Monday, November 26, 2007

Book Review: Diary of a Would-Be Princess by Jessica Green

Book: Diary of a Would-Be Princess
Author: Jessica Green
Published: 2007

Jillian James wants to be a Princess. Not with the crown and the throne . . . a Princess, one of the exclusive girl-clique in her 5th-grade class. She tries, she really does. But after episodes with using diaper pins for friendship pins and the elastic from her underwear for jump-ropes, she figures out it’s pretty much a lost cause. Still, she hasn’t sunk so low that she wants to hang out with dorky Nigel, brutal Raymond, thuggish Vincent, or tough-girl Amanda.

But friendship sneaks up on her, and before she knows it, Jillian is the Princess of 5-B . . . the kind of Princess who rules because she’s loved, not feared.

Written in journal format, Jillian’s fresh, frank voice isn’t one bit deterred by her teacher, who leaves weekly notes after reading the entries. Sometimes the teacher came off as gloriously clueless, and sometimes she came off as perfectly wise and perceptive. Which is pretty accurate to a fifth-grade experience.

While the friendship message got a little anvilly toward the end (and I also started to forget who people were as Jillian’s unusual friend group grows), I closed the book and put it down with a huge smile. Jillian is just the kind of girl I would love to have as a friend myself. Give this to your favorite fourth or fifth-grade girl who’s making her own way through the jungles of classroom politics.

Little Women, Draft One

Seriously, you guys, this is the way it should've ended. That Amy just got on my very last nerve.

Thanks to Meg's blog for the link!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Cybils Longlist is Out!

Guess what! The nominations have closed for the Cybils, and they now have their longlists posted! And check it, holy schnikes, the YA category has 123 (count 'em) books nominated.

You might remember that I'm on the judging committee for YA. Now is the proper time, I feel, to emit an "eek!"

Scanning through the list of the books (any one of which I may have to judge), I found myself either nodding thoughtfully or going, "oo, haven't read that one yet!" Luckily, I didn't have to say, "Oh my god, someone nominated that?!?" We have good taste in the kidlitosphere, y'all.

Now we sit tight until January 1 and the announcement of the shortlists! To the nominating committees, who now have to read every single book nominated in their categories: Thank you for going through all these before the judges get to it. And I'm so glad I'm not you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Book Review: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Book: The Wednesday Wars
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Published: 2007

Every Wednesday afternoon, half the kids in Holling Hoodhood’s class go to Hebrew class at Temple Beth-el and the other half go to Catechism at Saint Adelbert’s. Which leaves Holling, the lone Presbyterian, in the care of Mrs. Baker. Who hates his guts.

At first, it’s all mindless chores like pounding erasers. But by October, Mrs. Baker has come up with a really fiendish plan: Holling is going to read Shakespeare every Wednesday. Oh gak! Just kill him already. But Holling is surprised to find that Shakespeare is actually sort of interesting. There’s all those neat murders, for one thing. He’s also surprised to discover that Mrs. Baker is, and has been, more than a teacher out to make him suffer. As the world changes all around him, Holling learns--from Shakespeare, from Mrs. Baker, from his classmates, and from his family--something of what it means to be human.

Holling’s voice reminds me of Richard Peck’s narrators: hilarious, thoughtful, and nostalgic, as if he is telling you the story from somewhere in his future. Schmidt also resembles Peck in the he captures both a physical age--twelve years old, in seventh grade--and a historical age--1967-1968, in Long Island. Flower children, Bobby Kennedy, the threat of atomic bombs, the Vietnam War and Mickey Mantle all happen to Holling during his seventh-grade year, as well as the more timeless worries about family, friendship, first love, and identity.

This book was first brought to my attention by Richie’s Picks. Richie must get these books straight from the authors, so fast is he to find the good stuff. I usually trust his taste, and I was especially excited for this book because of the Shakespeare connection, being a recovering English major. At the same time, I was a little wary. Sometimes authors like to ladle on the Cul-Chah, because we’re ed-yoo-cating the kiddies, don’tcha know. But Schmidt (an English professor by day) has a light hand with the Shakespeare discussions, weaving them lightly throughout the book and always keeping in mind how they affect Holling’s story. And for a geek like me, who’s read every play that Holling has, Schmidt goes below the surface, extracting unexpected insights that make me want to read the plays all over again. This is an author I’ll definitely seek out again.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Excerpty Goodness!

Squee! E. Lockhart has put up an excerpt from her upcoming book at her blog. Squee again!

If I wasn't already a rabid fan of E. Lockhart's, I would be forced to put the book on my list from this sentence alone:
I take full responsibility for the disruptions caused by the Order -- including the library lady, the doggies in the window, night of a thousand dogs, the canned beet rebellion and the abduction of the guppy.
I have never been witness to the abduction of a guppy before. See, this is why we read: for the new experiences we can vicariously witness. The next time I need to abduct a guppy, I will know how.

Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for the news.

Friday, November 16, 2007

National Book Awards

The National Book Awards have been announced, and while Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl didn't win (sigh) in the Young People's Literature category, I can't completely fault the judges' taste because the one that did is Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Hurray! Congrats to Sherman Alexie and all the nominees.

I guess there were also some grown-up books in the running for other prizes or something. Or it could just be a rumor.

Thanks to Fuse #8 for the info.

Book Review: Everlost by Neal Shusterman

Book: Everlost
Author: Neal Shusterman
Published: 2006

Allie and Nick only met after the car crash that killed them both. Now they’re ghosts, or Afterlights, stuck in Everlost--a place that’s neither life nor the afterlife, but somewhere in between. They’re not alone, either. Hundreds, even thousands of other children inhabit Everlost, knocked off course on their way to where they were going at the time of their deaths.

Allie and Nick make their way to New York City and to Mary, who oversees hundreds of children living in the ghosts of the Twin Towers. It’s tempting to spend forever under Mary’s protection, playing Pac-Man or jumping rope, safe from the monstrous McGill or the roving gangs of bullies outside. But neither Allie nor Nick can quite shake the feeling that there’s more to Everlost than this . . .

I’ve read some other Neal Schusterman books, but I’m blogging this one because, boy, can the man bring the world-building. Everlost isn’t just a pale copy of the living world, or a blissful heaven knock-off. It has its own dangers and rules, with swift and terrible consequences for those who make missteps. It's your childhood nightmare and dream in one, Neverland on crack.

Besides the world-building, I loved the characterization. Schusterman never forgets that his characters are children, although they’ve been nine or twelve or fifteen for a long, long time. Even characters who've been in Everlost for centuries are still fundamentally children, not wise old souls in young shapes.

This book is as much an adventure fantasy as it is anything else, with Allie and Nick newcomers to a strange and rather terrifying new world. And just like the best adventure fantasies, they end up changing their new world in unexpected ways. Try this book for an experience you won't forget in a hurry.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

One Week Left to Nominate for the Cybils!

Actually, it's less now, since nominations close on the 21st. Gak!

Hie thee to the Cybils website and nominate some good stuff, or make sure your favorite book is nominated. Remember, you only get one nomination per category, so use it well, grasshopper. But tell all your friends.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Real Owl Babies!

Remember the adorable Owl Babies by Martin Waddell?

Check out the picture attached to this article and tell me that art doesn't imitate life.

NYT nominates the Best Illustrated Children's Books 2007

You guys, I've just started writing 2007 on my checks and now they're doing best book round-ups. Dang it.

Anyway, here's another one from the New York Times, this time of the Best Illustrated Children's Books. Notice that canny wording? That's so they can slip in stuff like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Peter Sis's The Wall, and Shaun Tan's The Arrival. Good choices all, just not the preschool-oriented fare that the words "picture book" imply.

And as Fuse #8 noted, they messed up a little by including my favorite-ever Not a Box by Antoinette Portis, which was actually published 2006. I'm not going to say anything though, because the more publicity for one of my favorite bunnies, the better.

ETA: I don't know how they did it last year, but kudos to the NYT for taking advantage of a slideshow format and showing us the marvy illustrations that are the reason these books are on the list in the first place.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Book Review: Raiders Night by Robert Lipsyte

Book: Raiders Night
Author: Robert Lipsyte
Published: 2006

Matt’s just got one more year to get through before he can escape the house, and his domineering father, for good. One more season of football, as the captain. Then his life is his own, and he never has to be responsible for anyone but himself.

But then a hazing incident at training camp goes too far. Now Matt’s life isn’t so simple. It’s easier to keep his mouth shut, pretending along with the other witnesses that it was no big thing. After all, it was just a joke, right? Just a little fun, something Chris should have expected if he was going to make it on the Raiders. If he can’t handle it, that’s his problem. But Chris can’t handle it, and he repeatedly reaches out to Matt, who makes the decision over and over again to blow him off . . . until the unthinkable happens. Even though he never wanted this captainship . . . it’s time for Matt to act like a captain.

Many high-school sports books show the quarterback or the star pitcher as a morally pure godling, who glides above the foibles of mortal men. Though he has the reputation as the humble, good-hearted hero, Matt has feet of clay. Without coyness or apology, Lipsyte shows him taking steroids, abusing Vicodin, drinking, cheating on his girlfriend, and feeding off the hero worship that envelops him during football season. Therefore, it’s even more of an accomplishment that Matt is as sympathetic as he is. Try out this book on an older teen (boy or girl, although it’s probably more of a sure thing with boys) who wants a book about a flawed young man trying to understand what is the right thing, and how to do it.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sara Zarr Interview

Hey, people! It's an interview with the Bibliovore's favorite National-Book-Award nominee, Sara Zarr!

Funny Books, Awards, and Kids' Lit

Check out this month's Edge of the Forest for an article by MotherReader about the way funny books are overlooked by awards committees. It's something I've growled about for a long time, and her summation says it perfectly:
. . . the Newbery tends to prefer the dead mother, the dead father, the autistic child, or the dying baby—and that's just the 2007 winners . . .

It may be Great Literature, but so is Wuthering Heights, and I only read that to cure insomnia. Not that people don't like it, but what annoys me is the feeling that you have to like it or you are Not A Cultured Person. Ease off, folks. Let the kids enjoy The Giver and Captain Underpants in equal measure.

We're probably not going to change anyone's mind. Dead mothers and dying babies are still going to have a leg up over fart jokes, at least on the awards ladder. But let's encourage people to see the awards for what they intend to be--a measure of how well-written a book is, rather than a measure of how many kids will enjoy it and want to read it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Publisher's Weekly's Best Books of 2007

Publisher's Weekly has already picked the best books of 2007. If you're published in November or December, you are just SOL, apparently.

That said, I do agree with some of their picks. For instance, Knuffle Bunny Too and Emily Gravett's Orange Pear Apple Bear in the picture book category.

But let's have a look at the "children's fiction" section, and count how many you wouldn't give to your eight-year-old.

I'll give you a minute.

Not that I don't want to sing the praises of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, or Catherine Jinks' Evil Genius. They deserve all the champagne and truffles they can get.

But come on, PW, just make a separate YA section already, and give up more space in children's! Where the hell is the love for The Talented Clementine, huh? You have every genre known to adultkind up there, but you can't be arsed to sacrifice a few more inches to tell parents about books like Margaret Peterson Haddix's Dexter the Tough?

I love YA. You people know this. But there's a teeming underworld of marvelous children's books that don't get any attention from mainstream media, and this is where it starts. Because if PW doesn't consider them worth a mention, why should anybody else?

I gotta go breathe into a paper bag now.

Thanks to Fuse #8 for the heads-up.

Winter Blog Blast Tour!

Hey, folks, warm up your winter with the Blog Blast Tour. Authors visit blogs, and interviewing happens. Check out the entire line-up here.

Myself, I'm definitely planning on catching Perry Moore at the Ya Ya Yas, Laura Amy Schlitz at Fuse #8, Connie Willis at Finding Wonderland . . . oh, heck, I may as well just go to 'em all.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Lauren Child in the Telegraph

I've loved Lauren Child's work since reading Utterly Me, Clarice Bean. Today, my faithful RSS'd Google search delivered unto me a fun little interview with the lady herself.

The world of Lauren Child, children's author

Unfortunately, it's not very meaty, but she does talk a bit about her unique creative style.

Cheerios Writing Contest

Talk about a weird combination.

Apparently Cheerios has teamed up with First Book and Simon & Schuster in the Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories Children's Book Contest, which is a gag-worthy name, but I'll overlook that because I like the judging criteria:
1. Appropriate story/content for children ages 4 to 8
2. Emotional Connection
3. Writing Quality
4. Uniqueness
5. Read Aloud Potential

And you don't have to mention Cheerios at all.

Here's the rest of the info .

Also, when I read this sentence:
Cheerios is searching for the next great children’s book author by inviting previously unpublished adult authors to submit their story for a children’s book.

. . . I thought they were saying, "Can't make it as an author for adults? Try the kiddies! Those little twerps will read anything!" and I started growling. On re-reading, I think they were trying to ensure that they didn't get any actual child authors.

I hope.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Review: Cock-a-Doodle-Hooo by Mick Manning

Book: Cock-a-Doodle-Hoooooo!
Author: Mick Manning
Illustrator: Brita Granströ
Published: 2007

One rain-soaked, shivery night, an owl wanders into a henhouse. He was just looking for somewhere warm and cosy to sleep, but the hens are shocked when they wake up. He can’t stay unless he can act like a rooster, they tell him. But the owl really wants to stay! With the help of the speckled hen, he learns to strut and peck, and even attempts to hoot . . . but it’s only by being himself that he gains a place in the henhouse.

This is hardly a new story, but the way Manning goes about it is charming. The suspicious hens reminded me of a clutch of fussy little old ladies, and their speech-ballooned comments on the poor owl’s shortcomings helped that along.

Granström’s soft pencil-and-watercolor illustrations bring the owl’s story to life. My favorite was the cover-one brown-and-black owl, surrounded by red and white hens. I fell in love with this book because of its simple story of someone who doesn’t fit in, no matter how hard he tries.