June is National Accordion Awareness Month!

June 7, 2014

accordionAccordions!  Everybody loves them–at least that’s what participants and audiences at the annual International Accordion Festival in San Antonio, Texas proclaim.  This instrument is beloved all over the world:  German polka festivals right alongside New Orleans zydeco, Irish music, klezmer, and so much more.  So it’s fitting to take the month of June to raise our awareness of this versatile instrument.  At Lit For Kids, we always start with a book, and we’ve got a great read for you.  Then, check out a couple of our info links below for a fun-filled month of accordion festivities.

Mendel'sMendel’s Accordion by Heidi Smith Hyde, illustrated by Johanna Van Der Sterre

The joy of music is clear on all the faces of Mendel’s family, from Mendel himself as a traveling musician in “the old country,” to his great-grandson in America.  Besides being a celebration of the klezmer music, the simple but lively text also tells the story of the Jewish immigrant experience, weaving in how these rich cultural experiences have been brought to our contemporary lives.  The book ends with interesting historical facts about accordions–and klezmer music in particular.

Accordion Facts

All About Accordions (PBS)

Celebrate National Doughnut Day, June 6th, 2014

May 30, 2014

DonutsThe first Friday of June is traditionally National Doughnut Day. . .So, June 6th this year is the perfect day to ask the question, Who Needs Donuts? especially when it is answered by author and illustrator Mark Alan Stamaty.  This 20th century classic had been out of print for decades–but was re-issued a few years ago to introduce a new audience to the delights of Stamaty’s absurd–and delightful–story and pictures.  One starred review says it best:  “With an illustration style that mixes a benign Hieronymus Bosch with an urban Where’s Waldo?, Stamaty’s off-the-wall humor is on target for little kids and big kids today.”

Who-needs-donutsThere’s so much going on in the detailed drawings, you can’t help but notice new delights every reading.  The basic story centers on Sam, who feels that something is missing in his life and heads to the Big City on his trusty trike, searching for “more donuts than his mother and father could ever buy him.”  The basic moral (in suitably hippie terms) is “love is all you need.” (“Who needs donuts when you got love?”)

So, for this year’s National Donut Day, sit down with your family and a plate of donuts and pore over Who Needs Donuts?  (Hint:  We all do!)


THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH, the Latest Mo Willems

May 24, 2014

~posted by Ruth

pigeonI am a Mo Willems fan–and that’s putting it mildly.   I have read all his books (no mean feat as there are dozens and dozens), follow his blog Mo Willems doodles, and even made the cross-country trip to visit his special showing at the Eric Carle Gallery in Amherst, Massachusetts . So of course, I was eagerly awaiting the publication of another Pigeon book on April 1st:  The Pigeon Needs a Bath.  Lucky for me, I was able to have it in my hands before visiting  Bitsy Parks’ first-grade classroom in Beaverton, Oregon and could gift them with a copy. (The only thing more fun than reading a new Mo Willems books is sharing it with appreciative kids!)  And they love it as much as I do.

What’s not to love?  We are reunited with a Pigeon with attitude–this time, he simply doesn’t see the need for a bath.  After all, he had one last month.  Maybe. The visible stink waves radiate from Pigeon’s body, but he insists he doesn’t need a bath. The best spread is a two-pager with 29 panels with Pigeon’s complaints about what’s wrong with the whole bathtub situation:  too hot, too cold, not enough toys, too many toys. . .My first-grade friends giggled and laughed through the whole book.  We all appreciate the emotions and expressions that come across–and also the thoughtful and sophisticated language and vocabulary, like “It’s a matter of opinion”; and “Purely coincidental.”

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or family friend, this book should top your list to share with the kids in your life.  Happy Reading!

May 18th, National Museum Day

May 17, 2014

Brush-of-the-GodsNot that we need an excuse to celebrate museums, but isn’t it nice to have an official National Museum Day on May 18th?  Brush of the Gods by Lenore Look, illustrated by Meilo So is a wonderful book to kick off your celebration.  Wu Daozi (689-758) is still known as China’s greatest painter–but surprisingly, little has been written about him for children.  The team of Look and So create a vivid and intriguing picture about Wu Daozi’s life, his work, and his creativity.  As a young boy learning the art of calligraphy from a monk, Wu Daozi finds his brush simply won’t behave.  Instead of characters, his brush takes off on flights of fancy, drawing flying Buddhas and dancing peonies.  His hooks catch fish, and “his dots burst into eyes, then pigs and monkeys.”  Soon, his paintings are so realistic they come to life (though no one but the children believe it).  The emperor comes to appreciate Daozi’s work, though, and commissions him to paint a masterpiece on a wall of the palace. It becomes a mural that takes him the rest of his life to complete, a kind of museum in the palace. A beautifully illustrated book that children as young as three will enjoy poring over–and adults will want to keep on their coffee tables.  In addition to this picture book, you might also want to take a look at some of our other museum-themed recommendations, listed below with links to the posts.

Happy National Museum Day!

Museums:  A Book Flight

Bringing Kids to Museums:  Tips, Suggestions, Resources

Picture Books About Museums

All About Art Board Books

Literary Vacations:  Children’s Book Museums



What Happened to PETE THE CAT books?

May 10, 2014

All-you-need-is-lovPete ~posted by Ruth

Pete the Cat books arrived on the scene a few years ago, and those of us in the children’s literature field were hooked.  We were soon singing the words to  “I Love My White Shoes” and rockin’ with Pete and the children in our lives to the catchy song about Pete’s first day of school (Pete the Cat:  Rockin’ in My School Shoes ).

Pete the Cat is a wonderful icon, a hip cat with plenty of attitude, whether he’s counting his groovy buttons or saving Christmas.

But something has happened to Pete the Cat.  It began with Pete the Cat at the Beach.  Same hip cat, terrific drawings and lots of cat-attitude and whimsy.  But the story fell flat.  “Maybe I miss the usual author, Eric Litwin?”  I mused in this blog.  Still, we recommended the book as a cute beach read, even if it wasn’t up to par.

But the slew of Pete the Cat books has continued, with new co-author Kimberly Dean, James’ wife.  And sad to say, the magic of the books is missing now.  In the best picture books, the words and pictures work together, enticing readers with the rhythms of language.  Eric Litwin’s writing and songs made Pete the Cat groovy.  The latest books by the Dean team fall flat, with lots of cliches, uninspired prose, and the absence of songs and fun movement.

For more information on the story behind Pete the Cat (James Dean’s own cat), the wonderful folk art–and the unfortunate decision to break up the Dean-Litwin team, read this article about the decision.  And I recommend sticking to the original books with the fine author Eric Litwin.  I continue to hope that Pete the Cat gets back his groove. . .





New This Spring! YA Fantasy Heroines

May 5, 2014

Spring-readingTime for one of our favorite genres:  Young adult fantasy.  This spring has seen several publications by promising new writers, so we wanted to showcase some of our favorite titles that feature strong young women.  There’s more to come this spring and summer, so now’s the time to start your list of great books to enjoy in the coming months.  And be sure to let us know your own discoveries!

Death Sworn by Leah Cypess

Death-Sworn-1Ileni is a young and very talented sorceress–at least that has been her identity until at the age of 17, she begins to lose her magic.  As her ability to weave her spells fades, she loses everything:  her position in her community, her goals, and the man she loves.  But when she is sent to teach magic to a group of assassins, her life is thrown into even greater turmoil.  A murder mystery with lots of “star-crossed lover” romance and intrigue, crafted in a believable fantasy world with characters that have depth–and are full of surprises.  I couldn’t put it down (Ruth here) and was delighted to learn it is the start of a new series.


TsarinaTsarina by J. Nelle Patrick

A combination of historical fiction and magic?  Sounds contradictory, but in Patrick’s capable hands, it works.  Russia at the dawn of the 20th century revolution is an intriguing time, and ripe for the introduction of a fantastic element.  Much of the tale is true, with realistic details of the period, mostly true characters from history including Rasputin and the Royal Family, as well as the swirling intrigues at court and the growing Red forces.  The introduction of an underground group of magicians and sorcerers, a magic Faberge egg, and other mystical elements add to the adventure and romance of the story.  Our heroine, Natalaya, is born to privilege, a member of the White Russian court, in love with (and betrothed to) the tsar’s son Alexei.  As her story unfolds, she learns more of what has led to the revolution and the growing Red forces.  The writing is vivid and detailed, the adventures suspenseful, and the romance(s) that simmer under the surface are engaging.


Cruel-BeautyCruel Beauty by Rosamond Hodge

The basic framework of this story is a fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with many intriguing twists.  The Beast in this case is called the “Gentle Lord,” and as the tyrannical and often cruel ruler of the kingdom, he is anything but gentle. As part of an ill-fated bargain her father has made with the Gentle Lord when she was a child, Nyx has known for many years that she is betrothed to marry him.  Her village has also trained her in arts that they hope will allow her to kill him once they are wed. And yet, she finds herself strangely attracted to her new husband, noticing other sides of his personality as well as strange intrigues that occur in the court and her new home.  Besides fairy tales, there are elements of Greek mythology woven into this romance/fantasy/adventure. The intricate plot keeps readers engaged.  We want more from this new author!





April 26, 2014

EdgarEdgar Gets Ready for Bed by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Ron Stucki

At last!  Baby’s first Poe.  Edgar the Raven is a charming addition to Jennifer Adam’s BabyLit FirstSteps series.  You might think this would be a difficult translation from adult classic to junior version, but not in Adams’ capable and witty hands.  Edgar is, in fact, a lot like a toddler you may know:  clean-up, bath time, dinner, and especially bedtime are met with one word:  Nevermore!  This mischievous little bird will just not behave–but he’s still pretty adorable, and there’s something about a bedtime story that works magic.  (We also read on Jennifer Adams’ webpage that she’s always had a special fondness for ravens–and even had one as a pet when she was a little girl.  You guessed it–she named him Edgar!)


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