Forgotten Author of the Week - Spencer Johnson

Spencer Johnson is known for his 1998 motivational book, Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life. I remember this book because when they restructured my company, they forced all the employees to read this book. Little did I know that Spencer Johnson was the same author to pen a beloved children's biography series from the 1970's.

The Value Tales is a series of simple biographical children's books publishes primarily by the now defunct Value Communications, Inc. There were over 40 books in the series. Thirty of those by Ann Donegan Johnson from 1977-1997. Fifteen were authored by Spencer Johnson from 1977-1988. Each book gave a simple and slightly fictional biography of a historical figure that would also serve as an allegory for a particular value. The glossy hardback books used to line the bookshelf of my library with brightly colored characters. The books had titles like The Value of Determination: The Story of Helen Keller, The Value of Believing in Yourself: The Life of Louis Pasteur, The Value of Love: The Story of Johnny Appleseed. A new company has been reprinting the books since 2007. I should restate that the books are mostly true. In some of the books the story is completely accurate, but the authors often took creative license with what the person said, thoughts, and dialogue. Even so, I will never forget the Louis Pasteur story and did panic when someone mentioned that these Value books were inaccurate. I ran to my nearest Encyclopedia and was relieved to see that all the details I remembered about Pasteur's life were just as I had learned them.

Illustrator of the Week - Lane Smith

Lane Smith is most famous for the work he has done in conjunction with Jon Scieszka. His most recent books, Madam President and John, Paul, George & Ben, were both New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-sellers. With Scieszka, he illustrated the Caldecott Honor winner The Stinky Cheese Man; The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs; and Science Verse. Lane's other high profile titles include Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! by Dr. Seuss and Jack Prelustsky, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders; Big Plans by Bob Shea; and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. In 1996 Lane served as Conceptual Designer on the Disney film version of James and the Giant Peach. Lane also wrote and illustrated the retro, cult favs The Happy Hocky Family and The Happy Hocky Family Moves to the Country. He and book designer Molly Leach live in a little town in rural Connecticut.

He has so many books coming out that it is hard to keep up. In the past two weeks alone I have seen There's an Elephant in the Room and Princess Hyacinth. Both are adorable.

National Book Festival 2009

This year was my first trip to the National Book Festival. I suspect it will not be my last and may in fact become a yearly tradition. I had intentions of listening to authors speak and getting books signed in between. However, I did not take into consideration all the people. Thousands upon thousands of book lovers wandering the National Mall, slurping up book goodness. There were six genre tents, Fiction & Fantasy, Children's, Teens, Poetry, Mystery & Thriller, and History & Biography. In each of the tents were some of the best and renowned of writers in those genres. There was John Grisham, Sue Monk Kidd, Judy Blume, John Irving, Nicholas Sparks, Lee Child, Jodi Picoult, Kate DiCamillo, Lois Lowry, Walter Mosely, and possibly a hundred more.

Many gave talks and almost all gave book signings. I'm afraid that I cannot tell you much about the book talks as I spent my entire day standing in line, waiting for author signatures. It is something I have always loved to have, that little personalized signature at the front of my book. It means something to me. I brought 20 books with me to be signed, which was an impossibility, but how was I supposed to know. I received signatures from Megan McDonald, Mo Willems, Kadir Nelson, David Shannon, Jon Sciezska, Jaqueline Woodson, Sharon Creech, and Steven Kellogg, Sadly, the lines were just too long for Lois Lowry, Jeff Kinney, Tony DiTerlizi, Judy Blume, Kate DiCamillo, Liz Kessler, Shannon Hale, and Rick Riordan. Or I just didn't have time to stand in line because I was standing in another.

What I really needed was a relay team of line standers. I took along my friend and mother, but due to a baby in tow and wet cold rain, they spent the day at the museums while I stood in lines. I have a cold to prove my dedication. Next year I will probably on take two or three books with me and then spend the rest of the day going to some of the talks. Yes, I would love to have signatures for all my books, but this is the field I am going into, and I imagine this is not the first time I will run into these authors. After all, Jane Yolen will be our commencement speaker in January and Kate DiCamillo almost always makes an appearance around graduation.

I did meet some interesting people while standing in line. A kindergarten teacher who was adopted from Korea and enjoys knitting. A deaf grad student who couldn't afford to buy Kadir Nelson's new book, but came anyway because his books meant so much to her. Two precocious little girls, one of which calls herself Queen Greta the Beautiful and had Megan McDonald dedicate the book thusly. A first grade teacher who brought one of her students who learned to speak English using Mo Willems' books. A Georgetown student who would get extra credit (5 whole points) added to her grade if she managed to get at least 3 author signatures. A Book Festival veteran who agreed that the reason she came was to get author signatures, and like me had a suitcase full of books. "Just get as many as you possibly can," was her advice.

It was a fun trip. I will upload pictures as soon as I get them off the camera. Due to the inclement weather I am feeling rather sickly now though. A terrible cough that has settled in my chest is proving to be my undoing. But it was worth it. I'm already looking forward to the National Book Festival 2010. Anyone want to come stand in line with me?

Ellen Levin & Kadir Nelson
Sharon Creech

Mo Willems
Kadir Nelson
Steven Kellogg
Sharon Creech
The View
My View for most of the day. Lines.

Book of the Week - Elephant and Piggie Series

Mo Willems can do no wrong in my eyes. I haven't read a book yet that I haven't enjoyed thoroughly. Not only are they great reads, but they are incredible to read aloud. The Elephant and Piggie series is no exception. So far the series has 10 books.

Pig Makes Me Sneeze
Elephants Cannot Dance
Watch Me Throw the Ball
Are You Ready to Play Outside?
I Love My New Toy!
Today I Will Fly!
I Will Surprise My Friend!
My Friend Is Sad
I Am Invited to a Party
There Is a Bird On Your Head!

Each is a morality tale dealing with issues like sharing, annoyance, self-esteem, having fun, and most of all friendship. Young and old readers alike will love the banter that goes on back and forth between Piggie and Elephant, reminiscent of Pigeon. Mo Willems has a great interactive website for all those who love his books and wonderful resources for teachers and librarians.

Forgotten Author of the Week - Lois Lenski

Because I would feel bad to call any of the authors I am going to go see as Forgotten, I scoured the internet for books that influenced one of those writers. Lois Lowry said that one of her favorite authors as a kid was Lois Lensky, not just because they shared a name, but also because she loved her book, Strawberry Girl.

Spurred by her first born son Stephen, Lenski began her "Mr. Small" series with The Little Family (1932) and The Little Auto (1934). In the early stages of her writing in the 1930s Lenski wrote "a group of imaginative stories for p

ure amusem

ent." These included Grandmother Tippytoe, Arabella and Her Aunts andBenny and His Penny. Lenski next moved into historical fiction, beginning with Phebe Fairchild, Her Book (1936), a story based on the Lenski farmhouse in Connecticut, built in 1790. Over the next decade Lenski wrote six more historical books including Bound Girl of Cobble Hill (1938), Blueberry Corners (1940) and Indian Captive (1941).Phebe Fairchild and Indian Captive both were named Newbery Honor books. As a change of pace from her intensely researched historical books, Lenski also published picture books including Sugarplum House (1934) and Gooseberry Garden (1935). She continued to illustrate the works of other writers, most notably Maud Hart Lovelace's first four Betsy Tacy books. She worked very closely with Lovelace and her publishers to make the books true to their real-life context.

During the 1940s two other major factors, her travels and her grandson, influenced Lois Lenski's writing. Due to poor health, Lenski was ordered by her physician to get away from the fierce Connecticut winters. She and Arthur Covey chose to spend winters in the South. It was during her travels that Lenski began research and writing on her series of regional books. Beginning with Bayou Suzette (1943), based on life in the Louisian

a backcountry, Lenski wrote some 16 regional books over the next twenty years. Perhaps her most successful regional story was Strawberry Girl (1945), winner of the Newbery Medal in 1946.

Inspired by her grandson, David Chisholm, Margaret'

s son, Lenski began the "Davy" series of books in the mid-1940s. David lived with his grandparents during the summers of 1943-1945 and was initially a very difficult child. Lenski's grandmotherly kindness finally won him over and his childhood activities became the basis for a series of six picture books including Davy's Day (1943) and A Surprise for Davy (1947).

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Lenski published the Ro

Although Lenski suffered from illness again in the early 1950s, she gradually recovered and resumed her writing. Lenski and her husband began

Lenski's many books have become classics in children's literature. Her books depicted children's lives much more realistically than other children's authors. She enthusiastically tackled areas and subjects long neglected in writing for children. The p

Illustrator of the Week - Steven Kellogg

I know I missed two entries last week. I can only claim insanity due to writing, or the lack thereof. This weekend I am heading the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. As such, I'm going to focus on some of the writers and illustrators who will be at the festival. This may be a trend for the next week or so as it is all I can think about.

Steven Kellogg is a writer and illustrator of many children's classics. He was an enthusiastic young artist who geared his entire education around his love of drawing. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design, where he majored in illustrations. It was there that he discovered his love of picture book illustrating. In his senior year he won a fellowship that allowed him to work and study in Florence, Italy. Upon his return to the US, he did some graduate work and teaching at American University and also began submitting picture book ideas to publishers. Almost thirty years later, Kellogg has written and illustrated almost ninety books.

His book Pinkerton, Behave! was based on his beloved harlequin Great Dame named Pinkerton, whose stubborn unadaptability during puppyhood made him write not one but two books about the dog.

Kellogg says about his artwork, "The individual spreads are designed so that they crackle with graphic vitality. The characters seem to speak, cavort, and lap from the page so energetically that their life and movement are totally convincing."

Illustrator of the Week - Tristan Elwell

Tristan Elwell attended the School of Visual Arts where he graduated in 1990 at the top of his class. In 1994, he joined the staff of SVA where he teaches illustration and painting. Tristan's oil paintings combine meticulous technique with a unique conceptual sense. He has illustrated books for publishers including Avon, Bantam, HaperCollins, Penguin, Packet Books, and Scholastic.

Book of the Week - The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein

On an otherwise normal day in August 1974, a young Frenchman pulled off what may be the most impressive wire-walking exhibition in history. New York City's early commuters looked up to the almost-completed World Trade Center towers to see a man, experienced aerialist Phillippe Petit, walking back and forth across them on a wire. This amazing (albeit highly illegal) achievement has now been immortalized in impressive ink and oil paintings in Mordicai Gerstein in The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Alongside the artwork is the story, economically told, of Petit's dream and the manner in which he made it come true. It describes how he and some friends dressed up as construction workers, hid out on both towers until nightfall, and got the wire-walking cable in place, after which Petit walked, ran, danced, and even lay down on the outstretched wire over the course of nearly an hour. He was then, of course, arrested but, ordered only to perform his feats for the children of New York City. This is a fabulous story that will literally take your breath away. Among the artwork you will find the ingenious use of two foldout illustrations, each one establishing an amazing change in perspective of Petit's wire-walking feat and making the drama of the event all that more palpable. Published in 2003 and the recipient of The Caldecott Medal, this book is sure to captivate many young minds with its story and artistry, and it does stand as something of a touching reminder of the two towers that fell on September 11, 2001 and the spell they cast in their own silent yet mighty fortitude. I know I have featured this book before, but I find that it is the appropriate choice for today.

Forgotten Author of the Week - Jon Stone

Jon Stone was an Emmy-winning writer, director, and producer known for his involvement and creation of Sesame Street, which he worked on until his death in 1997. Stone received a master's degree from Yale in Drama, and got a job immediately afterward working for CBS. He started his career working on Captain Kangaroo before moving to Sesame Street. Stone was the show's principal director until 1996. Working with Jim Henson, he helped to create many of the Muppet characters, including Big Bird and Cookie Monster. He was responsible for the show's format and setting. Stone even contribute occasional announcer voices and served similar duties on Muppet Films. In his obituary his long time director friend Joan Ganz Conney said, "Stone was probably the most brilliant writer of children's television material in America."

His most popular (and my favorite) book is The Monster at the End of this Book. He also wrote The Sesame Street Storybook, Would You Like to Play Hide & Seek in This Book With Lovable, Furry Old Grover?, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, The Songs of Sesame Street in Poems and Pictures, and many more. So the next time you are watching some classic Sesame Street, you now know who one of the men was behind the show.

Illustrator of the Week - Yoko Tanaka

In honor of Kate DiCamillo's book The Magician's Elephant that is releasing tomorrow, I give you Yoko Tanaka, illustrating of her new book, and wonderful artist. As there is little about Yoko and I do not have time for a long email or interview about her life, I will let you enjoy her work.

Coming Soon: September 8

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Ten-year-old Peter Augustus Duchene goes to the market for fish and bread but spends it at the fortuneteller's tent instead. Seeking his long-lost sister, Peter is told, "You must follow the elephant. She will lead you there." And that very night at the Bliffenendorf Opera House, a magician's spell goes awry, conjuring an elephant that crashes through the ceiling and lands on Madam Bettine LaVaughn. Reading like a fable told long ago, with rich language that begs to be read aloud, this is a magical story about hope and love, loss and home, and of questioning the world versus accepting it as it is.

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small

David Small evokes the mad scientific world of the 1950s beautifully, a time when everyone believed that science could fix everything....Capturing body language and facial expressions subtly, Stitches becomes in Small's skillful hands a powerful story, an emotionally charged autobiography. David Small’s Stitches is aptly named. With surgical precision, the author pierces into the past and, with great artistry, seals the wound inflicted on a small child by cruel and unloving parents. Stitches is as intensely dramatic as a woodcut novel of the silent movie era and as fluid as a contemporary Japanese manga. It breaks new ground for graphic novels.

The Wyrm King (A Spiderwick Chronicle) by Holly Black

In the final installment of Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, Nick and Laurie had thought they solved their giant problems when they drove all the giants into the sea. But now, the Grace kids have come back to tell them they may have more trouble coming their way! It turns out the giants control the population of Hydra, a dragon like creature that is creating sinkholes all over Florida. But with the mermaids refusing to return the giants to the shore, the nixie's still missing and the threat of a destroyed Florida drawing closer, the kids have to take matters in their own hands.Will Nick and Laurie be able to stop the destruction they unwittingly caused? Can a new giant hunter help save the day? Can Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide help them out of this or are they on their own?

Dark Passions: The Strange Power, The Possessed, The Passion by L.J. Smith

Kaitlyn Fairchild has always felt like an outsider in her small hometown. Her haunting eyes and prophetic drawings have earned her a reputation as a witch. But Kait's not a witch: She's a psychic. Tired of being shunned, Kait accepts an invitation to attend the Zetes Institute, where she can have a fresh start and study with other psychic teens. Learning to hone her abilities with four other gifted students, Kait discovers the intensity of her power -- and the joy of having true friends. But those friendships quickly become complicated when Kait finds herself torn between two irresistible guys. Rob is kind and athletic, and heals people with his good energy. Gabriel is aggressive and mysterious, a telepath concealing his true nature as a psychic vampire, feeding off of others' life energy. Together, Rob and Gabriel's opposing forces threaten the group's stability. Then one of the experiments traps the five teens in a psychic link. A link that threatens their sanity and their lives. And Kaitlyn must decide whom to trust...and whom to love.

Book of the Week - Bronzeville Boys and Girls

There is a certain bite to Brooks poems. As if she is holding back on her more political feelings for the sake of a children’s book. Surprising was the copyright date, 1959, which says a lot about those poems. One could see the anger seething beneath the surface. Righteous anger. ‘John, who is poor’ is a prime example of that sadness; a real downer of a poem, and one can feel Brook’s anger behind it, because there is more to this poem than just about a little boy who is poor. ‘Eldora, who is rich’ was also a telling poem. Upon a first reading, I noticed immediately the implications that they assumed this girl who was rich would be white, and were pleasantly surprised that she was not. Brooks has an easy to follow writing style, but more interesting than that is the subject matter and the era in which they were written.

Forgotten Author of the Week - Janette Sebring Lowrey

We all know Lowrey's books, or at least one of them. The Poky Little Puppy has been a classic for over sixty years, filling homes and children's hearts. Lowrey, who lived in Texas, wrote mostly teen fiction for Harper & Row in the 40's and 50's. Her 1950 novel Margaret inspired an early television show starring a young Annette Funicello. However, none of her books reached the acclaim that was and still is The Poky Little Puppy. She always said how amazed she was that such a little book would define his career as an author. If just one book is still in print after sixty-four years, then I call that a successful author. I wish I had a photo to share with you, but there don't appear to be any of her, only the illustrator.

Addendum: The great-granddaghter of Janette Sebring Lowrey, contacted me to inform of a number of factual errors in the original post (which have been changed thusly). I am not sure how or why the assumption was made that Janette was male, but it was and therefore was incorrect. In my defense I personally know two females named Mikal, a girl named Jenson (doesn't son imply a boy?), and a number of other gender neutral names so somehow, all these years ago, I got my facts seriously twisted. Thanks Natalie Anne.

As part of my research I ran across the "creepy" reading of The Poky Little Puppy and I thought my readers may enjoy such an interesting twist on a classic story.