Friday, November 7, 2014

Blog Tour: I'm My Own Dog, by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick, 2014)

It's a special pleasure to welcome to the Fourth Musketeer author/illustrator David Ezra Stein.  David is the creator of many award-winning picture books, including Interrupting Chicken, which was awarded a Caldecott Honor, and Dinosaur Kisses.  His books are great read-alouds, and are favorites of librarians, teachers, parents, and yes, kids.  

He has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his very funny new picture book, I'm My Own Dog.  In a role reversal that will tickle all dog lovers, this dog has no need of a human owner.  He can perfectly well take care of himself (except for that one little spot he can't scratch).  But what will happen when he lets one of those cute humans follow him home?  Kids and adults alike will love the reversal of roles in Stein's newest book.  

Q:  David, my miniature poodle Buddy would love your new book--if he could read.  He definitely thinks he's in charge of the house and will even carry his own leash and throw toys to himself in play and then run and fetch them.  Was there a particular dog that inspired you to create the character in I'm My Own Dog?

my dog, Buddy


A:  Hi Margo! Maybe he can read, but doesn’t want to let on. Even if he doesn’t read English, I’m hoping this book will be translated to Doggish sometime soon. Admittedly, it’s hard to find a translator…. “Woof! Wauf! Wooooah! Wuf. Rrrrrr?” Sorry for the interruption; that was just me asking if there are any dog translators out there. I only speak a little, broken Doggish.

I was not inspired by any one dog, but by my inner dog, I suppose, who wants to be his own master. To be able to choose how he responds to the world, and not be lead around by a leash of fear or knee-jerk reaction. That is a kind of mastery. That is a dog who walks himself.


some examples of Stein's humor and artwork
Q:  Who are some of your favorite fictional dogs, either in children's or adult literature?

A:  Harry the Dirty Dog.

Q:  Could you discuss a bit using animals or monsters as protagonists in children's books instead of actual children?  I've always wondered if this decision was made in order to avoid having to choose a specific race if children were used, or is it really just because it's much more fun to draw chickens and dogs than kids?  

A:  Sure. I don’t know that there’s only one answer to this, but it does seem to me an animal or monster or whatever non-human character we employ in literature, is used to give a higher degree of universality. Kids tend to be open to animals in a way that they are not open to people.
It is perhaps easier to achieve a timeless quality using non-humans, because you can circumvent the trappings of fashion, technology, etc.

And yes, I do think it’s effective to use animals when it comes to race and even gender, in that it helps focus on the subject matter, and I think it is more relatable for all children.
Additionally, although we live mainly in cities, there is still an archetypal wilderness inside each of us, populated by wolves, bears, rabbits, owls, snakes, and such. Whether this stems from Fairytales, or Aesop’s Fables, or much deeper times when we ourselves lived in the woods, I don’t know.

Lastly, from an illustration standpoint, it is more fun to draw creatures or animals. I am not that into drawing kids, for some reason. Animals and monsters and such can be designed to an extent that allows for a lot more leeway.

David, thanks so much for visiting The Fourth Musketeer!  I look forward to reading I'm My Own Dog in one of my library storytimes soon!

In addition to his website, you can find David Ezra Stein on Facebook.  Here's the schedule for the complete blog tour:


  • 11/3/2014 Smart Books for Smart Kids
  • 11/4/2014 Read Now, Sleep Later
  • 11/5/2014 Cracking the Cover
  • 11/6/2014 Elizabeth Dulemba's blog
  • 11/7/2014 The Fourth Musketeer
  • 11/8/2014 Picture Book Palooza
  • 11/9/2014 Randomly Reading
  • 11/10/2014 Children's Corner
  • 11/11/2014 Flowering Minds
  • 11/12/2014 Teach Mentor Texts
  • 11/13/2014 KidLit Frenzy
  • 11/14/2014 Literacy Toolbox
  • Monday, November 3, 2014

    More on Hello Kitty Con...

    a hug from the famous Kitty
    When I started blogging a number of years back, I didn't know there might be special perks associated with being a blogger.  Recently I was thrilled that I was able to snag a special invitation to the Hello Kitty Con press preview and VIP party because of my blog!  I've lived in Los Angeles nearly all my life, but I'm not exactly a regular at red carpet events.  This was my first time attending such a large gathering as "press"--not only did we get to see the convention's exhibits without the massive sold-out crowds that were there during the convention, we got a fabulous swag bag filled with Hello Kitty themed freebies (many of which you had to stand in line for FIVE or SIX hours during the convention to buy at a special store for convention attendees only!)

    with my swag bag and several Hello Kitty girls
    I also attended a glamorous party on-site, complete with open bar (Hello Kitty-themed grown-up drinks, of course), adorable Hello Kitty food, and of course music as well.

    cupcakes featuring Hello Kitty and her iconic bow

    This was the first-ever Hello Kitty convention, which lasted for four days in Los Angeles and completely sold out the 25,000 tickets available.  Organized by Sanrio in celebration of Hello Kitty's 40th anniversary, fans came from all over the country to attend (and perhaps all over the world, although I didn't talk to any from abroad).  Like Comic-Con, Star Wars cons, and other such events, the four days were filled with exhibits, expert panels, workshops, costume contests, art classes, and of course, plenty of shopping opportunities.  The press preview had just a few hundred guests, so it was great to be able to see all the exhibits without the huge crowds that were there when I came back with my regular ticket on Friday.  The convention was held in the Geffen Contemporary, a large, warehouse like space in Little Tokyo that is part of Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).  It is conveniently next door to the Japanese-American National Museum, which is also hosting a special Hello Kitty exhibit (Hello! Exploring the Supercute world of Hello Kitty) which runs until the end of April.  The museum (and of course its store) was open to all convention attendees free of charge.

    Japanese-American National Museum

    Sanrio was founded 55 years ago as a company to promote friendship through small gifts, and the first Hello Kitty product produced cost less than the equivalent of $1 (in yen, of course).  The company was known for small inexpensive products such as pencils, stickers, and small toys, although now Sanrio licenses with celebrity designers such as Tarina Tarentino (see my last post for more on that topic) for more upscale products as well.  As one would expect, the exhibits were full of Hello Kitty products on display, including the original first coin purse, now kept in a vault in Japan but sent to the convention for exhibit.

    original Hello Kitty coin purse
    It was displayed in its own darkened room, with a beautiful display case, much as one might see the Crown Jewels or the Hope Diamond!  There was also a huge reproduction of the original coin purse, set up for photos ops.



    In a Hello Kitty house, each room was filled with Hello Kitty merchandise from over the years.  I particularly admired the office.

    Hello Kitty's office

    The highlight of the convention for me was the pop-up designer shops, set up as a Japanese marketplace, complete with Zen garden.


    These pop-up shops included special items produced for the convention by Sanrio licensees such as Sephora (which was doing free makeovers), Dr. Dre (who knew he liked Hello Kitty?) Dylan's Candy Bar, Spam, and a variety of toy and clothing manufacturers, including Japan LA, a fashion designer who featured special SimpsonsXHello Kitty clothing.


    There were lots of fun photo ops with very kawaii (Japanese for cute) Lolita girls decked out in Hello Kitty gear, and even a chance to have a photo with the Kitty herself.  Art was also a big part of the displays--there were lots of Hello Kitty inspired paintings, ceramics, and even a tattoo studio tattoo where you could get free tattoos. Sanrio artists were even signing free personalized drawings.


    I returned on Friday for the actual convention, and was exceedingly grateful I had been there for the press preview since during the regular convention the place was packed with happy Hello Kitty fans of all ages!  Lots of fun but lots of lines.  Luckily I had had a chance to peruse all the exhibits when I was there Wednesday night.  I was impressed by the very well-behaved smallest fans--I didn't overhear any whining from the kids about lines or anything else.  Kids and grown-ups could participate in special art classes to learn to draw Hello Kitty (not as easy as she looks), decorate a Hello Kitty pumpkin, and make Hello Kitty sand art and coloring sheets, among other activities.  There was even an arcade where you could play games for free and win Hello Kitty prizes, all lots of fun for the kids.  Hello Kitty fans attending ranged from babies in strollers to an elderly Japanese couple I noticed, who must have been in their mid-80's at least.  I even met a group of 3 generations of Hello Kitty fans--a mom, grandma, and daughter, all decked out in costumes.

    grandma and granddaughter Hello Kitty fans

    On Friday I was able to attend a highly coveted workshop (these all sold out well in advance) with jewelry designer Onch Movement.  We were all able to make a special Hello Kitty necklace that was designed by Onch and available only to those who participated in the workshop--very exclusive!  Onch himself was adorable and came around to help everyone and pose for pictures.  Luckily I was sitting next to a very nice lady who had lots of jewelry making experience because I needed a lot of help working with those tiny rings.

    Onch and there I am in the second row with my red Hello Kitty shirt!
    When I left the convention I was on a definite Hello Kitty high with all the adorableness of Sanrio and the nice people I had met.  Here's hoping the Hello Kitty con will become an annual event!

    For more on Hello Kitty and reading, I will be doing a guest post on the ALSC blog later this month.

    If you're a real Hello Kitty fan, you can check out my on-line photo album at Flickr--lots more really fun pictures.  As you scroll over the pictures, you can read my captions as well.



    Saturday, November 1, 2014

    The answer you've been waiting for? Is she a cat or a girl? Hello Kitty Con Post #1


    Off my usual blogging subjects, I am going to share some details of the first ever Hello Kitty con!

    I was so fortunate to be able to attend the sold-out con going on in Los Angeles this weekend.  I love all things "kawaii" (Japanese for cute) and signed up for the convention as soon as I read about it on Sanrio's website.  I attended the press preview and VIP party (!) on Wednesday night (more on that to follow) and then went to the Con as a regular participant on Friday.  My favorite experience was an all-star panel  on Friday with Yuko Yamaguchi, Sanrio Tokyo’s head Hello Kitty designer, and fashion jewelry designer to the stars Tarina Tarantino.



    The two first met ten years ago at the time of Hello Kitty’s 30th anniversary, when Tarina designed her first Hello Kitty collection.  Tarina, looking suitably kawaii (cute) with her signature bright pink hair, told us that she discovered Hello Kitty in the late 1970’s when her grandparents brought her some small gifts from Japan decorated with the very simple but adorable cat.  Soon after, Hello Kitty went on sale in the US and Tarina reminisced about collecting Hello Kitty from a Bullocks (a now defunct department store) display when she was a girl in Los Angeles.  “I have to pinch myself” Tarina said, when she thinks that now she designs jewelry collections featuring the iconic figure.  She called Yuko her Japanese soul-sister and says she wants to play dress-up in Yuko’s closet some day when she is in Tokyo!



    I furiously took notes during the panel so that I could share some of the fascinating accounts.  Here's some of the highlights...

    Tarina: Could you tell us about the back story of Hello Kitty?

    Yuko:  When I first met Hello Kitty in 1980, it was two years after I started working for Sanrio.  At that time Hello Kitty was not the most popular Sanrio character.  Even I didn’t think of Hello Kitty as a valuable asset.  At that time, Little Twin Stars was the most popular Sanrio character and dominated their sales.  Sanrio’s founder was concerned that Hello Kitty’s popularity was not growing, and was looking for a designer to take on the task of building her brand.  But no designer wants to be assigned to a character that’s not popular.  The Sanrio founder asked all the designers to present new designs for Hello Kitty.  I thought that the key to re-invent Hello Kitty was not the visual, but creating different stories.  According to Sanrio’s own newsletter, Hello Kitty dreamed of becoming a professional pianist, but you never saw her playing the piano, so that’s what I drew.  As a child I took piano lessons and had a grand piano at my home, so I imagined Hello Kitty had a grand piano.

    I also imagined that Hello Kitty’s mom was a pianist, and her father must have a well-paying job to be able to afford that grand piano.  I presented the story of Hello Kitty and her family and then was told that I should be the Hello Kitty designer—not because I was the best artist but because I had the imagination and was willing to present my ideas, that’s why I was chosen. 

    There was a lot of pressure to develop a character that wasn’t popular.  I was talking to Hello Kitty every day.  When did Hello Kitty talk back?  I will never forget in the fall of 1985 she spoke back to me for the first time.  After five years she because the #1 character at Sanrio.  This is what Hello Kitty told me after five years:  “We did it!”  At that time I decided to take it up a notch, for her to be the #1 character in Japan.  But Hello Kitty didn’t say anything.  In the spring of 1997 many years later she became the #1 brand in Japan...

    Hello Kitty has become another form of myself.  At that time I wasn’t sure if I was Hello Kitty or Hello Kitty was me.  I made a promise to make her the #1 character in the world!

    Tarina:  On the question that has consumed portions of the Internet lately, as to whether Hello Kitty is a cat or a girl…

    Yuko:  Since I met Hello Kitty, I thought of her as Hello Kitty.  She’s not a cat and she’s not a human.  I just want Hello Kitty to be a role model and the question as to whether she’s a cat or a human is not relevant.  But I can tell you for sure that Charmmy Kitty (Hello Kitty’s pet cat) is a cat.  Snoopy is a dog—because he only speaks the language of dogs.  So what’s Mickey Mouse?  I don’t think he’s a mouse, he’s Mickey Mouse.  So Hello Kitty is Hello Kitty and it is my wish to continue to nurture her as a very special brand.

    Charmmy Kitty 


    Tarina:  What characters were you influenced by growing up?

    Yuko:  As a child I loved Mickey Mouse and Disney.  I always wanted to go to Disneyland as a child but the US seemed much farther away in those days.  [When I finally went to the United States and visited Disneyland] I asked Mickey Mouse to autograph my passport.  I got into a lot of trouble with immigration!

    Yuko concluded by saying that what she wants for Hello Kitty is not the life that Mickey Mouse lives.  "I want her to be a role model—a singer, dancer, and of course, pianist.  Then she can be an actress and win an Oscar." She also compared Hello Kitty to Lady Gaga!

    More on the con (and more photos) to follow!

    Thursday, October 23, 2014

    Blog Tour and Giveaway: Murphy, Gold Rush Dog by Alison Hart (Peachtree Press, 2014)

    Recommended for ages 7-10.

    Author Alison Hart specializes in writing historical fiction for young people, and her skills at this genre are evident in her newest book, Murphy, Gold Rush Dog, the second in a recent series, Dog Chronicles, which features heartwarming stories of heroic dogs from different historical periods.  

    Set in 1900, this early chapter book is told in the first person by our canine hero, Murphy, a sled dog on the Alaskan frontier who's headed to Nome--and the Alaska gold rush--with his cruel master.  He manages to free himself and sets off wandering through the town dreaming of "a home filled with kind words--and maybe even bacon."  Could any dog want more than that?  Murphy has the good fortune to be taken in by a young girl named Sally and her mother, who've come from Seattle to make a new life on the frontier--not as gold miners, but with a typewriter, which Sally's mother plans to use to type letters and documents for the miners.

    When the hardships of Alaska's frontier get too much for Sally's mother, she plans to book passage back to Seattle for the two of them.  But Sally is determined to find gold despite her mother's caution that almost no one winds up rich in the gold fields.  Sally decides--without her mother knowing, of course--to set off on her own to stake a claim and raise enough money that they can buy a cabin and stay over the winter in Nome.  She takes Murphy with her, but can Murphy keep Sally and himself safe, with threats from wolves, grizzly bears, and harsh storms in the Alaska wilderness?  As one would expect given the young audience this book is aimed at, there is a happy ending for all in store.  

    The book is abundantly illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery, whose pencil sketches evoke the hardships of the Alaskan frontier.  Some examples of the artwork follow:





    This book does an effective job portraying the realities of the gold rush in Alaska, particularly how the young reader sees that very few people actually got rich through finding large gold nuggets.  Hart peppers the text with plenty of evocative details of mosquitoes, saloons, dance halls, and n'er-do-wells of the frontier, as well as including some Native American characters who play a minor role in the narrative.  Back matter includes additional historical background about dogs in Alaska, the Nome gold rush, a brief bibliography, and suggestions for further reading.  I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical books such as the American Girl series or the Dear America books or to those who favor books about animals.  

    For more on Murphy, Gold Rush Dog, check out these other blog tour stops:


    If you would like to win a copy of this book, please leave a comment below with your e-mail address!

    Thursday, October 16, 2014

    Blog Tour and Giveaway: Claude on the Slopes, by Alex T. Smith (Peachtree, 2014)


    Recommended for ages 5-8.

    British author/illustrator Alex T. Smith returns with a winter-themed addition to his beginning reader series about the adventures of a genial dog named Claude and his best friend Sir Bobblysock (yes, Sir Bobblysock is actually a sock, an unusual sidekick--or perhaps it makes sense since dogs love to chew socks?) This is the fourth book in the series.

    In Claude on the Slopes, we are introduced to Claude, a small, plump dog who wears shoes, a sweater and "a rather nifty beret,"  and resides with Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes and his best friend Sir Bobblysock at 112 Waggy Avenue.    In each book, Claude and Sir Bobblysock take off on adventures.  One day they go to the library, where they visit Miss Hush, the librarian, who has to remind Claude to use his "nice Indoor voice."  Claude is in for a real adventure when he experiences snow for the first time, and winds up at a winter sports center, where he experiences snowball fights, sledding, and snow sculpture and skiing.  When he forgets he's not supposed to use his loud outdoor voice out in the snow and accidentally triggers an avalanche, his magic beret, which seems to hold everything you can need, helps Claude save the day.

    This beginning reader is perfect for fans of gentle humor such as Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant or the Amanda pig series by Jean van Leeuwen.  The cartoon-style artwork, done in black, white, grey and red, adds to the humor of the stories.  As is typical with beginning readers, the author uses a format of brief chapters which can be read independently if a child is not yet ready to read the entire book at one sitting.  The book would also make an amusing read-aloud, although the small size of the volume make it better suited for reading with a small group than a classroom.

    To win your own copy of Claude on the Slopes, leave your e-mail in a comment below.  The winner will be selected on November 1.  

    For more on Claude on the Slopes, check out these blog tour stops:

    ·     Monday,10/13- Picture Book to YA The Write Path
    ·     Tuesday, 10/14- Geo Librarian and  Kit Lit Reviews
    ·     Wednesday, 10/15- Chat with Vera
    ·     Thursday, 10/16- The 4th Musketeer
    ·     Friday, 10/17- Librarian in Cute Shoes




    Thursday, October 9, 2014

    Blog Tour and Giveaway: Can I Come Too? by Brian Patten and Nicola Bayley (Peachtree Press, 2014)

    Recommended for ages 3-8.

    British poet Brian Patten and British painter and illustrator Nicola Bayley combine forces in Can I Come Too?, an exquisitely illustrated picture book suitable for the youngest children, in which a tiny but adventurous mouse sets out on a quest to find the biggest creature in the world.

    In his gentle and lyrical text, Patten turns to a familiar and beloved pattern for children's books, the cumulative tale, much as P.D. Eastman uses in Are You My Mother or Deborah Guarino uses in Is Your Mama a Llama, to mention just a few.  Here, our mouse heroine meets a succession of larger and larger animals, asking each "Are you the biggest creature in the world?"  A friendly frog, a rainbow colored kingfisher, a sleepy cat, an otter, a badger, a dog, a goat, and a tiger all admit they're not the biggest creature in the world, but ask politely if they can come along on the adventure.  When the story is read aloud, children will enjoy chiming in on the oft-repeated refrain, "Can I come too?"  Finally, the motley group of animals, led by our intrepid mouse, meets a polar bear, who knows just where to find the biggest creature in the world.  They all follow the polar bear to the ocean, where they encounter an enormous and majestic whale.  Satisfied, the sleepy animals spend some time watching the whale frolic in the ocean, and then return home, where Mouse curls up and muses, "I might be tiny, but I've had a very big adventure."

    This is a calm and soothing story that would be perfect for bedtime reading for young children; snuggled in a chair or bed an adult and child could not only enjoy the text but also have time to observe the intricacies of Nicola Bayley's meticulously detailed illustrations, rendered in colored pencil.  Her style brings to mind celebrated American illustrators such as Michael Hague and Jan Brett.  Peachtree Press has kindly shared some of her illustrations, which can be seen below:




    If Mouse's adventure makes you hungry, you can make a mouse-themed snack with instructions from Peachtree's blog!

    For more on Can I Come Too?, check out other blog tour stops:
    Monday 10/6 Green Bean Teen Queen
    Tuesday 10/7- Geo Librarian and Kid Lit Reviews
    Wednesday 10/8- Chat with Vera
    Thursday 10/9- Blue Owl
    Friday 10/10 Sally's Bookshelf

    If you would like to win a copy of Can I Come Too? for your own home or school library, please leave a comment below with your e-mail address! The winner will be selected at random on 10/23/14.

    Sunday, October 5, 2014

    Cybils nominations are now open!

    I am very excited to be serving as a Round I Cybils judge this year for the Elementary/Middle Grade Non-fiction category.  If you're not familiar with the Cybils, now in their 9th year, here's the mission statement:

    The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.

    Anyone can nominate titles to be considered for the Cybils!  For information on how to nominate your favorite children's and YA titles, and how to figure out what category to nominate them in and whether the particular title is eligible, check out this link to the Cybils website.  Unlike some other children's literature awards, which I will not name, the Cybils considers not only literary merit but also KID APPEAL.  I find that many of the titles winning our most prestigious children's book awards have little kid appeal, but lots of librarian appeal.  That's fine, as far as it goes, but it doesn't mean that much to those of us on the ground at public or school libraries, or those parents, relatives, or family friends looking for a great book that their favorite child will love.  Please feel free to nominate your favorites (only one in each category per person, please--and the book must have been published between October 16, 2013 and October 15, 2014).  Nominations close on October 15, and then all of us judges start reading in every spare moment (I, for one, plan to make good use of those 15 minute morning and afternoon breaks we're supposed to take at work....)

    Happy nominating!