WELCOME! Once a month, usually on a Thursday evening, a group of writers, illustrators, teachers and librarians meets in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles to discuss children's books. Usually we talk about one picture book and one middle grade or YA novel. After the meeting, Sandy Schuckett, a retired LAUSD librarian, summarizes our discussion. Here are her reports of our thoughts about the books we have read. We'd love to have your comments too!
Thanks to Nancy Hayashi for our wonderful title art! Our group has been meeting since 2007. It was organized under the auspices of the Children's Literature Council of Southern California (CLCSC).

Thursday, July 13, 2017


At our last meeting, we discussed our novel first: Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman. There were many parts of it that we liked: its depiction of Elizabethan Era London, the great 'cursing' language used by Meggy and her 'frenemy' Roger, and the details about alchemy that were given in the author's notes at the end. Several of us felt it didn't match up to some of the author's previous books, and one reader felt that her 'lists,' as she enumerated various elements in the London setting were just 'lazy writing.' A couple of readers felt that it wasn't a real story, as much as a series of vignettes or incidents, and that the relationships between Meggy and her father weren't well developed. Ditto for her relationship with her mother. We wanted to know more about why her mother thought so little of Meggy as she was growing up -- perhaps because of her physical disability, something that wasn't well-accepted in those times. We liked Meggy's 'spunk' and determination to make something of her life, given the hardships she had to endure, and we felt that would be encouraging for young readers. We also felt that it would give young readers a feeling for the time and place in which the story occurred.
Everyone liked the picture book, Time for (Earth) School, Dewey Dew by Leslie Staub. One reader absolutely loved it, and thought it was a perfect picture book. We all liked the illustrations, and the fact that it was a new 'take' on the 'being the new kid in a strange school' meme. A couple of readers were a bit put off by the weird words (in Dewey's language) that were used to describe everyday things.....even though we felt that kids would completely understand what he was saying. We liked the fact that Dewey was a character with whom young readers could relate -- mainly because he was the 'new kid,' and not for any other reasons that might create any kind of bias. We felt there were some very poetic passages, and we all loved the double-spread illustration when Dewey's smile lit up the playground (and the universe) after he made a new friend. A generally positive review by all.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

BANG by Barry Lyga and SLEEP LIKE A TIGER by Mary Logue

We had great discussions at our last meeting, combined with delicious pizza, since that played such a big part in our novel, Bang, by Barry Lyga. We all liked this book -- some of us more than others. We agreed that there were some interesting plot twists, and we liked the portrayal of the relationship between the 14-year-old protagonist, Sebastian, and his new friend Aneesa as they produced a pizza-making online video log. We thought that felt very natural and realistic. Some of us felt that making her a Muslim might have been a bit grauitous, given the times we live in, but we agreed that it was dealt with in a positive fashion without being 'preachy'. We talked at length about what it means to keep a big secret, as Sebastian did in the story while he planned the exact moment of his (possibly impending) suicide as the guilt of accidentally having shot and killed his baby sister when he was only four years old consumed him. We also talked about the necessity of communication, which seemed to be missing in Sebastian's life until he met Aneesa, and we were especially struck by the scenes in which Sebastian and his mother, and then later, he and his father finally let all of their emotions out, including the enormous guilt that each felt. The only thing we unanimously didn't like was the inclusion of an essay that a teacher had assigned -- against Sebastian's wishes -- where he asserted that his thoughts and feelings were nobody's business. We felt that essay added nothing to an otherwise gripping read, and a heartfelt glimpse into the mind of a troubled young teen. We also liked the addition of resources at the end that could possible be helpful to young readers in a similar situation.
We didn't agree on our picture book, Sleep Like a Tiger, by Mary Logue, and illustrated by Pamerla Zagarenski. A couple of readers didn't like it at all. They thought the illustrations were terrible, and would not be appealing to young children, and they thought the story was dull, not really saying anything, and not so much fun to read. Others however had a different opinion: that the story was an almost perfect circle as the little girl who 'wasn't sleepy' asked her parents about how various animals went to sleep, and then mimicked the same actions as she fell asleep also. We liked that the illustrations showed that all of these animals were actually her own toys. We agreed that this book wouldn't be so great as a read-aloud to a group, since the illustrations would be difficult to enjoy from a distance, but that an adult sharing it with a child at bedtime could help the child notice various nuances in the pictures which were more visible close-up. Mixed feelings and opinions always make for a good discussion.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

SOME WRITER! by Melissa Sweet and I DISSENT by Debbie Levy

We read two biographies for our last meeting, and we liked them both. We discussed Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet first. We all liked it, but we had varying opinions on the format and layout, where Sweet combined original art, photos, facsimiles of E.B.White's works, artifacts, and other design elements. Some people loved this and felt that the format was almost like a scrapbook, and was a perfect complement to the text. Others felt it was confusing and distracting. One reader thought it was almost like a website, and that maybe this could entice young readers who might be intimidated by pages containing only text. One reader, a longtime E.B.White fan who had read everything he had ever written, felt that the writing in this book, although accessible and well done, wasn't eloquent enough in discussing this esteemed subject. We liked most of the 'back matter' of the book, which included statements from the author and from White's granddaughter, plus a timeline, notes, and bibliographies, but we felt that all of that was probably more interesting to adults than it would be to kids. We felt that young readers would probably not pick this book on their own, but that if they were fans of Stuart Little or Charlotte's Web, they might be interested in knowing more about the author of these classics.

As for the picture biography, I Dissent by Debbie Levy, we all liked it. Some readers were put off by the many examples of dissent, disagreement, etc., shown in huge letters in the illustrations, which they felt presented a view that portrayed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as always being negative. Others didn't mind that aspect of the art, but didn't love the way Ginsburg was visually portrayed as a child and a young woman -- sort of cartoonish, and not very pretty -- although photos of her showed that she was in fact quite attractive. We all liked how the story of her life showed the incidents and social issues that helped to shape her thinking and made her confident that a young woman could become anything she wanted to, and could fight for justice. We thought that the writing, although not exceptional, was adequately accessible for young readers, and we hoped the book would be inspiring for young girls and could show boys that "girls CAN do anything!"

Thursday, March 2, 2017

BOOKED by Kwame Alexander and THE TREE IN THE COURTYARD: Looking Through Ann Frank's Window by Jeff Gottesfeld

At our last meeting we began with the novel-in-verse: Booked by Kwame Alexander. We all agreed that the premise of this book was nothing new: a middle school kid passionate about a sport, with a crush on a girl, a terrible teacher and a nice librarian, a best friend with whom he competed, parents contemplating a divorce, and other 'stuff' that had been done before -- again and again -- in books for young readers. However -- we agreed that this story -- told in very short and tight poems, with a minimum of words, condensed so that only the most necessary details were revealed -- was well done by Alexander. We also liked the footnotes related to various words that Nick had to learn, given that his dad was a linguist. Half of us loved the book; the other half didn't hate it, but were less enthused. One reader who is not a big fan of novels in verse wasn't thrilled with it, but as a horse-lover she was at least pleased that the section where Nick takes his 'crush', April, on a date to ride horses was accurate as it described how to take care of a horse. We also liked the fact that it mentioned many other important books for kids throughout the story, even though a bit gratuitously. We agreed that it would be good for reluctant readers because of its brevity, and also for readers with short attention spans, since they could just read a few poems at a time. Some felt that Alexander's previous book, the 2015 Newbery Award winner The Crossover was a better book overall.
We had mixed reactions on the picture book, The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank's Window by Jeff Gottesfeld; illus. by Peter McCarty. We all agreed at first that the brown ink drawings provided an appropriately somber mood for this World War II story. However, upon further discussion, we decided that maybe it might have been better if there had been a bit of color -- specifically in the depictions of this chestnut tree which was the only thing Anne Frank could see from her window as she and her family were sequestered/hidden in the rear annex of her father's factory in Amsterdam. We felt that some color would have added more to the story, since the tree seemed to be one thing that brought joy to Anne. One of our readers, who is also an artist/illustrator pointed out that the illustrations related specifically to the war -- the Nazi soldiers invading the city, the bombers flying overhead -- were drawn at a slant, as if everything was topsy-turvy and 'out of whack'. We had a problem with the personification of the tree as a 'she,' and felt the story would have been stronger told in a different voice. We also wondered what would be the best age for a young reader of this book, given some of the unpleasant subject matter related to Anne and her family. We also thought it would be useful for middle school and even high school kids as an introduction to Anne Frank and her story, and it might encourage them to read Anne Frank's diary. We were pleased that the excellent 'Afterword' at the end of the book contained more details about Anne Frank, her family, the saving of her diary, and the tree itself. We learned that this specific tree had been struck by a lightning bolt, and after repeated efforts to save it over a ten year period, had died in 2010. However it was heartwarming to learn that saplings of this tree have been planted in 11 locations throughout the U.S. and in other places around the world. We were glad we had read this little-known story about one very significant tree.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

THE BEST MAN by Richard Peck and RIFKA TAKES A BOW by Betty Rosenberg Perlov

We had an enjoyable discussion of Richard Peck's The Best Man at our last meeting. The title could be perceived to relate to weddings, which it did, and also to who was literally 'the best man' in 12-year-old Archer's life. Everyone liked at least something about this book, some more than others. A couple of readers thought that the quick run through Archer's life from first grade through fourth in the early chapters was somewhat boring and didn't add much to the story. One person questioned the 'voice' as being too old, but was reminded that 12-year-old Archer was the one telling the story. We all mostly liked the story, and were especially pleased that although one of the plot points dealt with two gay men -- Mr. McLeod, Archer's student-teacher, and his Uncle Paul -- and the acceptance they received in Archer's family and in their community in general were handled in a very matter-of-fact, non-didactic way. We felt it also dealt positively with several other things: children who pick certain adults as their role models; dealing with bullying; a healthy family relationship; the quirks of a boy growing up; the transition from elementary school to middle school; the portrayal and growth of Archer's friend Lynette; and the obvious love between the various family members. . . (and a bit of what we knew as Peck's hatred of computers!) We unanimously agreed that the inclusion of annoying, spoiled, Hilary Calthorpe, the son of a diplomat stationed in Chicago and his upper-class British family were entirely unnecessary, and added nothing to the story except to create an outrageous Halloween costume party and an obvious plot mechanism to get the two men together. A few Richard Peck fans felt that this book didn't match up to the caliber of some of the author's previous work, but we all enjoyed reading it.

We also had a read-aloud of Rifka Takes a Bow by Betty Rosenberg Perlov, which we had wanted to read but couldn't since there were no library copies available. We all loved the story of a little girl whose parents were actors in the Yiddish Theatre in New York in the early 1900s, and how her curiosity landed her on stage in the middle of a play. We learned from the author's notes at the back, who was 93 when the book was published, that this was, in fact, her own story. We were less enamored by the illustrations by Cosei Kawa, which we felt were very elusive, too busy, unrealistic, and didn't fit well with the straightforward text of the story.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

THUNDER BOY JR. by Sherman Alexie

We had a wonderful holiday pot luck feast at our last meeting, and although we were all very full, a great discussion of Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie; illus. by Yuyi Morales. Several people loved it, a few did not. A couple of readers felt the story was very disjointed, and didn't really say much. Others loved the fact that Thunder Boy Jr. wanted his own name, and although he loved his strong, powerful dad, he needed his own identity. As he went through various possibilities of names based upon things he was really good at, he was finally happy when his dad actually gave him his new name, Lightning, because then they could be strong and powerful together. Several readers thought that there were just too many possible name choices, and got tired of reading about them. Others felt it was fine, because it provided a good picture of who the little boy really 'was'. Most of us really liked the illustrations, but a couple of folks weren't thrilled with them. We weren't sure how young readers would respond to the book, but one of our members, a school librarian, informed us that when she read it to kids in her school, they liked it, and they responded in different ways according to their ages. So....mixed feelings all around, and contented, full, tired people heading home later than usual from a book group meeting.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and The Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett

At our last meeting we discussed our picture book, The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson first. We all liked it a lot! We loved the cover, where a young boy seems to be uplifted by a symbolic 'bed of books' as he lounges and reads. We also loved the illustrations which we felt beautifully reflected the information and tone of the account by young Louie Michaux as he described his dad, Louis Sr.'s "Book Itch," which prompted him to encourage everyone in his family and community to READ, and which ultimately led him to open up the first African-American bookstore in Harlem, NY. One reader said the title kind of gave her the creeps...the 'itch' part, but it didn't deter her from liking the story. We felt it was told in a very straightforward way, with Louie's voice coming through clearly as he described various incidents including meeting Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X in the store, and his and his dad's sorrow when Malcolm was assassinated. We also liked Louis Sr.'s many (somewhat) poetic sayings which were shown in various very bold and large fonts throughout the story as well as in the endpapers. We loved the design of the book -- where some of the illustrations were framed on a single page, while others were double-page spreads. We also liked the author's note, photos of the actual store, and bibliography at the end. We all agreed that it would be a great book for adults to share with kids -- at school or at home, though we weren't sure if many kids would just pick it up to read. In the end, we felt it was an important story, well told, and an inspiration to anyone who loves books and reading.

We had varying opinions on the novel, The Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett. We discovered that it was the first in a series, which already has two additional titles. We liked the idea of Steve, a budding detective (who wasn't really a detective), who used what he had learned from reading a fictional series of 59 books about boy detectives to solve an uncanny case that suddenly involved him, some CIA-type librarians, a crooked teacher, and a quilt with a secret message. We all agreed that it was a great book for kids, probably boys, because of the short sentences, short chapters, and moments of suspense in an intriguing (though completely impossible) plot. Several of us thought that as the story went on, some of the elements of the 'mystery' were just too convoluted and complicated, but we found many good writing techniques that Barnett used to keep kids interested. We also loved the fine-line black ink illustrations, which beautifully reflected various parts of the story, and the facsimiles from the "Detective's Manual" that Steve had sent for after reading the 59 books. For most of us adults, it wasn't exactly our 'cup o'tea' but we could appreciate the writing that was obviously geared to young readers.