Author Archives: Marlena

Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2015 Edition

UNDERPANTS DANCE is a Bank Street “Best Children’s Book of the Year” for Humor. Check out the other great books here, too!

Bank Street College Center for Children's Literature

ChildrensBookCommitteeCover2015The Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2015 Edition includes more than 600 titles chosen by the Children’s Book Committee as the best of the best published in 2014. In choosing books for the annual list, reviewers consider literary quality and excellence of presentation as well as the potential emotional impact of the books on young readers. Other criteria include credibility of characterization and plot, authenticity of time and place, age suitability, positive treatment of ethnic and religious differences, and the absence of stereotypes. Nonfiction titles are further evaluated for accuracy and clarity. Each book accepted for the list is read and reviewed by at least two committee members and then discussed by the committee as a whole.

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We are very pleased to announce The Best Children’s Books of the Year is back…

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Bad, Bad, Underpants!

Here’s a shocker: not everyone loves underpants.

I knew this when I wrote Underpants Dance. And I admit, I had a little bit of fun knowing that my ode to undies and self expression would irk those of a more somber nature. As a writer, particularly as a writer for children, I feel it’s my job to shake things up a bit, to expose truths and validate–even celebrate!–experiences of childhood that many adults ignore.

I knew that there were people who would love the book, love its humor, love how Lily is bound and determined to express her authentic self no matter what.

I also knew that there were those who would disapprove. So I waited to see what would pop up on ye ol’ Internet, and was not disappointed. Luckily, the vast majority of people like the book, but of the few who don’t, the main reason is that I don’t “teach a lesson” about underpants. (Read my Q&A page for my response to that.) Though one reader was simply aggrieved that I wasted pages and time on something so frivolous and childish as undies–I wonder why he is reading children’s books.

Here’s something I’m not supposed to say as a children’s writer. The reason underpants are funny or embarrassing to us, and thus to kids, is that they are sexualized in our culture, and it is the nature of our culture to lay shame around all things sexualized. Kids are smart and perceptive. They pick up on adults’ discomfort, even if they don’t know the why of it. Thus, undies become taboo and silly; they can be used to provoke the reaction of grownups. Think about it — you’re a kid, you’re too young to have much power in this world, but simply uttering the word “underpants” can set all the grownups into a tizzy. That’s power. Kids know it. Like I said, kids are smart.

Sometimes grownups are not as smart as kids. Grownups do silly things like give their kids superhero or princess underwear and say “Don’t show these off!” as the TV in the background flashes Victoria’s Secret ads and a bus drives by plastered with larger-than-life Calvin Klein models clad in only their skivvies. Grownups say, “Don’t do that!” and then don’t give a good age-appropriate explanation as to why because they’re too embarrassed themselves to speak about why underpants are really taboo. So, kids are confused. And rightly so.

I decided to have a little fun with this problem, and Underpants Dance was the result.

You can read people’s reviews of Underpants Dance on Goodreads. I would love it if you would post your own and let me know what you think!




What books make you smile?

Niki Barnes of Daydream Reader posted this smiling review of Underpants Dance here:
A Book That Makes Me Smile: Underpants Dance by Marlena Zapf.
I’m so happy because I was smiling when I wrote it and I really hoped it would bring a bit of joy and light to the world.

Niki also asks, “So what books make you smile?”
Well … off the top of my head …
George and Martha by James Marshall
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (In particular, the cute-animal cheeseburger gets me every time. I have always had a soft spot for villains and slightly perverse humor.)True+Story

So, what books make YOU smile?
Post or tweet your own with the hashtag #booksmiles.


Giant Wall o’ Underpants

Every time I go to New York something amazing happens. Sometimes it’s a synchronistic business connection, sometimes it’s just a delightful discovery. This one falls into the latter category – a giant wall o’ frilly undies! Oh, Lily McBloom would be so happy! (I know I was.)

There is so much in life that is serious, and I deeply believe we need we need to take the serious things seriously. But I also believe that when we allow ourselves some unfettered, unapologetic joy we make the world a better place. Some people call this frivolous – I call it necessary.  And so, to all the frilly underpants of this world – Thank You!





I have never met Lynne Avril, the illustrator of my book Underpants Dance. She has never even seen a picture of me. This is common in children’s publishing where editors usually make the decision about author/illustrator pairings and collaboration happens online. So imagine my
delighted surprise when I put the cover illustration for Underpants Dance next to a recent picture of me dancing. Resemblance?

Lynne's cover illustration for UNDERPANTS DANCE

Lynne’s cover illustration for UNDERPANTS DANCE

Picture of me dancing

Me dancing in my purple tutu