Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Does Rape Look Like?

Both Salon and Newsweek have articles simply called, Roman Polanski Raped A Child. Newsweek has additional facts on the case.

But you saw a documentary called Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired and know totally everything that happened in the case now, right, and it's totally wrong how he's been treated? Before you believe everything you watch, read Salon's story on Whitewashing Roman Polanski. And the recent allegations that one of the people in the documentary lied: LA Times, Retired prosecutor says he lied in HBO documentary about Roman Polanski case.

Why not read the actual documents from the case? The Smoking Gun has the documents. There have been quotes from this in many articles, including the Salon and Newsweek articles. Such as, the thirteen year old said no. No. No. I want to go home. No.

Those articles say most of what I would say. I'll just add three thoughts.

Polanski served 42 days. Robert Downey, Jr, spent more time in prison for drug charges -- where no one but Downey was hurt -- than Polanski did for his actions. Polanski has two consequences he has to face in the courtroom: first, the sentence for his guilty plea. Second, his sentence for fleeing the country. It's not just the plea he has to face. Paris Hilton got 23 days for her victimless crimes; shouldn't Polanski serve at least that for fleeing? Especially since if Polanski hadn't run away, his victim would not now be held up to abuse and slut-shaming by Hollywood. The consequences of his flight include the increased, continuing trauma and attacks against her.

There are no monsters. No demons. There are people who do monstrous things; horrible things, yet at the same time, produce great works of art, help at the Church or Temple, act loving to people in their lives. These "good" people can do horrible things. Let's not call them monsters; because when we see this as anything less than complex, if we insist on calling Polanski a monster -- and he is not a monster -- then people believe that only monsters do monstrous things. They become the people calling for Polanski to not be punished, under their belief that he cannot be a monster because he doesn't look like nor act like a monster. And it makes it that much harder for rape victims. Because when the alleged attacker doesn't look like a monster, the victim must be telling lies, right?

I believe as strongly as ever that we must separate the art from the artist. Will I stop enjoying films by or with Martin Scorsese or David Lynch? No. As for Polanski -- like Woody Allen, I won't pay to see his films in a theatre or buy his DVDs, but I will watch if its on TV or rent or borrow the DVDs. (And I find it interesting that so far Anjelica Huston, whose 1970s statements about the teenager appall me, has remained silent). I love pop culture, TV, movies, actors, authors  -- but I loathe the cult of celebrity, where what celebrities say is given more value solely because of their star status. I'll continue to judge the art by the art; not by the artist who created it.

Edited to add:  I'm not the only one who is angry. And mad. Colleen at Chasing Ray ties together book banning, violence, teenagers, Polanski, media reports: "Meanwhile one can't help but notice that as this renewed urge to "protect the children" has brought challenges and banning, we have ample evidence that such protection only extends to children not attacked by rich or famous people." And "But we seek to save children by telling them not to read about these things? Don't read about teenagers doing the things that teenagers are doing. Make those teenagers - the ones who do those things - someone different, someone far away, someone who - maybe - deserved it." Go, read the whole thing before I cut and paste it all here.

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

The Squirrel's Birthday


The Squirrel's Birthday and Other Parties by Toon Tellegen. Illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg. Boxer Books. September 2009. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: A collection of short stories about animals, squirrel, ant, whale and others in a Wood, in the Ocean.

The Good: Simple stories with the logic of childhood. Squirrel has a birthday; he invites people by writing invitations on beech bark. The wind delivers the invitations and the acceptances.

Squirrel bakes cakes for those invited: He baked a rough bark cake for the elephant and a small, moldy willow cake for the woodworm. He thought deeply and then baked a cake made only of water for the dragonfly. It was a strange, gleaming cake and he put it to one side under the twigs of the rosebush.

Everyone comes to the party and eats their cakes, gives presents, and then, of course, they dance. The other stories are equally fun and full of whimsy; a whale who hides in the Ocean but comes to a party on the beach and dances; a snail who builds a second story to his home. Things that make perfect sense to a child.

Letters to Anyone and Everyone by Toon Tellegen. Illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg. Boxer Books. November 2009. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Animals write letters to each other. And to tables. And to themselves. And the sun.

The Good: The short, semi-intertwined stories continue. The stories and language are magical: "But the squirrel and letter noticed nothing of that. They slept and dreamed of words and sweet ink."

The ideas behind them continue to be inventing, entertaining, serious. The tortoise wakes up one morning in a hurry and doesn't know what to do to stop being in a hurry. The elephant keeps climbing trees and falling. Parties are had, cakes are eaten.

While these books will work best as a read-aloud, one on one with a young child, these will also make some learning-to-read young readers very happy. Those readers who like small books, the rich feel of the paper, and the quasi fantasy world where bees have shops that sell things for a fortune and memories can be kept in a box.

Take a peak for yourself and see Boxer Books' website and illustrations from both books. Ahlberg's illustrations have details to pore over; something small to be discovered on each page.

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino. Roaring Brook Press. 2009. Audio by Brilliance Audio, 2009. Read by Emily Bauer. Listened to audio supplied by Brilliance.


The Plot: Tamara Ann Simpson should be having a great time because it is summer. It's 1969, and for a ten year old in a Long Island suburb, summer is the ice cream man and kickball games, mothers who stay home while fathers take the train into the city. It's a neighborhood where the neighborhood kids get together and play all day long.

Except. Things aren't so perfect. Her best friend, Kebsie, has moved away; and Muscle Man McGinty (totally annoying and totally a liar) has moved in. Her father Marshall doesn't do much other than go into work and argue with her brother, Tim. Tim, in college, stays away, having been told to "cut your hair" one too many times. Shirley, her mother, watches soap operas and heats up TV dinners.

Tamara thinks she has the answer. Expose Muscle Man as the liar he is. I mean, really? How can people believe all his whoppers, like his uncle is the astronaut Neil Armstrong? Then one day Muscle Man goes to far, saying he can beat the entire neighborhood at kickball. Kickball; Tamara's sport. A game the kids take very seriously. Muscle Man is going down....

The Good: Neil Armstrong begins and for just a moment, you think, this is going to be an old fashioned type of book, set in a nicer, calmer time. Before working parents and structured playdates. Oh, a sweeter and gentler time, when a sad day was when your best friend moved away.

And in a way, Neil Armstrong is that. Those parents who want that type of book will be satisfied with the old-school tone.

But Neil Armstrong is so much more than just an old fashioned read about friendship among ten year olds.

First, the casual mention of Kebsie being a foster child who has now moved back to live with her mother. Suddenly, the story shifts; a hint that the past was not so perfect. Kebsie was the foster child on the street; and Muscle Man and his older brother are the two new foster children. Tamara, our narrator, never over explains -- never explains beyond how a ten year old would see the world -- but suddenly we know, we know why the neighborhood indulges Muscle Man's lies.

Second, the casual dysfunction of the Simpsons, never explained. Mom just likes to sit and watch TV all day long, cooking or cleaning only when son Tim comes home from college. Beautifully, Mom isn't given any lost career dreams; she doesn't fit in with the other Betty Draper-era wives but she also doesn't talk about any other wishes or desires than escape through watching her stories.

Third, this story can be read differently at different ages. The adult reader sees the despair of the Simpsons life; the younger reader will just know that Mrs. Simpson isn't like the next-door neighbor who makes delicious foods, sews her children darling clothing, makes sure her girls look picture-perfect, buys them Barbie dolls. The child reader goes along with Tamara and her loss of a friend, her dislike of the prissy neighbor girl. The adult knows Tammy is jealous of the girl with the "better" mother. Book discussions may bring out some of the depth to younger readers; and more mature young readers will discover the layers on their own, and be rewarded by that richer reading experience.

Fourth, the great use of time. Readers of this blog know that when I read historical fiction, especially fiction set during the author's own childhood, I ask, why this time? Why not set this in the present? Setting this book in 1969 does show us a more innocent time -- but with serious undertones. Marino uses the war in Vietnam; now, it would be our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. So while this is "history," its also the present for some children. The moon-landing gave those in 1969 a moment to come together, a chance to dream, hope. And, sadly, I cannot see a similar modern moment to give the child Tamara what she needs to move forward with her life.

Lastly, but most important, Tamara's anger. I stand up and applaud you, Nan Marino. Rarely have I read a child so angry -- and a girl child, no less. Her anger and rage is so pure and so complex that Tamara doesn't even know she is angry. Oh, she misses Kebsie; she dislikes Muscle Man; she's not satisfied with her mother. And the child reader will go along with all of that, and feel sympathy and empathy with Tamara, rooting for her. When Tamara plays kickball, her passion fuels the game, and we know why this means so much to Tamara. It's not just the game; not just beating Muscle Man; it's a legitimate outlet for the depths of emotion a ten year old feels, emotions with no other outlet. As Tamara finally makes peace with the loss of her friend and allows herself to make friends with Muscle Man, so to does the child reader.

Meanwhile the adult reader sees that what is happening is Tamara is one angry child, rightfully so. The neglect by her parents -- a neglect that the rest of the neighborhood can see, we realize, but Tamara doesn't quite realize. Oh, she knows her mother doesn't bring cookies to bakeouts and lets the grass go to dandelion seed, but she doesn't quite realize the extent to which the neighbors view her. We, who have "that family" on the block? Or have been "that family"? get it.

Tamara is a prickly child; not the nicest child on the block, or the kindest, or the prettiest. The child reading this may not pick up on the fact that Tamara is "that" child; they will go with the roller coaster of emotions Tamara faces, agreeing with her about injustices, going along with Tamara's ride and so maturing as Tamara does, when Tamara reaches the stage of seeing someone and something outside herself. Part of this is just Tamara being ten; part of it is that it looks like Tamara hasn't had much role-modeling in her own household.

Kebsie, the foster child, may or may not have been Tamara's best friend; it's hard to tell, from Tamara's narrative. Tamara, ten, sees things how she wants to. One thing is clear; Kebsie, abused foster child, was also angry but voiced her anger and Tamara was clearly attracted to that, to Kebsie's willingness to literally howl at the moon. Tamara is angry at the loss of her friendship with Kebsie; but she has also gained. Kebsie has shown her it's OK to be angry, even though Tamara doesn't realize that is the true gift Kebsie has given her.

Girls are supposed to be nice and pretty; even their anger, today, is frowned upon. Tamara is glorious in her anger, misdirected though it may be at Muscle Man, a child who is equally hurting but instead of pushing the world away and hating it, looks to be loved and thinks he can achieve that love by telling a lie or two or three. Part of the sweetness of this book is how the neighborhood realizes what Muscle Man is doing and accepts it. It is only Tamara, hurting herself and angry at the world, who cannot see beyond herself and see Muscle Man for who he is.

I hope I haven't scared you away. Let me say, that the writing, the portrayal of setting and the character of Tamara, make Neil Armstrong a title that should make everyone's short list predictions for Newbery. And it's because of that -- the way Marino portrays Tamara, who may I say is a little bitch and that is a compliment -- that I gave that much room to Tamara's emotions. Tamara is the neighbor girl with the mismatched clothes and the hair that makes you think "doesn't her mother ever brush it." But the child reader won't know this, only think "poor Tamara, who has lost her friend."

For the children readers? This is a great read. Ignore the above, which is for the adult reader. For your kids? Tell them this is a perfect summer story, with ice cream cones and kickball games and cookouts. Sometimes its sad, because Tammy's best friend has moved away and a new yucky boy has moved in, and only Tammy sees through his lies. Tell them how Tammy keeps trying to be fair, but the others aren't, and don't you hate it when people think the rules don't apply to everyone? Tell them about the annoying next door neighbor girl who boasts about her thirteen Barbie dolls. Tell them how the kids get together and have their own justice system for when someone does something wrong. Ask them, "have you ever just wanted to howl at the moon? Tammy's the type of girl who does that."

I listened to this on audio; Bauer does a great job of capturing Tamara's indignation, at her shock, at her joy, at her disappointment.

I have a semi-connection to the author. I've only met her once or twice; but she works at the library system I used to work at, so is basically "friend of friend." All this means is that when I read it, I began thinking "please don't let this suck, because that would be awk.ward." First I felt relief when I realized this was good; then it was excitement when I realized I was listening to an incredibly well written and crafted story; and then it was awe at the creation of Tamara.

Check out Fuse #8's review for her review and also for all the links about the book and Marino.


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

Monday, September 28, 2009

Blame It On Jackie

Jackie at Interactive Reader mentioned watching this last night on Twitter.



The Thing Called Love

Damn. River Phoenix was a great actor. Stupid drugs.

And now I really want to watch My Own Private Idaho:





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

The Betsy-Tacy Companion

The Betsy-Tacy Companion: A Biography of Maud Hart Lovelace by Sharla Scannell Whalen. Portalington Press. 1995.

Oh, fans, I love you. Especially when you create labors of love that almost defy common sense. It's tough enough explaining blogging to other people -- imagine years spent on researching the "truth" behind a (then out of print) series of children's books?

What does a fan who loves Betsy-Tacy do? They know its based on Maud Hart Lovelace's real life; but they know it's also fiction. Don't you want to know what is real? What isn't? What happened to the real life Betsy (Maud Hart Lovelace), Tacy (Frances "Bick" Kenney Kirch), and Tib (Marjorie "Midge" Gerlach Harris)?

Whalen did more than wonder; she put together what is obviously a labor of love, best read with a Betsy-Tacy book in front of you. This has page by page comparisons; maps; blueprints; photographs. It's great for a Betsy-Tacy fan; but it's also interesting for writers, to see how a writer developed and the mix of fiction and fact that made up her story. Finally, while to read it without Betsy-Tacy knowledge would be confusing as hell, it is a look at turn of the century life.

Here is the simple test of whether you'd like the book. Whalen discusses, in great detail, what Christmas ornaments the young Betsy bought during certain years, comparing references in the books. At the end of this, she writes: "If I have to explain why it is so amusing to analyze such trivia, you shouldn't be reading this book."

Any biographer of Lovelace is hindered by one fact: Lovelace burnt her childhood diaries. Whalen, defending Lovelace's actions: "As she herself said, the diaries 'were full of boys, boys, boys.' Did Maud want to go down in history as the author with the silliest diaries?"

What I found most intriguing was the background for Betsy's Wedding. Betsy marries in 1914 and it ends in 1917, when Joe is about to go to war. In "real life," Maud met and married her "Joe," Delos Lovelace, in 1917. All the "married Betsy" stuff is true -- just shifted by several years. As a matter of fact, almost all of Betsy's Wedding is based on post 1917 events. For example, remember my minirant about "OMG all peoples must be married"? Well, in point of fact, Maud married in 1917, when she was 25, and was one of the first of her group of friends to marry. So was all that "OMG you'll be too old if you wait and earn your own money" done a bit tongue in cheek, I wonder?

Also interesting were editorial choices including not mentioning some people to not overwhelm the reader with a cast of characters and omitting some "grittier" details, such as older sister "Julia" encountering a rat during her transatlantic voyage and the cockroaches and mice "Julia" encountered in her NYC apartment.

Nonfiction Monday round up is at Wendie's Wanderings (who will be at the Kidlit Conference! Woo hoo!)



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

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bowllan's Blog: Writers Against Racism. Thank You, Amy Bowllan!

Bowllan's Blog is Amy Bowllan's blog at School Library Journal. She's running a fantastic interview series, called Writers Against Racism. (Far as I can tell, there is on one easy-to-find permalink or tag for the entire series). A Blogroll of participants was posted mid-September; I'm not sure if its up to date with the interviews since then. There is also a sidebar of participants on Bowllan's Blog, but not a permalink to just the list that I can find.

From the SLJ website profile about Bowllan: "Amy Bowllan began her career as a Television Investigative Producer and Reporter for WCBS-TV NY and KNXV in Phoenix, AZ. She also snagged two Emmy awards for Broadcast Journalism and several Associated Press awards. She now is the Director of Diversity and Educational Technology at The Hewitt School in NYC and is responsible for integrating technological resources into staff and students day to day programs."

Bowllan began her series mid August 2009, with WAR: WRITERS AGAINST RACISM! by Dr. George Edward Stanley, which referenced an earlier interview of Dr. Stanley. Dr. Stanley is the author of Night Fires, a story about the Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Oklahoma. In talking about the book in that interview, Dr. Stanley said "I truly believe that we try to sanitize social history for young people, when we should be putting them right in the middle of situations such as those depicted in NIGHT FIRES and letting them feel uncomfortable."

The first formal WAR interview is with Laura Atkins, author of the essay What’s the Story? ~ Reflections on White Privilege in the Publication of Children’s Books. (Discussion of Atkins' article can be found at her blog, Tockla's World of Children's Literature).

Bowllan's series is usually interviews of the subject, asking three simple questions that demand difficult answers: Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person; Has your personal experience of racism impacted your professional work?; In what way can literature/art be used to combat the effects of racism and promote tolerance?. Conversation continues on in the comments to the interviews.

The interview subjects have varied greatly, including children's book illustrators, professors, young adult novelists, social activists, bloggers; men and women from a variety of backgrounds. They are people I "know" online and people I know from their books and people I don't know at all and am meeting for the first time.

Bowllan even interviewed herself!

It's easy to stay within our comfort zones; those we know. Those that think like us. Those like us. To think that's enough.To think things happen in the past, or other places, or to other people. It's harder to listen to another's truth. And to wonder how, honestly, you would answer those questions.

If you haven't been reading Writers Against Racism, now's a good time to start. Today's interview is with Uma Krishnaswami.

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

Raise A Reader

Andrea Ross of Just One More Book has a great article at Canada.com called Raising A Reader, subtitled  "What's in it for me? The family that reads together..."

Ross says "Today, let's reflect on the ways reading aloud to our children benefits ourselves as parents, our families and our relationships with each other."

Go, read the whole thing!

The article is part of Canwest Raise A Reader literacy campaign; you can find more info at Ross's blog, Just One More Book.

And for those of you who think that the publisher/blogger interaction and relationship is something I unduly obsess over in terms of its negative impact on blogging, read how its negatively impacted JOMB. To the point where rather than deal with the publishers, JOMB is ending. Read the comments.

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

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Is It Negative To Want To Understand How Something Works?

To ask questions?

I guess it is. And if it is, I guess I'll be negative. But then, I never thought criticism = negative.

One part of the BBAW was the Best Awards. Only one part, but the part that got a lot of ink; both on the BBAW website itself, because of the length of time from nominations to the last award, but also on publishers tweets and newsletters and library tweets and newsletters, directing people to find out about the best blogs via BBAW.

Both Colleen at Chasing Ray and Jen at Jen Robinson's Book Page asked serious questions about blogging, popularity, and best following the Award portion of BBAW.

I had my own questions. From the start, I wanted to know how "best" was defined. The brief definitions at the BBAW website didn't show the criteria, which was published after the time nominated blogs had to respond. Now, we can see that for BBAW, a blog can have less than 30% of its posts be about one genre yet be the shortlist and winner for the Best Genre award. That's neither good nor bad; it just is, and its helpful to know when evaluating both your own blog for submissions as well as knowing to what degree to participate in and report on the BBAW's best blogs.

There was also the problem of multiple submissions; I, along with others, read it to mean that the better path was to self-select out and only submit for one. Later, I found out that others decided the smarter route was to submit for all and see where the panelists gave you the highest points. Very smart! But, not something everyone would have thought of doing. Those with more familiarity in the process had a better grasp at the way to best submit. And it means that those of us who self selected out never heard back our scores.

When the last award was announced, the judging panelists were shared. I'm not sure if the actual BBAW committee itself, outside of founder My Friend Amy, was ever shared. But of the blogs thanked for being panelists (or otherwise involved), over one half won awards. Including Amy, who won three awards. And of those connected to BBAW, they won about two thirds of the "bests" out there. This despite over 1000 blogs submitting.

Some comments said "that just shows that those involved are the best!" While others, like me, wondered if it more reflected a club. Not a club that deliberately gamed the system; rather, a club that has their own definitions and ideas of what is "best" that wasn't always clear to the others who were asked to participate and post and blog about "best." So we asked the questions, what does it mean when 2/3 of the awards are won by those involved in BBAW?

And were told it was negative to ask. That it was elitist to ask. That while panelists couldn't be shared before hand because of possible favoritism (were the panelists open to being swayed? Or bloggers not to be trusted?) we had to trust in BBAW, despite not knowing organizers, standards, who knew about standards, etc. And had to just go "yay" and be happy that places like the ALA said, this is a place to go to cheer the best. We had to be nice bloggers, be quiet, don't ask questions. Don't snipe. Don't complain. Don't be a hater.

I wasn't going to post about this, but then Babbling About Books raised the question of critiques of BBAW. Including whether there would have been critiques if a place like SLJ had run these awards. Are you kidding? Hell to the yes. Look at the responses to the Newbery, run by ALA! The critiques of that are legendary. Go, google Newbery and popularity and check out the articles and posts at SLJ and Horn Book.

And if its elitist to know standards? To understand the process to appreciate what is being done? To question? To ask? I'll gladly be elitist.

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

Simon & Schuster Blogfest 2009

Let's file this under "fab publisher idea."

Simon & Schuster is having a "blogfest" from September 21 to October 4. "40 authors, 14 questions, 2 weeks, 1 blog." The blog is Simon & Schuster's own blog. The questions were submitted via the publisher's Teen Advisory Board, Pulse It. The list of questions is at the site, so you can handily see what questions have been asked so far and what questions will be asked.


Why do I think this is a great idea?

Well, there is the obvious. It's like a bunch of mini interviews with authors, and I love the different answers, and seeing what authors share (and don't). I like that it is structured around the questions, not the authors, so that the authors are all treated equally.

But, as long time readers know, I am also concerned with the relationship between publishers and bloggers, and the blurring of lines that includes the loss of blogger independence. It's not entirely one sided; it's not just publishers who act this way. Publishers/publicists tell bloggers when to post items and what to post. I've gotten those emails, and for the record, when I politely say "I'll review if it fits into my review criteria and if it gets reviewed, post it when it fits into my posting criteria" the response has been "fine, we'll send the copy, post or don't post, we just find that some bloggers like being told how to do it." So while I still snarl at the idea of someone coming into my house and telling me when to have a party (thanks, Roger, for that perfect analogy!) apparently some bloggers like that.

And then, on the other hand, bloggers use sales copy on their blogs, cut and pasted from the publisher (or from another site that gets it from the publisher, such as a bookstore) and call it a review. Maybe adding if they liked or didn't like the book.

Running a blog is a lot of work, often unpaid; so for someone to come in and tell you how, what, when, and where to do something, when you're doing it for them for free? All for the glory of an ARC, a link, a chance to interview an author? To me, its rather one-sided with the publisher getting advertising at very little cost and the blogger running into serious burn out issues down the road. Plus, the line between review and paid advertisement starts to blur as the content comes more from the publisher's requirements rather than the blogger's choices. Is the blogger doing this with the audience of the publisher or publicist, to make them happy? The audience of the author, to make them happy? Or to provide an objective review of the book and other bookish things?

Blogfest, on the other hand, is brilliant because it removes that blurring and keeps it, well, pure on both sides. This is publisher run and at a publisher site and is very nice indeed. Everyone knows it is the publisher's baby, and of course part of its overall sales and marketing plan. It's their Second Annual Blogfest. My reason for not knowing about last year's is simple; not only was I buried in Printz Reading, I had decided to keep my initial readings of books as "pure" as possible by deliberatlely avoiding interviews where I would run the risk of falling for an author and carrying that emotion over to the book. This looks like the website for the Simon Pulse March 2008 Blogfest.

I sometimes miss stuff like this because of work or vacation or life in general. What other publishers done this?



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

Friday, September 25, 2009

Leviathan


Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. Illustrated by Keith Thompson. Simon Pulse, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing. Publication Date October 2009. Reviewed from ARC from BEA.

The Plot: Prince Aleksander, 15, is the only child of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie. He is awaken in the middle of the night and flees the palace; his parents have been murdered and, while he is not a direct heir, his life is in danger. Alek is a "clanker" -- part of the world that is all about machines.

Deryn Sharp, also 15, is pretending to be a boy named Dylan to get a chance to fly with the British Air Service. But she's not learning how to fly machines. Deryn is a "Darwinist" -- the part of the world that has created living creatures to fly, to use for messages, as pets.

The assassination of Alek's parents starts a World War. As Alek runs for his life, and Deryn finds danger and adventure on the flying living ship Leviathan, their paths grow closer and closer.

The Good: If you know what "steampunk" is, skip forward in the review. If you don't, here it is, quickly: alternate universe science fiction, set in the past, with fantastical machines; a glorified Victorian age, as it were. OK, yes, I'm sure others have better explanations but that is my quick one. The ARC of Leviathan provides a definition; and while it may just be there for reviewers like me, I hope it stays for readers who may not have heard of "steampunk" and just need that brief explanation. From the ARC: "Steampunk is a genre of science fiction set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used -- usually the nineteenth century, and often set in Victorian-era England -- but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions."

I know what steampunk is; but I haven't really read much of it. For someone like me -- so, I assume, many kids and teens -- this works as a great introduction into steampunk. And if you want to recommend some other steampunk titles to me, please do so.

Westerfeld uses two types of technological inventions. In the Austro-Hungary Empire/Germany, it's about mechanics and machines, all more developed and different from what was in our timeline. For example, instead of tanks with tractor treads there are "walkers", fortified tank-like structures that "walk". In the British Empire and France, instead of mechanical technology, it's scientific technology, with Darwin not being the father of evolution but the father of DNA manipulation, the creation of entirely new creatures for things such as flying airships and messenger lizards and attack bats. One can quickly see that philosophy is involved here, also; on the one side, making with ones hands versus the other, which is playing with life.

What also works well is Thompson's illustrations. Both the clankers and Darwinists have machines and creatures we've never heard of; instead of Westerfeld wasting words with trying to describe them (and losing people like me who would be all "um. ok. let's skip to action and dialogue, ok?") we get to actually see what these machines look like (OH, we think, that's how big it is, there are the turrets, that is how it works).

Alek may be a Prince; he may be rich; but right now he's a teenager on the run, and because his father married someone beneath him, Alek cannot inherit. That doesn't mean Alek is ignored after his father's death. Far from it, which is why right now he's adjusting to life on the run without servants. Alek is always sympathetic, even as he does impulsive things. With Alek, we are hunted, staying one step ahead of bigger ships, plunging through forests in a sweaty, noisy walker.

Meanwhile, Deryn is full of adventures, trying so hard to be the boy she pretends to be. She embraces it, charging into danger, having to be the best. We are flying in the sky, enjoying the freedoms, trying not to let it slip that she's a girl, thrilling to battles with aeroplanes.

Alek and Deryn are on two distinct adventures; the reader knows that ultimately they will overlap, because hello, we cannot have two heroes in one book who never meet! It's not till the book is halfway through that we get that meet and greet; before then, we get to know and sympathize with two very different people (and look forward to the meeting.) And yes, the meeting is everything a reader wants. By that point, we are cheering both teens, sympathize with both the clankers and the Darwinists, and wonder how the heck two such opposites can get along.

Westerfeld's end note explains some of the historical changes in this alternate history; for example, that Franz Ferdinand and Sophie didn't leave behind a fifteen year old son named Aleksander. They did leave behind three young children, Sophie, Maximilian, and Ernst; and according to Wikipedia, in the 1930s they were living in Austria, opposed the Nazis, and ended up in Dachau. I cannot find much more than that online; except all three survived. If anyone can recommend a book that covers this in more detail, I'd appreciate it.

Back on topic.

A great adventure pick; and a great book for science fiction readers who don't want fantasy (i.e., unicorns and elves), thank you very much. If a dragon shows up here, it's going to be man-made and engineered. This is book for younger teens; but older teens will enjoy it, also.

Why younger teens? Easy. When a teenage girl is pretending to be a boy and never worries about her period? It's a book that is being marketed to the younger set.

Teaser
Twitter Review

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

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hush, Hush


Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. October 2009. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Nora Grey's entire life shifts when her biology teacher switches the seating chart, moving her best friend Vee to the other side of the room and instead putting new student, Patch Cipriano, in the seat next to her.

From that moment on, nothing is the same; nothing can be trusted. Not Patch, that's for sure. Not her best friend, Vee, who is hanging out with two boys, Elliot and Jules, that Nora doesn't trust no matter how cute (and rich) they are. Nora cannot even trust her own feelings or memories. Is what she is feeling for Patch real? Why are so many odd things happening in her life? Why does Vee see nothing wrong in Elliot and Jules' odd behaviour? And who is Patch?

The Good: You know, I dislike spoilers as much as the next person. But considering the COVER of Hush, Hush shows a man losing his wings; considering the first chapter is set in the Loire Valley, France, 1565, and involves a young man named Chauncey Duc Langeais who is mind-controlled by a fallen angel; and, well... It's very hard for me not to just SAY IT.

OK. There is a character in this book who is a fallen angel. If you consider that a spoiler, for the love of Mike, don't watch the video about this book at the publisher's website.

Ahem. Moving on.

I loved the dynamics between Patch and Nora. Nora is pretty self assured, and from the start Patch just gets under her skin. And annoys her. So, of course, we know she is falling for him. But Holy Hannah, who wouldn't? Here is Nora's first meeting Patch: "His black eyes sliced into me, and the corners of his mouth tilted up. My heart fumbled a beat and in that pause, a feeling of gloomy darkness seemed to slide like a shadow over me. It vanished in an instant, but I was still staring at him. His smile wasn't friendly. It was a smile that spelled trouble. With a promise."

Nora is drawn to Patch -- attracted yet knowing something isn't quite right. Things start to go weird; while driving her friend's car, she hits a man in a ski mask who then attacks her, destroying the car door. Yet when she takes Vee out to see the damage, the car is good as new. More incidents pile up; and it's connected somehow to Patch. But what is it? Should she fear him? Or trust him?

Obviously, a fallen angel is involved. So there is danger. But who is it Nora needs to fear? Is it those who are new in her life, or those who she has always known?

If you like a quick resolution and people finding out things right away? Be prepared. Fitzpatrick makes us wait 250 pages (!250!) before Nora figures out what is going on. Before that, it's 250 pages of flirtation/ frustration/ action/ danger/ flirtation/ hotness. Because of the structure of the book (the prologue) the reader is one step ahead of Nora, in that the reader knows something supernatural is going on. Nora, however, doesn't have the benefit of cover or prologue knowledge so she resists the idea that something odd -- something not normal -- is happening in her life. But once Nora begins to put the pieces together and starts to believe the unbelievable -- it's another 70 pages (again, with hotness, flirtation, heat, and action) until "the reveal" takes place and the truth is learned (not THAT kind of action. Jeesh. Take your mind OUT of the gutter, Hush, Hush manages to be hot with just glances, touches, wanting....)

As I said, there is also action; things happen, it's not all Nora and Patch trading heated looks. There is also humor; or at least things I thought were funny. Here is Nora, introducing her protective mother to the hot-looking obviously bad-boy Patch: "'This is Patch,' I said, racking my brain for something that would bring the pleasantries to an abrupt halt. But the only things I could think of were screaming Fire! or faking a seizure. Somehow, both seemed more humiliating than braving a conversation between Patch and my mom."

Along with that is language studded with clues or references to what is going on: gloom is described as resembling "escaped and wandering spirits." Which, it turns out, also describes fallen angels. And then there is another quote that I cannot say here because it will be a spoiler. Um, I guess it may be safe to say someone gives someone else the nickname of Angel.

Who will like this? Teens looking for horror; teens looking for romance.

Fitzpatrick has a great website up, including the story behind writing Hush Hush. Be warned; there be spoilers. But it's a fascinating look at the process.

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Malice


Malice by Chris Wooding. Scholastic. 2009. Reviewed from ARC. Publication Date October 2009.

The Plot: "Tall Jake, take me away." Combine the right things in the right type of bowl. Set them afire. Say the right words six times. And Tall Jake comes to take you away -- away to Malice. A place of nightmares seen only in a secret comic book.

Rumors, urban legend, whispered about, believed in, not believed in.

Luke says it. And disappears. His friends Seth and Kady decide to investigate. How far will they go to find out whether Malice is real? "Tall Jake, take me away."

The Good: I am a Chris Wooding fan girl.* So, yeah, I'm biased.

Wooding once again does a fabulous job of creating a complex other world, with geography and mythology fully formed but never fully revealed. There is the real world of England, where Luke, Seth and Kady live; and then -- there is no getting around it -- there is the real world of Malice, inhabited by mechanical monsters and traps and deaths out of a gorefest horror film.

An unhappy teen, looking for escape or adventure, conducts the ritual and finds himself in a world where all the rules have changed. Up is down; down is up; time stops and speeds up; nothing is safe; there is no rest. The geography of Malice is strange, jumbled, shifting. And the possibility of death is not just real -- it's more likely than survival. And more likely than escape.

Why would anyone want to take the risk of going to Malice? One look at the comic book -- and pages of the comic book in black and white are incorporated into this book -- shows a nightmare landscape with hellish mechanical creatures that attack, kill, tearing teens limb from limb. Seth wants to save Luke. But what is the lure for other teens? To go to Malice... to stay... to escape. Malice offers something to them; something Tall Jake gives. A chance at something... something else. Something different. Remember, nightmares are still dreams. By the time you realize the dream isn't what you wanted it to be, it's too late.

In trying to understand Malice, one of the teens caught up in it says about the power of belief and the attraction of the myth of Malice: "If everyone knew there was a God or whatever, if you could see Him, there wouldn't be any question of faith. You'd be stupid not to worship the guy, if you didn't want a good smiting. But if he's just a rumor -- then you really have to believe. Heart and soul. Otherwise, you're wasting your time. The mystery is what gives it its power, you know?"

One of the things I like about Wooding's work is that they are standalones; plot fully resolved. It's also one of the things I hate; Alaizabel Cray's world is one I'd like to return to. So when I got to the end of Malice and saw there was going to be a sequel, I was both pleased and frustrated. On the one hand, yes, this plot wraps up nicely; on the other, we have to wait to find out answers. What is Malice? How was it created? Why are comic books luring teens to this strange dangerous world? Who is Tall Jake? What about the artist, Grendel?

* My favorite is The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, followed by Poison, followed by Storm Thief. I won't know where Malice fits into this until I've read the whole series.

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

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nonfiction Monday; Thank You, Anastasia Suen!


Nonfiction Monday is just that -- on Monday, reviewing and blogging about nonfiction.

I'm not always organized enough to do Nonfiction Monday. And when I am organized enough to say, "I have a nonfiction book! Schedule it for Monday!" rarely then do I add it to the links at that day's round up host. My list of nonfiction Monday posts is few, but they are there!

Anastasia Suen, author, consultant, teacher, explains all about Nonfiction Monday at her website, Picture Book of the Day Using Picture Books to Teach the Six Traits of Writing. including locations. Kidlitosphere Central has the listing of most of the 2009 locations for Nonfiction Monday. If you're a member of the kidlitosphere listserv, a weekly reminder of location is sent out.

One of the things I like about Nonfiction Monday (and Poetry Friday, which I'll blog about later) is that nobody "owns" them. Yes, Suen started and organized Nonfiction Monday. But she shares it with everyone, even inviting other bloggers to be host. What matters to Suen is not statistics, linkage and glory; what matters is that nonfiction is being highlighted every week, and that Nonfiction Monday is a group effort in that anyone can be part of it, including hosting, which is a fabulous way to get links and get blog exposure.

Suen's first Nonfiction Monday post, on January 14, 2008, was Rough, Tough Charley by Verla Kay, a picture book biography. The first round-up of links from amongst book bloggers was on January 28, making it the first Official Nonfiction Monday Roundup Post.

Last week, the round up was at the blog, Wild About Nature. Today, it's at the Booklist Bookends Blog. What a variety in the blogosphere just between those two blogs, which shows how this is truly for everyone. The only criteria? Blogging. About nonfiction books. And while some people prefer Mr Linky, other prefer to do their round-up "old school," with an individual write up and link for each participant. I used to do that for Poetry Friday; that is love, people, love and dedication and time.

Want to be a part of it? Go for it! Blog about something nonfiction on Monday. See how easy it is? And my own resolution is to when I blog about nonfiction on a Monday, I'll click over to the host and add my link.

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

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cybils

The Cybils began as a simple enough idea; frustrated at the either/or talk around awards time (a book is either literary or popular, and never the twain shall meet), bloggers Kelly Herold and Anne Boles Levy decided, why not an award that recognizes the book that has both? That specifically in its criteria requires a good, popular book?

And thus the Cybils were born. For the first two years, I was heavily involved. Then, last year, my reading load for the Printz caused me to bow out of being involved; this year, I decided to also sit back and be lazy and instead enjoy the hard work of others. (I also got appointed to the Schneider Family Book Award; so much for being lazy).

Kelly, Anne, and the others involved with the Cybils are (and have been) transparent about the Cybils. The "about us" section of the website goes into more detail about the Cybils and how it is run. Who is involved? Team Cybils 09, complete with names and blogs, are all on one of the sidebars at the Cybils website. In addition, each category organizer is right now introducing themselves on the Cybils blog, such as Liz Jones, Graphic Novels organizer.

Starting October 1 to October 15, nominate a title (see the Cybils website for details on publication date). Check the categories and make sure you pick the right category! Part of the job of Team Cybils is to make sure the nominated title is indeed eligible and in the right category. All of this is right on the Cybils blog and website.

Then the round one judges  -- (whose names, blogs, and categories they are panelists for are all public knowledge) -- step into the picture and read the books on the nominated list. While publishers sometimes send review copies of nominated books, those who agree to be judges have a responsibility to read the books and to obtain books on their own if necessary. The judges then have confidential discussions and voting to achieve a shortlist that is announced on January. While the discussions are confidential, often the judges will blog about their reading.

The titles are now handed off to the round two judges (who, like the round one judges, are publicly listed on the Cybils website, complete with names and blogs), who read just the shortlist; have confidential discussions and voting; and announce a winner. Usually, these judges don't blog about the shortlist during this time (tho, many have already read and blogged about the titles.)

The current Cybils crew have been at hard at work, creating the lists of rounds one and two judges. This stage is part public  -- here is the request for panelists and judges this year -- but the deciding who gets what is less so. There are a tremendous amount of bloggers and blogs to review; decisions to be made about round one or round two judges; what person to match to what category; the balance between new blood and those involved in the past; etc. Then the judges lists are announced.

October 1st is fast approaching; go, review the criteria, and start thinking about what book you want to nominate!


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

Friday, September 18, 2009

Schneider Family Book Awards


The Schneider Family Book Awards "is donated by Dr. Katherine Schneider, and honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Three annual awards are presented for the best Teen, Middle School and Children’s Book. The American Library Association administers the Awards, and each recipient receives $5000 and a framed plaque. Winners are announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting."

And why do I mention this?

Because yours truly (um, that means ME) is on this year's Award Committee!

More information can be found at the ALA website.

Want to know about nominating books? Here is the Application/Nomination Form; click through and you'll see it has its own process and procedure.

Past winners are here.

So, yes, that means I'm going to Boston in January. See you there!

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

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ash


Ash by Malinda Lo. Little, Brown. 2009. Reviewed from ARC. From BEA or ALA, not sure.

The Plot: A Cinderella retelling. Aisling, nickname Ash. Mother dies, father remarries to woman with two daughters, father dies, stepmother turns Ash into a servant, the Prince is looking for a wife, there's a ball, with fairy help Ash attends the ball. You know the rest. Or do you?

The Good: This retelling unfolds slowly, deliciously. It's an internal story; a story about Ash grieving the loss of her parents, shutting down from it, and eventually choosing life and love. This is a tale about recovering from grief and unbearable loss.

Cinderella has a fairy godmother, right? So it's only logical for Lo to create a world where fairies are real. They are dark and dangerous; the fairy world where girls risk enchantment and death for dancing and eating with these other-worldly folk. In Ash's time, fairy tales are viewed as stories to be told, except for a handful of people who still believed and followed other old ways. Ash's mother was one such; but not her father. Ash, 12 at her mother's death, believes that somehow, the fairies and her mother are connected; and that if she joins the fairy folk she will be reunited with her mother. This belief grows both with the death of her father and with her meeting those that she sought -- the fairy. Yes, they are real.

The metaphor here is obvious; joining the fairies will be a death, a rejoining with her parents. Her life as servant is so devoid of love, of anything, that this choice is not grim. In fact, as Ash reads fairy tale after fairy tale (Lo includes a number of them, all haunting) she is comforted by the promise of being lost to the fairy world, even when those tales are cautionary ones to keep young girls away from that world.

Here, Ash is thinking about Sidhean, the only fairy we meet by name, who revisits Ash again and again, promising that eventually she will join his people. "[Ash] felt the distance between her and Sidhean for the first time, and it made her long for him. She turned over onto her side and closed her eyes, trying to force herself to sleep. But in her mind's eye all she could see was him, and she wanted to be with him, all of his cold strangeness."

His cold strangeness; her death. Part 1, The Fairy, is about her obsession and longing for this strangeness, this escape, this reunion with the dead; Part 2, The Huntress, begins when Ash is 18 and is about her slowly coming alive again and wanting the living world. Instead of Ash and her books and her fairy stories, there is Ash getting to know other people (servants at another house), exploring the Wood, and meeting Kaisa, the King's Huntress.

Ash has been called a lesbian Cinderella; it says so right on Lo's website and it's also how I heard it pitched to librarians and reviewers. So I'm not giving much away when I say that Ash does not want Prince Aidan; she wants Kaisa. Another twist is that Sidhean is the fairy who helps Ash attend the Ball, fairy godfather rather than godmother. Considering the Ash/Sidhean relationship, I'd call this more a bisexual Cinderella.

Ash's friendship with Kaisa begins slowly; they meet in the Wood. They talk. Ash looks forward to meeting Kaisa; but, in part because of her connection to Sidhean, doesn't realize the depth of her feelings for Kaisa. It's someone else's observance that makes her realize it: "She wondered uncomfortably if she had done something to suggest it. And if she had -- did she feel that way? The idea was unsettling; it made her feel vulnerable." Note it's unsettling not because "I'm in love with a girl;" it's unsettling because it makes Ash vulnerable. Vulnerable to life, to love, to feeling, to not having her feelings returned. In Ash's world, no one looks askance at the thought of a female/female pairing. While we don't see another such couple in the book, in all honesty, Ash's world is so limited by being a servant that she doesn't see many couples at all in the book. This makes the story a "falling in love and recognizing love" story, not an issue story. Which is awesome.

I'm a bit of an author junkie, even though I know the book should stand alone. Still, after reading a book, it's fun to discover via a website more about the author. When I read The Devil's Kiss, I found that Sarwat Chadda is very, very funny. After Carter Finally Gets It, I visited Brent Crawford's website and found some fascinating information on jeans and the denim industry. Here, at Malinda Lo's website, I found she's an entertainment reporter and other fascinating stuff.

Edited to Add: Colleen at Chasing Ray on Ash. Colleen & I had a great email back & forth on this (much, much too rough to go public with; rather the type of intense conversation that would have been great in person!). I love when she says, "This very subtle take on the story is much more about the emotion of grief then love, which is something Disney clearly missed." In many ways, Ash was a deceptively demanding read because it was such a different take on the fairy tale. Take note, librarians and teachers looking for a great book with both literary merit and one that encourages deep discussion; you'll want this one! And I cannot wait to read what Colleen says about this for her Bookslut column.

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium

I recently began looking at my upcoming Fall calendar.

I think I need ice cream.

Here is the short version of what I'm doing and where I'll be; if any of you are at any of these events, let me know!

October 3

New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center Fall Festival, Trenton, NJ

October 15

New Jersey Youth Services Forum, Manalapan, NJ. I'm co-presenting the General Session, Listen to this! Audiobooks for K-12. Full program description here.

October 17

Third Annual Kidlitosphere Conference, Washington, DC. I'll be on a panel, talking a little bit about ARCS.

October 28

Internet Librarian 2009, Monterey, CA. I'll be on a panel: Technology: The Engine Driving Pop Culture-Savvy Libraries or Source of Overload? More information here.

November 7

New York Public Library Children's Literary Cafe, NYC. We'll be chatting about the Cybils.

November 13

New Jersey Association of School Librarian's (NJASL) Fall Conference, East Brunswick, NJ. You get to see me twice! First, Pop Culture 101 with Sophie Brookover; next, talking Audi0books.

November 23 - 24

ALAN, Philadelphia, PA. I'll be doing .... nothing! Except listening, learning, enjoying.

Oh, man. I need a LOT of ice cream.

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lips Touch

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor. Illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo. Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. October 2009. Reviewed from ARC; ARC from BEA.

The Plot: Three stories that hinge on a kiss. In Goblin Fruit, Kizzy wants to be someone different, somewhere different, she wants to be kissed; In Spicy Little Curses Such As These, Ana wants to be loved and accepted; and in Hatchling, Esme is haunted by memories that are not her own.

The Good: In Goblin Fruit, Kizzy is a girl who should know better. Her people are well aware that goblins are real, even though they live in the modern world and Kizzy knows that ghosts are real. Kizzy wants -- wants what? She wants. And the new boy in school, who is so fine, who seems to want her, may be the answer to her prayers. Taylor takes Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market a step further in time. Fruit out of season may be a clue that the goblin is tempting you; but there are more temptations than fruit.

Ana is cursed at her christening in Spicy Little Curses Such As These. In this twist of Sleeping Beauty, her curse is to kill. Any who hears her voice will die. She is blessed with self-control to never utter a sound. James falls in love with Ana, Ana with James. The battle fields of the Great War taught him to be rational and not believe in miracles and magic. He doesn't believe in curses and wishes she would talk. And instead of the reader being rational and believing as James does, we see what he doesn't. A world where an old lady engages in dangerous trades to save children from Hell and Ana's voice is the price paid.

In Hatchling, Esme has been raised in London by an eccentric mother. Her mother's oddness suddenly makes sense, or at least seems less odd, when Esme awakes to find that instead of two brown eyes she has one brown, one blue. Wolves are hunting them and Esme remembers things she know never happened. At least, never happened to her. Including a kiss. Who is Esme? What secrets does she hold?

I love the twists to tales that Taylor gives; taking Goblin Market to modern times. Creating a Sleeping Beauty who can kill with a whisper -- or a shout. And lastly, a story that seems to be about Esme -- until we find out there is more to Esme than meets the eye.

I kept turning down pages to mark language and phrases:

"The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trial, a scent goblins can follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood. The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up as someone else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls."

"She wanted to climb out of her life as if it were a seashell she could abandon on a shore and walk away from, barefoot."

"Kizzy felt, for an instant, as if her blood fizzed inside her like champagne."

"Once, he might have believed [his survival] to be the work of Providence, but it seemed to him now that to thank God for his life would be to suggest God had shrugged off all the others, flicked them away like cigarette butts by the thousands, and that seemed like abominable conceit."

Since this an ARC, it didn't have the complete art work. The cover gives a taste. While these are tales about being kissed, or wanting kisses, or the price of kissing, it is not a "romance", per se, though I would give it to people looking for stories about love. Since it's not a traditional romance, then, it doesn't have a traditional romance cover. Rather, the girl you see is one who looks haunted and who will haunt you. Two colors: red and blue. Blue eyes that are striking -- almost disturbing. Otherwordly. And of course the lips are red -- but not smiling. Full, kissable lips -- but not smiling, not inviting, not happy. This is the face of a girl turning into a woman, haunted, haunting, striking, inviting you in yet keeping you at arm's length.

The sketch art for the first story is supplied, relating in pictures the story of Rossetti's Goblin Wood and ending with a portrait of Kizzy. Loved it; and I cannot wait to see the finished book.

What links these stories? Teen girls on a brink -- on a brink of something else, something more.


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

Monday, September 14, 2009

BBAW : Personal Shortlists

So, it's Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2009!

Per teh official BBAW website, "Monday September 14. The shortlists for the awards will be announced next Monday, September 7th. The first day of BBAW, Monday September 14th, we encourage you to write a post thanking and spotlighting your favorite blogs that didn’t make the shortlists."

Colleen, always articulate and thoughtful, posted her personal shortlist at Chasing Ray last week. Much of what she said about blogs and blogging had me nodding my head in agreement.

For example? I blog for me. I write for me. What am I interested in? What am I exploring? While why I blog may be selfish, at the same time, I'm aware this isn't personal, it's public. So yes, I also blog for an audience. I realize that there are people who are reading this who aren't related to me. I know that the blog, while a "hobby" in that I blog during my own time, is at the same time professional -- I include it on resumes. Speak at conferences. Write articles. It's part of my professional face, and what I blog about (and don't blog about) is affected by that knowledge.

I blog because I like to talk about story; whether its in books, movies, or film. It may be a picture book or a children's book or a young adult book. You really cannot label Tea Cozy; and I wouldn't want to limit myself or what I write in seeking one label or another.

This all bleeds over into what blogs I read. I read a lot of blogs; admittedly, sometimes it is just skimming. Sometimes its more. Sometimes it depends on what day it is, what I'm interested in, how much time I have. I may follow a link or Tweet to a new blog.

Usually, I read via bloglines. Which means while I appreciate the artistic talents of other bloggers, I don't usually see it. I have my basic Blogger template; and if people think my blog isn't as good because I use that basic template, so be it.

What is a personal favorite? What is best? What is good criteria? Put two bloggers in a room, you'll get three opinions. I'd say no jacket copy or publisher's blurb original writing only; someone else would say why not, the opinion is what needs to be original; someone else would say, well, it all depends on how you credit the source. Do we really want to end that discussion by saying one of those is the only one true way to blog? The act of creating a definition is controversial because it creates a standard where there hadn't been one and it leaves some people meeting it and others not.

A favorite can depend on many things. Who are my favorite bloggers? Those I link to. Those I comment at. Those I follow. Those I email and tweet with. The ones I read and don't comment at, but my reading shows in your statistics. Basically, it's those I read.

Those I read. And who do I read? Those I know. Have I shared my blogosphere as cafeteria analysis? Different bloggers eat at different tables in the caf. It's not about cliques; just about who you know and have fun with and talk with. But it's important to remember that there are many tables in the lunchroom and many lunchtimes, and maybe even the caf is open for breakfast and dinner so there are those times and tables, also. And each blogging group has -- the way groups do -- their own protocols about what blogging is and isn't. So when I find "new to me" blogs (not new blogs!) I try to keep that in mind. The diversity. The groups. The different tables. Not to assume there is only one group, one table, one lunchtime. And to realize this diversity has to be acknowledged and considered and respected.

Do I have favorites? Hell, yes. It may be someone who just by mentioning a book, I want to read it. Or someone sharing industry news. A wry take on things that makes me laugh. A great voice. Interesting interpretations on books. Writing that shakes me up. Writing that makes me welcome. Should I begin listing all my favorites, I'd leave someone out, and who wants to do that to a favorite?

What else is there to say?

I blog because it's fun. I enjoy it; and I read your blogs for the same reason.

So, I guess this isn't what BBAW had in mind. But that's part of blogging, isn't it? Bloggers get inspired, but not necessarily by what you'd think. I may read something about puppies and get inspired to write about picnics because of the connections made in my head; a post by someone else may have a major point and one throwaway line, and what will I react to? The throwaway line. Here, the throwaway line was favorite. It got me musing... what is a favorite? What is best? Who decides? What does it mean to use those words? What does it mean to have a favorite?

So, that's my take on personal shortlists! Head over to the BBAW site for other shortlists.

What else to expect during this week at the BBAW site?

Tuesday September 15
Blogger interviews

Wednesday September 16
Reading Meme

Thursday September 17
Books discovered via blogs

Friday September 18
Blog goals



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

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hello, American Libraries Readers!

You know what happens when your friends and colleagues get their issue of American Libraries before you do?

You get a lot of "you're in American Libraries!"...and you have no idea what is said.

What a relief when it's something great!

It's the August/September 2009 issue (as of this writing, not yet up at their website.)

On page 59 is Learning with Blogs by Mary Ellen Quinn. Many rock-star blogs are listed; and there is Pop Goes the Library!! Quinn's succinct analysis: "it's fun." AND THEN, it gets even better, because it mentions the contributors to Pop and their blogs: Carlie and her blog, Librarilly Blonde; Melissa and her blog, Librarian by Day; and me and Tea Cozy.

I'm not sure what is more thrilling; Pop being listed in the article, or our cluster of blogs being called fun.

So, thank you, Mary Ellen Quinn and American Libraries; and readers who have found their way to Tea Cozy -- pull up a chair, have a cup of tea (or pumpkin spice latte!) and enjoy yourself.

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

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Free Library of Philadelphia

I lived in Philadelphia for three years, after law school. One year clerking for a judge, two years at a law firm.

I used the library, back in the day.

And now; now I have friends who work there. Dedicated, caring, talented librarians who work in Philly because they care.

The City of Philadelphia is having budget woes, like pretty much everyone. Among other actions they are taking -- a total shut down of the Free Library of Pennsylvania.

The wording from the library website: We deeply regret to inform you that without the necessary budgetary legislation by the State Legislature in Harrisburg, the City of Philadelphia will not have the funds to operate our neighborhood branch libraries, regional libraries, or the Parkway Central Library after October 2, 2009.

More details about the closing are at the library website. Including the action that you can take.

Library Journal's coverage of the planned closings.

This is about more than libraries; as reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, layoffs of police and firefighters are anticipated. Recreation centers are also closing. Senior centers are affected. Trash is going to a twice a month pickup. More from NBC Philadelphia.


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

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kidlitosphere Conference Meme

Jen at Jen Robinson's Book Page answered MotherReader's Kidlitosphere Conference Meme and tagged me.

So here it goes!

Why did you decide to attend the KidLitosphere Conference?

It's funny; Robin Brande started it as a potluck supper. It seemed such an insane idea -- travel half way across the country? To meet people I'd never met? Isn't this exactly what we tell teenagers not to do? Up until I got to the hotel and met other people, I was thinking "what if this is some kind of scam?"

I'd had a chance to meet up with a handful of bloggers in "real life" at ALA or BEA, but the truth is because both of those conferences are so busy, it was always impossible to really schedule a drinks night, let alone anything else. And that is always so rushed.

As I saw these people I knew -- but didn't knew -- sign up for the Kidlit Conference, I knew one thing.

I didn't want to be left out.

So I took a deep breath and made the plane reservations.

Now, for the second one, I was close. I had sent in my conference fee and made hotel reservations; but just before the plane reservations were finalized, I found out my cousin's twins were being christened that weekend. Yeah.

So there is NO WAY I am missing Kidlit DC!!

Who was most like their blog? Who was least like their blog?

You know what is funny about bloggers? For the most part, we're word people. There is a reason some people blog, and others don't; and while some blogs go on and others don't. Not only that; when you're blogging day in and day out, your personality comes through. It has to, or no one would read your blog! Your voice is important.

I am a shy person.

No, really!!!

I am a shy person who is especially not at ease with people I do not know.

So I was really afraid of going to this conference, and, well, shutting down. Not being able to talk. I walked into the hotel lobby and was "what the hell have I done. I don't know anybody...."

But I was wrong -- because everyone was like their blog! I did know people; I knew everyone. It was so easy to talk and laugh -- like we'd all gone to summer camp together and just now were having our umpteenth reunion. The only problem was there was too little time; too many people I didn't have the chance to talk with.

What surprised you at the conference?

How much fun we had, for having just met. How nice it was to be with people who "get it"; you don't have to explain what a blog is, why you do it; you don't get the comments like "I could never do that because I have a life."

At the same time, you also get a broader perspective of why people blog. So many reasons; talking with authors and their perspectives, publicists and their point of views.

EDITED TO ADD: I just read the comments to Colleen's answers to these questions and in a comment Colleen describes this better than I, so I'm going to put it here : one thing that was really reinforced for me last year was how many authors don't know how to interact with bloggers or how the blogosphere (for lack of a better word) works. Nothing like real-life talking and back & forth for authors to "get" what it is bloggers do, and don't do.

What will you always remember about the last conference?

That I couldn't go. I'm still upset. Online is great -- it created these friendships and connections that transferred quickly into "real life." Which then meant that the online connection is that much deeper.

Did you blog about the conference?

This is a trick question, right?

My posts: Round up of reports, including mine. More reports. And more. Photos. Esme's Bookroom Visit. My final post. My really final post.

Who do I tag?

YOU.

Also?

Please come to DC! It's only fun from the people who go, and the more the merrier. There is really nothing like it. ALA get together? Full of ALA business meetings. BEA? Full of BEA business, plus, starting next year it's mid week so that only works for people who can take off midweek. This is a weekend!!

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

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