Friday, December 31, 2010

Reading Roundup: December 2010

By the Numbers
Teen: 19
Tween: 8
Children: 14

Review Copies: 4
Swapped: 3
Purchased: 2
Library: 25

Teen: The Miles Between by Mary Pearson
All Destiny wants for her birthday is one perfect day, where the world is fair. How she gets it, in a tangle of coincidence that add up to something much greater, is the impetus for this thoughtful and surprising novel.
Tween: Remember Little Rock: the time, the people, the stories by Robert Paul Walker
At its heart, this book is about nine kids who wanted to go to school. Walker does a bang-up job of exploring this simple desire and at the same time the boiling stew of racism, fear, and courage that surrounded school integration in Little Rock, Arkansas. Extra kudos for looking at what happened throughout the following school year and making it clear that the opening of the school doors was not the end of the struggle.
Children: Max Quigley, Technically Not a Bully by James Roy
Talk about actions being louder than words. While Max Quigley steadfastly refutes any charges of bullying and constantly denigrates the nerdy Triffin Nordstrom, his actions trace the changes in his character. Often compared to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I like this book better. Throw tomatoes if you must.

Because I Want To Awards
Most Literary Book to Pass My 50-Page Test: Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft (in fact, I loved it. If I'm able to pin down exactly how and why, you might actually get a review out of me for this one.)
Worthiest Sequel: TIE Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson and It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han
Tailor-Made for Science Geeks of All Ages: Cars on Mars: roving the red planet by Alexandra Siy
Best Bud Ever: my friend Nyssa for hooking me up with an ARC of Huntress by Malinda Lo. Mini-review: better than Ash, and I LOVED Ash.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Reading Roundup: November 2010

By the Numbers
Teen: 20
Tween: 5
Children: 4

Review Copies: 6
Library: 20

Teen: Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Think you know what a teen paranormal book is going to be all about? Think again. Barnes upends conventions all over this tale of a girl literally raised by wolves. Best of all? There's a window open for a sequel, but not a great gaping garage door.
Tween: Julia Gillian and the Quest for Joy by Alison McGhee
McGhee doesn't disappoint in her follow-up to the quietly marvelous Julia Gillian and the Art of Knowing. Serious, sensitive Julia Gillian feels her way through the early tween years the same way we all did--by making mistakes and learning from them.
Children: Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
Want to feel the magic and wonder of the first moon landing for yourself? This book will probably the closest you can get to actually being there.

Because I Want To Awards
Will Make Your Brain Hurt: The Long Wait for Tomorrow by Joaquin Dorfman
More Than I Expected: Chasing Boys by Karen Tayleur
Worth the Wait: Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

Thursday, November 11, 2010

For Your Blogroll

In honor of Veteran's Day today, I want to point you at a neat little blog I heard about at KidLitCon: The Children's War. This blog focuses on current and older books written about kids during WWII.

That sounds like a pretty narrow field of focus, and it is, but they still manage to post really neat books at least once or twice a week. It's a young blog, only since June, but I like the mix of fiction and nonfiction, newer and older, and the in-depth reviews.

Happy Veteran's Day everyone. Go hug a soldier.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

New Award to Speculate About!

. . . Big deal, you say. The ALA thinks up new awards all the time. We've had, like, six new awards added to the roster just in the past decade.

But I think this one is super-special. It will be called the Stonewall Award, "awarded annually to English-language works for children and teens of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered experience." With the rising numbers of gay and lesbian families out there, and also the persistent bullying and misunderstanding of GLBT kids coming out of the closet, this is an important award.

Ooo. Oooooooooooooooo. I'm so surprised by this that I can't even speculate properly. Help me out here, guys - who should win the first Stonewall award? It won't be awarded until January 2012 (remember that the Youth Media Awards, while awarded in January, award for the previous year.) What's coming up that you're really excited for?

By the way, if you're going "Whuh?" about the name, Stonewall refers to the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Maybe you're thinking violence is not the best association for a children's and teen book award, but this particular event is seen as a watershed moment in the fight for GLBT rights.

Thanks to Lisa Jenn Bigelow for the heads-up. Drop by her blog for a much more thoughtful reaction to this award.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Reading Roundup: October 2010

By the Numbers
Teen: 19
Tween: 10
Children: 17

Review Copies: 4
Swapped: 1
Purchased: 2
Library: 14

Teen: Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill
It's a standoff between all the forces of Hell and a seventeen-year-old high school dropout named Bug Smoot with little more than her attitude to defend her. After meeting Bug, I'd say those are pretty even odds.
Tween: Positively by Courtney Sheinmel
It's about an HIV-positive girl who just lost her mother to AIDS. Sounds like all it needs is a C-list celebrity to make a Lifetime movie out of it. But that would be overly dismissive of a tender, reflective novel featuring a prickly and tough young girl adjusting to a life changing almost too fast for her to keep up.
Children: Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca
I admit: I kinda went, "Really? I mean, really?" Not only a picture book for older readers about the making of a ballet, but not even a flashy one like the Nutcracker or Swan Lake. But this nonfiction title about creative collaboration drew me in. I'm not sure how wide the audience will be, but there will be some kids who love this book with all their hearts.

Because I Want To Awards
Way Better Than I Expected: Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund
Made Me Cry on an Airplane, Thanks a Lot: Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
Too Awesome for Words Nonfic: The Bat Scientists by Mary Kay Carson
Yes, It's Sharon Creech, But . . . : The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech (I really wasn't sure what to think about this book, which had more than a whiff of medal-bait about it.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Blast from the Past

One of the panels at KidlitCon was all about blogging the backlist - that is, older books. We often get caught up in the bright shiny new sparkly books out there, and forget what great books have been published already. Whether these books are four years old or forty, there's a kid out there who hasn't read it yet, and that's why they still deserve to be talked about. Too, if they are forty years old, it's an education to go back and look at them with 21st century eyes.

Over at her Fire Escape, Mitali Perkins is picking up this idea and running with it, by way of what she calls a Cuci Mata reading of classic children's books, to see how they read to our eyes. First on the docket: Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace. If this is an old favorite, or you've never picked it up, stop on by to join the fun.

And of course, I don't need to remind you that most of these marvelous older books are available at your local library.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I'll Take Squicky Article Titles for 100, Alex

Apparently, Alloy Wants to Own Teenage Girls. Don't they know that's illegal in four out of five civilized countries?

In case you're unfamiliar with the company, Alloy is the media empire that's behind such book series as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Gossip Girl, and lots more outside of books. According to this article, it's their stated intention to grab the teenage girls of America and get all the money they can out of them.

I would launch into a good ol' railing post, except that I've read a lot of Alloy's produced books, and . . . um . . . a lot of them are pretty good. Even more of them (ahem GOSSIP GIRL ahem) are, like, waaaay addictive! Whatever their reasons for doing it, at least they're paying attention to the quality of the product.

Still, this makes me feel all squicky. Weigh in!

Monday, October 25, 2010

KidlitCon 2010

Just in case you didn't notice from my last post, and the barrage emanating from my Twitter account, I spent the weekend in Minneapolis at the 2010 Kidlitosphere Conference. Which was awesome. That is all.

You want more? Okay, fine.

So this is my fourth KidlitCon. I'm in the rare position of being just one of three kidlit bloggers who've been to all of them (the others are Jen Robinson and MotherReader, in case you were wondering), and here's what I've found to be true at all of these.

Yes, the sessions are great. They gave me good ideas and food for thought, and reminders about things I know I slack on regarding my blog.

Yes, the geeky book talk is great, as is the geeky tech talk. In real life, I rarely have the chance to go, "Oh, did you read that book yet? What did you think of that one guy, what he did?" and have the reply be, "OH MY GOD! I did! Yes! I couldn't believe it!" or even, "No, but I reeeeally want to after reading that one review!" And then have the conversation continue on to, "What do you think of this new functionality from Blogger?"

Yes, we get fed, and the food is good. This year it was all provided, yowza, and thanks to the organizers and HarperCollins.

But none of that is really what KidlitCon is about for me.

For me, this conference is about the people. I realized that some of the attendees are people that I actually know very well (down to being able to count off the number of their kids, which may just verge on creepy), but I've only met in person a handful of times. Others are people I want to get to know online after meeting them.

So, to the friends I caught up with: Jen Robinson, MotherReader, Book Nut, Melissa Wiley, Mary Lee Hahn, Lisa Jenn, and Laura Lutz: It was so great to see you all, catch up, and bask in your noises of sympathetic devastation when I lost my e-reader. (Which was turned in to lost and found at Mall of America by a very kind . . . Minneapolite? Minneapolitan? and will shortly be posted back to me.) Especially especially great were the hours of conversation about everything from mom details to blogging ethics to new books to what the heck to do in Minneapolis on a Sunday morning. (Answer: not much.)

To the friends I met for the first time or got to know better: PragmaticMom, Janet Fox, Jacqueline Houtman, Charlotte Taylor and anyone I randomly struck up a conversation with. It was fun to get to know you.

To my fellow mad Tweeters, keeping the twitterverse up to date on the happenings: @alicepope, @teacher6th, @BonnyGlen, @LizB, @MaryLeeHahn @RascofromRIF @thepageturn @mudmamba. . . tweet on!

To anyone who wasn't there: next year!

To anyone I forgot to mention, all of the above, or at least as much of it as is personally appropriate.

So this recap wasn't a recap so much as a processing, was it? For hard details, see pictures of the weekend on Flickr, read the Twitter transcript at Greg's The Happy Accident, and check in with some of the many other recaps, collected at the KidlitCon 2010 blog.

Thank you to the able organizers, Andrew Karre of Lerner Books, Brian Farrey of Flux, and Ben Barnhart of Milkweed Editions. You put together an amazing weekend for all of us, and you fully deserve the nervous breakdowns you're going to have now.

Next year will be in Seattle. Woohoo for West Coasters!

The last session, which as per tradition focused on the Kidlitosphere itself and what we're all about, stressed the community aspect of this group. We lose people all the time, but we also gain people all the time, and if we're to maintain our sense of community we have to welcome the newbies with as much warmth as we were welcomed. This conference goes a long way toward making that happen.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Review: Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

Book: Strange Angels
Author: Lili St. Crow
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

Dru Anderson’s dad always comes back. No matter what manner of long-leggedy beasties he’s hunting this time, he always returns to her. After her mom’s death and the subsequent years of moving around the country, following the things that go bump in the night, Dru can’t count on much, but she can count on this.

And her dad does return from his latest hunt. Unfortunately, it’s as a zombie.

Seems there are a few things that Dad didn’t get around to telling her before he died. Dru’s got to find out what they are, fast. Or the next casualty could be her.

Talk about judging a book by its cover. I looked at that and went, “Oh, yawn. Girl with serious expression, in shadows, tough clothing, and--whoa, original!--a moon. Just another prefab paranormal. I’ll give it fifty pages and then it’s on to the next.”

And okay, there are zombies and werewolves and cute boys and looming danger. But more than any of that, there’s Dru, a girl who would eat Bella Swan for breakfast and floss with Edward’s hair. If you can’t tell, I loved this girl.

Raised on the fringes of the paranormal world (which, rather awesomely, she calls the Real World), Dru’s got the knowledge and the training but not much field experience. Of course, that’s changing fast. She’s in over her head but paddling hard. Dru is tough and gritty, a survivor and a thinker. I mean, she shot her zombified father through the heart. Multiple times. Yet she also spends most of the book this close to a nervous breakdown, after having her only solid anchor in the world ripped away from her. The only thing that saves her is Graves, a new classmate with secrets of his own, who takes her in after she shoots her zombie father and winds up getting bitten by a werewolf for his pains, meaning that they wind up taking care of each other.

There were a few things that almost lost me about this book. Two of them have to do with Graves. One: really? In a paranormal, you name a character Graves? That’s getting beyond silly and into the kind of ironic that wears skinny jeans and smokes clove cigarettes. Two, Graves is mixed-race, Asian-Caucasian. Which is fine, I’m all for some diversity in our white YA world, but St. Crow kept harping on it. Seemed every moment that Dru looked at Graves, she had to mention something about “half-breed” or his skin tone or the epicanthic folds of his eyes. Harpity-harpity-harp. Enough. He’s not white. We Get It.

There’s also a character who turns up about midway through that made my love-triangle sensor go off, with a clanging “Oh for the love of God!” Thankfully, St Crow didn’t give in, but I’m still eying the next two books in the series with mild jaundice. A kind of, "Oh, yeah, prove that you can keep this awesome up."

I can't decide whether to be annoyed or not that the questions didn't really get answered by the end. It's a clear lead-in to the rest of the story, but we never really find out who or what is after Dru, and what the frickity-frack is going on. I'm plumping for not, at the moment, but your mileage may vary.

Do I recommend it? Reservedly. For those who love paranormals but you're tired of wimpy heroines who stand around swooning. If St. Crow can keep Dru at her current level of tough/smart/conflicted/kickass and doesn't give in to current tired tropes, I can't wait for the next ones.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I'm on My Way

Well, not yet. But my various devices are charging up, my clothes are packed, and so far I've remembered to include all the things I traditionally forget (glasses, contact solution, on one memorable occasion shoes. Oy). I leave bright and early in the morning for Minneapolis and the Fourth (!!!) Annual KidlitCon, where I look forward to a weekend hanging out with people I haven't seen in a year or more, talking blogs, books, and the confluence of both.

Will you be joining us? If not, I'll be tweeting the con under the handle @mosylu, with the hashtag #kidlitcon and possibly even doing little posts at this blog. Follow!

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Brand New Way to Mock the Awards

. . . huh. Something about that title just don't sound right.

January is only three months away, which means that award speculation started some . . . uh . . . nine months ago. Mock awards are a staple of school and public librarians looking to expend some of that speculative energy. Well, now some genius on Goodreads has come up with a new way to hold Mock Newbery/Caldecotts/Printzes - lists which the public can add to and vote up. Here they be: Newbery 2011, Printz 2011, and 2011 Caldecott Hopefuls

Let the frenzied ballot-box-stuffing begin. All my Newbery clicks are currently going to Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind, but that may be because I haven't read Deborah Wiles' much-loved Countdown yet.

Okay, and I know I may get tomato'd for this, but I don't think Mockingjay belongs on the Newbery list. Printz, oh, hells yes. All kindsa yes. But not the Newbery, folks. What do you think? Who will you vote up?

Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link.

Edited to Correct: the title of Mockingjay. I said The Hunger Games at first. Thanks for the correction, Mike!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book Review: The Summer I Turned Pretty

Book: The Summer I Turned Pretty
Author: Jenny Han
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

Once again, Belly’s family is going to the beach house with the Fisher family, as they have every year since her birth. They’ll swim in the same ocean, they’ll walk on the same boardwalk, they’ll share the same jokes and traditions.

But Belly is on the cusp of her sixteenth birthday, and she’s determined that this summer will be different. No longer will she be the ignored little sister, left out of everything. Her brother and the Fisher boys, Conrad and Jeremiah, will have to include her. This year, she’s going to make Conrad just as much in love with her as she’s always been with him.

You know what they say about best-laid plans, though. There are things Belly doesn’t know--about Conrad, about his mom Susannah, and about love. But she’s going to find out.

This book seems like a recipe for fluff. Summer? Check. Beach house, tans, and bikinis? Girl growing into her new body? Check. Hot older boy, subject of years of unrequited yearning? Check, check, oh so check.

But even before we discover the Big Secret in the last quarter of the book, (hardly a secret, it’s foreshadowed so much Han might as well have taken out a neon sign) this story has a heft to it that belies its fluffy aspect. Everyone wants to have a summer of fun while serious changes are going on underneath, and Belly seems to be the last one to notice any of them. This is partly about being the baby of this expanded summer family, and partly the sheer self-absorption that comes along with feeling your way into a brand-new skin. That can be kind of frustrating sometimes, but ultimately Han pulls it off.

So . . . does Conrad ever notice her? It seems so, but then again, so does Jeremiah, and the epilogue can be read both ways. There's a sequel out, It's Not Summer Without You, which I want to pick up both to see which brother Belly picked and how she's dealing with the fallout from last summer.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Book Review: Thaw by Monica Roe

Book: Thaw
Author: Monica Roe
Published: 2008
Source: Local Library

A month ago, Dane was on top of the world. He was a champion skier with a hot girlfriend and a bright future. Then everything collapsed, starting with him. Dane has Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a sudden-onset neurological crisis that’s caused him to lose control of every muscle in his body.

From an athlete who was in total control of his life, Dane has become the closest thing to a vegetable. His girlfriend has dumped him, his friends are MIA, and his family’s shuttled him off to a Florida rehab hospital. Lying in the bed, there’s not much to do but think, and there’s not much to think about but where it all went wrong.

I'll be honest here: this protagonist was the biggest jerk I have ever met, on the page or off. And, y'all, I work in public service. He changes, but slowly, and we keep flashing back to his earlier jerkitude. It’s a heartless kind of Darwinism - to Dane, anyone who succeeds is worthy, and anyone who fails isn’t worth a second glance. He lumps asking for or offering help into the second category, expressing nothing but contempt for an injured skiing teammate and the members of the opposing team who help him down the mountain. You can imagine what this does to his self-image when he is struck down by this real-life syndrome.

It's a testament to Monica Roe's amazing writing that I kept reading and didn’t throw the book across the room. Dane is repugnant and compelling all at once, and his slow understanding of his own failings and weaknesses, and his baby steps toward repairing them, will suck you right in.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Reading Roundup September 2010

By the Numbers
Teen: 23
Tween: 4 (weird!)
Children: 10

Review Copies: 1
Swapped: 1
Purchased: 2
Library: 30

Teen: After by Amy Efaw
A complex heroine with layers upon layers of denial makes this story about attempted infanticide describable only as "Wow. Just . . . wow."
Tween: The Whole World's Crazy (Amelia Rules) by Jimmy Gownley
Another memorable heroine, although obviously not in the same way. Amelia is dealing with divorce, a move, new friends, a new nemesis, and various other life issues, and she does it with wit and sass by the cupful.
Children: Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes
Well, clearly it was just my month for amazing heroines. Also dealing with divorce and a move, Dyamonde Daniel chooses not to wallow, but to reach out to someone else in need (even if that someone needs a slap upside the head).

Because I Want To Awards
Way Better Than I Expected: Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow
Loved the Way This Looked At Teen Female Sexuality (too bad about the main character): Giving Up the V by Serena Robar
Sah-WOON: Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
Neatokeen Nonfiction: Secret Subway by Martin W. Sandler
You Know You Always Wanted to Do This Yourself: The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman

Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's Cybil's Eve!

Taking a break from Banned Book Week for a day, I have to remind everyone that the Cybils nominations start tomorrow. Woot! And double woot! This is the 5th year for the kidlitosphere's beloved homegrown book awards.

October 1st - 15th, anyone can nominate a book in any category. Teachers, librarians, kids, parents, if you loved it, shout it out! Then the first-round judges swing into action, reading like crazy folks, and winnow the giant piles down to a few finalists for each category. Those lists are released January 1st, and that's when the second-round judges clock in, taking the next month to intensively read and debate every single book on their category's shortlist until one is declared the winner. All winners are announced on Valentine's Day.

I've judged for the past three years, and I can tell you it's a lot of work, but so worth it! If you want to check out the judges for this year (and, of course, their blogs!), stop in and have a gander at the panels. Congratulations to everyone who made the cut!

Also on the Cybils website, along the sidebar: finalists and winners from the last few years, a fine resource for anyone who wants to find marvelous books. If you want to show your support for the bestest little award on the internet, get shopping at the CafePress store.

But most importantly of all . . . what are you going to nominate?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Books Links and Stuff

It's Banned Books Week again, which means links are cropping up like daisies in spring.
  • HuffPo recently posted a slideshow of 15 (count 'em) movies that were made from books that have been banned or challenged. Some of them are not so much of a surprise (Harry Potter, Brokeback Mountain) and some were new to me (Gone with the Wind?)
  • The Goddess of YA Literature gives us some tips about knowing thine enemy.
  • 100 Scope Notes shares a Mental_Floss quiz about why certain books have been banned. It's a few years old (hence question 9), but it still might surprise you.
  • The librarian response to book banning is to explain that it's each individual parent's responsibility for what their own child reads. We don't hear much from the parent end of it, but author Aprilynne Pike shares just that in a guest post over at Eve's Fan Garden. Awesometastic, Madame Pike.
  • Stop on by the comic strip The New Adventures of Queen Victoria for their 2010 Banned Books tribute, which started last Saturday. My personal favorite is Monday's. Bwaha.
  • Last but not least: a video! It's from last year (hence the hinky dates) but this much awesome does not expire. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Right Book, Wrong Time

I have a confession to make. I didn't like "The Goonies."

The first time I ever saw it, I was twenty and went with a friend to a Free Campus Movie Nite. She was well-nigh swooning at the thought of seeing this marvelous movie from her childhood, assuring me that I would love it. I was surrounded by people who were all in a fever of joy at the thought of this apparently defining moment in their cinematic experience, and let me tell you, it's quite something to see a frat boy enraptured by non-Hobbitized Sean Astin. Me? I kept waiting for the marvelousness to start.

When it ended, she turned to me and said, "Well? Wasn't it great?"

"Um. It was okay." I watched her face fall and quickly added, "I would have loved it when I was ten! Seriously!"

I said that mostly to keep her from trying to explain to me how awesome it was. But the more I consume stories, especially stories written for a different demographic than my own, the more that thought has come back to me. "Oh man, I would have loved this when I was (insert age here)."

For instance--and if you need to pretend you never knew me after reading this, I understand--if Twilight had come out when I was fourteen, I would have eaten it up, sparkly vampire and all. Oh, I might have recognized the flaws. But I would have loved it so hard. I would have written fanfiction and worn "Edward" t-shirts and had passionate, hour-long discussions about whether he was right not to have vamped Bella the first time she asked for it. (And yes, if you noticed, I would have been Team Edward. What can I say?)

But I wasn't fourteen, I was twenty-five, and I read Twilight with an "Okay, well, I guess I see the appeal but I'm not really feelin' it." (My withering disdain for Bella Swan didn't really get off the ground until New Moon, with the empty pages after Edward dumped her. Good god, girl. The first month I understand, maybe. Somewhere before the fourth, you should go get a makeover and jump the hot werewolf.)

There's a feeling that Art is great or not-great on its own merits--that the people who love it or hate it, depending on the opinion of the learned elite, are totally wrong-headed. But that leaves out the other half of the equation, the reader, and all they bring to the book. It's a particular consideration for those of us who love kid's and teen books. We're not the target audience, so when we review a book, we have to think about two things: 1) What did I think of it? 2) What would a kid think of it?

This is not saying that all children's or YA lit has a sell-by date, or even that the sell-by date is the same for everybody. I'm still nutty about Harry Potter, and I know there are people older than me who know every word, backward and forward, of Twilight. Clearly it's still saying something to somebody. But I'm not the same person I was at fourteen (thank God!), so it makes sense to me that a book could simply miss its target. The trick is in understanding when that target might have been in my life, and using that knowledge when I write about it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Banned Book Week Ahoy

Banned Book Week is coming up again (huzzah?), which means that book banning is in the news. Banned Books Week happens one week a year, but that doesn't mean the banners and challengers and nay-sayers and finger-wavers go away for the other 51. Y'all, I puzzled over this deeply last year before realizing that when Banned Book Week is nigh, the reporters notice news of book banning more. Face, meet palm.

This week's book-banning news/reason for crawling under your bed and sobbing gently over the future of America comes to us from Missouri, where a university professor (I know. I know!) has decried the curriculum of his local school district. Under attack: sex ed (natch), and required reading, specifically the high school's, which asks students to read the Vonnegut anti-war classic Slaughterhouse-Five, Sarah Ockler's beautiful and sensitive Twenty-Boy Summer, and Laurie Halse Anderson's yes-yes-yes-it's-really-that-good Speak.

But you know what burns my butter? And that of a lot of other people? This quote:
In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography.

One such book is called "Speak." . . . As the main character in the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like. The boy then rapes her on the next page. Actually, the book and movie both contain two rape scenes.

Jeebus Christmas.

Some more facts about this prof: his children do not go to the school under attack. So apparently he's prompted by his deep sense of . . . community welfare? Or something? He was also a speaker at a recent seminar called "Reclaiming Missouri for Christ."

I am religious. Some of you know this, some of you don't. (Now you do.) It's very dismaying to see an entire group of people painted with the Crayyyy-zee Brush because some isolated members choose to use religion as a club. Y'know what? Most of us want to live our lives and love our neighbors, not batter them into a fine paste that can then be reshaped in our own image. There's only One who gets to do that, and trust me, Scroggins, you ain't Him.

Something fascinating and new this year is the amount of religious response to this book banning. Like this, from Paul, who writes his post as a dialogue between himself and Christ. This is the final line:
“Paul (I love it when Jesus calls me by my name), I got crucified by a mob. Mobs come from fear. And fear happens when you don’t trust people to think for themselves… For the love of God, give your kids the freaking books.”
Thanks to David Lubar for that link, which almost made me cry at work.

Laurie Halse Anderson's post on the challenge to Speak has some great links by which you can respond to Scroggins, the school board, and the news media in Republic, Missouri.

Author Shannon Hale, blogging from bedrest (the woman is expecting twins any day now and still blogs! Hard-core, Hale. Hard. Core.) had this to say:
"The purpose of literature is not to represent perfect characters, an ideal world, where everyone acts kindly and appropriately. There's no benefit to reading that story, there's no learning, no questioning, no growing for the reader. I want to share just one more thing about the power and importance of great books, and why we need them free and available in libraries."
She then quotes from another blogger, which I will make you click through and read because double-quoting is kinda weird. Shannon Hale, you are awesome.

The blogosphere's afire over this one, naturally, and bless her heart, Reclusive Bibliophile has compiled a list of all the posts. There's also a Twitter hashtag, #SpeakLoudly.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

File This Under "Holy Cow"

Congratulations to Jane Yolen, whose 300th book will published later this year. Yes, 300th. That's 3 with two little zeroes after it.

As I say, holy cow.

In highly classy fashion, Yolen tells us that it's not about the numbers, but about the readers.
What I can really recount, though, are the stories I get back from readers. The little boy in a burn unit who read "How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?" until he did, too. The autistic boy who now goes to bed without elaborate coaching because of "How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?."
And many more. I'm gettin' a little verklempt here, people. Go request Elsie's Bird, that special number 300. Let's hope she hits 400 too.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A List You Might Need

ALSC has pre-pulled these needles from the haystack for us: books about Islam for kids. I'm saddened but not shocked to see the dearth of fiction, especially in chapter-book and novel-length. Sigh.

Have you read anything you'd add to this list?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Lee Wind and the Great Debate

Hop on over to Hunger Mountain, kiddies, and watch our own Lee Wind weigh in on "GLBTQ Teen Coming Out Stories: Move Beyond Them, or Keep ‘Em Coming?"

For me, I love GLBTQ books that show kids who are homosexual and that's their life. The coming out to the major players in their life is accomplished, and now they're dealing with other Life Stuff, just like any other kid. They're a gay kid or a lesbian, but they're not The Gay Kid or The Lesbian, like that's the sum total of their existence. For gay or lesbian kids reading about themselves, it's good to know that they are not their sexuality. For straight friends and family, that's also good to know that their friend/brother/sister is still their friend/brother/sister even with this new aspect of their identity.

On the other hand, as Lee says, a lot of places and people aren't so accepting as we would like, and for a lot of kids, understanding their sexuality and coming out are a major source of angst and even fear. They need books that show these experiences honestly, with all the bumps and bruises but the reassurance that's it's better to be yourself than to live a lie.

So . . . what do you think? Do we still need coming out novels on our shelves or should we focus on books with kids who happen to be gay?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Yessssssssss! / Noooooooooooo!

Fuse #8 pointed me at these two little tidbits of kidlit movie news:

1. They're making a movie of Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life! I love Wendy Mass's every sterling word, and it's a mystery to me why she doesn't get more critical love. Whatevs, I'll get to see this movie and if they don't completely turd it up, hopefully it will drive more kids to the M sections of my library. Yessssssssssss!

2. Remember the Mr. Popper's Penguins movie? Jim Carrey is going to be Mr. Popper. You heard that. Jim Carrey = Mr. Popper. Say it with me, kiddies: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

One of these days, I will make a book display called, "The Book is Always Better, or Yes I Know the Movie Sucked, That Was Not the Book's Fault." Today, however, I will tenderly cradle poor Mr. Popper and his penguins in my arms.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Reading Roundup August 2010

By the Numbers
Teen: 21
Tween: 11
Children: 16

Swapped: 2
Purchased: 1
Library: 40

Teen: Thaw by Monica Roe
I simply couldn't put this book down, even when I wanted to kick Dane right in the goolies.
Tween: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
This book confused the bejesus out of me, and yet, I kept reading. There's time travel, and unlikely friendships, and growth and Madeleine L'Engle and . . . and  . . . okay, just read it already, willya?
Children: Wild Things by Clay Carmichael
A book about the unlikely families that we cobble together because the pieces don't fit anywhere else. Too bad the cover belonged on a different book.

Because I Want To Awards
Highest Ratio of Tears to Pages: Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan
Most Highly Anticipated: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Twistiest Book Unfortunately Spoiled by the OCLC Summary (AKA, What Were You Thinking, Guys?!): White Cat by Holly Black
So Happy This Character Got Her Own Book: Goth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga
McGowan, You Are One Sick Dude: The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children by Keith McGowan
So Far Over the Top It's Receding Beyond the Horizon: Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware by M.T. Anderson
Can't Wait to Recommend This to a 10-Year-Old: NERDS by Michael Buckley

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I just bought plane tickets. To where? Well might you ask! To Minneapolis!

Now while I'm sure the fair polis of Minnea has many charms, I'm going there for one of my favorite events of the year: the annual Kidlitosphere Conference, otherwise known as my best excuse to geek out over books and blogging and meet people I mostly know online.

It's October 23rd and I can't wait! Will I see you there?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Has It Really Been a Year?

No way, really? Okay, I guess so.

The Cybils, our beloved blogger-run literary awards, are ramping up again, and they're kicking things off with a call for judges. If you've never judged, now's your chance! If you've judged before, you know what it's like! So . . . yeah, follow the link and throw your name in the hat. You have until September 15.

Even if you don't want to judge, start gathering up your favorites of 2010 now, because the noms start October 1.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Book Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Book: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Spoilers for books 1 and 2 ahead. Duh.

With her home district burned to ash and the war started in earnest, Katniss Everdeen is once again in over her head. She should be pretty comfortable there, though--it’s where she’s been ever since volunteering for the Hunger Games.

Hidden among the secret rebel enclave of District 13 (long thought to have been destroyed in the last uprising), she can do very little except obsess over the course of the war that she’s partially responsible for igniting, and the fate of Peeta, who keeps turning up in broadcasts from the Capitol begging Katniss for a cease-fire.

When the rebels ask her to be the Mockingjay--the public face of the war, the rallying point--she agrees because it’s something she can finally do. But it turns out to be more of the scripted, image-conscious symbolism that has defined her since the beginning of the Hunger Games, leaving Katniss uncertain about her very identity.

Is she a tribute? A victor? The girl on fire? The Mockingjay? Is she Gale’s lover? Is she Peeta’s? Is she a soldier, a warrior, or a symbol? All of these? None of these?

Who is Katniss Everdeen?

As the third book in a rollercoaster trilogy, how does this hold up? I’d say pretty well until it falters a little at the end. It kinks a little sideways away from our expectation of a flash-boom-bang ending, and gently coasts to a stop instead. This isn't a flaw, exactly, just something that took me off-guard.

From the beginning, where Katniss must work through all the recent upheavals in her life by creating a mantra of the things she knows to be true, through to the end, where a character with a slippery grasp on reality attempts to sort out untrustworthy memories by asking “real or not real,” this book wrestles with truth vs. illusion. In this book, even more so than the first two, Collins is obsessed with public image, and the uses of it for propaganda. Both sides of the war use Katniss (and to a lesser extent, Peeta) to twist public opinion like a pretzel. But Katniss is not cut out to be a puppet for anybody. This is shown dramatically when the first scripted, studio-filmed attempts at propaganda spots are a dismal failure. She is most effective when she’s saying nobody’s words but her own.

Of course, this doesn't always fall in the lines of what the rebels want. Collins also broods on the cost of war to everyone involved. It becomes less good-guys-vs-bad-guys as all of humanity rapidly destroying itself. This switch in tone from the earlier two books, in which the Capitol and President Snow were very clearly the villain, contributes to the ending that you don't expect but is the only thing that could work.

Maybe it’s our reality show culture, but we want someone who’s going to wind up a star (imagine jazz hands here). We pictured her as a leader of the revolution, a creator of truth and justice in the wake of the corrupt Capitol’s downfall, and a civilization builder. In short, it wasn’t enough for her to survive, we want her to triumph.

But the truth is that Katniss has always been a reluctant star at best. By the end of the book, she is so profoundly damaged by what she went through in the past few years that even surviving is a triumph. This book, like the others, will force you to think hard about any number of subjects even as it drags you through to the end.

Okay, enough analysis. I have to have a fangirl moment over the Best. Line. Ever: “You love me. Real or not real?” “Real.”


Sunday, August 01, 2010

Reading Roundup July 2010

By the Numbers
Teen: 21
Tween: 7
Children: 9

Review Copies: 1
Swapped: 3
Library: 28

Teen: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithin and John Green
Not so much a book about two strangers as it is about two boys who have Tiny Cooper in their lives. The very end scampers on the edge of schmaltz but doesn't fall in.
Tween: Faith, Hope, and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Two girls from opposite ends of the class spectrum discover that friendship can bridge any canyon.
Children: The Eyes of the Amaryllis by Natalie Babbitt
One of those "I Can't Believe I Never Read It" books. Also one of those "Yep, It's Really That Good" books.

Because I Want To Awards
Made Me Want to Re-Read the First One: The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan
Wow, This Was Totally Written in a Different Time: The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope
Marvelous Series Finish: The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye by Nancy Springer

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Book Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Book: Before I Fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Samantha Kingston is beautiful, popular, with a gorgeous boyfriend and fabulous besties. Her life seems perfect, until the day it all ended in screaming tires and twisted metal. Then she woke up, into the last day of her life . . . again.

Now Sam is living through the same day over and over, but with the ability to change things. Somehow, she's got to change what led up to that fatal car crash. But to change it, she first must understand it.

What is so appealing about the Groundhog Day structure? It's something about second chances, I think. The ability to do something right this time, or to see what happens if you do something different. Oliver also uses it to explore the consequences of our actions, and how complex that is. Sam is not a particularly nice person. She and her group are the mean girls, the ones who make up the nasty names and decree who's in and who's out. But they're not all nasty all the time. Within their group of four, they are supportive and loving, and Sam has great affection for her parents and little sister. Still, being a nice person to some people doesn't cancel out what you do to others. At the root of the accident that takes Sam's life multiple times are the many-layered consequences of what she and others have done in the past.

Characters unfold gradually. Even though Sam is living through the same day, the same events, in the same pattern, she makes little changes that reveal information to us and cause other characters to reveal information to her. Sometimes this helps with Sam's quest, but more often it helps us to see the same people from different angles, just as Sam is learning to do. This was so effective that I actually worried about what would happen to her friends after Sam was gone. That's an indicator of good characters right there. Her family is less fleshed out, but given that they are less important to the story, I didn't feel the lack.

Okay, I'm gonna be spoilerific here and tell you all that . . .

Last chance to leave.

. . . that Sam does, in fact, die. That what she had to change was not her own death, but someone else's. She had confront the role she had in other people's lives and change it, just a little. Just enough. The final chapter is probably the hardest time I've ever had reading a final chapter. Normally I race through them, wanting to finish, but I kept setting the book down, knowing what was coming. Sam had come to terms with it, but I was struggling, because there were so many good places that her truncated life could go, and knowing that they wouldn't was what brought on the tears. (Overinvested in a book? ME?) Sam goes through a recognizable pattern of denial, grief, anger in dealing with the fact of her own death. Her acceptance of what has to happen at the party is what finally allows her to bring an end to the cycle, not only her own last day, but the cycle of thoughtless actions and cruel consequences that has been hurting others.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Review: The Big Splash by Jack Ferraiolo

Book: The Big Splash
Author: Jack D. Ferraiolo
Published: 2008
Source: Local Library

Matt Stevens has a reputation as a guy who can find things out. But he's an independent contracter, see? He's nobody's patsy. That's why he has reservations about taking a job from Vinny Biggs, the school's go-to guy for such contraband as forged hall passes and forbidden junk food. But twenty bucks can buy a lot of root beers.

Matt shoulda listened to his gut. While he's doing the job for Vinny, somebody takes out Nikki Fingers right next to him. Once she was Franklin Middle School's most feared squirt-gun assassin. One twitch of her trigger finger and her luckless victims were standing there with apparently peed pants, a subject of scorn and mockery forever. Now she's been served a taste of her own medicine, but who ordered the hit? To Matt's surprise, both Vinny and Nikki's cute sister Jenny put him on the case. As he starts to detangle the strange web of loyalties, grudges, and crushes that surround the event, Matt realizes that people who are his friends, his enemies, and a little of both may be involved. And if he's not careful, he might find himself staring down a Super Soaker with his name on it.

As a mystery, this worked really well for me. Loads of false leads and secret motives clutter Matt's path toward the truth. I got a little lost toward the end, but it all worked out reasonably enough. Mostly, though, I have to talk about the tone of this book. The softboiled, faux-noir thing has been done with Bruce Hale's Chet Gecko series, but for a different audience, and there it's played purely for laughs. The Big Splash can't really decide whether it wants to be funny or serious about its own tone. Initially, it's pretty tongue in cheek. Matt calls his school "the Frank," kids gather at a backyard shed called Sal's for cheap root beer and PBJs, and hall monitors keep a sharp eye out for rubber bands and chewing gum. Then as we get deeper into the story, the cynicism and meloncholy feel of noir begin to seep in.

This seepage occurs in large part because Ferraiolo's characters are more fleshed out than Hale's. Matt has history with all the people he's investigating, most notably Kevin Carling, who was Matt's best friend until he accepted Biggs' offer to be a "lieutenent" (read: head bullyboy) in his organization. In addition, Matt's home life is hardly the stuff of Nick at Nite. Since his father's mysterious disappearance, his mom has had to work two jobs, leaving Matt to largely care for himself. His tough-guy demeanor becomes less an assumed persona that he can lay aside and more like a defense mechanism against all the blows life has dealt him.

Also, Vinny Bigg's organization is pretty funny until you realize the implications. The various hits carried out, from Nikki's Super-Soaker antics to a revenge hit on the apparent perpetrator, are downright nasty. What else can you call stripping a kid naked except for a chocolate-smeared diaper? Funny? Yeah. The stuff of years of therapy? Oh, yeah. I wrestled with that, trying to reconcile my adult horror with my memories of middle school. Is it exaggerated? Sure, but not by much, and for kids going through it, maybe not at all. The meloncholy tone may resonate with kids who are starting to deal with changing friendships and difficult choices.

I really hope that Ferraiolo writes more Matt Stevens books. Meloncholia aside, I really enjoyed this one, and I'm deeply curious about the larger mysteries that were set up in this novel.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Review: Mudshark by Gary Paulsen

Book: Mudshark
Author: Gary Paulsen
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

He's like Encyclopedia Brown, but with a cooler nickname. Twelve-year-old Lyle "Mudshark" Williams is a master of observation, noticing what nobody else bothers to see and putting all the pieces together. This has made him the go-to guy for missing items and various conundra in his very crazy school. Missing your homework? Check the bushes by the step where you were sitting this morning. Lost your brain? (Don't worry, it's plastic.) Try the pool where you were swimming yesterday, and where nobody will now go in the deep end. Yep, Mudshark knows all, sees all, and doesn't even charge.

But that's before the librarian gets a Psychic Parrot. All of a sudden, Mudshark is dethroned in favor of a bird that burps before each prediction. He wouldn't be human if he didn't admit he was kind of annoyed by this. But when the principal asks him to solve the mystery of the missing erasers, Mudshark discovers that if the parrot solves it before he does, he's not the only one who could suffer.

I always enjoy Gary Paulsen, but I'm used to him as an adventure writer. Mudshark reminds me that the guy can be very, very funny. This book captures and exaggerates the life of a school, from the terrifying science lab to the equally terrifying lunches, from the mysterious custodian to the "wonderfully unhinged" librarian (hee!). Besides all that, there's the general level of kookiness you get when you confine three hundred under-twelves in one building for nine months. My favorite sections were the principal's announcements that served as hilarious chapter headers, keeping us up-to-date on the missing gerbil from room 206, the rapidly deteriorating state of the faculty restroom, and various other seeming one-off jokes that play into the story at a later date. This slim, fast-moving story is a sure thing for fans of Encyclopedia Brown, Wayside School, and Paulsen's other work.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti

Book: The Secret Life of Prince Charming
Author: Deb Caletti
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

Raised in a houseful of women with thoroughly stomped-on hearts, Quinn has grown up with the warnings about men ringing in her ears. Watch out for the red flags. Bad boys are not wounded, misunderstood, or secretly sweet--they're usually just jerks. If a guy wants to kiss your corpse back to life, he has some issues of his own. There is no such thing as Prince Charming.

She's heeded the warnings when it comes to her own romantic life, but she can't quite apply them all to her charming father, who dotes on herself and her sister Sprout in their regular visits. Then, just after getting dumped by her safe and boring boyfriend, Quinn discovers that her father has stolen treasured items from every woman who's ever passed through his life. Smarting from this double betrayal, she becomes determined to return them all.

She and Sprout meet up with their older half-sister, Frances Lee, and together they set off on a journey through the Pacific Northwest and the wreckage of their father's romantic past. Also riding along is Jake, Frances Lee's boyfriend's brother. Quinn fights her attraction to him, but can't deny that there's an irresistible pull. But on a road trip that's all about romantic disasters, does she dare get involved?

It would have been pretty easy for this whole book to be nothing more than "men bad." Baaaaad men. Ought to castrate the lot of 'em. And sometimes it does cross over into that territory. But Caletti saves it from this in two ways. First she shows some very good men. These include Andy, the devoted husband of their father's first ex, and Jake, whose bad-boy exterior (tattoos and guitars and naked first meetings, oh my!) turns out to be a cover for a warm and level-headed person who's nuts about Quinn exactly as she is.

Second, Caletti intercuts the narrative with testimonials from a variety of female characters on their own romantic mistakes, and shows that while getting involved with a jerk might be the first mistake, the second is to ignore that little voice inside that says, "This isn't right. You don't deserve this kind of treatment." If men were all bad, then women would be merely victims, and that's not the case. As this novel shows, both people in a relationship bring a certain measure of responsibility to the table, and it's when one or both forget that little fact that trouble happens.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Book Review: Exposed by Susan Vaught

Book: Exposed
Author: Susan Vaught
Published: 2008
Source: Local Library

After her first relationship went down in flames last year, Chan Shealy is sooooo over real boys. That's why Paul is so perfect. He's online, hundreds of miles away. Just a long-distance thrill, a cute boy to talk to and flirt with, one she knows will never sleep with a cheerleader or lie about her all over the school. Plus, Paul is perfect in other ways too. He helps her get set up with a strength-training program that helps with her competitive twirling. He loves Emily Dickinson, Chan's favorite poet. He's hot and fun and thinks she's the sexiest thing ever. It doesn't take long before Chan's so wrapped up in Paul that her schoolwork, her relationship with her family and friends is suffering.

Paul is pushing her further than she wants to go, getting her to do things for him, and the camera, that she never would have considered. But Chan talks herself out of her doubts. Paul is perfect, right? Totally perfect. Plus her parents would go crazy if they knew what she was doing. She's not a baby, she knows what she's doing.

Then Paul crosses the line, and Chan has to face the fact that all his perfection might be a bigger lie than anything her ex ever did.

This book will make you incredibly uncomfortable. That's a given, considering the subject matter. But seriously, I was deeply uncomfortable as Paul coaxed, sweet-talked, and even lightly blackmailed Chan into creating sexy videos, and even managed to justify charging others for them so Chan always felt as if she were in control, even while it was obvious to me that she wasn't.

I grew up on the cusp of the Internet revolution. When I first got online, at about Chan's age, video chat was still confined to Star Trek. Recently, I was talking to older co-workers about Facebook and how even though I know, intellectually, that anybody can get on there and say anything, it still feels like a fun clubhouse where you can try things out in safety and privacy. If I have a hard time remembering this, how much easier is it for a sixteen-year-old to gloss over all the little things that are not quite right.

I had some nitpicks. Vaught has a trick of making up fake names for services we're all very familiar with. For instance, BlahFest is the MySpace/Facebook clone that Paul first uses to connect with Chan, and PortalPay is the secure payment website that funnels Chan's cut to her. We all know what they are, why not just call it that? There was a very slight subplot about her father's weight issues, which felt out of place in the midst of the rest of the novel. If it was a larger plot that was cut down, it probably should have been cut down completely. It didn't do much to support or feed into the main plot, except to provide an excuse for their mother to get uptight about Chan's changing diet.

But overall, this is a creepy and thought-provoking book, well worth the read.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Reading Roundup June 2010

By the Numbers
Teen: 25
Tween: 18
Children: 17

Review Copies: 10
Swapped: 1
Purchased: 2
Library: 37

Teen: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Just like its heroine, this book is so much more than it seems. Review someday soon.
Tween: Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Jane Yolen
Brave kids, creepy scary stuff, and oh yeah, talking bridges. There's a reason the woman's worshipped.
Children: My Rotten Life by David Lubar
I don't think there's many writers who could acknowledge that boys have fairly tender feelings, and then have a scene where a thumb gets glued back on. You might be able to drive a truck through the plot holes, but it's so much fun to read, who cares?

Because I Want To Awards
Longest Awaited: A Wizard of Mars by Diane Duane (We are talking YEARS here, people.)
Shoo-in For Standout Until the End: Hate List by Jennifer Brown (Not sure what it was. Something about the very, very end felt a little skewed, like it went a couple of degrees the wrong direction. Anybody else?)
The Closest You'll Ever Get to Virgin Noir: The Big Splash by Jack Ferraiolo (Virgin as in without the alcohol. Sickos. Review soon)
For Your Favorite Monty Python Fan: The Brain Finds a Leg by Martin Chatterton
Encyclopedia Brown, Eat Your Heart Out: Mudshark by Gary Paulsen
Don't Just Save This for Halloween-Time: Are You Afraid Yet? The science behind scary stuff by Stephen James O'Meara
For Your Readers in Snicket-Withdrawal: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Book Review: A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

Book: A Conspiracy of Kings
Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Published: 2010
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

Sophos never really wanted to be king. But due to an agreement his father made with his uncle, he doesn't have any choice in the matter. He also never wanted to be a slave. But after being kidnapped and pressed into service on the estate of the king's worst enemy, he doesn't see any way out. When he finally escapes slavery, it's a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire. He's got enemies on all sides in a country exploding into war, and nobody's making the decisions for him anymore. All his life, things have just sort of happened to Sophos. It's time for him to take control and for once to be the one who makes things happen, for himself and for his country.

Honestly? I squeed and danced my fangirl dance when I heard this book was coming out, because, hey, Megan Whalen Turner. But underneath that, I went, "Really? Sophos?" Because he didn't impress me all that much in The Thief. He was sort of a naive little boy, looking on goggle-eyed at Eugenides's antics. He wasn't even present in The Queen of Attolia or The King of Attolia. Suffice it to say, I could think of a few other characters I'd rather read about. A lot of other characters I'd rather read about.

Oh, MWT. I will never doubt you again.

She started from the very thing that made me doubt--Sophos' passivity and naivete--and threw this untested boy into all manner of trouble. This had a character arc like you wouldn't believe. I literally felt as if I were reading about a different person at the end than at the beginning. From a boy who flailed and scrambled and, all right, whined, to a young king doing what he had to do

I loved the clear line of demarcation she drew between being a king and being a man, and how hard Sophos had to learn that lesson. At one point, he goes to Eugenides for help, knowing that their countries are at war. He is a young man turning to a friend, but what he must learn is that both he and Eugenides are kings first--must be kings first. They have to be men, with friendships and loyalties and acts of mercy and aid, second.

In this book, it is not good to be king. Being royalty means doing a lot of things you don't want to do. Like, really don't want to do. But there's a difference in the way you approach them. You can be like beginning-of-the-book Sophos, dragged along unwilling but passive, or you can examine all your options and then do what you gotta do. It's more subtle, but even Gen is struggling with the balance between friendship and kingly duty. For a short time, he reacts by pulling away, hard, trying to snap the bond so it's not so difficult to be the total bastard he has to be. Sophos eventually gets annoyed with Gen's aloofness and literally dumps him on his ass to catch his attention. Hysterically funny, but also a mark of how much Sophos has learned to take an active role in his life and relationships.

Honestly, this wasn't my favorite of the series, but it's amazing in its own specific way. And it's Megan Whalen Turner, who joins a fairly select club of authors whose books I intend to own, no question.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

GLTB YA (and Libraries) in the New Yorker

Via E. Lockhart's Facebook feed, I found this article in the New Yorker, Books With Gay Themes for Young Readers Take Off.

Libraries didn't come off very well: the article interviews one teen who got a flat-out "No way," when asking for GLBT books at his middle school library, only found books for adults at his public library, and had to go to a bookstore to find the real stuff. Ouch. He's not alone, either:
Recent research in Texas, for instance, indicated a strong ''I don't serve those teens'' attitude among librarians.

''It's the argument that drives me crazy,'' said Teri Lesesne, who teaches young adult lit in the Department of Library Science at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

''It's like, `Yeah, you do.' They might not be coming in and saying, `Hi, I'm gay or I'm bi or I'm transgender or I'm questioning my own identity,' because they're afraid,'' she said. ''But they're there and they're looking for these books.''
Now, I know not all libraries or librarians are like that. Couldn't they have found one example of a public or school librarian who said, "Oh, yeah, I recommend those books all the time. Wanna see my display?" Sigh.

Still, it's a good article, with mentions of the recent John Green/David Levithin collaboration Will Grayson, Will Grayson and the book that peeked around closet doors the same year that man landed on the moon, John Donovan's I'll Get There, It Better Be Worth the Trip.

Things I wish they'd included? A booklist. They did mention some great authors (Julie Anne Peters! Woot!) but would it have killed 'em to go, "Check out these awesome books too!"?

Still, they did get a wonderful quote in there:
''I see the [gay] characters trickling into the mainstream genres. I really like that,'' Brent said. ''It makes being gay feel natural, which it is, of course. Books give you hope.''

Show Cybil Some Love, Baby

The Cybils are the Kidlitosphere's much-loved literary awards, coming up on their fifth year. Right now, they're running a fund drive in order to fund the good work they do.

Now, the Cybils are all-volunteer all the time, but webspace ain't free, people. Neither are awards, printing of bookmarks and shortlists, and all the other things produced by these wonderful volunteers. If you've participated in, been inspired by, or utilized the Cybils in any way, here's your chance to give a little of that love back.

You can donate outright through PayPal or hit their CafePress store for some nifty swag. C'mon, you know you want to.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Kidlitosphere Conference 10 Info!

The next Kidlitosphere Conference has been set for October 23 in Minneapolis, Minnesota! Click through to the official KidLitCon10 blog (hello, of course there's a blog!) for all the details.

If you've never been, consider it! If you have, I don't need to convince you.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Review: The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Book: The Demon's Lexicon
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Published: 2009
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

Nick and his brother Alan have never spent the whole school year in one place. It's a hazard of being a target for every evil magician in England, who are chasing them in order to get a charm that keeps their mother alive. Nick's used to sudden magical attacks, pitched battles, and hitting the road as fast as they possibly can. In fact, he can barely remember anything else.

Then Mae and her brother Jamie come into their lives. Jamie's fallen prey to an incubus and needs help to escape death at its hands. Against Nick's better judgment, Alan insists on helping the pair. But the problem starts to look bigger and bigger the more they work at it. This is something more than a simple incubus event. There's something big underneath it all. Lies untangle, only to reveal more lies within, until Nick can't be sure of anything, even himself. But no matter what, he can always trust that Alan will be there for him.

Can't he?

I was partway through the book when I set it down, thought for a moment, and realized that Nick was basically a sociopath. Not in the serial-killer sense, but in the sense that other people simply don't matter to him. There is a good reason for this, but you don't find that out until the very end. There's only one person in the world that Nick truly loves, and that's Alan. Everyone else can go up in a puff of smoke as far as he's concerned, even his mother (although to be fair, she feels the same about him). This makes him a fascinating character, although fascinating =/= nice. In fact, that's a pretty good rule of thumb for characters period. You can have nice or you can have fascinating, but it's hard to do both. Ahem. Where was I?

The other thing about Nick is how he functions in terms of the plot. He's the viewpoint character, and while it takes awhile for you to realize it, he's What It's All About. While he seems to be a bystander, the narrative gradually pushes him more and more inward until the climax reveals that everything that's happened can be traced back to him and the secrets of his past. Brennan is marvelously good at sprinkling hints throughout the novel. There are all sorts of secrets revealed in the climax, and I kept flashing back to earlier events and going, "Oh! OH!"

One of my all-time favorite TV shows is "Supernatural," and this book reminded me forcibly of that show. A certain businesslike attitude toward the occult and heapin' helpings of brotherly snark and brotherly love create the appeal of both. There are other similarities that I can't get into without mega-spoilers, but this is perfect for fans of that show and anything else occult. I can't wait to go back to this world, but I'm a little glad that the next few books are going to be from Mae's point of view. Nick may be fascinating, but he's not the easiest person to spend an entire book with.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dooooooooooom . . . or not

So I hear that the TV show "Glee" is going to be releasing prequel novels in August, just to whip us all into a musical-theatre frenzy before the show's return in the fall. And normally, I would put my Cynical Hat on at the news of another cheap TV tie-in. (AHEM Hannah Montana AHEM.) 

But I'm going to confess that I love Glee. And my Cynical Hat is appalled to learn that I actually think the events and characters in this show would translate to reasonably decent YA novels, in the hands of the right writers. I mean, we're probably not going to get the singing and dancing. But Rachel, Finn, Quinn, Kurt, Mercedes, Artie, and Tina, with all their drama, dreams, and identity struggles, would not be out of place in my YA section.

What do you think? Is your Cynical Hat on? And what does it look like? Mine is a large black stovepipe with foghorns, by the way.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Book Review: The Buddha's Diamonds by Carolyn Marsden and Thay Phap Niem

Authors: Carolyn Marsden and Thay Phap Niem
Published: 2008
Source: Local Library
At ten years old, Tinh is no longer a child. He helps his father every day, going out in the beautiful new family boat to catch the fish that will feed his mother and sister. But he is still only ten years old, and when he fails to secure the boat during a catastrophic storm, it seems that all is lost. As his family and his village start to rebuild, Tinh realizes that the world is still beautiful, even when things are at their worst.
I love books about faith, any faith. Kids can be losing, finding, or living with their faith and I'm all over it. Books with Christian characters dominate the field, although there's a fiesty subgenre of Jewish stories, and books on Islam are as rare as hen's teeth. Buddhism? This is the first one I've found, and it's an eye-opening first exposure to a religion that's about 180 degrees removed from the God/YHWH/Allah-centered religions that dominate the Western world. Given that the copyright is attributed to Carolyn Marsden and the United Buddhist Church, I shouldn't be surprised that the Buddhist storyline is so strong. I'm just glad Marsden managed not to preach. Of course, I may be revealing my ignorance, since preaching and conversion themselves are such strong elements in Western religion.
The Vietnamese setting is also new to me. Everyone mentions "the war," and it took me about half the book to realize that they were talking about the Vietnam War. For some reason, I was thinking of World War II. While Tinh never lived through it, he has lived with the aftermath all his life: an uncle whose leg was blown off, landmines that lurk under the sand.

Unfortunately, the cover is terrible. You can see it up there: not exactly the stuff that leaps off the shelf and into a kid's hand. Still, I hope that with some handselling, the right kids will find this quiet novel a window into a world and a faith that they may have never known, or that may be part of their own story.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Belated Donation Total

Okay, so I did a finish line post but I didn't say how much money I raised for First Book.

13 reviews posted x $10/review = 130 dollars
28 comments x $1/comment = 28 dollars
1 "like" on Facebook x .50/like = .50

For a grand total of . . . . 158.50. Woohoo! I'm going to round that up to 160 dollars for the sake of not donating a totally random amount of money.

I'm ready to do this again. Just give me about a year.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Linkity Linkity Loo

Yes, kiddies, it's time for me to clean out my Google Reader once again. Aren't you lucky!
  • This is an older Booklights post, but one worth re-reading: When I Was Your Age . . . Susan talks about her experience with parents who can't understand why their second-grader isn't interested in Nancy Drew or other classics. After all, the parent loved them when they were a kid! As Susan points out, when did you love them? In second grade? Or in fifth? She gently explains why the Hardy Boys might be daunting to a kid fresh off Magic Tree House and gives suggestions as to what to explore next.
  • When I heard that Hope Larson, author of Chiggers and Mercury, was adapting A Wrinkle in Time in graphic form, I went, "Hmmm!" I'm cautiously intrigued. The lady's good at translating inner turmoil into graphic novel form, and who's more tumultuous than Meg Murray?
  • Oh, did you know Dan Gutman corrupted America? All by himself? Quite an accomplishment, if you ask me. Especially considering his weapon of choice was "depraved, acrimonious dribble." Seriously, this is a marvelous response to a parent's indignation over content in his "Weird School" books.
  • On her blog, Shannon Hale has a similar response to an objection to Jeff Smith's "Bone" series. Always interesting to see this stuff from the authors' point of view.
That's all you get for today!

    Sunday, June 06, 2010

    48-Hour Book Challenge Finish Line!

    Time Stats

    Total reading time: 16 hours, 7 minutes
    Total blogging time (including this post): 5 hours, 38 minutes
    Total networking time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

    For a total time of: 24 hours, 35 minutes

    Some other statistics

    Books finished: 13 (including one audiobook which was partially done at the beginning)
    Books given up on: 1

    My experience
    I had a harder time this year than last (or I forgot how hard it was). I think this was due to a few different factors. One, last year I read all books that I was insanely excited to read, which really helped with my energy level. This year, I had a good smattering of books that I was excited to read, but about half of them were obligations.

    They also tended to be shorter, so I didn't get the momentum that I did last year. Only one paper book took me more than two hours, and there were a number that took less than an hour. You'd think that would make it easier, but it was actually harder. How weird. I had the same number of books this year as last, but a much lower time spent reading.

    I also exercised both days, which was good to get out of the house and moving, but it tired me out so that I didn't have the stamina to stay up late and read. Of course, I prize my sleep, so I was never going to be one of the 48-hour readers.

    Still, I had fun. I always do. There's something about doing this and communicating with a whole group of people who are also doing it at the same time that's just exhilarating. I noticed there were more adult-book bloggers this year, so it was neat to visit their blogs and see what they were up to. And the tweets flew thick and fast!

    I'll wait to make my final donation count until Monday evening. Thanks for another great year, Pam, and congrats to everyone who entered this marathon!

    Book Review: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

    Book: The Dark is Rising
    Author: Susan Cooper
    Published: 1973
    Source: library

    Who I Told I’d Read It: nobody really; this was the audiobook I was listening to while cooking and exercising and doing all the other things it's inadvisable to do with your eyes otherwise occupied.
    Time: 2:40:06 (during the 48HBC)

    Will Stanton is used to being overlooked and left behind. He's not bitter about it; that's just the way life is for the youngest of a very large family. But on the morning of his eleventh birthday, he wakes into a strange, still world. Inside his house, none of his brothers or sisters will wake up. Outside is not the familiar Thames Valley he's always known, but a snow-blanketed landscape from long ago.

    When he ventures out into it, his true nature is revealed to him. He's an Old One, servant of the Light, last in a long line of immortal beings pledged to fight the Dark. And throughout the coming Christmas season, he alone must seek out the six Signs of the Light, that will aid them in their battle. Because if the Dark gets them first, there's no telling what evil will swamp the world.

    I read this for the first time in fourth grade, and I can clearly remember the experience. I've never been a high fantasy girl, but The Dark is Rising was my exception. I marinated in this book and its sequels, soaking up the glorious language, the firm anchoring in the English, Cornish, and Welsh countrysides, and the underpinnings of Arthurian myth. It's probably the reason for my persistent Anglophilia. Returning to it, I wondered how the book itself would measure up to my memories.

    This is a story of growing up fast and brutal, no question. At a time of year when everyone is permitted to be a child, Will must be an adult, making hard choices for himself and for the family that has always nurtured and protected him. Cooper is almost systematic about stripping away his protection. At different times, he sees almost every member of his family affected by his quest, turned from steady dependable anchors into fearful, helpless human beings in various situations that Will must then handle. It's something we all learn, but not in the space of three weeks. Caught between being an eleven-year-old boy and an immortal Old One, Will yearns to be one or the other, knowing that to fulfill his quest, he must balance both. His humanity is as important to the story as his magical powers, and Cooper keeps him (and us) from arrogance by inserting reminders of old, wild magic that are beyond either.

    For sure, this is a book that couldn't have been written today. The Light is good and the Dark is bad and there's an end to it. Post-Watergate (which scandal was probably just beginning to break as Cooper was writing), we require a little more in the way of proof, and we also like to see a little more internal conflict in a person called to a great and terrible destiny. Will sees his duty and falls in line, without question. He has moments of weakness and doubt, but he doubts himself, never the Light nor Merriman Lyon, its representative. Additionally, I had problems with the women in the story, who all tend to be either silly (Will's sisters), evil (a neighbor girl who seduces a human ally away from the Light), or iconic (Miss Greythorne and the Lady). Finally, it's more than a little unlikely that the Six Signs would all turn up so handily close to Will's home.

    But those are things you think about away from the grip of the story. Returning to this book after many years dropped me right back into my love affair with it. Maybe it's something about being so devoted to it when I was young, or maybe it's simply the power of Cooper's writing, but I felt all the old prickles of awe and meloncholy that it evoked in me twenty years ago.