Monday, November 30, 2009

Gift Giving Idea Round Up

So many people are organized about upcoming gift giving ideas!

Abby (the) Librarian's Twelve Days of Giving has started.

MotherReader has many inventive, creative ways to give a book plus with her Ways to Give Books series: 105 Ways to Give a Book.

I know there are a couple of other blogs that always do gift giving posts; Colleen at Chasing Ray has a 12 Days of Christmas Book Lists but it hasn't started one yet this year.

My own contribution was posted in November, Giving Books at Holidays. I'll also direct you to my sidebar, where I have listed both my Favorite Books of 2009 (a work in progress as 2009 isn't over yet!) and my Favorite Books from 2007, 2006, and 2005 as possible gift ideas. Why no 2008? Year of the Printz, baby!

Jen Robinson's post on Gift Giving Ideas linked to the Booklights post on books & gift giving.

The First Novels Club posts The FNC Guide to Holiday Shopping.

I'll update this post as I see more bookish gift giving ideas. Please leave suggestions/links in the comments; it's a big blogosphere out there and I don't want to miss anything.

Edited to add:

Additional lists and ideas:

At Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile, Christmas/Winter/Holiday Books; Favorite Children's Book Recommendations: Age 0-12 months; and Favorite Children's Book Recommendations: Age 12-24 months.

For those who like to shop off of lists (all the "best/favorite" lists), Chicken Spaghetti has Best Children's Books of 2009: The Big List of Lists.

Sherry at Semicolon has Giving Books: For the nieces and other girls in your life and Giving Books: Audiobooks Are Books, Too. Keep checking back, because she promises to continue the series throughout the month.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Teensburgh blog has Holiday Giving ideas.

Little Willow has Suggested Sets and the If Then lists (If you or the person you're shopping for like this book, then you/he/she will like this book...) for Elementary School, Middle School, and High School.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What Do You Think?

So, in Kentucky at the Montgomery County High School there is an English teacher named Risha Mullins.

Mullins does amazing things at her high school to encourage reading and literacy. An article reprinted at the Kentucky Education Association website, Moo Moo Book Club in Clover, relates how she started a book club and the grants and fundraising she and her students did. This year, Mullins was part of a presentation at a pre NCTE workshop, on Reading Writing & Teaching the Holocaust. And I've left a lot of things out.

So, an energetic, dedicated professional who is getting positive recognition locally and nationally. Who brings money in, even!

What's a school superintendent to do?

Why, micromanage her classroom, telling her what books she can and cannot use. Book Ruckus Divides Montgomery County (via details most of what Mullins is facing for -- wait for it -- being a good teacher.

Those seeking to keep the books out of the classroom are, in typical fashion, those who don't take no for an answer. As related by David Macinnis Gill in a comment to the article, "Last year, during the first attempt to ban Ms. Mullin's inclusion of YA literature, [Superintendent Dan Freeman] neglected to follow protocol for objections to materials. After he was forced to follow policy, the review UPHELD the use of the books. However, this year, he allowed the same challenge to occur, and although the review board AGAIN UPHELD the use of the books, he personally banned the books, stating not that they were objectionable, but that they weren't adequate for preparing students for college, a statement that is ridiculous on its face."

Yep -- there you have it. When policies and procedures go against what you want to do? Do it anyway. Great lesson to teach the teens, Freeman!

Oh, the usual arguments abound. "It's not banning if its still in the library," which ignores the fact that vocal individuals have taken over what happens in a teacher's classroom. Other parents, students, the review process decisions -- all are ignored. In addition, this argument ignores what a good English teacher can bring to reading a book: a deeper, richer, reading experience, with more thought to why a book works and why it doesn't, and what that book means and doesn't. A teacher can engage the student, can make reading and analysis a thing that is both enjoyable and educational. A teacher can -- wait for it -- teach. And instead of that happening, a small number of loud individuals who have the Superintendent on their side -- can dictate what is, and is not, taught in a classroom. And then say, "oh, it's not banning." You don't like the word "banning"? Fine. Give me the word that you do want to use. I'll use it. Whether its banning, censorship, or (insert word here), IT'S WRONG.

The Superintendent insists that the teachers "prove" to him why they are using these books: "But so far I haven't heard a word from anybody about why we should use these books." Now, this runs counter to the article itself and Chris Crutcher being quoted as writing to Freeman, "Almost any reading teacher or English teacher will tell you that the more books you read, and the more conversations you have about how they were written ... it is going to help you in any English class you take in college," Crutcher said. "It's silly to think that only Shakespeare and Wuthering Heights are going to be helpful in college."

I'm sure Freeman and his supporters think he is being so clever. But frankly, do we really want to get into having to prove why something is or isn't taught in high school? No -- this is a straw argument being used to target this teacher, and this collection. It's certainly not a standard that every other teacher has had to meet.

Meanwhile? Mullins doesn't have tenure.


Which makes her that much braver -- to be doing this without any safety net.


Laurie Halse Anderson's report on NCTE and Risha Mullins. And on how during Book Banning Week, the teachers in this county were told they couldn't wear Banned Book Week T-shirts. And more on how despite the challenge committee voting to return the books to the classroom, they weren't.

Column: Seeing Book Duels From Both Sides Before you jump to conclusions about this being an issue of religion or liberalism, etc. read this. While the author "sees both sides," he also shares that "The irony is, [Mullin]'s a graduate of a Christian college, a Pentecostal who writes and sings gospel music, a conservative who voted for John McCain because she supports the right to bear arms. She's got more in common with Sarah Palin than with Lil' Kim."

Chris Crutcher: His homepage has his letter to Freeman and links to those who have stepped up in support of the teacher and books

Fred Klonsky picks up on the tenure issue. Flawed as tenure is, something is needed in schools for when situations like this arise. Or when the "new kid" who has only lived in town five years gets on the football team, school play, Honor Society and the parents "who have lived her for generations" make a stink. Or the parents insist their child was never told you couldn't look at another's test paper. Or insert story that anyone who knows a teacher has heard about how some parents attempt to bully schools and teachers for grades, play roles, etc.

Edited to Add: The comments to the article are proving quite interesting; a few authors are weighing in. And, as is clear from the article itself, there is no monolith community saying "we don't want these books," but rather some individuals who have asserted power despite the existing procedures in place which approved the books being used in the classroom. There is a lot of support for the teacher's original position to use the books, parents speaking up on her behalf, community members supporting her, and, of course, the original review process which found in her favor. Because the comments keep getting added to, if you read them yesterday, check it out today!

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tweet, Tweet, Tweet

A cloud of tweets! Who could resist? Not I. My first one, via Tweet Cloud: from a month of tweets with the top three words being "book" "books" and "love":

How does that compare to a year of tweets? Books, book, read. At least I'm consistent!

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Friday, November 27, 2009

Only A Witch Can Fly

Only a Witch Can Fly by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. Feiwel & Friends, 2009. Review copy supplied by publisher. Picture book.

The Plot: A young witch desperately wants to fly.

The Good: This story of learning to fly is written as a sestina. The repartition both lulls the reader and reassures the reader, while cheering on the young witch in her goal: flight. This also makes it a great read aloud; there is something about poetry that just works better when read.

On the surface, this is a story of try, try again, similar to stories of learning how to ride a bike or swim. But, this is flight. Something so much more than just riding or swimming; flying is about growing up and leaving childhood behind, it's about not accepting limitations, and it's about freedom.

Here is the young witch, finally flying, and its words that could cheer and encourage anyone: "Hold tight to your broom
and float past the stars,
and turn to the heavens and soar.
For only a witch can fly past the moon.
Only a witch can fly."

And I read those final words and thought, "and we are all witches."

Let me tell you, that photo of the cover doesn't give the actual cover justice. The moon is a soft, light butter yellow that matches the font of the title and it just makes you go "oooohhhh... I must pick this up. I must touch this cover." The colors throughout the book are warm: black, brown, orange, green. Yoo shares details about her art at an interview with Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. And the young witch has striped stockings. I so, so want those types of stockings but alas, at my age cannot carry off that look.

The Poetry Friday round-up is at Becky's Book Reviews.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gracias Thanks

Gracias / Thanks (English and Spanish Edition) by Pat Mora. Illustrations by John Parra. Lee & Low Books. 2009. Review copy supplied by publisher.

The Plot: A young boy gives thanks for the people and things in his life, starting with "for the sun that wakes me up so I don't sleep for years and years and grow a long, white beard, thanks."

In both English and Spanish: "Por el sol que me despierta y no permite que siga durmiendo por anos y anos, y que me crezca una larga barba blanca, gracias."

The Good: Anyone (boy, girl, adult, child) will identify with what the narrator is thankful for. And, of course, the reader can then add what they are thankful for. The book is both mirror and window; when you see a ladybug, is it window or mirror? When a boy gives gives thanks for his "Abuelita," is it window or mirror?

I loved the illustrations by Parra; they, add to the multicultural aspect of the book, along with the use of Spanish and English. The folk-art story is both appealing and also works for this story; additional details flesh out the story. When the "ladybug that landed on my finger," the narrator has a book on insects, another open to a page on ladybugs, a baseball glove; stylized birds and butterflies fill up the page. The colors are rich and gorgeous; blues, yellows, reds that spring off the page.

I'm posting this on Thanksgiving, because it's a great book to use for giving thanks. But, because there is no mention of holidays here, it's not limited to Thanksgiving and can be used any time.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Turkey Troubles

Turkey Trouble by Wendi Silvano. Illustrated by Lee Harper. Marshall Cavendish Children's Books. 2009. Review copy supplied by publisher.

The Plot: Thanksgiving is coming. Turkey realizes that he is in trouble. What to do? Turkey is a bird of a zillion disguises. First a horse... a cow... a pig. But are any of those farm animals safe? What's a turkey to do?

The Good: Older kids will enjoy Turkey's desperate attempts to avoid his fate, as well as his clever solution.

Harper's illustrations show that Turkey is quite inventive in his costumes. In addition to just being funny, as Turkey hides readers will have fun guessing what Turkey will try to be next.

I do have one small quibble with these types of books; that is, where the main course is shown to be cute and sympathetic. I have images of kids coming home from the library story hour, refusing to eat the turkey dinner. Has anyone ever had that happen? Or are the "I read Charlotte's Web and never ate ham again" kids few and far between?

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In Which I Get A Big Fat F

An F in Stephen Chbosky.

An F, for total failure as both pop culture guru AND as young adult lit expert.

How come none of you told me that Stephen Chbosky, author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is also the Stephen Chbosky who is the creator of the TV series Jericho?

Links to my Jericho posts: Jericho, uh oh its cancelled, but it came back for a final season.

So, guess who was at ALAN (and when I have more time I will totally do a post about the awesomeness of ALAN)?

Stephen Chbosky.

Which is how I found out about Jericho.

And was then a total, embarrassing myself fangirl.

Resulting in my copy of Perks being signed thusly:

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Giving Books at Holidays

In December, 2007 and again in April, 2009 I did some guest blogging at ForeWord Magazine's ShelfSpace Blog. While ForeWord Magazine is going strong, they have discontinued doing that guest blogging. So, I am going to rerun those posts here at Tea Cozy. Any edits to remove confusion about things like dates is in brackets.

Giving Gifts at Holidays

My initial idea for this post was one about what books to give for the holidays. But then I saw Chasing Ray Twelve Days of Christmas Book Lists series and thought, well, I cannot top that. And, The Edge of the Forest (note: TEOTF is no longer available online, sorry!) included my top gift selections in its 'Tis the Season feature, offering up book ideas from the entire editorial board, myself included.

So instead, you get – Liz's tips for giving (and receiving) books!

You're a reader. Or you know a reader. That makes gift-giving easy, right? Just give a book!

But it's not so simple when you're standing in your local bookstore, staring at tables and shelves full of books: paperbacks, hardcovers, classics, new releases, fantasy, romance, non-fiction, coffee table books, pop ups. Or you're at home, in slippers, in front of the computer, looking at your online bookstore, reading reviews and user comments. Either way: it's overwhelming.

What book to give? What is the perfect fit?

Or you're the one holding the present that you can tell, from the shape and weight and feel, is a book. But it's from a relative whose taste is, well, let's just say you're leery of opening that particular package. Or you've eagerly opened the book only to discover it's an etiquette book from your sister-in-law. Huh?

Not the book you wanted. Or needed. And you're actually a bit upset someone thought that book was a fit for you.

Tips for Giving

What will the recipient want? Sounds easy, but all too often, especially with readers, we think not of what book do they want but rather "omg, this is a fabulous book and everyone should read it." Enthusiasm is great, but wouldn't it be better to give your surfer brother a nonfiction book about surfing movies?

Read any good books lately? If you're not quite sure what book to get, ask. "Read any good books lately" will help you find out both what books the reader likes, but also what they have already read. If you're afraid that is a little obvious, ask the person's partner, parents, or children.

Ask a Librarian or Bookseller. Still not sure what to get? And you absolutely positively don't want to just ask the person? Ask your local librarian or bookseller. Call the library or visit the bookstore, describe as much as possible about the person's tastes, and get some suggestions from the experts.

Tips for Receiving a Book.

Don't Buy Anything for Yourself Just Before the Holiday. Give your friends and family a break. Yes, I know, you want the newest book by your favorite author right away; but your friend may have been thrilled to finally be able to get just the right book for you. And, worst case scenario? You can still get it for yourself after the holiday.

Be Obvious About What You Want. When someone asks you, "read a good book lately," realize they are asking for gift suggestions and give them a few. Print out a list from a website, or tear the page out of a magazine or newspaper, and circle the ones you want. People aren't mind readers. Word of warning: don't give everyone the exact same suggestion.

Fake It. You open the package. Maybe you already read it; maybe you wouldn't read the book in a hundred years; maybe you find it a bit of insulting that someone thought you'd be interested in THAT book. Smile, thank them – because you know what? They tried. And picking a book for someone, especially a reader, is hard work. And after you chat to your sister in law, you may find out she thought the etiquette book was hysterically funny and gave it to you as a laugh, or she may have remembered you saying you wish you had something to let you know the right way to handle something for your new business and thought this book would answer your questions.

And, finally, most importantly –

Wait to Start Reading the Book. This is tough one. It's a book you wanted; or a book you didn't even know you wanted but now that you've seen it you cannot wait to start it. So you read the cover, then the jacket, and what's one page, really? Just one chapter…. And if you're not careful, there you are, happily reading, while there are presents to unwrap, friends and family to visit with, games to play, and a holiday meal. The book will keep; enjoy your get together! (And, maybe, sneak a chapter while the dishes are being washed.)

Originally posted in December 2007 at ForeWord Magazine's Shelf Space Blog.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Hanging Gale

The Hanging Gale. 1995 BBC Northern Ireland. DVD 2006, Acorn Media. Via Netflix.

The Plot: 1846, County Donegal, Ireland. The Phelan family struggle against the Irish Famine and the English policies and politics that turned a potato blight into deaths of one million men, women and children.

The Good: OH MY GOODNESS. This miniseries was so, so good; and not just the acting, which was great. When I saw this was made in 1995, I was surprised because it didn't look old. The production, the cinematography, the clothes, the hair -- none of it feels dated (and we've all seen the historical television shows and films that are terribly dated).

How much did I like The Hanging Gale? I went looking for fanfiction. For some of you, that is all that needs to be said.

Two of the Phelan sons are farmers; one a priest; one a teacher. This covers various bases and points of view; and the Phelan brothers are played by four brothers. the McGanns. Who, to be hopelessly shallow for a moment, are all quite good looking.

As things go from bad and worse, the question isn't whether someone will die, but rather when and how. Emigration (forced or voluntary) is also a possibility. Obviously, someone has to survive -- people did. But the Phelans are farmers, those whose lives were entirely dependent on the potato crop. The repercussions of the crop failure and English reaction (and inaction) is played out over four heartbreaking episodes as the Phelans lose the little they have.

One of my pet peeves about American fiction about the Famine is that the book always ends with the family leaving Ireland for the promised land of the United States. So I was very interested in watching a production that was without American involvement and bias. This is a BBC Northern Ireland production, with the acting brothers (Paul, Stephan, Joe and Mark McGann) from Liverpool; Stephan and Joe are the ones who originated the idea, so I went in hoping that this wouldn't end with the "happy ending" of US emigration.

In The Hanging Gale, by the time emigration happens, it is shown as being far from happy, but just a cheaper way than the poorhouse for English landlords to get the empty land they want. Those who left didn't go seeking something better; they were leaving. The ending ... this is not an American miniseries. The ending proves that.

I went in knowing about the Irish Famine; when I began searching via Google for additional information about this miniseries, the most shocking comment to me was people saying they didn't know about the Famine until they watched this miniseries. I also knew that 1847 is considered the worst year of the Famine, so that the bad times at the beginning were only going to get worse.

Want happy? Want feel good? Go elsewhere.

Want a gripping historical drama that manages to convey actual historical information while being historically accurate* and is also, quite simply, a great film with good acting and plotting? Watch this. And wonder why there isn't more out there about the deaths of a million people.

*I am not a historian and do not play one on this blog. My assessment of the accuracy is based solely on my armchair reading; and realizing that some things had to be tinkered with, such as language, etc.

Photo from BBC Northern Ireland.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl / Boy Toy

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl
by Barry Lyga. Houghton Mifflin. 2006. I don't remember where I got this; I think it was a library copy.

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga. Houghton Mifflin 2007. I picked up at either BEA or ALA that year.

This post originally appeared at the online magazine, The Edge of the Forest, in September 2007. So if it seems dated (like Lyga now has more than two books!), that's the reason.

Welcome to Brookdale

Barry Lyga's two young adult books, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl and Boy Toy, are both set in the Maryland town of Brookdale.

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl is about a fifteen year old unnamed narrator and his hellish experience at high school. OK, his real name is mentioned once; but for the most part, he is invisible to the people at his school. He has one friend, Cal, who shares his love of comic books. But the problem is Cal is not a geek; he's a jock. They are strictly "outside of school" friends, because a jock like Cal could never be seen talking to someone like the narrator.

It's just another typical day at school (either being ignored by the world or treated as dirt by jocks) when he notices someone – a girl. Black clothes, pale face, Goth Girl. And: she sees him. He's not so invisible.

And thus the Astonishing! Adventures! Of Fanboy and Goth Girl (aka Kyra) begin. Kyra notices his being bullied and asks him, Why do you put up with it? Next thing you know, the two are friends. Kyra also loves comic books and graphic novels but she is a Gaiman girl (like you had to ask?) while Fanboy is all about Brian Michael Bendis. This book is full of comic book references. Understanding them is fun; but not getting it is OK, too.

Fanboy's problems are obvious: at school he has no friends and is being bullied. At home, it's no better, what with his psycho stepfather, his mother who won't let anyone in the house and is expecting a baby, a father he isn't allowed to see or talk to outside of specific custody dates. Fanboy daydreams about a shooter taking out the school, killing all those who have picked on him and ignored him. He keeps a bullet in his pocket, a talisman; but in his dreams, he's not the shooter. He's someone who helps save the day (once, of course, all those bullies are already dead.)

Fanboy loves comics; something he inherited from his Dad; and he's been making his own. Bendis, his hero, is coming to a local comics convention, and Fanboy knows that if he can just show the graphic novel he is working with to show Bendis, Bendis will love it, it'll get published, and that will be his ticket out of town, away from school, away from family, away from no friends.

The narrator is desperately unhappy and lonely. But, as the story goes on, it's also clear that he's looking at the world through a very narrow perspective. The stepfather, while as unlike the narrator as humanly possible, is not a bad guy. And, as Cal eventually asks him, how can Fanboy say both that he's invisible and ignored AND that he's bullied and hated? You cannot have it both ways.

Most telling on Fanboy's real role at the school is a prank that Fanboy played on a teacher the year before. Basically, he thought the history teacher was stupid, so he made up a historical event as the answer to a question, naming his source as the History Channel. As the teacher voices doubt, Cal speaks up: he saw the show. Backs up Fanboy. And then the rest of the class chimes in, agreeing, supporting Fanboy. If Fanboy was that detested, this would never have happened; but he doesn't realize this. He also doesn't realize that the person who bullies him is not a jock insider, but, rather, a kid no one likes. I adore this changing perspective.

The book isn't tidy. We never learn the reasons why his mother doesn't want his father to pick him up at her house. It's never quite clear whether the stepfather has always been a decent guy, or whether he's a guy who didn't know how to get along with kids so gave Fanboy a hard time because of ignorance. Fanboy doesn't have a movie makeover; he doesn't suddenly know how to make friends, doesn't become the most popular boy. His mother remains wary of anyone outside her family unit. But he does realize that there are possibilities. He realizes that he needs to act as a friend to be a friend, even if it's a risk.

Another beautiful thing about this book is Lyga never overtells. Was Fanboy right about Cal being ashamed of his "geek friend"? Or, did Cal know how much Fanboy hated jocks so assumed Fanboy wouldn't want to hang out with the jocks?

Lyga revisits the town of Brookdale in Boy Toy. Fanboy, as you may recall, couldn't stand the jocks. Surprisingly, then, Boy Toy, set a couple years after Fanboy, is all about one of those jocks, Josh Mendel, baseball star.

Josh is a senior. What's on his mind? Baseball is important. So are grades. Between the two, he's hoping for a scholarship to Stanford. Or MIT. Or Yale. Bottom line: he wants out of town. And then there is the news: Eve is back. It's been five years.

Eve is Evelyn Sherman. Mrs. Sherman; Josh's seventh grade History teacher. In seventh grade, Eve and Josh . . . . And now, five years later, Eve is out of prison.

Since Josh was a minor, his name was kept out of the papers. But everyone knows -- he's the kid. Who with the teacher. You know.

Josh has kept to himself. Plays ball. Gets good grades. Gets into a fight or two. Has one friend, his best friend, Zik, who has the good grace to never have asked about her.

But now Eve is back.

Told in flashbacks, this is a detailed and graphic exploration of how a child molester seduces her victim, including convincing the child that he is a willing, knowing, participant in the actions. When, in fact, the child is being molested.

The reader is fully aware of the manipulation and games; knows from the first "hello" who and what Eve is. But Josh does not; and I'll be interested in reading teen reviews to know at what point they realize what it takes Josh the entire book to realize. See, for most of the book Josh views his relationship with Eve as just that; a relationship. He was a seventh grader with a crush; a boy who thought his teacher was hot. And when the teacher liked him back --- Wow. A relationship developed that happened to be illegal but wasn't wrong.

He was in love, he kissed her, he wanted her. It takes Josh a long time to realize that none of that matters: he was molested. What he thought and felt and wanted doesn't change that he was a child; she was an adult; and she manipulated him.

The author's website says this is suggested for ages sixteen and up. And, especially because of the depiction of Eve and Josh, I agree.

This is set in the same town as Fanboy; a few of Josh's friends are the younger siblings of the jocks and popular kids mentioned in Fanboy. Kyra makes a brief appearance. But, for the most part, these are two distinct books that happen to be set in the same time. What they do share are narrators who think they know the score but don't. Narrators who are so wrapped up in their own world and their own pain that they don't see anything beyond their own perspective. Books that don't tell everything, so demand thought from the reader.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Round 'Em Up!

Charlotte of Charlotte's Library is rounding up this week's reviews of Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy Books. If you like reading these books (or know readers who do!) click through for the roundup. If you reviewed a Middle Grade SF/F book, click through and comment to add your title to the roundup.

This is week two of what promises to be a weekly feature. As Charlotte explains, she wants any posts about SF/F for the Middle Grade; so if you had an interview, a rant, musings, well, you know the drill.

I've always thought of Middle Grade as that time period in between early readers and young adult. I guess the old-fashioned label for "tween." Charlotte is my type of blogger, because in her first post she explains that "Middle Grade" is ages 9 to 12. I love a person who understands the importance of defining the terms we use.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pigeon & Pigeonette

Pigeon & Pigeonette by Dirk Derom, illustrated by Sarah Verroken. Enchanted Lion Books. 2009. Official book website. Review copy provided by publisher. Picture book.

The Plot: Pigeonette, small, can see but not fly; Pigeon, large, can fly but cannot see. What will happen when these two become friends?

The Good: Pigeonette's small wings means she is left behind in winter, hopping across the snow. Pigeonette cannot see. Eventually they realize teamwork will save the day, with Pigeonette shouting instructions ("Flap!" "Turn Right!") as Pigeon flies. Pigeon and Pigeonette is a beautifully illustrated story of teamwork between friends, with each using their own strengths.

The illustrator, Verroken, wrote and illustrated Feeling Sad. I love her work. As in Feeling Sad, Verroken uses woodcuts; but with Pigeon and Pigeonette, there is much more color, from the pigeons to the grass, the trees and leaves. The background is awash in colors; greens, blues, reds, browns. Even the endpapers are delightful; the soft background colors, with two sets of footprints, one small, one big.

The publisher's website for this book, Pigeon and Pigeonette, provides not just samples of Verroken's work but also book-related games, coloring pages and such. In terms of "cool fun facts," Derom and Verroken were both born in Belgium and now live in New Zealand.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Encouraging Reading

In December, 2007 and again in April, 2009 I did some guest blogging at ForeWord Magazine's ShelfSpace Blog. While ForeWord Magazine is going strong, they have discontinued doing that guest blogging. So, I am going to rerun those posts here at Tea Cozy. Any edits to remove confusion about things like dates is in brackets.

Encouraging Reading

This past November [2007], the National Endowment of the Arts published a report, To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence. The picture it presents is not pretty. Time spent reading is decreasing, and along with that, reading scores. Decreased reading affects everything from employment to attendance at cultural events to volunteerism. Many people asked questions about the report, its method of gathering data, and its interpretation. People may not be as "not to read" as portrayed.

Whether or not you agree with the data and issues in the report, it raises the obvious question. What can we do to encourage reading? To encourage not just the act of reading, but to encourage a love of reading as well? To those of us who love reading and stories, it seems a no-brainer. Reading is fun, of course people want to do it!

Reading is fun. And I think that should be enough reason to encourage reading, and to praise reading, and to value it when we, and kids, read. Linking reading to increased employment opportunities and civic duty may be necessary to get press attention or involve employers and other organizations, but c'mon; does a ten year old care about that? Should they? No; they shouldn't read "because I will be a better person." They shouldn't read "because then I will make more money." They should read because it's fun.

So, how to make reading fun? Is that even possible, or are some people just readers and others non readers? People are as varied as books; there is no one size fits all approach. That said, here are some of my ideas. Since I am a children's/ teen services librarian, I am, of course, thinking about encouraging kids and teens to read. But seriously? I think these things are true for anyone, regardless of age. And when I say "your kids," they could be your own children, the children in your classroom, other family members.

Value Reading. We often hear about valuing books; but what about the act of reading? When the house is dusty, the yard needs mowing, laundry is piling up, where on the list of "things that need to get done" does reading fall? People looking to get into physical shape are told to exercise several times a week and make it a priority. How often do you make reading a priority?

Read yourself. Modeling that reading is fun is the best way to show others that it is fun. Have books in the house. Read books in front of your kids. And discuss books; as people in the kidlitosphere will tell you, half the fun is reading the book. The other half? Talking about the book with someone.

Respect the reading people are already doing. Saying "that genre / series / author stinks, now here is a good book" wins over no-one. But then again, I think the way to win over people is to be nice, not mean. Want to see a kid get excited? Ask them about the book they are reading; ask them, why do you like it; and finally, ask them what books they would recommend to you. Nothing beats an excited kid telling an adult what the adult should read "because it's really, really good."

Read what your kids are reading. Before you start complaining about the time, or not being interested, or having other things to do, think of what you are asking your kids to do. If you want them to, say, read, classics, they're thinking "not interested, no time." So now, you turn around and say the same thing back to them? Not cool. Reading the books your kids are reading gives you a better understanding of what that book is about and what your kid wants from books. It also shows kids that you value their choices and allows you to discuss the books with them.

Discuss books with respect. Respect the book and the reader. Don't talk about books in a "homework" way; talk about books in an "omg, this was so awesome, I have to share it with someone," or "I cannot believe that ending." There is a time and a place for critical examination of books and language and reading; but if your goal is to get people to know reading=fun, now is not the time to tear apart their favorite book, making snarky jokes about the writing. "Oh you like that? Wasn't it done so much better by this other author?" Nope; the goal is not you showing off your book knowledge, but getting someone else excited and engaged about what they read. Discussing books is one reason to read the books your kids choose; it gives you a common experience. You may find some gems amongst the books your kids are reading; or, you may find what they want from a book and have a better idea of what to recommend for further reading.

Alternate formats are good. For some kids, a movie version of Moby Dick watched at nine and a graphic novel of Moby Dick read at eleven is just the right foundation to make that high school required reading fun. (For the record? That was me. Yes, I loved Moby Dick!) Knowing the basic structure and characters helped tremendously, and this is especially true of books written long ago enough to seem to be written in a foreign language. Watch the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice instead of reading the book? No; but watch it for the visual clues about class that a modern reader may miss? Yes.

Covers Matter. Every reader knows that "don't judge a book by a cover" is a lie. Covers matter; so if you are going to invest in books, get ones that look good and appealing. Keep in mind, for some kids, the appeal is a dusty old volume dug up from the attic.

Keep it fun. We're not talking about homework or something someone "has" to do. Turn any of this into "have to" or punishment and you've lost the battle. Making every Tuesday night "the night we discuss books" can end up with everyone (you included) dreading Tuesday nights.

I don't think there is any "magic bullet". A reader may be born at age three, or thirteen, or thirty. That "one book" that provides the "click" moment of reading=fun could come anywhere, at any time. Be ready for it!

This was originally posted in December 2007 at the ForeWord Magazine's ShelfSpace blog.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Doing Write-Ups, So I Don't Have To

So how was that Children's Literary Cafe at New York Public Library on Saturday, November 7?

As someone sitting in the front of the room, it was terrific! It doesn't get any better than talking about something you feel passionate about: books, blogging, community. We only had an hour; and while we covered a lot of things, an hour is like a blink of the eye.

The photos were taken by Melanie Hope Greenberg and I copied them from Betsy at Fuse #8. Left to right, we are Betsy aka Fuse #8; Susan aka Chicken Spaghetti; me; Anne Boles Levy aka Cybils organizer; and Pam aka MotherReader.

The other panelists have written about the day: Fuse #8; MotherReader; and Anne Boles Levy.

Bookish Blather shares her experience as a member of the audience (and of course, based on her description, I'm trying to figure out who she was!)

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children

The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children: A Novel by Keith McGowan; illustrated by Yoko Tanaka. Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. 2009. Brilliance Audio, 2009. Narrated by Laural Merlington. Review copy supplied by Brilliance Audio.

The Plot: A modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Sol and Connie Blink's father and stepmother have decided they don't want their children around anymore; luckily, there's a witch who will take care of the children for them.

The Good: "I love children. Eating them, that is." So begins the tale of Faye Holaderry, witch.

Hansel and Gretel is one of the more disturbing of the Grimm's Fairy Tales. What's worse, the witch eating children or the ultimate betrayal, that it's your parents who abandon you?

McGowan takes these two horrors, embraces them, and balances scary with funny. In his tale, it's not just a parent abandoning a child in a time of famine; oh no, it's much worse. It's parents who willingly turn their children over to the witch for every reason from bad grades to being kind to homeless people. Derek Wisse, turned over for disappointing his parents, doesn't disappoint Fay; not when "baked with secret ingredients and served with my very yummy homemade key lime pie." Mmmm, key lime pie. I love how the author uses humor, but also ups the horror by giving the nameless murdered children names, personalities, histories. Recipes.

As in the fairy tale, Mrs. Blink is a stepmother; McGowan plays with some of the fairy tale aspects, making Mr. Blink not who he seems. Various standards from fairy tales are used, twisted, reinvented, such as riddles, helpers, hunters.

Sol is 11; Connie, 8. Sol fashions himself as a scientist and inventor, like his mother, who died years before. Sol's scientific mind is a nice contrast against the magic of Holaderry. Holaderry has had to adjust to modern times (no house made out of candy or bread); but she is a witch who has lived centuries. Magic remains, even if its the magic of herbs, of hiding in plain sight. Sol and Connie find people who help them along; people who hinder; but ultimately, they need to rely on themselves and each other.

I love, love, love the ending. It's delicious. Your young horror fans will be thrilled. Grownups may worry about The Witch's Guide being too scary for kids (witches eating children! bad parents!) but kids will eat it up. Professional reviews vary as to whether this is for 9, 10, or 11 and up; I say, it depends on how much the reader likes scary stories. For someone like my niece, who loves Goosebumps and scary stories and Jurassic Park? Age 9. For other kids, it will be older.

I listened to this on audio, and the narrator realistically gave voice to a boy, a girl, a witch. Upon visiting the author's website, I realized I did miss out on some spectacular, haunting illustrations by Yoko Tanaka (and I was really tempted to say to hell with copyright and copy and paste one to this post. But I didn't.)

There is a lot of bonus humor for the adult reader. Holaderry has a dog named J. Swift. McGowan takes a playful swing at the current "perfect helpful librarian" trope. The Witch's Guide is full of risks. It's not just the jokes for the grownups, the eating children, the satire of parenting where it's better to get rid of the child than to parent; but also in giving Sol and Connie depth of character. Sol, an inventor, wants, needs, craves respect and love and success; Connie clamors for attention, acts without thinking. McGowan's real risk is that he doesn't answer all the questions; he leaves things open; despite the humor, despite the supernatural, he makes this real because no one's life is tidily wrapped up with a bow. Questions always remain.

What else? Easily a favorite book read in 2009.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, November 16, 2009

2009 Winter Blog Blast Tour; thanks, Colleen!

You know you're too busy when you have to say "no" to things you really, really want to do.

Colleen at Chasing Ray has put up the schedule for the 2009 Winter Blog Blast Tour; and this time around, I'm not participating.

What is a blog blast tour, you may ask? Quite simple; over one short week, there are a ton of different author interviews at different blogs.

Who sets it up? The blogs; the bloggers decide who they want to interview and cross fingers that the people they ask want to participate. It's all voluntary and independent; but the people involved strive to have a good mix of authors, of various genres, etc. It's not about a publisher or author promoting a specific title; though goodness knows, new titles will be discussed.

Colleen is the main organizer and cat-herder, in terms of scheduling times, posting schedules, and posting round-ups. As the week goes on, each day she not only posts that day's schedule, but she also pulls a great quote from each interview. Half the fun is seeing which quote Colleen will choose.

Colleen has been organizing this since 2007; in Why I Organized the Summer Blog Blast Tour: Third in a Series on Reviewing, posted June 2007, Colleen explains the origin of the Tours.

As I reread Colleen's original manifesto, I think, Wow, was it only just two years ago we were being called maggots and cat people? That we were defending our experience and right to write reviews? Can you believe that in 2009 we are still defending ourselves?

In 2007, Colleen wrote about the "significant contribution that the kidlitosphere makes to the national literary conversation." It's still something we find ourselves defending, sometimes from interesting and unexpected accusations and sources. And it's why these blog tours will continue, because what Colleen said in 2007 is still true today: with the blog blast tours "we can show just one way that the blogosphere can accomplish a great and worthy task with relative ease, and get the word out on a lot of excellent writers in the process." It's about the books; it's about what bloggers can accomplish.

And I'd forgotten the earlier conversation in April 2007, when Colleen responded to the charges that bloggers could be bought with a cupcake, in You Can't Buy Me Love. Where Colleen notes what is the most important thing to her, and, dare I say, to most people: the readers and the books.

Interested in reading more about these blog blast tours? Colleen has tagged most of them either SBBT (Summer Blog Blast Tour) or WBBT (Winter Blog Blast Tour), so its under those two tags, SBBT/WBBT, at Chasing Ray.

Here is the week's schedule:


Jim Ottaviani at Chasing Ray
Courtney Sheinmel at Bildungsroman
Derek Landy at Finding Wonderland
Mary E. Pearson at Miss Erin
Megan Whalen Turner at Hip Writer Mama
Frances Hardinge at Fuse Number 8


Ann Marie Fleming at Chasing Ray
Laurie Faria Stolarz at Bildungsroman
Patrick Carman at Miss Erin
Jacqueline Kelly at Hip Writer Mama
Dan Santat at Fuse Number 8
Nova Ren Suma at Shelf Elf


Sy Montgomery Pt 1 at Chasing Ray
Jacqui Robbins at Bildungsroman
Sarwat Chadda at Finding Wonderland
Cynthia Leitich Smith at Hip Writer Mama
Beth Kephart at Shelf Elf


Sy Montgomery Pt 2 at Chasing Ray
Laini Taylor at Shelf Elf
Jim DiBartolo at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Amanda Marrone at Writing & Ruminating
Thomas Randall at Bildungsroman
Michael Hague at Fuse Number 8


Lisa Schroeder at Writing & Ruminating
Alan DeNiro at Shaken & Stirred
Joan Holub at Bildungsroman
Pam Bachorz at Mother Reader
Sheba Karim at Finding Wonderland
Robin LaFevers at Hip Writer Mama

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Warning: Christian Fiction Ahead!

My Friend Amy's Faith 'n' Fiction Saturday asks, "Do you 'warn' people about Christian Fiction?" I've read her post and the comments and it got me thinking. (Obviously, or I wouldn't be posting!)

My various thoughts, in no particular order.

"Christian Fiction" means, to me, fiction by Christian publishing houses, rather than fiction that happens to include characters (or themes or plots) who are Christian.

As a Catholic, my back gets up at the idea that I'm not Christian. Yet, because "Christian Fiction" often means Protestant Fiction (and sometimes Evangelical Protestant Fiction), I am indeed "not a Christian." (I believe that Mormons encounter the same issue).

I've read, and enjoyed, fiction published by religious publishers, including Christian and Jewish Fiction. A good book is a good book is a good book; and I like reading books that are "windows" into worlds outside my own.

As a reader, I want to know ahead of time if the book is actually a tool for conversion. There are enough good Christian Fiction books that don't ask whether Jesus is my personal saviour, that I can self-select out of reading those books. In all honesty, if the point of the book is not telling a good story but changing the reader, chances are it isn't that great a book because it let the message trump the storytelling. But, on the other hand, a good review could point that out, but review the book in such a way that I want to read it anyway.

I want to be told if the book includes anything that is anti-Catholic. Though I cannot imagine anyone, knowing my religion, would seriously recommend such a book to me. But for a blog post? I guess if a book was that offensive to me (i.e., the usual, we worship the Devil, Catholics: they're doing it wrong, it doesn't take much expertise with Google to find the sites because I refuse to link to them), and I read it, and went back and saw that the original blog didn't talk about it or downplayed it, I would assume it's because the blogger agreed with that. And I'd know not to trust those reviews for me because our world view is different. This is different than a character being anti-Catholic, which happens in books (and real life). So, again, this wouldn't be a total book-killer; it would depend on the book.

The use of a different Bible for quotations doesn't bother me, so I don't need that pointed out in a review. It's often in the front of the book, so I'll know from the start which Bible is being used.

As a librarian, I like when library catalogs clearly indicate the publisher and accurately use cataloging to indicate the difference between a book that is about Christians or Christianity versus a book that is Christian Fiction. Because if a person wants a book that is indeed Christian Fiction, they should be able to get that instead of a book where the person starts out as Christian and the point of the story is the realization that religion is wrong and bad.

One big problem, though, is that sometimes people read for different things and we have to be a bit understanding about that! A quick reference that I pick up as anti-Catholic may not even be noticed by someone else; just as I may not notice something about a book but another reader may.

And at the end of the day --- a good book is a good book is a good book. And I want to know about good books!

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

What's On Your List?

When I was at Internet Librarian 2009, one of the fascinating presentations was about evaluating websites and blogs.

In a nutshell, here's what you do.

First, create a list of all the blogs you're going to analyze. Which, in itself, is HUGE, right? One would have to look at all the different directories, click through blog rolls and links, etc.

Second, create the list of factors you're going to evaluate.

Third, evaluate each blog based on those factors.

Fourth, crunch the numbers.

Fifth, presto! You have a scientific study of the "best" blogs.

I'll add a sixth: now call yourself a consultant and sell this expertise to people like publishers. The presenters noted that their clients subscribe to this type of service and get quarterly updates. I'm not quite sure what the price would be; enough to pay you for what is a lot of time, especially at the beginning. But quarterly updates should also include new blogs; remove dead blogs; and always keep on eye on those factors. What gets added, removed, change in importance.

I'm enough of a nerd (or is it a geek?) that this type of thing fascinates me. I especially love how it shows there is no quick and easy answer to the question, "how do you judge a blog?" Rather, it takes a look at both quantitative and qualitative factors. Also, it removes the potential for bias based on friendships.

So it got me thinking. What should be on the list of factors to evaluate book blogs? These are in no particular order; but I imagine, done correctly, some factors should carry more weight than others.

Statistics, including unique visits, returning visitors, length of visit.

Comments, including quantity, quality, reason.

Subscribers via RSS.

Subscribers via email.

Age of blog.

Amount of posts per week.

Links into blog.

Links out of blog.

Technorati rating.

Content of blog posts (what is being blogged about, as well as quality)

Quality of blog posts (multiple points here: accuracy, originality, grammar, spelling).

Authority (who is the blogger, as well as recognition of blog).

What else would you add to the list? Or leave off? And what gets more "weight" than something else? To me, content is very important, so the content would somehow carry more weight than something like age of the blog.

I have only had one cup of coffee, so I know I'm omitting some important factors.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Friday, November 13, 2009

Assassination of a High School President

Assassination of a High School President. Sony Pictures. 2009. DVD, via Netflix. Rated R.

The Plot: Bobby Funke, sophomore, journalist for his High School paper. An assignment to profile the school president becomes something more when the SATs are stolen. Don't worry; Funke is on it!

The Good: A black comedy; Funke narrates this as if he is a New York Times reporter, tracking the big story. Pretty much everyone is a target. If you're looking for who is "good" or who is "bad", who is "right" or who is "wrong," look elsewhere.

While not as sophisticated and dark as Brick or Election, it's still an entertaining and occasionally insightful look at high school as representing all the worst of real life. (Seriously, when people say something is like high school, is it ever in a good way?)

Funke tells the story as if he were narrating a film about a major newspaper investigation; actually, more as if he was narrating a 1950's film about a major newspaper investigation. Reece Thompson, the actor playing Funke, gives a great performance; he always plays it straight, taking this seriously so the viewer does also.

Unfortunately, the big mystery (who stole the SATs) is pretty obvious to at least this viewer, even though the why was fuzzy until the end. Still, it was good to see the investigative process Funke followed as he got to the point of knowledge, and, dare I say, wisdom.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Posh and Prejudice

Posh and Prejudice by Grace Dent. Little Brown, June 2009. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. (The publisher link says a June 09 release date, as did the ARC, but all I can find at Amazon or B&N is the December 09 paperback release).

The Plot: Shiraz Bailey Wood, 16, is waiting to hear about her exam results. Shiraz isn't sure what she wants -- but a dead end job, and a living the life her mother wants her to is NOT what she wants. So it's off to Mayflower Academy, AKA Superchav Academy, for another year of studies.

The Good: Shiraz is hysterical. I love her, I love her world view.

A little background. This is the second book in Dent's Diary of a Chav series. Do you have to read Diva without a Cause, the first book, to read this? No; but why wouldn't you? A Chav, is, well, a Chav is "Chav: (n.) A British insult for white working-class people fixated on street fashions derived from American hip-hop such as imitation gold and fake designer clothing, e.g.,"It's a bruv who wears crap clothing and manky gold jewelry, innit?"" It's an insult; and Shiraz explains she is not a Chav. And those who attend Superchav Academy (also known at one time as "the worst school in Britain") are not Chavs. Even though they may wear hoodies; and listen to hip hop; and are working class people on the lower socio-economic class. While this definition says "white," Dent's book portrays Shiraz's neighbors and classmates as a very modern Britain, with a mix of races, ethnicities, and religions.

Shiraz is named for a drink. As is her older sister (Cava-Sue) and younger brother (Murphy). Yep. That says a lot, doesn't it? This year in Shiraz's life includes her best friend, Carrie, whose parents are the local people who made it good so the family has money so can spend it on anything; Uma, the "real Chav" who surprises everyone with her grades; Wesley Barrington Bains II, Shiraz's boyfriend; and the new kids at school, including Joshua Fallow, who if this was set in the US I'd call an uberpreppie but in Shiraz's world is, I guess, "posh."

Shiraz talks about school, and her subjects, and what she likes, and how hard it is, especially without support at home; but it's all very funny and part of me was tempted to write this all in Shiraz speak, ending every sentence with, innit. Except, I'm not funny like Grace Dent (or Shiraz) is. When Shiraz explains about a show she and her friends put on, and the outfits the participants insist on wearing -- you're just going to have to read it.

Dent (and Shiraz), while being funny, shows respect for Shiraz's working class world. "My mother -- Mrs Diane Wood -- says work ain't meant to be exciting. Mum reckons the important thing is that I'm bringing home some cash and earning my keep." So Mum's reaction to Shiraz staying in school? "Oh, bleeding wonderful!" said Mum, pointing at me. "Another one of my kids farting about after school instead of earning a living." Yes, Shiraz wants something different from what her Mom expects; but Dent does not talk down to Mum, and shows these characters great respect. While also having a few laughs. She's not laughing at them; we're laughing with them.

The Wesley/Shiraz relationship is brilliant; I don't want to say too much, but Dent does a great job of showing a realistic relationship between two people who have some things in common but are separated by other things.

So, ultimately, who is Shiraz? Is she Chav, or Posh? What are her own prejudices, and how will that help, or hurt, her future choices?

If you're worried about the words and slang, there is a glossary (see the definition of Chav, above). But, if you've watched any BBC shows or British shows, or read other books set in the UK, the words aren't that unfamiliar.

In Britain, there are already six titles in this series, so I'm already looking forward to the next book. If you don't mind spoilers galore, check out the blingtastic website for Shiraz Bailey Wood.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Little Brown. Publication Date December 2009. Reviewed from ARC supplied by publisher. Official Book Website.

The Plot:

Ethan Wate wants out of his small, sleepy, South Carolina town, where nothing ever changes and only "the stupid and the stuck" stay. It's a town where any "new girl" is the subject of much attention. All the more so when the new girl is Lena Duchannes, niece of Old Man Ravenwood, the town recluse who lives in a run-down plantation house. She is pale in a town where the girls are tan; wears black; and has numbers scrawled on her hands. Weird; but Ethan cannot stop thinking about her, even dreaming about her.

Odd thing is; the dreams started even before she moved to town.

The Good:

There are family trees. More than one. There are certain types of readers who, just knowing this, will put this on their TBR list.

The tricky thing about reviewing a book like this -- a book that is about secrets -- is figuring out just how much, if any, of the secrets to reveal. On the one hand, readers like to discover things for themselves as they read the book; on the other hand, one or two of those secrets may need to be told up front, because they could be the reason a reader wants to read the book. For example, in my review of Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I said "zombies". So here I will say "supernatural" and "witches" (er, "casters" is the preferred term in Beautiful Creatures.)

Now that I've given that away, this is a lushly written Southern Gothic tale, with family and town secrets, and teens discovering that the world is not what they thought it was. It's not just finding out that the supernatural is real; it's learning that trusted adults have kept secrets. And then trying to figure out what to do about it; and trying to take charge of your future when everyone is telling you that future is set in stone.

I won't say this is the next Twilight (because I'm scared of Carlie and she hates reviews that do that.). I will say that this has several elements that will appeal to those who liked Twilight: an against-the-odds, everything-is-working-at-keeping-them-apart romantic pairing; a unique author(s) created supernatural mythology built around "casters"; a setting (Gatlin, SC) that is as much a character as any of the people in the book; it's long, with a lot of details and description for readers to sink their teeth into; and plenty of teasers for a next book. (Yes, this book isn't technically published yet and I already want to read the next one.)

What else to say about the book without giving anything important away?

I kept on wanting to call this Dangerous Creatures.

I read it on vacation in North Carolina, so the southern Carolina town atmosphere made a huge impact on me.

Beautiful Creatures stuck with me; after reading it, I'm still thinking about Lena, Ethan, their family and friends, the casters, and other details.

It's two authors! The narrator is Ethan, so it's not like they did the old "you pick one person to write, I pick the other." Not that I know either author's writing styles, but the writing was seamless. You never thought, hm, I distinctly hear one voice here, another style there. I imagine they did what Sophie and I did in writing our book; pass chapters back and forth with so much revisions that it became truly a joint project.

Caster Girls Blog. Best read after you read the book.
Joint Author Site.
My Twitter Review.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This Blog's For You

School Library Journal continues it's coverage of book blogs with This Blog's For You: Ten of the best blogs for folks who take kids' lit seriously (but not too seriously) by Elizabeth Bird (aka Fuse #8 Production, a SLJ blog). As Bird's article notes, SLJ covered blogs as early as August 2005, with a cover story, Blogomania! Every day 12,000 new blogs are created. Here's how you can get in on the action. Two years later, in February 2007, I wrote Curl Up With a Cup of Tea and a Good Blog for SLJ.

So now it's 2009; how do things look in the blog world?

Bird's article is fabulous; it conveys much of what I think and believe about book blogging, especially blogging about children's and young adult literature.

Disclaimer: not only do I appear in photos for the article, I also am quoted. But -- and this is important -- I am not one of the "ten of the best blogs" listed. It's important because it shows that those ten are independently judged; are best; and that Bird isn't defining "best" as "my friends, the people I know and talk with." Bird scores additional points by not saying "the ten best blogs"; saying ten of the best infers that there are more best blogs, this is ten of them.

Back to the article. Bird addresses why people blog (and read blogs) and the role of book bloggers in the universe of authors, bloggers, publishers, librarians, etc. Bird wonders if this is all just an internal "you're so pretty" "no you're so pretty" group, i.e., an insular group. And explains why the answer to that is "no." There's talk of the usual to us bloggers -- transparency. Ethics. Just why one is blogging. But those who read SLJ may not be aware that in the "wild west" no rules of blogging, we ask those questions, and apply the answers to what we do.

Anyway, enough about me and why I like it. Go, read it, think about it, and post, tweet, and comment away. People are already adding other "must read" blogs in the comment section.


Last week, I gave a behind the scenes look at the photoshoot.

In More Meta, Roger Sutton at the Horn Book Blog considers what Bird wrote about blogs and collection development.

Jen Robinson's Book Page points out how articles like Betsy's reach a broader, non-blogging audience.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy