Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry…

When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry… by Molly Bang, The Blue Sky Press (1999).

Sophie is a little girl happily playing with a stuffed monkey when her big sister comes along and tells her that it is her turn to play with the toy. When her mother tells her that it is sister’s time to play with the toy and the big sister snatches the toy away, Sophie gets angry. She yells and throws a tantrum. She is so angry she runs and runs, and cries. In the woods she begins to notice the trees and birds singing. She climbs into a tree and feels the breeze in her hair. She finds comfort, calms down, and returns home where it is warm and cozy.

This book is full of lively color – in both writing and illustration. Sophie yells a red roar and almost explodes like a volcano, and the illustrations fit the emotions perfectly.

Every parent who’s seen a temper tantrum will relate to this book. For many parents, a child's tantrum makes us angry and frustrated as well. For Sophie, she is able to deal with the anger -- to find a solution in herself, which is what we hope as parents our children will learn to do.

Since I grew up near a creek with woods, I can relate to running there and finding solace. You can be alone and (hopefully) discover when something you thought was a big issue is not worth being angry about. My only concern is Sophie's running away. For some kids, there may not be a safe place to do that.

Children will relate to this book because they are learning to deal with emotions, and they will see themselves, and perhaps siblings and friends, in Sophie's experience.

When Sophie Gets Angry allows parents to talk to their children about dealing with anger. We all face anger issues from time to time. If we can learn to resolve our anger within ourselves that is a good thing. Maybe someday we can even learn to control that initial outburst of anger and not have to scream a red, red roar.

This is a Caldecott Honor book and a Charlotte Zolotow Award Winner.

For more about Alan Elliott visit

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reviewing the Best Children's Picture Books

What criteria are used to review a children’s picture book? 

For the books that will be reviewed in this blog, I intend to look at them in several ways:
  1. What story does the book tell? What are the key elements of this story that makes it stand out – its humor, moral, surprise, wit, imagination, etc?
  2. How do the illustrations compliment the story?
  3. To make it into publication a story must have some spark of imagination. What do I think is the spark that caught the eye of the publisher, and would catch the imagination of the reader?
  4.  How does this story speak to children? Does it make them laugh, question, or understand something? Is it scary or comforting? Why would a child like this? Would they want to read it (or have it read) again and again?
  5. Is there something that makes this book unique?
  6. Finally: Why would you want to read this book to your child? What makes it so special?
  7. Summary:  How I would describe and recommend this book to a friend.

My intention is not to critique the books and say this one is bad and that one is good (although I may like some better than others.) If a story has made it through the maze of publication, there has to be some reason it got this far… so I approach each book wondering why it “made the list” and why I would want to read it to a child.

For more about Alan Elliott visit

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Top 17 Award Winning Children's Picture Books

Reviewing The Charlotte Zolotow Award-Winners

There are tons of great children's picture books on the market, but there are a select few that get chosen for special recognition. These are the Charlotte Zolotow Award Winners.

Most children's book libraries will have some or most of these books on their shelves. In a quest to look at what makes a book stand out from the many published each year, my goal is to review all of these award-winning books. In the next few months I'll give you my take on their content with an eye toward what made them outstanding. (If you would like to contribute a review of one of these books, please contact me at

The Charlotte Zolotow Award is a yearly award presented to the author of the best picture book text published in the United States in the preceding year. This award is administered by the Cooperative Children's Book Center, a children's literature library of the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison and is considered a top award for children’s literature.

The books, listed by year of award are:

2014    Snicket, Lemony. The Dark. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Little, Brown.
2013    Woodson, Jacqueline. Each Kindness. Illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Putnam.
2012    McDonnell, Patrick. Me … Jane. Little, Brown,
2011    Rukhsana Khan, Big Red Lollipop. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Viking.
2010    Carmen Tafolla, What Can You Do With a Paleta?,  Illustrated by Magaly Morales. Tricycle Press, 2009.            
2009    Bob Graham, How to Heal a Broken Wing. Candlewick Press, 2008
2008    Greg Foley, Thank You, Bear. Viking, 2007.  
2007    Peter McCarty, Moon Plane. Henry Holt, 2006.       
2006    Mary Ann Rodman, My Best Friend. Illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Viking.
2005    Kevin Henkes, Kitten's First Full Moon. Greenwillow Books / HarperCollins.           
2004    Amy Schwartz, What James Likes Best. A Richard Jackson Book / Atheneum.
2003    Holly Keller, Farfallina & Marcel. Greenwillow / HarperCollins.     
2002    Margaret Willey, Clever Beatrice: An Upper Peninsula Conte. Illustrated by Heather Solomon. Atheneum.           
2001    Kate Banks, The Night Worker.  Illustrated by Georg Hallensleben. Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.           
2000    Molly Bang, When Sophie Gets Angry -- Really, Really Angry.... Blue Sky/Scholastic.
1999    Uri Shulevitz, Snow. Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
1998    Vera B. Williams, Lucky Song. Greenwillow. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Twitch of a Sniper's Finger

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
This week I watched a lot of original film footage of the D-Day invasion and heard old soldiers talk about the horror of those days. As I worked in my garden I thought about those young boys on the beach or behind enemy lines who lived with the realization that at any time a bomb might fall from the sky, and kill them instantly.  They never knew if a sniper might be targeting them through a scope, and with a twitch of a finger snuff out their life. These young men would have given anything to be at home mowing their yard or planting flowers. But they had a job to do, and they did it without question and with courage. For some of these young soldiers, their war job ended in death. My father served as a soldier in the war (a Marine.) He made it home okay, and that’s why I’m alive today. But there were so many babies that were never born, so many families that were never started. What would those babies have become? Would they have been teachers, doctors, scientists who found cures for diseases?  We can never know.

There are precious little thanks I can give to those young soldiers who now rest in a foreign land beneath seas of white crosses and stars. They lost their lives so I could plant periwinkles in my back yard. Seventy years later I can do my best to remember them, to thank those who served and survived, and honor them with tributes, and so I do.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Putting things into Perspective

We live in a big universe. Do you realize how big it is? I can’t comprehend it’s size, and I doubt anyone else can either. Scientists have put the edge of the universe at more than 90 billion light years away.  Since the universe continues to expand at an enormous rate – it continues to move that edge farther and farther away. Is there a limit? Some astronomers think that the “blank” area is infinite. How can that be? Where are we anyway? We have to be somewhere don’t we? There has to be some limit doesn't there?

Let’s think about this for a moment. According to scientists, if there really is infinity out there, it means that every possible thing can and will happen.  Infinity means no limits to the possibilities. It means that there are other people, other worlds, other everything and someone identical to you (and I) reading (or writing) this blog. Does that give you the heebeegeebees?

If you don’t like the infinite universe theory there is the string theory that our universe is but one of an infinity number of universes (there’s that infinite again.) Personally, it seems if the first one is true, and everything can happen, then the second one can be included in the first one… ad infinitum

Now let’s go back the other way. Think about how small out universe in this vast expanse. Think about how small our planet is in this universe. Think about how small we are on this planet. Think about how small molecules or atoms are in our body. Think about the fact that we have no real clue how small the smallest thing can be. Is there infinity in that direction too? Perhaps we in human form are occupying space the middle of all of the infinity of sizes.

My point is not astronomy. It is perspective. As a writer we are creating universes. Even non-fiction books create some kind of “bubble of knowledge.” We can never create anything near the vastness of the real universe. (I suppose J.R.R. Tolkien created one of the most complex literary universes.)

It seems to me that our written creations are universes in themselves. Maybe a part of the string theory. Maybe somewhere out there what we write is really coming true. If there is infinity of possibilities, this must be true. So what I have just said is true, and what you have recently written is taking place perhaps some billions of light years away. Odd, when you think about it. Downright odd.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mozart's Requiem

Here is a script I wrote for a performance of Mozart's Requiem. I had some requests to make it available, so here it is. Feel free to use is, but please include a reference to this work

A Script for the Mozart Requiem
Alan C. Elliott

Speaker 1: The requiem mass is an ancient service of worship that began in the 2nd century to celebrate the life of faithful Christians. Beginning in the 8th century, the mass took on a musical form. The word “Requiem” means rest in Latin, and most of these masses are written in that language.

Speaker 2: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died on December 5, 1791 leaving the composition for his Requiem unfinished. Using his partially completed orchestral scores and his musical sketches on scraps of paper, other composers filled in the blanks to allow us to experience the genius and glory of this work.

Speaker 1: Although many versions of the Requiem mass have been written over the centuries, Mozart’s is considered the most influential contribution to this musical form.

Speaker 2: Mozart’s Requiem has been performed in honor and memory of many important figures throughout history including Fredric Haydn, Frédéric Chopin, and John F. Kennedy.

Speaker 1: In music and words, the intent of a Requiem is to take the listener to the sacred throne of God, seeking rest, solace, and understanding about this journey we call a lifetime. In it we celebrate our transition from this temporary earthly form into an eternal life with Him.

Speaker 2: As we listen to this music tonight, let these words of remembrance become our own prayer:

Speaker 1: We begin this sacred journey with a prayer of supplication -- a Kyrie: Lord, Have Mercy on us…

Speaker 2: May Your light shine on us in the same way your grace has saved those who have gone before…

 I. Introitus: Requiem aeternam (choir and soprano solo)
II. Kyrie eleison (choir)

Speaker 1: A trumpet will sound and summon all to God’s throne, where everything will be made known. Death will marvel as God’s creatures arise.

Speaker 2: And even though we are miserable beings and all that we have done in life is revealed in Your light of truth; have mercy on us; grant us forgiveness of all our sins.

III. Sequentia (text based on sections of the Dies Irae):Dies irae (choir)

Tuba mirum (soprano, contralto, tenor and bass solo)

Rex tremendae majestatis (choir)

Speaker 1:  The curse of sin is rebuked and now we are with those who are blessed. Humbly and meekly we pray for healing. Tearfully we recognize our guilt, and thankfully we accept your mercy.

Speaker 2: Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, free your children from punishment, from the deep pit and the mouth of the lion, and bring us into the holy light that you promised to Abraham and his seed.

Recordare, Jesu pie (soprano, contralto, tenor and bass solo)
Confutatis maledictis (choir)

Lacrimosa dies illa (choir)

Speaker 1:  As an offering to you O Lord, we give You our sacrifices and prayers of praise.

Speaker 2: Accept them on behalf of those souls whom we remember today. Let those who have loved you pass from death to life eternal.

IV. Offertorium: Domine Jesu Christe (choir with solo quartet)

Speaker 1: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts; Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.

Speaker 2: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

Versus: Hostias et preces (choir)

V. Sanctus:
Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth (choir)

Speaker 1: O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Speaker 2: May everlasting light shine upon your saints, O Lord, Grant us eternal rest, and may everlasting light shine upon us…

Together: For You are eternally merciful.

Benedictus (solo quartet, then choir) 
VI. Agnus Dei (choir)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Willy Longhorn Visits The Alamo

There is no bigger Texas icon than the Alamo. It is the heart of everything that is Texas, and the place were Texas dreams were born. Willy Longhorn visited there with his friends Andrew and Ashley. The story of the Alamo reminds Willy why "you can't tell a Texan they can't 'cause they believe they can." 

“Once upon a Christmas Eve, down in the Lone Star State, 
Something special happened then, on that partic’lar date….

Willy the Texas Longhorn, his horns a glowing blue, 
Led Santa through the Texas fog, and all the kids there knew, 
They’d wake up in the morning, with happy Christmas smiles, 
’Cause Willy helped ol’ Santa fly across those Texas miles.

Mooeee . . . Christmas."

See Willy Longhorn travel across Texas on his way to Christmas.