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 5, 2013


After enjoying our annual holiday repast, with Ann's delicious lasagna, excellent salads and sides and dessert, we started our discussion with the picture book, The Christmas Crocodile. We almost all agreed that it was a fun holiday story, although not an example of the absolutely best in children's literature, but we loved the illustrations, including the expressions on the little dog's face throughout the story, and other elements that brought the story to life. Some people felt it was a bit too 'wordy' for a picture book, and noted that picture books today tend to have much less text. (This one was published in 1998.) One of our members was not so happy with it. She felt that the idea of a crocodile in the house at Christmas who ate everything in sight was really scary.
As for the novel, Breaking Stalin's Nose, we all agreed that it was a good story that could keep a reader engaged. But some wondered if kids today would have the knowledge or the background to even be interested in reading it. We felt that a parent or a teacher or a librarian could introduce this book to a kid, and that maybe the kid might enjoy it and might learn something about the period in Russia under Stalin that it describes. We felt there were some universal elements in it related to the kinds of things kids sometimes have to deal with: telling the truth about an incident, keeping confidences, being concerned about a parent, and standing up for what's right. It raised many questions, which is probably always a good idea with a book for young readers.
For your information, I thought you might be interested in seeing the 'Notable Children's Books of 2013' list from the New York Times Book Review. Here it is: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/08/books/review/notable-childrens-books-of-2013.html?ref=review&_r=0 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

BEAR HAS A STORY TO TELL by Philip C. Stead and LIZARD MUSIC by Daniel Pinkwater

BEAR HAS A STORY TO TELL by Philip C. Stead. (Illustrated by Erin Stead, who won the 2011 Caldecott for A Sick Day for Amos McGee):
We had a small but lively group at our last meeting, and delicious 'nibblies' also! We discussed the picture book first. We all agreed that the illustrations were wonderful, and we especially loved Bear and all of his expressions as he tried to get his small animal friends to listen to his story as he helped them prepare for winter. We did however agree that as a read-aloud to a group of children, it might not work so well, since many of the illustrations were quite pale, and couldn't be seen so well from a distance. Some people objected to the fact that it was a 'circular' story....reading the last page would send you back to the beginning. Some people liked that idea, while others didn't like the ending at all and wanted to know exactly what Bear's story WAS. We also read aloud A Sick Day for Amos McGee, the Caldecott winner for the same author/illustrator team, and some liked that book better, while others preferred Bear. Differences in perception and opinion are what makes our group so much fun!
LIZARD MUSIC by Daniel Pinkwater.
As for the novel...there are Pinkwater lovers and then there are others! We all loved the beginning of the book, and the fact that Victor was a normal kid with a normal family...not the usual middle school smart aleck of so many current books. A couple of us loved the rest of the story also -- but not everyone. A couple of people felt that Victor didn't really DO anything...he merely reported everything that happened on the strange lizard island, but he had no real part in any of the action. Some folks couldn't figure out the purpose for the story. We did love Victor's obsession with Walter Cronkite and TV news, however. One of our members said she had always loved this book and her son had loved it and read it several times when he was young. Some of us wondered about any symbolism in the story, knowing a bit about the author and some of his other works. We thought it might be good to read another book of his to figure out where he's really 'coming from'....maybe we will some time in the future.
Other news: Two of our members, Ann Paul and Nancy Hayashi, have a new book coming out in November: 'Twas the Late Night of Christmas. They will be doing a book signing at Skylight Books in LA, and the details are here:
Have fun on Halloween! BOO!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray and ART AND MAX by David Wiesner

The Diviners by Libba Bray: 
It seems that some people really like horror/occult/supernatural stories and others don’t. So it was with our group. One of our members likes that sort of story, but didn’t love The Diviners. She felt it was too long, included too much extraneous stuff, that the events of the first chapter were never addressed again in the story, and that the ending was “like a belly flop in a pool.” One person thought the characterizations were excellent, but a few others felt that the opposite was true…that they didn’t really care about Evie or some of the other main characters. We all agreed that from a historical point of view it was very accurate and enlightening as to the “Flapper” era in New York, and all of the political and social issues that were occurring there at that time. We all felt that there was a great deal of unnecessary gore, and wondered what that was supposed to add to the total story. Many of us felt that a lot of the story seemed contrived, and since it seems to be the beginning of a trilogy or maybe even a series, the author could have held off on her expositions on a lot of issues. It was a looonnnnnngggg book!

Art and Max by David Wiesner:
Our picture book, Art and Max, brought up a good discussion on the purpose of picture books. We all agreed that this book would not be thrilling for a group of wiggly four-year-olds sitting cross-legged on a carpet for a library story hour. We also determined that it is the sort of book that needs to be looked at very carefully and also thoroughly discussed…since the real premise seems to be ‘What is art and who gets to make it?’ which might be a bit nebulous for younger children to recognize, much less understand, without some guidance from an adult. It would be a great book to introduce concepts of art to older kids…even in high school, and it would certainly fit into the ‘Picture Books for Older Readers’ category. We agreed that the illustrations were excellent, and that the more you look at it, the more you notice interesting details…which is always a big plus for a picture book.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell, IF I BUILT A CAR by Chris Van Dusen

We all agreed that Eleanor and Park was a quite wonderful book that spoke of the joys and sorrows of first love. Several of us thought that it was a bit too long - that there were some sections that, had they been shorter, would not have negatively affected the total story. We also agreed that young people - especially girls - would like reading this book, since the things that happened were so real and the relationship between Eleanor and Park developed slowly, by little bits of connection, just as real relationships do at that age (and probably at any age!). A couple of our writer members felt that it wasn't very "writerly," although they liked the story and kept reading to see what would happen next. Others felt it was beautifully written - especially in the transitions between Eleanor's and Park's voices as the story developed. We liked Park's very 'sensible' family and the obvious love between his parents, and the way they dealt with him, which certainly had an impact on his feelings for and actions toward Eleanor, and provided a healthy contrast to Eleanor's completely dysfunctional family which included her abusive stepfather and a mother who allowed the abuse to continue. We also were content with the ending: that Eleanor got to a safe, sane place with her uncle's family, and that Park learned and grew from the total experience. We felt that the 'second' ending, when Eleanor finally sent Park a post card with "three words" possibly provided the opportunity for a sequel.

As for the picture book, If I Built a Car, we had mixed feelings. On one hand, we felt that little kids who were interested in cars would love it - especially boys. Some of us were completely put off by the Seuss-like rhymes, which, although well-executed, rhythm and meter-wise, seemed to go on for too long. We basically liked the illustrations which showed the fantasy car the little boy had imagined, and felt that the illustrations would have worked fine with a sparser text. We liked the endpapers which showed the boy's plans for his super car. One of our members thought the little boy looked a bit weird and creepy in the illustrations, and several of us agreed. Some of us felt it would be a good read-aloud, and could serve as an impetus for kids to imagine their own perfect cars or planes or probably anything else.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

ICEFALL by Matthew Kirby and INFINITY AND ME by Kate Hosford

At our last meeting we had stimulating discussions of both books. We were divided 4-4-1 on Icefall. Four of us loved it, four didn't, and one was ambivalent. Those who loved it noted that they thought the writing was wonderful -- even poetic; they liked the inclusion of Norse mythology; they loved how the story showed the growth of the main character, Solveig, as she dealt with issues of family, sibling rivalry, death, hunger, survival, love, and betrayal, and -- best of all -- they loved how the 'power of story' played such a signifant part in the narrative. The others weren't so thrilled by the writing, wanted a more realistic portrayal of Norse history, and didn't feel at all engaged by the characters. 

As for the picture book, Infinity and Me, we also didn't have consensus. We all agreed that it was a good way to attempt to explain the concept of infinity to young readers, and we liked the author's notes at the end of the story. Some of us felt the story was just OK, but didn't love the illustrations. People who had read the book to young children reported that the children's reactions were positive, so one could assume that that fact may be more important than what a group of grown-up ladies thinks!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate and BIG MEAN MIKE by Michelle Knudsen

If we were looking for a slam-dunk positive reaction to The One and Only Ivan, it didn’t happen. We all agreed that the spare writing of this book was wonderful, even poetic, and that the transitions from one thought to another in ‘Ivan’s’ mind were perfect. A couple of our members just didn’t think the story rang true. One person thought that ‘Ivan’ was too humanized…he was an ape – how could he think like a human? Perhaps the author hadn’t done sufficient research into the behavior of apes. But others felt that ‘Ivan’s’ thoughts exactly made sense – especially since he had been raised by humans before being brought to the mall, and the idea of ‘suspending disbelief’ made everything quite plausible. We mostly all liked the minimalist little illustrations that were sparsely placed throughout the story, and felt that they were terrific. We also thought this would be a good book for reluctant readers, since the text was quite accessible, and not too dense. We learned that sadly, the real Ivan died, at age 50, at Zoo Atlanta in August, 2012.

Info about the real Ivan is here: http://www.zooatlanta.org/ivan

...and his obituary is here: http://www.zooatlanta.org/home/article_content/zoo_mourns_ivan

As for our picture book, Big Mean Mike, everyone pretty much loved it, although a couple of people thought it presented a bad example for children: a bully being the hero. But others pointed out that ‘Mike’ never actually bullied anyone…he just presented that impression, and because of that everyone was scared of him. It raised the issue of judging someone on their outward appearance rather than their actions, and also the fact that a seemingly ‘rough’ person could easily have a soft spot…like ‘Mike’ did for the little bunnies. We thought the illustrations by Scott Magoon were terrific, and matched up well with the story.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

WORTH by A. La Faye and OLD ROBERT AND THE SEA-SILLY CATS by Barbara Joose

We started our discussion of Worth by agreeing that the writing was quite good....a couple of our members thought it was brilliant. One mentioned the terrific transitions that described Nate's thinking; another said it was the first book that had made her cry in a long time. But -- as we talked more, a couple of people weren't thrilled by the overuse of metaphors, and we also wondered if kids reading the book would understand the conflict between the ranchers and the farmers that played such a big part in Nate's and his family's life. We liked the fact that his parents were 'normal' people: i.e., they disagreed, they argued, but they loved their son and were each able to show him that love in their own way. We also liked the way that Nate and John's relationship developed as they grew to understand each other. It was a great discussion!
We pretty much had positive feelings about the picture book....except for a couple of details. One of our members thought that the 'silly cats' weren't really silly, but someone else pointed out that 'silly' to a child might have a different meaning than it has for an adult. We thought it was a great read-aloud because of the predictable phrases where children could join in, and also a good bedtime story, and we liked the illustrations by Jan Jutte. We liked the way that 'Old Robert,' the seaman who thought he 'had everything he needed' came to realize that he really needed something to care for. We also thought it should have ended a page earlier than it actually did.....the ending as presented in the book seemed useless and unnecessary.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein and NOAH WEBSTER AND HIS WORDS by Jeri Chase Ferris

Even though our novel, Code Name Verity won a 2012 Michael Printz Honor Award as well as a great deal of positive 'buzz,' we didn't particularly love it. Most of us thought the writing was quite good, but we had a lot of problems with many of the incidents that happened in the story. We couldn't believe that a young girl imprisoned by the Gestapo would be given tons of paper and asked to write. We also didn't get the distinction between the two young women, and why the story of 'Maddie' was the main one that was told. We felt that really smart young women who were serious readers would probably like this book, and we liked the fact that it presented information about young women performing heroic tasks during World War II. But -- with all of that -- we still didn't love it!

The opposite was true with our picture book. We almost unanimously LOVED Noah Webster and His Words. We loved the writing, the inclusion of 'dictionary definitions' placed within the text, the great mixture of the art and the text, the humor, the depiction of Noah as a persistent person who never gave up on his dreams (because he was always right!!), and we marvelled at the amount of work he accomplished in his life...(for which we -- word lovers that we are -- truly thank him!) Only one of our members wasn't crazy about the book -- she didn't care for the illustrations, although she felt the text and the information presented were quite good. We also thought the 'back matter' was excellent -- the presentation of more facts about Noah Webster's life through a timeline of specific details and some additional text, plus a list of the author's sources.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

WONDER by R. J. Palacio, and ON THE NIGHT YOU WERE BORN by Nancy Tillman

We were a small but mighty group at our last meeting. We all agreed that the
novel, WONDER by R.J. Palacio was -- indeed -- WONDER-ful! A couple of people had some concerns with minor plot points, but in general we all loved the way the writing and the voice rang true, the realistic portrayal of Augie and the other kids as well as their middle school experiences, the sections by Augie's sister Via and her boyfriend, the fact that it showed a healthy, 'normal,' loving family, and the excellent way it dealt with bullying and mistreatment of people who are different for some reason without becoming preachy or didactic. We all hope it will win the Newbery, which will be announced on Monday, January 28.

Regarding the picture book, ON THE NIGHT YOU WERE BORN,we all thought the illustrations were quite nice, but had a range of opinions on what I learned is called a "lullaby book." Some of us felt it was a calming book to read to a young child before bed (maybe 'cause it would put them to sleep???)while others thought it was very sweet -- maybe too sweet -- maybe even treacly. We had a great discussion about lullaby books and their purpose, and also about the idea of kids today growing up thinking they are the greatest thing the world has ever seen.....slight differences of opinion on the true value of that as a child becomes a part of the real world. Definitely something to ponder!