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, December 8, 2011

SOLDIER'S HEART by Gary Paulsen and EATS, SHOOTS, AND LEAVES by Lynne Truss

We had a delectable meal on Thursday at our last meeting, with great appetizers and cheese, Ann's terrific Red and Green Holiday Lasagna, delicious baked zucchini (recipe below) and sweet, rich desserts. THEN, we had equally delectable discussions of both books. 
Novel: Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulsen:
As usual, there was a difference of opinion on each -- which is what makes this group fun. Some thought Soldier's Heart was more of an anti-war polemic than an actual story, while others thought it was excellent in every way. We all agreed that Paulsen's tight, explicit writing was exemplary, as well as his well-researched Civil War details. 
Picture Book: Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss (the picture book, not the adult version!!):
As for the picture book, although we agreed it was 'cute' and could possibly be used by teachers in teaching the use of the comma, we generally felt that it didn't work so well as a picture book. And some of our members want a good story in every picture book, so they were not thrilled with this one.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

COME ON, RAIN by Karen Hesse and AL CAPONE SHINES MY SHOES by Jennifer Choldenko

Our discussions on Nov. 3 were great. We only had five people, but really delved into both books.

Picture Book: Come On, Rain by Karen Hesse:  Regarding the picture book -- we all loved it. We thought the text was perfect and really gave the feeling of the desire for rain on a hot day in the city. We had a long discussion about the illustrations, which were mostly wonderful......a bit of difference of opinion on the anorexic-looking 'stick figure' girls when they were enjoying the rain.....differences of opinion are what makes our group so much fun.
Novel: Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko:  As far as life on Alcatraz -- we thought the first book about this group of kids was better, but agreed that this one was a 'good read' that kids would probably like, even though there were a lot of untied loose ends, and some situations which could have been developed further -- the prison break, for example, and also some questions about Al Capone, and his real place in the story.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

MILO: STICKY NOTES AND BRAIN FREEZE by Alan Silberberg and ME, FRIDA by Amy Novesky

Novel: Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg (2011 SCBWI
Sid Fleischman Award)
We had good discussions on our Oct. books....and delicious 'eats' with a minimum of sugar (except for Ann's wonderful Brownies!!) We talked at length about Milo, and ultimately agreed that it was a well-developed story which combined humor with the very sad situation of the death of Milo's mother, and the way he learned to deal with it. Some hated the idea of the illustrative cartoons at first, but eventually felt they fit perfectly into this particular story, and in some cases added important details.
Picture Book: Me, Frida by Amy Novesky (2011 FOCAL Award); and Frida by
Jonah Winter (2003 Americas Award, Hon. Mention) We will be comparing these two picture books on the same subject.
As for the 'Frida' picture books, we all agreed that Frida (by Jonah Winter) was the superior one, and that the illustrations by Ana Juan were wonderful. Several folks questioned the significance for young readers of the SF visit by Frida in Me, Frida, but we all basically agreed that they were both important glimpses into the life of this important 20th century artist.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool and 13 WORDS by Lemony Snicket

Novel: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (2011 Newbery Award)
We had quite animated discussions last night on both books...I think we were all on a 'sugar high'! Re: the novel, some of us absolutely loved it for its writing, plotting and storytelling, time/place setting, historical perspectives, and the amazing amount of research the author obviously had done. Others absolutely hated it, saying it was contrived, staged, trite, foreshadowing, (and since I am one of those who loved it, I can't remember the other adjectives.....sorry.) And a few of our folks were in the middle -- they loved parts of it, other parts/issues, not so much. We all agreed that it was a plot-driven rather than a character-driven novel. Since it DID win a Newbery Award, several people wondered about how the Newbery Committee is selected and who is chosen to serve on it. 
To answer these questions, the following comes from the ALSC (a division of ALA) Operating Handbook:
All members of the Association for Library Service to Children are eligible to serve on the Newbery and Caldecott awards committees. The only restrictions are that a person must agree to be present at the summer and midwinter meetings at which discussion takes place and at which the selections are made, and that the person must have ready access to the major part of the children’s books published during the year under consideration. In addition, a committee member must not have any personal or business involvement that may lead to conflict of interest. Finally, ALSC members cannot serve on either the Newbery Award Selection, Caldecott Award Selection, or Sibert Award Selection, and Notable Children’s Books Committees more often than once every four years (with the exception of the chairs). Committee members are chosen for their experience and represent a broad range of geographical areas as well as sizes and types of libraries. Members may include special and public librarians, university educators and professional reviewers.
a) The Newbery Award Committee shall consist of the following fifteen (15) members: Eight (8) members to be elected (by ALSC members) annually from a slate of no fewer than sixteen (16), a chairperson appointed by the (ALSC) president, and six (6) members appointed by the (ALSC) president.
...and, here's the link to an interview with Clare Vanderpool, author of Moon Over Manifest:
...and, another great interview on the same site with our own Susan Patron:

 Picture Book: 13 Words by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maira Kalman
And now, our reactions to our picture book, 13 Words by Lemony Snicket: Again, we had a complete split in opinions. Some thought it was terrific, funny, quirky, and something 2nd -- 3rd graders would love, just because of the complete idiocy of the story. Others felt it would never have been published if it had not been written by Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), and that it wasn't really 'a story.' All agreed that the illustrations were wonderful, and that the book would not have worked without them.
So....once again, a great evening, great discussions, a lot of sugar, and, as they say, "A good time was had by all."

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Novel:  One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street by Joanne Rocklin
Last nite we had a great meeting, delectable treats, and a good discussion of Joanne Rocklin's One day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street. Everyone found something in the book to love, maybe it was the story, maybe it was the characterization, maybe it was the beautifully written passages.
After our discussion we shared favorite picture books. In case you are interested in seeing them yourself, here they are: Leonardo the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems; Bug Safari, by Bob Barner; City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems; Can We Save the Tiger?, by Martin Jenkins; A House is a House for Me, by Mary Ann Hoberman; and, Stitches,by David Small (which is not a "true" picture book, but it IS a book with pictures, so we agreed that it counts!)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

SHARK VS TRAIN by Chris Barton and WARP SPEED by Lisa Yee

Picture Book: Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton:
We had a small but vocal group at our recent meeting. Everyone, without exception, LOVED Shark vs. Train. We loved the illustrations, the humor, the 'boyness' of it, and the clever wordplay that maybe kids wouldn't get, but that the adults reading it to kids would. Michelle had done an interview on her blog with the illustrator, and we had a couple of questions that she agreed to ask him, like: 1) did he collaborate with the author, or just do the illustrations upon seeing the manuscript; and 2) did he, or the author, write the comments in the bubbles?
Here is his answer:
Chris and I collaborated on everything. We created many, many scenarios, then whittled it down to the best ones. We spent a lot of time on the phone, I sent him sketches and we went back and forth on pretty much everything, including the captions. We both came up with scenarios and captions, so it's impossible to say who wrote what.
Once we were in the home stretch, I went down to Austin, where we spent a weekend at the library hammering things out.

Then I asked him how the collaboration on SVT came about, since it's so atypical in picture books. He replied:

I always collaborate with authors to some extent; it's part of "the deal" when a publisher works with me. I know it's atypical, but I love collaborating and think it always makes for a better book. When the publisher showed me the idea, I thought it was brilliant and knew I could add to it, so I just told her I'd only do it if I could collaborate with Chris, and he was open to it.
Novel: Warp Speed by Lisa Yee
As for Warp Speed, we mostly liked it. Some more than others. Some of our members thought the writing was really tight and descriptive with very well-developed characters. Others thought it was a great read for middle school kids, but not the greatest piece of literature in the world. A couple of people thought the 'bullying' part and the ending was a bit didactic. But generally, we had a positive feeling about it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

NIGHTJOHN by Gary Paulsen and DAVE THE POTTER by Laban Carrick Hill

Novel: Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen (Delacorte, 1993):
We had a small but vocal group at our meeting last week. All agreed that Nightjohn was an intense, compelling story that had to be told, and that Gary Paulsen did a fine job with no wasted words. Many were surprised that this excellent 1993 book had not garnered any awards. We all wished that Paulsen had included documentation of his research for this book, but realized that to do so wasn't the norm when the book was published as it is today.
Picture Book: Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill (Little, Brown, 2010) -- 2011 Coretta Scott King Illustrator award for Bryan Collier:
As for our picture book, Dave the Potter, opinions were mixed on both the illustrations (it was a Caldecott Honor Book) and the text. Some folks felt that it was mostly above the heads of most children and youth, since it mainly spoke of how to make clay pots, and used terms that most kids would not know. All agreed, however, that the 'Back Matter' -- which went into great detail about 'Dave' and his pottery and what little was known about his life as a slave -- was better than the book itself, as well as the sources used in the research.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

RULES by Cynthia Lord and INTERRUPTING CHICKEN by David Ezra Stein

Novel: Rules by Cynthia Lord
We had great discussions at our last meeting on Thursday night. We all agreed that Rules was a tightly written (not a wasted word) book that described in a realistic way a 12-year-old girl learning to deal with a little brother with Autism and a new friend in a wheelchair with a disability that rendered him unable to walk or talk. Some thought that Catherine and Jason had romantic feelings about each other; others didn't, but all agreed that it was a very good book worthy of the Newbery Honor that it received. We talked about the two endings -- one predictable, and the final one emotionally important for Catherine, who became empowered as the story evolved.

Picture Book: Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein
As for the picture book, Interrupting Chicken, which garnered a Caldecott Honor, ummmmm -- we all said, "Why??" Unless it was for the fact that it was very unique -- i.e. chickens who didn't actually look like chickens, and other weird stuff. We liked the story, but couldn't really get 'into' the illustrations.....oh, well -- some books and some award winners are like that!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS by Katherine Paterson and BIG RED LOLLIPOP by Rukhsana Khan

We had a great meeting on March 31, enhanced by a delicious spread of delectable food! We pretty much all agreed that The Great Gilly Hopkins definitely stood up over time, having been published in 1978, and we further agreed that Katherine Paterson is a genius and a brilliant storyteller and character creator. We had various opinions on the picture book, Big Red Lollipop. We pretty much all loved the illustrations, and had varying opinions on the story. Some thought it was terrific, others - not so much. 
We also had a 'commercial' for the California Campaign for Strong School Libraries, complete with the modeling of gorgeous T-shirts designed by our own Caroline Arnold. To support this campaign, feel free to check out www.cafepress.com/csla where you can order neat items (t-shirts, note cards, mugs, posters, stickers, etc.) with designs by many well-known illustrators of children's books (Brian Selznick, Caroline Arnold, Aliki, Joe Cepeda, Marla Frazee, et al) to support the California Campaign for Strong School Libraries. These illustrators have created and donated their designs for this campaign. The message: "Strong school libraries build strong students and lifelong learners."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan and CHOWDER by Peter Brown

We had a small, intimate group at our last meeting, and terrific discussions on both books. Many of us loved The Dreamer for a variety of reasons, although a couple of people thought it wasn't so wonderful in certain places, and had questions about its construction. It led to a discussion of Pablo Neruda and his poetry, and a few people were enthused enough to begin reading what he has written......(one of the great joys of reading: how it leads you to exploring new areas.) 
As for the picture book, Chowder, we were all in agreement: huh?? We mostly loved the illustrations, but thought the story left a great deal to be desired -- i.e., it wasn't so great!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia and BOSS BABY by Marla Frazee

We enjoyed our meeting last nite at Amy's colorful and art/book-filled house, and after seeing her bomb shelter from the 50s (which was there when she bought the house) we had lively discussions on both books. 
All agreed that One Crazy Summer was a story that had to be told, although there were differing opinions regarding specific scenes in the book and specific characters. All agreed that it was well-written. 
We all agreed that Boss Baby was more for new parents than for young children, but we thought it was quite funny and 'right on the money' as far as new babies are concerned.