Monday, December 31, 2007

Beige



Katy cannot believe that her mother is leaving her with her father while she goes off to an archaeological dig in Peru. After all, her father is actually referred to as "The Rat". From the band "Suck". Can you imagine? How embarrassing.

She knew that her mom has somewhat of a sordid past. Ran away from home. Hooked on heroin. Pregnant so young. But her mom changed as soon as she found out she was pregnant with Katy. The Rat didn't change quite so quickly. Katy has not even seen him in years. His yearly visits dried up when she was about 7.

But here she is now in L.A. in the Rat's dive of an apartment. For two weeks! How will she last?

When Katy is introduced to Lake (who she finds out has been paid to hang with her), Lake dubs Katy "Beige". As in boring. As in milk toast. It's not that Katy doesn't have interests. It's just that they have always been safe interests. Predictable. Katy thrives on order.

When she finds out that her mother is extending her stay in Peru, Katy is devastated. She just can't understand why her mom would do this. They have always been a team. They keep each other steady. Now Katy is stuck in L.A. for the summer with her aging punk rock dad, and her only friend is a paid friend.

This is my favourite of the Castellucci novels. I loved the Montreal touches, and I really believed in Katy. No, there wasn't a huge transformation in Katy, but she's not the kind of girl who would change so drastically over a summer. Her layers of fear do peel away, and it is a pleasure to read. And look to the chapter titles to give yourself a bit of a punk rock education.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks



Frankie has always been underestimated by people. From her family calling her "Bunny Rabbit", to her virtual invisibility on campus her first year at Alabaster, Frankie is seen as less than. Less than her big sister Zada. Less than the boys on campus who take up too much space. Not even capable of wandering into town on her own at the Jersey shore.

And then she falls off her bike.

Suddenly, gorgeous senior Matthew Livingstone is Frankie's boyfriend. His friends are her friends and she loves all of the attention that she gets. But she doesn't like the fact that Matthew seems to be at Alessandro's (Alpha) beck and call. So one day when Matthew dumps her for the boys, Frankie engages in some espionage. Turns out that the old boy network that her dad is always going on about is still alive and well at Alabaster. Frankie is certain that she could do it better.

Since this is still in arc format, I am not going to give too much away, other than to say that I love this book. Boarding school, feminist sensibilities, and smart characters. From wordplay to the introduction of other authors and social theory, from discussions of class to that of following the crowd and the rules, there is so much going on in this book. Frankie is an amazing girl, and I think that E. Lockhart has outdone herself. Every student at our school who has read this is raving about it. The readers who love Waiting for Alaska will fall for this title as well.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Luxe



The cover, the cover, the cover! The first time I saw this arc hanging out on a co worker's desk, I was just about overcome with jealousy. Nonchalantly I said, "Hmmm, this looks interesting...maybe I could borrow it when you are through?" She decided to read it, and it's been on my pile for a while now. I just started it yesterday, and finished it 5 minutes ago. I am going to buy myself a copy of the hardcover tonight.

The year is 1899, and NYC's social elite is doing what they do best. Going from fete to fete, and getting involved in scandal.

Sisters Elizabeth and Diana Holland couldn't be more different. Elizabeth is just back from some finishing in Paris, and Diana still has her wild ways. Since their father died, their mother has been aging quickly and looking more distressed by the day. At the Hayes ball celebrating their new Fifth Avenue mansion, Elizabeth's mother presses her to dance with several suitors telling her daughter ominously that time is of the essence. While Elizabeth is off doing the proper thing, Diana is luring men into the coat closet in search of the perfect kiss.

Meanwhile, Penelope Hayes is waiting for handsome Henry Schoonmaker to make his entrance. She is certain that the time to make their affair public is upon them. He comes from one of the wealthiest families, and Penelope is certain that her own family's new wealth is enough for the Schoonmaker family.

What will happen when Mrs. Holland and Mr. Schoonmaker deem that a marriage between Henry and Elizabeth is a boon to both families? Will Penelope take this lying down? And what of Elizabeth's maid Lina? The one with a bit too much information about "sweet" Elizabeth and a certain stable boy.

Anna Godbersen has written a deliciously decadent story about love, betrayal, social class and friendship. Richly laden with historical detail, the characters are developed so well that readers will love and loathe each of them in measure. Sexy, but not over the top, fans of Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and just released The Sweet Far Thing will eat this title up. With an open ending, I am hoping to read more about Elizabeth, Diana, Lina, Penelope and the boys!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Freak



Miriam is quite happy to be herself. At least when she is not in school. She yearns for the time in the past when she and sister Deborah would play together at home and have great imaginative adventures. But Miriam has noticed how much that Deborah has changed. She wears fashionable clothes and makeup, talks for hours on the telephone, and has enough assets to garnish the attention of Artie Rosenberg, who has just happened to move in with their family for senior year.

When Miriam is at school, things are almost unbearable. Not that she complains. The pretty, cool girls smell of watermelon lip gloss, get the attention of the boys, and Jenny Clarke, in particular, seems to live to torture Miriam. This is not big obvious bullying...rather the subtle girl sort. Miriam almost plays along...just to make it go away.

Miriam is, however, close to the breaking point. There is no support at home. Deborah just doesn't want to be embarrassed, her college professor dad is busy, and her self absorbed mother is getting ready for an art show. What will happen when Miriam breaks? And why is Jenny Clarke so venomous?

I think that Marcella Pixley has written a gripping first novel about the underbelly of middle school. Miriam is so real, as are the watermelon girls. She is weird enough but not so much so as to be unbelievable. And the Fisher household is truly something to behold. There are many middle school girls (and their teachers and parents) who should be reading this book. Brilliant.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Dead and the Gone





So, you can imagine that part of my impetus to read Life As We Knew It was the shiny arc of this title showing up at work.


The time frame is the same, but this time the setting is NYC and the Morales family's experience of the meteor.


With Papi missing in Puerto Rico, and Mami missing from a hospital in Queens, Alex is the head of the family. He has Bri and Julie to take care of, but he is sure that this is just a glitch, and that his plans of Georgetown and the Presidency may well come to fruition.


Alex is a kid who knows that there are a couple of different NYCs. He is, after all, on scholarship at his school, and some of the boys never let him forget it. He doesn't wonder too much when money loses its' value, and he and schoolmate Kevin turn to body shopping in order to provide what each of their families need.


Somehow I thought that the story told from NYC would hit me harder. I found myself persnickety about facts like feet above sea-level in my borough, and a certain lack of terror that surely would have taken place.


I wonder if it is the lack of first person narrative that led me to yearn for the feeling of Life As We Knew It. That said, however, The Dead and the Gone does several interesting things. I love the way that Pfeffer built the disparity between social classes so easily into the plot line. Rich families do not experience the losses that Alex and his family do. Folks that exist in a perpetually clean NYC do not have to see the filth of the dead, do they? This is a reality of NYC. People who live here have incredibly different existences, one could say solely because of income. Also, I enjoyed the difference between the country and city post apocalyptic experiences.


These books really make readers wonder, "What would I do if...?"

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Life As We Knew It


This is a book that I have been meaning to read for a while. I do love a good dystopia title, but for some reason this was slow to come to the top of my pile. Jen kept telling me to read it. I should have listened sooner.

Frankly, Miranda is a bit sick and tired of hearing about the meteor and the moon. She knows the meteor is scheduled to hit, and understands that it is a big deal, but do all of her teachers need to give assignments involving the event?

Well, it turns out that this meteor is the biggest thing to happen to Miranda's life. All of a sudden, there she is with her mom, her little brother, and neighbour Mrs. Nesbitt, at the supermarket. They are loading up with everything they can think of that they might need to survive. With the moon out of its' traditional orbit, everything changes.

Readers follow Miranda's family and their post meteor months through Miranda's diaries. The unthinkable has happened, and now they are trying to deal with human nature in the worst circumstances. Extreme weather, plague, and no electricity are only some of the things they face.

This is a riveting, and somewhat terrifying read. As a mother, I would like to think that I would be as organized as Miranda's mom. I love the fact that Miranda is flawed...she is 16 after all. It was so interesting to see how she and her friends dealt with the situation in completely different ways. I cannot wait to read Pfeffer's follow-up The Dead and the Gone.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Swim to Me


It is a long way from Grand Concourse in the Bronx to Weeki Wachi Springs in Florida, but to Delores Walker it is the place that she hopes to call home. 16 year-old Delores' father walked out a couple of years ago after a typically horrendous fight with her mother, and since then, Delores, Westie and mother Gail were on their own. The move is not a hard decision for Delores (except for the part of leaving her little brother). Her family's cramped, food stained apartment is not exactly paradise, and ever since she first saw the mermaids perform at Weeki Wachi, she knew that is where she belongs.
A long, hot bus ride later, Delores is in Florida, auditioning for Thelma Foote -- head honcho of the show. Even though Delores isn't exactly a beauty queen, her grace in the water and sage advice from mermaid Molly see her through, and she is moving into the dorms and is destined to become the star of the show, not to mention the local news.
In a series of interwoven events, the Walker family is brought back together (at least partially), and Delores is determined to break out of the cycle of poverty and abandonment that has been part of her family history.
Betsy Carter has written an engaging slice-of-life story that immediately draws readers in. The dysfunctional Walker family isn't too extreme, and many will be able to see parallels to corners of depression within their own family circles. Delores is quietly determined and strong in ways that are believable and heartwarming. The setting of 1970s America is perfect for these characters who do not know who they are yet, but know who they are not.
The first I had heard of Weeki Wachi Springs was this year on a reality-type television program. I have to say, that I have a soft spot in my heart for Americana such as this park. When my daughter finds out that people are actually mermaids for a living, we may be in trouble here!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sweethearts



When Jennifer was younger, she couldn't imagine getting through life without the help of Cameron Quick. Jen was overweight, lispy, and a bit smelly, due to the fact that her single mom was working full time during the day, and in nursing school at night. But Jennifer's life was not nearly as scary as Cam's, as she witnessed one year on her birthday. Now she knew why she wasn't supposed to go over to Cameron's house.

Everything changed for Jennifer when Cameron just disappeared. The mean kids at school told her that Cameron was dead. When Jennifer went home crying to her mother, her mom did not deny the fact. And Jennifer just about shut down.

Now in a different part of the city and in high school, "Jenna" is completely transformed. She works hard everyday to keep the weight off, to remember that boyfriends like Ethan like "happy" girls, and that Jennifer Harris no longer exists. Her mom ended up marrying Alan, and nobody around knows anything about Jenna's past.

And then, Cam comes back.

Jenna doesn't know what to think. Cameron Quick is supposed to be dead! That's the main reason why Jennifer Harris is no more. Not only is Cam in town, he's in her school and looking to deal with the past. A past that only exists in Jenna's head as slippery memories. What will happen when Jenna and Jennifer collide?

Sara Zarr has written an intense story that called to my mind The Rules of Survival by Werlin. Jennifer didn't have any adult help, and as a result, she and Cam had to survive together. What they have is beyond love and friendship. The reader feels real empathy for most of the characters in the book (save Cam's dad), and I found myself willing Jenna towards the truth.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

It's Bidding Time! Robert's Snow

It's time to start bidding on the Robert's Snow Snowflakes!

Here are the links that showcase the snowflakes for Auction One!

Auction 1 will begin accepting bids on Monday, Nov. 19 at 9:00 a.m. with a starting bid of $50 for each snowflake. All bids must be placed before the close of Auction 1 on Friday, Nov. 23 at 5:00 pm. Don't forget that 100 percent of the proceeds from this online auction will benefit sarcoma research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and that all but $25 of the winning bid is tax deductible.

Read about all the illustrators who contributed to this auction at the sites linked below. (The order presented is the same as on the auction page.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mouse Guard...


is reviewed by guest blogger, Jesse Karp, over at Tweendom!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Friday, November 09, 2007

Blue Moo

So, my girls have been big fans of Sandra Boynton's Philadelphia Chickens ever since they received it in the mail from a beloved Aunt. So imagine my delight, when I was invited to the launch of Sandra Boynton's Blue Moo, by the kind folks at Workman.

If you are not familiar, Philadelphia Chickens is a title accompanied by a CD that has my children dancing around the living room. Blue Moon works the same way!

The book itself has song lyrics with illustrations on each page. The CD has songs by folks like Davy Jones, B.B. King, and Neil Sedaka among others. My 4-year-old delights in following the book page by page, while my 2-year-old dances like a maniac in the living room!
The party itself was so much fun! We came away with skate keys, incorrect name-tags, books and candy! Dinner was wonderful, and a show by Davy Jones and the Sparklets. I think fun was had by all.
If you have a song -lovin' child, do yourself a favour and pick this one up!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Minx Double Feature - Clubbing, Good As Lily

First off, we have Clubbing, by Andi Watson and Josh Howard.


The cover will be your first clue at why I was interested in this book. Lottie is a spoiled gothy London girl, who gets busted trying to use a fake ID, and shipped off to her grands in the Lake District. Not exactly her scene. And it's not only the rain. Her grandparents live on the grounds of a country club, and have plans for Lottie's days of banishment. She will be working in the pro-shop and helping her gran out with her ladies club activities.


It seems that things couldn't get more boring when a body shows up in the water with an occult symbol carved into her arm! And what's more, Lottie saw her grandfather arguing with the woman just that morning.


Now Lottie, and local boy Howard are investigating the crime, which turns out to have a supernatural bent. Ritualistic sacrifice, anyone?


Fun, fun, fun!



Next off is Good As Lily, by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm.

Lily is turning 18, and her friends throw her a party in the park. Lily's a pretty lucky girl. Her friends are loyal, and they do love her. After she opens her presents, the ice cream lady in the park manages to convince Lily that she needs a pinata and not cones. Soon Lily finds herself with the pinata lodged on her head.

Then, the weirdness starts.

Upon revisiting the park, Lily finds a crying young girl, a drowning 29 year old, and an ornery old lady! And they are all her.

Imagine coming face to face with your child self, almost 30 self, and senior self. More importantly, how is Lily going to get through her last semester of high school with all of these Lily's hanging around. Especially when her 29 year old self keeps hitting on her drama teacher!


A wonderfully different story about family, friendship, loyalty and love.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

And the winner is...

....Kristi!

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to read about the fabulous Adam Rex!!!

Remember to head on over to Robert's Snow and bid, bid, BID!!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Robert's Snow - Adam Rex!

Behold J.Lo, in all his snowflakey glory!

Adam Rex is one of the illustrators who has donated a snowflake to the wonderful Robert's Snow auction to benefit the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute. He happens to be one of my favourite illustrators, and I was very happy that I snagged him when the ladies over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (also big fans...see here and here) were organizing this whole affair!




I think I first came to Adam Rex's work through Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. The second I spied the cover, I knew I had to have it. As a collector of Halloween picture books, I was so pleased not only with the art, but with the smart and funny poetry within. It's a killer for my Halloween read alouds with all kids loving the illustrations, and the kids with that sense of humour (you know the ones) splitting their sides over the content.

My next encounter (after searching for more) was with the Lucy Rose series. An early chapter book, featuring a feisty protagonist (what's not to love?). After that, I just wanted to read, and own everything. Fandom? Maybe...but I have yet to be disappointed.

Adam graciously agreed to answer some of my questions, as well as some questions from The True Meaning of Smekday loving kids at my school. So here we go.

Stacy: How did you get involved with Robert's Snow?

Adam: They tracked my email address down and got in touch in 2005–I think Grace Lin had seen my first book, The Dirty Cowboy (written by Amy Timberlake), and thought my work would compliment the collection.

Stacy: Did you always know that you wanted to be an illustrator? How did you figure out that writing and illustrating for children was for you?

Adam: I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some kind. I didn't think about writing and illustrating kids' books until I was in my teens, and working in a bookstore. When I became familiar with some of the titles coming out in the late eighties like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! and A Day With Wilbur Robinson, I realized there was a place for my sense of humor, and for the sort of art I wanted to make.

Stacy: How long were you cooking up The True Meaning of Smekday?

Adam: Oh, off and on for four or five years. At first it was just the fun project I worked on when I wanted to avoid my real work. So I started slowly. Then my agent sold it based on maybe the first third, and I worked more in earnest then. But I think some of the ideas go back further than that–I've long thought an alien invasion would be a good way to address our own history.

Stacy: How did you come up with the Boov Speak? I found that when I was reading Smekday, Boov speak stayed in my brain quite easily. Did you find yourself rearranging your words while you were writing?

Adam: Boovspeak comes kind of naturally to me–it's kind of an exaggeration of how I talk when I'm being lazy and there isn't anyone but my wife and me around. As I was working on Smekday I reached a point at which J.Lo's (my Boov's) speech came as quickly for me as did any other character's. I have not had for writing this way recentlies, so I am possibly notso much a Boovspeak Superstar as to before now. Hm.

Stacy: My students were asking about the "secret cover" on Smekday. The dust jacket image is different than the image that is physically on the book. What's the story?

Adam: No big story, really - I just came up with a number of images that I thought would make different covers for the book, and wanted to use as many of them as possible. People can peruse my July postings on my blog to see a little of how the cover evolved. I don't like to waste ideas, so I stuck runner-up covers beneath the dust jacket and on the title page. My books Tree Ring Circus and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich have "secret covers" as well, for various reasons.

Stacy: I have read that there is a sequel to Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich in the works. How is that going? Is the writing process for a collection of poetry vastly different than for a picture book?

Adam: It's written! Now I'm just figuring out the art. It will be called Frankenstein Takes the Cake. I've reported in other places that I thought it was going to be called Frankenstein Makes a Sequel, but I was eventually talked out of that.
Writing in rhyme is different from writing prose, of course, for obvious reasons. Otherwise, writing something like one of my Frankenstein books is, in a way, like writing a number of rhyming picture books at once. Many of the poems in FMaS could have been expanded into full-length books if I'd thought that was the best way to present them.

Stacy: And here are some questions from my students who have been reading and loving The True Meaning of Smekday...

From an 8th grade reader: When you wrote the book, and didn't tell the readers some of the horrors of the aliens, did you know yourself? Or was it a mystery to you as well as the reader?

Adam: I don't know what details you're thinking about specifically, but I can definitely say that some things in Smekday were as much a mystery to me as I wrote as they will be to my readers. I wrote a lot without knowing exactly where the story was going, or how it would end, and trusted that I would figure it out eventually. That meant I had to go back from time to time and change some passages I'd written earlier so they'd fall in line with some plot detail I'd only just discovered. I didn't know at first, for example, that Gorg is not the name of the alien race, but rather that every member of the race is named Gorg. But it struck me at some point that having your planet invaded by, say, the Todd (a huge group of people who are all named Todd) or whatever would be funny.

From a 7th grade reader: How did you think of the characters and planets in The True Meaning of Smekday?

Adam: I thought a lot and drew a lot. When I felt like I had a good idea what the aliens were going to look like, their appearance helped me figure out what kind of people they were.

From another 7th grade reader: This book has so many characters and contraptions...it had a crazy plot. What or where did all of those ideas come from?

Adam: I was inspired by a lot of other books and movies and so forth, particularly the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy by Douglas Adams. But my ideas come from the same kind of places everyone's ideas come from -- you all the stories you've read, the movies and TV shows you've seen, things other people have old you, then maybe you mix it up with some other stories and ideas that don't seem to have anything to do with the first stories and ideas, then you run it all through the dirty coffee filter of your brain and, if you're lucky, it comes out looking and smelling like something brand new.

Stacy: Since it's Halloween and all, could you let us in on your favourite candy? Is it the same as when you were young or has your palate evolved?

Adam: I like gummi a lot these days, and it didn't really exist in America, as far as I knew, when I was a little kid. My earliest memories of Gummi Bears are from 6th or 7th grade. And yet Wikipedia tells me they've been around since the twenties. I don't know. I also love good dark chocolate, which as a kid I lumped in the same category as wine or coffee or kissing in movies -- things that only the mental illness of adulthood could cause you to like. When I was a kid I liked Butterfingers.


If you just can't stand it and you need some more, Adam Rex can be found all over the web. Here's a list of a few of the places that I found!

Adam Rex

Smekday

Ironic Sans

Nerds with Kids

The ARTDEPARTMENT

Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty

And for the CONTEST! Just use the comments to tell me what YOUR favourite Adam Rex title is, and you will be in the running for a brand new shiny hardcover copy of The True Meaning of Smekday! Woot!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Robert's Snow


As many of you know, bloggers all over the kidlitosphere have been posting about the upcoming Robert's Snow auction. Amazingly talented illustrators have painted snowflakes, which will be auctioned off during 3 consecutive weeks, and all of the proceeds will go to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Booktopia and Tweendom will proudly show-case Adam Rex! Adam has graciously agreed to answer some burning questions, and I will be giving away a brand spanking new hardcover copy of The True Meaning of Smekday to a lucky reader!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thou Shall Not Dump The Skater Dude and Other Commandments I Have Broken



Kelsey has to move to the west coast from Boston with two months notice, because her mom decides to pursue her dream of going to law school. Now that Kelsey's folk's divorce is final, her mom says it's time for her. Hence the move to Cali and in with the grandparents for the duration of law school.

As Kelsey says, the move would have been better timed either before or after middle school. Having to negotiate a whole new 8th grade at a private school (and one for girls, at that) is never easy. Kelsey would have no friends at all if it weren't for her grandmother's best friend's granddaughter Amy. Actually, straight-laced Kelsey probably wouldn't be friends at all with Amy (who is a self proclaimed Punky Retro Goth Vegan with Straight Edge tendencies), if it weren't forced at first. But Amy turns out to be okay, and she opens Kelsey's eyes to the world of public school versus privilege.

As the reader whips through 8th grade, Kelsey decides to campaign to her parents for the right to go to public school. When she gets her wish, she certainly isn't thinking about boyfriends, but when semi-pro skater C.J. Logan comes to her rescue while she is babysitting her little bro at the skate park one day, she can't stop thinking about him. Soon she goes from obscurity of the new girl at a public high school, to being C.J.'s girl.

But what does it mean to be C.J.'s girlfriend? How often does she have to go to the park, or a jam, or a party with C.J.? And what happened to all those extra curriculars that Kelsey used to campaign for attendance at East Bay High? And what happens to the reputation of a girl who dumps the un-dumpable guy ... the one who is used to being the dumper not the dumpee?

Rosemary Graham has written a super fast paced piece of chick lit with quite a bit of substance. We follow Kelsey over 3 years in a mere 281 pages, but the reader doesn't feel rushed. The writing style is breezy and you blink and a couple months go by, but somehow it works. Kelsey is naive, but likable and C.J. is your typical popular guy. I have to admit, that I have a soft spot for the skater dude ( I married one after all), but this title easily translates to those who don't know skating, but do know about trying to negotiate the world of school, popularity while trying to stay true to oneself!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Guest Blogger - The Arrival

I work with some amazing people. One of whom is Jesse Karp. Jesse is currently in library school, and he knows comics and graphic novels like nobody else. He is my go-to guy on most things illustrated. While I can say that I am a comic fan, he is an expert. He has been collecting comics for the last 30 years, is the leader of our in school graphic novel club, and recently was a guest speaker on the topic of graphic novels at CUNY's Queens College.

This is Jesse's take on The Arrival, by Tan.



I first set eyes on The Arrival by Shaun Tan in my colleague's stack of review books. Flipping through it was enough to ignite a spark of burning jealousy within me. This could easily have lead to a breakdown of professional relations had Booklist not sent me my own review copy shortly thereafter.

Tan's small but powerful body of work often depicts young children caught in surreal, super-industrial landscapes, sometimes trapped, sometimes oblivious to the dystopia that surrounds them. Have a look at The Lost Thing or The Red Tree to see what I mean.

The Arrival encompasses this sensibility but expands and deepens it to such a degree that the book reaches a level seldom seen within the graphic novel (or any) format: visual literature.

Using the tools of sequential art like a life-long pro, Tan employs visual metaphor, panel size, lighting and color to make the archetypal experience of an immigrant leaving his family and coming to a new land personal, emotional, heart-breaking, breathtaking and joyful. The fantasy landscapes Tan depicts are both terrifying and awe-inspiring for their size and complexity, and every person the immigrant meets tells an involving tale of his or her own. We are drawn into this journey, into this land as if we ourselves were the arrival, unable to read the writing, understand the traditions, comprehend the complexity of the city, heart-broken over the departure from our family. And Tan does this all without using a single word.

The silence makes every experience within it resonate more profoundly as this new world affords the arrival fear and confusion, but also new friends and a new life. A first-grader could look at this and get hooked on the simple story and complex images, but the older the reader the greater the understanding of the emotional, social and political nuances Tans plays out here. Expanding the potential of the medium itself, The Arrival is without a doubt the best graphic novel of the year and possible the best graphic novel ever (okay, in the top ten, anyway).

If graphic novels aren't your thing, or you only look at one or two a year, for God's sake, put this on your list.

--Jesse Karp

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Favourite Picturebooks of Childhood

There is a question being raised over at Wizards Wireless.

What were your favourite picture books when you were young? Not those recent wonderful things, but the ones that spoke to your child self.

It's funny, because Jen and I were just talking about childhood trips to the public library, and I mentioned to her that I would check one particular book out over and over again.


There was just something about Madeline that I loved. And I remember the creakiness of this particular volume's spine, and the library book smell that it had. Looking back, I think it was the idea of so many girls getting to live together, and have adventures in the streets of Paris, that appealed to me. I may have secretly coveted the yellow outfit, as well.



The Mitten by Tresselt is one that I had totally forgotten about until I made the move from Young Adult librarian to Children's librarian. As soon as I opened this book at my school, I was transported back to my babysitter's house. Mrs. VanDerVeen used to read me this book over and over again. I was especially fond of the colour palette. And each snowflake was worthy of examination!



Now, this is not the wonderful cover of the 1970s that graces my copy of Garbage Delight. The art in my copy is by none other than Frank Newfeld. The illustrations in this wacky book of poetry were just as important to me as the hilarious poems. I still have "The Puddle" memorized, and can break it out at will. This is the book that made me want to write for a living.




So, what were your favourites?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Chicago '07 - First Impressions

I was talking last night with Liz and 2nd gen librarian about blogging the con quickly, or letting it digest some. I figure that I will put down some initial impressions, and then get to blogging some titles that I am really excited about and leave the details to the 70-or-so other bloggers who are here!

So, wow. Kidlit '07. Robin did an amazing job of organizing, and all of the volunteers kept things moving so well! I got to meet some authors and ask the burning questions (sorry Barry!), and I am kicking myself for not communicating more with folks that I have been online with for years. After all, people came from California, Kentucky, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Illinois (of course!), Arizona, Ontario, Virginia, and Oregon. All are passionate about youth literature. We all love books, writing, illustrating ... and some even love each other!

What I love is how everyone is willing to share the wealth. Even though we may have different goals and aspirations, we want to help the movement, as it is, along. Author to blogger, blogger to illustrator, illustrator to book buyer...it truly is a web. Interconnected, slightly codependent, and to some degree unexpected.

Are there egos here? Sure. We think enough of our own opinions/skills to blog, don't we? Does it matter? Not-so-much. I have definitely gotten some good ideas, and I am challenging myself to rethink and regroup. I do feel privileged to be a part of this on the ground floor. The thing that I love most in the world is kid's literature. Blogging has allowed unprecedented access to authors and books (although I am sure that living in NYC and having the colleagues that I do doesn't hurt), and instant connection with a world of others who share my passion.

Yay.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Off to Chicago...


...and the First Annual Kidlitosphere Con. I can't wait! Bringing the laptop, and will have some news from the windy city!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature



This is an arc that I picked up at BEA, but now it is out in the stores.

Evolution is a weird thing to me. I mean, I grew up going to church and everything, but nobody ever made me question science. In high school, bio was my most prized subject. The whole debate around the idea of "intelligent design" is something that I find fascinating and scary at the same time. Robin Brande's Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature is poised perfectly to be banned and championed.

Mena has been kicked out of her church. Yes, kicked out. And the thing of it is, her parents are still going! She is dreading her first day of high school since most of the kids in her old church go there. In her own words, "When you're single-handedly responsible for getting your church, your pastor, and every one of your former friends and their parents sued for millions of dollars, you expect to make some enemies". (p.1) (Ironically, Mena got kicked out for doing the right thing!)

There are more changes for Mena besides just being ostracized from the holy rollers at school. She is partnered up with whiz kid Casey in science, and the teacher Ms. Shepard is like nobody that Mena has ever met before. And since all of her extra-curricular activities used to be church related, what the heck else does she have to do with her time, but study and work on her science project with Casey.

But here's the thing. Even though she's been kicked out of church, Mena still has to follow the rules. Which means no being alone with boys. Casey's a boy. The lies start. Mena is not comfortable lying to her parents, even if they are being pretty horrible to her. She is really in an awkward spot. Her belief system has been ripped out from under her, she's learning all kinds of new things, but she is still trying to hold onto her faith.

I think this is an amazing coming of age story, that isn't just a Christian story. It's the push/pull of needing guidance and independence in equal measure. I love who Mena is, and even though Casey and his family are almost too good to be true, readers will find themselves anxiously turning the pages to see what happens.

The Case of the Missing Marquess...



...is over at Tweendom!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Off Season


DJ and her family are back in the sequel to one of my favourite books, Dairy Queen.

DJ is starting off her school year as the only girl on the boy's football team. She is getting some grudging respect from the guys, and school doesn't seem as hard this year as it was last year. Of course, Brian Nelson is helping DJ's view on things.

DJ and Brian are dating. Kind of. Brian is still coming out to the Schwenk farm to help out, and he and DJ are getting in some serious make-out time during day trips to the Mall of America, or during farm chores.

DJ's family is even communicating a little more. They sit down together every weekend to watch Win's and Bill's college football games on TV. During one of Win's games, the unthinkable happens. Win is grabbed by the face mask, hits the ground, and doesn't get up. Things are going to change for the Schwenks.

DJ is forced to be the family point person to fly out to Washington, and try to be there for Win. But Win doesn't want anyone there. Can DJ help Win fight his demons, and manage to slay a couple of her own as well?

Another great story from Catherine Gilbert Murdock. We watch DJ grow, and come into her own. She is learning that it's not always in her best interests just to be comfortable and stay silent.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Friday, September 14, 2007

Poetry Friday

One chrysanthemum
in a vase, watching over
Second Avenue

From Cricket Never Does, by Myra Cohn Livingston

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Question



As you all know, I am a school librarian. For the last 6 years or so, I have been mixing up my read aloud for the 4th grade. We have done The Last of the Great Whangdoodles, by Andrews. We have done Desperaux, by Di Camillo. We have done Ruby Holler and Heartbeat by Creech. There's been a bit of Spiderwick in there too.

I am working on Ulysses Moore right now, and I think that will work. Does anyone have a read aloud that has gone over well in the past?

I do something else that I call the "book tease" with the 4th graders as well. Not a booktalk, but simply a read aloud of a chapter or two of a title. This way, I can present genres and multiple titles that I may not otherwise have time for.

I am also thinking of taking the leap away from my 3rd grade classic of Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher, by Coville. I call it classic, since it has never failed me.

Thoughts?

Bindy Mackenzie



So. I have been reading, but not blogging. I don't like when I do this, because things get a little fuzzy. I will be working backwards for the next few titles.

This is a book that I have been meaning to read for a while. I loved The Year of Secret Assignments, Feeling Sorry for Celia - not so much. But Moriarty got me back with this title.

Bindy is an intense girl. Competitive. Smart. And frankly... a little above her fellow students. She simply cannot believe it when a new course called FAD falls into her year 11 plans.

Friends and Development. What is that supposed to mean? For Bindy, it means sitting in a storage room behind a concertina wall, with a bunch of kids who she can no longer stand. It means being forced to socialize with teenagers when Bindy perceives herself as so far beyond that.

Year 11 is not turning out as it should. For one thing, Bindy is no longer living with her folks, rather with her Auntie and Uncle and cousin Bella. For some reason she is unable to concentrate like she usually can. She isn't handing in her assignments, and she's feeling quite ill. And this FAD class is just getting in the way of everything. Even Bindy's habit of transcribing everything she hears no longer brings comfort.

The Life (Murder) of Bindy Mackenzie is a far fetched tale of the best kind. Bindy is thoroughly annoying, yet readers have sympathy for her. We want her to to catch a clue! Moriarty has the pacing down perfectly, and has written a fun, fast story that fans of more recent titles like Pretty Little Liarswill want to revisit.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Poetry Friday

This is a poem that comes from The Witch Poems, by Barbara Bucknall. This is the last book of poetry that my dad gave me before he passed away. I always got at least one volume of poetry a year, from the time I was six. Usually Shel Silverstein or Dennis Lee struck my fancy. I love how my dad really appreciated and fostered my love of poetry. It makes me miss him even more.

The Witch is Perplexed

The witch is pondering good and evil.
She thinks she is under a curse.
Every time she casts an evil spell,
Using only the best ingredients
And following the recipes in her magic book,
It backfires.
When she tries to do good,
To see if that will work any better,
It often backfires too.
If neither good nor evil works,
She can reach no conclusion.
Friendship is good, but gangsters can be friends.
Marriage is good, but look at the bad marriages.
Religion is good, but look at the fanatics.
They would murder you for their faith.
There is not a single thing that we call good that cannot be bad
Depending on how we take it.
The problem presents no easy solution.
The witch is fast becoming a total relativist.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Before I Die





No. This is not the book jacket. It is simply what I was doing during the last pages of Before I Die, by Jenny Downham.


Tess has leukemia. She's had it for four years, the treatments aren't working all that well, and frankly...she's sick of it all.


Being sixteen, she has come up with a list of things to do before she dies. The first thing on the list is sex. She lets her friend Zoey in on the list and recruits her in her mission. Zoey doesn't even blink. This is what Tess loves about Zoey. She's the only one, that since Tess got sick, still treats her the same.


Sex, however, is only one of the things on Tess' list, and as life moves on, Tess' list morphs, and surprisingly gets longer.


Her life is complicated by her dad, who just wants to save her, her mum, who doesn't live home or attend treatments, and her changing feelings for Adam, the boy next door.


I wasn't sure I wanted to read this so close on the heels of Thirteen Reasons Why, but I am glad I did. Since I read this is arc format, I don't want to give too much plot away, but I think Jenny Downham has done an amazing job of bringing Tess' struggles to life. I love the fact that during much of the book Tess is indeed, unlikeable. She is real and raw. She is going through things that all teens struggle with, and the fact that she has cancer, while devastating, is only part of the story.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Friday, August 03, 2007

Ivy + Bean



So, I almost named my youngest daughter Ivy, after one of my grandma's friends. Back then I thought ... "Hmmm. It may be a bit too old fashioned." Now as Ivy's pop up all over children's books, I am kicking myself.

Here is a read that pairs up nicely with the Grace books!

Bean's mom is always bugging her to go across the street and play with that nice new girl, Ivy. But Bean knows what nice means. Nice = Boring. Why would she want to play with a girl who seems to like to simply sit on her porch alone, when Bean could be tormenting her older sister Nancy? That is a much more interesting pursuit!

One day, however, fate throws Bean and Ivy in the same vicinity and friendship quickly blooms. Getting into mischief is so much sweeter when you have a partner in crime!

Number 1 in the series by annie barrow and sophie blackhall fits nicely into the early independent reader arena. With just enough black and white illustrations and a couple sassy protagonists, Ivy + Bean is sure to find a place in the hearts of fans of Judy Moody, Just Grace, and those on the way to Hannah West.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Still Just Grace



This has been sitting around on my "to read" pile forever, and boy do I wish I had gotten to it earlier. I was reminded once I glimpsed Mindy's review that I had to get on this! But then Harry Potter and Kiki Strike and Smekday happend. But here we are.

Grace is just as lovable as she was in the first installment. Her best friend Mimi is getting a new neighbour, and frankly, Grace is a little bit worried. What if Mimi likes this new kid Max even better than she likes Grace? And to top it all off, Grace has to take a vacation from school to help her grandma move out of her house and into a Seniors apartment. Normally getting a vacation from school when other students do not would be great, but Grace has a bunch of worries now.

Once Grace gets back, she has even more to face. Their student teacher, Mr. Frank, has assigned a group project. Since Grace was away, all of the groups have been selected. Grace gets stuck with two other Graces, one of whom is "the big meanie". Can Grace work with the bossy Grace? Can she stand that Mimi is spending all of her time with Max and Sammy?

Once again, Charise Mericle Harper has written a winning story about family, friendship, and change. Grace has her assumptions challenged, and she is forced to use her empathy powers quite a bit. I love that Grace is still drawing comics and making lists. Her voice is authentic, and I find myself smiling as I read these titles!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cheater

Ok. So, I did it. I broke down yesterday and read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows! The dishes piled up, the girls destroyed the living room, and I sat on my bed under the ceiling fan and read, and read, and read.

I loved it.

I am not going to really blog it for a month. I spent the last week madly dodging spoilers, and I don't feel like inflicting unwanted knowledge on anyone.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Woot!


I FINALLY got my copy of HP 7 in from England today! But of course there is an obstacle. I am helping a friend out and speaking at a YA lit course on Monday. So no reading until that's done. Maybe I can sneak a bit in!

Successfully avoided spoilers thus far! Much different than when I was still working in the public library. I had to sequester myself away so that some kid wouldn't ruin it for me!

I will blog a couple things over at Tweendom that I read over my vacation.


Cheers!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Mistress of the Art of Death



There used to be a time in my life when I read quite a few forensic style mysteries. This is the first I have read in a while - this title being a choice of our grown-up summer book club.

The year is 1170 and the place is Cambridgeshire, England. Children are disappearing, and the village is up in arms. Surely the town Jews are to blame. Child sacrifice is part of the culture afterall, isn't it?

King Henry needs to keep all elements of his kingdom in line. He needs the tax money from all areas, he needs peace. He tells his tax collector "Peace is money, Aaron, and money is peace." (p.10)

So how to solve these disappearances? Henry calls for one of the best detectives from Italy by way of his cousin, the King of Sicily. Simon of Naples is to come over to clear the name of the town Jews, and to find out what really happend. And to accompany him, a master in the art of death will come as well. This person is schooled in reading dead bodies for clues as to how they were killed. What Henry and Simon do not count on is that this person is a woman. Adelia is the child of professors and a student from the University of Solerno...one of the only places where a woman is allowed an education.

How will she fare in medieval England where the Church rules as well as the King, and women with knowledge are oft accused of witchcraft? And what will happen to those accused when the children start surfacing -- their bodies obviously violated before death in numerous ways?

Ariana Franklin has written quite the page turner. And, I have to say it ... eeewww! Lots of detail that I would have done quite well without. Mind you, the detail is not over-the-top in a gore for the sake of it way. It certainly ties in with the plot. But what made this title so readable for me, were the characters and their development. Adelia herself is complicated, smart, and torn. Little Ulf is utterly charming in his own messy way, as is his grandmother Glytha.

The reader also gets a real sense of the racism, religious fervor, and overall danger of the times. Unless you were a catholic, white man, your very existence could be wiped out with very little consequence.

While this title didn't capture me as much as last summer's The Historian, I did learn quite a bit about the time period, and it has spurred me on to want to read some non-fiction about the times.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Magical Kids



What a cute book!

Josie Jenkins is very tricky. She can do lots of tricks. But one day, the best trick ever happens to her. Billy Brand has his head stuck in the bars of a fence and nobody can help him. But then Josie feels a tingling in her arms and she knows just what to do! She simply bends the bars! None of the grown-ups believe her until she bends the bars back.

Josie's fame spread quickly, and while she just wants to use her trick to help people, there are other folks who see dollar signs in Josie's strength. How can Josie avoid becoming another pony show?

Once you are finished Josie's story, just flip the book over to read about Sam.

Sam's parents have just won a Dream Maker Tour trip to the moon! Everyone is so excited until they realize that nobody under age 12 is allowed to go. Sam has to stay home. It's all okay, because Sam has plans to stay with his friend Billy Brand. But when the big day comes, Billy's contagious and Sam has nowhere to go.

Then neighbour Hilda Hardbottom volunteers to watch Sam. This is a bit fishy as old Hilda isn't the friendliest neighbour ever...but his parents are in a pickle. Turns out, Hilda's in it for the insurance money. Certainly something has to happen on the first ever trip to the moon for tourists. Sam feels doomed until he gets some help from an unlikely source!

What a fun little duo of stories! Sally Gardner has put together a great text to illustration ratio for the younger set who are beyond easy readers, but in need for a not-too-long story. The illustrations are so cute, and give the reader a real sense of the kids. Quick aside...I know that my students will pick up right away that the twin towers are still in the NYC skyline in Josie's story. Not that it's a big deal, but conversations may arise.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I Cannot Wait....

...to see the movie of the Spiderwick Chronicles.

Go here to watch the trailer!

Woot! And starring Freddie to boot!

Summerhouse Time ...



is over at Tweendom!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Vacation!


I am off to my homeland! Woot!


No computers for a week.


But...these 2 delightful pixies won't be with me either. So expect a pile of reviews when I get back!


Cheers!

Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star...



..is over at Tweendom!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb


Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb, is over at Tweendom!