Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sins of the Mother

Sins of the Mother. A Lifetime Movie Network movie. 2010. No DVD release date (yet). As of this post date, the movie can be streamed at the Lifetime Movie Network.

The Plot: Shay Hunter is a graduate student, forced to return home because she's run out of options. Her professor says she's one of his smartest and brightest. Unfortunately, she has trouble getting along with her students and even had a run in with the Dean. Shay is lucky she just has to take a year off. Where else can she go, but home?

Home. To her alcoholic, neglectful mother. Nona says she's in recovery and AA, but Shay lived with Nona all her life. She knows the truth, this won't last. Nona's house looks like something out of a storybook when Shay drives up, tired and angry. It's a beautiful cottage, lush gardens, and Shay's five year old half-sister, Sunshine, dressed as a ballerina with a cute room.

It's the home and life Shay never had.

Distrustful, hurt, searching, Shay has to figure out what to do with her life. And whether there is room for Nona.

The Good: You know what this is like? It's like a fantastic sequel to a standard young adult novel. Shay's young adult novel: living with an alcoholic mother, having one or two friends but focusing on escape, particularly the escape of college. At the end, despite it all, she gets into college and leaves to start her own life.

And in the sequel we find that, as Buckaroo Banzai said, wherever you go, there you are. Shay cannot leave her past behind and start a new life because of her emotional baggage and her relationship with her mother. Forced to go home, forced to be again a child to her parent, Shay has to deal with her anger. Anger not just that her mother was a drunk for all those years, but anger also that Nona got her act together to be a picture-postcard-perfect mother for Sunshine. Why Sunshine and not Shay, the viewer wonders.

Nicole Beharie plays Shay with just the right mix of anger and hope, independence and longing. Shay is almost unlikable in her anger at the world and her mother. It's going to take a lot for any reconciliation to happen. Forgiveness is needed; not for Nona, but for Shay to have a full, healthy life. In a way, Shay has never left her childhood behind, and is still that hurt, sad thirteen year old whose mother disappears. Once she begins to forgive, even just a little, to trust, Shay begins to grow, and open herself up to friendship and love.

And as for Jill Scott as Nona. She steals the show. While I began watching thinking, "oh, Shay is like many a young adult novel heroine, and this is what happens when she grows up," my focus switched to Nona. Who is she? What are her demons? Look at how she has reinvented herself, saved herself. I want to know more about her.

If you like movies about mothers and daughters? About how hope and forgiveness is possible? And about how we sometimes live in jails of our own making? Watch this film.

And bonus! It's based on a book, Orange Mint and Honey: A Novel by Carleen Brice. You may also know Brice for the blog, White Readers Meet Black Authors. I've added both of Brice's fiction books to my "buy this" list.

And here is the trailer, which is what made both my mother and I sit up and say, "oh, we have to watch this!". And when I realized my cable company didn't carry Lifetime Movie Network, Mom recorded it for me.

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

Saturday, February 27, 2010

What is the difference ....

What is the difference between a lit blog and a book blog?

No, seriously. I see "lit blog(ger) versus book blog(ger)" stuff thrown around, and I want to have a better context.

So if you anyone wants to share definitions and how these two differ, I appreciate it. Because as far as I can tell there is no real difference.

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

Friday, February 26, 2010

(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer. 2009. DVD from Netflix

The Plot: The relationship of Tom and Summer, two twentysomethings. He believes in love at first sight and finding your one true love; she, in being friends and that there is no such thing as love.

The Good: Tom's and Summer's relationship is modern (he the romantic, she the cynic); their story has highs and lows, sweet romance and deep hurts. It is primarily Tom's story, his friends, his family, his dreams. Summer is the girl he falls for, more complex than he understands. When he is happy, his world is a music video; sad, and its raining outside and all is dull and gray. (500) Days of Summer is a beautifully written and acted look at the life cycle of a relationship.

While the story of Tom and Summer alone would make an interesting film, what ups the greatness of this is it is told out of order. First meeting, post-breakup, flirtation, first kiss, a series of disjointed days that seem at first glance to be confusing. It works: the different scenes show a building story arc, the contradictory behaviour of people, and, somehow, despite the nonlinear story telling, character development. I've watched it a few times now, and each time have enjoyed it more and more.

There is a little bit of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to Summer, in that at first we are told that everyone loves her. She works in an ice cream store, sales go up; she rents an apartment, she gets a break in rent. And, of course, she's cute, listens to interesting music, wears great clothes. Ultimately, Summer is not such a girl. She may be Tom's dream girl, yes, in the sense that Tom falls in love with her at first sight and becomes a bit obsessed with her. Summer is honest from the start of their relationship that she doesn't want a relationship, isn't looking for love, and wants to be "just friends." Tom's own passions, own desires, cloud his thinking and he ignores her. His ignoring who she is (and isn't) doesn't turn her into a MPDG. All Summer teaches Tom is what any relationship teaches a person: people are people and cannot be made into what they are not. Along the way, Tom takes ownership of his life instead of drifting and waiting for "the one". Reading this article by the screenwriter makes me think that Summer was originally written as a MPDG (reading that article creates intense dislike in the pity party the screenwriter throws himself), and was saved by a good director, editing, and great actors.

Final point: I just adore Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his work. Between this and Brick, I think I'd watch him read the phone book and he would make it smart and sexy.

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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dream Life

Dream Life by Lauren Mechling. Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House. 2010. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Claire Voyante has a gift: psychic abilities that help her solve mysteries. Naturally, it's not something she shares with her fellow students at Henry Hudson High School. Of her family, its her grandmother, Kiki, who knows her secret gift and helps her come to terms with it. Sequel to Dream Girl.

The Good: Claire's abilities are not a straightforward roadmap. Rather, they are dreamlike clues to something. Wearing the onyx and ivory cameo necklace that Kiki gave Claire on Claire's fifteenth birthday helps; so, too, does Claire being observant enough to interpret her dreams and apply them to the real world.

Claire is not a rich kid, even if she does have a well-off grandmother who passes down designer duds and a best friend, Becca, who is a rich girl from an old New York family. Claire is secretly dating/not-dating Becca's brother, Andrew. Claire is a bit insecure about this, and when Becca starts hanging out with her prep school friends from similar privileged backgrounds Claire thinks she has lost her friend. It doesn't help that Andrew, in addition to keeping the relationship secret from Becca, wants to cool things down as he concentrates on school to pull up his grades.

It turns out that Becca isn't ditching Claire. Instead, Becca is part of a secret society, one that is dedicated to secret good deeds around New York City. Because all the teenagers are connected and wealthy, this isn't your High School activities of visiting nursing homes. These are big, extravagant, always top-secret projects. Soon Claire finds herself involved in the secret society (despite her more modest background) and (of course!) solving a mystery. And remember... no one knows that she gets help from her dreams. She has to pretend as if she is just figuring things out. What's nice is that the dreams aren't roadmaps. They are rather clues themselves, things that have to be interpreted, to be viewed just the right way. So, instead of a dream giving it all away, both Claire and the reader have to figure out what exactly is meant; what to look for; whether there is a warning or a promise.

Also good: a side of New York City that isn't all glam. Claire bicycles places to meet her friends, has a mix of friends, enjoys spending time with Kiki. She likes Andrew yet doesn't understand the mixed signals he sends her. She tries to balance her different friendships. And she's funny! What else would you expect when the main character is named Claire Voyante? (It's explained in the first book.)

While reading Dream Girl helps to understand Claire's family and friends dynamics, it's not necessary to read and enjoy Dream Life.

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

Welcome, The Reading Tub / Scrub A Dub Tub Readers!

Why, what is that over at Scrub-A-Dub-Tub, the blog for The Reading Tub website?

An interview with me!

While there is some bits about blogging, it is mostly about Braille literacy and my "day job." (Which has nothing to do with this blog, my opinions are my own and not my employers, you all know the drill.)

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Irish Society for the Study of Children’s Literature

Another Children's Literature conference I cannot go to to -- but maybe you can!

The Irish Society for the Study of Children’s Literature conference is in March: "The 2010 ISSCL conference will have the interdisciplinary and multimedia theme of ‘Sound, Image, Text‘ in children’s literature and the culture of childhood. The conference will be held on 5th and 6th March in Trinity College, Dublin. Registration fee: 60 euro for members. 80 euro for non-members, 40 euro for the unwaged."

The conference program is at their website, and it looks so cool that I thisclose to saying what the hell, what's wrong with a little debt, how much is airfare to Dublin?

Excuse me while I go sulk over not going to this conference. And plot for a way to not only go next year, but to have someone else pay.

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Welcome, Publishers Weekly Readers!

Publishers Weekly wrote about the partnership between Barnes & Noble and Common Sense Media in Common Sense Raises Issues at B&N. This blog was quoted in that article. So welcome!

To recap: I wrote about the partnership in my post, No, We All Don't Agree.

In a nutshell, my point of view:

Common Sense Media is there for those parents who want it.

Despite its name "common sense" and it saying its what "all" parents think/want and that it doesn't make judgments, my position is it DOES make judgments and connects those judgments to age ratings. As explained in my earlier post, the judgment was made for Calpurnia that showing legal behaviour by adults warrants a higher age rating. Fine; those readers who agree can use that website to find the books that reflect their own positions and judgments. Or, take a look at other titles, such as the any of the Rainbow list and see what elements are judged there. Agree or disagree with the website; you can read it or not. They give plenty of information for you to decide.

Now, Barnes & Noble on the other hand is a commercial bookseller. They use a variety of editorial and customer reviews already. Adding the Common Sense Media review (especially in full) to their review section? Why not? It's balanced by other reviews.

Highlighting the Common Sense Media age labels on the primary page of a book?

That's getting a bit more iffy, especially since there is no balance to other different age recommendations. It's saying that Common Sense Age labels are the only ones that matter. There is no balance. There is a realistic risk that most readers won't click through and read the whole review and the reasons behind it.

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

One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. Amistad, an imprint of Harper Collins. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: 1968. Delphine Gaither, 11, is the oldest sister, the responsible one, who is in charge of Vonetta (age 9) and Fern (age 7) as they travel from Brooklyn to Oakland, CA to visit Cecile, the mother who left them shortly after Fern's birth.

In One Crazy Summer, the three girls learn not just about their mother and about themselves, but also about the larger world. The world of 1968 is one where grown ups argue with children about whether they use the word black or colored; a seven year old is taken to task in public for having a white doll; and poetry is not just words on a page.

The Good: I love the Gaither sisters! I love how they stick up for each other in public, yet get mad at each other in private. I love how they have this thing where they don't just finish each others sentences -- when taking on someone, they converse as if one, a solid family unit.

Williams-Garcia brings 1968 alive. Take this passage about the girls and how they watch TV, where they look "to find colored people on television. Each week, Jet magazine pointed out all the shows with colored people. My sisters and I became expert colored counters. We had it down to a science. Not only did we count how many colored people were on TV, we also counted the number of words the actors were given to say. For instance, it was easy to count the number of words the Negro engineer on Mission Impossible spoke as well as the black POW on Hogan's Heroes."

The words are those used at the time (colored, black, Negro); the story involves something (television) that today's kid can relate to; and it shows how few people of color were on TV and how they were utilized in those programs. All entertaining; yet also informational. Most importantly, it conveys something about 1968 and about these three girls. Cecile may be the parent who is now a poet, who works with the Black Panthers. Grandmother "Big Ma" and their father have raised them to think how "they" will look at you, to "make sure they don't misbehave or be an embarrassment to the Negro race." Big Ma and Papa have also taught them pride and taught them to judge the world they are in.

Because the girls are visiting an unknown mother, they serve as "outsiders" to the world they encounter, where the Black Panthers at the People's Center provide free breakfast and summer camp. Oh, they have some knowledge, of course, just not the day-to-day life experience. So, too, the reader is introduced to the Black Panthers.

Cecile. Cecile is not a dream mother out of a book. There is the whole abandoning her daughters; even when the girls arrive for a month's stay, Cecile continues to act as if she doesn't want them around and doesn't care about them. Let me add, how much I love their father who took the chance and risk of sending these girls to be with the woman who left him. I love nuanced portrayals of adults, especially those who don't fit society's norms. Like Delphine and her sisters, the reader is at times angry, confused, and hurt by Cecile's actions and words. And yet... and yet... Cecile is never a monster, never evil.

Cecile, seeing how Delphine assumes responsibility for her siblings, tells her "it wouldn't kill you to be selfish, Delphine." How non-motherly! Yet, how right. How true. While Cecile may have taken selfish to the extreme, some selfishness is a good thing.

It takes Delphine another hundred pages to angrily respond to her mother, "I'm only eleven years old, and I do everything. I have to because you're not there to do it. I'm only eleven years old, but I do the best I can. I don't just up and leave." It takes those pages, that time, for Delphine to find her voice, to finally have enough trust in herself and her mother that she can say these words to her mother and keep her mother. Oh, not as a mother out of a book or TV show or like Big Ma; but a mother just the same.

While teachers and librarians will be happy about a book set in 1968 with the Black Panthers, its not what kids usually go looking for on their own. Oh, there will be some kids who know something about Black Panthers and want books; and there are always those of us who even as children were historical fiction fans and sought that genre out.

How to sell to those kids who aren't into historical fiction?

Booktalk it as a great story about three sisters, with a bookish oldest sister, a show off younger sister, and a baby sister. Imagine going to visit a mother you haven't seen since you were four... and having your mother not hug and kiss you but send you out on your own in a strange neighborhood to buy dinner for the whole family! Fans of sister-books will love this new addition to the genre and (like me) will hope for a second book. Like other books about sisters, this is episodic: meeting Cecile, Delphine cooking for her sisters, sight seeing.

This is going on my favorite books read in 2010 list (see sidebar for full list). My only problem with this book? I'm not satisfied. I want a second book. I want to spend more time with the Gaither sisters. I want One Crazy Summer to be the start of a new series, like All Of A Kind Family / Betsy-Tacy / Little House on the Prairie.

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

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Miss Penelope Lumley, recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, is resolved to get a position as governess. What, she wonders, will they ask? Will they quiz her on the capitals of central European countries? At no point does she wonder, "what if my young charges were raised by wolves and only recently discovered and have never even had a bath? when is the right time to start Latin for such children?" Had she wondered that, she would have been better prepared for the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.

The Good: The Plot description is my lame attempt at imitating the arch, wry, tongue in cheekness of Wood's style. Miss Lumley (well, by page 7 you have sufficiently made her acquaintance to call her Penelope) may be fifteen, and a responsible, wise governess (seriously -- within months her young charges are wearing clothes, reading, speaking a little Latin, but alas, still chasing squirrels), but she is also young and imaginative. In other words, she is the perfect main character for the tween set -- but if you know a teen with a quirky sense of humor, they will get a kick out of this book, also.

To back up a little: Miss Lumley (whose own origins are slightly shrouded in mystery) becomes governess to three children, discovered on the grounds of Ashton Place, by Lord Ashton. He was out hunting and found these three wild children. Let me be a grown up for a second: I think most child-readers will just go with this conceit and enjoy the fun ride of Miss Lumley bringing civilization in the form of uncomfortable clothes, poetry, and no longer chasing squirrels into the the lives of the wolfish children, now named Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia. Those who think twice about it (three children? raised by wolves?) will, I think, be rewarded in future books. A handful of clues are shared, that indicate there is something more to not only the children, their origins, and Lord Ashton, but also to Penelope herself.

This is chock full of fun. Penelope adores a series of books about a young girl and her pony (the Giddy-Yap, Rainbow! series), and applies what she learns in those volumes to raising these children. She lives by the sayings of the founder of her school, such as "That which can be purchased at a shop is easily left in a taxi; that which you carry inside you is difficult, though not impossible, to misplace."

Here is pure Penelope, as she reads poetry to the children: "Reading aloud was a task she enjoyed; it allowed her to pretend she was a famous actress on the London stage, which she thought might be an interesting career if only it were not so scandalous. Also, the working hours for famous actresses ran late into the evening, and Penelope had always preferred early bedtimes." Wood conveys Penelope's delightful mix of maturity and naivete; her practicality and dreams.

Edited to add: Because it is such gosh-darn fun and inventive, it's on my Favorite Books Read in 2010 list (see sidebar).

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

Sunday, February 21, 2010

No, We Don't All Agree

On Twitter, SassyMonkey brought to my attention that Barnes & Noble is now using CommonSenseMedia age ratings on its website. SassyMonkey has a pretty thorough review of the situation, especially how what appears at B&N is a lot less nuanced than what is at CommonSenseMedia. Click through to SassyMonkey's post, especially as she has great screen shots that compare what is at Barnes & Noble and what is at CommonSenseMedia.

Linda Braun at YALSA's blog chimes in with a detailed exploration about the concerns with such age labelling in "Who Owns Common Sense:" "Think about the messages the ratings send to parents, and to teens. Consider how the ratings might have an impact on the materials you have in your collection. Be willing to stand up for the books you have in your collection and talk to parents about the positive aspects of teen reading of books that might have content that makes some nervous."

According to a press release at CommonSenseMedia, this arrangement began early in February.

Big Brother, er, I mean Barnes & Noble has this to say: “We know how challenging it can be for parents to make smart choices for their kids,” said William Lynch, president of Barnes & “Adding Common Sense Media ratings and reviews for books, movies, games, and music is our way of making life easier for parents and taking the worry out of making age-appropriate selections for their kids.”

I guess the existing professional reviews that indicated content was not enough; now a big red button that screams "THIS AGE ONLY" is necessary.

Here's the thing.

If a parent wants the type of detailed "how many f*cks?" "is there kissing with tongue" "is it blasphemous" type of review, fine. Great! I even think CommonSenseMedia is a great resource for us readers who don't count the number of times a kid talks back to an adult, but have patrons who want to know. CommonSenseMedia does NOT say "don't read this book" or "this book is evil"; rather, they give a detailed analysis of the factors they think set off alarm bells for adults who monitor the reading choices of their children.

Yes, it is biased; read some book reviews of books you have read, and you'll see this is not objective or factual. Which is fine, because some people want this. For example, in writing about The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, drinking and parental obedience is highlighted: "Parents need to know that there is little in the way of bad language or mature situations in this Newbery Honor book, but Calpurnia's grandfather not only drinks regularly and tries to distill his own whiskey, he seems to have no concept that children "as young as 11" should not be drinking. Callie knows, though. Callie also reveals that the tonic her mother takes so often for headaches and stress contains 20% alcohol. Callie also finds ways to bend the rules, but like her siblings, is mostly a dutiful child."

So, for those parents whose concern is drinking regularly? And being a dutiful child? This website is for them.

So why does Barnes & Noble assume this is true of all parents? As Braun points out in her blog post at YALSA, who decided that judging such a book this way IS common?

The Barnes & Noble reader is just told that this book is for ages 12 and up according to CommonSenseMedia. (For the record? I've given it to my 9 year old niece, who will read it if and when she gets through all the Warrior books). If the parent clicks "more" they will get the reasons for the 12 plus rating. Barnes & Noble gives the publisher age range (ironically, ages 9 to 12, which I agree with). If the parent reads to Editorial Reviews (but why should they, when they aren't highlighted as CommonSenseMedia does?), they get a variety of ages: ten and up from Publishers Weekly; grades 5 to 8 from School Library Journal; ages ten to fourteen from Kirkus.

I am disappointed. Not in CommonSenseMedia -- as I said, they are what they are and the parent who wants it can go there. It's a resource.

I am disappointed with Barnes & Noble, and how they have decided to use the age rating of CommonSenseMedia.

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

Friday, February 19, 2010

New Madeleine L'Engle Covers

Farrar Straus and Giroux brings another great new cover for a Madeleine L'Engle book.

This time, it's And Both Were Young.

It's about Flip (aka Phillipa) who is sent to a Swiss boarding school. The way, you know, girls are, at least, girls in L'Engle's early books. It was published in 1949.

Flip doesn't get her own grown up book; but she, and her art, are mentioned in A Severed Wasp: A Novel, the 1982 sequel to 1945's The Small Rain.

L'Engle fans understand exactly what I'm talking about, and how fun it is to have characters pop up again and again.

By the way, last year, Camilla was reissued with a sweet new cover.

Because I'm showing off, I'll remind you that the sequel to this 1951 novel is A Live Coal In The Sea, published in 1996.

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

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What A Girl Wants

Feminist Is Not A Dirty Word is the latest in the What A Girl Wants series by Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray.

What A Girl Wants began in June 2009, and is a series of interviews with authors about the "current status of books for teen girls and what it says about both what they want to read and what publishers think they want to read." Topics since then have covered everything from mysteries to favorite books to recommendations to the most recent entry, about feminism.

I cannot believe I haven't linked to this series before! If you've been reading it, you know how great and in depth it is, with an amazing array of authors. If you haven't been reading it, start now! You'll feel as if Colleen invited all these women to her house, and you're invited, also, and now you're sitting around drinking wine, eating good cheese, and talking about bookish things.

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

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Connecting Cultures & Celebrating Cuentos: National Latino Children's Literature Conference

Are you in or near Alabama?

This looks like a great conference!

Connecting Cultures & Celebrating Cuentos: National Latino Children's Literature Conference, the National 3rd Annual Celebration of Latino Children's Literature at
The University of Alabama, April 23rd - 24th.

For more information visit the conference website:

From the announcement about the conference: "Registration is limited so hurry before you miss your chance to interact with nationally acclaimed Latino/a children's and young adult author's and illustrators, and to network with professionals serving the literacy needs of Latino children in classrooms, libraries, and educational settings around the U.S."

Early bird registration for this two day event is only $105.00. And includes food. Lodging is extra; details on hotels, travel and parking are at the website.

If this sounds like something you would like to speak at, here is the Call for Proposals. The Deadline is February 26 so you have time to put something together!

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

All Unquiet Things

All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab. Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House. 2010. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: It's been a year since Neily's ex-girlfriend Carly was murdered. One year; and now that senior year has started, it should be behind him. Someone was arrested, a trial was held, the murderer is in jail. Neily is still conflicted about his feelings about Carly, their time together, their breakup, her murder, so when Carly's cousin Audrey approaches him with her belief that the real murderer is still out there, he's not sure what to do.

The Good: Pure brilliance. A wonderful mystery.

Sometimes Neily tells the story; sometimes, Audrey. With both, the story switches from the present, senior year, to the past, when Neily, Carly, and Audrey first met. Neily tells a sweet, tender story of meeting his best friend, Carly, in 8th grade on his first day at private school, and how that friendship became one of two young teens in love and then unraveled so disastrously that the entire school witnessed their break up as Carly moved on to becoming friends with the edgy, popular, social, cool kids.

There is the mystery of Carly's murder, but also the mystery of shifting friendships and loves and personalities in high school. Why is a good girl attracted to the bad boy? What does an endless party scene offer that quiet days of reading books does not?

As with any mystery, for me to tell details about the crime -- the murder of Carly -- would result in the reader not having the pleasure of discovering it themselves.

What I will say: Like Brick and Veronica Mars, Jarzab uses high school as a microcosm of the real world. So it's not so much saying, "here is the dark underside of High School" as saying "here is the dark underside of life." High School just conveniently lowers the number of suspects and the people and places to investigate.

Jarzab does something that is quite daring for a book: she makes characters unlikable. There is no "OMG I LUV THIS PERSON," a reaction that is sometimes seen on blogs (and, truth be told, I've done it, too.) Neily can come across as a bit of prude, and yes, a bit stalkerish and obsessed about Carly. Carly cruelly hurts Neily. Audrey brings Carly into the cool, dangerous crowd. And yet, it is because they each are at times unlikeable that the book is so strong. They are not perfect; they are human; they have failings. Failings that we all have, every day, yet we aren't murdered; our friends aren't murdered. It makes Neily, Carly and Audrey identifiable, perhaps uncomfortably so. Would I want to be friends with Neily, Carly, Audrey? The more honest question is, at times, have I been Neily, Carly, Audrey? The answer is yes.

And, wow, the writing! All Unquiet Things works beautifully as a mystery; but it is also a very strong literary work. The writing is beautiful; but it never overwhelms the story. (My pet peeve with many a literary book is that the writing trumps the plot and characterization; here, it supports it, as it should). I want to copy paragraph after paragraph!

Here, from the first few pages: "I didn't know what help spending time at the bridge [where Carly died] would be, but I had been drawn there throughout that boiling summer, and I thought it best to go with my instincts, even though they never seemed to do me any good."

And this: "Carly had been smart, the brightest girl in our class. But she had also been reckless and damaged and lost, and the people she trusted to fix all of those problems had only made them worse. ... I would say that Carly fell in with the wrong crowd, but the truth is that there was no falling, no tumbling, no deceit on the part of the wrong crowd involved. Carly sought them out." Oh, just go to the author's website and read the excerpts for yourself.

Added to my "Favorite Books Read in 2010." Either click the tag or look at the sidebar to see my other 2010 favorites. I'm sure this will be nominated for BBYA, and when Printz and Morris buzz starts, this should be included on the short lists everyone is talking about.

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

Monday, February 15, 2010

ARCs, Once Again

At the end of this post is a round up to my previous, often lengthy explanations of what an ARC is (and isn't) and why an ARC isn't just like a hardcover and why it shouldn't be sold or added to a library collection.

On one of the library listservs I lurk on, I found out that many Friends of the Library sell ARCs at booksales, sell them on E-bay, and think it is appropriate to add these items to library catalogs.

Which, just goes to show you, that the education of library staff and related professionals when it comes to publishing and ARCs is sadly lacking. The fault is not in the Friends group (well, OK, it is) but also in the Library Director who allows this.

Dear Librarians:


It doesn't matter how badly your budgets have been slashed. No, really.

And they also should NOT be given to your Friends to sell them. No, really.

Guess what? Part of your ethical responsibility is to educate those around you as to why this is an issue, and act accordingly. Which means NOT giving them to your Friends. Just tell them pages fell out so they cannot be sold. Half my ARCs lose pages in the first reading, so you're telling them the truth.

If you need more copies of Twilight, you wouldn't photocopy it instead of buying it, would you? (If you said you would.... I am more depressed than words could say.)

Dear Bloggers and Reviewers:

If YOU are the source of the ARCs being sold or added to the collections, stop donating them to libraries. Frankly, my personal belief is that if they are not being given directly to a teen to read and review and respond, they should be thrown out, unless (like Scholastic) other places are noted on the ARC as acceptable donation places. BUT, it should be clear you are donating them to be read, not to be sold.

"But it's a collector's item!" Excuse: Yes, in some circumstances, an ARC is indeed a collector's item with its own inherent value. Guess what? Those circumstances are very limited. And nine out of ten times, doesn't apply to your selling situation. Instead, what happens is people who think they are buying the "real book" are being sold an inferior product. And, people who think an ARC is a paperback version of a book don't understand what the issue is and get defensive and pissy.

A round up of my previous posts about ARCs:

But Can I Catalog It?, YALSA Blog, September 1, 2009

ARCs: Just Like a Hardcover, Only Free! Part 1. December 21, 2009

ARCs: Just Like a Hardcover, Only Free! Part 2. December 30, 2009.

Interviews About ARCs:

With Sheila Ruth, Imaginator Press. May 7, 2009

With Andrew Karre, Carolrhoda Books. May 13, 2009.

With Brian Farrey, Flux Books. May 20, 2009.

With Sarah Prineas, author. May 27, 2009

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

Let Me Play

Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX: The Law That Changed the Future of Girls in America by Karen Blumenthal. Atheneum, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 2005. Copy from library.

Originally appeared at the Edge of the Forest.

I'm not a sports girl. Yet here I am, reviewing a book about sport.

Before 1972, the opportunity for girls to play sports, especially organized sports in school, was extremely limited. Donna de Varona, an Olympic medal winner in 1964, did not have the ability to pursue her sport into college because of the lack of university level swimming programs or scholarships.

Title IX was passed in 1972, prohibiting sex discrimination in education. That one law changed everything, resulting in today's society, where the idea that a girl wouldn't be playing soccer or able to go college on a sports scholarship is unheard of. How did that become possible? Let Me Play is a fascinating look at a cultural shift in how society views girls and sports, from girl as observer to girl as participant.

What fascinated me was not so much the sports and the athletes. Rather, it was that this book made the Law come alive. I used to be a lawyer; I didn't leave the Law. I left the lifestyle of the lawyer. The Law was, and remains, exciting, dynamic, living, breathing, sometimes misused, and often misunderstood. I love that in Law, as in literature, words have meaning. Words are important. Words change lives. Not since Schoolhouse Rocks' "I'm Just A Bill" has the legislative process been shown to be so exciting and alive.

What is Title IX, anyway? Who fought to make it happen? How did they decide on what to include, and what those words meant? And after it was made into a law – what did that mean to schools? If a football team is bringing in $5 million in revenue compared to a girls softball teams' $100,000, is it really discrimination to say that the football team gets better funding and support and uniforms? (For the record, I made up that example.)

Laws aren't stagnant; they are living, growing, evolving things. In Let Me Play, what is important is how those laws get made, and how those laws get enforced, and how a regular person, who isn't even thinking about that law, or even knows about it, is affected. This is a great "behind the scenes" look at how laws are made, and how politicians work. I'm not sure if Let Me Play… will influence any one to play soccer or basketball, although I'm sure it will make them appreciate the opportunity to do so if they wish. But I do think it may make someone fall for the Law and the Political Process, to realize that changes can be made and to want to make those changes.

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

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Exiles

The Exiles by Hilary McKay. Margaret K. McElderry Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint. 1992. Review copy from library; review originally appeared at The Edge of the Forest.

In classic tradition that dates back at least to Little Women, The Exiles is about four sisters, the Conroys: Ruth, 13; Naomi, 11; Rachel, 8; and Phoebe, 6. I'm not sure why four is the magic number; but it's proven true as recently as The Penderwicks.

The girls are unique, independent and delightfully real in their sense of honor and morals. Early on, one of their younger sisters has gotten in trouble for something and is obediently waiting to get punished. Her older sisters "looked at her in despair. They believed in behaving as though they were innocent at least until they were proven guilty, and quite often even after that." Ruth and Naomi are not saying to lie or be obstinate; rather, they are saying why give in so easily? Why, just because you're the child, accept the adults' version? Why not stand up for yourself and your view of events? They despair not at their sister's obedience, but rather at her not asserting herself and her voice.

The Conroys have real sister dynamics: there is love, companionship, and affection, but also arguments, selfishness, snark, and even fistfights. These are not idolized or glorified children. They delight in each other, and a good story.

The girls are quite content at home, and as can be imagined by their motto of "behave as though innocent," get into some interesting situations. Then comes one of the more innovative "get the parents out of the picture" devices; no dead mom this time, rather, the parents get an unexpected inheritance, decide to remodel, and send the girls to their grandmother's for the summer. It's an indication of how well the girls think of themselves and their place in the family that each girl assumes that she will get a share of the inheritance and each is bitterly disappointed and betrayed to discover that their selfish parents don't intend to share it.

The girls are in for a surprise; "Big Grandma" has decided that the girls read too much, live too much in the world of books, so for an entire summer has banned the books. She insists she has none of her own. This would have been a nightmare for me, as a child and now; and I sympathize with the girls who have nothing to read. "Big Grandma" has decided that she can "fix" the girls; but the girls prove too creative and innovative. Despite the initial antagonism, the girls and their grandmother grow close; eventually, "Big Grandma's cooking stopped tasting like an outsider's cooking and became ordinary."

McKay does a great job of capturing childhood and children with all their warts; the girls continually assume that they are right and correct about everything. They are casual about the truth, especially when it serves a greater good. In supporting their attempts at fire-building, they make a casual lie about having learned how in the Girl Guides. Casual, because they are convinced that having read about it in books, they can in fact build a fire. So it's not really a lie. It is perhaps this belief in "If I read it, I can do" that has inspired "Big Grandma" to do away with books for the summer.

The Conroys' stubborn insistence that they are in the right can lead to adventures; but these are not over the top adventures. They are summer time adventures: a visit to a neighbor, swimming at the beach, gardening, hiking. The adventure comes from the imagination learned from books combined with confidence that it will all work out the way they want it to. This can be for the good or the bad. The girls go to visit a cave, and Naomi freezes on the way up the side of a cliff, afraid she'll fall. Later, determined to do what her sisters did, Naomi visits the place on her own, determined to conquer her fear. She does so; but she also falls. As she falls, "she felt vaguely triumphant; she'd known she would fall and she had fallen, so she had been right all along."

The brilliance of McKay is that a less honest writer would have had Naomi conquer a fear of heights; instead, Naomi discovers that her fear was not unfounded or silly. Not only that, but Naomi is triumphant in that knowledge. The Conroys remain, as ever, confident in their knowledge that they are right; so continue to behave as though innocent.

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

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lockdown: Escape from Furnace

Lockdown (Escape From Furnace) by Alexander Gordon Smith. Farrar Straus & Giraux 2009. Brilliance Audio 2009. Narrated by Alex Kalajzic. Reviewed from audio from publisher.

The Plot: Alex Sawyer admits he is a thief. Has been for two years, since he was twelve. Started with money from kids on the playground; moved up to burglary. But he is NOT a murderer. He did not kill his best friend, Toby.

Nobody believes him, though. So Alex gets sent to the worst prison ever imagined: Furnace. Beneath heaven is hell. Beneath hell is Furnace.

The Good: Have readers who are adrenaline junkies? Who want books were things actually happen? Who have little patience for books about thoughts, and feelings, and emotions? Who don't want books that are all about lessons?

Give them Lockdown. And guess what? There are thoughts and feelings and emotions, but they are wrapped up in a nonstop breathless reading experience. And there is a lesson or two. Either, "don't do the crime if you can't do the time." Or, it's OK for guys to show emotion by crying, especially when they are tough, strong criminals wrongfully accused of murder who are thrown into prison and have to witness other inmates eaten by out of control dogs.

All of Lockdown is set in Furnace; but a handful of flashbacks tells us how Alex got himself in this situation, a life sentence in Furnace. A prison just for teenagers -- well, some only boys, younger than teenagers -- who society decided are too scary, too dangerous, too bad to be free. Instead, they are sent to Furnace, with no promise of parole, no hope of escape. Death is the only way out.

Alex doesn't understand why he was framed. He may be innocent of murder, but others in Furnace are not. His new cellmate, a few years older than Alex, was eleven when he killed a man. Gang members from the "Summer of Slaughter," when teen gangs killed mercilessly, control Furnace. Well, control Furnace to a certain extent. The person really in control? The warden. And his silver-eyed, black suited guards. The odd, wheezy men wearing gas masks. And the dogs... Don't forget the dogs. The blacksuits, the wheezers, the dogs.... aren't normal. Aren't like anything you'd see on the street. They are monsters. What is worse? Being taken away at night, disappearing.... or being a meal for things that may or may not be dogs?

Lockdown is non stop action. Both Alex and the reader never pause for breath. One minute, it's arrival in Furnace; next is scrambling for the cell as sirens ring and dogs are let out; then there is the terrifying moments when "they" come, in the night, to take people away. Turn the page (or in my case, listen for one minute more) to find out what happens next, what Alex does next, whether Alex can figure a way out. Because while everyone says escape is impossible, Alex doesn't care what everyone says.

Oh, Alex. He is an old-fashioned hero, but I doubt he'd think of himself that way. He admits, right up front, his bad choices and his thieving ways. When he has to, he fights. But he's not all bad; actually, getting convicted of murder and thrown into Furnace has scared him straight. Instead of entering Furnace as a bully, Alex stands up for what he thinks is right even if it is not easy. This is all first person, so not only do we get into his head; we hear his oddly lyrical thoughts. Damn, but Alex has a way with words! Not in a take up paragraphs describing something way, but in a turn of phrase: "hurricane of thoughts," "bruised shadows." He's tough -- he has to be, to survive in Furnace. And survive Alex does. But Alex is also open and up front about his emotions. He throws up from fear. He cries, from fear, from relief. And sometimes he laughs at just how absurd his life has become.

Most of Lockdown is a tour of life in Furnace; of what this new world is. And because it's about violence, and death, and blood, it's a nasty, horrifying tour. Alex begins to think of escape, even though he is warned not to. How can one survive without hope?

This is narrated by Alex Kalajzic. Who is brilliant. The series is from England, so Alex has an accent and the various boys he encounters have accents from various parts of the UK.

I cannot wait to see what happens next. Knowing it is a part of a series meant that I knew, well, whatever ending Smith gave would not be a "final" ending. With that in mind, the ending of this first book is very satisfying. With a cliffhanger. And I want the sequel, which is out this year, NOW. And I won't tell you the title of the next one. But I'm almost giddy wanting to read it.

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Spirit of PaperTigers

The Spirit of PaperTigers is a project "best understood within the overall goals of PaperTigers: that is, to encourage literacy, helping to make children hungry readers and thus helping them form a lifelong habit. It is also our goal to do that within the context of promoting “multicultural” or “cross-cultural” books: this means we focus on books that promote awareness of, knowledge about, and positive acceptance of “the other”, books that encourage empathy and understanding. We aim to do this through books children and young adults enjoy reading rather than books they would regard as medicine adults force them to take."

So, basically, book sets are put together for donation. I think this list should be be considered "musts" for either your library or your reading.

In February and March, these sets will be donated to 100 libraries and schools. Full details are at the PaperTigers website.

Want to know more about PaperTigers? See my interview with Aline Pereira of Paper Tigers.

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

Teaser: This Means War

This Means War! by Ellen Wittlinger. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. April 2010. Reviewed from Advance Reviewer Copy from publisher.

Juliet, ten, has lost her best friend, Lowell. Why? Because Juliet is a girl. Six years of friendship mean nothing, now that Lowell is friends with Tommy and Mike. Boys do boy stuff, she is told, and girls do girl stuff.

GO. AWAY. is the message.

Patsy, Juliet's new friend, isn't afraid of anything. Or anyone. One thing leads to another, and suddenly the boys and girls are challenging each other to see who is better, faster, stronger, braver. No matter the risk. No matter who gets hurt.

This fifth grade battle of the sexes plays out in October 1962, against the backdrop of Cuban Missile Crisis. Wittlinger lets the reader connect their own dots about the motivations and fears of the various kids and parents. This Means War is not just about the war between two groups of fifth graders; it's the war against prejudices, against fear of change, against the unknown, against oneself.

Teaser: A mini post about a book I've read that won't be published for several months. The full review will be posted closer to the publication date.

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

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A Wish After Midnight

A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott. AmazonEncore Editions, 2010. Reviewed from CreateSpace edition, won in September in the Color Me Brown Challenge.

The Plot: Genna Colon, fifteen, lives in a one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with her overworked mother and three siblings. It's not an easy life: roaches in the apartment, her brother Rico hanging out with drug dealers, sister Toshi doing who knows what, but Genna keeps trying. She gets straight As in school, dreams of college, and finds love with Jamaican born Judah. One night, after a fight with her mother, Genna runs to the local gardens and makes a wish at the fountain.

Suddenly, she is back in time. Still in Brooklyn, but as for the time? It's the Civil War. She's dazed, confused, and hurt. The first people who find her don't help; instead, they are two white men who assume she's a runaway slave.

The Good: What a page turner! Genna is so engaging, and she is faced with so many challenges as she struggles to survive in the past. Having twenty first century sensibilities in the face of nineteenth century racism? "Hard" doesn't even begin to describe it, as she tries to build a life and friendships in her new time. I don't want to give too many of the plot points away, because seeing the obstacles Genna encounters and how she climbs over, goes around, or moves it is part of the reason this is a page turner.

Time travel to the past is a great device to use in looking at the past because it allows the reader to learn about history, yet there is no fear of anachronistic viewpoints because a modern day person is interpreting, reacting to, and weighing in on the past. So, here, the reader learns about life in Civil War era Brooklyn and sees the points of view and attitudes of a variety of characters, but there is always Genna's modern sensibilities weighing, judging, understanding.

The Brooklyn of the past comes alive; both in terms of setting (houses, landmarks, waterfront) but also in terms of how people think and act and believe. Part of me wants to go on a A Wish After Midnight tour of Brooklyn; then I remind myself, I don't drive in the city.

Genna ends up working as a servant for an Abolitionist family. Happy ending? No; she finds out quickly that just because a person believes in freedom and the end of slavery, doesn't mean that person believes in equality or respect.

Elliott is working on a sequel; part of it is posted at her website. Also at her website? Links to additional information on the history found in the book, perfect for readers like me. An interesting point -- Genna's story is not set in the present (i.e., now), but rather in 2001, and it's clear that September 11 is going to be a factor in the sequel.

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

Monday, February 08, 2010

Are You Ready For A Conspiracy of Kings?

Here is the video:

Via Greenwillow Books.

And yes, I've read the ARC for A Conspiracy of Kings (April 2010) and loved, loved, loved it.

If you have read this series, you're as excited as me; and if you haven't, start now!

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

2010 Rainbow List

The Rainbow Books 2010 is from the the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table and the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association.

The 2010 Rainbow Project Bibliography is recommended titles for youth from birth to age 18 that contain significant and authentic gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, or questioning (GLBTQ) content.

And of all the picture books, fiction books, and nonfiction books, I've reviewed a grand total of one:

Lo, Malinda. Ash.

Yes, I am embarrassed.

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

The Forbidden Schoolhouse

The Forbidden Schoolhouse: The True and Dramatic Story of Prudence Crandall and Her Students by Suzanne Jurmain. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. 2005. Personal copy. Review originally appeared at The Edge of the Forest.

Prudence Crandall was smart and a hard worker. She went to school, taught, saved, and then opened her own school for girls. One day a teenage girl approached her with a simple request: she wanted to learn so that she could teach. Would Miss Crandall admit her to the school?

Isn't that what every teacher wants, students eager to learn? Asking to come to school?

Except that Sarah Harris, the girl asking the question, is African-American. And the year is 1831. The town is Canterbury, Connecticut.

The Forbidden Schoolhouse is the account of how Sarah Harris's quest for education, so that she could teach others, led Prudence Crandall to open a school for African American girls and how the townspeople, the town, and the state, conspired to prevent the school from opening, and then to try to shut the school down. It is also an account of Crandall becoming a political activist, because before Sarah Harris asked her fateful question, Crandall was not active in the abolitionist movement.

One of the hardest things to do in works of history is to convey the point of view that existed in a different time. Jurmain presents the world of the 1830s, including the economic, legal and physical risks that Crandall took when she decided to open her school for African American girls. She also shows the courage of the students and what they were willing to put up with, in the pursuit of education. It is eye opening to the modern reader: the drive for education, and the prejudices that existed in the slave-free North.

The Forbidden Schoolhouse reads like an exciting work of historical fiction; yet it is all real. Jurmain does an excellent job with pacing, with keeping the reader on the edge of their seat with what will happen next. How far will the town and state go in wanting to shut down the school? How far is Crandall willing to go to keep it open? Jurmain includes detailed Appendices, letting the reader know "what happened next" to all the main people.

Another think I liked about The Forbidden Schoolhouse is that while it appears to be the story how one woman tried to change the world, Jurmain shows that it was much more than that. Crandall was one woman: but many people helped her, from the leading abolitionists of the day to the African American parents who were willing to pay the school fees and send their daughters to the school to the girls who went – and stayed – despite the abuse heaped on them by the townspeople who didn't want them in their town. And it also redefines what "to change the world" means: is it to open the school? To keep the school open no matter what? To bring an issue to the public? Does it matter whether the change takes place when you want it to, or 60 years later?

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

Friday, February 05, 2010

Waiting for Winter

Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser. Kane/Miller. 2009. Copy supplied by publisher. ALSC Notable Children's Book.

The Plot: Deer casually mentions to Squirrel, "winter is almost here. I think it's going to snow." Squirrel decides to stay up during winter to see snow; soon he involves Hedgehog and Bear in his vigil. But they've never seen snow; they just know its "white and wet and cold and soft."

The Good: Will the animals stay up long enough to see snow? Or will they find something different that they think is snow?

Spoiler -- this isn't some dark book about disappointments and misunderstanding. It's about SNOW and the joy of waiting and SNOW and staying up late with friends and SNOW and discovery. Any child who has waited, waited, waited for something will share in the anticipation of Squirrel.

The illustrations are exquisite. Mostly black, white, gray, as fits late autumn. The only color is in the animals: the reds and browns of the fur of the animals. And when the snow comes? Shades of winter blue. Also good: the story begins and ends on the endpapers.

And the energy of the animals! A beautiful, detailed study. Fuse #8 does a much better job than me in explaining just how awesome Meschchenmoser's style is, so check out her review.

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

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Splendor Falls

The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore. Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House. 2009. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Sylvie Davis's dreams of a ballet career ended when she broke her leg during a performance. While her mother is away on her honeymoon, Sylvie gets sent to stay with Aunt Paula, a relative she's never met, to stay at the family home in Alabama, a place she's never been.

Sylvie Davis discovers that the Davis family has roots in Alabama. An old, large home. A history going back generations. People who think they know her because she is a Davis. There are even stories of ghosts: a running girl, a Confederate Colonel. Sylvie thinks they are just stories, until strange things start happening to her and around her.

Who is she? Who can she trust? What is going on? Is she going mad, or is magic real?

The Good: You know all those Barbara Michaels books you go looking for? Young girl, old family home, dueling love interests, with the three s's: setting, suspense, supernatural? And when they're done, you wonder what to read next?

The Splendor Falls. Pick it up and enjoy every delicious page. A worthy heir to traditional Gothic Supernatural Suspense tales.

Sylvie's father's home town is fictitious, but it is by a real ghost town that is used in the story, Old Cahawba, Alabama. Another place I've read about in a book that I now want to visit!

I love the whole discovering family storyline. Sylvie's father, now dead, left home and never looked back. While there are various reasons given for his move to Manhattan, Sylvie considers that one reason may be the dense family history, including the legacy of slavery. Sylvie, because of the distance of growing up in Manhattan, is ignorant of her family history so does not feel overly romantic towards it. Which is why her semi-visions, the cold spots in the hallway, the unexpected smell of lilacs seems so strange.

There is a love triangle, between Sylvie, Shawn Maddox (the Maddoxes and Davises are the two oldest families in town) and Rhys Griffith, a Welsh student staying at her Aunt Paula's almost-open Bed & Breakfast. Sylvie feels drawn to both Shawn and Rhys. Love triangles in romance books (especially Gothic romances) are standard, expected, welcomed. Who is the real nice guy? Who has a secret agenda? Why does Sylvie feel drawn to both Shawn and Rhys?

Also good? Sylvie's lost dreams. A person who pursues one dream has that dream taken away. Now what? A new location, new people helps her open up to new possibilities.

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

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Kids of Color and the New American Whitewashing

Kids of Color and the New American Whitewashing is Colleen Mondor's latest feature at Bookslut. Mondor interviews a number of authors about covers, their input into covers, and books about kids of color. As Mondor notes, "The cover issue, a very visual representation of what is wrong in publishing, brought into question just how much control authors have over the presentation of their stories, and in particular continues to be a sore spot among many readers and writers."

A visual representation. Which means while part of the issue is who is on the cover, the bigger issue isn't about whether or not a person appears on the cover. That said, I agree with Mitali Perkins that faces on covers is not always the best marketing decision. Faces on covers can distract from what the images the reader creates in his or her head. But even if we start seeing less faces, the bigger issue of how many books there are, period, exists.

One of the people Mondor interviews says, "All the others were clearly brown characters, and some booksellers/librarians have told me off the record that this hindered their purchasing as they don't have a "community to support such books." Mondor responds, "While I try to wrap my head around just what community would support “such books” (and what on Earth “such books” are), I found myself becoming increasingly disheartened by how silly this all is."

Honestly speaking, I see adults more likely to select books that are pure mirror than kids. Sometimes, it is almost ridiculous. A request for picture books about moving is met with half rejected, because it shows the family moving into a one story house, not a two story house.

It's dangerous to have only mirror books available to kids. The child believes everyone is just like them, as they look around their community and only sees white faces; the books on the library shelves and bookstore reflect that reality. So everything, and everyone, outside the community becomes "the other," different, not understood. Taken to an extreme, the child becomes a teen becomes an adult who has no ability to see or understand how anyone could think, believe, do, or act in any way other than the way they themselves do.

"Community" cannot be defined as one town; it has to include the county, the state, the country, the world. On the one hand, is it shortsighted for gatekeepers to define their community as one town? Yes. On the other, when the adults in the community only want mirror books for their kids? That's a hard place to be. And all the reasons for it are too much for one blog post.

What's a gatekeeper to do? Have the books available. Booktalk and handsell all books. And since, in my humble opinion, kids want books about action, adventure, mystery, fantasy, ghost stories, etc., have books that reflect the wide range of people who live in the greater community -- one country, one world, not one neighborhood -- that are action, adventure, mystery, well, you get the picture.

And before you start seeing "the gatekeeper" as the other, not you -- that is, you're reading this thinking I'm not a librarian, bookseller, teacher, so this doesn't apply to me -- think about your own initial reading choices, and those you pick for your child or give as a gift, and what you ask for in your library or bookstore. Best way to let YOUR gatekeeper know books are wanted in your community? Tell them, by the books you read, request, check out, buy.

Back to Mondor's article. It's well worth the read. And then head over to her blog, Chasing Ray, where you can comment about it.

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