Illustrator of the Week - Jack Kent

Jack Kent was a prolific author and illustrator of over forty children's books. Not only did he illustrate his own books, but also worked on other's books as well. Born in Burlington, Iowa, Kent dropped out of high school at fifteen to begin work as a freelance commercial artist. After military service during World War II, Kent began working on the King Aroo comic strip which syndicated internationally from 1950-1965. He began writing and illustrating children's books in 1968. One of my personal favorites is The Grown-Up Day about two little kids who play at being grown-up but soon discover that they like being children. Among his many books are also There's No Such Thing As Dragons, Little Peep, Silly Goose, Socks for Supper, Mr. Meebles, and Just Only John which won two awards.

Book of the Week - Cranberry Thanksgiving

As is tradition in my family, we read Cranberry Thanksgiving, a delightful and funny book. As featured in a previous post Harry and Wende Devlin created a whole series of Holiday books, each featuring a recipe that was relatable to the book. This book features Grandmother's Famous Cranberry Bread. So for Thanksgiving and my book review I give you:

Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread

  • 2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1.5 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 t. grated orange peel (optional)
  • 3/4 c. orange juice
  • 1.5 c. light raisins (optional)
  • 1.5 c. fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda into a large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Add egg, orange peel, and orange juice all at once; stir just until mixture is evenly moist. Fold in raisins and cranberries.

Spoon into a greased 9×5.3-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 1 hour 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack.

If you choose, you may substitute cranberries to have an all cranberry bread.


Forgotten Author of the Week - Sam Levinson

Sam Levinson was a comedian in the 60's. A teacher for almost thirty years, Levinson offers a lot of wisdom and humor. I stumbled across him as a teenager when I wrote a paper about children at the turn of the century. Levinson's book In One Era and Out Another offered an interesting aspect not only to my paper but to myself. Even today I find myself quoting things from Levinson's books. So I give you some of Sam Levinson's wisdom and humor, although I highly recommending finding this book at your library and thoroughly enjoying something that never grows old.

“For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge you'll never walk alone”

“The simplest toy, one which even the youngest child can operate, is called a grandparent.”

“It's so simple to be wise. Just think of something stupid to say and then don't say it.”

“Insanity is hereditary; you can get it from your children”

“We should not permit prayer to be taken out of the schools; that's the only way most of us got through.”

“If you want to know how your girl will treat you after marriage, just listen to her talking to her little brother.”

“Lead us not into temptation. Just tell us where it is; we'll find it.”

“You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can't possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.”

“I'm going to stop putting things off, starting tomorrow!”

“Happiness is a by-product. You cannot pursue it by itself.”

“Somewhere on this globe, every ten seconds, there is a woman giving birth to a child. She must be found and stopped.”

“The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy.”

“If you die in an elevator, be sure to push the Up button.”

“One of the virtues of being very young is that you don't let the facts get in the way of your imagination.”

“Don't watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going.”

“It's a good thing that when God created the rainbow he didn't consult a decorator or he would still be picking colors.”

“Just try to be happy. Unhappiness starts with wanting to be happier.”

“You must pay for your sins. If you have already paid, please ignore this notice.”

“I admit that: my wife is outspoken, but by whom?”

“Any kid who has two parents who are interested in him and has a houseful of books isn't poor.”

“When I was a boy I used to do what my father wanted. Now I have to do what my boy wants. My problem is: When am I going to do what I want?”

“It was on my fifth birthday that Papa put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Remember, my son, if you ever need a helping hand, you'll find one at the end of your arm.'”

“Love at first sight is easy to understand; it's when two people have been looking at each other for a lifetime that it becomes a miracle.”

“You must learn from the mistakes of others.”

Illustrator of the Week - James Gurney

Years ago my brothers and I stumbled across a book that became a source of much amusement and amazement. This book was Dinotopia. The story is of a Will & Arthur Dennison who shipwreck on a lost island, an island wear dinosaurs and humans live together in a sort of Utopian society. The book itself, along with its sequels, is done like a journal of Arthur Dennison. There are pictures of plants, the animals, sleeping arrangements, etc. The illustrations though are incredible. So I give you the work of James Gurney. The first book was turned into a Hallmark movie in which Gurney acted as the artistic director.

Book of the Week - Away is a Strange Place to Be

As a teenager, this was my book. I must have read it a dozen times and was the catalyst to my science fiction fascination. In this futuristic adventure, H. M. Hoover delivers an action-filled plot that is perfectly in keeping with her young audience. Having read all of H.M. Hoover's books, this one is by far my favorite.

Twelve-year-old Abby is our heroine, living and working with her uncle on Earth at the luxurious Inn they own. She's not sure where she fits in or if she really wants to inherit the Inn when she grows up. Bryan is spoiled rich kid who is unhappy with his life and his parents and never considers anyone other than himself. All that changes when they are both kidnapped and taken to a far away artificial world of Vita Con to work as slave laborers. The two of them have to work together to escape and get back home. In the process the two of them must mature and learn from one another, but Abby is far from helpless and both of them are far from docile and helpless. The threats are real and clearly deadly. From the first line of this story readers know something has happened to Abby, and they will be eager to find out what and why as it unfolds. The pages turn fast and furiously to reach a satisfying and positive conclusion.

What works so well? H. M. Hoover uses strong character relationships to carry the story. The relationship of a young boy and girl and their friendship, though no romance here, these books are strictly preteen. She chronicles how they both grow up substantially through their adventure, learning what their old lives have to offer and how to take responsibility for bringing about a better future. But there's also an exciting adventure tale of kidnap and escape that any young person can identify with and enjoy. Hoover's futuristic universe has familiar elements and dangers of our own, but the settings are imaginative and exotic-providing readers with new worlds to explore. There are too many stories I've read where the young heroes feel passive or talked down to, or the entire universe seems to be populated with well-meaning adults. Hoover does not allow this to happen. There are villains and self-interested adults. There are helpful criminals and angry bullies who have painful secrets. Nobody is all good or bad, and getting back home isn't an easy business for it takes a good deal of ingenuity and courage. It's a formula that will appeal to many young readers.

Forgotten Author of the Week - Elizabeth Winthrop

Elizabeth Winthrop is the great great niece of Theodore Roosevelt. Winthrop believes she has writing in the blood with other authors and poets like Richard Alsop, Susan Alsop, and Marietta Tree as part of her lineage. Winthrop is however, the only fiction writer in her family. After more than forty books for children and short stories, Winthrop feels like she has more than made her mark in the world and her family. Winthrop's first book was a picture book called Bunk Beds and was an imaginative adventure that she and her two younger brothers shared growing up. Many of her books came from such experiences.

Belinda's Hurricane, Walking Away, Lizzie and Harold, Sloppy Kisses, and Tough Eddie. Winthrop is most well known for her books The Castle in the Attic and The Battle for the Castle. You know you have read it. That intermediate book that made you want to go find some hidden kingdom in your attic. Although she was resistant about writing a sequel, she eventually did so once she realized that it didn't have to be a rehash of the same book. New adventures lay around the corner for her characters. Winthrop says this of her different kinds of writing, "Picture books for young children focus my attention on poetry and language, chapter books for middle grade readers keep my mind on the plot and novels for all ages are driven by character. And I write for so many different audiences because frankly it keeps me writing."

Illustrator of the Week - Michael Hague

Although briefly featured in The Hobbit segment, Michael Hague is one of my favorite illustrators for my favorite book Peter Pan. Hague is best known for his children's classics, which also include The Wind in the Willows, The Velveteen Rabbit, Mother Goose, and the Secret Garden. As well as working as an children's book illustrator, Hague has dabbled in greeting cards, posters, and advertising. It was actually his work on a film called "Thirtysomething" that launched his career as a children's book author and illustrator. Hague's illustrations are both realistic and whimsical, a difficult task, but one that works well in his medium.

Book of the Week - The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

When I went to the National Book Festival, the line for Rick Riordan was almost as long as the line for James Patterson and Grisham. So, I decided I had to check it out for myself. This book was obviously inspired by HP - instead of being about a boy with a past who can do odd things, turns out to be a wizard and goes to wizarding school, it's about a boy with a past who can do odd things, turns out to be a demigod and goes to demigod camp.

The parallels run right through the book - he has two friends; a bossy know-it-all girl and a whacky boy with low self-esteem, he has a bunch of eccentric but loveable teachers (including one who doesn't like him much), and he gets to be famous because of something he can't remember (the identity of his father). And there's a group of kids at the camp who are naturally mean (the children of Ares, God of War, as opposed to the Slytherins). Instead of platform 9 and 3/4, we have Floor 600 of the Empire State Building (a floor which supposedly doesn't exist). The world of the gods is right next to the world of the mortals, but the mortals don't notice. And so on and so forth.

BUT - and this is a significant but - it's still fun to read anyway. There are plenty of original elements to make up for the borrowed stuff, and the book has a light, fun tone which makes it a good-natured and enjoyable read. At one point there is an obviously deliberate nod to JKRowling - the hero comes across someone reading a book 'with a wizard on the cover', which appears to be thoroughly engrossing. So go ahead and read the book. It's fun, some of the jokes are laugh-out-loud funny, and the pacing is nicely brisk.

This book is an example of the fact that ideas which aren't 100% original can still be fun. Percy Jackson, isn't strikingly original but is still compulsively enjoyable reading.

Forgotten Author of the Week

As I'm out of the country this week, I have decided today's post will be one of my favorite children's book websites. It is magical, fun, and interesting and you may just discover a Forgotten Author on your own. Enjoy.

Illustrator of the Week - David Catrow

I ran across a new book today called The Middle Child Blues, and I simply loved the cover, so I decided to look up the author and was extremely happy to see that I actually knew this author's work. Sadly, the biography of David Catrow is rather scarce and rather goofy. So I will let his artwork speak for itself. Some of his books include Stand Tall Molly Lou Mellon, I Ain't Gonna Paint No More, I Wanna Iguana, Cinderella Skeleton, Our Tree Named Steve, Take Me Out of the Bathtub, How Murray Saved Christmas, Plantzilla, The Boy Who Looked Like Lincoln, among many many others.

Book of the Week - Diary of a Wimpy Kid

I know why the kids love this book. There is nothing else like it. Humor, part graphic novel, part chapter book, and a book any kid can relate to. The first book was the best. Now that I am on the third book though, I can't help but feel like it is too much. Yes, this kid is funny. Hysterical really. He has all the making of a future nobody. There is nothing he is good at, not sports, nor school, not even getting along with his family. When parents ask for books like The Wimpy Kids books, I never know what to recommend, because there is nothing like them.

My complaints? The parents are terrible parents. They are beyond the typical embarassing parents. They are constantly signing this poor kid up to do things that he is clearly no good at and often fails miserably at. Talent shows, sports, brotherly affection. They not only spoil their youngest child, but are constantly blaming and grounding Greg for things he didn't do. Perhaps my biggest issue (as a grown-up) is that he never changes. Greg never learns from his mistakes. No one ever teaches him either. His strange notions about girls, brothers, parents, sports, making money, etc. are never even discussed. Worse yet, Greg is extremely selfish and a terrible friend. He treats his best-friend Rowley with contempt, constantly convincing the less intelligent child to do things that he knows are bad. By the third book, the books feel like they never end. Is the character actually aging? Is he learning anything? Is he failing at school and life as it looks like he is doing in the books.

But in the end, the books are funny. Perhaps I'm missing something, maybe this is the way middle school boys really are. If so, God help us all.

Forgotten Author of the Week - Phillip Ridley

Philip Ridley is a British artist working with various media. Born in the East End of London,England, he works and lives as an artist, playwright, and author. He studied painting at St. Martin's School of Art and is work has been exhibited throughout Europe and Japan. He started out as a performance artist, known for his dark works. Very dark works. Slowly, over the years, Ridley has extended his art forms to include playwriting, of which he has won numerous awards. He has also worked as a filmmaker, his work having showed at the Cannes Film Festival. His first short story Embracing Verdi was published in 1986, followed by over a dozen books and published stories. Despite these other mediums though, Ridley sees himself as first and foremost as a storyteller.

Ridley has written three books for adults, five adults stage plays, and five plays for young people: Karamazoo, Fairytaleheart, Moonfleeve, Sparkleshark, and Brokenville. Some of his children's books include Scribbleboy, Kasper in the Glitter, Mighty Fizz Chilla, ZinderZunder, Vinegar Street, and Krindlekraz, many of which have won awards or been nominated. Lastly, Ridley is a photographer, his photos having been on books and in exhibits. Truly a jack of all trades, Ridley is an author who should never be forgotten.

Illustrator of the Week - Judy Schachner

That's right, Judy Schachner, well-known author and illustrator of the SkippyJon Jones series. Just was born on in 1951 in Massachusetts. Self proclaimed as a poor shy girl, Judy turned to artwork to express herself. After all, there was always a pencil at school. In 1969, she attened Massachusetts College of Art and then began her career designing Hallmark cards. She hated the job so much that she wanted to quit painting altogether, but her husband convinced her to try her hand at children's books. In 1995, she wrote and illustrated her first picture book, Willy and May. She went on to illustrate I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, Mr. Emerson's Cook, How the Cat Swallowed Thunder, and the very popular SkippyJon Jones series.