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).

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

SON by Lois Lowry and ZEN SHORTS by Jon Muth

Our last meeting was small but terrific. After a delicious dinner of Anne's famous Holiday Lasagna and tasty sides and desserts brought by all we had a great discussion. For the first time in recent memory, we all agreed on both books!
Re: Son, the Lois Lowery book, we felt that although it was beautifully written, there was some disconnect between the three 'worlds' the book portrays. None of us liked the idea of the 'Trademaster,' and pretty much everything that happened after 'Claire' met him. Many felt that it was a definite 'mother' book, especially knowing that Lowery had lost her own son in a terrible accident, and was maybe trying to reconcile her feelings about that. We didn't feel that it really 'wrapped up' the story of The Giver as we had hoped it would. .....and so it goes.
As for the picture book, Zen Shorts, we also all agreed that although Muth's illustrations were quite wonderful, the story (actually 4 stories) itself left a bit to be desired. We thought the three 'fables' (the Zen Shorts) could have stood alone, and really had little to do with the 'story' of the three siblings.....which we thought was pretty weak. We weren't sure how much today's kids would actually 'get' the fables, but we thought that being exposed to them was a good idea.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


 ....Once again we had a lively discussion at our last meeting. Everyone agreed that the novel we read, Inside out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, was definitely superior to the book we read last month. In each the main character was an immigrant to the U.S. from the Viet Nam war. Some folks totally loved the book, others liked it a lot, but found some things that just didn't work. We all loved the character of "Ha" who came across as a very believable 10-year-old dealing with the issues of being an outsider in a strange country, while still being a pest to her brothers, curious, funny, etc.
As for the picture book, The Fantastic Flying Books by William Joyce , there was a complete difference in the reactions of the librarians vs. those of the writers in our group! The librarians loved it.....the writers -- not so much. Many of them thought it was contrived, preachy, and a bit trite. The librarians loved the fantasy aspects of it, the fact that it was about the importance of story, and -- of course the library with all of the books. Everyone had positive things to say about the illustrations. 
Click here for a link to a letter from William Joyce published in the 9/23 NY Times Book Review section.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

DOG TAG SUMMER by Elizabeth Partridge and APPLESAUCE SEASON by Eden Ross Lipson

Dog Tag Summer by Elizabeth Partridge:  We had another great discussion on Thursday, as usual. Our opinions on the novel were quite similar (how often does that happen?) We felt that the characters lacked depth, that the subject matter (Viet Nam War) may have been too advanced for the age group the book was designed for, that even tho' everything doesn't have to be tied up into a neat package at the end, there were still too many unresolved issues. We liked the nonfictional information at the end of the story, but felt that kids probably wouldn't read it....sadly. (See above for a follow-up book on the same subject that we will read for next time.)
Applesauce Season by Eden Ross Lipson, illus. by Mordecai GersteinOnly I loved the picture book! ....everyone else, not so much. Folks thought it wasn't that well written, not a story any kid would care about, and a couple of people didn't like the illustrations either (I loved them!) - saying the characters had the 'same insipid grin' on almost every page. I agreed about the writing, but thought it was a good story of a family shopping/cooking/eating together, and liked the drawings of the different types of apples on the end papers. Oh, well -- vive la difference!!!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

DRAWING FROM MEMORY by Allan Say and JULIE OF THE WOLVES by Jean Craighead George

Picture Book: Drawing from Memory by Allan Say (2012 Robert F. Sibert Honor):
We had a small, but passionate group at our last meeting, and a selection of very delectable (and actually healthy!!) nibbles. We were all very positive about Allan Say's Drawing from Memory. We loved the combination of his art, actual photos, and the text as he told his story of finding a mentor and becoming an apprentice, including some very emotional moments and a glimpse into his early life as a 12-year-old living alone in a small apartment in Tokyo.

Novel: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (1973 Newbery Award; we're reading it in honor of her recent death.):
Almost everyone loved Julie of the Wolves (and yours truly was convinced to keep reading it, after 'not loving it' now as well as in 1973. Now I like it better!) We all agreed that Jean Craighead George's research into the Eskimo culture, Alaska's topography, seasons, plants, animals, etc. was impeccable, and that her descriptions provided great information and insight into all of it. A couple of us thought it would have been better if Part II had been first -- to give a better idea of who 'Julie/Miyax' was, and then going into her relationship with the wolves. Everyone agreed that it did, indeed, deserve the 1973 Newbury Award.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Novel: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (2012 Newbery Award):
We had a very small but lively group at our last meeting. Almost everyone didn't see much to love in the Gantos book -- except one dissenter -- yours truly. Most felt that the plot didn't hold up, that no one 'paid for' the many deaths, that many of the characters and events just didn't make sense, and that they just basically didn't enjoy reading it. Your dissenter felt it was a perfect '12-year-old boy' book, with its bodily parts humor, hassles with parents, and other typical 'boy' elements. All agreed however that there were some very wonderful descriptions and small pieces of writing. If you're interested in reading the professional reviews of this book, here's a link: http://catalog.lapl.org/carlweb/jsp/titlelist_page.jsp Click on 'Professional Reviews' directly under the book title.
Picture Book: Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet (2012 SCBWI Golden Kite Award, Robert F. Sibert Medal, and NCTE Orbis Pictus Award):  As for Melissa Sweet's Balloons..., our picture book, the accolades were effusive! We all loved her perfect mix of text and illustrations, the variety of types of illustrations and points of view, the replicas of real signs and articles, and the appealing telling of a story that might have otherwise been boring to children. We all gave it an A+.
After talking about marionettes, we thought it might be fun to attend a performance at Bob Baker's Marionette Theatre near downtown LA. Performances are on Saturdays or Sundays at 2:30pm. Here's a link to the website: http://bobbakermarionettes.com/Shows.html 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett and EXTRA YARN by Mac Barnett

Novel: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (to see if it stands up over time)
We had (as usual) a great discusion at our last meeting. We spent a lot of time talking about The Secret Garden, which most of us had read and loved as kids. It resonated with many of us for a variety of reasons: the empowerment of children left to their own explorations, the creation of friendships, and the development of the characters of Mary and Colin, with Dickon thrown in for good measure as an (almost) saviour of everything. We noted the seeming didacticness (is that a word?) of the last few chapters, and the issue of dealing with "illness" by willing it to go away. It was interesting how our opinions as kids changed somewhat now we're 'grownups'. Thanks to Ann's notes from the biography of Frances Hodgson Burnett, we got more insight into her possible thoughts when writing this book.
Picture Book: Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen:  On the picture book, Extra Yarn, we all basically loved the story....but some weren't so thrilled with the appearance of the evil count who attempted to steal the magical box of yarn....many of us thought that didn't really add anything to the story. We also discussed the illustrations at some length, and had varying opinions on whether they really added to this story. Some thought yes -- others, no.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

AN ELEPHANT IN THE GARDEN by Michael Morpurgo and QUEEN OF THE FALLS by Chris Van Allsburg

Novel: An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo: Once again we had quite good discussions at our last meeting, and once again we didn't all agree! On the novel, Elephant in the Garden, we were really split. Some thought it was absolutely wonderful in every way, others, not so much. Some felt that the idea of an elephant trekking across Germany in the middle of a war was just too unbelievable. We all felt that it gave a good picture of what war does to everyone involved, but that was pretty much our only agreement.
Picture Book: Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg:  On the picture book, Queen of the Falls, all agreed that it was definitely not a 'read-aloud' for younger kids. We talked about the value of picture books for older readers, and how this book might encourage older kids to do additional research.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Picture Book: Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Kadir Nelson (We will be comparing this with our January book, Henry's Freedom Box, also illustrated by Nelson.):
Once again we had a quite lively discussion at our meeting on Thursday. On the picture book, we all agreed that the illustrations were absolutely wonderful, and liked that the 'story' gave an insight into what Harriet Tubman was really thinking/feeling as she fled slavery and then led many more people to freedom. We had some discussion about the large presence of God -- both in the visual huge font when 'God spoke to her' and in the importance of God to her existence.....but agreed that her spiritual knowledge/feelings were what spurred her to continue her amazing actions.
Novel: Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck:
As for the Richard Peck book, most of us loved it. A couple of "agmoustics" didn't. Those who loved it thought it was brilliant, funny, an accurate portrayal of the time in which it took place, a great story, and a terrific example of showing the 'voice' of a character -- i.e. -- Helena the mouse. The "agmoustics" among us thought exactly the opposite -- not clever, not cute, not funny, annoying, etc. These differences of opinion are what make our group so much fun!
In our discussion of the Peck book, someone mentioned his homage to Lamont Cranston ("The Shadow" on old-time radio)......if you are interested in listening to 'old-time' radio, and you are home doing nothing else on Sunday afternoons, try "Forward Into the Past" on KSPC - 88.7FM from Pomona College. You'll hear great music from the 20s-30s-40s -- a lot of jazz and big band stuff, plus great novelty (remember Spike Jones??) recordings. Then -- from 3:00 - 4:00pm they replay old radio shows, including "The Shadow" + comedies like Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Fibber McGee & Molly, etc. -- also other drama shows which usually have some noted stars like Bette Davis, Ronald Coleman, etc. taking part. It's all really fun and really wonderful to hear.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

IF I STAY by Gayle Forman and HENRY'S FREEDOM BOX by Kadir Nelson

Novel: If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Picture Book: Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, illus. by Kadir Nelson
(Note: both books are on the 2011-2012 ballot for the California Young Reader Medal)

Other than a few very small quibbles, we were all in agreement that our two January books were both wonderful. As usual, we had a terrific discussion, and the few points of contention were relatively minor.