Tuesday, Aug 31, 2010: Kids' Maximum Shelf: Ivy and Bean: What's the Big Idea?

From Pancake Court to Guernsey follow Annie Barrows' Journey

Chronicle Books: Ivy and Bean Day Free Event Kit

Chronicle Children's: Ivy and Bean Boxes Set 2 (Books 4, 5 and 6)

Chronicle Children's: Noonie's Masterpiece by Lisa Railsback, illustrated by Sarajo Frieden

Editors' Note

Maximum Shelf: Ivy and Bean: What's the Big Idea?

In this edition of Kids' Maximum Shelf--the monthly Shelf Awareness feature that focuses on an upcoming title that we love and believe will be a great handselling opportunity for booksellers everywhere--we present Ivy and Bean: What's the Big Idea? by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, which goes on sale on November 6. The review and interviews are by Jennifer M. Brown. Chronicle Books has helped support the issue.


Chronicle Children's: Ivy and Bean What's the Big Idea? by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Books & Authors

Ivy and Bean: The Series

While each Ivy and Bean book stands on its own, running characters and jokes will reward readers who try them all.


Ivy and Bean

"Just right for kids moving on from beginning readers.... Barrows's narrative brims with sprightly dialogue...."

--Publishers Weekly, starred review




Ivy and Bean and the Ghost that Had to Go

"Barrows displays a keen sense of what constitutes second grade humor; readers will be snickering in glee over Ivy and Bean's antics.... This strong follow up to Ivy and Bean is bound to please fans."

--Kirkus Reviews



Ivy and Bean Break the Fossil Record

"Barrows has a fine touch. Blackall's humorous drawings add to the fun. This is a great chapter book for students who have recently crossed the independent reader bridge."

--School Library Journal



Ivy and Bean Take Care of the Babysitter

"Another winner!"

--the San Francisco Chronicle





Ivy and Bean Bound to Be Bad

"Barrows and Blackall deliver another laugh-out loud Pancake Court romp that derives its humor from the very believeable characters and chemistry of the neighborhood children."

--Kirkus Reviews



Ivy and Bean Doomed to Dance

"In this sixth entry in the series, Barrows continues to provide early chapter book readers with a laugh a minute in a story loaded with comic situations of which illustrator Blackall takes full advantage.... Ivy and Bean may not enjoy their adventures in ballet, but readers certainly will."

--The Horn Book




Chronicle Children's: Ivy and Bean Doomed to Dance by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Celebrate Ivy and Bean Day!

November 6, 2010, is Ivy and Bean Day! Booksellers may sign up now to join in the festivities. Last year, 125 bookstores and libraries participated (in the photo at left: Ivy and Bean Day 2009 at Page and Palette in Fairhope, Ala.). In keeping with the theme of Ivy and Bean: What's the Big Idea?, Chronicle Books will send a kit for a terrific Science Fair–themed event to all participating hosts. Here are some Big Ideas to get Ivy and Bean fans started.




Annie Barrows: Making Flights of Fancy Real

Annie Barrows landed her first job at age 12 in the library. "I'd sit in the back when I was supposed to be putting on the plastic jackets," she admits. "I was being paid to read, which has always been my career goal." As an adult, she became an editor, but soon discovered that editors don't actually get to read all the time. "I always say that if you really want to be paid to read, you should be a security guard," explains Barrows. "Being an editor is far too difficult, I think." Not only is Barrows the bestselling author of the Ivy and Bean series for children, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, she also co-authored The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society with her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer, aimed at adults. Here Barrows discusses the inspiration for Ivy and Bean, the pressures children feel about global warming, and the contrast between writing for young people and for adults.


What got you started with Ivy and Bean?

I got the idea for Ivy and Bean when my older daughter was at the end of first grade because we sort of ran out of stuff to read. We'd gone through Junie B. Jones and Magic Treehouse, and I thought, "Someone needs to do something about this." And I thought, "Heck, I'm a writer, I could write a book." I started to think about what kind of book I'd like to read, and what kind of book my daughter would like to read. I thought, "We could go down that fantasy path or write about the real world, her friends, their lives." My ulterior motive is to give kids a real laugh and serve no purpose.


One of the best things about Ivy and Bean's friendship is how different they are, but also how well they complement each other. Did you model their friendship on one you're familiar with yourself?

I don't think there's really a one-to-one correlation with a single real-life person. Ivy is in some ways a lot like my older daughter who leads with her ideas. Whereas, my other daughter leads with her impulse and her body. And I love the combination of one making plans based on her ideas, and the other trying to make the ideas become real. An idea person often doesn't have a way to make them real, and the real child doesn't make those flights of fancy. I wanted to put those together so they could have more fun than they'd ever have separately. Idea people often look in the sky, which is great, but isn't great reading, so you need the real-world person to put the ideas into practice.


Let's talk about Pancake Court--does it bear any resemblance to your childhood neighborhood?

Not at all. I made up Pancake Court because when I first wrote Ivy and Bean, there were two things that had to go: 1. Ivy and Bean make voodoo dolls. 2. When Bean runs away from Nancy, she runs across the street. The editor said, "These two things have got to go." And I said, "But Bean has to run away!" She said, "I don't care. She can't run across the street." So I made it a cul de sac--that was the solution to all my problems--and I took out the voodoo dolls. Of course, I spent my entire childhood running across the street. I lived on a street where all the kids were in the street all the time; we all roved from yard to yard.


How do you keep the series so fresh--both for you and for your readers?

Part of what I have to do is enter into kid-brain myself. I also have to spend time really listening to kids. I used to listen to my kids, but they're older now. So I go to their school and listen to what they're saying, and it reminds me of their world. You have to ask yourself honestly, is this really what a kid would do? Does this sound right? Does this make sense in kid-think? I work on it. I don't know that it's always successful but it's in my head as I'm writing.


Children receive such a heavy message about their responsibility for the planet. Was Big Idea a response to that?

I feel like it is a response to that. I've been watching my own kids get this throughout their elementary and middle school careers, like it's all falling apart and going to hell in a handbasket. I think kids worry a lot about this. It's all out of their hands and they can't do anything really to solve the problem. I wanted to take the kids' vantage point on this and show there's another way to think about this. It's not this unilateral dark picture. There are ways it's being addressed and there are a series of small solutions, and that adjustments in thinking can be key to making a world we all want to live in.


Sometimes it's really hard to come to the simple solution. Was it difficult to arrive at Ivy and Bean's project?

Yes, the ending was very hard to come to. In a lot of the Ivy and Bean books, it has been hard for the solution not to be falsely successful. In Break the Fossil Record, they're not successful in their goal, but they're satisfied as kids. In this case it took me a long time to find an ending that would be honest and where they'd be satisfied. I had to stare out my window for a long time to get to that "We Are the World" space. I think people are very frightened of the outdoors, in a way. We have this conditioning that it's something we have to oppose, that we have to bend to our will. What if we change how we see it, how we feel about it? Does that create more respect?


What was it like to work on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society after Ivy and Bean?

Sometimes my brain just shorts out when I think about those two things together. It is such a different way to write, writing for grown-ups and writing for kids. When I began Guernsey, I was doing it because my aunt asked me to. I thought, if she wants me to, I will. But I had no idea what it would be like, and once I got into it, it was such a joy to work on--part of that was hanging out with Mary Ann, but also writing those sentences, circling around a subject instead of going right straight at it the way you do with kids' books.


Can you give us a sneak preview to book eight in the Ivy and Bean series?

The eighth book is about money and cheese. It seemed like it was time for me to address the issue of money, which is such a big deal for seven-year-olds. Ivy and Bean want to make money to buy cheese, not because they want the cheese but because they want the little round wax things that the cheese comes in. My daughter told me one day that this is the hot item in the lunch room.


Top photo by Brook McCormick

Sophie Blackall: Mapping It Out

As an artist who has worked on picture books (Ruby's Wish by Shirin Bridges), dust jackets (the Newbery-winning When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead) and, of course, the beginning chapter book series Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows, Sophie Blackall enjoys "spend[ing] so much time immersed in that world." She can sometimes do up to 20 different character sketches for a project but, Blackall said, "Ivy and Bean came out fully formed." Part of it she credits to the fact that she and Barrows have children the same age, and part of it is she believes they're "on the same wavelength," as Blackall put it. "She'll mention a chair and I'll draw the chair she's thinking of without her describing it."

The Ivy and Bean books, when they first came out, were at the forefront of a new genre designed to bridge the gap between beginning readers and chapter books. Sometimes the characters look at each other from across a spread, with text flowing around the artwork; at other times, spot art breaks up the narrative, and occasionally a wordless spread appears. Even though Blackall rendered the pictures in black and white, "they're laboriously painted," Blackall said. "They're very simple illustrations really, but it's trying to find that economic way to show all those delicious little character quirks."

Blackall grew up in Australia as what she calls "an up-in-a-tree-with-a-book child. The books that I loved were the Milly-Molly-Mandy books. They were incredibly simple stories that didn't really go anywhere and their adventures were all in the town." She continued, "In the beginning was a map of the town, and I wanted to know where she crossed the field to go to her friend's house. Those sorts of maps I just loved." She also liked the map of the Hundred Acre Wood on the endpapers of the Winnie-the-Pooh books. Originally she envisioned the cover of When You Reach Me showing the heroine's head with a map superimposed over it. "In the end, they just wanted the map things," said Blackall, who collects maps. "I love maps."

For the first book of the series, Ivy and Bean, Blackall created a map of Ivy's bedroom (which Ivy divides into distinct areas) and a map of Pancake Court, where Ivy and Bean live. "We didn't know how many books there would be at that time, but I remember thinking even then, 'I should be careful as I'm drawing the neighborhood plan, because it will haunt me.' And it has, because I have to keep going back to that first spread of Pancake Court." Barrows, on the other hand, loves that map and said she referred to it in the writing of the next book: "I just had them walking through the neighborhood in a similar pattern to the walk they take in the first book. Thank goodness I had Sophie's map."

Blackall said, "Another illustrator, I think it was Tad Hills, told me, 'As an illustrator of children's books you have to be everything from town planner to landscape artist to architect to fashion designer.' The author gives you a lot, but there are a lot of decisions to be made." She adheres closely to that first map of Pancake Court because she knows children pay attention. Still, she teased, "I put in a few little contradictions, just to trip them up a bit."



Book Brahmin: Annie Barrows

On your nightstand now:

Let's see, I've got the second volume of Thackeray's letters; Letters Between Six Sisters, the correspondence of the Mitford sisters (what a bunch of nuts); and The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Philip Lopate. Pretty literary, right? Wrong. They're on my nightstand because I use them for a stretching exercise: Thackeray under my head, the Mitfords under my shoulder blades, and Mr. Lopate as a free weight. The book I'm actually reading is under the bed. It's The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Very funny, very astute, perfect for all of us who would sell parents, spouses, children, souls, to have the books we love prove to be real.

Favorite book when you were a child:

 There were never enough good books, so I was a repeat reader. If I loved a book, I read it again and again and again. The clear winner of the Most-Read title was Little Women, with at least a hundred re-readings. Runners-up included The Knight's Castle, The Diamond in the Window, Time at the Top, Harriet the Spy, Dear Enemy and a yellow book whose title I never knew--I could find it in the library and that's all that mattered--about the nine lives of a cat named Ophelia (a complete set of autographed Ivy and Bean books to anyone who can tell me what it was called).


Your top five authors:

In the kids' book world, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Maud Hart Lovelace, J.K. Rowling, the completely underrated (in the U.S.) Hilary McKay and Jeanne Birdsall. I think they would end up throwing plates at each other if they were invited to the same dinner party, but they are all brilliant at kid-brain--entering the minds of children.


Book you've faked reading:

Does it count as faking if you nod knowingly during discussions but never really come right out and say you've read the book at hand? If that counts, I've faked reading all of German literature, most of French literature, the Greek historians, the Latin poets and the Bible. Oh yeah, and Wallace Stevens, too.


Book you are an evangelist for:

I keep trying to shove A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz into the hands of every kid I know. What a great idea! What a great book! I wish I'd written it.


Book you've bought for the cover:

Children's publishing is in the middle of a golden age of covers, and who am I to resist their allure? Two of my more recent purchases are A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee and Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier. I bet that's the first time those two books have ever been mentioned in the same sentence.


Book that changed your life:

This would be the most embarrassing question in the world if I answered it truthfully. However, I've made a vow never to mention these books (it was a series) in public for fear that they will be rediscovered, brought back into print, and ruin another adolescent girl's life. I can't be responsible for that.


Favorite line from a book:

"Why do you say that?" asked the Professor.

"Well, for one thing," said Peter, "if it was real why doesn't everyone find this country every time they go to the wardrobe? I mean, there was nothing there when we looked; even Lucy didn't pretend there was."

"What has that to do with it?" said the Professor

"Well, Sir, if things are real, they're there all the time."

"Are they?" said the Professor; and Peter did not know quite what to say.

--from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis


Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Time at the Top, but only if I can be nine again when I read it.



Book Review

Children's Review: Ivy and Bean: What's the Big Idea?

What's the Big Idea? by Annie Barrows (Chronicle Books, $14.99 Hardcover, 9780811866927, September 2010)


This seventh episode about unlikely best friends Ivy and Bean may be the most ambitious and triumphant yet. As Ms. Aruba-Tate's second grade class prepares for the science fair, they set out to solve the problem of global warming.

The book begins with Bean banished to the backyard for stapling "things that weren't supposed to be stapled." She takes a keen interest in some ants coming and going from a hole in the ground. "To them, she was like a planet," Bean thinks. "She was too big and too far away for them to see." Then she wonders if someone is also watching her: "What if she was as small as an ant compared to that someone?" Bean's close observation of one of nature's smallest creatures has led her to life's larger questions. Then comes a flash of that brilliant balance of wonder and humor that characterizes Barrows and Blackall's work on this series: "Wow. Bean waved at the sky. Hi out there," and a thought balloon pictures an ant with Bean's facial expression and hairstyle.

Barrows lays out how early the sense of responsibility for the environment begins for children. At school, Bean learns from a team of "fifth-grade scientists" that the planet is not in very good shape. Adrian holds a poster of the Gobi Desert while his fifth-grade classmate Shayna explains, "Pretty soon almost everywhere is going to look like this because of global warming." As Juan holds up his poster of "a worried-looking polar bear," Shayna proclaims, "Global warming is a total disaster and it's all our fault." Blackall depicts Ivy and Bean after school, slumped on a bench outside their classroom. "Watcha doing?" asks Leo, who--as a peer in a different class--often serves as a catalyst for the duo in their adventures. "We're worrying about the polar bears," Ivy answers. Leo tries to tempt them with a game of stomp tag, but Ivy tells Leo about the pollution from cars, "and cow poop," adds Bean. At home that evening, Bean discovers that her parents already know about global warming and the polar bears. "Ha! That's nothing," says Bean's older sister, Nancy. "Just wait until you find out about the oceans." Anxious Bean goes into the backyard and pats the patch of earth where the ants live: "Poor ants."

Ms. Aruba-Tate once again comes across as a responsive, compassionate teacher. When the children tell her they "hate science," she wants to get to the root of their change of heart. Readers, of course, have a leg up on the teacher; they know it's the fifth-grade global warming report that caused the class's turnabout. Ms. Aruba-Tate makes a model statement: "People who care as much as you do are the people who will find solutions to the problem.... Science is the solution, not the problem." Ms. Aruba-Tate suggests they make this the theme for their science fair projects--"ideas that fight global warming.... What we need for this problem is new ideas. And you kids are great at that," she says.

Barrows and Blackall know just how to expose situations that are familiar to second-graders—with empathy and a light touch. While Ivy and Bean sit at Bean's kitchen table and think, Bean's dad comes in and asks them what they're up to. He says, "Easy. Get rid of cars." Bean responds, "Dad, we're seven. We don't have cars. We need something we can do for a science fair." When he next suggests that they make a poster reminding people to turn off the lights ("Lights out when you're out!"), Blackall's depiction of Bean's what-is-there-to-say? look to Ivy speaks volumes. The pals try a few funny but dead-end ideas of their own (involving ice cubes and trampolines, tying their hands together to appear weak to nature's creatures, and breaking rice into bits of energy).

Here is Barrows's gift: She keeps Ivy and Bean's anxiety and problem-solving skills squarely in the realm of second-grade thinking. She shows readers Ivy and Bean's line of logic, and then surprises us with the project results on Science Fair night. (A moment of high hilarity comes with Blackall's image of a classmate's demonstration of cutting back on carbon dioxide by having her five siblings hold their breath at timed intervals.) Ultimately, Ivy and Bean arrive at a brilliant, even touching solution to a timely problem.



Powered by: Xtenit