in her backyard. She runs to rescue the squirrel and realizes the squirrel can communicate with her—and might be some sort of super hero! This book is also full of really awesome illustrations by K. G. Campbell. You know what you can’t see when you’re listening to an audiobook? The really awesome illustrations by K. G. Campbell. Womp womp. They did an ok job of conveying through the audio what was happening in the comic book sequences, but the whole time I was listening to the book, I felt something was missing. I might need to reread this book as a book because I think my inner-10-year-old would’ve loved this story (and wished to discover a poetry-writing super hero squirrel). I can tell you one good thing: I do look at the squirrels in my neighborhood with a little more compassion now.


Ok, let me move on to The One and Only Ivan. This audiobook was amazing. It was a little slow to start because I struggled with the sad premise: A gorilla has been in captivity almost his entire life as the main attraction of a circus inside of a shopping mall. He lives in a glass enclosure and his friends include a stray dog and an elephant. It’s quite melancholy. But there was something so intriguing about the story. And each word Katherine Applegate chose was somehow so perfect I couldn’t stop listening. I’d stay in the car a few extra moments after I pulled into the driveway just so I could finish up a scene. There were quite a few times I had to finish crying in the parking lot before I walked up to our office building. Somewhere along the way, I found such joy and pain and love in this story. Adam Grupper’s reading and the voice he gave Ivan was so perfect. Just thinking about it now is making me tear up. As a book lover, I’m going to buy this one in hardcover just so I can have it in my collection.

I’m off to the library this weekend to pick a new audiobook. Any suggestions?

#Fridayreads: Middle-grade audio books

#FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staff

It’s #FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staffers!  Today our Marketing Manager, Annette Hobbs Magier, is filling us in on what she’s currently reading:

As I thought about what I was going to post this week for #FridayReads, I found myself getting a little depressed.  I used to read A LOT.  Like, all the time and everything—NYTimes best sellers, classics for the second or third time, YA novels, middle grade (my fave!), graphic novels, you name it.  I even used to be in a few book clubs at once!  Then, about 2 years ago, I had a baby and, well, reading for pleasure kind of went down the toilet.  There was a period of time where the thought of reading was so exhausting, that I even stopped picking up ARCs at trade shows.

But then, my baby turned a corner.  She started paying attention to the actual words in her little board books and before I knew it, she was finishing the stanzas in Jamberry and The Little Blue Truck as I read each page.


Now, on the cusp of her 2nd birthday, she’s finally able to sit through an entire picture book without trying to chew the corners or tear the pages into oblivion (thank goodness because somehow my signed copies of Kevin Henke’s Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse and A Good Day have made it into her regular rotation!) AND she’s actually paying attention to the story.

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So, what are we reading in the Hobbs Magier household these days?  Every single night for the last three weeks we’ve read Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  She requests it every single night.  Her favorite part is when Max shouts, “Be still!” at the Wild Things and tames them with the trick of staring into their yellow eyes.  I love the way she shouts, “Be still!” when we get to that page (and sometimes she shouts “Be still!” while she’s eating her dinner or playing with her toys, which is always a little hilarious and strange).


Our other selections usually rotate between Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, The Hello, Goodbye Window, and The Ghosts Go Haunting.  And you know what? It’s not depressing at all—it’s awesome! I feel like I’m starting my reading journey all over again with fresh eyes. I can’t wait to break into the Roald Dahl collection with her!

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#FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staff

AWC Podcast Series: Ghostwriting The Boxcar Children

Today we are talking with Stacia Deutsch and Rhody Cohon, the ghostwriters behind many of The Boxcar Children books, including the recent Cupcake Caper. We talk about the rewards of writing characters for long-running series, screenplays of upcoming blockbusters, and cupcakes (as well as a certain secret ingredient that is so secret you’ll just have to find out when you read the book).  Click below to listen.


Stacia Deutsch and Rhody Cohon are the #1 New York Times best-selling co-authors of more than thirty children’s books. In addition to their award winning creative chapter book series entitled, BLAST TO THE PAST (Simon and Schuster), Stacia and Rhody have also published non-fiction texts, a young adult romantic comedy calledIN THE STARS (Simon and Schuster), and HOT PURSUIT, a civil rights story (Kar-Ben/Lerner). Their works have won them the Teacher’s Choice Award, the Arizona Glyph, and a SCRIBE award. Stacia and Rhody have also written several licensed properties, including NANCY DREW AND THE CLUE CREW (Simon and Schuster) and THE BOXCAR CHILDREN (Albert Whitman).  They have also written junior movie tie in novels for summer blockbuster films, including BATMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT(HarperCollins) and CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (Simon and Schuster).  Stacia Deutsch, an ordained rabbi, lives in Irvine, California with her three children. Rhody Cohon, a college math teacher, lives with her three children in Tucson, Arizona. They talk on the phone a hundred times a day.


AWC Podcast Series: Ghostwriting The Boxcar Children

Larger than life at the Frankfurt Fair

By Josalyn Moran

When I think of the book fair, I think of everything larger than life…the sculptures around the fairgrounds…

like the Hammering Man, a large kinetic sculpture created by Jonathan Borofsky that stands at the foot of the Messeturm. The black sculpture, which seems to be hammering at a constant pace, symbolizes the working man. It is made of steel and stands 21.5 meter (71 ft) tall. The Hammering Man was erected here in 1991 at the occasion of the completion of the Messeturm. The sculpture is part of a series; other Hammering Man sculptures can be found in cities such as Seattle, New York and Seoul.


Inside the fair jumbo-sized items were also evident if it was the Darth Vader made out of Legos at the DK booth,or the largest book of all time, At the Millennium House booth one could view the world’s largest book, the platinum edition of Earth.  Opened it measures 6 by 9 feet.  It showcases the craftsmanship of more than 100 international cartographers, geographers, and photographers.  Only 31 copies will be produced, so one should place one’s order quickly.  The retail?  Only $100,000…

…Or the weighty marble and stone bookends for sale at the market on the grounds.  The one I brought home weighed four pounds and  was sculpted from beautiful blue Brazilian granite (azul bahia).

Larger than life at the Frankfurt Fair

AWC Podcast Series: In the Garden with Dr. Carver

George Washington Carver is known largely for his work with the peanut. He developed hundreds of different uses for it including peanut butter; but he did so much more to grow agricultural education as Susan Grigsby writes about in her book, In the Garden with Dr. Carver. Click below to listen to our conversation. (RT: 5:50)

Susan Grigsby teaches creative writing in K-12 schools, museums, and nature centers.  A nationally published poet, “In the Garden with Dr. Carver” is her first picture book.

While doing research for a teaching project at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Carver Garden, she felt like she’d discovered a mentor in Dr. Carver – someone who cared deeply about teaching children to ‘listen” to the plants and to see how everything in nature is connected.  Dr. Carver dedicated his life to exploring the ways in which people can make the most of what nature offers, while caring for the earth and wasting nothing.

Her teacher’s guide for “In the Garden with Dr. Carver” was inspired by similar guides that Dr. Carver began writing for teachers over one hundred years ago.  It features ways to integrate the study of nature and agricultural science with math, science, language arts, and social studies.  It even includes a link to some of Dr. Carver’s recipes, archived by the National Historic Site in Tuskegee, such as Mock Chicken made from peanuts and sweet potatoes!  Susan is looking forward to her first harvest of sweet potatoes this fall.

Susan will be one of the readers for the St. Louis Poetry Center in the Authors Tent at THE BIG READ in Clayton, MO, October 9th, from noon – 1 p.m.

AWC Podcast Series: In the Garden with Dr. Carver

Hot Topics: #speakloudly

Tomorrow is the last day of Banned Books Week. We hope you’ve been out there reading banned books and sharing them with other readers too. One of my favorite t-shirts is from the guys at Unshelved.

It’s fun to wear in public, because it confuses people. When asked, I tell them it means you should read something bad for you. So for me, as a kid in a very liberal environment, that was usually something below grade level or without “intellectual” challenge. For others, this might be comic books or romance novels or a young adult novel about a rape.

Author Laurie Halse Anderson made the entire children’s literature community proud this month as she stood up to the attempted censorship of her novel Speak. Not that I believe wannabe censors usually think through their actions, but it was perhaps it was not the best of decisions to try to silence a book about not being silent. Within a few hours of the start of the #speakloudly hashtag on Twitter, there were hundreds (if not thousands) of posts in support of the book. There has now been a New York Times blog post and a Guardian UK article about the hubbub. I don’t have access to sales figures, but I don’t think it’s a bad guess to say Speak has had quite a bump this month. So, professionally speaking—perhaps I “like” a good banning now and then.

Judy Blume is my idol. I read Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret 30 times (yes 30!) when I was a kid.  I read just about everything else as well. Between Judy and Nancy Drew, it’s really no surprise that I work in publishing. On her website, she says, “I believe that censorship grows out of fear, and because fear is contagious, some parents are easily swayed. Book banning satisfies their need to feel in control of their children’s lives. This fear is often disguised as moral outrage. They want to believe that if their children don’t read about it, their children won’t know about it. And if they don’t know about it, it won’t happen.”

Ethically, though, I think parents and other supposedly well-intentioned adults cause untold damage to their children and their potential as future adults. Whether it’s protecting them from sex, drugs, and rock ‘ n roll, or ruining their love of reading by forcing them to read Dickens over the summer (now, that’s a topic for another time), limiting anyone’s reading choices is both insulting and wrong. Hey, I’ve got an idea: why don’t you read the book with your child and explain your issues?  Maybe you could engage in a real discussion about the who they are and who you know they can be.

One of our authors is also excited to be challenged just in time for Banned Books Week. Dori Hillestad Butler blogged the fun earlier this week. Just in case you didn’t know, My Mom’s Having a Baby! tells it exactly the way it is, so we recently added a subtitle on our website and for online retailers as well: A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy. Hey, censors!  Come and get us!

Hot Topics: #speakloudly

AWC Podcast Series: Climbing Lincoln’s Steps

Today I am talking with author Suzanne Slade, author of the picture book Climbing Lincoln’s Steps: The African American Journey.  Listen as we discuss civil rights and the steps of change. (RT: 7:43)

To see Marion Anderson’s speech, one of the events that inspired this book, click the below link.  You can also check out Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech here.


Suzanne Slade is the author of 80 children’s books, including many biographies and historical picture books. Susan B. Anthony, Fighter for Freedom and Equality was named to the 2008 Amelia Bloomer Recommended Titles list. Her picture book, What’s New at the Zoo? won a 2010 Teachers’ Choice Book Award. Ms. Slade’s most recent picture book, Climbing Lincoln’s Steps, released Sept. 2010.


AWC Podcast Series: Climbing Lincoln’s Steps

AWC Podcast Series: “Alfie the Apostrophe” and “Penny and the Punctuation Bee”

As if perfectly planned to coincide with our blog’s ode to all things punctuation, Moira Rose Donohue wrote two books entitled Alfie the Apostrophe and Penny and the Punctuation Bee.  Okay, they were published well before this week, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy hearing about them.  Moira answers burning questions like What is a punctuation bee? and How can punctuation make or break a Supreme Court case? as well as What punctuation mark are you? Yes, really.  Akin to the age old “What sign are you?” question, this is a fun new way to identify with those squiggly little marks that permeate our language.  (For the record, I am a question mark.)  Click below to listen to our conversation. (RT: 9:12)

Moira Donohue loves tap dancing, old movies, opera and, OK, is a self-proclaimed grammar and punctuation geek.  In ALFIE THE APOSTROPHE, she first revealed the secret talents of punctuation marks that only true lovers of punctuation know about.  For example, did you know that question marks love riddles and jokes? And exclamation points? Cheerleaders!  Perhaps you’ve already noticed that quotation marks are often filled with hot air.  She followed ALFIE with PENNY AND THE PUNCTUATION BEE in which punctuation marks compete to make sentences using their punctuation marks..

Her father, who read the dictionary for fun, instilled in Moira a love of words and grammar.  Later, her interest in punctuation was piqued when, as a young lawyer, she had to research a question about a missing quotation mark in a very old banking law.  Without the quotation mark, it looked like the law, which people thought had been around for almost 100 years, really didn’t exist at all.  The question ultimately had to be decided by the United States Supreme Court!

She grew up in Bayside, Queens (NYC) and was educated at Mississippi University for Women (’75) and the University of Santa Clara School of Law (’78).  Today Moira lives in northern Virginia with her husband, Rob, also a lawyer; and two dogs, Sniffles the pug and Quincy the Cavapoo.  Her two children, Peter and Rose, are away at colleges in the NY/NJ area.

Moira will be appearing at Christopher Newport University (VA) at the 30th Annual Writers’ Conference & Writing Contest on March 25 – 26, 2011.  She will be giving a presentation entitled: “Brush Up Your Grammar.”

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AWC Podcast Series: “Alfie the Apostrophe” and “Penny and the Punctuation Bee”

AWC Podcast Series: Zapato Power Freddie Ramos Springs into Action

Today we are talking with author and librarian Jacqueline Jules about the sequel to her chapter book series Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Springs into Action.  Listen as we talk about Freddie, Superman, and the many challenges ordinary heroes have to overcome to become superheroes. (RT: 7:34)

Jacqueline Jules wishes she could run like Freddie in his magic purple sneakers, but she is happy taking long walks near her Northern Virginia home. She is the author of twenty other books for young readers including Duck for Turkey Day, No English and Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation. She has received the Sydney Taylor Honor Award for Younger Readers, the SCBWI Magazine Merit Plaque for Poetry, and has been selected twice as an Arlington Arts Moving Words Poetry winner. Her books have been selected for state reading awards, the NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book List, the New York Public Library Recommended Reading list, and the Reading Rockets summer reading list.

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AWC Podcast Series: Zapato Power Freddie Ramos Springs into Action