Friday, November 21, 2014

Books for Certain Unpredictable Occasions This Holiday Season

 “I knew the real you was in there somewhere.” –David Shannon A Bad Case of Stripes

Since winter, holiday and flu session is upon us, it seems useful to battle these (sometimes unpleasant) events with a few clever children’s books that entertains a those didactic messages capable of restoring a sense of what is really important. Sometimes all it takes is a pause from an adulthood mindset and by exercising some childlike imagination and laughter, things may feel a little brighter. So when you’re stuck in bed with the flu this session, overwhelmed with the rain, or simply surrounded by endless dishes, here are some fun kid stories that might speed up your recovery with happy thoughts.


David Shannon’s A Bad Case of Stripes is a fun story that starts with a young girl, Camilla Cream, trying to decide what to wear for the first day of school. After trying on forty different outfits, she becomes a walking, talking, breathing case of stripes. Through an unpleasant transformation, Camilla is faced to choose between being stuck in this dreadful state or ultimately being herself no matter what others think. So next time your stuck in bed with the flu, just think how lucky you are not to have come down with a terrible case of stripes and have virus tentacles growing from your walls.


Winter brings rainy days and Pinkalicious by Elizabeth Kann and Victoria Kann (and also illustrator) is one that may inspire some silliness when stuck indoors. When trying to give her kids something fun to do on a rainy day, the narrator’s mother helps the kids bake cupcakes. Since the narrator’s favorite color is pink, she insists that the cupcakes be made as pink as can be. Once the cup cakes are ready, the narrator has one to many and wakes up the next morning to find herself now as pink as her cupcakes. This of course grants her the name Pinkalicious. After realizing that being pink is not as amazing as she had thought it would be, she must follow the doctor’s advice to return to her normal self. This book is a friendly reminder that sometimes your elders (or doctors) have some good words of wisdom to follow.


Think your missing some adventure as holiday planning locks you into commitments you may not have wanted to do to begin with? How I Became aPirate by Melinda Long and illustrated by David Shannon is a fun tale of a little boy, Jeremy Jacob who tries being a pirate for a day. Jeremy’s family is busy not paying attention to him one day at the beach, when Captain Braid Beard and his crew who need assistance burying their treasure approach him. He decides to take this amazing opportunity, but he soon realizes that being a pirate entails the absence a few things he loves doing with his family.  It’s a great book that allows readers to reconsider what they already have and perhaps take for granted everyday. Just something positive to think about when you’re entertaining the entire family this Thanksgiving but no one really seems to notice.


Onto the topic of being nice to those you maybe don’ t want to be nice to, as the holiday spirit makes us do nice things we otherwise would not do, Enemy Pie by Derek Munson and illustrated by Tara Calahan King, highlights a few things about being nice. This fun story explores the lack of sensibility first impressions often have. Jeremy Ross shows how actually spending time with someone who you maybe started out resenting can turn this original enemy into a good friend. But read with caution since enemy pie does get eaten in this story. This story will teach readers that fathers have a funny way of teaching us about friendship but they might really know better than us.


If holiday dinner does not turn out the way it was supposed to and maybe missing a spice or two, fear not The Empty Pot by Demi will cheer you up. This book tells the story of an emperor that is looking for a successor to his kingdom. He decides to test all the boys of the land by giving them each a flower seed and the boy to produce the finest flower will be crowned. A young boy named Ping realizes that his flower seed will not grow. His father encourages him saying that he’s done his best and his best is good enough for the emperor, Ping chooses to present his empty flower pot to the emperor. Fortunately for him the flower seeds were not what they appeared to be and it was something else the emperor was really looking for. This goes to show that no matter what the outcome (of dinner), trying your best and being proud of it is the way to go.

Of course these are not the only children’s books that provoke the childlike spirit when stuck in bed, indoors or cooking a feast for unfamiliar (maybe bothersome) family, but these may be a good start as they remind us that childhood lessons transfer into grown-up scenarios too.


For fun read along videos of these books check out these links:



Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie: Van Allsburg’s Newest Addition to Child Lit


“I guess I would hope the kids would read it and say, ‘I’m gonna be the best care giver ever’… if I could create that kind ambition and child when they want to get the little animal, then that would be a success.” -Chris Van Allsburg



Renowned children’s book author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg’s crowded children book shelves everywhere this week with his newest title, The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie. With stories that have anchored themselves within parents and even grandparents’ memories of childhood, it seems that Van Allsburg’s assortment of didactic messages continue to carry on into contemporary children’s literature.  Jumanji teaches readers that quiet activities may be ok sometimes. The Polar Express may suggest children enjoy the imaginative world that exists in childhood alone. The Sweetest Fig might show readers how crucial kindness is in order to have a good life. And if you hadn’t noticed, all Van Allsburg’s books have a bull terrier dog hidden somewhere within its pages; this is a clever touch that started with his first book and won’t be left behind (find out the story here).

The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie is Mr. Van Allsburg’s newest addition and has a new look to the classic Van Allsburg style. The illustrations are full color, with a much more simplistic sketching style than other Van Allsburg books. The story itself holds true to the Chris Van Allsburg learn-a-lesson style readers may be more used to, and still also including the usually indirect messages that takes a few readings to truly grasp sometimes hidden within the illustrations.


Since the story is from the point-of-view of a sad/melodramatic/depressed/jaded hamster that longs for a better life, it's companions similar aspects to Van Allsburg’s previous stories like The Sweetest Fig and Two Bad Ants told from the animal’s side. Told through the perspective of a small animal, it gives an interesting look into what kid humans look like but without the judgment of the adult voice and maybe helps children learn that small creatures need to be carefully cared for.

However, it seems particular that many grown up readers that have been commenting on this book, on popular review websites, seem to be disappointed with Van Allsburg’s latest work. And when considering the history Van Allsburg has created through his style as author/illustrator, it’s understandable that the same presentation his children’s books are sought after.

However, when reading The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie over a second time small details in the illustrations begin to emerge, like so many of his other books. On the first page a girl with orange hair rides her bike with a cage mounted to the back of her bicycle. The colors are bright and bold and complement each other so well, without being too colorful and obtrusive. Digitally this book looks animated. Looking back to the first page’s illustration which originally might have appeared as a simple picture of a girl riding her bike, the page comes to life with small details that allow the story of an overlooked hamster to become sentimental and emotionally evoking. Even though the children’s neglect seems unintentional, through the images it becomes more obvious that they treat Sweetie Pie more like a toy that an animal. The colors match the unhappiness that the story will unfold, allowing the color of the hamster to blend into the background perhaps in a metaphorical way.




To take it for what it is, the newish style of illustrations maybe refreshing from the classic black and white illustrations that are so predominant to Van Allsburg’s books. It seems that no one remembers the difference in style that Two Bad Ants had. Similarly, Two Bad Ants holds darker tones of color and lines for creating a depth effect.  The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie, maybe Allsburg’s most simplified appearing illustrations, still look great and hold that unveiling feel the more one stares at it.  However, even more interestingly the illustrations look great on an iPad or laptop. Whether or not the book was created with the intention of creating the Van Allsburg-esc images on a screen, it seems worth noting that children authors should take this into consideration since it may be the way of the future. 

Notes and References:

Monday, November 3, 2014

Call for Papers: The Children’s Literature Society 26th Annual Conference


The Children’s Literature Society, in association with the American Literature Association, is looking for papers for the 26th annual conference to be held on May 21-24, 2015 in Boston, MA. 


Two panels will be discussing children’s literature covering Modern, Post-Modern, and Political viewpoints and ideas found within children books.

One panel will cover the conversation of “The Politics and Morality of Children’s Literature: From Left to Right” focusing on how authors portray political views within children’s literature. “For example, authors in the 19th century publish religious, didactic, cautionary stories and poetry in children’s books to teach moral lessons. Not long after that, Nonsense writers challenge this form by irreverently writing and drawing mayhem as an alternative to worship of morality and the status quo.”

A second panel will consider the topic of “Nobody Understand Me. Evil Kids in Children’s Literature” examining the ideas and interpretations of evil within children’s literature. “Modern, Postmodern, and New Sincerity ‘evil’ kids range from bullies to baby vampires to misunderstood villains like Gregory Maguire’s character Elphaba from his book Wicked: The Life and Ties of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995).” Is there evil here and do we understand it?

The CFP requests submissions to include academic rank and affiliation and AV requests.

Abstracts or proposals should be around 250 words and need to be submitted by Thursday, January 15, 2015 to Dorothy Clark (Dorothy.g.clark@csun.edu), and Linda Salem (Linda.salem@yahoo.com). 

For more specific requirements and conference information please visit: http://alaconf.org/calls/societies-call-for-papers/

The PDF regarding the panels’ topic information for this CPF can be found here: http://alaconf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/CALL-FOR-PAPERS_Child.pdf



Thursday, October 30, 2014

112th Annual PAMLA Conference

The Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association, also known as PAMLA, “is dedicated to the advancement and diffusion of knowledge of ancient and modern languages and literatures.” Tomorrow begins the 2014 PAMLA conference hosted in Southern California at the Riverside Convention Center. It will be a fun filled weekend starting on Halloween, October 31, 2014.


There are some special events planned at this year’s conference that incorporates a fun Halloween theme: “Familiar Spirits.” Not all sessions will be focused on the theme, however, there will also be a Creative Artist Spotlight Address, Halloween Cash Bar, and Reception 

We are also looking forward to our very own San Diego State University staff, students, and alumni presenting on different topics regarding children’s literature at this year’s conference. Here are some of the topics and information to be presented on: