Monday, October 30, 2006

Jingle Dancer Puppet Show

The Waretown Library puppeteers will present a puppet show Jingle Dancer, based on the picture book of the same name by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Puppets are designed by one of our library pages, Jess C. For samples of her work look here (the Harry Potter Pumpkins and the Don Dinero and Dona Fortuna puppets).

Date & Time: Saturday, November 18th, at 11 a.m. at the Waretown Branch of the Ocean County Library (NJ).

Every one who attends will receive a bookmark signed by Cynthia Leitich Smith; in addition, there will be a raffle for a signed copy of the author's chapter book, Indian Shoes.

If you will be coming, please let me know! And yes, I'll be reporting back on the puppet show, including photos.

Irish Folk Music With The Snakes

My branch is having an evening of Irish Folk Music with The Snakes.

The Snakes are a six piece band whose members hail from across NJ. They play an interesting blend of traditional Irish folk songs and pub songs. Using accordion, banjo, tin whistle, mandolin, and fiddle, the band offers an authentic sound that will put a smile on your face and a song in your heart!

November 13, 7 p.m.
At the Waretown Branch of the Ocean County Library
609 693 5133

Directions are here.

Bringing Asha Home

Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamel Akib. Lee & Low Publishers.

The Plot: Arun's family adopts a baby girl from India.

The Good: The story is framed by the Hindu holiday Rakhi, a holiday that is about brothers and sisters. Arun wishes he had a sister so that he could celebrate Rakhi. A few months later, he finds out the family is going to adopt a little girl from India, the country where Arun's father was born. The story ends with the baby, Asha, (now about one years old) arriving just in time for Rakhi. It's a holiday I was unfamiliar with; but it's a perfect holiday to celebrate children becoming siblings, and it's also one that will be easily understood by children hearing the story.

I love that this story was framed by this holiday; and I love that the pictures and text show a family that celebrates a diverse heritage. Rakhi is celebrated; during October, there is a jack-o'-lantern on a table. The pictures, as well as the text, show a biracial family. (Truth be told, I didn't pick that up until my second reading, when I noticed that Dad's country of origin was mentioned but not Mom. The Lee & Low website confirmed this. I like that it's not a "hit you over the head with it" part of the story.)

This is a great story about adoption, particularly international adoption, and the long wait many families face in waiting for their adoptive child. "When you adopt a baby from one country and bring her to another, there are many governmental forms to fill out and laws to follow," Dad says. "It takes time." (I am so good. I am not making any snarky comments about international adoptions and certain celebrities.) While the actual process takes a long time, Bringing Asha Home shows a family taking the steps to welcome the baby into their hearts long before the child is brought into their home: a room is prepared, Arun makes her presents of paper airplanes, and a birthday party is held.

Question: Part of Rakhi involves sisters giving colorful bracelets to their brothers. If I used Bringing Asha Home as a storytime book at the library, would it be inappropriate to combine it with making friendship bracelets? Does anyone know?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Hello, Skeet!

The third in my exciting series of surprise non-interviews. Past non-interviews are here and here. Inspired by my new obsession Jericho, today we say Hello to Skeet Ulrich! And he doesn't say hello back.*

When I fall in love with a new show, it has a 50/50 chance of getting cancelled. Past heartbreaks include Firefly, The Inside, and My So Called Life. Is it better if I watch your show or don't watch your show?

Have you read books like The Stand or The Road to prepare for your role? What do you think will happen with Jericho: fight against the evil people in the world (The Stand) or cannibalism (The Road)?

Do you ever think to yourself, "why Skeet? What the hell was I thinking? I should have stuck with Bryan?"


*To be perfectly clear: No answer is expected since Skeet Ulrich has no idea this interview is going on!


Have I mentioned before my love of end of the world books? So it's no surprise that I've started watching Jericho. In a nutshell, Jericho is set a few years in the future. Jake (Skeet Ulrich) has returned to his small Kansas hometown of Jericho after a five year absence; he was only supposed to stay a couple of days, but on his way out of town their was a mushroom cloud in the distance.

Is it an accident? It appears that other US towns have also been hit (Atlanta, Chicago, San Diego). Terrorism? An attack? The folks in Jericho have no way of knowing; and they are struggling for answers, trying to figure out what to do next.

I love this stuff. Yep, I'm sure that people who know more about this stuff can tell me a thousand different details about what's scientifically wrong with the show. And there are a few other quibbles. But right now, I like the townsfolk trying to figure out answers, trying to hold off anarchy, wondering what to do next. In a crisis like this, at what point is money going to no longer matter? Can democracy continue? Is it OK to eat the corn that was caught out in radioactive rain? And who owns that corn, anyway? Sure, they have guns, but what about when the bullets run out?

I also like how this type of World Ending Disaster turns everything topsy turvy. Jake had been the world class screw up; but with the WED, he's become the golden boy. It's like he's the McGuyver of the Apocalypse; and all those talents that meant nothing in the Normal World mean everything now.

If you want to catch up on the action (and Skeet Ulrich, who is easy on the eyes), past episodes are available on the CBS website.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

A review of The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
by Margarita Engle, art by Sean Qualls.

Engle uses poetry to tell the story of Manzano, born a slave in Cuba in 1797. Manzano's first owner made him call her Mama; his second owner was sadistic. He did not have any type of formal education; but due to exposure to poetry and poets and his own thirst to learn, he became a poet.

Poetry is used to tell the story from various points of view, including Manzano's masters. This is a wrenching look at slavery; Manzano endures cruelty and torture, physical and mental. Despite this, Engle has Manzano's mother say:

God is good
and good is always more powerful
than evil
I don't know
why the devil
even bothers
to fight
Manzano realizes that at best, he is treated as a pet:

Can't he tell the difference between a prince
and a poodle?

Upon being tortured:

For three days I am nowhere
I do not exist
For three more days I am somewhere
in pain

Slavery is shown to affect both slaves and slave owners; the sadistic owner, La Marquesa de Prado Ameno, grows angry at Manzano's knowledge of poetry:

Hateful boy, hateful verse
how dare he make me remember
what if feels like
to want words
musical words
to year and sigh and wish and pray
for a song
of my own!

The title says biography; and my library catalogued it as a YA biography; but I'm inclined to say it's more fiction than non-fiction, although based on the historical record. At the end of the book is a brief note on Manzano's notes and some of his own poetry.

Engle is Cuban-American; her dedication is "to censored poets everywhere and to my hundreds of cousins in Cuba;" her acknowledgements include "I will always be thankful to a generous God, my patient family, and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for giving me the peace of mind and the physical and intellectual freedom to write about Manzano's life and his poetry." While the First Amendment does not feature in the text itself, the parallel is there: Manzano had no rights, no freedoms; even his thoughts were not his own. Yet still he managed to create, to write, to dream, and to escape.

Also reviewed by Fuse #8 (on a poetry Friday, no less!); mini biography of Manzano; Manzano's Poems Written In Slavery

Round Up:

Big A little a: maggie and milly and molly and may be e.e. cummings

Bildungsroman: Composed Among the Ruins of a Castle in North Wales by William Wordsworth

Check It Out: hist whist by e.e. cummings

Farm School: the Halloween Edition with Witches' Charm by Ben Jonson and The Hag by Robert Merrick

GottaBook: Thankful -- a Thanksgiving Poem (original by Gregory K.)

Journey Woman: Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas

The Old Coot: Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley

Scholar's Blog: To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Susan Taylor Brown: A Man Said to the Universe by Stephen Crane

What Adrienne Thinks About That: Praying Mantis by Mary Ann Hoberman

Writing And Ruminating: All Souls' Night by W.B.Yeats

Let me know in the comments if you have a Poetry Friday contribution

Edited to add:

Blue Rose Girls: Poetry selections, from zucchinis to witches

Chicken Spaghetti: The Friendly Four (review)

MotherReader: Hugging the Rock (review)

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Gic to Har by Kenneth Rexroth

And further updated:

Blog from the Windowsill: Because hate is legislated written into the primer and the testament by Walter Benton

lightingthefires: The Witches' Ride by Karla Kuskin

Shaken & Stirred: A Rough Guide by Mark Haddon

A Wrung Sponge: Building by Gwendolyn Brooks

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison

Plot: Gilda Joyce, aged 13, lives an ordinary life with her widowed mother and older brother. But Gilda doesn't want to be ordinary; so she dresses up in outrageous costumes as an investigator, practices her psychic skills, forces a distant relative to invite her to visit for the summer, and finds a mystery to solve involving a dead woman, a locked tower, an unknown cousin (Juliet) and a ghost.

The Good: Growing up, I was the total opposite of Gilda on the outside; never would I have dressed up as she does, or drawn attention to herself as she does. Not in a million years. But I would have loved reading about her; and would have been inspired by her confidence, just as I was inspired by Harriet's love of adventure. It's not just that Gilda has confidence; she truly doesn't care what other people think.

OK, sometimes Gilda does care; in her effort to recast her ordinary life as something special and exciting, upon occasion, Gilda has told a lie. Or two. And developed a bit of a reputation as a liar. But as Gilda explains, "it's not a lie if it comes true". And Gilda, by force of will, makes some of her lies come true. She says she is going away for the summer (lie), so when she finds out about a distant relative she gets herself an invite for the summer (now it's true.)

Gilda tells stories; and as she investigates things around her, she writes them up (like any good investigator) as "progress reports."

Gilda's dad died a few years ago; I like that this book isn't so much about his death, but is about the family recovering from that death. While this is about ghosts and psychic stuff, it is also about the reality of death and loss.

As for the ghosts.... when kids and teens come in looking for mysteries, my first question to them is ghost-mystery or mystery-mystery? Unlike adult mysteries, the mysteries for teens and kids often have ghosts, making it less a "kid solves a mystery" book and more a "spooky things happen in the mansion" book. GJ, PI leaves it up to the reader whether or not Gilda is psychic; and whether or not the ghosts or real. There are Scooby-Doo like explanations for everything that happens; and it is up to the reader to decide which reason is the real one.

This book is told by Gilda and her cousin Juliet. The mystery Gilda investigates is about Juliet and her immediate family; I liked the two perspectives. It helped emphasize Gilda's awesome bravado and lack of fear; it also showed Juliet as both withdrawn and reflexively snobby (ie quick to notice Gilda's cheap clothes). Not only does this move the story along, showing things that Gilda couldn't know, it also helps set up the "is it or isn't it" ghosts explanation. I know there is already a sequel out, and I will be missing Juliet but at the same time I'm intrigued to see how Gilda will continue to make lies true and push her way into people's lives.

Here's my favorite example of Gilda being clever and quick: When asked by an annoying person, don't you have a boyfriend, answer yes, my teacher.

A great middle school book. Had I read it when it came out, it would have been on my Best Books of 2005 list.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fear and Fiction, Part III

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the part we've all been waiting for, the Young Adult Session. Alas, by this point, it was 3:50 already; and some people had left, because of things like train schedules and the like.

Jacqueline Woodson spoke about If You Come Softly. She spoke bluntly and beautifully about reading books, but not not being in the books she read; about asking whether she would be the only black writer on the panel, and how she wasn't sure whether to accept the invitation. Woodson spoke about the fear of other; and how that is always present. She spoke of addressing fear thru books, but also thru action, as she and her partner searched for a school where their child would not be the "other", but would see herself in her classmates, her teachers, and the books on the shelves. (She also mentioned how cold she is when she visits England and Aga stoves.)

Chris Crutcher spoke about Whale Talk; about being censored; and then told real life stories to illustrate why books like Whale Talk are needed. Basically, the books, while fiction, are true; there are children and teens who lead these lives; can we censor them out of existence? Why deny them their voice, their seeing themselves in books? One teen commented how stories can show you who to trust; when you're talking to someone, you can check out whether you can trust them with your story by how they react to certain stories.

David Almond was unable to make it; Midgley read his remarks about Kit's Wilderness, including the observation that storytelling is an act of hope against the darkness.

The analysts who spoke were Karen Gilmore, M.D. and Arietta Slade, Ph. D. Gilmore spoke about the idea of a character just appearing to an author brings both excitement and terror; she spoke about the core concerns of a young adult reader: bodily transformation; mental & psychological changes; start of abstract thought; and separation from parents. The books in this genre show the same intensity of the lives of the teens; offers a way to practice these transitions; and show teens that they aren't alone.

Slade said reading these books was eye opening; she had no idea that books like these were being written for teens. She also related an anecdote of speaking to her child's middle school teacher and being told that teacher's don't have the time/ avenues to find out about these books. Slade said that kids rely on parents, or other kids, for the information about these books. What was exciting about Slade's comments is that you could see that she "got it"; that she was excited about these books and saw value in these books; and was looking for ways to get these books into the hand of the teens who both want and need them.

And now the question and answer period, that was fast and furious.

Someone spoke about teens today not reading and spending all their time on media like computer games; both Woodson and Crutcher eloquently defended games, computers, TV, saying not to label; that they are no more addictive than other things; to look at what the child/teen gets from the experience rather than judging; and also noted that these things have story components, and can be about an inner journey as much as a book can.

A woman stood up to address the earlier question, where do you find these books? At the library. She mentioned the New York Public Library specifically and it's Books For The Teen Age.

At some point during the conversation, classics had been mentioned, in the context of what books are being taught in schools, kids not seeing themselves in these books, and so kids not being encouraged to read because the books they have to read don't speak to them or reflect their reality. Now, you bloggers know this argument backwards and forwards, so I don't have to repeat all this; Woodson spoke from the context of not seeing herself in classics, Crutcher in that the books don't reflect teens lives and it would be better to partner classics with current books. (One of the things I really liked is that Crutcher did NOT speak against classics; he said the problem is rather how classics are used.) This tied back into finding the books (see above, libraries.)

Anyhow, so this is when one of the audience members gave a rather impassioned defense of classics; including that the speak to the inner workings of people; and no book can teach us more or show us more than the classic story of Oedipus.

Now, that can be true of some people. Crutcher said he'd be hard pressed to think of a way to sell Oedipus to teens; and made the point that in terms of required reading, you don't want to use a book that turns that kid off reading and now means that they will miss out on the books that could touch them and teach them and help them. (I wondered at this point what interpretation and translation the audience member would use; and whether there's been a good, still in print YA version or interpretation; and man, talk about a book getting banned! Because I think a modern telling of Eddie, given up for adoption who then accidentally kills a stranger in a driving accident and marries the man's hot widow, and how that hot widow turns out to be his mom, would sell. All I can think of is Norma Johnston's Days of the Dragon's Seed)

And thus the day ended. I have a lot of pennies to save if I'm going to be able to go the UK part in 2007!

Fear and Fiction, Part II

The afternoon keynote address was by Gregory Maguire, who was, simply, brilliant. Like Marans, he spoke of personal experiences; and went from making us laugh to making us cry, as he told of almost killing his brother Joe, of falling in (and out) of love, of being a parent. And all along the fears, of hurting people, of getting in trouble, of loss. It is impossible to do it justice.

Session 2 was Middle Grade Fiction.

Lois Lowry spoke about Gossamer, and the writing process; how all her books start with a character; that bad things do happen; but that all her books end happily. (This echoed Waddell's words in the morning, that a story for children (especially the very young) should have hope and reassurance, even if that doesn't reflect the reality of childhood.)

Neil Gaiman was unable to attend, but sent in remarks for The Wolves in the Walls. Mentioned were favorite werewolf stories, including Saki's Gabriel-Ernest and the werewolf in CS Lewis's Prince Caspian; and the story beginning with a child's dream.

Pam Munoz Ryan spoke about Esperanza Rising, so of course also spoke of her family, since the book, while fiction, is inspired by her grandmother's life; she spoke of "the girl who may have been her, the character withstanding, instead of conquering;" that "the ability to simply go on is often the happy ending." (She also mentioned an early love of diagramming sentences; I adored diagramming sentences.) Ryan also spoke about the letters she gets, including the critics (her book is this, her book isn't that, etc.); so again with the fear, here, how fear of what others will say cannot stand in the way of a story.

The analysts were Judith Yanof, M.D. and Nicholas Midgley, D. Psych. (and of course both had a field day with Gaiman -- wolves! In walls!) Yanof explained how these books do more than entertain; especially in the context of the child being in the latency period, when children start venturing into the world in a different way, with an unconscious sense of being separated from parents. The two biggest fears are separation from parents, and internal impulses, particularly aggression. Yanof noted how that fear appears in ER, with Esperanza losing the father and in danger of losing her mother. (In other words, all those orphan books aren't just about a way to give kids autonomy and make a good story; it's also touching on the deepest fear of this age group.) It's also why in so many of these books the child is wiser than the adult; because it's the stage when children are truly beginning to think for themselves.

Midgley also spoke of fear; and inspired by other's remarks, told his own childhood story, of an incident that he and his brother remember quite differently.

Now a break...without cookies.

Fear and Fiction: The Power of Children's Books and the Inner Life of The Child, Part I

This is an example of my frantic efforts to take notes during the Fear and Fiction conference. And now I get to try to decipher those notes! Apologies to anyone who is misquoted; and to the extent I found a relation to libraries and librarians, I will post over at Pop Goes the Library. Finally, rather than making you all wait forever for the entire report, I'm going to break it up into different parts.

The conference was sponsored by the Yale University Child Study Centre and the Anna Freud Centre, and was held on Saturday October 21st at the Bank Street College of Education in NYC. Hopefully, there will be a similarly sponsored UK event in October 2007, called Fiction, Feelings, and Imagination: The Power of Children's Books and The Inner Life Of The Child. Start saving now!

I attended the conference with a friend of mine, Priscilla, and we met up with Susan of Chicken Spaghetti (her report is here.) Monica Edinger of Educating Alice was also there, but alas, we didn't connect; Monica's report is here.

So a Freudian, an author and a librarian walk into a conference... All I can say is I loved it, and I don't think I can ever be accused of over-reading a book again. I felt quite at home as the analysts examined the books and the meanings and messages found therein.

The day started at 8:00 (I know!) with coffee, and the welcome at 8:30. Augusta Souza Kappner of BSC welcomed us; she was followed by Mary Target, Ph.D. of the Anna Freud Centre. Target said that Robie Harris and Lois Lowry were the driving force behind the conference; and she introduced the opening keynote speaker, Steven Marans, Ph.D. (at this point I am almost compelled to say I am Liz B., MLIS, JD.)

Marans spoke about story and books offering a voice for children's fears, as well as providing a way to master fear. Using his own recollections of childhood, he mentioned a traumatic event (watching a raccoon shot by the ice cream man) that he remembered very differently (the raccoon being rescued by the fire department.) Marans said that it "is difficult to know what lies behind what children fear," spoke about fantasy, noting that children's "work is fantasy play."

The morning session (picture books) began with Martin Waddell and his Owl Babies. Waddell described the origins of the story (seeing a young child crying for its mother at a local store), read the story with full dramatics, and discussed the pictures and how they added meaning. (It wasn't until afterwards that I realized that while this is pretty much the norm for how we "book people" look at children's books, it may have been the first time that the "Freudians" heard such observations as the book should be read as a play, with different voices for the owl babies and mother.) Waddell did a similar (but shorter) walk thru of his Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? (At book signing time, Waddell had the longest lines; I'm not sure if it was because of all his books or his awesome accent.)

Next up was Robie Harris and Don't Forget to Come Back! Harris addressed how picture book can help express a child's strongest fears; giving power and legitimacy to these fears; and that words put order on chaos. You can take terrifying feelings (being abandoned by parents) and make them bearable.

Next was Mo Willems and Leonardo The Terrible Monster. Mo was Mo; in other words, awesome. He's the children's book writer most likely to get his own talk show. He was original, he was funny; he said about his own book that he didn't think it was about fear, so "oops." Echoing Waddell, Mo agreed that for picture book writers, "everything is a play -- we're screenwriters."

Next came the analysts who discussed these books, Alicia F. Lieberman, Ph.D (I wonder if any of the authors have advanced degrees but they were just omitted?) and Jenny Stoker, M.S.W. I'm sure it must have been interesting for the authors to hear their works dissected in such a way. Lieberman noted that we learn more effectively thru the arts than in other venues, and thru art we can rescue ourselves into mental health. Stoker addressed the nature of fear and a child's route to safety, by reading the same book over and over. And over. That this repetition allows the child to control his environment and provides a safe place for her fears; also noting that the shared experience of reading helps to separate fantasy from reality.

During the question and answer period, there was the classic did you know what you were writing about when you wrote it question; here, of course, the context being did you know you were writing about all these high falutin psychiatry/psychology thingees as you were doing it? Or did it just happen? Now, on the one hand I love these questions because I like learning about why a story gets written; and I also am intrigued about how that story is shaped. On the other hand, I think these type questions brush close to asking an author whether they are being didactic & writing specifically to preach a message OR are you writing a story la la la with no idea that it's anything more than a story, and nothing is ever that black and write (unless you're a celebrity author.) The authors responded with a yes/no; of course, things don't just happen; but no, the main point, the main objective, is to write a children's story, from the children's side, not to tell a message.

To be continued, after a box lunch with yummy cookies and plenty of time to get books signed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Buffy Quote of the Week

Giles: "Faith has you at a disadvantage, Buffy."
Buffy: "'Cause I'm not crazy or 'cause I don't kill people?"
Giles: "Both, actually."
Ep: Graduation Day, Part One

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cybil: Graphic Novels

If you'd like to serve on the judging or nominating committees for the Graphic Novels category, please leave a comment or send me an e-mail. Please let me know what your second choice category would be as well.

Busy Until Tuesday

Just to let you all know, I will be without Internet access from Friday to Monday. Please let me know if you want to be on either the nomination/judging committee for Graphic Novels.

Mary Lee from A Year of Reading: either nominating or judging.

Sarah/ a. fortis from WritingYA and Readers' Rants, either nominating or judging committees.

Tockla/Laura: either nominating or judging.

(everyone's so flexible! Cool!)

So we still have room; please email me or leave a comment here if you want to be on either committee. (I'll add links next week when I am on -- get this -- vacation, aka, time to blog!!!)

Cybils: Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

To nominate a book in any category of the Cybils, make your way to the official site and make yourself known in the comments for the particular category. The nomination rules are here. The members of the nominating committee will sift thru the nominations to create a shortlist; then the judging committee will look at those nominations.

So if you really really love a book; don't sit back wondering why it wasn't nominated; instead, go, now, and nominate it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Cybils

As I'm sure you have already read in various children's literature blogs, we've decided to put our love of lists to good use and are creating (drumroll, please):

The Cybils: The First Annual Children's Book Awards, Blog Edition

This month we've seen a spate of book awards, some of which have left us ondering: couldn't we, the intelligent, savvy members of the kidlitosphere do better? Or, at least, differently?

So, we're inaugurating our own book awards, honoring books published in English for children in 2006. Anne Boles Levy, of Book Buds, will launch a site this week and administer the awards process. To read all about the new Children's Book Awards, head on over to Big A little a.

You've reached the administrating blog for the Graphic Novels category. Do you run a blog about children's books, are you a children's book author who blogs, or do you run a general book blog? Then volunteer to serve on the book nominating committee or on the judging committee. Here are the duties of each committee:

Nominating: Nominating committees of five members will narrow the recommendations (open to everyone with web access) down to a shortlist of five books per category. A list of all recommendations will be received by the nominating committee on November 21, 2006. The shortlists will be announced January 1, 2007.

Judging: Judging committees of five members, different from those serving on the nominating committees, will decide which title per category will win the Children's Book Award, Blog edition. The winners will be announced January 15, 2007. To serve on this committee, keep in mind you will have to read five books during a very busy time of the year.

When leaving your comment, please choose a second choice category just in case we have too many volunteers for Graphic Novels.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Name That Book

I love book stumpers. It's fun in the library, and it's fun in the web, whether it's a stumper on a listserv such as child-lit or yalsa-bk or What Was That Book on Live Journal or checking out the Loganberry site.

Usually, the book is a children's book or a teen book. I'm also amazed at how many times the description is for The Girl Who Owned A City, The City Underground, or From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler.

I've had some stumpers that I've solved from work; reading old reviews and "best of" lists from the 1980s and 1970s. There is a joy in finding that old love.

Here's my current Unsolved Book Mystery; does it sound familiar to anyone? I cannot remember when I read it; so assume it was published no later than 1988. Also assume, as is the nature of memory, that I've remembered some details very, very wrong.

Some type of summer camp in the mountains, and I think the camp was located somewhere in or near India. One of the campers was very peace, love, & brotherhood ish and while he wasn't some active preacher-type, the other campers started to follow him (very Jesus like). The parents were worried about their children so forcibly invaded the camp; the narrator, who was Judas-like (main character's best friend and possibly person who told the parents the location of all the kids), ends the story of wanting to get back with the group and sometimes walks along the street, looks at someone, and knows from the look in their eye they are part of this movement.


If you have an unsolved book mystery, let us know & we'll see if we can figure it out.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Poetry Friday

The grand Old Duke of York
He had ten thousand men,
He marched them up to a very high hill
And he marched them down again.

And when he was up he was up
And when he was down he was down
And when he was only halfway up
He was neither up nor down.

-- Mother Goose. Assorted links: Wikipedia link; Mother Goose: A Scholarly Exploration. I like this poem because it's obvious; when you're up, you're up. When you're down, you're down. And when you're halfway, you're not up and you're not down. And sometimes, it seems like all it is is marching up and down, up and down.

MotherReader has Poetry Friday: The T Shirt Edition

Journey Woman highlights Longfellow and curls

Chasing Ray posts part of Ode to Iris Chang

Bookshelves of Doom shares The Cremation of Sam McGee

Fuse #8 presents The Back To School Survival Guide of Poetry

The Old Coot
publishes for the first time reprints (with permission) Untitled (Woodsmoke, leaves of golden brown)

Gotta Book proves it's never too early for Halloween

A Year of Reading and The Excrement Poem (nope, not a typo)

Please post in the comments if you have a poem this fine Friday morning.

Edited to add:
By Sun And Candlelight honors the US's first Children's Poet Laureate with When Tillie Ate The Chili

Chekhov's Mistress illustrates how poetry can ruin your career

Little Willow puts cats in the spotlight with To My Cat

What Adrienne Thinks About That toasts some marshmallows


Big A little a reviews Drumbeat in our Feet


Farm School and Historical Associations


Susan Taylor Brown
reminds me college, Susan Polis Schultz and Blue Mountain cards

Book Buds describes a poetry book as "Edward Gorey meets Magritte."

and Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast jumps into the Poetry Friday tradition with E.E. Cummings

and Scholar's Blog has Witches' Chants (and a reminder, go there and submit for the next Carnival of Children's Literature!)


a Wrung Sponge with William Carlos Williams

lightingthefires parties with October

The Simple and the Ordinary with the poem I almost picked


Tockla contributes a Poke In the I

The Cajun Cottage Under the Oaks Woke Up to a Chelsea Morning

Chicken Spaghetti highlights Auden: an interesting book about him and a poem


Kelly Fineman has a short parody from Lewis Carroll

and Ms Mac brings on the spooky

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Self Promotion

A local article mentioning me. It mentions a diversity fair I'm doing at my library; an upcoming performance by The Snakes (Irish traditional and pub music); and -- here's the child lit part -- notes that on November 18 (a Saturday), our local teens will be putting on a puppet show based on Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith (thanks to Debbie Reese for the suggestion.) (For the record, I didn't say Native Americans were Romanized; I said romanticized; but it's still a nice article.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hello, David

Well, last week's surprise interview* with Rufus Sewell went well; while Rufus didn't respond, John Green did and I'll be doing an interview with him. So who knows what will happen this time around? While the new interviewee may not answer.... someone else may volunteer!

This week's surprise interview will be with.... David Boreanaz! And here are the questions:

How psyched are you to be filming a show in the daytime? Is that part of your contract now -- must film when the sun is out?

Buffy and Angel had spin off books; and Bones was inspired by books. If you were going to write a book, what would it be about? Demons, murders, or puppies and daisies?

One of your strengths as an actor is that you have amazing chemistry with your co-stars, whether its friendship chemistry, flirting chemistry, or I turned you into a vampire chemistry. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would like to see one of your Buffy or Angel costars show up in a Bones episode; any chance of that happening?

Thank you, David!

*It's a surprise since the person has no idea they are being interviewed. Hence the lack of response.

Buffy Quote of the Week

Xander: "So, are we bronzing tonight?"
Willow: "Wednesdays it's kind of beat."
Xander: "Well, we could grind our enemies into talcum powder with a sledgehammer, but gosh, we did that last night."
Ep: When She Was Bad

Monday, October 09, 2006

Edu Manga: Anne Frank

Before I read this, I thought, you're kidding me.

Having finished it, my thought remains the same. (I don't have the copy with me. It was returned to the library.)

Has anyone read this? Yeah, yeah, I don't do negative reviews... but Anne Frank? And Astro Boy? And the rather interesting, to say the least, time line at the end, and Japan's role in World War II? (Like they mention Japan building the Burma Thailand railway and omit how it was built.) And while a couple of parts made pause and want to pull out the original diary and also some of the books about what happened after the family was arrested, I just don't have the time.

An Anime on DVD review.


Anatopsis by Chris Abouzeid

The Plot: Anatopsis (Ana) is next in line to take over the family business, Amalgamated Witchcraft Corporation. Ana, like her mother, Queen Solomon, is a witch and immortal; mortal humans are workers for the ruling class; workers like Clarissa, Ana's servant who is also Ana's best friend. Ana enjoys making mischief with her magic, trying to not get in too much trouble with her mother, especially since her mother is more concerned with the family business than her child, and getting the attention of her father, Sir Christopher, a knight errant.

Ana finds out that important exams are approaching for her 14th birthday; and for some reason, she must study with Prince Barnaby, the son of her mother's business rival. All Ana cares about is teasing Barnaby; and since Barnaby is the worst witch ever, it's fairly easy to do this. But there's more to the test than her mother has told her; more to Clarissa and humans than Ana can guess; and more at stake than who which business company will end up on top.

The Good: Ana's world is ours, hundreds and thousands of years in the future, where gods are real, but they lived in the past. They left behind a heritage of immortals who can use magic (Ana and her family) and mortals who are second class citizens, barely viewed as human (Clarissa). While Ana believes Clarissa to be her best friend, Ana also shows little understanding of this divide and what it means. Ana is privileged without knowing she is, and without realizing that means she has prejudices. If asked, Ana, comparing herself to her mother or others of her class, would say, no, she's not prejudice against humans. But as Abouzeid shows but doesn't tell, Ana has as many preconceptions and misconceptions about humans and mortals as any immortal.

Anatopsis is humorous, especially in how it uses business and business politics as the backdrop to magical battles. It also has serious undertones, addressing issues such as politics, ecology, the haves and have nots, the mistreatment of the powerless...and what the powerless are willing to do to strike back. All of these weave seamlessly into the story, with nary an anvil or brick to be found.*

I adored Clarissa. Powerless, both as a servant and as a non-magical person. She may get turned into a frog or put into a dungeon at any moment; but she doesn't let that hold her back.

While the main story of the book ended, there are unanswered questions and a couple possibilities for a sequel. However, the book is complete in itself; none of frustrating cliffhanger stuff!

*Meaning, while it is shown that using magic creates waste, and that waste has damaged the environment to such an extent that the Earth is almost uninhabitable, at no point did I feel that I was being hit with the anvil or brick of a Message. I never felt as if Abouzeid said, "I must write a book about how we are mistreating the planet and why people become terrorists" and that this is the result". It's there; but not THERE. In other words, the story is what is important.

Links: Interview at Bildungsroman/Little Willow; The Edge of the Forest interview; Chris (the author) responds to the Bookshelves of Doom review.

This Made Me Laugh

The characters in Robin of Sherwood react to the news that they are in a fanfic story... a slash fanfic story. It's told with screen shots from the series. Made all the funnier because I adored this series back in the day (why isn't it available in DVD?)

Thanks to Melissa Wyatt for the link.


to Jay at Disco Mermaids, for his book deal;

to Marlene Perez, for her book deal;

to Carlie Webber, for winning the opportunity to record a literacy message at the end of an audio book.


and to chopped liver Debby Garfinkle, for the Supernatural Rubber Chicken series. (Debby, I like chopped liver!)

Do you have cool book news to share? Let me know in the comments and I'll update!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs

The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos

The Plot: Ivy's mother used to work for the Rumbaugh twins, Abner and Adolph, in their pharmacy, so it makes sense that they are Ivy's babysitters, even if they appear a little odd; so identical no-one can tell them apart, seeming to need only each other. While playing in the basement, Ivy stumbles upon their secret and discovers the love curse of the Rumbaughs. As she grows up, she tries to understand the curse, and how she is connected to it.

The Good: OK, no way am I going to be able to do this without some spoilers, so be warned. And I won't spoil everything. For the spoiler shy, let's just say that it is dark; it is twisted; it is unique; and yet ... yet it is not scary. It is horror without the horror, if that makes sense. Which it won't, until you read the book.

What else to say before the spoilers start?

I love the range of Gantos; that he writes different types of books, and does it so well. I also like how this goes against some of the "rules" of YA books; Ivy, an adult, relates the story, and half happens when she is a child, half as an teenager.

Also worked into the plot is the true story of the American Eugenics Society, additional records here. Their purpose: promoting racial betterment, eugenic health, and genetic education; they believed nature over nurture to such an extent that some people should breed, and others should be forbidden to do so.

Spoilers, don't say I didn't warn you.

Here's the first spoiler. Love Curse described in one sentence: Psycho without the murders. A horror story told from the point of view of those doing the unimaginable.

See, the brothers Rumbaugh have a hobby. Taxidermy. And this may be the only young adult book that explains exactly how taxidermy works. Before you go all "gross", kids wonder about the stuffed real animals they see at museums, the mounted fish on the wall.

The brothers also have the "love curse," which is that they love their mother. A lot. So much, that parting from her, EVER, is too much for them. Abner and Adolph preserve her body for eternity; even putting her on a stand with wheels to make it easier for her to move around the house.

Part of Gantos's genius, is at all times the decisions of the Rumbaughs are presented just as the Rumbaughs see them: sensible. Practicable. Sense making. (Yet, because there are no murders -- just the macabre -- this doesn't become a horror book. Still, those readers who like books that are creepy and different will like this.) It's like how the Addams Family thought they were the normal ones.

The issues of eugenics and nature versus nurture are addressed not only in the childhood experience of the Rumbaughs -- their family was viewed as a "fitter family" that illustrated "mental, physical, and moral health of family members". Gantos doesn't give easy answers: "If you had to choose between being bullied around by your genes or bullied by your environment, what would you do?" Is there a strain in the Rumbaugh DNA that causes them to have such an unhealthy love of mother?

Love Curse is about loving your mother, and being afraid of losing her; of hanging on beyond death. Is that the ultimate show of love? Or the ultimate refusal to grow up? By keeping Mother's body in the basement, do the Rumbaugh twins hang onto a childhood that is seventy years in the past, turning themselves into twisted Peter Pans?

Some more lines from the book I like:
About the Rumbaughs' obsession: "Don't let your past spoil your future."
About a child not knowing all that is going on in her life, and the secrets parents keep from their children: "You are the lucky one. You get to live in a world full of secrets while all of theirs have been answered."
About the moment when childhood ends: "This is the moment when I stop being afraid of the unknown in my childhood and start to be afraid of the unknown in my adult life."

I'm adding this to my Best Books of 2006.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Sign Up For the Next Carnival of Children's Literature

The next Carnival will be over at Scholar's Blog. Details on submitting an entry are here; if you're wondering what this is about, it includes a round up of past Carnivals you can take a look-see at.

Book Reviews

I tried to post to the comments over at Fuse #8, but darn blogger wouldn't let me.

The discussion thus far: Chasing Ray, Blog From A Windowsill and Fuse #8, along with those posting in comments, are discussing reviews: negative, positive, it is a disservice to only do one.

I'm interested in this for two reasons: first, I only do positive reviews; second, I love to rant about books I don't like. So why, with a few exceptions, do I not include negative reviews?

First, time. I don't blog on work time; and as it is, I have about 20 books that I liked that I want to post about and those posts are sitting in my drafts pile. With limited time, I'd rather post about what I like than what I didn't.

Second, I tend to be a book-liker. The bell curve for me would show a vast number that I liked, a small number that I adored, and a small number that I hated. (The curve would omit the ones where I never got beyond the first two chapters and the last chapter.) (Upon occasion, a last chapter has motivated me to finish the book and find out that it got better.)

Third, I'm fairly clear concerning the books that are sent to me as review copies that my getting a copy does not guarantee a review.

Fourth, I technically don't see myself as reviewing books so much as discussing them. It's a bit self-centered, I know; but I write not thinking, "does this help someone with purchasing/reading/recommending a book," but rather, "here's what I want to say about a book."

Fifth, I am honest about the reviews I do. I have never said I liked a book that I didn't like.

But, there is a good point raised about negative reviews also being of value. Personally, I find it such a relief to read that someone else disliked a book I disliked. So why not share my dislikes? Wouldn't that be of value to readers?

Let me know what you think. Feedback is cool. My own temptation is to keep reviewing what I like (because of the time factor!) with two exceptions: prize winners (much like I did last year with the easy readers) or books with buzz (i.e., there is an ongoing online discussion about the book, and instead of just saying on a comment that I didn't like Minister's Daughter or Criss Cross or The Loud Silence of Francine Green, I'd do my own post.)

OK, So I Can't Retire Yet...

My blog is worth $33,307.86.
How much is your blog worth?

Poetry Friday (On Saturday)

Apologies for the delay. And don't forget to go over to Big A little a, where Kelly has the round up of poems.

I cannot stop thinking of the children being murdered in Pennsylvania in school, and the grace with which their families and community are dealing with the tragedy.

And then couldn't stop thinking of this poem.

A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London by Dylan Thomas


Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.

The entire poem is here.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Six Year Old Seeking Castles, Arthur

Christine M. is seeking some recommendations for her son, S. (Christine and I have been friends since 4th grade (I know!) and S is my godson.)

Anyway, the challenge: S is six but reading up a few grade levels. Last year, he read most of the Magic Treehouse books; he's read the first two Harry Potter books. S wants books on King Arthur and Castles and medieval things.

Any ideas? Most of my reading is YA, not middle grade. I'm inclined to think Mimus; but is that too violent? I've also recommended books about Robin Hood and the Redwall books. Make suggestions either here or at Christine's place.

JCLC 2006

Is anyone going to the 2006 Joint Conference of Librarians of Color? It's October 11-15 in Dallas, Texas. If you're going, please report back!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Just Listen

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen.

The Plot: Annabel is about to start her junior year. Last year her life seemed perfect; good friends, a modeling career, a picture perfect family. This year, her best friend won't talk to her, and the entire school is following suit in ostracising her. Annabel never wanted the modeling career that consumes her mother, yet she cannot say no. Her perfect older sister is being treated for an eating disorder. The only person who will talk to her is fellow outcast Owen.

The Good: I love Sarah Dessen. Love, love, love.

Why? Because she captures real life so well. Here, the way that friends can let you down and betray you. How a family may look perfect from the outside. How two sisters in the same family can live thru one event and remember it in two vastly different ways. The friendship dynamics (good and bad) are real and honest (almost painfully so.)

And let's not forget the boys. Ah, those Dessen boys. Are they unrealistic? Maybe. But I adore them; Owen is smart, flirty, bad but not really, strong, respectful. Love him. Add Owen to my list of awesome men. (And he's not perfect; he makes mistakes. Loses his temper. Gets irritated at his pop star worshiping little sister. He's trying to make her into a cool indie girl, and she just wants to bop to whatever it is her friends listen to.)

"Just Listen" refers to Annabel listening to others, people listening to Annabel, and Annabel listening to herself. It is also about music; Owen loves music, and insists that Annabel listen to it. And while Annabel doesn't always agree with his taste, she finds her voice by saying what she likes about his music and what she doesn't like; and as she learns to speak up about music, she begins to speak up about other things. Like the real reason why her best friend no longer talks to her and makes her life a living hell.

Owen's music: I am so musically clueless that I didn't know when Owen was mentioning a real group or a made up group.

Character crossover: some of the people from Dessen's other books are mentioned (Owen lives for music, so of course the band from This Lullaby makes an appearance; what others did you catch?).

Links: author interview, podcast and playlist at the publisher's website.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

2007 Regina Medal

Margaret K. McElderry to be honored with 2007 Regina Medal. The Regina Medal is administered annually by Catholic Library Association through the Children's Library Services Section; it is awarded "to a living exemplar of the words of the English poet Walter de la Mare "only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young," for continued, distinguished contribution to children's literature without regard to the nature of the contribution."

Buffy Quote of the Week

Xander: "I bribed him."
Buffy: "How much?"
Xander: "Twenty eight bucks. Does the council reimburse for that stuff?"
Giles: "Did you get a receipt?"
Xander: "Damn."
Ep: Enemies

The New Policeman

The New Policeman by Kate Thompson. I reviewed the UK edition (thanks, Shan!) The US edition will be published in January 2007.

The Plot: JJ Liddy, 15, is part of a family that has played traditional Irish music for generations; the tradition is so strong that JJ bears his mother's last name, not his father's. It's nice to have a sense of traditional in a modern world, especially a world so busy that there never seems to be enough time. So many things to do, so many places to be,; people speak wistfully of the past when there was enough time to sit, have a cup of tea, get to school on time, listen to music. Where does the time go? JJ is about to find out that it's not a matter of looking back at the good old days; there really is less time than there used to be.

JJ's family is built on tradition; at least, on the tradition of his mother's family. He's been raised in Irish dancing and fiddle playing and traditional music and ceilis, raised in the same house as his mother and her parents. His parents haven't married so that JJ could be a Liddy. In the first chapter, JJ learns something about his past that he didn't know (tho apparently the entire village of Kinvara did): "Sure everyone knows about it. Your great-granddad. JJ Liddy, same as yourself. He murdered the priest." And so the mystery begins.

The Good: There is the mystery of JJ's family's past and the murder of a priest; but there is also the mystery of the loss of time. And the loss of time is tied to myth and to magic.

I like how the pieces of the story link together, the music and myth and gods. Will it work for those with no or limited knowledge of Celtic myth and gods? Well, to be honest, The Dark is Rising was my introduction to Arthur and Welsh and British mythology; and while my adult reading of those books is deeper because now I am more familiar with those myths, it wasn't a barrier to understanding. It actually created a lifelong interest in those myths. In other words: yes, American kids will read and get it.

JJ discovers a parallel world to his, one where myths are real. He meets Aengus, who offers to serve as a guide. JJ finds out that he's not the first to slip from one world to the other. Meanwhile, the new policeman from Dublin, Garda Larry O'Dwyer, is investigating the series of disappearances in Kinvara: Larry O'Dwyer became a policeman for a reason. If he could only remember why.

I love how all the strands tie together at the end: faeries, forgetfulness, parallel worlds, time, music, gods, myths, family, even the new policeman.

I also liked how there is no action without a reaction; that an action always has consequences. If we are losing time, where is it going? And what impact does it have there?

Between each short chapter is a traditional Irish tune. I do not read music, so the music part is lost on me, but each tune has something to do with the chapters before and after it, whether it's "the cup of tea" or "last night's fun". I wish that the book came with a CD, so I could hear these tunes. And music plays a part in the resolution of the story; remember how JJ is a musician?

A second title for my best of 2007!

Winner of the 2005 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and the Whitbread Children's Book Award 2005.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Hello, Rufus

So, MotherReader didn't get selected for the John Green Blog Tour. Neither did I.

But did that stop Mother? Nope. She did an interview anyway. And they were awesome questions.

So awesome that John Green responded.

Now, this has started me thinking. Hhhmm.... who should I post interview questions for?

Hello, Rufus Sewell. I can't even find a contact for you, but I'm not crazy stalker chick! Even tho I have obsessed over the YouTube Taming of the Shrew videos.

Here are my questions:

Why isn't ShakespeareRetold available in the US on DVD? That's just wrong.

I don't go to the movies much anymore, what with me being a librarian with a librarians salary and all, but I'm sure I would love The Illusionist. And The Holiday. So what' s more fun to do, bad guys like The Illusionist or crazy guys like Taming of the Shrew? In The Holiday, are you bad or crazy? Or both?

You're about the only British actor to not appear in the movie version of a fantasy book. Are you holding out for The Dark is Rising movie?

If John Green answered Mother, Rufus will answer me... right?



Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel; sequel to Airborn.

The Plot: Matt is now in the Paris Airship Academy, struggling with both academics and with being a working class student; the money difference is not only at school, but also makes itself known in every interaction with Kate, his very wealthy maybe girlfriend who is also studying in Paris. (For those of you new to the series, this is set in an alternate Edwardianesque world where air travel is by airships, not planes.)

Matt is on a training mission when he spots the mythical floating ship the Hyperion; not only is its very existence one of rumor, it's also supposed to be full of gold and treasures and scientific discoveries; but the training mission ends in near disaster, with no one believing that the ghost ship was really spotted. No one except Kate; and the mysterious Nadira; and the self made millionaire, Hal. Together, each for their own reasons, the four go in pursuit of the ghost ship. And they are being pursued by treasure hunters, willing to do anything to get the treasure.

The Good: While this is a sequel, it stands on its own. It's a self contained adventure. In some ways, I like this one better, but that's because I'm not an animal person so the sky cats of Airborn didn't interest me. Treasure hunts with ghost ships? Much cooler.

I like rich girl Kate and understand Matt's feelings for her. But Kate also annoys the heck out of me, and it's Oppel's fault because he has so perfectly captured how she is so inherently spoiled as shown by such things as her inability to understand Matt's financial situation and her assumptions that things will be what she wants them to be because she's always gotten her way. It's not that she's spoiled in things; she's spoiled in attitude. At the same time, Matt's own insecurities and his failure to adequately address them are also addressed. Yet, this doesn't stop the action.

I also love Oppel's humor:
"I'm going aboard," Kate said angrily. "I didn't come all this way to knit socks by the hearth."
"I'm perfectly content to knit by the hearth," said Miss Simpkins, who was, in fact, knitting by the hearth.
Other good things: likable characters, a promise of more adventures, fast paced action, a solid mystery, a ghost ship, pirates, being marooned, chases, dangers, and thrills. There's never a moment to just sit and breathe; yet, at the same time, Oppel manages to work in tons of details about Matt's world.

Links: the Skybreaker website; author interview.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

New Blog Alert

The amazing Monica Edinger has started a blog: Educating Alice.

Monica is a frequent poster at the listservs where I lurk and upon occasion post. I love when Monica posts, and look forward to reading her insights and such on her blog.

Monica is a teacher; and she has written books on teaching history (Far Away and Long Ago: Young Historians in the Classroom and Seeking History: Teaching with Primary Sources in Grades 4-6) and using classics in the classroom (Using Beloved Classics to Deepen Reading Comprehension). She is also a big fan of the Alice in Wonderland books, hence the name of her blog.

Congratulations to Susan Taylor Brown for a Great Book Launch Party!

While I wasn't there, Susan has a great post on the party for Hugging the Rock (which is on the MotherReader top picks list), including the pre party jitters of what if nobody shows up? (Susan, I would never have attempted to parallel park. And I think the lip gloss looks awesome! And I teared up when I got to the rock part.)

October Book

Book reviewed from ARC with an October 2006 publication date:

Miracle on 49th Street by Mike Lupica

Story Of A Girl

Story Of A Girl by Sara Zarr, Reviewed from an ARC, January 2007 publication date

The Plot: Deanna Lambert was thirteen when her father caught her in the back of Tommy Webber's car; Tommy was seventeen and her brother Darren's best friend. Three years later, Deanna is still defined by that moment, in her father's eyes, by the school gossip and in her own eyes. Defined as the psycho/slut who wanted it, who cannot be trusted, who is defined by her sex and by sex.

I honestly believe that the following does not contain any significant plot spoilers; however, I do discuss Deanna's internal, emotional life, and her emotional growth. (So perhaps it's emotional spoilage?)

The Good: This story has layers and layers. It examines how this one moment not only defines who Deanna is, it is also about how, and why, Deanna lets herself by defined by that one moment.

Deanna is in a family that is unable to communicate or express themselves; her father has barely spoken to her since that one awful moment. And, of course, Deanna's relationship with Tommy and her behavour in the years since all have to do with communication; including communicating with oneself. Knowing oneself enough to be able to say "yes" or "no" or "this is what I want" or "this is what I don't want." Knowing oneself to be able to say it even when you do know it. Knowing oneself enough to know why one is saying it.

Three years later, Deanna still cannot talk about Tommy, and has only two friends, Lee (the new girl in town who doesn't care about Deanna's reputation) and Jason (her best friend), and cannot admit or voice her own jealousy and loneliness when Lee and Jason start dating each other. Darren, barely out of high school, is living in the basement with his girlfriend Stacy and their infant daughter, April.

Deanna's struggle is to both acknowledge that yes, she was a victim (in that Tommy was older and took advantage), but also a willing partner and participant (Tommy was only 3 or 4 years older, and how many teenaged boys will say no to someone saying yes?). Part of her struggle is owning her own actions; not being defined as a victim; but also not being defined as a slut. I'm reminded of girls I knew in 7th and 8th grade who dated "up" and were invited to junior and senior proms, and how proud their parents were about their daughter's boyfriend status.

Tommy took advantage of Deanna; but Deanna isn't a passive victim, this wasn't rape, and it's clear that Tommy is immature, unsure, and young, but as the book progresses it's also clear that Tommy isn't a villian. Deanna, alone and lonely, was needy; and Tommy met that emotional need by paying attention to Deanna, being nice to her, talking to her like an adult (or, at least, talking to her as if she were a seventeen year old).

This isn't a problem book, but there is a lesson here: if your child isn't getting what she needs emotionally at home, in terms of love and support, she will look elsewhere, and that elsewhere may include a physical aspect that she's not yet ready for emotionally. I love that Zarr accomplishes this without condemning Deanna. In addition, Deanna's relationship with Tommy takes place when the family is in crisis (the father has been laid off from work, the mother works long hours), but the parents are oblivious about what is happening with their own child. Communication, people!!

I love that both Darren and Deanna are trying to break that cycle of silence and punishment, and that it isn't easy for either of them. This book is also about learning to forgive and to accept forgiveness; to not give in to the temptation of wanting to punish. And that includes punishing others and oneself. To say, mean, and accept "I'm sorry."

As you can see, what impacted me most about this book was the internal. But the book isn't told just by what Deanna is or isn't thinking; I like how Zarr uses actions to show that internal process, whether it's Deanna's new job (where Tommy works), Lee and Jason dating, or Deanna believing that she can start a new life by moving in with Darren, his girlfriend and their daughter.

Note to self: Add this to Best Books Of 2007 once 2007 starts.

Links: The cynsations interview; Child Lit Wiki entry.