Monday, July 31, 2006

A Break From Our Regularly Scheduled Posting

Skip this post if you don't like the personal stuff.

My mother & her sisters are very close; so my youngest cousin, Julie, is like a sister to me. J's husband Will was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma almost 3 years ago. Will is the family MacGyver, who can actually, you know, do things, like install electric fixtures and rewire things. He put in his own deck. Will's sister Emili is participating in a fund raiser, Hike For Discovery, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's adventure fundraising program to raise funds to help the Society cure leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. More information is here.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled posting.


Eventually (which means, not this week!) I will be updating my sidebar, to include all the new blogs I've been reading. (And if you've commented here and wondered at your absence -- don't worry, I've added you to my bloglines account, and will be updating that sidebar. I promise, and that means you, Tally, and Nicole, and Erin, and you. Afraid I'll miss you? Just comment to this thread.)

Anyway -- just wanted to let you know that I've been having fun with Flickr. My account is here. As you can see, I'm still in the "playing with it to figure out all the fun things I can do" stage. Any hints? Suggestions? Tips? Cool things that I can do that I haven't figured out yet?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

On This Day...

Emily Bronte was born.

Other events that happened on this day include the founding of Baltimore, Maryland.

The New York Times headlines for this day. Hey, this was the day that the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. (Yes, the shark one.)

And I was born! The Big 4.0.

I'm enjoying cake. I hope you enjoyed your weekend!

Friday, July 28, 2006

This Is The Last WSJ Post, I Promise

Bookshelves of Doom reveals that the infamous WSJ editorial was written by an intern.

There's a link to Paul Acampora's LiveJournal; Paul has interviewed the professor quoted in the WSJ editorial. Had the intern quoted Mary Burgess accurately, the WSJ could have had an interesting, thoughtful editorial.

Daniel Radcliffe's New Role

Well, this is one way to get kids to go the theatre.

I Read Classics, Ask Me How

So the WSJ editorial got me thinking about children and classics and reading.

What makes a classic, particularly when it's a children's book? Does the definition include adult books? This can go on and on, looking at how something was originally published, who reads it now, etc. Not to mention various editions: to pick on Little Women, are you talking about the original version? Or one of the many edited down abridged versions?

Will a child love a book that he has been made to read? I tend to think not; especially if it's a child that is not a reader.

Is there value to reading classics? Yes. (I imagine that answer shocked some people!) I think it's good to read a variety of things. Just as "old" doesn't mean "better," "old" doesn't mean "of no interest to today's kids."

So the question becomes, how to introduce classics to kids in a way that does not turn them off reading and that does not turn them off classics? Because that is one of my big problems with the WSJ attitude: I am concerned that "force feeding" of classics results in hating both reading and classics. I want kids to read because the want to; and I want kids to read the classics because they want to.

So I throw this out to you: what do you suggest works for introducing kids to classics? What will make a kid "want to" on their own?

In looking back at myself as a kid, here are things that worked for me:

* Finding the book on the shelf. I read both Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice because they were on the shelves at home, minding their own business, and I was bored and out of books. Loved them both.
* Watching the movie/TV version. The BBC version of Brideshead Revisited is why I read the book, and then pursued other works by that author.
* Comic Book versions. This is going back a while, but there was a series of classics turned into comic books, fairly faithful to the originals. When I read the same books later on, in original form, it helped to know the story already, especially with some of the denser books.
* Good teachers. When I did have to read a book for class, for the most part I was fortunate and had teachers who didn't drain the joy out of a book. But, I also didn't have to read books for school (outside of book reports) until High School; before then, we had text books with short stories and excerpts from books, but I don't remember everyone reading one book in third or sixth grade.
* Books mentioned in books. If I was reading a book that had a character reading a book, I wanted to read the book.
* What my parents read; but I put this down rather reluctantly. Because it was never, oh, I see Mom reading this so I will; it was rather, because of what my mother read, they were in the house and available.

For those of you who read classics as kids: what worked for you? What made you pick up that book instead of something else? For those of you who have kids reading classics, what is it that made your child want to read that book?

Poetry Friday

A Summer Morning
by Rachel Field

I saw dawn creep across the sky,
And all the gulls go flying by.
I saw the sea put on its dress
Of blue mid-summer loveliness,
And heard the trees begin to stir
Green arms of pine and juniper.
I heard the wind call out and say:
"Get up, my dear, it is to-day!"


Bookshelves of Doom sponsors a new Haiku contest and reports on the entries from last week
By Sun And Candlelight highlights William Blake
Fuse #8 Productions reviews Blackbeard, the Pirate King -- poems about pirates
Jen Robinson shares AA Milne's Knights and Ladies
Scholar's Blog has poems about the joy of reading books (and none of the poems say, the Joy is from being able to say "i read a classic, ask me how")
A Year Of Reading reviews Moving Day

Drop a line in the comments if you have something for this Friday; I'll update later today.

Updated to add:
Little Willow with Black Cat

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Buffy Quote of the Week

Xander: "Giles lived for school. He's still bitter there were only twelve grades."
Buffy: "He probably sat in math class thinking, 'There should be more math! This could be mathier!'"
Ep: The Dark Age

The Case of the Missing Marquess

The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery by Nancy Springer.

The Plot: Enola Holmes' mother has disappeared. The fourteen year old calls on her two older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock, to assist; but they seem more interested in Enola being turned into a proper young lady than in what has happened to their mother. Enola takes matters into her own hands.

The Good: I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes by Saturday morning replays of Basil Rathbone movies. I've read the books and most of the books about Holmes, and also watched the various film incarnations.

Introducing a new character into established canon is tricky. Springer pulls it off, in part by making Enola's mother very modern for her time, so that Enola's modern views do not seem out of place for 1888. Enola has been protected by her mother; may be a bit innocent about certain things; but she is quick, and intelligent, and learns quickly.

Enola learns things about her mother, and her brothers; at first unsettling and disturbing, but ultimately what Springer does is use this to say: women were in a pretty powerless place in the late 19th century. When one is without power, what can one do? And when one is underestimated, how can one turn that to their advantage?

Enola is searching to find her mother and also gets caught up in the investigation of a missing Marquess. While Sherlock may view women as inferior, Enola's detecting skills and disguises show that she is her brother's sister. The mystery is solved -- solved to a degree to satisfy, but there are still questions. Since two more mysteries are planned, I hope we learn more about Enola, her mother, her brother, and the mystery of Enola's birth. (She thinks it is just that she was a late in life baby, so a disgrace; but I'm suspicious, since Enola's mother was 50 at the time of the time of her daughter's birth).

And I almost forgot: it's a mystery without ghosts. For the longest time, it seemed that all mysteries involved the supernatural, and lately I've been reading real, honest to goodness mysteries. I cannot wait for the next school reading assignment, I will be well prepared!

Pop's Blogroll

Pop Goes the Library has added a blogroll. While there are one or two librarian sites, for the most part it's a look at the pop culture blogs & sites that Sophie, Melissa and I read.

Summer Reading Lists

The Wall Street Journal has stepped into the "bash current books for kids/ young adults" arena with its editorial, Literary Losers : Summer reading lists are filled with uninspired choices. (Why do they think that they have to compete with Slate?) How's this for a nice slam at librarians:

But there are consequences. "Child readers haven't cemented their tastes," says Ellen Fader, president of the Association for Library Services to Children, which does not recommend many classics on its Web site. "Adults serve as intermediar[ies] in introducing books to young people." Which may explain why we're raising a generation of cereal-box readers.

Author gets extra bonus points for using Fader's own words against her.

Shannon Hale takes the WSJ to task in a wonderful post that addresses reading for fun, different reading interests for different kids, and the odd notion that the only good book is an old book in her blog post, The Older The Better. Don't forget to read the comments, where one poster points out that any book boiled down to one sentence will appear to be bad/ depressing/ boring/ fluff.

Shanon and many of the commentators don't bash the older books; in point of fact, not only do some of them talk about particular older books that they loved, Shannon also says that she agrees that classics have a place on summer reading lists.

Summer reading lists are a tricky thing. I read constantly as a child, and while I participated each summer in the local library summer reading program, I read because I loved reading. It wasn't to get the trinket or invite to the end of summer pizza party. I read anything and everything, classics included, finding them thru gifts, books at home, books at the library. If a character in a book read something, I wanted to read it.

I think summer reading is important to show kids that reading isn't just for school. It can be fun; and I don't mean fun books, because a classic or a tearjerker can be fun reading. I mean, that it's something you do because you want to. It's not something that one "has" to do but rather something that one "wants" to do. And it's my belief that the more a kid reads for fun, the more they want to read; the more they want to read, the more books they will read; and so for the non-reader, a classic isn't a good place to start; especially if it's a classic that was not written for kids. (And, for the record, not very classic lover will love all classics. I adore Austen and Bronte, yet cannot finish a Dickens novel to save my life. Give the wrong classic to a kid, and they may be turned off all classics.)

With that in mind, I don't like summer reading lists that are "musts", because what one kid will read and love, another kid will read and hate. Nothing kills the joy of reading quicker than having to read a book you don't like. Summer is about building the joy of reading. The best mandatory summer reading lists I've seen are the ones that have pages and pages of options for kids. Some examples: here (pdf file) and here (pdf file).

At my library, we don't have any "must" books for summer reading; I cannot speak for those libraries who do require a certain book to be read for the program, except to say that I disagree with that philosophy.

At the library, we create summer reading lists with suggested titles related to the summer reading theme; and we also do other book lists during the year. When the list is in paper book mark form (as opposed to online), I'm limited to the number of titles (16 max) that can appear. As a general rule, I don't include classics. Not that I have anything against classics; I also don't include popular titles. The reason is the same for both: I don't think Harry Potter needs me to promote it to get kids reading it; and I don't think Little Women needs me to promote it to get kids reading it. I see a list as being about getting kids (and their parents) aware of titles that they otherwise wouldn't know about. As I read the editorial, I look at it from the other side: the belief that an omission means that I don't like the book or that I don't think the book is worth reading. Which, personally? I think is overreading suggested lists.

In a nutshell, what I consider when creating a list:
  • Find books for the theme of the list.
  • Does the book "need" promoting for it to find readers? If it's a classic or very popular, I'll leave it off (as I discuss above).
  • Have I covered all interests? Even with a theme, is there a mix of contemporary, science fiction, historical, sports? Because I tend to prefer certain books, have I inadvertently created a list that reflects only my likes? Do I need to expand beyond the books I know? What about nonfiction?
  • Is the list diverse? Have I unintentionally created a list where only certain people show up in the books? Will the kids looking at this list fail to find something that reflects their world?
  • Are all reading levels covered? Usually, the list is geared towards age of the child; so do I have books that cover the wide range of reading levels that may occur in one age group?
  • How many copies are available at the library? Will there be enough to meet the need created by the list and to do displays around the list? If the library doesn't have enough copies, can we get more copies? Is it still in print?

What about the classics?

The library owns them. There are lists out there that are specifically about classics, or what books every high school student should read, etc. In doing one on one readers advisory, as I learn a child's unique tastes, I will recommend certain classics. They aren't being ignored.

For those of you who put together lists, whether for the library or your blog, what do you consider when putting together lists? For those of you who use these lists, what do you assume a list means? Have I left anything off the above considerations that I should be thinking about?

Thanks to Jen Robinson for highlighting this post and editorial.

Cross posted at Pop Goes the Library.

Edited to add: enjoy additional thoughts on the WSJ at Bookshelves of Doom and MotherReader. And Chasing Ray. And Fuse #8. And Finding Wonderland.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Cool Teachers

I am from a family of teachers; right now, my mom is on summer break and is reading up a storm.

A Year Of Reading is compiling the 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Lit. Go and add the teachers from books who reminded you of your favorite teachers at school; made you jealous because you wanted a teacher just like that; or inspired you to be a teacher.

Caddy Ever After

Caddy Ever After by Hilary McKay

The Plot: The most recent book about the Casson siblings is told by each of the four siblings, in connecting stories. While episodic, at it's heart, this is a story about love and relationships: love between siblings, friends, family, and the opposite sex.

The Good: It's Hilary McKay. Of course it's good.

Each sibling voices a section of the book; it begins with Rose, and despite the title, Rose also ends the story. Artistic Rose, with her independence, fierceness, and loyalty, has stolen the show in the last few Casson books and this one is no exception.

Rose is making Valentines; all, of course, are for Tom, but since all cannot be sent to Tom she shares them with others. Indigo assists in the planning of the school Valentine's Day dance, for reasons of his own. Quite accidentally, it's because of him that Saffy starts dating Oscar. Which is why Oscar's older brother, Alex, enters the picture, and meets Caddy. What at first seems episodic, without plot, is actually a complex look at relationships and how we affect each other, whether we mean to or not.

Yes, there is a heartbreaker of a storyline, as Caddy and Alex date. Even if you haven't read the other books, even tho this part is told by Caddy herself, it's obvious that these two do not belong together.

I love the Cassons because they are so fierce about each other, but also so unique and so real and so fun. I love McKay, because hidden under the fun bits are serious issues. Saffy's boyfriend calls and says he'll be over in a few minutes to pick her up, and Saffy looks at her family through another's eyes, seeing the remnants of dinner, the mother in pajamas ("it looks weird"), the mess of the house. Caddy calmly says, "Meet him on the doorstep. That's what I always did."

I remembered then how Caddy used to vanish from the doorstep, one moment there, the next gone, as if snatched by aliens into another world. (She would appear, sometimes what seemed like days later, looking thoughtful.)

It's a bit of a laugh, imagining trying to hide the chaos that is the Cassons, and a look back, a moment when Saffy connects with Caddy as both have passed beyond childhood. But it's more than that: it is also a hint, explored more fully as Caddy dates Alex, that while Caddy loves her family, adores her siblings, being a Casson is not easy. Hence the attraction to Alex, as un-Cassonlike as the Casson father, Bill.

Rose's teacher, Miss Farley, is a great addition to the series; from Rose's description of Miss Farley on the days Miss Farley doesn't take the time to put on make up to the Miss Farley's time-killing game, "Hot Gossip," where all the children share what's going on their lives.

Could this book be read without having read the others? I suppose so; Rose, in her initial section, does introduce her siblings. But the question is, why would you want to? It's a great family to visit with, so why spend less time with them by only reading the most recent book?

A Publisher's Weekly article about this most recent book, The Appeal of McKay's Casson Children.

The Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature

The Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Big A little a.

I've been asked, why read Carnivals? Aren't you already reading these blogs?

Well, no. While there are some that I have read, and I remember the post, the Carnival always introduces me to new (to me) blogs.

And, while there are blogs and posts I have already read, sometimes it's good to revisit them; especially if in the time since I originally read the post, I've read the book that was reviewed.

The Sixth Carnival of Children's Literature will be held at the Castle of the Immaculate.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Children's Literacy Round-Up

Just a heads up, for those of you who don't read Jen Robinson's Book Page. She does a very comprehensive weekly Children's Literacy Round-Up, pulling together news on children's literacy from a wide range of news sources.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hustle & Flow

Hustle and Flow

The Plot: A pimp rediscovers his dream of making music.

The Good: Oh and first: let me state the obvious. Not a kid's movie. Not a teen movie, though there may be teen appeal.

It's a good thing I don't listen to my own opinion. Often, there are books or movies that I think I won't like, and it turns out that not only do I like them -- I love them.

Luckily, I've gotten to the point that I realize in certain circumstances I need to put aside my initial reaction and read a book or watch a film. If a friend is raving about something, or an item appears on a list or a nomination, I add it to the pile.

I was prepared to dislike Hustle & Flow because I read the brief descriptions and thought uhg. I don't want to watch something that glorifies a criminal lifestyle, especially the type that preys on others -- drugs & prostitution. I don't want to see women objectified and used; or even worse, have a film that argues that prostitution is good.

I was wrong. Forget the description; but let me point out that DJay can barely pay his bills and is not living large. He's on the bottom rung of criminal life, doing a bit of this and a bit of that to get by, and that is all his life is about. Finding the money to make it through today, forget tomorrow.

Why this is a great movie, and I recommend it to you:

It's about dreams; not just dreams, but dreams that are rediscovered. Not everyone knows what they are going to do at 15 or 16 or 17; or sometimes someone knows, but it's more a hope or a wish, and they get sidetracked. DJay got sidetracked, into easy money, helped along by family members already in the criminal life. Fast forward 20 or so year later, and DJay appears to be beyond those old dreams. Yet this film shows that its never too late to dream; you may wake up and think, this life is a nightmare, but it's not beyond changing.

Speaking about nightmares, this movie is also about dreams. It's DJay's story, so we know little about the women in his life. But his dream is to become someone other than who he is.

It's about the creative process. DJay wants to make music, and gets the sudden realization that he can make music and he can make money doing it. So the film also shows him putting together the people, the equipment, writing and rewriting, getting feedback, getting angry and frustrated.

Finally, it's about redemption. DJay wants to change; wants to be different; isn't always sure how. He wants to be a better man, but he's in a world where there has been no guidance. It's no big surprise to find out that he began as a pimp by assisting his uncle in collecting money. He had no role model, and drifted into this life, and now is trying to change.

Over at YPulse there was an interesting discussion of whether this film glamorizes pimps and demeans women. While I agree that there's something going on in society right now that is disturbing in terms of sexuality, women, and especially teenagers, when it comes to actions, dress, and the like, I still think that ultimately that's not what happened in this film.

Finally, the movie is about making music, and it's not the type of music that I usually like. I found myself liking the music, and still find myself occasionally humming the Oscar-winning song, "It's hard out here for a pimp."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Buffy Quote of the Week

"As long as there is injustice in this world... As long as scum like you is walking, or, well, rolling the streets, I'll be around. Look over your shoulder. I'll be there."
Angelus to Spike, Ep: Innocence

Boy, Oh Boy!

Jen Robinson is putting together a cool boys of children's literature list. The start of the list is here. Is your favorite guy missing? Go to the comments and let Jen know the boy and the book.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Dawn Undercover

Dawn Undercover by Anna Dale

The Plot: Dawn, 11, is the type of kid no one notices. She waits to be noticed; by the crossing guard, by teachers, by classmates, by her parents. When someone does notice her, it's a bit of a surprise. She's been recruited by a super-secret spy agency. Not being noticed is a good trait for a spy.

The Good: This book brings on the fun with a lot of humor, both over the top and subtle. The spy agency is S. H. H. (Strictly Hush-Hush); Dawn's been recruited for the P. S. S. T. (Pursuit of Scheming Spies and Traitors) division. Dawn is given a phone that is made to look like something else so that people won't realize when she's talking to spy headquarters. It's shaped like a shell. A shell phone. That cracks me up. It's the type of humor found in the Harry Potter books,; fans of HP (especially those who aren't fantasy readers) will like DU.

Dawn begins feeling invisible; who hasn't? Dawn is the type of kid I think of when I think of libraries and books; the quiet, invisible kid. Sometimes when I'm in meetings or reading articles about the kids who don't come to libraries, and outreaching to them, I get a bit worried that we're forgetting the kids who do come to the library. Because we cannot ignore the Dawns, who come here without outreach, who we may not notice, but who need us.

Dawn isn't cool. Reading how she dresses is a hoot; she's about comfort, with her favorite sneakers and knee socks. She may not want to be invisible, but she's not out to get popular. She wants to be seen, to be noticed, to be important. But she isn't about changing who she is to do so. Dawn is wonderfully average. Not super smart, super skinny, super rich. I love that she discovers that her ability to notice things yet not be noticed is a good talent to have; that she can save the world. Or at least, save a captured spy or two.

And, of course, it has my favorite elements of a kids book: Dawn is active, not passive. She solves the mystery by hard work, not by coincidence or luck. The reader can follow along and try to solve the mystery with Dawn. The Getting Rid of Parents device: the parents give permission for Dawn to go.

A recent article in School Library Journal is about Disappearing Children's Books, with the observation that good books for children ages 8 to 12 are disappearing because edgy YA books get the most attention. As I read it, I saw a parallel: just like Dawn is the great kid who doesn't get noticed, middle grade books are great books that don't get noticed. DU is a great addition to middle grade books, and perfect for that age group.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Blatant Self Promotion

I have an article in the Summer 2006 Edition of Library Journal's NetConnect: An Elf In the Library?

It's about Library Elf, on online way to keep track of library materials.

More Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet

More Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet by Lola Douglas. Reviewed from an ARC, publication date November 2006.

Remember in my review of Amazing Grace, how I said

I find it very interesting that neither look at the work or sacrifices or the adult role in achieving the success, until the point where the teen wants or needs to get out. The role of stage parent is an interesting one, yet here there is almost no stage parent, except a reference to a dead father who loved tennis
Well, Lola must have been laughing herself silly. Because in MCOAHS, even tho Morgan remains a high school student, the issues of a child working, and the role played by adults in that child's life, are addressed and then some.

The Plot: At the End of True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet, Morgan was "outed" yet chose to remain in school. MCOAHS begins with an Oprah taping (because, of course, Morgan has to share on air. It's not real unless it's on Oprah.) Things aren't easier now that Morgan can be herself; friends and boyfriend doubt her because, you know, she lied; her mother wants her to start working again, pushing her to lose ten pounds; her stepfather/manager is trying to get her (and her career, and his agency) all the good publicity he can by making her half of a Bennifer-type couple.

The Good: If I didn't know better, I'd say Lola is the pseudonym of Drew Barrymore. Maybe someone "in" the industry would be able to point out howlers and mistakes galore, but the essence is what is important: Lola respects these teens, the Britneys and Lindsays, MaryKates and Ashleys and Mischas. She respects Hollywood and the entertainment industry; yet is not seduced by it. This isn't a rosy picture of tinsel town. But it is a wake up call to the public not to judge teenagers by ridiculously high standards; to the adults in the profession to be adults, not business managers; and to the teens themselves, saying, you have choices.

OK, off that soap box.

MCOAHS moves beyond the "what if the star hid out in my high school" fantasy to the gritty real world. Douglas once again points out both the shallowness of Hollywood, but also the warmth and depth. Issues that were raised in the first book are addressed more fully in the second, including food and work. I was just laughing at InStyle with Sophie because every "hot body" depicted requires at least 5 one-hour personal trainer sessions a week. When one's body is one's career, like Morgan's, that is possible. Unless, like Morgan now, there are other things one has to do with life, such as homework (or, for us grownups, work, family, cleaning house and the like).

Morgan has an enemy at school that's straight out of a teen movie. Debbie is the one who outed Morgan and made money off of it, Debbie wants Morgan's boyfriend, and Debbie is constantly needling Morgan. Douglas makes this stereotype three dimensional; even while guiltily rooting for Morgan to take Debbie down a peg or two, there's enough here to have sympathy for Debbie.

Ever since you know what, I've been paying more attention to the front of books, looking at copyrights and the like. This book had a note I hadn't seen before: "The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content." Douglas blogs, but so do many other authors; I'll be on the look out to see if this note becomes a publishing norm.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Field Guide

The Field Guide: The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 1 by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. Website at The Spiderwick Chronicles.

The Plot: Mallory (13), Simon (9) and Jared (9) Grace, and their mother have moved into the run down Spiderwick Estate. As they unpack and explore the house, the kids find more than they bargained for: faeries. And these faeries aren't cute and helpful creatures.

The Good: this is a cute, charming story; yes, cute, even tho the faeries cause trouble. It's in the tradition of The Borrowers and The Littles, with hints of secrets and darkness.

I loved the world-building, with maps and drawings and tons of details. I'm sure this has inspired tons of fanfiction in the upper elementary school crowd. It's also a beautifully packaged book, with short chapters. Because of the world building and story, it's sophisticated; yet the language, length of the book, and short chapters also makes this an easy read for younger kids.

The three siblings are realistic; they fight, but they also band together when necessary. And it has my favorite: kids thinking, working together, figuring out things for themselves, being active.

What Happened to Cass McBride?

What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles. Reviewed from an ARC, publication date November 2006.

The Plot: Popular Cass McBride goes to sleep in her own bed and wakes up in a coffin. Seems like not everyone loves Cass. Kyle Kirby blames Cass for the death of David, his younger brother. So Kyle kidnaps Cass. And buries her alive.

The Good: This is told from the viewpoints of three people; Kyle, Cass, and Ben, the police officer investigating Cass's disappearance. The reader knows more than any one character.

I didn't like Cass. I know, girl's locked in a box. And here I am, all mean, saying, I don't like her. Do I pity her? Yes. But Cass isn't popular by accident; she's an overachiever, who concentrates on her goals and gets what she wants. Yet it's not just about achieving; it's doing anything to achieve, including manipulating people. Cass can sometimes be nasty in the process. It's the nastiness that got her into the box; David asked out Cass, Cass nicely turned him down only to write a scathing note about it to her best friend. David intercepted the note and killed himself the next day. Kyle found the note.

Kyle isn't any great shakes, either. After all, whatever Cass did, she doesn't deserve this slow torture. As the book progresses, it turns out that Kyle is far from perfect. (I know, I know -- hardly the shocker, what with him putting someone in a box and all.) Kyle's motivation is David's suicide; but is that all that is going on?

While I wanted Cass out of the box and rescued, and I wanted Kyle stopped, as I read, I also found uncomfortable with rewarding Cass for her ability to manipulate people. Cass, stuck in the coffin, will only be able to free herself if she can manipulate Kyle and the situation. I didn't want Cass to die; but I didn't like the "golden girl," and while I felt icky for thinking so, I didn't want the golden girl to get another star, another medal, another reward for being a user.

What I liked best about not liking Cass or Kyle? I'm not supposed to like them; they are unlikable people. Cass's treatment of others is clearly wrong; yet that is what may save her life. This adds to the greatness of the book, because I found myself almost complicit in the kidnapping, as I hoped that Kyle would not be another in the long line of people who let themsevles be used by Cass.

I read this on a plane going down to New Orleans. This is an extremely claustrophobic book, physically (Cass, buried alive) and emotionally. I found myself getting antsy, shifting around, and happy to be by a window seat where I could look outside.

WHTCMcB? is an extremely well crafted psychological thriller. Even tho the basics are known at the beginning, that's only the surface. What will happen to Cass and Kyle? What is Cass really like? What happened to David? Who is responsible? What is appropriate punishment for our crimes, both real and imagined? How much control do we have over our lives? What happens when we lose the illusion of control? Can we have "closure" for the bad things that happen in her life? How do we judge teens, who are not yet fully formed, who are still acting in the ways molded by their parents?

Info on the book and writing process at cynsations.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Poetry Friday

Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats


Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.

For the full poem go here.
Blog From the Windowsill shares a poem by Sharon Olds

Book Buds and Psalm 121

Farm School honors Bastille Day

Fuse #8 Productions has Casey at the Bat

Jen Robinson reviews A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl

Scholar's Blog and William Wordsworth

Let me know if I missed you.

Updated to add:

Bildungsroman (Little Willow) with Pieces of Georgia

And updated again:

Susan Taylor Brown and Ogden Nash

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

How Opah Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life

How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life by Kaavya Viswanathan. In case you are wondering, who is Kaavya and Opal and why should I care, check out the wikipedia explanation of the whole mess. My prior posts on this are here and here.

So why did I read this? Because I wanted to come to my own conclusions.

My conclusions?

I would not have picked up on the plagiarized passages.

But, that doesn't change my opinion that they are significant.

I cannot understand why this was published adult and not YA. Right after this discussion about what is and isn't a YA, one of my pages who is starting college in the fall was talking about her to be read pile, and all the books that are about kids starting college in the fall and how psyched she is that these books exist. The question of where to place a book about an 18 year old matters, not because of the publisher but because it's important that the person looking for such a book find it.

While I didn't pick up on the plagiarism, I did keep thinking "this reminds me of teen movies," most noticeably Mean Girls. I was pleased to see that Kirkus had the same reaction.

I found that I could not read this as a comedy; and I kept conflating Opal and Kaavya. I kept reading it as if I were reading about Kaavya.

Knowing what we all know now, my primary reaction is that (aside from that whole P thing), Kaavya did not have the necessary distance to write truthfully about her experience in fictional form. She's still too close. Opal never questions her parents' intrusiveness into her life. She never questions that they come up with a scheme that uses people. With some more distance, perhaps, Kaavya may have been able to judge the parents who push their children relentlessly, in an anything-goes manner. With distance, including distance from Harvard, she may have questioned that goal and questioned what that goal means. She may have wondered about the haves versus the have-nots, in a way other than the token Natalie character. Yes, Opal gives up a scholarship so that Natalie may win it; it's the only way that Natalie may go to an Ivy league school. But Opal wins that scholarship because she voted for herself. Had she voted for Natalie, Natalie would have won. Yet that is the reader's knowledge; Opal never acknowledges it, instead thinking only that she has given something away.

We can all be selfish and self centered; teenagers especially. That Opal doesn't realize this is normal; but a good writer would realize this and be aware. Some of my favorite moments in YA books are when the main character realize that there is a world of people independent of the character. This book does not have such a moment; Opal is and remains self centered; towards the end, she muses, "sitting on the front steps, I found it easy to believe that I was the only person in the world and that all the stars were meant for me."

The review in the Harvard Independent (by Allie Pape written after the accusations) captured many of my thoughts:

Sure, it's easy to mock the poor kids still slaving in college limbo and to castigate their high-pressure parents, but no one (including Viswanathan) is addressing what these kids really need to know: that life is okay, and even probably better, without beef fajita fettuccine from Annenberg, or three a.m. naps on a Lamont desk, or Harvey Mansfield. In a book like this, Viswanathan could only protect either Harvard or its aspirants, and she chose Harvard. Naturally, Harvard and its success-hungry students have an obligation to maintain an image of pristine, diverse, heartwarming intellectualism and community; if we didn't, Lehman Brothers would stop calling, and God knows what we'd all do then. But for the qualified and overqualified kids who come up just a little bit short in the college admissions war, this book perpetuates the feeling that their lives as they know it are over - and they'll think that until second semester of freshman year at the earliest.

Kaavya, still attending this school, didn't have the distance to write the truly great, truly funny story about kids chasing the college admission dream. Allie ends her review with, "Maybe I'm just a sucker for the Horatio Alger story (or for self-hatred), but seeing a privileged, intelligent girl get into Harvard against the "odds" seems flat in comparison to seeing someone with real things at stake (and without a safety net) make it to the big dance."

I had hoped for more from Opal; but maybe, it's impossible for me to read the book that was read by editors and the initial reviewers. Because I know that just as Opal did anything necessary to get into Harvard, so, too, did Kaavya do anything necessary for this book. I know; I know what Kaavya did to get into school. I know what went into writing Opal. I cannot read this book and not know it.

Another post-p review was done by the Village Voice.

Congrats to MotherReader!

School Library Journal has an article about MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge. Congrats, on the Challenge and how well it went and how fun it was, plus yay! recognition is always good.

Thanks to Fuse for the heads up.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Buffy Quote of the Week

Buffy: "OK. Maybe I don't have a plan. Lord knows I don't have lapel
buttons. And maybe the next time the world is getting sucked into hell, I
won't be able to stop it because, guess what, the anti-hell-sucking book isn't
on the approved reading list!"

Joyce: "I'm sorry, I didn't meant to put down --"

Buffy: "Yeah, you did. But you know what? I have to go. I have to go out on one of my pointless little patrols now, and 'react to' some vampires, if that's all right with MOO."

Ep: Gingerbread

Monday, July 10, 2006

Dead Yet?

Chasing Ray was discussing the issue of Harry Potter's possible death, and we began wondering in the comments:

What children's / young adult book has the main character die?

See, aside from anything else, I think that JKR would be one of the first to take this step. Now, being first doesn't mean she cannot do it; however, being first (or one of the first) does mean that I cannot understand why people would be critical of her for not doing it. Of course, as with many things in the blogosphere, when people rant about X, they are really using X as an excuse to rant about what they really want to talk about. JKR happens to be the X to get people talking about fiction, messages, meaning, children, morality, etc.

Anyway, back to main character being dead question. Little Willow then said she does know of main characters not surviving to the last page, but didn't want to spoil anyone.

I have been known to read the last chapter first. Except for a handful of situations, I not only don't mind being spoiled; I find it makes a richer reading experience.

Here's the deal: post away on the comments about books written for children/young adults where the main character dies. If you don't want to be spoiled, stay away from the comments.

  • Must have been originally published for children or young adults; so no Romeo and Juliet.
  • Must be the main character. Beth is not the main character in Little Women.
  • Only one title by Lurlene McDaniel per comment.
  • A character dying of natural causes at the end of his or her natural life span? Doesn't count.
  • A book told from the point of view of an already dead/ dies in first chapter main character? Doesn't count.
  • Only one picture book as bibliotherapy book per comment.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter

I've read Book 2 (The Tale of Holly How) and Book 3 (The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood) of this series by Susan Wittig Albert.

The Plot: Beatrix Potter (yes, that Beatrix Potter!) solves crimes. These are cozy mysteries, set in England's Lake District in the time between the turn of the century and World War I.

The Good: I was reminded of Agatha Christie. These are tightly plotted mysteries, with enough clues to figure out the mystery along with Beatrix. She solves the mysteries not from being some busy body, but because she's becoming a member of this tightly knit village, and she observes, and puts two and two together. To assist the reader, each book begins with a map of the farm and surrounding villages, along with a "who's who" list to help keep track of the sometimes quirky village residents.

Books about Beatrix Potter have to include animals; and in these, the animals are active participants, with their own stories that parallel the main human mystery. A rat is concerned about rat company that has overstayed their welcome; meanwhile, the vicar is having similar troubles.

The humans cannot understand the animals; the animals converse amongst themselves. At times, the books almost move into an area of magical realism, in that some of the animals live the types of lives depicted by Beatrix in her books. For example, the Badger takes tea, some rabbits wear aprons, animals read and write books, animal homes have chairs and beds. (Yet no human ever observes this aspect of animal life.) (What would this be called? I'm hesitant to say it's fantasy, yet magic realism doesn't seem right, either.)

I also liked these because of where Beatrix is in her life. This mystery series is set during the time that Beatrix had just purchased her farm and was beginning her life there (roughly, the years 1905 to 1913). Her fiance had just died, and Beatrix is trying to rebuild her life. It isn't easy, because she has many constraints on her, both due to her sex and her class. It has taken her over 30 years to begin to assert her independence, and she is still doing so. The story of her fiance illustrates what Beatrix was up against: Beatrix got engaged despite the protests of her parents, who objected because the fiance was the wrong class (he worked) and because Beatrix marrying meant that she would be unable to fulfill her role of dutiful daughter, taking care of her parents.

In the first few books, the farm is a place of escape, of visiting; her real home remains with her parents, who judge all she does and have their own opinions about what is proper and what is not. Usually, books that are about "running away to start anew" are about how wherever you go, there you are; you cannot start anew because you carry the same baggage with you. This is different, because Beatrix has never been able to be herself. In these Tales, she is, for perhaps the first time, able to be be herself. I particularly liked how SWA was able to show the tension between what society expected and what Beatrix wanted.

Part of what I liked about these books is the glimpse of English life before World War I. There's one 12 year old boy in the story, and I'm rather grateful that the author plans on ending the story before the war starts. Still, I cannot help but appreciate this peek into a life and society that is so radically different from our own.

After reading these, I wanted to know more about Beatrix and am looking forward to the movie version of her life (not related to these books.)

Who'd be interested? Those who read and liked Beatrix's books; those who like mysteries; children who are looking for high-level reading materials; those who like cozy stories.

The author has put together a supporting web site, that includes everything from photos and the true story of Beatrix Potter to menus and recipes for a tea party. (Food figures in these books, and the books also include local recipes.)

Links: SWA's blog. the Sisters in Crime interview.


A Readable Feast has this fine post about Pirates. Did you know there's a Talk Like A Pirate Day? (Wasn't the Bones episode when they talked like pirates cool?)

Some YA Pirate titles:

Piratica by Tanith Lee; this is full of humor, as Art suddenly remembers she's the daughter of a Pirate Queen and goes about assembling her mother's old crew. But things aren't exactly as she remembers.

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. Matt Cruse is a cabin boy in an airship that runs into air pirates.

Pirates! by Celia Rees. Slightly more historically accurate than Tanith Lee, but still full of adventure.

The Pirates of Pompeii by Caroline Lawrence, for Roman Empire-era pirates.

What pirate books have you been reading?

American Indians In Children's Literature

American Indians in Children's Literature by Debbie Reese. Debbie started this back in May, and it's quick becoming a great resource for everything from recommended books to insights into children's programs. Take time to explore her links. What I like best about sites like this is the thought and critical analysis. How do we look at books about/ set in a culture that is not our own? What messages are being sent?

Hugging The Rock

Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown; Tricyle Press, an imprint of Ten Speed Press; Publication Date September 2006

The Plot: Sometimes, it's a parent who runs away. Rachel's mother is packing up and leaving her family. Rachel and her father, "the rock", are left behind to try to build a life and a relationship. Told in verse.

The Good: HTR is about a child's worst nightmare: the loss of Mommy. Rachel's mother has committed the ultimate sin: abandoned her child. Her baby. When Rachel's mother leaves, she leaves completely; this is not about adjusting to life split between two parents, this is about adjusting to life without a parent. Each section of the book is timed from the world shattering moment that Mom drives away, leaving behind her child and leaving behind being a mother. The Last Day; Three Months Minus Mom.

Amazingly, STB manages to create a Mom who isn't a monster. The sympathy (or perhaps more accurate, the pity) for the mother is never explict; it's in a phrase here, a fact revelaed there. It's something that some child-readers may not pick up on, which is fine. Some things are meant to be read, to simmer inside, to not be understood until later. Here, it's the reasons for Mom leaving. (More on this at the bottom of this review).

This is a painful read, but at the same time, a hopeful read. (Yeah, some people think it's silly to make a big deal of hope. Me, I like a book that doesn't make me ask where the razor blade is). It's hopeful because, despite what is done to Rachel, she, along with her father, are not defined by the abandonment. They change, they adjust, and they gradually build a new life and a new relationship. Is it better than before? It's different than before. And that is a hopeful message: that while the world has changed from the one you know, and you can never return to that world where you always knew the sun would shine, this new world... well, it has some good points. It's not a bad place; it's a different place. And it's not something that happens easily, or overnight. And the hope here is realistic; it's happiness and contentment found in the little things, like watching stars in a summer sky.

Rachel's father is the "rock"; at first the "rock" because of his inability to connect or express emotion; later, he becomes the rock that Rachel can rely on, a foundation to build her new life.

From the first, the poetry hurts because it rings true. There is the loss, the child's loss of security, the harsh knowledge that it's a lie that parents will always be there, that Moms are always nurturing and Dads are always protecting.

No Room
When my mother decides to run away from home
she packs up her
with all the things that matter most
to her

Her guitar
and some books
all her CDs
her clothes
her shoes
music box from the fireplace mantle
And the quilt from the bed she shares
with Dad.
By the time she's done
There's no room left for
anything else.
No room left for Dad.

And no room left for me.
Links: Susan Taylor Brown's MySpace; the Cynsations interview.

Stop reading now if you hate any spoilage.

Here it is: why Mom left. Mom is mentally ill; it turns out she has been hospitalized, she is on medication, but she is having a difficult time taking care of herself, let alone someone else. But there's something more here; Mom never wanted to be a mother.
How Mom got pregnant
and didn't want to keep the baby
How they fought
and he convinced her not to get rid of it.

While this is a horrible thing for a child to learn, I couldn't help but think of Rachel's mom. She didn't know she was ill then; but she had dreams of being a musician, dreams about what she wanted from her life, and instead of pursing her dreams, she was forced into a role of wife and mother, roles she didn't want. It doesn't change that Rachel's mom is self centered and selfish; we also learn that she begins to call Rachel periodically because that's the only way she'll get money from Rachel's father. But she never wanted to be a mom; so can she be condemned for not being one?

Next Carnival Of Children's Literature is Approaching

What? It's the next edition of the Carnival of Children's Literature. An online carnival is a round up of various posts from bloggers, submitted by the bloggers (tho sometimes the host also picks out blog entries they like). Here, the focus is Children's and YA literature. It's a great way to see what's happening in the kidlitosphere, get exposure for your blog, and be part of the online community.

Who & Where? Kelly at Big A little a is hosting. Because of the time in putting this together, the host blog changes from month to month. Having different blogs host it also increases the number of bloggers who find out about it and submit, making the Carnival even more interesting.

When? It will take place on July 23rd, so submissions are due by the 15th.

How? All the details are here.

Thanks to Melissa Wiley at Here In The Bonny Glen for reminding me, and for being the "take charge" person for the Carnival. She is seeking a host for the August edition.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

National Geographic Non Fiction Round Up

National Geographic Books, by way of Raab Associates. Since my grown up/ adult reading consists mainly of non-fiction, I was curious to take a look at some of the books being published for children by National Geographic.

Moving North: African American and the Great Migration, 1915-1930 by Monica Halpern. A good introduction to the African American migration before the Depression, including the how and why people migrated from the South to the North. There's a little bit of everything, including details of life in the city compared to life in the country. As expected, there is an emphasis on the Harlem Renaissance. I think details about history are important, to help the reader connect to the past (as Farm School's recent Understood Betsy quote illustrates). One example from this book: the details about apartments and rents, how much the average rent was, how landlords tried to take advantage, and things like that. Also good: the sources included websites, such as The African-American Mosaic from The Library of Congress and The Northern Migration of Sharecroppers in the 1920s.

Killing Germs, Saving Lives: The Quest for the First Vaccines by Glen Phelan. Whenever anyone starts rambling about how the good old days were better, I think about two things: indoor plumbing and medical care. (After my recent June visit to New Orleans, make that three things: indoor plumbing, medical care and air conditioning.) I can even laugh at myself, as I use my anti-bacterial hand lotion; yeah, as if that makes a difference, and how ironic, as I'm living during a time and in a nation where vaccines and have increased the life expectancy and quality of life. Anyway, I was pleased with how this book presented germs and how doctors treated illness. One thing that surprised me was the level of human experimentation necessary to create an effective vaccine; but it's only common sense, because what else could people do 100 or so years ago? Since this is a kid's book, the vaccines work, people live, but I can't help but wonder about failed experiments. It was also interesting to read about the personal life behind the scientists, including that of Louis Pasteur, who buried three of his five children. "Good old days"? Nope.

Voices from Colonial America: New York 1609 - 1776 by Michael Burgan with Timothy J. Shannon, Ph.D.,Consultant. When walking in New York City, it's hard to imagine that it was ever anything but a city of skyscrapers. This book is about more than NYC, but NYC does figure prominently in this history. I also like it because it seems that too often US History gives a sentence or two to Colonial America (and its usually to mention Roanoke, Jamestown, Plymouth, and suddenly it's Revolution time). This is part of a series that examines the colonies in the time between European settlement and 1776. I liked the timelines and sources; and the way it covered settlement by the various European countries and religion. It includes original prints, quotes, and highlights people and events.

Saladin: The Muslim Warrior Who Defended His People by Flora Geyer. Part of the reason I was intrigued by this book is because I'm a big fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and because of her Richard the Lionheart. And Robin Hood. So of course I was interested in this biography of Saladin. It gives a concise look at Saladin, his world, and his battles, and is clear about when it crosses into conjecture (i.e., instead of saying Saladin did something, saying it would have been true of most boys his age.) The book is full of pictures and photographs, maps and timelines. Because of the pictures, and the photographs of artifacts and historic locations, this book seemed modern; it wasn't limited by the black and white of early photography and 19th century etchings. This also provides a look at the complexity of the Muslim world during Saladin's life.

TV, Writers, And Fans

You may recall my rant about an otherwise solid NYT article about music, bands and TV shows that was marred by it's inaccuracies about TV.

It's only fair to point out a great article in this Saturday's New York Times: TV Is Now Interactive, Minus Images, On The Web by Maria Aspan. Aspan writes about how the Internet has created an environment where TV producers and writers can get direct feedback by reading various websites (such as Televisionwithoutpity) and blogs, how sometimes the TV people use that forum to answer the fans, and how that can influence the TV show.

Why I love this article, compared to the music one: Aspan is accurate in what she reports. Case in point: Aspan does not act is if this fan/writer interaction began with the recent Rescue Me incident. In just a few words, she acknowledges that interaction has happened before, without losing the significance of the current debate: "Mr. Tolan is not the first writer to defend his choices online ... [b]ut his attempt to reach out to his show's viewers reflects a growing awareness among television writers of their shows' online communities."

Friday, July 07, 2006

Poetry Friday

Poetry Speaks: Hear Great Poets Read Their Work from Tennyson to Plath, book with CD. On the CD, Charles Osgood gives an introduction for each poet, giving context for the poet, his or her poetry, the particular poem, and the circumstances of the reading.

I found this refreshing and insightful; both from hearing the poet interpret his own words, but also from a historical perspective, showing both the change in poetry style, oratory style, and recording methods. Tennyson's reading is almost impossible to understand, since it's a wax cylinder recording. While I listened while driving, having the book meant that the listener could also read along; the book also contained poems not on the CD. It's a great reminder that poetry is meant to be heard; but it also made me hungry to hear older poems, or to hear other people interpret the work of these poets.

My favorite new-to-me poem from this collection: Waiting for Icarus by Muriel Rukeyser.
He said he would be back and we'd drink wine together
He said that everything would be better than before
He said we were on the edge of a new relation
He said he would never again cringe before his father.

Rest of the poem here.

Thanks to Farm School for the suggestion.

Poetry Friday contributors:

Blog From The Windowsill reviews A Writing Kind Of Day

Book Buds has a Punny Day

Bookshelves of Doom laughs with Lear

Chicken Spaghetti highlights Mark Doty

Farm School has the Egg Edition

Fuse # 8 brings Frankenstein to the party

Gotta Book has an original soccer (aka football) poem

Jen Robinson shares one of my favorite Macbeth scenes

Little Willow and fog

MotherReader and the Best Poetry Book Ever

Scholar's Blog makes me wonder why WWI is so forgotten

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Read Roger

I think what I like most about Roger Sutton's Blog, Read Roger, is that he says exactly what he wants to say. Whether I agree or disagree, I respect his honesty and bluntness. It's the type of bluntness, at times, that makes me wonder, does he mean that? Or is he trying to get a discussion going?

(For the record, I'd prefer he mean it than to he is trying to stir the pot. Cause discussions work so much better when they are real rather than manipulation.)

I'm highlighting his post today because it amuses me, because it mentions the wonderful Gail Gauthier (and if her blog isn't on your daily to-read list, it should be) and because it's about YA literature and YA librarians. Full post here.

Over on her blog Original Content, Gail Gauthier has been wondering why Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys was named a Best Book for Young Adults by ALA. In this era of the burgeoning ranks of YA fiction, it's easy to forget that the main mission of YA librarians used to be to bring teen readers into the world of adult books. Obviously, when pioneers such as Margaret Edwards were working, YA fiction was far more limited in both range and numbers, so librarians had no choice but to bring young readers out of the box. But now I worry (and Horn Book YA columnist Patty Campbell and I have been arguing this one for years) that the surfeit of YA lit--if you believe there is one, and I do--keeps librarians from moving kids along. And when I hear that we should be thinking of YA as including people into their twenties I get apoplectic. Push 'em out of the nest, already.
Ah, this brings out the lawyer in me! Is the definition of the mission of a librarian (and a YA librarian) set in stone, never to be altered? Are the only worthwhile books adult books, with all else merely stepping stones? How high up in age should/does "YA" go? Is their a surfeit of YA literature?

Discuss amongst yourselves. I'm fighting a cold so will just sit back and read.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

ALA: The Books, Part Two

Yes, it came! My missing envelope was here when I got home from work, battered, bruised, repackaged, but as far as I can tell, containing everything I had sent. Yay!


Babymouse: Rock Star by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (and click over to the cover photo, because a punked out Babymouse is AWESOME. I may have to buy Queen Lucy her first pair of Doc Martens. )

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, because I gave my BEA copy to a kid at my mom's school & they loved it, but didn't return it.

Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems, signed, for Queen Lucy.

Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce, which I wanted because his Millions rocked.

Candy Darlings by Christine Walde because I liked the cover.

Incantation by Alice Hoffman, because it is by Alice Hoffman. (Yep, once I find an author I trust to tell a good story, I go to them again and again, not even bothering to find out the plot.)

Goy Crazy by Melissa Schorr because it sounds so politically incorrect.

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr, because I've been reading her blog for over a year so cannot wait to read this! So yes, blogging as an author can help you.

and drumroll please for:

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. Words fail. Neil Gaiman, people!!! Signed my book which meant I was there and saw him and spoke with him!!!

Life, it is good.

(Cross posted at LMW.)

Miracle on 49th Street

Miracle on 49th Street by Mike Lupica. Reviewed from ARC; publication date October 2006.

Review by Mary T. (who didn't realize it was a YA book until it was over):

The Plot: A girl gets pregnant by her college sweetheart and goes to London to have the baby. Later, she gets cancer and goes to Boston to get treated. She dies, but leaves her daughter letters. From the letters, the girl learns that her father is a basketball superstar and she contacts him. The daughter (age 12) refuses to have a DNA test, saying that when he believes she is his daughter, she will be his daughter.

The Good: A wonderful book! Anyone who has ever wished that their parent was someone else will love this. It's like the Pretty Woman of kids and parents. It can never happen, unless you believe. You've got to believe. (Which is what the book is all about).

Note: Mary T. is my mom, who is a high school math teacher who does most of her reading in the summer. She picked this up from one of the (many) ARC piles in the house, because it was written by Mike Lupica.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Disney World

We (Mom, Sis, Queen Lucy and Skaterboy) are going to DisneyWorld this coming August. (Yes, I know August is hotter than hot, but we have school & work restrictions regarding dates.)

Queen Lucy is six, by then Skaterboy will be three and a half. Our "game plan" is parks in the morning, and pool in the afternoon. We figure the best way to have a good time for all is not to view this as "must do everything" vacation. We have a place with a kitchen so that while we will have some meals out, we can make tuna sandwiches and other kid friendly foods.

Any advice? Best Disney book, ride, meal? Helpful hints?

Also, any good ideas for the plane ride down?

Sir Thursday Game Is Available

Finally! It's only Level 1 so far, but the Sir Thursday House of the Keys of the Kingdom Game is now available at Scholastic.

My previous reviews of the books are here, here and here.

Buffy Quote of the Week

"Whoa, Summers, you drive like a spazz."
--Principal Snyder, Ep: Band Candy

To all those Whedon lovers: check out Scholar's Blog, where Michele has started doing Firefly Quotes of the Week.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Independence Day

Happy Fourth of July!

True story: when I was a corporate lawyer, some of the muckety mucks were going to visit the UK to meet business colleagues for the first time. They wanted to bring a gift basket. They were leaving on July 2nd, and included in the gift basket, which I happened to see by accident, were various Fourth of July memorabilia. Without commenting, I began to laugh. When questioned, I sputtered out that I found it amusing that they were giving the English gifts celebrating the 4th of July. "Why," I was asked. And I answered, in a "are you serious voice," "Cause that's celebrating our independence from the UK and we won that war?" A moment of silence, as the people earning mid six figures thought about this, and then commented, "I would think they'd be over it by now."

Luckily for us all, a "real live British person" happened to work for the company, and I said, well, if you don't believe me, ask him. The poor admin assistant went off to find British Guy; and moments later came running (yes, running) down the hall, shrieking to take the 4th of July stuff out of the gift baskets, as British Guy had confirmed that it wasn't appropriate. "What if we include a Statue of Liberty," the big wigs asked. (I repeat: those earning six figures.) I answered, tongue in cheek, about how it was gift of the French and we all know how the British feel about the French.

The admin assistant was sent againg to ask poor British Guy, and came back with the SAME ANSWER I had given. (People looked at me as if I had a Magic 8 Ball: How could I possibly have known these things?)

Statue was taken out, and mini NYC taxicabs, Empire State Building, and similar NYC items took their place.

Guess as to how well / how long that business relationship lasted.

Anyway, some links:

The Declaration of Independence site at the National Archives

The Snopes page about the Signers of the Declaration

National Treasure and 1776

Schoolhouse Rock: No More Kings

Loyalists and Canada and Loyalists

Revolutionary War Historical Fiction Booklist

Question: What is your favorite book or movie about the Revolutionary War (fiction or non-fiction)?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Everyone Else Is Talking About It

So I will, too. Will JKR kill off Harry?

Me: Nope. I'm all for a good tragedy and deaths, but I like my endings to have hope. Frankly, I cannot imagine how JKR could kill Harry and have the ending be hopeful. Rather, that would be a "welcome to the real world, kiddies. Life sucks and then you die" ending. I think most kids can figure that out on their own; and I see no reason to rub anyone's nose in how hopeless life can be, if that is how we want to look at it. Me, I'm all for what Oscar Wilde said: We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Killing Harry would take the stars out of the sky.

I'm also wondering, why the fuss about the announcement? The books have said Voldemort is evil and is amassing an army of followers. There will have to be deaths, or there is no reason to fear Voldemort and to fear evil and to fear his followers. Without the threat to life, Voldemort and co. are just snobbish bullies who are best ignored. JKR is just confirming the obvious to adults and giving a heads up to those kids who are too young too realize that yes, people will die, including people you care about.

Many HP fans are young, younger than would normally read the last book. Because they are old enough for Book 1 but not Book 5, or know HP only thru the movies, it seems fair to let these younger kids in on the fact that when someone is the Big Bad, deaths follow.

Sky: A Novel In Three Sets And An Encore

Sky: A Novel In Three Sets And An Encore by Roderick Townley

The Plot: All Sky cares about is his music; his father wants Sky to stop fooling around and get serious about school.

The Good: I have a pet peeve; books that are set in the recent past for no apparent reason. Seriously; if a book can as easily been set in the present, why put it in the past? My conclusion is that it's when the author grew up, and for whatever reason, chose to set the book during their own childhood/teenage years. I think its a bit lazy; today's teens aren't that different, even if clothing styles and slang is different; and so what if cell phones change what you can do with a plot?

Anyway, since that's a pet peeve, I always look at a book set in the past to ask, why?

Sky is a great example of a book that is set in the past for a reason. It could only happen in 1959; and it could only happen in New York.

Sky captures NYC, during a time and place that is unique enough and rich enough to demand a book. And the music, the jazz, is important -- so the book has to take place when jazz was new and fresh and dangerous.

I'm not a musician; I don't like jazz. But thanks to Townley's writing, I can feel and believe in Sky's love of jazz, get excited with him, share in the joy of listening and performing and creating.

Sky's New York is an exciting place that is not idealized: music, drugs, the local deli, the coffee shop and the subway, the freedom of a city that never sleeps with buses to take you anywhere combined with the restrictions of a strict father, private school, and a prejudiced society.

At the same time, this isn't some dusty look into the past. Sky confronts universal struggles: conflict with his father, a girl he likes, a problem with a teacher. While those conflicts could take place any place, any time, his salvation thru jazz makes this a story that has to take place in the New York of the 1950s.

ALA 2006: Kidlitosphere Highlights

ALA began with a bang as those kidlit/kidlitosphere bloggers, friends and family members met for dinner at the Sun Ray Grill, a great restaurant near the Convention Center. (Meeting up was funny, as we tried to find each other in the Convention Center; thank goodness for cell phones!) We shared appetizers: spring rolls, crab cakes, spinach & artichoke dip. I had the pasta special which was wonderful. And we had a special guest, the amazing Linda Sue Park. I know! How awesome is that. It was a wonderful dinner, as we all chatted as if we had known each other for ages. And before you say, d'uh, you know each other from the kidlitosphere, remember, we were a mix of bloggers and nonbloggers, writers and lurkers. But there was no awkwardness, just excellent company, and a wish that we could have stayed talking for hours.

Linda Sue Park; Susan Q.; Annie of Annie's Books; Liz B (hey, that's me!); Carlie W.; Jill R.; Betsy; (and the man behind the camera is Betsy's husband.)

After dinner, we made our way to the Booklist What's So Funny presentation, managing to miss Mo Willems.

The next morning, I overslept so missed the Penguin breakfast. The morning was taken up with Library stuff, and in the afternoon I collected galleys and got books signed (half of which have been lost, apparently, by the post office.)

Saturday night, I attended the Little, Brown dinner at the W, with authors Gail Giles, Kirsten Smith and Trent Lee Stewart. (Way cool hotel, I am jealous of those who stayed there.) I am proud to say that I didn't embarrass myself in front of Kirsten by asking her if she has met Heath Ledger and what he is really like; and I did embarrass myself in front of Trent by saying I didn't read grown up books.

Monday was a trip to Hancock County and the Printz Awards at night. John Green spoke first, because he had the flu; and was very funny. Marilyn Nelson spoke via videotape about the process of writing her book. Elizabeth Partridge and Margo Lanagan spoke; Margo was particularly moving and inspirational, because she spoke about having to take a job to pay the bills as she was writing the short stories that became Black Juice. I think she also had the funny line about the Printz: it's like the Newbery for Young Adults. Markus Zusak stole the show, tho, with his videotaped remarks which was actually a SNL like skit that included my favorite line, a person yelling at him "but the ending [of I am the Messegner] was rubbish!"

At the reception, I met Margo L. to say "hello" and also met Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier , who are possibly the two coolest people in existence. Embarrassing moments in front of authors: saying I hadn't read The Book Thief yet because it looked too long; reading the end of book so I know that the person I like doesn't die; and the not embarrassing moment of telling Justine L. I love her blog.

My only complaint about Printz: the people who attended were great, the authors were awesome, the members of the committee so hardworking, so WHY is the Printz and YA still treated like the redheaded stepchild? The buses had stopped running, so we were on our own getting there and back; it's a desert reception, not a banquet; and even for the deserts, they ran out halfway thru and then the next thing, tables were being cleaned, tablecloths taken off, and we were being hurried out of the room. It's especially appalling because this award, unlike others, is truly international in scope.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith; current cover art is here.

The Bad: Anticipated publication date is March 2007. Yep, that's 2007. Mental note to self: bump this review up when it's closer to the release date. And I promise: no spoilers!

So why review it now? Because I just finished it, and if I wait too long I'll forget details, and I have no patience. And before you email me to get a copy, it's already been passed along to another librarian. How did I get a copy? BEA, a reader's best friend.

The Plot: Quincie Morris, 17, has a lot on her plate. Her parents died three years ago, leaving her in the care of her 20something uncle, Uncle D. And while Uncle D has been there for her, lately, he's been absent, all his time taken up with his new girlfriend. Quincie is trying to make a success of her parent's legacy, an Italian restaurant started by her maternal grandparents; but business has been bad recently, so the restaurant is being remodeled to have a vampire theme and menu. Quincie is a bit of a loner, except for her best friend Kieren. She has a crush on him; problem is, Kieren is half werewolf. And there's the matter of a dead body in the restaurant kitchen.

The Good: A dark fantasy with plenty of humor that will also make you very hungry. Quincie is constantly trying out new Italian dishes for the restaurant; and CLS includes the menu for the finished restaurant. Are you a predator? Or prey? CLS also arranges the book as if it were a menu: sections are labeled antipasto, primo, secondo, dolce, conforno. (I swear, between all the food mentioned in CLS's blog and now this book, I've gained two pounds just from reading.) Chapter headings are serious and humorous: "from blah to bite"; "little freddie munster."

I liked that this is an alternate world, much like our own, where vampires and werewolves are real (as are werecats and werepossums and the like), but still shrouded in myth and mystery. There are prejudices and misconceptions of vampires and werepeople alike. It's as if someone opened a restaurant in Sunnydale.

Quincie is a likable main character, strong in some areas and fragile in others.

Finally, I liked that this is a straightforward vampire story. It has horror, it has chills, it has things that go bump in the night. And, as I mentioned, it brings the funny.

Now time to find something to eat... I wonder if there's any red wine in the house?

The Faery Reel

The Faery Reel; Tales from the Twilight Realm edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

People seem to either love or hate short story collections. I like them because I can finish a story in one sitting; the story is complete (no having to wait for the rest of the series to come out); I get introduced to new authors; and I love that a short story collection was a Printz Honor.

The Faery Reel contains short stories about faery; with each author and culture having a unique look at these creatures and worlds.

In CATNYP by Delia Sherman, a mortal girl who is a "taken child" tries to find her place in faery society, where she is without any special powers. She ends up on a quest with a surprising twist. The setting is urban, with those of faery living in NYC with an amazing library (as can be guessed from the title). This was one of my favorite stories, with its modern setting, humor, and likable heroine. But, I always take these "switched" stories a little too seriously, as I get quite upset at the thought of the family left without its child. Favorite quotes: "Byron is in the kind of tale in which the hero succeeds by attracting the right companions;" "What you get for saving Byron is the chance to be the hero in your own tale." I am very excited to find out that Sherman's new book, Changeling, takes place in the world of CATNYP.

Elvenbrood by Tanith Lee is also about faeries and child-stealing; and also set in modern times; and tells the story from the family's POV. I found this quote haunting: "Would she have been happier there? Well, yes. But that's not it. We're supposed to live out here."

In Never Never, Bruce Glassco explores the reality of today's Never Neverland, from the perspective of Captain James Hook, making the villain sympathetic and raising the question of what happens when immortals grow tired. Captain Hook looks at the island that is his home and his prison, and thinks: "an island filled with beauty and danger lay before him to be conquered, and while the only game in town may be rigged, it was still a fine game after all."

Dream Eaters by A.M Dellamonica has wonderfully descriptive language, with a world that reminded me of Dr. Who and Neil Gaiman. (And who knew Steven Moffat wrote Dr. Who? That makes me almost forgive him for no new episodes of Coupling.) This time, faeries are stealing dreams.

The Annals of Eelin-ok by Jeffrey Ford broke my heart. Eelin-ok lives a lifetime in a day, his home a sand castle. He is born, falls in love, had epic adventures, years pass, and the water creeps closer and closer and his home starts to crumble. "What does it mean?" Available online here. (And I also loved it because JF lives & teaches in NJ.)