Trick or Treat for Kidlit Links

As October turns to November, things start to get more end-of-year-ish, don't they? I mean, tonight we Fall Back, which means that tomorrow (at least up here in the northern climes) it will start to get seriously dark in the late afternoons. The trees are transitioning from their glorious technicolor to...well...bare. And you just know that as soon as all the Halloween displays are stripped from the stores, the Christmas/Holiday/New Year's stuff will be going right up.

In the book world, the end of the year means lots of best-of lists. For the second year in a row, Susan Thomsen at Chicken Spaghetti is compiling all the "Best Children's/Teen Books of the year" lists in one handy spot. So far there are only two lists on her list-of-lists, but I'm sure there will be lots more soon.

Speaking of best-of lists, the other day I happened upon a really terrific list of the 100 Best Book Blogs for Kids, Tweens and Teens at Online School. Some of my very favorite kidlit blogs are included, as well as several that are new to me and some that I've perused once or twice and always meant to get back to. Just a short time surfing around this list yielded a whole trick-or-treat bag's worth of cool stuff. Here's just a taste of what I found

  • In Shen's Books, a blog about multicultural books, I found two posts about books with biracial characters: one on picture books and one covering books for older kids. I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately, and am happy to see such great lists!

Off to wait for trick-or-treaters now (and maybe read something good while I'm at it)-- wishing everyone a happy (and not too scary) Halloween!

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Cold Season is Back

Why is it I love Indian summer? Right now my whole family is in various stages of a cold. I feel like we have been through this whole thing before, but here we are sick again.

Colds are extremely contagious (through sneezes, touches or coughs from another person), your child will most likely get one when in contact with other infected kids or family members.


  • Runny nose that lasts 5 to 7 days
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Wet or dry cough that lasts about a week
  • Possible low-grade fever
  • Scratchy throat
  • Symptoms usually last for one to two weeks

Treatment: Medication can’t cure a cold, but it can help your child feel better. Try an over-the-counter cough suppressant, decongestant, antihistamine or other children’s cold medication. Have the whole family wash their hands frequently to avoid spreading germs. Be sure your children drink lots of water and juice to keep hydrated.

Remember to check with your doctor before giving a child any type of medication. If the symptoms are getting worse, interfere with daily activities, are accompanied by a fever, wheezing, difficulty breathing, or last longer than two weeks, it’s time to have the doctor take a closer look.

But most of all, make some soup! Need a good soup recipe?

Try this chicken soup and rice recipe inspired by Maurice Sendak or if you have no time, then buy some soup and serve it up in her favorite bowl.

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Shivery Reads for Halloween

I admit it: I'm not a big fan of the horror genre, in books or in movies. Oh, I have an intellectual appreciation for the deliciousness of the carefully placed detail, the careful dilineation of gore...I just, personally, scare way too easily to enjoy it.

But at this time of year, when fake spiderwebs hang from doorways, and I work in the shadow of a row of witches' hats strung above the children's info desk at the library, it's hard to avoid thoughts of the macabre. And, once I think about it, okay, there are a few spooky kids' novels that I've liked. They're not Halloween titles, exactly. But they all sent chills down my spine:

The Owl Service, by Alan Garner. Three teenagers accidentally tick off the dark forces of Welsh mythology, who then possess them and force them to re-enact a centuries-old tragedy. While I was reading this book--as an adult, mind you--I developed a morbid fear of the hallway between my bedroom and the bathroom, and if I was up too late would have to switch on all the lights if I ventured out that way.

The Sea of Trolls, by Nancy Farmer. While it's not classified as horror, this book has a number of horrific elements, not least the half-troll Queen Frith. When Jack, the young hero, accidentally casts a spell that makes Frith's hair fall out, he has to travel to the farthest reaches of the land of trolls to undo the damage, or Frith will hold his little sister captive forever.

Skellig, by David Almond. I have never read a satisfactory description of this book, and so I'm certainly not going to try. Suffice it to say that the title character's undefined quality is a large part of his/its creepiness, and that the friendship and even love that the kid characters develop for Skellig is things that makes this book stay with me.

Well-Witched, by Frances Hardinge. I read this book when it first came out, and wrote in some detail about it here. Two years later, I think I'm mostly recovered. Except from the part where the boy grows eyes on his knuckles. I don't think I'll ever entirely get over that.

The White Darkness, by Geraldine McCaughrean. Not all horrors are supernatural. This thriller sends its heroine (and its readers) to the furthest frozen reaches of the Antarctic-- and the truth about her "uncle"'s plans for her, which are creepier and crazier than you can imagine. Really.

The Changeover, by Margaret Mahy. You know how little kids love to get hand-stamps at the library? For a long time after reading this book, I couldn't give a kid a hand-stamp without getting the shivers.

All these books would be good for kids of about ages 11-14. Maybe younger, if they're not as wimpy as I am.

Some more Halloween-y links:

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More than the Water Pump Moment: Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan

Here’s a famous moment: It was 1887. Seven-year-old Helen Keller had been blind and deaf since toddlerhood. She was completely wild and undisciplined (she had a terrible temper and her parents couldn’t bear to frustrate her further). Her teacher, Anne Sullivan, was trying to get her to understand that there were words for everything. She put Helen’s hands under the water pump outside her house, fingerspelled the letters “W-A-T-E-R” to her, and suddenly Helen got it. Her face lit up, she spelled the letters back to Anne Sullivan, and she vocalized her long-lost baby word for “water.”

That moment was a breakthrough for student and teacher; a true epiphany. It was the climax of the play and movie “The Miracle Worker” based on Helen’s early life. And now it’s been memorialized in a statue of Helen Keller that has just been added to the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol.

For many disabled people, and for non-disabled people (like me) who have been fascinated by Keller and Sullivan since childhood, news of this statue is both a thrill and something of a source of frustration: because that famous moment was the end of the movie, but it was just the start for Helen Keller. She learned to fingerspell and read and write Braille and even to speak. She graduated with honors from Radcliffe at a time when hardly any women went to college, and went on to become a scholar, author, world traveler, public speaker, and political activist, advocating for women’s suffrage and for peace. She was friends with Mark Twain and Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a person to reckon with.

It’s true that, as a narrative for kids, it’s hard to beat the water-pump story. I have a theory that the story of Keller’s struggle to communicate has a special resonance for children who are having a hard time learning to read, and also for those who love reading, because it’s all about the power of language and also about the amazing things that a passionate and determined kid can accomplish. Plus, Anne Sullivan, Helen’s teacher and lifelong companion, is an equally compelling character: not only was she just as passionate and determined as her student, but she was barely out of her own teens when she started working with Helen, was partially blind herself, and was still shadowed by a childhood of miserable poverty that’s like something out of Dickens.

One book that tells Sullivan’s story is Helen Keller’s Teacher, by Margaret Davidson. I read this one as a kid and still remember the wrenching chapters about her childhood in an almshouse. Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller, by Sarah Miller, published just a few years ago, is a masterful retelling of Sullivan’s story. Although the book is published as fiction, as the author imagines herself into Sullivan’s thoughts and writes in her first-person voice, it’s prodigiously well-researched and is based on Sullivan’s writings and on actual events.

There is no shortage of kids’ biographies of Helen Keller herself. The World at Her Fingertips, by Joan Dash, also amply covers Keller’s adult life and her formidable personality, in a narrative format. Helen Keller: Rebellious Spirit, by Laurie Lawlor, is a great introduction for older kids (about 10 and up) and adults. There are lots of photos, and the author doesn’t shy away from relating the more controversial aspects of Helen’s life, such as her support for socialism.

Of course, books like the ones I’ve listed have an advantage over stand-alone statuary: they can use words to depict a series of events, to at least try to capture the totality of someone’s life. A statue has to pick one representative moment, and I’m not sure that the moment depicted in the U.S. Capitol statue is the one I would’ve chosen, despite its fame and its narrative power. I wish there was a way for that statue to honor the accomplished adult person that Helen Keller became, who harnessed that stubbornness and intelligence that had made her such a difficult kid, and used them not only to fingerspell “Water” but to become a force for change in the world.

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The Back-to-school Grind

Ok, so now the new clothes have been worn (possibly torn) and the school supplies are already starting to get lost. Your family is really back to school when your kids finally are into the routine of waking up early enough to arrive at school on time. On difficult mornings I may resort to coaxing them out of bed with hot cocoa...whatever it takes to start the day with a good mood.

After school the time crunch doesn't stop, especially if you are signed up for a few activities like my kids. There are some evenings when we barely manage to finish the homework before it's time to go to bed. We are trying to keep our schedule manageable so we are more inclined to schedule play dates on a Friday or weekend. Looking for a few pointers on how to manage homework? Check out's Gradeschool Homework Guide.

Triumph How did we make it to October without losing our marbles? Well, we found that it was helpful to establish a routine where clothes are picked out the night before, complete with shoes, socks and jackets. Any choosing should be done before bed. You can also check out the forecast to plan an outfit that matches the weather. The days are getting crisp so be sure to throw an extra layer into the backpack.

My mother-in-law used to even set her breakfast table the night before. I find that a little too ambitious but it may help your kids get started on breakfast while you finish getting dressed. You may want to have your kids tell you before bedtime what they will want for breakfast, and then stick with it. For kids who need lunches packed, have those ready (or mostly ready) the evening before as well, so all that needs to be done is a few last-minute touches before you dash out the door.

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It's Cybils Time Again!

It’s time for the Cybils once again! This is one of my very favorite kid book awards, bestowed by children’s and teen book bloggers. Last year I was on the Easy Reader judging panel, but this year I’m taking it easy and just watching and reading as the nominations roll in.

One of the things I like best about the Cybils is its democratic nature: you or I or anyone who loves kids’ books can participate in this process by nominating one or more favorite books published in the past year. I wrote some tips for nominating Cybils titles last October, and there’s a shorter introduction on the Cybils website here. This year the dauntless Cybils organizing committee has streamlined the process: there’s a handy nomination form on the website, and if you click on a book category you can see a list of all the nominated titles just by scrolling down a sweet little window in the screen. This makes it easy to see if the book you want to nominate is already listed.

Nominations have been open since October 1, and will close in just five days, on October 15. If (like me!) you haven’t had a chance to nominate anything yet, this late start can be tricky—you might find (like me!) that some of your favorite books have already been added to the list.

For example, someone has already nominated one of my very favorite kids’ books of the last several months, When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. It’s in the Middle-Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy category, which makes sense, because the plot does hinge on a pretty big science-fiction-y element. (Though what I love about the book is how much it feels like realistic slightly-historical fiction, set in the exact era during which I grew up (the late 1970’s), in a neighborhood (the Upper West Side of Manhattan) where I spent a lot of time around then. It’s just that some things about it are slightly…off-kilter. And then even further off. But all in a completely grounded and believable way.) 

Anyway, I didn’t really think I’d get to nominate it, because I read so many raves about it from other bloggers before I’d even picked it up. But since it’s already on the list, I can nominate another book I loved without fear that When You Reach Me won’t get its chance. The Cybils are friendly that way.

But I only have five more days! And so do you!

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