Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Did You Know About This?

Remember how much I liked Coraline?

Well, turns out they are drawing a graphic novel adaptation, in addition to making a movie. I'm torn between frothing at the mouth with excitement and being a little disappointed that it isn't being drawn by Dave McKean, who did those great illustrations in the original. Still, it's Coraline, and it's a graphic novel. Plus, that movie looks really really cool. Merry Christmas to me!

And part of my New Year's resolution is to write a book review. Set the attainable goals, that's what I say.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Apparently I have Been Living Under a Rock

That's the only explanation I can come with for the fact that I've been scooped by approximately 95% of the blogosphere on the title for Harry Potter Seven: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.

But . . . seriously? Deathly Hollows? Or maybe I've just read so much Harry Potter fanfiction in my time that just about any title sounds a little wacky.

Okay, now let's have a release date please!

Thanks to most of the people on my Blogroll for cluing me in.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Meme for Book Bloggers

Okay, this is for all you fellow YA and kidlit book bloggers out there. This is my attempt at starting a meme. I'll go first.

How many other kidlit blogs do you read?
Erm . . . a lot. Check out the ones on my blogroll off to the side, and even that's shamefully out-of-date. Whenever I find a new one, I add it to my Bloglines, which I check in with multiple times per day.

What's the most recent add?
Interactive Reader. She does a lot of YA books . . . 100% so far.

How often do you post a book review to your blog?
I try to do it every Monday and except for a few times when life intervened, I think I've been doing all right.

Do you post about anything else?
I used to post tidbits that came my way, (mostly from Blog of a Bookslut) but I've been very lazy/busy since about October and haven't really done much of that.

Do you only blog books you like, or the stinkers too?
I try to blog only books that score an 8 or higher on my personal scale. Usually I will pick up a book and within a few chapters, I'll know I have to blog this book. Though I admit to having blogged the occasional 7.5, which isn't so much gottablog-gottablog as, well, it was a pretty good read and I'd give it to a kid who asked for this type of book.

How do you keep track of what you want to read?
I actually do it non-digitally . . . the horror!! I have a blue cloth-covered journal that I bought at Target and keep on hand most of the time. I list the title and author when I initially hear about the book, then I take it to work and see if my system has it. When I find it and check it out, I cross it off. I just sent in a full page, typed, single-spaced, to the central purchasing department of books I'd heard about and been VERY PATIENT, I think, waiting for them to just buy it already. Clearly they needed a kick in the pants . . . um, I mean, a gentle reminder of the existence of this book.

How do you keep track of what you've read?
I used to keep it all in my head *gales of laughter*. Then I got into LibraryThing and started recording and tagging everything obsessively. I have to say, what the tag list reveals about my reading matter is . . . interesting. Some are predictable (love) and some aren't (apocalypse?!)

Do you work with kids?

In the age group of the books you mostly blog about?
I'm a children's librarian but I mostly blog YA books. That being said, I routinely find fabulous picture books and run after co-workers going, "You have to read this!" To which they say, "I'm on lunch! Go away or I'll set you on fire!"

Do you read grown-up books?
The occasional mystery or romance, but 99.9% of my reading matter is kidlit.

Okay, that's it. I tag whoever's reading this.

The Amazon Papers

Book: The Amazon Papers
Author: Beverly Keller
Published: 1996

16-year-old Iris wishes her mom and aunt would lay off. So what if she prefers reading philosophy and fixing cars to going out on dates and having adventures? She’s happy the way she is. Even if she does wish that gorgeous pizza deliveryman would pay her a little more attention. Let other girls drink the cup of life; Iris is happy the way she is. Her staid reputation backfires, however, when her mother takes off on vacation and not only leaves her home alone, but saddles her with a pair of demonic under-five cousins. Nothing can happen with Iris around, can it?

Iris didn’t think so either, until she gets her foot smashed by a stiletto heel, her mom’s car gets stripped in the parking lot of a bowling alley, and she winds up at the airport at midnight to pick up an incontinent dog. If this is the cup of life, she wishes the damn waiter would come back.

It probably took me about an hour and a half to read, but I grinned all the way through. The whole thing has the feel of a Marx Brothers comedy, and Iris’s realization that she may not be the sensible girl everyone takes her for increases with each new disaster, until she finally takes control of her own destiny. Keller’s dry, literate humor and her sense of a heroine in thoroughly over her head makes this a quick little read that you’ll enjoy.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

Book: Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo
Author: Greg Leitich Smith
Published: 2003

Elias loves Honoria. But Honoria, alas, loves Shohei. And Shohei?

Would love it if his parents just gave the whole Japanese thing a rest.

Welcome to the slightly off-kilter world of the Peshtigo School, a place where science fairs spur animal-rights protests and Galileo-esque trials. At the center is this triad: Elias, Honoria, and Shohei, whose longtime friendship is being sorely tested by oncoming adolescence and the aforementioned science fair. They have a million questions: is it possible for piranhas to prefer bananas over bloody meat? Do plants really grow better on baroque chamber music? Can you get away with making your little brother do all your science-fair project? Can Elias ever live up to his genius brothers and sisters? Is Shohei ever going to convince his adoptive parents that really, he’s doing just fine without being immersed day and night in Japanese culture? Who is Honoria’s secret admirer, who by the way, writes really corny love e-mails? Will that snobby, condescending science teacher to admit Elias’s project might be valid, in spite of getting contrary results to the ones expected?

And the big one . . . is their friendship going to survive?

I had fun with this book. Smith intertwines the three stories in multiple-POV format, throwing in just enough lunacy to keep things interesting, but retaining the heart of these likeable middle-schoolers. While a lot of kids’ books assume that their readers have no interest in science, history, or law, Smith assumes all three and mixes them in like chocolate chips, without overloading readers with dull information. He’s written a companion/sequel called Tofu and T. Rex, which returns to the Peshtigo school if not these characters, and I hope he’ll continue. It’s a place where I want to return.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Not the End of the World

Book: Not the End of the World
Author: Geraldine McCaughrean
Published: 2006

“The end of the world is a busy time if you intend to live through it.”

And Timna’s family does. While their neighbors mock and taunt, they have been preparing for an apocalypse--packing their things, gathering animals, and building an ark. Because this is most definitely the end of the world . . . at least for anyone who’s not in Noah’s family.

Then the flood comes, and Timna’s confidence in her family’s choices is shaken as she watches the terrible deaths of all those neighbors who mocked them. When she involuntarily rescues a young boy and his baby sister, she tries to tell herself that they are demons and her fervent father is right. But she keeps protecting them, until it all comes to the point where the world ends . . . again.

I knew the story of Noah and the ark so well, growing up, that after reading this book, I realized I didn’t know it at all. McCaughrean has actually sat down and thought about the effect of a mass flood on a population, and on a single human being. Thanks to this preparation, Not the End of the World is a shocking and thought-provoking book. She portrays the interpersonal relationships, strained and warped by claustrophobic shipboard life, in a way that the calm and sonorous tones of Genesis never evoked. While it’s mostly Timna’s story, McCaughrean also narrates through other characters (although only one Biblical character and never Noah), and she also gives distinct and fascinating voices to the animals aboard.

Timna herself, instead of being an idealistic rebel from the start, comes around to an understanding of her father, of God, and of moral choices gradually. It’s probably a good idea to know the story of the Ark before diving into this book, but when you do, be prepared to have the familiar story turned inside out.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Heavy Metal and You

Book: Heavy Metal and You
Author: Christopher Kovatin
Published: 2005

Metalhead Sam and preppy Melissa are this year’s Least Likely Couple. But try telling them that. To the doubts and concerns of their respective groups of friends, they fall deeper and deeper in love. And while Sam’s friends aren’t thrilled at the way Melissa is making him go straightedge, he doesn’t care, telling himself that love is worth it.

But as their romance progresses, Sam finds himself making more and more changes for her and feeling less and less good about it. He loves Melissa, of course he does . . . but is it enough?

I surprised myself by picking up this book. I’m probably the last person on Earth to enjoy heavy metal, but this book, and Sam’s genuine and passionate obsession with the music, gives me a window into that world. It was also nice for me that Sam is no metalhead stereotype (probably because Kovatin himself is a heavy-metal fan and therefore knows there’s more to the group than spiked wristbands). Sure, he drinks, drugs, and moshes, but Sam also discusses literature and participates in a local drama club.

It’s a quick read, but one that will stay with you because of the questions that Sam faces about friendship, love, and identity. In the end, it’s not even necessary to understand who Deicide or Slayer are to understand Sam (well, okay, give me credit, I have at least heard of Slayer). This is a story about how much we change ourselves for love . . . and how much we should.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Hidden Talents

Book: Hidden Talents
Author: David Lubar
Published: 1999

Edgeview Alternative School is where they send the dregs: the bullies, the misfits, and the hopeless. It’s filled with students and teachers who have nowhere else to go. Edgeview is Martin Anderson’s last chance to fix his life. But he just can’t help himself, and soon he’s fallen back into the habits of a lifetime, mouthing off to all the teachers, somehow managing to say the one thing that will make them angriest. So much for that.

Watching the other students, Martin slowly comes to realize that some of them aren’t just square pegs in a world of round holes, they’re lightning bolts. From Flinch, who always seems to know just what’s coming up, to Torchie, who manages to start fires without match or lighter, to Lucky, who is just that, his new friends each have a hidden talent that finds its way out in surprising and often destructive ways. Martin pushes them to refine and control their talents, because it may be the only thing that will ever get them out of Edgeview. He also tries not to resent their special gifts, knowing that he’s just your run-of-the-mill punk kid who’s already halfway down the drain.

But what if some talents are way more hidden than others?

Just like Holes, this tale of kids at the bottom and heading further down doesn’t make the mistake of valorizing or demonizing, but instead humanizes them. They’re likable, if flawed (there were a few times I was surprised Martin didn’t get smacked), and their reluctance to believe in their own gifts until they need them rings true. This story about discovering value in the valueless is something a lot of kids need to hear.

For some reason, I was expecting a lighter, goofier story than I got, maybe because of the cartoony cover of the edition I read. That’s okay; I loved what I got, and will definitely pick up the sequel (True Talents).

Monday, November 13, 2006

Chicken Boy

Book: Chicken Boy
Author: Frances O’Roark Dowell
Published: 2005

Tobin McCauley has a lot to live down to. From his granny, who gets taken off by the police for driving on the sidewalk while dropping him off on his first day of school, to his hell-raising older brothers, to his father, who works and watches NASCAR, nobody expects anything of him. Then he meets Henry, who is on a mission to prove chickens have souls, and recruits Tobin as a co-researcher. Before he knows it, his entire life is changing, and all because of those chickens.

Who knew?

There have been a lot of books about grief, about parent death, about friendship, about broken families, about changing your life, and maybe even a few about chickens. But Frances O’Roark Dowell reassembles all these elements in a fresh new way, through the voice of world-weary Tobin. Through his matter-of-fact observances of his world, you see the wreckage left behind by his mother’s death due to cancer five years before, and the way that sheer inertia has the entire family in a stranglehold. That is, until Tobin makes a few tiny changes.

Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of this book is Dowell’s portrayal of these changes. While most authors write life-changes as a domino effect--one leading directly to the next--Dowell writes more as if they are jackstraws. One “straw” gets shifted, and all the others are subtly affected until suddenly the whole pile collapses and changes position. In other words, it’s not only Tobin’s life he’s changing; it’s everyone else’s, and their reactions to the changes in turn affect Tobin. By the end, his old world is left behind, but he doesn’t miss it.

And anyway, the chickens are still around.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Better Late Than Never

This article from the Guardian on celebrity children's books was actually published a week ago. Shows you how up to date I am. Still, if you haven't checked it out already, have a look.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Utterly Me, Clarice Bean

Book: Utterly Me, Clarice Bean
Author: Lauren Child
Published: 2003

Clarice Bean’s life has gotten Utterly Odd lately. Her best friend took off for parts unknown, and now she has to do a class project with the Loathsome Karl, for the hideous dragon-teacher. Not to mention the Evil Grace, her Utterly Arch-Enemy and Nemesis, is sure to win the prize cup for best project.

Woe is Clarice! At least she’s got her stellar collection of books about Ruby Redfort, girl super-detective, to keep her afloat. And when the prize cup suddenly disappears, Clarice gets the chance to put the really very quite useful skills she’s learned from Ruby to good use.

In the hands of another author, you might discover that the hideous dragon-teacher, the loathsome Karl, and the Evil Grace are really not that bad. Child only gives us one out of three (Karl, in case you’re interested; turns out the ability to make a volcano is really very useful when you’re doing a project on girl-spy novels). The real joy of this novel is Clarice’s Utterly Quite Individual Voice. With all the angst and drama of your everyday nine-year-old who’s just discovered adjectives, you just can’t imagine Clarice being anyone but herself--just like the title promises.

Not only does Lauren Child’s narrative sparkle with energy, so does the actual text. Playing with enlarged or shrunken font that will sometimes twine around the page, even integrating them into the lively illustrations, Child shows off the approach to visuals that make her picture books must-reads. Fans of those will adore this as they move into middle elementary years.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life

Book: A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life
Author: Dana Reinhardt
Published: 2006

Simone has always known that she’s adopted. It’s kind of hard to miss. But it’s not something she dwells on. Her parents are great, and even her brother isn’t that annoying. She bumps along just fine until the day her parents announce at the dinner table that Rivka called, and wants her to call back.

Rivka is her birth mother, who wants to meet her daughter before she dies.

In spite of her doubts and hesitation, Simone finally agrees to call Rivka back. Over a period of months (and in between other life events) she cautiously gets to know her birth mother. In the process, she starts to learn how her mother’s faith as a Jewish woman informs her life, and begins to work out how she herself, raised by atheists, might feel about God.

This has to be the gentlest adoptive mother renunion story I’ve ever read. The parents are great. The birth mom is great. Heck, except for some initial internal conflict, even sixteen-year-old Simone is great. There’s none of the angst and drama of many other adoption/reunion stories, where there are horrible scenes of whyyyyyyyy did you give me up, and you’re not my real mother and if I love you I betray my real parents. Reinhardt takes a different path. There's not even the drawn-out hideous angst of a mother dying of cancer. Sure, it's sad (I definitely cried at the end), but Reinhardt instead chooses to show the quiet bravery and acceptance with which Rivka faces her coming death, and how Simone absorbs some of that strength.

The real question of this book is not, will Simone ever come to accept her birth mother? She does. She has. It’s, will Simone ever work out how God is going to fit into her life? And nothing distracts from that. Wonderful, thoughtful, sad, lovely.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

Book: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You
Author: Ally Carter
Published: 2006

Cammie Morgan’s got a pretty normal life. She lives with her mom and attends the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, and she’s got good friends. Except that she speaks fourteen languages, can kill a man in seven different ways (three of which involve uncooked spaghetti), and the Gallagher Academy is a training school for future superspies. Sooooo . . . normal is a pretty relative term here.

At the start of her sophomore year, on a completely routine mission--um, assignment--for Covert Ops class, Cammie meets Josh. Like most other townies, Josh has never met a Gallagher girl and hasn’t the foggiest notion that they consider Mata Hari an amateur. He thinks she’s a normal teenage girl. She knows from the start that she has to let him go on thinking that. For Cammie, this may be the most dangerous undercover mission she’ll ever undertake. Because national security isn’t the only thing on the line here . . . so is her heart.

This is a lovely bit of fluff, a book to make you smile on a rainy Thursday. It’s kind of like James Bond on estrogen and Cover Girl. Sweet, warm, and very, very funny, Carter’s writing makes you feel for this future superspy who’s as lost as any normal teenage girl when it comes to boys. One of Carter’s real gifts is dropping in off-handed one-liners that are both laugh-out-loud hilarious and highlight how truly strange Cammie’s life is.

With its open-ended epilogue, Carter leaves the door wide open for sequels (the first of which is in the works). Word is, she’s also signed a deal with Disney for a TV movie. Here’s hoping they don’t mess up this great book.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


It was really only a matter of time before the kidlit bloggers banded together to create their own awards for the stuff they read and blog about.

The Cybils

The 2006 Children's and YA Bloggers' Literary Awards

The rules, quoted from the Cybils blog:
1. The book must be published in 2006 in English. Translations and bilingual books are okay too.

2. You can be anybody. You don't have to be a blogger to nominate a book. You can even be the author, the editor, the publicist, the next-door neighbor or best friend or just a random Googler.

3. If a book you love has already been nominated by someone else, you don't need to second it. We're pretty smart. We'll see it. Promise.

4. Please, pretty please, only nominate one book per category.

For me, the hardest part is gonna be the whole nominating just one book per category. Gaaaaaah! There's so . . . many . . . good ones!! *falls over*

Anyway, didja see that part 'bout how anyone can nominate? Didja? Whatcha waitin' fer???

P.S. Yes, I am extremely hopped up on caffeine and being back home again. Did read some good books on my travels, so if you're very lucky I may do a double post tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Back soon!

Just wanted to let you all know that I'm at a training this week across the country. Of course, this doesn't mean that I've stopped reading, but it does mean I have less time to actually blog. Seriously, though, next Monday I'll be back. I may be really really jet lagged, but I'll be back!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Fly on the Wall

You people are sooooooo lucky I had yesterday off and read all those books. Instead of turning this blog into another silly-links record (today's would have been Flight of the Hamster, in case you're interested), I have something bloggable! I make no promises for next week, though . . .

Book: Fly on the Wall
Author: E. Lockhart
Published: 2006

Gretchen Yee's got it rough these days. Her parents are getting a divorce, her best friend never has time to hang out, her drawing teacher thinks she's a derivitive hack, and the boy she adores doesn't seem to know she exists. (Do they ever?) All she's got are her Spidey comics and her fantasies of being someone who can change the world. Unfortunately, she's just boring ol' Gretchen, invisible in spite of her dyed red hair. Frustrated with trying to understand any members of the human race (including herself), she focuses on the most mysterious segment and wishes to be a fly on the wall of the boys' locker room.

Now she's about to find out why "Be careful what you wish for" is such a cliche.

This extremely fast little read is written in a mix of first-person and stream-of-consciousness that somehow makes it perfectly logical that a sixteen-year-old girl would turn into a fly (or if not logical, at least acceptable). Lockhart never attempts to explain the transformation and that's good, because she can concentrate on Gretchen's discoveries about the boys in the locker room. Some are obvious for the situation (she makes a hilariously frank and impartial catalogue of male attributes), and others are less so. As the no-longer-proverbial fly on the wall, Gretchen stands silent witness to the petty cruelties, raging insecurities, and terribly human flaws that drive the boys in her school.

Like the artwork that features near the end, Lockhart draws a merciless, warts-and-all portrait of teenage boys that turns out strangely beautiful. Armed with the knowledge that the Teenage Boy is no mysterious creature, but as human as herself, Gretchen is able to return to her own body with the courage to reach out across chasms she never would have braved before.

The debt to Kafka's Metamorphosis is obvious--Lockhart even makes a point of having Gretchen read it in lit class. Having never read it myself, I can't make a comparison. But don't worry about that--Gretchen's and Lockhart's story stands on its own.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons

Okay, I'm down to almost the last of my backlog. Unbelievable as it seems, I'm running out of really fabulous books. I've read a lot of good ones, but there's not many that have that special spark that make me want to talk them up to the world (or at least, as much of it as reads this blog).

Any suggestions? Leave them in the comments!

Fortunately, I do have this one. . .

Book: Seven Sons and Seven Daughters
Author: Barbara Cohen and Bahaji Lovejoy
Published: 1982

Malik, known as Abu al-Banat because he has no sons, does have seven daughters. In the city of Baghdad, this is a terrible misfortune, made worse because he has no money to give them dowries. To make things worse, Malik’s brother (who has the massive fortune of seven sons and a thriving business), refuses to help out by either providing dowries or allowing his sons to marry their cousins, and mocks Malik’s misfortune. It looks as if the seven sisters are doomed to a life of poverty and/or unhappy marriages. Unwilling to accept this fate, the fourth daughter, Buran, comes up with a plan that might save them all. But to do it, she has to leave home, travel as a boy, and make her way as a merchant in eleventh-century Iraq.

On her journey, Buran discovers a real head for business and a flair for making money. She also meets and befriends Mahmud, the prince of Tyre. But when he finds his feelings deepening into more than friendship, he begins to put poor Buran through a series of tests to see if she is a man or woman, and even he’s not sure which outcome he wants. Is happily-ever-after in the cards?

This book sucked me in right from the start. It retains enough of the storyteller’s flavor about it (it claims to be based on an Iraqi folktale) to make it feel like a fairy tale, but I found myself caring very much for clever, pragmatic Buran, her beleaugered family, and even the spoiled prince Mahmud, who shows promise under the influence of Buran. Divided into three parts, each with its own distinct storyline, it still follows a nice narrative line. Check out the final part for the most glee-inducing (and fairy-taleish) elements, when Buran gets her revenge on the seven male cousins who rejected herself and her sisters at the very beginning. It also shines a light on a culture very little understood in the west. I found this at the library, but I've just gotta get my own copy of this great tale of a girl who makes her own happy ending. Where’s the fairy godmother? Who knows? Who cares?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Are You Kidding Me?!

After reading this, I think I need to go lie down until the blinding rage subsides.

*sputters on the way out*


As a children's librarian and someone who enjoys children's lit on its own terms, I feel highly qualified to say: Dude! Coooooooooooooool!!!

Not only a new Sendak, but a pop-up Sendak?

See above.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Just as I'm in the middle of The Queen of Attolia and have just turned in its sequel, The King of Attolia , this gets posted at the "Unshelved" Sunday Book Club. Kewl. Eugenides may well be one of the coolest trickster characters in YA lit. *greedily* Miz Turner, do we get another?

And yes, I'm fully aware that I'm reading the series backwards. I've read it before, nothing will spoil the ending.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bad Kitty

Book: Bad Kitty
Author: Michelle Jaffe
Published: 2006

Seventeen-year-old Jasmine Callihan is in Vegas. Woohoo! But she’s there with her dad and her ludicrously young stepmom, not to mention her annoying cousin, Alyson, and Alyson’s twice-as-annoying best friend. Woop-de-doo. It doesn’t help that her dad (who has already lost points for not allowing her to take that way cool police internship) is constantly nagging her about why she can’t be more like Alyson.

Alyson is a Model Daughter. Alyson would never knock a wedding cake into the swimming pool while chasing a (possibly fictitious) cat. Alyson would never use eyeshadow to dust for fingerprints. Alyson’s friends would never crash their vacation to help Alyson solve a mystery involving the cat, the cat’s little owner, and the cat’s little owner’s superstar mom who is hiding from her murderous ex-husband. Alyson would never fall in love with a possible Evil Henchman (but he’s so cute!). Wouldn’t Jasmine like to be more like Alyson?

Actually, Dad, no. Jasmine is fine being herself. Frankly, Jasmine (with the help of those vacation-crashing friends, Polly, Tom, and Roxy) is having a blast being herself. And readers will have a blast with her adventures.

This delicious farce of a book reads like The Princess Diaries meets CSI meets the Weekly World News (which plays a role in the plot) meets the BeDazzler meets lots and lots of sugar meets The Magical Multiplying Footnotes. Logical? No. Realistic? No.

On the other hand . . . hilarious? Yep. Clever? Yep. Great characters? Yep, yep, triple yep. Oodles of fun? You betcha. There’s no other word for this book but “madcap caper.” Okay, well, that’s two words, but seriously, read it and tell me I’m wrong. Eh? Eh? Thought so.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Double Identity

Book: Double Identity
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published: 2005

Bethany Cole has been protected and indulged all her life. Though she’s never had a lot of friends, her adoring parents have built their lives around her. So when she is suddenly bundled into the car in the middle of the night and dropped off at her mysterious Aunt Myrlie’s, she’s justifiably surprised.

And all that’s before she finds out about Elizabeth . . .

Surrounded by lies and half-truths, it’s oh-so-tempting to just let it go. Her parents are scared, Aunt Myrlie and her daughter Joss are hesitant, and there’s the creepy man in the shadows. But it’s even more tempting to keep digging, because Bethany knows that when she understands Elizabeth, she’ll understand herself.

I found this a fascinating book for its reasonable and calm look at a topic that tends to polarize, and Haddix’s ability to apply the grey areas she’s unearthed to real-life emotions and relationships. Not only is this a story about contemporary scientific breakthroughs, it’s a story about growing up in the shadow of a dead sibling and the constraints of hyperprotective parents.

One of the most interesting characters is Joss, Bethany’s grown-up cousin who was Elizabeth’s best friend and is now a minister. She and Bethany have a number of talks about God, ethics, and morality without it coming off preachy or pat--an interesting way to include this often-sidelined and yet very important point of view on the issue at hand. Margaret Peterson Haddix is best-known for her lengthy Shadow Children series, which I’ve been meaning to pick up for some time now. Maybe when my library card isn’t maxed out . . . again.

Monday, September 11, 2006

When I'm Sixty-Four

No book today, folks, just deep thoughts.

When I'm sixty-four, some child will ask me where I was and what it was like. And I'll tell them.

"I woke up and I knew something was wrong." I woke up around 8:30 Eastern time, before the first plane hit, and I remember that I had the distinct feeling something was off-kilter. I don't know if it was as strong as I remember it being. Maybe I want to tell myself that I knew something was wrong, because how can we have lived those last few days, minutes, hours before our safe little world was broken and not have somehow known?

"My roommate ran in the house and up the stairs and told me with tears pouring down her face, that somebody had flown a plane into the Twin Towers and that it was an act of war." An act of war. I remember those words verbatim. I have not lived through war. I've never lived through that kind of vulnerability. At least, not until that morning.

"I remember that the sky was blue." It was so blue. So blue, in those CNN shots of the wounded skyline. The only cloud in the sky was the thick, greasy billows of smoke boiling from the towers. You felt as if it should be pouring rain, tears from heaven, but the sun shone.

"I remember that we set aside that hymn in Latin class." For about a week prior, we'd been translating some medieval hymn that went, "Let us rejoice, for tomorrow we die." We were mid-hymn, but after that day, the prof set it aside and none of us saw it again.

"I remember that the President finished reading his book." I don't have a lot of respect for the Commander-in-Chief, I really don't. But what little I do have is because I remember the news reports that the President was reading to schoolchildren when the plane hit. An aide ran in and, whispering in his ear, informed him of what had happened. He listened, maybe nodded, and turned back to the book he was reading aloud to finish it before he left the school, probably to go right to New York.

I wonder what the book was. I wonder if the children understood, or understand, that they were that close to history.

"And the Lord God wept." I want to find a copy of this article. Sometime just after, the Onion ran a special issue called "Holy F---ing S---, Attack on America!" I depend on the Onion to reassure me that the world is as usual, that nothing is so serious that it cannot be satirized. In the main, the articles were satirical Onion stuff. But there was one called "What Part of 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' Do You Not Understand?" As can be inferred, it was God yelling at humanity, but the last line was what brought on the waterworks. It went something like, "At this point, the Lord God broke down and wept."

It's not particularly coherent, or even that deep. How much use will these little scraps be to that child I tell them to? How many pages will it take up in their required report for school? Will they understand how drastically everything changed? Will they even understand what the world was like before we knew such a thing was possible?

We say we won't forget. And we who lived through it and understood it won't. But the children don't understand, not in the way we do. They called this the New Pearl Harbor, and it was. It is. But Pearl Harbor to me is a distant piece of history, something that happened to other people. To my children and grandchildren, 9-11 will be something that happened to other people. They'll never know was it was like to live both in the before and the after.

God willing, they never will.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Book: Angelfish
Author: Lawrence Yep
Published: 2001

Robin Lee is in big trouble. If her parents find out she broke the window at the Dragon Palace, they’ll ground her, and if that happens, she won’t get to dance the part of Beauty in her ballet recital. To keep that from happening, Robin agrees to work in the shop after school to pay off the cost of the window.

Sometimes she thinks that just letting her parents find out would be better, though. Her new boss, Mr. Tsao, is a permanently crabby old man, forever calling her names like “bunhead” and “half person,” (because Robin is only half Chinese) and mocking her passion for ballet. The only time his gentleness ever shows through is with the fish in the shop, especially his treasured angelfish. Is it remotely possible that this Beast will ever allow himself to be helped?

In the third book of the series featuring Robin Lee (the first two are Ribbons and The Cook’s Family), Yep digs deeper into recent Chinese history as well as some of the difficulties of growing up rooted in two different worlds. Though the whole story is told through Robin’s eyes, the real hero of the story is the wounded, angry Mr. Tsao, whose losses are almost unimaginable to Robin. But they are life experiences for him, not to mention Robin’s grandmother, and many of her friends throughout San Francisco’s Chinatown. The ending seems to come a little too quickly and rosily, but Robin’s continuing journey through her own background will be compelling.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Book is Always Better

Okay, remember how I said that if "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" was half as good as the source material, I was heading for Blockbuster?

Well . . . it is, but only half. Some bits feel like the Disney writers suddenly thought, "Oh wait, we have to showcase Lindsay's singing and/or dancing!" and they stuck it in whatever scene they happened to be writing at the time. Still, with elaborate and stylistic fantasy sequences that echo Lola's narrative flights of fancy, it stays surprisingly true to the book (even to the point of using Sheldon's original dialogue) and except for a really overdone Carla Gets Hers scene at the very end, I enjoyed it. Not enough to buy it, but maybe enough to pick it up again if I feel like a grin.

And they kept that wonderful Lola/Ella dynamic intact!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Fall of Fergal

Bibliovore, it's Tuesday.

It is?


I could have sworn it was Monday.

No, it's Tuesday. You were supposed to post this yesterday.

Oooops. Blame the Dr. Who I've been watching practically nonstop. I defy anyone to take note of the day of the week when you can be thinking about Christopher Eccleston and/or David Tennant instead.

Book: The Fall of Fergal
Author: Phillip Ardagh
Published: 2002 (Great Britain)

This book starts with a death - and not any run-of-the-mill death, but a six-year-old falling out a hotel window and going splat! on the sidewalk below. Oh dear. Well, the title did warn you. From there, Ardagh doubles, triples, and quadruples back to tell the story of how this particular six-year-old came to be at this particular window and what happened to make him fall.

This is a morbid, silly, twisted, and totally nonsensical tale. So you know I loved it. Ardagh not only acknowledges but positively delights in the morbidity of his tale. Loaded up with convoluted wordplay, Dickensian melodrama, and Snicketesque narrator interaction, The Fall of Fergal and its two sequels (Heir of Mystery and The Rise of the House of McNally) are fast reads that should delight any kid who’s not overly concerned about a logical plot but does want to have lots of fun.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Catching On, Are We?

Check out this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer about the crossover appeal of YA books. They offer up the usual reasons: happy endings, more entertaining, but they finally figure out what we knew . . . this is good stuff, y'all.

Thanks to Blog of a Bookslut for the link. Who else do I ever get book news from?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Marly's Ghost

Book: Marly's Ghost
Author: David Levithin
Published: 2005

“Marly was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt whatsoever about that.” And poor Ben, indeed, doesn’t have any doubt that his adored girlfriend is dead. How can there be, when just waking up each morning is a reminder that he’s alive and she’s not?

As his grief pulls him further and further under, Ben decides that love is a crock, a sham, something that only brings pain. It’s going to be the new mission of his life to let everyone know. On Valentine’s Eve, though, he’s visited by a ghost . . . Marly’s ghost, who is chained to Earth by the force of Ben’s anguish. She tells him that he will be visited by three more ghosts who will show him the importance of love in his life . . . and so begins the familiar story, but with a highly original twist.

I picked this book up because I’d heard good things about Levithin’s Boy Meets Boy, and when I realized it was a reworking of A Christmas Carol, which is an old favorite (see my post on it last December), I decided to check it out. I ended up reading it in one morning, and cried like a baby through the whole last stanza.

Levithin has taken the original Christmas story and closely reworked it into a Valentine’s Day story that addresses not only romantic love, but the love between friends as well. At times, the text becomes a virtual copy of Dickens’ classic (see, for instance, Ben’s self-description, or the scene where Marly’s ghost first appears to him) and at others, the language veers sharply away from the original. However, Levithin always hews very closely to the spirit of the original (even occasionally the Victorian tendency towards melodrama), in showing the interconnectedness between love and life.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Conundrum

I'm kinda torn about this article. As a Harry Potter fan and book-lover, I like it. I mean, when was the last time a literary figure was this immediately recognizable by this many people for this amount of time? (What is it now, almost ten years?)

On the other hand, I really want to make my countrymen form a single-file line to renounce citizenship of the Planet Earth. Because they clearly are not using it.

ETA: Thanks to Blog of a Bookslut for this link.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Book: The Fire-us Trilogy: The Kindling, Keepers of the Flame, and The Kiln
Authors: Jennifer Armstrong and Nancy Butcher
Published: 2002-3

In a house in Lazarus, Florida, seven children between the ages of seven and fifteen are living hand-to-mouth, scavenging from abandoned supermarkets and stores. They are the only ones left. All their parents--in fact, all the adults--have been dead for five years, victims of a terrible virus that burned them from the inside out. Most of the other children are dead, unable to take care of themselves without the adults around. But Hunter, Mommy, Teacher, Baby, Doll, Teddy Bear, and Action Figure are still alive--for now.

But then Puppy and Kitty, two little children under the age of five, show up, and with them comes the strange, wild Angerman, who is determined to get to Washington, DC and to the President. When the makeshift family decides to go with them, they are plunged into a morass of impossible questions. Is anybody else alive? What really happened to unleash the Fire-us on an innocent populace? Where did Puppy and Kitty come from?

And most importantly . . . how are they going to make it to tomorrow?

This dystopic near-future story is definitely not a light weekend romp. Prepare yourself to be disturbed. I think what shook me the most was imagining the world that the kids are living in. Not only is nature retaking Florida, with a vengeance, but the kids themselves have lost even the memories of their own names in the fight to survive. (Of course, it doesn’t help to realize that if Fire-us were real, I would have died too.)

None of the older kids are poster children for sanity, but Angerman is the one with the fewest Cheerios in his bowl. One of his most frequent rants concerns the fact that they’re children and shouldn’t have to deal with all this. There should be someone around to take care of them. But both he and we quickly learn that just because an adult is around, this doesn’t mean everything’s going to be okay.

Possibly one of the neatest things that Butcher and Armstrong do is their representation of the Book, a scrapbook in which Teacher records every scrap of information, both from this new world and from the old one, that she can get her hands on. From ad slogans to dreams to pages from the phone book, at first this Book seems like nothing more than a scrambled and futile attempt to remember their old lives. But from these snippets and scraps, Teacher (and the reader) derives meaning that guides them through their new world.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Da Meme

Okay, apparently this meme is what all the cool kids in the kidlitosphere are doing these days, including MotherReader and Gail Gauthier over at Original Content. I’ll chip in.

One book that changed your life

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee--specifically the theme about walking in another’s shoes. What capacity I have for empathy I have these days can be traced right to this book.

One book you have read more than once

Wait, can I get back to you on this? There’s far too many. Oh, okay, if you insist . . . *picks one at random from bookshelf* A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle. It was a surprise to me to realize a few years ago that this book has no plot, as such. You just take a journey through Vicky’s summer as she tries to reconcile life and death in all their many forms. Every time someone in my life dies, I have this deep and terrible need to read it again.

One book you would want on a desert island

The Complete Works of Jane Austen. It’s in omnibus form! That’s one book! Really, though, I would pick one of JA’s books, either Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion. Every time I read them, I find something new in the story, the characters, the wit, or even just the world. That’s one of the densest writers I’ve ever experienced, and not in a bad way. She just really packs it in. Plus, on a desert island, I would really have the time to sink into that convoluted language.

Although I have to say, if I were stuck on a desert island and I did have The Complete Works, I might finally get past page 50 of Mansfield Park.

One book that made you laugh

Recently? Startled By His Furry Shorts by Louise Rennison, the seventh in the seemingly endless confessions of Georgia Nicolson. Don’t read them in a row because she does get a bit tiresome after a while, but if you space them out appropriately (i.e. read the new one when it comes out), they’re a hilarious break from adult life.

One book that made you cry

Marly’s Ghost by David Levithin. Omigod. Bawled like a baby. Look for it to be blogged soon.

One book you wish had been written

The next book in the Damar series by Robin McKinley. I adored The Blue Sword, even if I didn’t much like The Hero and the Crown. It seemed that she was gearing up for a series of loosely linked standalones, then seemed to drop it. Poor sales? No personal interest anymore? Who knows? Sigh. However, hope springs eternal, and at least she’s still writing.

One book you wish had never been written

Every #$@^!!!! Mary Kate and Ashley book on the library shelf. The squick factor is through the roof. Did those girls ever get an actual childhood?

One book you are currently reading

Specials by Scott Westerfeld. I’ve been reading a lot of dystopic YA sci-fi lately. (See tomorrow’s blog.) It’s good, but it and Pretties don’t seem to have the special sparkle that Uglies did.

One book you've been meaning to read

Happy Kid! And I’m not just saying that to suck up to Gail.

More blogtastic books tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

So What Does It All Mean, Really?

Neat article from the Stanford Magazine: a quick profile of an English professor discussing the appeal of children's literature and the reason kids love it (and many parents don't understand it). Agree? Disagree? Comment!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen

Book: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen
Author: Dyan Sheldon
Published: 1999

Lola Cep, star in the making, has always suffered from being surrounded by normalcy. First her parents had to go and name her Mary Elizabeth (ugh!). Then she’s taken away from New York City, the center of the universe, to suburbia hell, otherwise known as Dellwood, New Jersey.

But a true artiste remains strong through trauma, so nothing’s going to keep Lola down--not her soul-deadening surroundings, not her mother and sisters’ disrespect for her suffering, not the breakup of Sidhartha, the best band ever. At least she’s got a new best friend, even if Ella Gerard is depressingly practical most of the time.

And, of course, what’s a great heroine without a great villainess? In this drama, that’s the part of Carla Santini, queen of Dellwood High, who’s always gotten whatever she wants . . . until Lola came along. It promises to be a battle of epic proportions, so pop a bag of popcorn and sit back to enjoy the show.

This is the way I feel about this book. I haven’t seen a Lindsay Lohan movie since “The Parent Trap,” but if “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” is even half as good as its source material, I’m heading for the nearest Blockbuster right now.

Lola’s first person narration overflows with drama and trauma to the point of hilarity, and Sheldon adds enough redeeming qualities--such as Lola’s genuine talent at acting and her determination not let the Evil Carla win--to keep her from becoming cartoonish. Some of the story elements are a bit farfetched, but it fits the tone.

Finally, for me, the best part of this book was watching Lola’s influence transform Ella from a frightened shadow into a tough, smart and gutsy gal in her own right, more than able to handle both Carla Santini and Lola herself. If Lindsay had had an Ella in her life, maybe she’d be better off today.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

It was a dark and stormy night . . .

It's that time again!

No, the annual pig-Jello-wrasslin' exhibition has been postponed indefinitely.

I'm talking about the Bulwer-Lytton awards! These pristine examples of truly bad writing have been responsible for liquids snorted out peoples' noses since 1982. Go check 'em out.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Dairy Queen

Book: Dairy Queen
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Published: 2006

D.J. Schwenk’s not one to complain. Ever since her dad busted his hip, her younger brother got all wound up in summer sports, and her two older brothers quit coming home from college, she’s stuck basically running her family’s dairy farm. But she doesn’t protest, because that’s not what you do in the Schwenk family. In the Schwenk family, you keep your head down and keep going.

When D.J. gets saddled with summer help in the form of one Brian Nelson, she's very annoyed. She doesn't want to babysit some stuck-up quarterback, whining about all this work. To make things, he's the quarterback for her hometown's deadliest rival. What did she ever do to deserve this?

But Brian Nelson doesn't turn out to be the complete and total pain in the behind she was expecting. Sure, he whines a little, yeah, he’s not really the best worker in the whole world. But he does do one thing that nobody’s ever managed . . . he gets D.J. to start talking, really talking, about her life. Once D.J. starts to talk, she also starts to listen . . . and she finds out that a lot of the people she loves have something to say.

Is this a pre-ball Cinderella story? A Romeo-and-Juliet romance? A story about a girl playing football? It could have been any of these things, but instead Catherine Gilbert Murdock lets those settle into subplot status and concentrates on the theme of communication--what happens when we do, when we don’t, when we begin, and when we end.

I also have to note that football is so not my thing, but not only was I able to understand D.J.’s and Brian’s involvement in it, I was able to get into the emotional attachment of a whole town and a single family to a sport. Not bad.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Revenge of the Witch

Hey Bibliovore! Where ya been?

Setting up my apartment, buying furniture, starting my new job . . .

Is that all? Pffft. How lame.

I know, but to make it up to you, I will give you . . . a book review! Tralaaaa!

Really? Wow! Hey . . . wait a minute . . .

Book: The Last Apprentice - Revenge of the Witch
Author: Joseph Delaney
Published: 2005

Born the seventh son of a seventh son, Tom never knew that was important until he was apprenticed to a spook. Spooks hunt ghosts, fight witches, and generally deal with all the other supernatural messes that normal people would rather not think about. It’s a lonely, difficult life, but almost against his will, Tom realizes he has a knack for it. But a knack isn’t enough. The spook's prior apprentice, Billy Bones, had a knack, too, and he’s currently six feet under, along with an unsettling number of the spook's previous apprentices. And now that Tom’s accidentally unleashed a witch who’s been chained up for thirteen years, he’s going to need a lot more than a knack to ensure that he doesn’t end up next to Billy Bones.

Like Peeps, this creepalicious novel isn’t for the faint of stomach. Any novel that features violent death, zombie witches, and cakes baked with blood isn’t for the delicate type. But there’s a dark lure to the story, drawing the reader through Tom’s well-intentioned screwups and struggle to right them, and the moral murk that means no decision is easy.

Alice, Tom’s sometime ally and the granddaughter of the abovenoted witch, could and probably should have been fleshed out a little more, because instead of being sympathetic to her torn loyalties, I just got annoyed. But that’s a small nitpick in a gorily fun time. This is a great novel for those fans of fantasy who like a healthy dose of horror mixed in. Amazon indicates that the second novel in the series is coming in September. I'll be interested to see where Joseph Delaney takes Tom from here.

P.S. Okay, Amazon also seems to indicate that in 2004 Delaney published a book called the Spook's Apprentice, which sounds quite a bit like this one. Hmmm . . . odd! Is Revenge of the Witch rewritten, or just repackaged? If you know the answer to this conundrum, leave it in the comments.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Never Mind!

No, really, that's the book title!

Book: Never Mind! A Twin Novel
Authors: Rachel Vail and Avi
Published: 2004

Meet Edward and Meg Runyon. These NYC twins have always suffered from being total opposites in a world that thinks they should be exactly alike just because they were born on the same day. Meg is the goody-goody, high-achieving, smart twin. Edward is the laid-back, mischievous, fun twin. They have absolutely nothing in common. Now they’re even attending separate schools, and it looks like they’re going to drift further apart than they already are.

That’s until Edward, as a one-time joke, tells the queen bee of Meg’s new school that he and his fictional band, Never Mind, are coming to her party next Saturday. How was he to know that Meg has already told Kimberly that her super-cool twin brother and his hot band, Never Mind, will play at her party on Saturday?

Maybe they have more in common than they think . . .

I picked this book up because of Avi, whose
Romeo and Juliet Together (And Alive!) At Last
I blogged awhile back. I normally try not to rec the same author twice . . . I figure if you’re anything like me, you go looking for their other stuff if you enjoyed the first one. I’m fudging this because Avi co-wrote it, and just cuz it’s such a fun book. Through a farcical tangle of miscommunication, complete delusion, and unlikely coincidences, the worst nightmares of either twin seem poised to come true on that fateful Saturday night.

By the end, you may join Edward and Meg in saying, “Uh, what exactly happened?” But maybe all you need to know is that these night-and-day twins are finally starting to appreciate each other for their similarities and even their differences.

And as for the rest of it?

Never mind!

Sunday, July 02, 2006


My hotel has wireless. So y'all will get a book review tomorrow and an update today.

See over on the side? That list of book covers? I'm newly on LibraryThing. Okay, right now I only have four books on that list, but once I get an apartment and get unpacked, there will be more.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Piffle on Independence Day

The heck with July fourth. It's almost BAFAB week! What is BAFAB? It's Buy A Friend A Book week. Plus, BAFAB is a holiday all round the world, which American Independence Day isn't (although many Americans think so).

BAFAB today! Or next week. Or both.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Of Course She Does

Rowling plots to kill Potter characters

Okay, my bets are on Hagrid and . . . erm . . . let's see . . . at least one Weasley parent. I'll be really mad if she kills off Ron or Hermione after I've spent this long rooting for them.

Thanks to Blog of a Bookslut.

Monday, June 26, 2006


You may have noticed that I didn't post any bookish news last week. (Or maybe you didn't. Who knows.) Well, it's like this. I got a job (hooray!) but it's in another state (yargh). So all my time is now spent boxing up my approximately 10,000,000 books in order to flee across state lines. I may not be able to post with a book review next Monday, as I'll be wandering around trying to find apartments with sturdy enough floors that I and my entire collection of Madeleine L'engle novels won't fall through the ceiling into somebody else's living room.

However, when things settle down, it'll be back to worm-eating principals and book reviews every Monday like clockwork. Promise.

Book: Millions
Author: Frank Cottrell Bryce
Published: 2004

What would you do with a million? Damian would really like to know, because he’s all out of ideas. See, he’s got a million pounds. It came down from the sky in answer to his prayer. His materialistic brother Anthony is ecstatic, and they’ve suddenly become the stars of the school yard. But with only a few days left before Britain switches to the euro and all that money is rendered useless, (not the mention that the people who lost the money in the first place would really like it back) the brothers are finding out that even a million pounds is way more trouble than it’s worth.

The basic premise is simple enough, but in the end, Millions is not really about money. It’s about grief, about ethics, and about figuring out what’s right and then doing it. The two boys are reacting to and dealing with their mother’s death in drastically different ways: Damian by absorbing every iota of information he can about saints’ lives, Anthony by knowing the value of money really, really well. Perhaps the trickiest element of this story is Damian's conversations with saints like Claire of Assisi, St. Peter, and even St. Joseph. In the hands of many authors, maybe even most authors, this would have come out cloying, weird, stuff-it-down-your-throat religious, or just implying that Damian is really cracking up. But Bryce handles it lightly and deftly, bringing out the human side of the saints and making Damian's asking for their advice a normal child's desire for guidance by respected adults.

The story behind the story is almost as interesting. Bryce wrote Millions as a screenplay first, and then adapted it into a novel which came out simultaneously or just before the movie. The movie is as charming and possibly even more magical in tone than the book, although it did leave some important bits out.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Boy 2 Girl

Book: Boy 2 Girl
Author: Terence Blacker
Published: 2005

Meet Sam Lopez, the new girl, who’s just moved to England from America. She’s tough. She’s funny. She doesn’t take any guff from anybody. She’s the most popular girl at school--every boy wants her, every girl wants to be her.

If only they knew Sam isn’t Samantha, but Samuel.

Sam’s exasperated cousin, Matt, initially dared him to make the big switch, thinking it would be good for a laugh and teach his wild cousin a thing or two. But his brilliant idea snowballs until it’s bigger than anybody, even Sam, can control. From an obviously biased teacher to the reactions of the other students to the observations of secondary characters, Blacker writes a hilarious novel that examines the way that gender is defined by the outside world.

I really took to this book, which takes a premise right out of Monty Python and uses it as a framework to ask all sorts of questions about sex and gender. Blacker also uses the unusual narrative device of telling the story from a multiplicity of first-person POVs, from Matt to the girls at school to the little old lady walking by in the park. In fact, the only character who never does have his say is Sam himself, which further underscores the theme of one’s gender being defined and interpreted by others.

While much of the focus is on the humorous Victor/Victoria dichotomy of a boy posing as a girl, Blacker also weaves in a more serious and emotional story about Sam, his dead mother, and his absent father. My only quibble with this book is that, until close to the end, the subplot involving Sam’s biological father descends into stereotypical farce rather than the inspired and thoughtful hilarity of the rest of the book.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Holy Schnikes

Mother Reader has not only pledged to blog all she reads for the next 48 hrs, she's sucked others in with her. Dear god, will the world never be safe from voracious readers of children's lit who then blog to share the goodness with others? I hope not.

(But Bibliovore, why aren't you doing this?)

(I like sleep.)



Thursday, June 15, 2006

Red Hot Diggity

Either I'm really bored right now, or there's a lot of cool book news. Given that there's almost always a lot of cool book news, I'm going with option number 1.

As if indexing the rest of the known world weren't enough, Google is introducing Searchable Shakespeare texts.

Okay, not technically kid's lit, but I did warn you I'm a recovering English major. See, it's right up there. There! In the title.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A New Low in School Lunches

Conestoga Elementary School serves worms

Actually, this story is about a principal and a librarian who dared their students to read 100 million words over the course of the school year. If they succeeded, the principal would eat fried worms, in honor of the classic gross-out book by Thomas Rockwell.

Well, they did . . . and did he? Read it and find out.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

File This Under "Hmmm"

Hawking to Write Children's Book

Normally I would rail for awhile against those goonballs who think they can write a children's book in an evening. However, it appears he's writing nonfiction (or possibly fiction with lots of education) in his area of expertise, unlike, say, Madonna. Plus I liked A Brief History of Time, the parts that I understood, anyway.

But I still think I'll wait until it comes out to make any judgements.

The Dewey Donation System

The Dewey Donation System has this really cute logo of a little dot with a book on its head . . . oh, you want to hear what it does.

The DDS (way different from the DDC; and if you laughed at that joke, you're a librarian) calls attention to people or libraries in dire need of books. The libraries set up Amazon wish lists, nice people buy books, Amazon sends them and everyone's happy. The DDS has helped out Oakland Public Library after catastrophic budget cuts, San Diego Public Library after wildfires, Indian schoolchildren after the tsunami, and now have turned their formidable attention to Katrina-devastated libraries in the Gulf Coast.

Do it because you're a nice person. Or because you really, really need brownie points in heaven after that crazy weekend in Vegas when against all reason and laws of mathematics, you may have actually broken eleven commandments. Y'know. Either way.

Monday, June 12, 2006

You Are *So* Cursed!

It's Monday! And what does that mean?

No, it does not mean that I need a caffeine IV. That's not exclusive to Monday. I need one of those every day.

Book: You Are So Cursed!
Author: Naomi Nash
Published: 2004

Vick's the school witch, and she makes sure everyone knows it. She's doing a good job--everyone but her tiny group of misfit friends is terrified of her. But she's got a big secret, and here it is: while she's got a real gift for magic, it's got more to do with Houdini than Hecate. When Gio, a popular and well-liked guy (in other words, Vick's perfect antithesis), realizes this and starts getting close, the first bricks in Vick's wall start to crumble. It gets worse when the friends that she's been protecting for so long suddenly seem to turn on her. In the end, Vick has no choice but to let someone in or be alone forever.

I picked this book up for the title--it made me laugh, especially with the cover photo of a sour-faced, sterotypical goth girl sneering out at you. I kept reading because it inverted and undid my expectations. Although some of the secondary characters suffer from 2D-itis, Vick leaps off the page in full and complex life. Vick's story is bitterly, caustically funny, heaping withering scorn on stratified high school society that never looks beyond the outside. Weaving in a real respect and affection for "street magic," the illusions and misdirection used by stage magicians, Nash tells the story of a tough girl who's a secret marshmallow, and how love and friendship are scarier than even black magic.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Heads up!

Like every other freakin' kidlit blog in the whole entire world, I am posting a link to the Guardian's interview with Daniel Handler, AKA Lemony Snicket. It's mostly about his recently published adult novel, but he does chat a little about the Lemony Snicket phenomenon, like he will have to do for the rest of his natural life. I imagine reporters will exhume him after his death to ask him about Lemony Snicket, and he will curse them eloquently.

Anyway . . . enjoy, y'all.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Penderwicks

Book: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy
Author: Jeanne Birdsall
Published: 2005

The four Penderwick sisters, Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty, with their enormous, galumphing dog, Hound, and their dreamy, permissive dad, are off to have a great summer in a rented cottage. When they arrive, they discover that the cottage is on the grounds of a massive estate, which comes complete with a cute gardener, a really scary owner, and the owner’s bored son, about to be sent off to military school completely against his will. The Penderwicks immediately decide it is their duty to make sure that Jeffrey gets a great summer, and if they can swing it, a way out of that stupid military school.

If anyone can do it, they can.

Much as I love them, the one thing that always grated on my nerves about classic children’s adventure stories (think Nesbit’s The Railway Children, Barrie’s Peter Pan, or Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone) was how annoying the girls were. They were always dragged along against their will, fussing that they’d get in trouble, or whipping out the spotlessly clean, perfectly pressed handkerchief and wiping smudges off their resisting brothers’ faces.

Well, no more. While Rosalind is plenty fussy and mothery, that seems to be more because she’s the oldest. The rest of the Penderwick girls (and even sometimes Rosalind) hurl themselves headlong into trouble, and for once, they’re dragging the boy along. The subtitle has it right: while there are problems and conflicts, this entire story seems to take place in a golden, innocent bubble of summer fun.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

10 Ways Parents (inadvertantly) Discourage Their Kids From Being Readers

Ran across this thanks to another kidlit blog. Read! Now! Especially if you are a parent. #1 and the unnumbered reason are my biggest pet peeves, but all the rest are pretty high up there too.

Post tomorrow! Baking in the oven as we speak.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Al Capone Does My Shirts

After looking at my list of recent posts (or more accurately, the dates attached), I realized it wasn't fair to blog so irregularly. From now on, I'll try to post every Monday(ish). Of course, more often if I get great new books. In the meantime, cross your fingers for me; I may have a line on a librarian job.

Book: Al Capone Does My Shirts
Author: Gennifer Choldenko
Published: 2004

Twelve-year-old Moose’s family moved for his dad’s job. Pretty run-of-the-mill, right? You read this story every day. Well, considering that his dad’s new job is on Alcatraz . . . not so much.

It’s 1935, and the country is hip-deep in the Great Depression. Meanwhile, Alcatraz is full to the gills with the very best celebrity criminals, but none is more famous than Al Capone. Moose would be more excited, if it weren’t for the crazy schemes of the warden’s manipulative daughter, fitting in at a new school, and most of all, taking care of his fifteen-year-old sister.

The family also moved so that Natalie can go to a special school, where she might actually be “cured” of the mysterious condition that manifests itself in obsessive-compulsive behaviors and an inability to connect to others. Moose has seen it all before, though, and he holds little hope that Nat will ever be normal. But when the school rejects her on the grounds that she is too old, Moose cooks up the craziest scheme of them all, just in case.

Choldenko’s writing evokes both the odd world of an everyday kid living on Alcatraz and the experience of a family so focused on one child that the other often falls by the wayside. The part of Moose, and this book, that I loved best was the realistic mix of feelings he has for Natalie. He loves her and is as ferociously protective as either of his parents, but tangled up with that is frustration that he has to sign away so much of his life to her needs, anger that she can’t just be like other girls, and a kind of helpless acceptance that she will never get better, no matter what his mother wants to think. Choldenko notes in an afterword that these days, Natalie would be diagnosed as autistic, a disorder unknown in the 30’s. Pick up this book and hand it to your favorite fan of historical fiction.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bad Girls in Love

So I guess after that orgy of book posting last week, I got distracted again. I get distracted easi--ooh, shiny thing! Anyway, here's the tale of a chica with the focus of a buzzsaw.

Book: Bad Girls in Love
Author: Cynthia Voigt
Published: 2002

Best friends Mikey and Margalo are Bad Girls, and proud of it. Oh, they don’t drink, smoke, or engage in juvenile delinquency. God, no, that’s so predictable. No, they’re Bad Girls because they act, think, and dress exactly as they please, without bowing to the opinions or preferences of teachers, parents, or classmates.

But now there’s one person whose opinion matters very much to Mikey. That’s gorgeous Shawn Macavity, the communal eighth-grade crush. Margalo knows a bad idea when she sees it, but she also knows Mikey. She can either get in the way and be mown down, or stand back and pick up the pieces. Because there’s one thing that the Big L can’t do, and that’s make a Good Girl out of a Bad one.

Much like her characters, Voigt flatly refuses to bow to the cliches of your traditional middle-school first-crush book. Mikey remains fundamentally herself even when she’s chasing after Shawn. She goes at love the same way she attacks life--damn the torpedos and full speed ahead. No matter how many times the stunningly self-involved Shawn brushes her off, she’s ready to try again. Though Margalo doesn’t have much to do in this book except color commentating, Voight tells most of the story through her eyes. Without sentiment or sensation, Voight skillfully evokes the rarified world of middle school, with all its unwritten rules, and the experience of two highly singular girls in luuuuuuuurve.

Also definitely check out the rest of the Bad Girls series: Bad Girls; Bad, Badder, Baddest; and It's Not Easy Being Bad.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Lisa Yee Doubleheader

I wavered between the two of these for awhile. Which one, which one, should I blog? I loved them both, for different reasons. Then . . . DUH . . . I realized I could blog them both! So here goes.

Book: Millicent Min, Girl Genius
Author: Lisa Yee
Published: 2003

High-schooler Millicent Min has never been off the honor roll. She’s been on Leno and Jeopardy. She knows Latin.

And, oh yeah. She’s eleven years old.

Millie’s looking forward to a great summer (even if only one person signed her yearbook), filled with the literature class she’s taking at the nearby university and hanging out with her fabulous grandma, Mimi. But then her evil parents sign her up for volleyball (eek!) and offer her as a tutor to annoying family friend Stanford Wong (ugh!). Millie’s sure this summer is going to suck. Then she meets Emily. Emily thinks she’s funny. Emily thinks she’s cool. And most of all, Emily thinks she’s a normal girl. And Millie will do anything to let her keep on thinking that.

I loved Millie from the first page. She’s utterly brilliant and charmingly clueless. Her literal-mindedness and sheer bafflement when confronted with unwritten rules remind me very much of Owl, the main character of Patrice Kindl’s Owl in Love. While the comedy is very broad in the first part, mostly pitting Millie against interpersonal subtleties that she doesn’t understand, she rounds out nicely when she meets Emily and ventures into the new discipline of getting, keeping, and being a friend.

Book: Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time
Author: Lisa Yee
Published: 2005

Stanford Wong has just committed The Cardinal Sin in the Wong family. He’s flunked English. His perfectionist dad doesn’t care that Stanford’s the star of the basketball team and one of the most popular guys in school. All he can see is that big red “F” on his son’s report card.

Before you can say “free throw contest,” Stanford’s out of basketball camp and into (ack!!) summer school. As if that weren’t bad enough, he’s getting tutored by that annoying Millicent Min, one of those Chinese geniuses who ruins everything for normal guys like him. He’s got to get to September without killing Millie, without letting any of the guys know that he flunked, and somehow getting the attention of Millie’s cute friend Emily. Good luck!

Stanford’s story is a little more serious than Millie’s, involving as it does subplots about his troubled relationship with his dad and the removal of his beloved grandma to a nursing home. To me, this was unexpected because Stanford comes across as the King of the Clueless Doofuses (Doofi?) in Millie’s book, but not unwelcome. This isn’t a sequel, at least not chronologically speaking, since it takes place in the same time frame as Millicent Min, Girl Genius.

NOTE: Fans of these two books will be delighted to know that Yee is writing a book about Emily, So Totally Emily Ebers. No news on whether it will take place during the same summer as Millie and Stanford’s books, or sometime afterward. Here’s hoping it’s the former, because I feel like there’s a story in Emily’s summer.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Ooo . . . pretty colors . . .

If you're looking at this online and not on an aggregator, you may have noticed that the background is less . . . how can I say this? Dull. I kind of liked the tranquil look before, but this whole dot thing seems funner, especially for a kidlit blog. And yes, I do have a degree in English, thank you very much. Hmf.

My fave links (plus new ones!) will probably be back tomorrow, when I'm not so tired. Also probably soon, more books!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dorp Dead

I have lots of books to blog! So here's one more.

Book: Dorp Dead
Author: Julia Cunningham
Published: 1965

Eleven-year-old Gilly Ground hates the orphanage. He hates the loud gongs, he hates the food, and he hates being surrounded by other people all the time. So when he gets apprenticed to a ladder-maker, Gilly thinks he's got it made. In this new place, everything is quiet, peaceful, and in its place. A little too much in its place. Soon, Gilly discovers that Mr. Kobalt is so fixated on order that he will do anything--anything--to ensure that order. And the only way Gilly can free himself and Mr. Kobalt's oppressed dog, Mash, from this cage is by using his not-inconsiderable wits.

I gotta say it; this is a weird book. I don't normally pick up creepy novels, but this one grabbed me. (Okay, not literally.) It's a quick read (I probably finished it in an hour), but don't be fooled into thinking it's easy. Like the best of Alfred Hitchcock, Cunningham relies mainly on psychological horror instead of gore and violence. Even more, Gilly's tale forces you to think about the uses and abuses of order and stucture, and the nature of cages, both literal and self-imposed.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Keys to the Kingdom

I liiiiiiiiiiive!

On Saturday, I get my MLS (if all goes according to plan) and will sally forth into the world of unemployment and job hunting. However, from now on I will hopefully have more time to blog.

Series: The Keys to the Kingdom
Author: Garth Nix
Published: starting 2003

Arthur Penhaligon is having a really long week.

On Monday, he nearly died. On Tuesday, he became a slave. On Wednesday, he almost drowned. And now, on Thursday, he's been plunged into a war with the demonic Nithlings for dominion of the House.

Most of the Keys to the Kingdom series takes place in the intricately realized world of the House, a super-universe in which our universe exists. There's trouble in the House. Long ago, the Architect of the House made a Will so that everyone would know what to do with Her House. But the Will's been split up, and nothing can be done until it's whole. The seven Guardians have a vested interest in making sure that the Will stays split . . . but the Will itself has an even more vested interest in becoming whole again.

So it finds Arthur . . . and thus start his adventures, fighting the seven Guardians, hunting down the missing pieces of the Will, and figuring out what's really going on around here.

Yep, it's a long damn week. And it ain't over yet.

I don't normally go in for high fantasy, with the fate of the world in balance and stuff. Thinking about it, I'm not completely sure why I like these books. But The Keys to the Kingdom series is addictive. The world of the House is intricately realized, peopled with fascinating characters. Nix layers his story with symbolism, but lightly enough so it's more of an "oooo!" moment when you figure out the symbols than a "shoot, what is going on around here?" when you haven't.

Most of all, Arthur himself is a draw for me. Scrawny, asthmatic, and unassuming, he's the opposite of your traditional hero. He's just doing what he's gotta do, but somehow this make him completely heroic to me.

The books are all titled after the particular Guardian that Arthur faces in each, and so far they go: Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, and Sir Thursday, with more to come. Word of advice: don't start this series in the middle. You'll only wind up confused and wishing that you'd just read Mister Monday first, like I told you to.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Sam Llewellyn Update

Remember back when I blogged Little Darlings, I said I would pick up anything else by Sam Llewellyn that came my way? Well, something has: Bad, Bad Darlings. I snatched it up the second I saw it at the library, and it's in my to-be-read pile as we speak. What are you waiting for? Go! Run like bunny! Get the book!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Romeo and Juliet - Together (And Alive!) At Last

Book: Romeo and Juliet - Together (and Alive!) At Last
Author: Avi
Published: 1987

Pete Saltz is desperately in love with Anabell Stackpoole. Indications are good that she reciprocates, but they're both too shy to do anything about it. What's a best bud to do? If you're Ed Sitrow, you cook up a plot to put on "Romeo and Juliet," casting Saltz as Romeo and Stackpoole as Juliet. After all, if they play the most famous couple in history, they're going to have to at least look at each other, right?

But the path to true love never did run smooth. Although the entire eighth grade gets in on it, Ed's slight case of overconfidence means that they have two weeks to rehearse, no teacher help, a borrowed set and costumes (borrowed from where? Well might you ask), and by the way, doesn't anybody know how to work those stupid curtains? Boy, does Saltz ever owe him one.

Being an English geek, I really took to this story, especially the hilarious mangling of Shakespearean language ("O, lemon table day!") in their disaster-riddled performance. It's not deep lit-chra-chure, but it's light and hilarious and strangely touching in the depiction of first love and middle-school friendship. Read it for a sweet, diverting, and roll-on-the-floor funny couple of hours.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Did you think I stopped reading or something?

Book: Peeps
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Published: 2005

No, this book has nothing to do with those marshmallow critters you get in your Easter basket and a) disembowel with unsettling glee, b) blow up in the microwave, or c) let sit around until they're roughly the density of cement, and then try to eat.

This book is about Cal. His life has taken a turn for the weird recently. On his first night in New York City, he had a drunken one-night stand. It's not until several months later, after every girl he's so much as kissed has turned into a cannibalistic monster, that he figures out the mysterious Morgan was a vampire. Lucky for him, he's semi-immune to the parasite that causes vampirism. But now, with the help of the secret Night Watch, he's got to track down all his exes and put them out of vampiric commission. Then he's got to find Morgan and figure out just what's going on . . . because there's definitely something going on.

Don't read this after eating, especially if you're eating spaghetti and meatballs. It can get pretty creepy and gory, but not gratuitously so. Cal retains a little bit of just-off-the-bus Texas farmboy innocence, even as he's doing a very dangerous and thankless job. Lacey, the new flame (whom he can't even kiss--sigh), counterbalances him as the acerbic, cynical Noo Yawker.

The premise may sound like a Buffy rip-off, but Cal's matter-of-fact, just-doing-my-job attitude, the strong grounding in biology, plus the lovingly drawn New York City that Cal and the Night Watch move through and under, keep it feeling real. This book is very heavy on the science, which was a plus for me because I love finding things out. Westerfeld weaves biology and parasitology into the fabric of his story, as well as intercutting the chapters with breezy mini-essays on real-life parasites. Close to the end, these tend to disrupt the flow of the story, but they're still pretty neat for those with strong stomachs. If, however, you choose to skip them, it probably won't detract too much from the experience.

Note of interest: I found this book through a recommendation from Unshelved, a web-based comic strip about a public library that runs "Book Club" features every Sunday.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Gil's All-Fright Diner

Book: Gil's All-Fright Diner
Author: A. Lee Martinez
Published: 2005

On a quiet night, two men stop in a diner in the middle of Texas nowhere. As Duke and Earl are eating their meal, they look around to see zombies pressed up against the plate-glass window. The waitress says, "Aw, damn. Not tonight."

Welcome to Rockwood County, where they haven't had this kind of trouble since . . . oh, let's see now . . . last Wednesday. It's particularly annoying for Loretta, who's trying as hard as she can to keep her diner open even though it gets wrecked by zombies every other night. Life can be so hard for the small business owner.

Luckily, Duke's a werewolf and Earl is a vampire, and they have a little more experience than they'd care to admit in cleaning up craziness of this nature. Which is good, because they're up against Mistress Lilith, the Queen of the Night (AKA Tammy), who is damn well going to bring about the Apocolypse. And she doesn't care what her stupid boyfriend wants, it's gonna happen before graduation.

Should be interesting.

From the moment I met Duke and Earl, the undead drinking beer and driving a pickup truck, I realized this wasn't going to be your everyday horror novel. No opera capes, that is for sure. It's a bumpy, twisty, loopy ride through the possible end of the world, complete with adventure, romance, ghost doggies, and tentacular visitors. Also diner food.

The greatest appeal of this book is the cockeyed slant on the horror genre in general. It's probably most delightful because the secondary characters are so blase about, e.g., demonic possession and zombie cows. (No, really.)

Bouncing between Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett-esque tongue-in-cheekery and graphic descriptions of guts'n'gore, Martinez's hilarious first novel is a definite treat for those that don't mind a few oozing brains with their satire.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun

Book: From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Published: 1995

Almost-fourteen-year-old Melanin Sun thinks he's got it pretty good. He's got his mama, his homeboys Sean and Raphael, and his notebooks. Sure, nothing's perfect--for one thing, he can't seem to get up the courage to talk to gorgeous Angie from down the block. But things are good.

Which just goes to show how dangerous complacency can be.

When his mama falls in love with a white woman, Mel suddenly finds that everything he's always depended on is as about as dependable as a pogo stick in an earthquake. His mama, always the most important person in his life, now feels like a stranger. He has to lie to Sean and Raphael, and even his budding relationship with Angie is haunted by deception. The only real thing he's got left is the notebooks where he writes down everything he can't say. Using a mixture of first-person narration and excerpts from Mel's notebooks, Wilson chronicles his rocky road through the first great challenge in his young life.

This is a tiny gem of a book, thoughtful and uncompromising, offering no easy answers or pat solutions. Woodson walks a delicate line in her portrayal of Mel, whose reaction to his mother's new love is furious and virulent. Part stepchild-resentment, part homophobia, and part racism, it's completely believable. But the sensitive, loving boy we first got to know re-emerges by the end of the book, as Mel comes to the understanding that no matter what changes, love endures.

Reluctant-reader note: it's a very quick read.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Wish List

Book: The Wish List
Author: Eoin Colfer
Published: 2000

Meg Finn's got a problem. See, she's dead. Wait, that's not the problem. The problem is, she died with her soul so perfectly in balance that she can't go to either heaven or hell. So now she's got to return to earth and hopefully nudge it a little further onto the positive side. To do that, she's been assigned to help Lowrie McCall complete his "wish list."

Lowrie is dying, alone except for a chestful of regrets. But his wish list is going to change that. All the times in his life when he should have done one thing and instead did another, he wants to fix. Sure, he can't go back in time and kiss that beautiful girl that eventually married his best friend. But he can find her today. But only with Meg's help. And if Meg's erstwhile partner-in-crime (literally), the now-demonic Belch, has his way, even Meg's best efforts won't do the trick.

Best known for his deliciously amoral teenage genius, Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer succeeds in creating more truly memorable characters, and in not preaching in a story where the primary tension is between heaven and hell. Meg has a good heart, but she's hardly a shoo-in for the wings and the harp. Lowrie is not pitiful and pathetic, nor does Colfer overdo the crusty-old-fart stereotype when drawing this character. Even the reps from heaven and hell (St. Peter and Beelzebub, respectively) are interesting. The only character who's slightly 2-D is Belch, but he fulfills his villain duties with a mindless malevolence that is all the more unsettling when you realize he's only sixteen. Grab this book for a thought-provoking, funny look at life and what comes after.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Awards and more awards!

The 2005 Newbery and Caldecotts were announced today in San Antonio as part of the American Library Association's Midwinter Conference. Go have a look.

And I'm proud to note that I blogged one of the Printz honor books several months ago. I Am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak. The Michael L. Printz Award is given for excellence in literature written for young adults. Nice to know my taste occasionally coincides with that of authorities in the field.

Back with more books soon!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Little Darlings

But, Bibliovore! You just posted yesterday! Usually there's about a month between posts!

I know. But I've started working at a library, which is something like Kate Moss working at a heroin factory. So hopefully you get a lot more Bibliovore posts from now on. Don't send me grumpy emails if you don't, though.

Book: Little Darlings
Author: Sam Llewellyn
Published: 2004

Poor little Primrose, Daisy, and Cassian. Their father and stepmother spend most of the time going to fancy parties and making money, with not a moment left for raising the children. Dear, dear. But they keep themselves occupied with cookery, devious schemes, machinery, and general mayhem. Oh, and they get wonderful nannies. Nineteen, at last count.

But when the Darling household gets put on the Nanny Blacklist, their papa has no choice but to acquire one from the AAA Aardvark Childminding and Security Agency. This nanny's different. This nanny's smart enough to dodge the initial greeting (three children flying, at speed, from the end of the banister), kind enough to get them all takeout, and larcenous enough to steal all the silver. Oh, and the children. But only by accident. He (yes, he) takes them to the SS Kleptomaniac, manned entirely by inept burglars and a brilliant, beautiful captain on a mission to reassemble the parts of a royal teddy bear.

This promises to be more interesting than lessons, at any rate.

With an arch, satirical, subversive tone that hints of Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl, Llewellyn weaves a story utterly lacking in gooey sentimentality. Daisy, Primrose, and Cassian would send Mary Poppins screaming for the hills, and that is the source of most of the enjoyment I got from this book. With equal parts deviousness, practicality, and teamwork, the siblings barrel through adventures that would send most literary children under the covers. The plot bounces and spins from one unlikely event to the next with a dark glee in the Darling childrens' capability and resourcefulness in the face of obstacles that have baffled all the adults. While the end has the potential to be a bit syrupy, the author's own wry recognition of that fact leaves you laughing. If I see anything else from Sam Llewellyn, even if it doesn't feature the Darlings, I'll be sure to pick it up.

A Year with Butch and Spike

Book: A Year With Butch and Spike
Author: Gail Gauthier
Published: 1998

Butch and Spike Coutre are the class cut-ups. Butch is more likely to draw all over his math homework than finish it, and Spike is more likely to ask questions in class than answer them. They drive the teachers nuts, but sixth-grade teacher Mrs. McNulty has a secret weapon. His name is Jasper.

Jasper's about as close as you can get to the perfect kid. He makes straight A's. His teachers love him. He doesn't give his parents any trouble. He figures in return for all this goodness, he deserves the best sixth-grade year any kid ever had. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen . . .

It's practically a cliche - good, sweet kid makes unlikely friends with the neighborhood bully and transforms him/her (let's not be sexist here; girls are worse bullies than boys sometimes) into a human being with feelings and everything. Frankly, that's what I was expecting when I picked up A Year with Butch and Spike. To my surprise, I found that the situation is almost perfectly reversed. Jasper is at first rigidly virtuous and scarily perfectionist. But as the year goes on, he learns to see the world through the non-comformist, curious-about-everything eyes of the Coutre cousins. He does his best to maintain his position as the kid who always does the right thing and follows the rules. But as his outlook changes, he begins to realize that there are more important things than living up to a perfect scholastic standard.

I really enjoyed this book. Spike and Butch, who aren't bullies but genuinely good-hearted kids, form an entertaining duo. Mrs. McNulty is the worst example of a teacher abusing her power over the kids in her class. But it's Jasper's transformation into an actual human being instead of a teacher/grades/achievement-controlled puppet that is most compelling.