Thursday, November 30, 2006

Goodnight Nobody

Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner

The Plot: Kate used to have a job and a life. OK, it was as a glorified gossip columnist, but it was fun! Now she's an at-home mom, stuck in the suburbs; but to make things oh so worse, everyone around her is a Martha Stewart mom (you know, hand made baby food, elaborate birthday parties, dress as if they are in a magazine.) Basically, she's the Odd Girl Out in a land of Queen Bees. To make matters worse, her husband is convinced that Kate should be one of these Stepford moms and gets angry that Kate doesn't try to "fit in." Things get interesting when Kate finds one of those oh-so-perfect moms dead in her own kitchen; and Kate cannot help herself. She wants to find out who did it; and as she does so, she discovers the dark underside of the suburbs.

The Good: A nice mystery with a likable main character. Kate, overweight even before children, doesn't fit in with the slender fashion police of the suburbs; Kate wishes she had never left New York City. Kate's real; you can imagine calling her up, hanging out with her, and wondering how and why those perfect Moms do it.

Kate is trapped in Stepford land with lies upon lies, a shallow husband, and no escape. This is all told with humor and love. And despite it all Kate is not a complainer; rather, she is frustrated that she's stuck in a town that judges her on what type of shoes she wears and how much she spends on her son's birthday party.

But on to the mystery. In an odd way, perfect Kitty's death is almost wish fulfillment; and I think Kate wants to solve the mystery partly out of guilt. It is also the first interesting thing she's encountered in three years; and it turns out to involve her. One of the last people perfect Kitty spoke with? Kate's old boyfriend.

I like that Kate's a good enough mother; because a perfect mother would be annoying. And Weiner respects the moms out there, by saying good enough is fine; if anything, good enough is better than perfect.

Have I mentioned that Kate is funny as hell? I laughed out loud all the way through the book. Weiner is a talented writer; in lesser hands, I would have told Kate to stop whining, that there are people out there with real problems. But Kate doesn't whine. And her own problems are very real.

Finally, I love the ending; it wraps up Kate's personal stories as well as the mystery; and, it's not what I would have predicted.

Do you read Weiner's blog? It is fabulous. I love her (but not in a stalker way; in a she sounds like a lot of fun and says what I think way.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Babymouse: Beach Babe and Babymouse: Rock Star

Babymouse: Beach Babe and Babymouse: Rock Star by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Previous books in this series reviewed here.

The Plot: Babymouse is the star of this series of graphic novels for younger kids. I adore them, for all the reasons stated in my previous review; most important? Kids love them; and librarians love being able to give a kid a GN that is right for their age.* In Beach Babe, school is out and Babymouse and family are going to the beach for vacation; in Rock Star, Babymouse is back at school with dreams of being a rock star.

The Good: Babymouse has some of the best daydreams, ever.

Beach Babe:

Babymouse's now-famous daydreams continue; here, it's about surfing. And, of course, we have Babymouse's exaggerations: when she cleans out her locker, she discovers all types of things.... including King Tut's sarcophagus. (Note that while this is for younger kids, it has humor like this that assumes the reader will get the reference; such as who is King Tut?) Babymouse also has old cupcakes in her locker, and frankly, I'm disappointed in her; why let good cupcakes go to waste like that??

Beach Babe moves the familiar action away from school and concentrates on family dynamics, especially Babymouse's relationship with her younger brother, Squeak. It's a very realistic portrayal of a sibling relationship, reminding me of Queen Lucy & Skater Boy; especially as they fight, make up, and as Squeak tries desperately to be Babymouse's friend.

Another strength of the Babymouse books is that they are familiar stories; they work because of humor and character. Beach Babe is about a summer vacation, and a lonely, annoying baby brother. No great high drama; except for the drama of every day life that is very familiar to the readers.

Rock Star

My favorite reference here is to the Wizard of Oz: "I guess I'm not in school anymore." Any reader will get that; they probably say it themselves. Some of the references are aimed at older readers; "Tori Amouse." He he. Not to mention that the cover is punk music Babymouse.

Poor Babymouse; loves music but her playing is so awful that a bird falls out of a tree. Babymouse tries; she practices; and she loves what she is doing. Once again, an enjoyable story that reflects the readers lives.

Link: The official website

* Imagine, if you will, the conversation as the 8 year old clutches the YA GN; the parent saying the kid loves comics; and you trying to explain how that book is perfect for teens but not for 8 year olds. But it's comics, the well meaning parent says. Making GNs specifically for the younger crowd is not just good marketing; it's responding to a need. Tied into that is the person of any age staring at a graphic novel and saying "but it doesn't look funny... aren't comics supposed to be funny?"

The Edge of the Forest, Issue 9

Issue 9 of the Edge of the Forest is now available.

New and noteworthy:

Podcasting!*

An easy way to subscribe so you never miss an issue!

Fourteen book reviews, kids to teens.

A Day In The Life with author Carolyn Crimi.

An Interview with Blogging Writer, Lisa Yee.

Best of the Blogs: All About the Cybils.

Teen Picks (aka what are teens reading?).

A grown up version of What's In The Backpack.

Looking for a review from an earlier issue? Check the archive.

Children's Books for Teaching Math Concepts

One of my favorite library blogs is the Waterboro Public Library blog. It uses library technology in a cool way; it's not about new services but about providing traditional services online. It's not changing what libraries do; it changes how we do it.

For example, this post on Children's Books for Teaching Math Concepts is basically a combination of an online book display and reader's advisory. Except, unlike traditional displays, this is viewable by everyone in the public, not just the people who walk thru the door; the information about the books is always up, instead of leaving as the books get checked out; the information is always available, not disappearing once it's time for a new book display. As reader's advisory, instead of the traditional one-on-one discussion, it's a discussion that reaches beyond one customer.

And I love that the blog is called "h20boro lib blog." Makes me smile every time I see it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Costa Children's Book Award

Costa* Children's Book Award, the Shortlist:

Clay by David Almond (on my to-be-read pile)
The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding (not yet here in the US)
Set in Stone by Linda Newbery (oh, I have to order this one, it looks awesome)
Just in Case by Meg Rosoff (I just placed a hold).

*Used to be the Whitbread.

In For Questioning

One of the things I like about reviews online is that I find out about books from smaller presses; I find out book news that isn't in daily papers, and only occasionally in the monthly journals. There is a need, and blogs meet that need. (For more, see the convo going on over at Gail's Original Content.)

Lo and behold, while looking up myself in Technorati (c'mon, you we all do it), I found this new book blog: In For Questioning , "about providing readers with the information about smaller presses, underground ventures, writing contests and authors to watch for. Find out just how much is happening in the publishing business that doesn't always make it into the mainstream news."

Yes, yes, yes!! This is exactly why we read and write blogs. And this is exactly why the mainstream news should stop getting their knickers in a twist over blogs. This isn't about bloggers being "used" by publishers and publicists; this is about bloggers discovering cool new stuff and sharing.

The Carnival of Children's Literature

The Thanksgiving edition of The Carnival of Children's Literature is up at A Readable Feast. Go on over and nibble at the delicious posts. The best part? NO CALORIES.

Fall Shoes

After much thought, I went with this boot and took the advice online at Zappos to go up a size. When they came in they seemed OK, but I wouldn't want to wear them with thin socks.

The Dr Scholls Ranger:







Also purchased a new pair of Dr Martens, because the current Mary Jane style I have are about to die:







And of course, a new pair of Danskos, resisting the urge to get my umpteenth pair of Mary Janes:

Buffy Quote of the Week

"Mmmmmm. Artificial cheese-flavored powder. Nature's perfect food."
-- Buffy, Ep: Crush

Best. Crossover. Ever.

Star Trek + Here Come The Brides = Ishmael.

And my library owns a copy.

Awesome.

Thanks to Moomin Light for the info.

Queen of Babble

Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot

The Plot: Lizzie (I know! She has my name!) has just graduated college and is off to spend an exciting summer with her boyfriend, Andrew. Except, well, sometimes, Lizzie sees things the way she wants to. For example, she hasn't graduated because there's one more major paper she needs to finish. And "boyfriend" seems to be a strong word for a guy she met the day before he returned to England. When reality intrudes on fantasy and Lizzie can no longer ignore that Andrew is just an Andy, she takes off to meet some friends in France. Upset, she babbles away to a stranger on a train, sharing all her troubles. Except the stranger? He's the guy her friends are staying with.

The Good: It's a perfect college/ twenty-something book, and I am insanely jealous. Not that Meg Cabot wrote this and I did not (tho, yeah, that too) but that publishers are finally recognizing this demographic and publishing things just for this age group. I would have loved books like this in my 20s; and obviously, while I still read and enjoy them (and the books that involve romance for people closer to my age), it's always nice to have a book that is about your stage of life. Here, the post-college questioning years, that will also be enjoyed by those still in school.

Lizzie is fun and funny; Cabot, as always, creates likable characters, funny situations, and also a sound plot.

Andy is such an idiot; I do want to shake Lizzie, to hit over the head and say "wake up." Which of course, her friends are trying to do. But Cabot also captures that Andrew is what Lizzie wants him to be; what Lizzie needs him to be. And, thankfully, Lizzie does realize that Andrew never existed except in her head; he fit the suit she had made up. She mistakes lust and want and dreams for love and life. Luckily, she wakes up in time and leaves Andy/Andrew far behind.

Lizzie loves fashion; it was her major; and she puts together a great wardrobe despite little money. Her thesis on the history of fashion is what she left unwritten, and their are bits of it scattered throughout the book. I adored them, both the history and Lizzie's take on them: "[The toga] went on to become a favorite costume of college fraternity parties, for reasons this author cannot fathom, as the toga is neither flattering nor comfortable, especially when worn with control top underwear." I want to read Lizzie's entire thesis.

I like that Lizzie, despite what seems like lack of direction, has talent and a career ahead of her; and that not all of her questions are answered.

Note to parents and librarians and others: yes, there is sex in this book. It's a book written for adults. Published for adults. Hence, in more ways than one, the content is, what is that word I am looking for?

Oh, yeah. Adult.

One of my pet peeves is the "Meg wrote the Princess Diaries so since my ten year old loved the movie she should read all of Meg's books" attitude.* Um, no. Meg's adult books are for the adult section of the library; please, remember that. Meg clearly markets these books to adults. And if you chose to ignore it, you have no right to complain about the sex in Queen Of Babble. (You also have no right to complain about the Princess Diaries not being right for your ten year old after I told you it was in the teen section and different from the movie and you should read it first.)

* I see this related to the "eleven year olds want to read young adult books so all ya books should be suitable for them and judged accordingly" theory.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Interview With John Green

John Green is the author of last year's Printz winner, Looking For Alaska, which is about Miles "Pudge" Halter's year at boarding school, the fascinating and sexy Alaska, and how our choices impact others in big and little ways; and this year's An Abundance of Katherines, about a former child prodigy who has always dated girls named Katherine and is looking for meaning in his post high school life.

John is also part of that new breed of YA authors: cool, funny, and cute. And I'm not just saying that because he has been incredibly patient despite the delays in our interview and it getting posted here. And, I almost met him in person at ALA, except he was sick (yet still gave a great speech at the Printz Awards) and I didn't want to be a total fangirl groupie.

Why is John Green so cool? Well, read this interview and find out!

Liz B: I always love to hear the background of how a story got written. Are you a plunger (just sitting down and plunging ahead with the writing) or a plotter (with a color coded outline?)

John: I am a plunger, and then later I am a plotter. I think a lot about a book before I actually start writing it, but I don't think about plot so much. I think mostly about the people in the book, and what they should be like, and how they should relate to each other, and for me the plot arises out of that. And then I write a first draft without any kind of outline, but because I revise so much (I spent more than a year revising both "Katherines" and "Alaska"), that first draft becomes a kind of outline for me. Generally, little or nothing survives from the first draft, but it does serve as a skeleton. A nd in revisions, I certainly focus a lot more on plotting a story than I do in the first draft, when I'm mostly thinking about people and their interactions.

Liz B: Colin in An Abundance of Katherines is a former child prodigy who doesn't have much smarts about social situations, especially when he was younger. While I was reading, it sounded almost as if Colin has Aspergers -- do I win the prize for overreading?

John: No, you don't win the prize for overreading. I think it is actually a very good observation. These days when people talk about autism they talk about "the autistic spectrum." There are all kinds of people who are now considered to have mild forms of Asperger's than 10 years ago just would have been considered awkward. (I have close friends who might have been said to be very mildly autistic, for instance.) I wanted Colin to be the kind of person who doesn't excel at social interactions but who does care deeply about people. That may put him on "the autistic spectrum," but the overriding point of the book is that he, like a lot of very smart people who have social difficulties, is actually pretty normal.

Liz B: An Abundance of Katherines was just published this fall and you've been busy promoting it (both online and in the real world.) Have you started on a new book? Can you tell us anything about it?

John: I have been pretty busy with traveling and stuff, but I started my new book several months before "Katherines" came out, so I have at least gotten a start. I find it really difficult to talk about books I haven't finished yet, because I always sound like an idiot. When I used to tell people about "Alaska" before it was done, I would say, "It's about a girl, and a boy, and a boarding school." And people would say, "Oh, that's great," and then turn on their heels and find someone else to talk to. So I guess the new book (which is untitled; feel free to email me title suggestions) is about a boy, and a girl, and then after a crazy all-night adventure, the girl disappears.

Liz B: I'll be cross posting this at Pop Goes the Library, which is about pop culture and libraries. What is your pop culture area of expertise?

John: Are conjoined twins part of pop culture? If so, definitely conjoined twins. Also: I know a lot about CSI: Miami, because one time my wife and I watched about 20 CSI: Miami episodes back-to-back. (In our defense, we both had the flu.)

Liz B: Thank you, John! In honor of you:

Cross posed at Pop Goes the Library.

Cybils Nominations Fantasy/Science Fiction

The Cybils Nominations: Fantasy / Science Fiction
Bold = I read it

Abadazad: The Road to Inconceivable
by J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Ploog
Hyperion

Agent Boo: The Littlest Agent
by Alex De Campi
TokyoPop

Amazing Flight of Darius Frobisher, The
by Bill Harley
Peachtree Publishers

Anatopsis
by Chris Abouzeid
Penguin: Dutton

Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony
by Eoin Colfer
Hyperion: Miramax

AutumnQuest
by Terie Garrison
Flux

Avielle of Rhia
by Dia Calhoun
Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books

Beast of Noor, The
by Janet Lee Carey
Simon & Schuster: Atheneum

Beasts of Clawstone Castle, The
by Eva Ibbotson
Penguin: Dutton

Beka Cooper: Terrier
by Tamora Pierce
Random House

Bella at Midnight
by Diane Stanley
HarperCollins

Blue Bloods
by Melissa de la Cruz
Hyperion

Book of Story Beginnings, The
by Kristin Kladstrup
Candlewick

Braced2Bite
by Serena Robar
Penguin: Berkley

Changeling
by Delia Sherman
Penguin: Viking Juvenile

Charlie Bone And The Hidden King
by Jenny Nimmo
Scholastic

Corbenic
by Catherine Fisher
HarperCollins: Greenwillow

Darkling Plain, A
by Philip Reeve
HarperCollins: Eos

Death of a Ghost
by Charles Butler
HarperCollins

Devilish
by Maureen Johnson
Penguin: Razorbill

Dream Spinner
by Bonnie Dobkin
Flux

Endymion Spring
by Matthew Skelton
RandomHouse: Delacorte

Enemies
by Christopher Golden and Ford Lytle Gilmore
Penguin: Razorbill

Erec Rex: The Dragon’s Eye
by Kaza Kingsley
Firelight Press

Evil Star
by Anthony Horowitz
Scholastic

Eye Pocket: The Fantastic Society of Peculiar Adventurers, The
by E.J. Crow
DNA Press

Fablehaven
by Brandon Mull
Shadow Mountain

Fairest
by Gail Carson Levine
HarperCollins

Fetch, The
by Chris Humphreys
RandomHouse: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Floating Island, The
by Elizabeth Haydon
Tor: Starscape

Gideon: The Cutpurse
by Linda Buckley-Archer
Simon & Schuster

Gilda Joyce, and the Ladies of the Lake
by Jennifer Allison
Penguin: Dutton

Golden
by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
RandomHouse: Delacorte

Good Fairies of New York, The
by Martin Millar
Soft Skull

Gossamer
by Lois Lowry
Houghton Mifflin: Walter Lorraine Books

Hellbent
by Anthony McGowan
Simon & Schuster

Here Be Monsters
by Alan Snow
Simon & Schuster: Atheneum

Here, There Be Dragons
by James A. Owen
Simon Simon S&Samp;amp; Schuster Schuster: Simon & Schuster

High School Bites: The Lucy Chronicles
by Liza Conrad
NAL Trade

Homefree
by Nina Wright
Flux

Horns & Wrinkles
by Joseph Helgerson
Houghton Mifflin

Horse Passages
by Jennifer Macaire
Medallion Press

Into the Woods
by Lyn Gardner
David Fickling Books

King of Attolia, The
by Megan Whalen Turner
HarperCollins: Greenwillow

Larklight
by Philip Reeve
Bloomsbury

Last Days, The
by Scott Westerfield
Penguin: Razorbill

Last Dragon, The
by Silvana de Mari
Hyperion: Miramax

Last of the Wilds
by Trudi Canavan
HarperCollins: Eos

Legend of Zoey, The
by Candie Moonshower
RandomHouse: Delacorte

Life As We Knew It
by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Harcourt Children’s Books

London Calling
by Edward Bloor
RandomHouse: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Looking Glass Wars, The
by Frank Beddor
Penguin: Dial

Lurkers, The
by Charles Butler
Usborne Publishing Ltd

Magic Lessons
by Justine Larbalestier
Penguin: Razorbill

Monster Blood Tattoo: The Foundling
by DM Cornish
Penguin: Putnam

New Moon
by Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown (Hachette)

Peter Pan in Scarlet
by Geraldine McCaughrean
Simon & Schuster: Margaret K. McElderry

Pinhoe Egg, The
by Diana Wynne Jones
HarperCollins: Greenwillow

Privilege of the Sword
by Ellen Kushner
RandomHouse: Bantam Dell

Prophet of Yonwood, The
by Jeanne Duprau
Random House

Ptolemy’s Gate
by Jonathan Stroud
Hyperion: Miramax

Pucker
by Melanie Gideon
Penguin: Razorbill

Quest of the Dragon Stone
by Ami Blackford
Red Cygnet Press

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Burning Bridge, The
by John Flanagan
Penguin: Philomel

River Secrets
by Shannon Hale
Bloomsbury

Samurai
by Jason Hightman
HarperCollins: Eos

Sea of Monsters, The
by Rick Riordan
Hyperion: Miramax

Septimus Heap #2: Flyte
by Angie Sage
HarperCollins: Katherine Tegen Books

Shadow in the Deep
by L.B. Graham
P & R Publishing

Shadow Thieves, The
by Anne Ursu
Simon & Schuster: Atheneum

Silver City
by Cliff McNish
Carolrhoda Books

Sir Thursday
by Garth Nix
Scholastic

Sisters Grimm: The Problem Child
by Michael Buckley
Amulet

Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1, The
by PJ Haarsma
Candlewick

Stones of Abraxas
by K Osborn Sullivan
Medallion

Summer King, The
by O.R. Melling
Amulet Books

Sword of Anton
by Gene Del Vecchio
Pelican Publishing Company

Temping Fate
by Esther Friesner
Penguin: Dutton

Tide Knot, The
by Helen Dunmore
HarperCollins

Travels of Thelonious
by Susan Schade and Jon Buller
Simon & Schuster: Simon & Schuster

Undine
by Penni Russon
HarperCollins: Greenwillow

Voices
by Ursula Le Guin
Harcourt Children’s Books

Wabi
by Joseph Bruchac
Penguin: Dial

Wall and the Wing, The
by Laura Ruby
HarperCollins: Eos

Wintersmith
by Terry Pratchett
HarperTeen

Wolfproof
by Maureen Doyle McQuerry
Idylls Press

Wuthering High
by Cara Lockwood
MTV

LJ comment responses

This is syndicated over at LiveJournal and every now and then I get comments or questions over there.

Cybils Graphic Novel Nominations, Question from unfinished80: Which of these would you recommend for YA's?
Answer: Many Graphic Novels are published with strong YA interest that are not published specifically for YAs, which makes selection for collections, recommendations, and the award process difficult. For this list, I've read only a handful of titles, but all were nominated by people aware that this was for either children or teens. Which is childrens/which is YA is one of the things that the nominating committee will consider in reaching its two top five lists. Of the GNS on the list that I've read, my can't lose recommendation for YA is Runaways.

The Book Thief; Amy McAuley shared in the love of the Book Thief and its Australian cover.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson.

The Plot: I don't want to give too much away; but then again, considering this won the National Book Award and got a ton of publicity, chances are you know all the major plot points. But here's my go at it: Octavian is raised in an odd house where only he and his mother, a princess in exile, have names. He is educated and dressed in silks; but something odd is going on and he's not sure what it is. There is a forbidden room, and once Octavian enters and learns of his true place in the world, he can never return to innocence.

The Good: I will try to minimize the spoilers below, but if you dislike any type of spoilers, stop reading.

This book is long; and it's an odd start. I began with absolutely no spoilers, and for a while thought I was reading Gothic fantasy; after a few chapters I realized it was historical fiction set during the Revolutionary War, and that it was realistic fiction. Why fantasy? The fact that Octavian and his mother are royalty in exile; that there is a bit of the fantastic to their lush life; but that there is something horrible lurking in the corners.

The book reads as if it was written in the 18th century. This is both good and bad; the good is that it shows just how brilliant Anderson is, because he pulls it off flawlessly. The bad is that I don't particularly like the style of books written during that time period. But that's a personal preference; it's a reason I wouldn't say this is my favorite book; but it's also the reason why it's one of the best books of the year.

The book begins, I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple trees. I think it was the "floating lights" that made me think fantasy; but already, you can see the masterful use of language. A gaunt house? Brilliant. And, as promised, the language is of the past, not the present: How doth all that seeks to rise burn itself to nothing? Like much of the language in this book, this sentence has multiple meanings. Octavian, it turns out, is a slave, subject to a lifelong experiment on just whether slaves can be educated. Will Octavian rise beyond this? Or will he burn out in the attempt?

More quotes: The natural depression of spirits produces in the breast of any human creature endowed with sympathy at the news of another slipping from daylight, from the realm of reason and the theatre of motion, back into the obdurate chaos of uncreated night, into which we all eventually shall rumble.

See? Anderson recreates the way of speaking, of writing, of communicating. For some of us, including me, that does create a bit of a barrier. Or, rather, a challenge; but at the same time, it puts the reader more fully in the world of the past. Don't let the language stop you; because this is what historical fiction should be; Octavian and the other characters are at all times creatures of the time and place in which they live, rather than modern people with modern sensibilities who happen to wear funny clothes.

Anderson also captures what it means to not know a historic outcome; here, it is an unknowing look at the origins of the Revolutionary War. Why are people fighting? Who will win? Who will lose? Who is right? Who is wrong? Anderson doesn't answer these questions; rather, he asks the questions that would have been asked by the people living during this time.

I've read some criticisms of Octavian's character development; apparently, this work was meant to be one book but was divided into two. As such, I think we have to hold off on making any determinations about Octavian. Much happens to him; including the revelation that he is a slave; the horrific torture he is subject to as a slave; and the death of his mother. The trauma of his mother's death is so great that Octavian's narrative becomes one of scratched out words, and others take over the tale.

Stylistically, I like the switch once Octavian is unable to speak of the horrors following the pox party; but I also found the letters written by a common soldier much easier to read (stylistically speaking.)

Question: Does anyone else think there is more to the story of Octavian's mother than has been told so far?

Links: The Book Standard interview; the Not Your Mother's Bookclub interview.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Magdalen Martyrs

The Magdalen Martyrs by Ken Bruen.

The Plot: This is Bruen's third book featuring Jack Taylor, a disgraced ex-cop living in Galway. When he is sober, he works as a private detective. When he isn't sober, he works as a private detective...and he's almost as good as when he's sober. This time around, Jack has been asked to track down Rita Monroe, a "Magdalen Martyr," an unwed mother sent into the care of the church and horribly abused. A rich yuppie thinks his stepmother murdered his father, so Jack is also looking into that. Neither case is what it appears to be.

The Good: I love, love love these books featuring Jack Taylor. Jack is a fascinating character, and while I cannot recall if he mentions Johnny Cash's cover of Hurt, that is Jack's theme song. He will let you down. And he knows it. And he tells you. But still... you invite him in. You trust him. You like him. And you hope he doesn't continue to screw up his life. But he is so smart as he does so....

How much do I love the Jack Taylor books? I know there's another book in the series; but I string myself along, no, wait a month or two before reading it. I treat the books the way Jack treats booze.

This book is so harsh and uncompromising about Jack that "love" seems too soft a word to use. But I do; I love the harsh matter of factness; I love Jack's love of drink and drugs and his total unrepentance. It's refreshing, in its bleakness. Perhaps I have read one too many young adult issue books, where there are tears and rehab and a reason for the behavior (Mommy was mean, Daddy was overly nice, the mean girls are mean, my parents expected too much, no one understands....). Jack doesn't hide behind excuses or reasons; he simply is what he is. A drunk, who will plan, this is when I need to be sober, and then this is when I can get so drunk I won't know my own name.

Jack is no ordinary junkie; he's smart, he's literate, in love with words, part of him even in love with the whole idea of himself being a hopeless drunk. And he knows it. The book is full of quotes to songs and stories and books and movies, some which the reader may get, others a bit more subtle. When Jack mentions someone I don't know I click over to iTunes or Amazon to remedy that. (Example: Jack mentions David Gray and his song, This Year's Love so of course I had to buy it.)

Jack solves cases; but this isn't a US mystery or a US crime show. It's about asking questions, and putting two and two together and being a bit drunk so not getting to four until it's a little too late. Perhaps most important, there are no feel good fixes; Jack may figure out what happened, find the missing person, uncover the murder, but there are no fixes. People die, but there is only knowledge, no justice. (In past books, Jack has administered his own justice. How does that work out for him? He's still drinking, isn't he?)

If there is someone to let down, Jack's your man. And yet.. and yet.. there is something so compelling about him. I think it's because Jack is so matter of fact about it all, acknowledging his flaws and failures without whining or blame or excuses. And he's cynical and he's funny. But don't get me wrong; while this book is almost glorious in how it details Jack's vices, it never glorifies them, doesn't make them cool.

Of course, it's no good for me to tell you the language is glorious yet harsh, full of dark humor and despair. Let me share one of my favorite passages, especially since December is coming:

December is a rough month. Screw all that festive preparation. If you're on your own, it mocks you at every turn. You open an old book and find a list of of old friends you once sent cards to. Now, they're all dead or disappeared. The television is crammed with toys for children you never had, and boy, is it ever too late. The radio is playing ballads that once held significance or even hope.

Because I read so many books, Janet thinks I'm somebody. This is an old Irish notion, that alas, fools fewer and fewer people.

Was I clogged with self pity? You betcha. Alongside whining, dreaming and shite talk, it's what an alcoholic does best.

At another point, Jack describes a person as someone who knows hell from the inside; someone else is the kind of guy you'd never tire of beating the bejaysus out of.

This is the third Jack Taylor book, so I began to read, all happy at Jack and his honesty, his faults, when I sat up and nearly lost it because all of a sudden : BUFFY. JACK LIKES BUFFY. And at that moment, I thought, Holy Hannah, I'm in love with a middle aged drunk with false teeth. (The false teeth are the result of getting beaten up in a previous book.)

Then Buffy came on. Despite myself, I started to pay attention. Count Dracula had a guest appearance. Buffy asked why he'd come. He hissed, "for the sun?" Was smiling despite myself. Angel followed next. He's a vampire good guy, and then Jack describes the episode where Angel sang Mandy. Jack watches and the author quotes chapter and verse. C'mon people -- how can you not love these books?

Yes, it's best to start with the first book, The Guards.

Snip Snap What's That?

Snip Snap! What's That, by Mara Bergman, illustrated by Nick Maland

The Plot: An alligator chases kids; the kids are scared and run away; finally, there's no place left to run.

The Good: SS!WT is a lot of fun and a must-read.

This book has a lot of wonderful repetition; I like that for story-times, because it's fun to use; I like it for any type of storytelling (group or individual) because after the second repetition, even kids who haven't heard this book before join join right in; and when it's one on one, it helps to start practicing reading skills.

"When the alligator came creeping...creeping...creeping up the stairs... Were the children scared?"

And the answer is: "YOU BET THEY WERE", and these last four words become the chorus that every kid shouts. Part of the reason I love to use this in the library for school visits is that up till then, there's a certain amount of "sh you're in the library" going on, but this, with the kids encouraged to be loud, brings out the smiles and the giggles.

I like that the alligator is real; it's not "the kids thought it was an alligator but it's really Dad". (That said, if you want to overread this book or use it for a book discussion, discuss amongst yourselves whether the alligator does indeed represent an abusive dad, or is a representation of childhood fears of abandonment, or is the wide world outside your door.)

Fear is conquered by standing up to it; when the children finally face the alligator, the alligator takes off, with the tables turned and the alligator afraid of the children. (Was the alligator afraid? "YOU BET HE WAS.") (For those overreaders (and I'm one, also): discuss whether facing your fear is always best; discuss the likelihood of a real alligator actually running away; is the alligator now an insecure bully?)

Fear may be conquered by standing up to it, but it also works to know when to shout "alligator, you get out" or when to run like hell or lock the door because some alligators, they keep coming. (See above: is the alligator a parent, a bully, or just the world at large?)

What else did I like? You all know that I love when pictures give more of the story. Here, take a peek at the pages with copyright and dedications. Scene: a city street. Look again: are those footprints? Are they alligator footprints? That woman in the window, peeking out, looks pretty scared. And why do you think that man is running down the street, abandoning his umbrella? No words here; but the story is clear that the alligator is on the move.

I like that the kids live in an apartment; not everyone lives in a house. Plus, of course, it connects with the whole urban legend of alligators living in sewers, which is never suburban sewers, always big city sewers.

At the start, the illustrations show only bits of alligator; a foot, a tail, the mouth. Because of the fear; you cannot see the whole thing. You don't see the alligator as a whole, until the children are triumphant and the alligator running away. (Discuss amongst yourself about fearing fear itself, the unknown being scarier than the real thing, and what you would do if an alligator came up your apartment steps.)

Thanks to Book Moot and Adrienne for sharing this great read aloud.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Cybils Graphic Novel Nominations

Edited to add: If I've read it, I've bolded it.

The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy's Great Idea by Ann Martin, Rina Telgemeier; GRAPHIX/Scholastic

Babymouse: Beach Babe by Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm; Random House

Girl Stories by Lauren Weinstein; Henry Holt

American Born Chinese by Gene Yang; First Second

Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda by J.P. Stassen; First Second

Flight Vol. 3 by Kazu Kibuishi & others; Ballantine

To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel by Siena Siegel and Mark Siegl; Aladdin / Simon & Schuster

Pride of Baghdad by Brian Vaughan & Niko Henrichon; Vertigo DC Comics

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel; Houghton Mifflin

Runaways Vol. 5: Escape to New York by Brian K Vaughan; Marvel

Dramacon Vol. 2 by Svetlana Chmakova; Tokyo Pop

Gray Horses by Hope Larson; Oni Press

Emma Volume 1 by Kaori Mori; CMX

Hercules by Paul Storrie & Steve Kurth; Graphic Universe

King Arthur: Excalibur Unsheathed by Jeff Limke and Thomas Yeates; Graphic Universe

Sorcerers & Secretaries by Amy Kim Gantner; Tokyo Pop

Soulfire by Michael Turner; Aspen MLT

Kat and Mouse by Alex De Campi, pictures by Federica Manfredi; TokyoPop

The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Lothian Books

The Hardy Boys by various; Papercutz

La Perdida by Jessica Abel; Pantheon

The Ticking by Renee French; Top Shelf

Top Ten: Beyond the Farthest Precinct by Paul DiFilippo & Jerry Ordway; Wildstorm, D C Comics

Amelia Rules, vol. 3: Superheroes by Jimmy Gownley; Renaissance Press

Little Butterfly vol. 1 by Hinako Takanaga; Digital Manga Publishing

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley; Fantagraphics

Sloth by Gilbert Hernandez; DC/Vertigo

Return to Labyrinth by Jake Forbes, Jim Henson & Chris Lie; Tokyo Pop

Mom's Cancer by Brain Fies; Abrams Image

Line by Yua Kotegawa; ADV Manga

Amphigorey Again by Edward Gorey; Harcourt

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colon; Hill & Wang

Adventures in Oz by Eric Shanower & L Frank Baum; IDW

Nana Volume 2 by Ai Yazawa; VIZ Media

Hikaru no Go Vol. 6 by Yumi Hotta; VIZ Media

***********
Thank you all for your nominations, and many thanks to the publishers who have supplied review copies.

Crossposted at the Cybils site.

Poetry Friday

The Viking Terror

Fierce is the wind tonight,
It ploughs up the white hair of the sea
I have no fear that the Viking hosts
Will come over the sea to me.

Anonymous, 8th or 9th century. Marginal poem on St Gall manuscript.

Another version is here. A work of art using the poem, with a nice bit of historical background.

The round up is here; I'll post links this afternoon.

Round Up:

Big A little a reviews Go! Poetry In Motion.

The Blue Rose Girls look at three books by Nikki Grimes, the 2006 recipient of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.

Book Buds shares a fabulous translation of the Hare and the Tortoise.

Chicken Spaghetti brings us William Matthew's Onions.

Scholar's Blog concludes her month long round up devoted to poems of Remembrance.

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast reviews the Barefoot Book of Classic Poems.

And:

Miss Erin can read with her eyes shut (which reminds me, yesterday SkaterBoy showed us all how he can eat with his eyes shut. Talented, no?)

A Wrung Sponge shares an Iroquois Prayer for Thanksgiving.

Did I miss you? Let me know in the comments!

Added:

Journey Woman goes retro with the 1964 Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls.

and:

The Old Coot shares On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness

Last Call! Last Call!

A Year of Reading shares Morning by Billy Collins

Adrienne (WATAT) reviews Please Bury Me In The Library.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

The Plot: I usually write this up myself, but couldn't do it justice. So I borrow from the Book Description provided by the publisher:

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

The Good: It's narrated by Death, so of course it has an interesting voice. A friend of mine, Maria, was recommending this book, and was asked, "yes, but does anyone die in it?" and Maria replied "It's about World War II. Several main characters die." This is not a spoiler; Death himself is very clear on this point: "You are going to die."

Because until there's a cure for death, it's going to happen to everyone. Somehow. Somewhere. Sometime.

But still... the death here is overwhelming. As it should be, in a story about war. In a story about life.

But let's concentrate on something other than death; because as Maria explained, "it's moving and really life affirming."

Sometimes the only way to value life is to be reminded just how fragile it is. In that way, this reminded me of Six Feet Under.

But on to the book:

Liesel's foster father is Hans Huberman; and let me say, how nice it was to have a father figure who is a truly good man. Not a molester or monster or pedophile, but a good, kind man; maybe not very rich; maybe coarse; but good. Rosa, the mother, is almost more complex than Hans; someone who on the surface would be labelled as abusive, but is a caring woman who does not express it in the words we use today, but shows it again and again in her actions. And Liesel and Hans understand this about Rosa.

There is no romance of childhood; no looking down at adulthood; it is also astonishing, in the way it portrays what would today be called abusive parents, as loving parents. Most modern books would equate Rosa's roughness and hitting with no love; would equate it with hate; would say that only one type of parental love is acceptable. TBL recognizes seeing where love is, in all its many places, both pretty and rough, expected and unexpected, rather than insisting love come in only one flavor, one emotion, one thought.

Rosa Huberman loves; loves without words; and gives Liesl a gift of love and happiness. Even tho it is all unspoken.

There's been some debate as to whether this is truly a YA book or an adult book. I say adult, because rather than being in the time of childhood, it's a look back with adult knowledge, wisdom, and nostalgia: "She even allowed herself a laugh. Eleven year old paranoia was powerful. Eleven year old relief was euphoria." and "I think that's as close to love as eleven year olds can get." Perhaps this is because Death is telling the story and death is clearly an adult (compare to Love Curse of the Rumbaughs; even tho the narrator there tells the story, when she speaks of the past she sees and speaks and comments as a child or a teen; not so, here it is always Death.)

But, it could also be YA; Death is the narrator and many teens have such a flirtation with the idea of death. (Yes; look at the recent flurry of books such as A Certain Slant of Light and Elsewhere that tell the story of death). As I read this I couldn't help but remember, 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 mus├Ęd rhyme,To take into the air my quiet breath. This fascination with Death makes it very much a book with teen appeal.

Oh, and another thing: I prefer the Australian cover.

I have to give more quotes because I love the writing:

"Even death has a heart."

"He died in a train. They buried him in the snow."

"Stealing it, on the other hand, seemed a little more acceptable."

"Liesl was exercising the blatant right of every person who's ever belonged to a family. It's all very well for such a person to whine and moan and criticize other family members, but they won't let anyone else do it. That's when you get your back up and show loyalty."

"Her whole death was now ahead of her."

And Rudy. I write this review months after the book is over, this fiction book about not real people, and my heart breaks for Rudy all over again. "He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It's his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry."

"I am haunted by humans."

Needless to say...it's one of my Best Books.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thanksgiving

As readers of Pop may recall from last year, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

I love it because I get together with my family and enjoy some of my favorite foods and watch TV. The Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade is must see TV in my house.

But I also love it because the complexity of the history behind it. The story of the Mayflower and 1621 is not simple. Yes, it's a story of survival; but it's also a fascinating clash between cultures; and the end of a way of life and a way of being Native culture, even tho no one knew it then.

Anyway. I have to say that sometimes I forget that not everyone has read Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick and 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann and other things like that. Which means, I have a hard time believing that people don't know that the settlers weren't always called pilgrims, that the colonists ripped off the corn for the first year, etc. And I have a hard time believing that the myths of Thanksgiving are still being taught; especially since the true story is so much more interesting and fascinating. But then, I'm the person who will buy the DVD version of Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower.

Have I got you worried that you may be perpetuating some of those myths? My current must read book for kids is 1621: A New Look At Thanksgiving by Catherine O'Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac with Plimoth Plantation. It's very kid-friendly, in part because of the wonderful photographs. (Photographs, you say? In 1621?) Yeppers, photos, based on an October 2000 reenactment of the three day 1621 harvest gathering many call the First Thanksgiving. In addition to beautiful, colorful photos, there is just the right amount of history, including information about the Mayflower and the tragedy of King Philip's War. There are also recipes and other resources.

Other links: Oyate's Deconstructing Myths of the First Thanksgiving; long version of Deconstructing Myths; Plimoth Plantation; and Wampanoag Homesite .

Question: While Oyate has a list of children's books regarding Thanksgiving, what are the adult books (like Mayflower and 1621) written solely for adults from a Native perspective? Good quality historical fiction is also welcome; I'm also interested in any alternate history, where the events of the 17th century in America played out differently.

Updated to add: I corrected my mistake up above (hello, of course it didn't end a culture, it's still here. I was trying to say what Debbie gently points out I should have said -- it ended a way of living and a way of being.)

Debbie addresses Philbrick's Mayflower over at American Indians in Children's Literature, which links to a news article by Paula Peters that says while Philbrick's narrative is told through the colonial voice, he does expose the injustice toward the Wampanoag, which inspired the conflict. What he fails to do is portray the Wampanoag with the same human qualities as the Pilgrims or give them proper credit for defending their ancestral homeland of more than 10,000 years. I find it interesting that I (who am not Native and not of Native descent) saw this as well rounded; and the writer did not. I repeat my question about books from this era written from a Native perspective -- by which I mean, as is said by Peters: The answer is to have Native people write our history from our own true perspective. Also of interest at Debbie's blog are some of the posts about well meaning teachers and lessons that are, well, you have to read it for yourself.

Queen Lucy is in first grade. Tomorrow I'll be asking her what her school told her about Thanskgiving. Should be interesting.

Drizzle of Yesteryears And Other Stories

Drizzle of Yesteryears And Other Stories by M.K. Ajay; published by Frog Books; review copy supplied by author.

The Plot: This is a collection of short stories about people "from Pambunkavu, a fictional village situated in the Malabar region of Kerala, a southern Indian state," and is divided into two parts: At Home and In Exile.

The Good: A few months ago I was contacted via email by the author. I usually get emailed about children's and teen books, so it was quite a change to be getting one about a grown up book. And since it's about both what I like (short stories) and what I'm unfamiliar (South Asian literature), I wanted to read it. (And, of course, I told the author the usual: no guarantee of a review, let alone a positive review.)

I enjoyed this collection of short stories. They were exactly that; short stories, glimpses into the lives of assorted men and women of different ages; some traditional, some modern, usually just a handful of pages long. Many had a twist or surprise ending. Yes, there were words I didn't know; but it didn't interfere with understanding these stories.

Temple Of Snakes was about an old man ("It had taken him more than sixty years to realize that Sunday afternoons were indeed different from other afternoons,") and the people left behind when others emigrate. Divarkaran has been contacted about a relative from the US who wants to sell the land back in India. While this is about India, it is also universal; when my grandparents visited relatives in Ireland in the 1960s, there was a concern that they had come to claim (and force the sale of) the land. As with all these stories, the Indian point of view is present without ever being obvious. Divarkaran "could see only light, light as far as his eye could see and an endless messy white that was difficult to erase through reason."

A Question Of Morality appears to be about two friends having a philosophical discussion about life and choices. "You know, Kunju, there are many alternatives one would have had in his youth. Each one of those discarded choices comes back to you later as regrets. The more you excel in something, the more you are killing another part of you. You can't escape that." But, like many of these stories, there is a twist at the end that reminds me of both O Henry and Saki, and demanded an immediate reread of the story.

Drizzle of Yesteryears is about returning to the family home from America; getting in touch with all those back in India, those who are known and known via family stories. Again, what struck me is a story both unique and universal. Who hasn't been in exile? Or returned to a home that is familiar only thru story? Or not familiar even when it should be?

Rebirth's main character is worried about money and business when he is reminded of who he used to be and how he used to paint. He starts painting again: "He will paint again till art heals, shattering his shell of pretensions."

Spam Again: All these stories are set in the present, but they are set in different areas and different types of people. Here, it's a very modern man who gets what appears to be just another spam email over the Internet. But is it something more? "Loneliness occurs only why you expect to belong."

A Flight To Norway almost enters Twilight Zone territory, as the narrator wonders, where is Indran going? And why?

There are universal themes and messages in these stories; about connections, community, and what makes something "home." But, at the same time, the setting was distinct and clear, a peak into a way of life in India. I haven't read any South Asian literature, let alone short stories, so I cannot say how this story collection is in comparison to existing books and stories. I can say, that for someone not in India, who knows little about that country, this collection is a great glimpse into another country.

In addition to recommending this book to anyone who likes short stories, especially ones with a twist; or anyone interested in Indian literature; I'd also recommend it for High Schools and Universities who are looking to expand the types of stories they are looking at in class.

Buffy Quote of the Week

Maggie Walsh: So, the Slayer.
Buffy: Yeah, that's me.
Maggie Walsh: We thought you were a myth.
Buffy: Well, you were myth-taken.
Ep: A New Man

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cynthia Leitich Smith is at NCTE

Cynthia Leitich Smith is at NCTE (the Annual Convention for the National Council of Teachers of English.) Here's her report. It's like the nicer, kinder, kidlit version of the PrivacyWatch.

Raise your hand if you wish you were there.

Well, start saving your pennies; next year (November 15 to 20) it's in NYC. Proposals are due January (this is a pdf file).

Edited to add: Chicken Spaghetti has a round up of all the bloggers who went to NCTE and their reports.

Cool Covers and Downloads?

DL Garfinkle has posted the covers for her 2007 books. What really caught my eye? Look at the covers for The Band books: there's a free iTunes download! I love it!

Peeps

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

The Plot: A modern look at vampires; Cal is affected, but as a carrier without any of the symptoms. Which meant he has infected others. And those infected ones are not as lucky as he is; meaning that they change, they hunt, they kill. And it's up to Cal to find them; and stop them. And he also wants to find the woman who infected him.

The Good: One of the best first lines ever: "After a year of hunting, I finally caught up with Sarah. It turned out she'd been hiding in New Jersey, which broke my heart. I mean, Hoboken? Sarah was always head-over-heels in love with Manhattan. . . . No wonder she'd had to leave when the disease took hold of her mind. Peeps always run from the things they used to love."

What's great is that this could be about anything; about any lost love. It just happens to be a lost love infected with a disease that "took hold of her mind"; and yeah, Cal just happens to be the person who gave her that disease. How is that disease passed along? In saliva.

The book begins with Cal finding Sarah, then flashes back to what happened with Cal and with Sarah. It reminded me of the opening scene of Salem's Lot, when Ben finds Susan, and I think it's a deliberate nod to one of the best vampire books, ever.

Westerfeld's take on vampires and vampirism is that it's about parasites; and to prove his point the book contains a lot of real science about parasites. Let me just say: gross, gross, gross. Yet also very fascinating. After reading this book, I almost wanted to move into a bubble... but then came the part in the book about how escaping parasites can also kill you.

In Peeps vampirism, the parasite side effects include the "anathema effect," in that the vampire now despises what it once loved. How cruel is that? And what a great explanation for why crosses repelled vampires.

Scariest vampire quote in the book: "So pretty I just had to eat him."

But before you think this is all horror and gore, it also brings the funny. Cal, meeting a pretty girl that he knows he can never, ever kiss, no matter how much he likes her: "I tried to smile back at her, realizing that my small talk muscles were incredibly rusty, the result of socializing only with people in a secret organization who pretty much only socialized with each other."

An example of the throwaway bits of science that makes you go "ick": "Old cities carry the parasite in their bones, the way chicken pox can live in your spinal column for decades, ready to pop out as horrible blisters in old age."

Along with the science, this is also an old fashioned mystery, as Cal learns more about the parasite; as well as learns more about the people who have sworn to fight it.

Oh, and best. ending. ever.

My final word: Rats. Oh, the rats. Between this and Kiki Strike, maybe I don't want to live in NYC after all.

Links: yes a picture of ME with Scott & his wife Justine Larbalestier. The slayground/ bildungsroman interview with Scott & Justine (yeah, as if I'm on a first name basis. which I'm not.)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A String Of Bright Lights

A String of Bright Lights: Great Blogs about Children's and Young Adult Literature by Pooja Makhijani is available at Paper Tigers. Pooja doesn't just list some great blogs; she also reveals the hardest thing about a blog: finding a name.

In full disclosure, I must say that Pooja calls Tea Cozy a "must read".

By happy coincidence, Pooja was recently at my place of work, giving a presentation called MORE THAN MONKEYS, MAHARAJAHS AND MANGOES: An Overview of South Asian Literature for Kids. (Yes, MPOW provides this type of inhouse workshop all the time; how cool is that?) It was very informative; contained the type of information that I'm ashamed to say I didn't know about the South Asian immigrant experience in the US; and left me scribbling tons of titles to take out of the library. If you have the chance to go to one of her presentations, go!

Teens and Kids

A bit of self-promotion here.

I have an article in Reflections, the Newsletter of the Children's Services Section for NJLA. Elsworth Rockefeller and I wrote "Teens and Kids: Perfect Together! Joint Teen/Kid Summer Programming". It's in the current (November 2006) edition. It's available here. (This is a PDF of the current issue; and is only available online until the next (spring) edition is printed.)

Cross posted at Pop.

Jingle Dancer

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

The Plot: Jenna (a modern girl of Muscogee (Creek) and Ojibway (Chippewa/Anishinabe) descent) wishes she could be a jingle dancer like her grandmother. She studies a video of her grandmother dancing; and then, to get the jingles needed for her dress, visits various friends and relatives, asking for a few jingles. She borrows just a few from each, so that their own dresses remain able to jingle; and by borrowing from many, is able to make her own dress.

The Good: Jingle Dancer works on many levels. As mentioned below, it shows a modern Native child; it also shows traditions, such as a powwow and jingle dancing, balanced with modern ways (a cousin is a lawyer, the video of grandmother.) It's a mirror for people of the culture; and a window for people outside the culture. Meaning, a Native child sees him or herself in the text, which is valuable; while a child who isn't Native learns about another way, another tradition, another culture in a way that is fun, and is also valuable.

This is also about sharing; because the only way Jenna can achieve her objective is to go and ask others to share their jingles. It's not about taking, because Jenna only takes a little, less than what she needs -- but that's because she's going to several people, not just one. And she leaves behind enough jingles that the ones who give don't suffer for it by doing without.

The Puppet Show: The puppet show went very well! In terms of the kids who were doing the puppet show, they said that it was one of the easier ones that they had done in a while. (We had three kids, but no more than 2 puppets appearing onstage at any time.)

The audience loved it; by the time Jenna was up dancing at the end, there was one little boy in the front with the biggest smile on his face. Thanks to Cynthia, we also had signed bookmarks for everyone who attended, and an autographed book (Indian Shoes). The little girl who won the raffle for the book was very excited.

Blogger has been acting up, in that I cannot post pictures. I can direct you to my flickr account, where I've put the photos. Should Blogger change its mind and allow me to post photos once again, I'll add some.

The Origins of the Puppet Show:

As I mentioned earlier, Debbie Reese made the suggestion of using Jingle Dancer as a play.

Before you think that Debbie and I hang out every morning having coffee discussing picture books and the like (which would be cool), what happened was this. At MPOW, the teens put on a puppet show. They write the script, design puppets and props, and put on a show. Sources for the shows include picture books, chapter books, short stories, just about anything. We wanted to do something for National American Indian Heritage Month.

Thanks to the Oyate website, the book Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children,* Debbie's postings at Child Lit and her own blog, American Indians in Children's Literature, as well as other places that I don't recall, I knew enough to know that there can be problems with how Native stories were collected and retold and are currently told; and I knew that sometimes the best intentions go wrong when not researched both well and with respect.

And, not being up to the level of research to find a picture book that could work for a play and then do the needed research, I reached out to the expert and emailed Debbie to get her input. She recommended two books, Jingle Dancer and Cheryl Savageau's Muskrat Will Be Swimming.

The teens read both and selected Jingle Dancer. What both books shared is that they are about modern Native children. Why is this important? Because it shows children (and adults!) that Native people aren't a people who lived a long time ago and are now gone, a story from the past; they are people who are here, today; and both include Native culture. In Jingle Dancer, Jenna wishes to be a jingle dancer at the upcoming powwow and finds a way to make that wish a reality; in Muskrat Will Be Swimming, Jeannie is teased by others, then finds strength in her heritage when her grandfather tells her about his own childhood and shares a traditional story.

The mother of one of the teens assists by sewing the final creations. She is also doing a project with a local Girl Scout troop that includes puppets. So the puppet show is now being used with that troop. When it gets back to the library, it will also be available for the other branches in my system to use.

* Please note that Through Indian Eyes was published in 1998; a follow up was published in 2005, A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. Both are must-reads for people working with children.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

The Plot: It's 1935, and Moose, 12, has just moved with his family. But this isn't another new kid in town book, because Moose's new town is Alcatraz. That's right; the family has moved to the Island that houses the infamous prison. Moose's father is a prison guard; and it's prison policy that guards (and other employees), along with their families, live on the Island. Why move your family to a prison with murderers and criminals like Al Capone? It's the Depression; so it's not a bad job at all. Plus, there's Moose's sister Natalie. Something is wrong with Natalie, and it's the last hope of Moose's desperate mother that a school in nearby San Francisco will do something magical to make Natalie well.

The Good: It's true; families really did live on Alcatraz Island.

Natalie has what would today be diagnosed as autism; in the 1930s, Moose's mother had to deal with being told it was all her fault for not being a good mother, as well as everyone advising that it would be best to hospitalize Natalie. While this is set 70 years ago, the impact and burden of a situation like this on the "normal" child is shown very well; Moose has extra responsibility because he's "normal," often cannot engage in typical activities because he has to care for and be sensitive to Natalie's needs, and feels guilty for feeling angry at Natalie. The stress is on the whole family as well, who have uprooted themselves in an attempt to find a "cure" for Natalie.

The book is set in 1935; Moose is 12. It's one of my weird quirks when I read historical fiction to wonder what happens to kids when they grow up. Moose would be old enough to serve in (and die in) World War II.

Once on Alcatraz, Moose becomes friendly with the other kids. The warden's daughter, Piper, is in his grade; she's a mix of a mean girl and a schemer. She bullies the other kids into devising a laundry scheme. See, the prisoners do the laundry for the families that live on the island. So Piper gathers the laundry of her classmates -- all the kids take a boat to a regular school off-island with non Alcatraz kids -- and promises them that Al Capone will do their shirts. For a slight fee, of course. Piper isn't just regular-mean, because if the other kids don't listen to her, she may use her influence with her father, the warden, to get the other kids' fathers fired. Despite this, I liked Piper.

I have to admit, while I liked this book I did end it with some questions. For example, it's a bit hard to reconcile the Al Capone in the book with the brutal real Capone. Yes, the author is clear that he's a criminal; but he's also an almost mythical creature to Moose and the others, and at a key point Capone performs a kindness.

Why Al Capone? Why 1935? Why the prison? Part of the answer is easy; Moose's family lives in its own prison; and Natalie's brain keeps her prisoner, also. Plus, the struggle of the family is intensified by having them so alone, without the schools, doctors, and other support systems that a present day family would have. But still -- why Al Capone? I mean, I know who he is; but will kids?

Regardless of that musing, this is a great book. Moose is an awesome kid, struggling to do the right thing for himself, his parents, and his sister. I love the way it shows not only how Moose both loves and resents Natalie; but also how Natalie herself is shown as whole person.

Finally, there is a great note at the end where Choldenko discusses the historical parts of her book and mentions her sister, Gina Johnson, who had autism.

Links: Podcast from Weekend America; California Readers Interview.

76

What the heck, let's see what I end up with.

Mark the selections you have read in bold. If you liked it, add a star (*) in front of the title, if you didn't, give it a minus (-). Then, put the total number of books you've read in the subject line.

*Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
*The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
* Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

*The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
*Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
*Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch (in my defense: I like it because I think it's creepy).
*The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (liked it but hated the ending)
* The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
*The Mitten by Jan Brett
*Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
*Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
* The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (why is this down in 2 places?)
* Where the Sidewalk Ends: the Poems and Drawing of Shel Silverstein by Shel Silverstein
*Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
*Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
*Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss
*Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola
*Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

*Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin, Jr.
-Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
*The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
*A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
* How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
*The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
* Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by John Archambault
*Little House on the Prarie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

*The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
*The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
*Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
-Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
*Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
The BFG by Roald Dahl
*The Giver by Lois Lowry
*If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
*Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
*The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
*The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
*Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
*Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O'Brien
*Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
*The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
*The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
*Corduroy by Don Freeman
*Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
*Math Curse by Jon Scieszka
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
*Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
*Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White
*Are You My Mother? by Philip D. Eastman
*The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
(tho its a bit unfair to lump all these together cause frankly I never did care for the Horse one.)
*Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
*One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
*The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The Napping House by Audrey Wood
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
*The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
*Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
*The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
*Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
*Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss
Basil of Baker Street, by Eve Titus
*The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
The Cay by Theodore Taylor (don't remember ever reading it but loved the film)
*Curious George by Hans Augusto Rey
Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
*Arthur series by Marc Tolon Brown (again with the lumping of a series? I like the first few I've read.)
*The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
*Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
*Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
(why the double, er, triple dipping?)
*The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
*The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
Sideways Storiesfrom Wayside School by Louis Sachar
*Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
*Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

* A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater
My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
*Stuart Little by E. B. White
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
*The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
* The Art Lesson by Tomie De Paola

*Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
*Clifford, the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell
*Heidi by Johanna Spyri

*Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
*The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
* Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch

Poetry Friday

I went looking for something Thanksgiving related, and came across this at the Library of Congress:

Thanksgiving by Mrs. L.A. Sherman

Well I wonder what is up now,
My schoolmates with faces so bright,
I am going to find out somehow,
Or to bed I'll not go this night.
I was wondering today what [a's?] about,
But to ask questions I'm not allowed,
Till she told me to run out,
I thought I was making to large a crowd.
Oh I know now what's going on,
Tis' the great Thanksgiving day,
But I'll tell if ice was on the pond,
I would make it one of play.

The rest of the poem is here (scroll down).



Round Up:

Don't forget to nominate your favorite 2006 poetry book over at the Cybils.

Chicken Spaghetti has a great round up of posts. So please, head over there for this week's round up!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Who Is Melvin Bubble?

Who Is Melvin Bubble? by Nick Bruel.

The Plot: Who is Melvin Bubble? If you want plot-driven picture books, this is not for you. Jimmy asks the author to write a book about his friend, Melvin Bubble; and here, the assorted people in Melvin's life answer the question: Who Is Melvin Bubble?

The Good: It's fun! This is my first Nick Bruel book, and now I'm putting holds on his other titles.

The author gets testimonials from a number of people: Mom, Dad, best friend Jimmy, even Santa Claus and the Three Eyed Monster Living In The Closet. The artwork is awesome, with the type of little details I adore. When Santa mentions the toys he has brought Melvin, check the other pages and you'll see those toys in Melvin's bedroom and other places.

Some of the jokes are for adults: the Three Eyed Monster is reading a book called To Serve Melvin.

The different (sometimes at odds) portraits end up introducing us to one boy, Melvin. I look forward to using this as a read-aloud.

Links: BookPage Interview.

Buffy Quote of the Week

Buffy: "Slaying entails certain sacrifices blah blah blah bity blah I'm so stuffy give me a scone."
Giles: "It's like you know me."
Ep: Inca Mummy Girl

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Monday, November 13, 2006

iPod Question

Actually, an adapter question. So I have one of those adapters, that goes into the cigarette lighter of the car? So the iPod battery doesn't drain and also so it recharges?

Apparently, the tip broke off (so it's broken) but here's the kicker...it broke off inside the cigarette lighter.

Other than taking it to the dealer, any suggestions?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Olivia Forms A Band

Olivia Forms A Band by Ian Falconer.

Am I the only one who jumps for joy when there's a new Olivia book?

The Plot: Olivia wants to form a band. It's Olivia; so she does so in her own unique way.

The Good: I love characters like Olivia and Babymouse, and they remind me of my niece, Queen Lucy. I especially love how they work in a picture format, so we can see the world the way they see it, yet also see the world as others see it.

Olivia, getting dressed:
Olivia couldn't find her other red sock.
"What's the matter?" asked her mother.
"I can't find my other red sock," said Olivia.
"What are those all over the floor?"
"They don't go with this one."
And of course, the floor is covered with identical looking red socks.

Olivia's great idea: "I know! We'll start a band!" And the picture shows her family staring at her: the cat and baby try to run away while Mom, Dad and little brother get busy with their own stuff, desperately trying to avoid eye contact. You don't need words to know they're thinking, uh oh...

Poor Mom; and wow to Olivia, with her unmistakable belief in herself. And I love how she throws herself into a goal. And abandons it once she's achieved her goal.

I also like how this is at it's heart a simple story: A family goes to see fireworks, and it's fun because the family is together and it's fun because of Olivia's imagination and belief in herself. This is a girl who not only makes her own fun; she makes her own dreams come true.

Links: Interview with Ian Falconer; All About Olivia from the Connecticut Post; meet the writers at B&N.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Disney Cuties Project Bedroom

Project: Bedroom (Disney Cuties) by Apple Jordan. Random House.

This book includes "window clings, wall stencils, with other decorating goodies!" which explains that it was quickly out the door with Queen Lucy.

It's a pretty typical bedroom decorating book, aimed at children ages six and up. It's short, with things like the "cuties quiz" to help create a "room that screams YOU." After deciding whether I prefer (a) animal patterns or (b) fluffy stuffed animals or (c) saving animals, I found out I am a b, and "like the finer things in life" with decorating scheme that advises, "you need a space where you and your friends can hang out after a hard time shopping. Don't forget under the bed boxes as well as extra storage areas for all your clothes and accessories."

While I was a little leery of the Disney Cuties and the "shopping" bit (even tho it's true). As someone who shared rooms with a sister for years, often in rentals where we couldn't paint, I was on the lookout for what this would say and wouldn't say. Most of the redecorating tips were real and did not require expensive purchases or extensive room changes. For example, Speedy Room ReDo number 1 was to use throw pillows; another part suggests using calendars and magazines as sources for pictures; and it also talks about free things like moving furniture. This is what it says it is: a short, simple, easy to read book about decorating that puts ownership in how a kids room looks in the hands of a kid, without spending bundles. Which, actually, makes everyone happy! Otherwise, that Holly Hobbie quilt that looks cool when you're nine is embarrassing you when you're fourteen.

Yes, there are stencils included in this, but the instructions are clear to get a parents OK before painting.

Admittedly, I haven't done any nonfiction comparison in this area; so while I know there are tons of stuff aimed at parents doing kids rooms, I'm not so familiar with those books aimed at the kids who have to live in those rooms. (Why do I keep picturing Clarissa's room as I think of kids taking decorating into their own hands?)

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