Tuesday, April 27, 2010

48-Hour Book Challenge is on the Horizon

MotherReader put out a save-the-date for the 48-Hour Book Challenge. If you've never indulged in this divine collective madness, make 2010 your first year. A bunch of us read and review as much as humanly possible in a 48-hour period. (Some people really and truly read for 48 hours straight. I reel just thinking about it.) It's lots of fun, even more so because we're all egging each other on. Watch MotherReader's blog for more updates, and if you have something to donate as a prize, let her know! This year it's scheduled for June 4-6.

You know what this means, don't you? It means I have less than six weeks to figure out my reading challenge theme for this year. Most people don't do themes, but they're not as nuts as I am. In the past I've done ARC-a-Palooza and the Hypetastic Carnival.

My ideas so far: re-reading childhood faves, clearing off the shelf-of-shame (meaning, those classics I really should have read but haven't), and finally tackling those books I promised somebody I'd read. Votes? Any further ideas? Let me know!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Top 100 YA Novels of All Time!

Whoa, you guys. We only have four days to submit our picks for the Top 100 YA Novels of All Time to Persnickety Snark.

How can I possibly pick? Gaaaaah!

And on a related note, the very first book that popped into my head was, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. Which, if you'll remember, was on Betsy Bird's Top 100 Chapter Books of All Time. Number 36, I believe.

Does this just fall in the grey area between childhood and YA? Maybe so. Which is a good description of the book, period.*

What are your picks? Submit them! (By the way, love the form, Ms. Snark.)

*Pun intended.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Poetry and Me (a poem) (maybe)

I'm not really into poetry. I don't get it. At least that's what I say.
Maybe I'm just a prose person.
With everything that entails.
I could care less about meter, and feet, and beat, and things like that.
(Don't ever ask me to drum. It's not pretty.)
Symbols. What are those plums in the icebox, really?
(Aren't they plums?)
I don't get it.
But oh, I love Robert Frost and his road less traveled.
And Shakespeare's sonnets, some of them are pretty good too.
And verse novels, although I hardly ever review them because I don't know if they're good poetry and it seems to me
you have to talk about that.
And I love to sing. Not just making music, but the flow of the words and how they fit into the notes.
And that's poetry. That has to be.
It's certainly not prose.
Or prosaic.
(I still can't keep a beat. Clapping is ugly too.)
Some authors, you know, you have to read out loud.
And that I love too, rolling the words on my tongue like M&Ms.
Sometimes, I'll just listen to people talking.
Not to what they're saying, but to the movements of their voice.
The rhythm of their sounds.
(This is even better when they're speaking in a different language.)
Did you know there's a word for that?
The song of the human voice.
Maybe it's not that I'm not into poetry.
Maybe I just don't know what it really is.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Top 100 Children's Books of All Time - My Score

It's a rule of the internet - you give us a list, we'll give you a meme. Another rule is that if it exists, there is a fetish community for it, but this post has nothing to do with that.

This one's based on Betsy Bird's top 100 children's books of all time and has been bouncing happily around the kidlitosphere since Betsy announced the number one book on Monday morning. It's very simple, bold the ones you've read. I'm going to go one further and star the ones that I read as a kid. Of course, it being me, I have to provide color commentary.

100. The Egypt Game - Snyder (1967) *
99. The Indian in the Cupboard - Banks (1980) *
98. Children of Green Knowe - Boston (1954)
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - DiCamillo (2006)
96. The Witches - Dahl (1983) *
95. Pippi Longstocking - Lindgren (1950) *
94. Swallows and Amazons - Ransome (1930)
93. Caddie Woodlawn - Brink (1935) *
92. Ella Enchanted - Levine (1997)
91. Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Sachar (1978) *
I still remember, vividly, the kid who got the potato tattoo. Potato! Tattoo!!
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall - MacLachlan (1985) *
89. Ramona and Her Father - Cleary (1977)*
88. The High King - Alexander (1968)
I don't actually remember if I did or not. Ugh. Isn't that awful?
87. The View from Saturday - Konigsburg (1996)
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling (1999)
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek - Wilder (1937) *
84. The Little White Horse - Goudge (1946)
83. The Thief - Turner (1997)
I remember reading this for the first time and going, "Hey, MWT can't do that in first person! But she DID. And it was AWESOME."
82. The Book of Three - Alexander (1964)
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Lin (2009)
Loved it. Reviewed it. Smirked at my own perspicacity. Then had to spell-check perspicacity.
80. The Graveyard Book - Gaiman (2008)
79. All-of-a-Kind-Family - Taylor (1951)*
78. Johnny Tremain - Forbes (1943)*
77. The City of Ember - DuPrau (2003)
76. Out of the Dust - Hesse (1997)
75. Love That Dog - Creech (2001)
74. The Borrowers - Norton (1953)*
73. My Side of the Mountain - George (1959)
72. My Father's Dragon - Gannett (1948)*
71. The Bad Beginning - Snicket (1999)
70. Betsy-Tacy - Lovelace (1940)
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society - Stewart ( 2007)
68. Walk Two Moons - Creech (1994)
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher - Coville (1991)*
66. Henry Huggins - Cleary (1950)*
65. Ballet Shoes - Streatfeild (1936)*
64. A Long Way from Chicago - Peck (1998)
63. Gone-Away Lake - Enright (1957)
62. The Secret of the Old Clock - Keene (1959)*
61. Stargirl - Spinelli (2000)
60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi (1990)
59. Inkheart - Funke (2003)
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Aiken (1962)*
I still remember figuring out the secret of a secondary character and going, "Oh! OH!" I love that feeling.
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Cleary (1981)*
56. Number the Stars - Lowry (1989)*
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Paterson (1978)
54. The BFG - Dahl (1982)*
53. Wind in the Willows - Grahame (1908)
I tried! Honestly, I did!
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)
51. The Saturdays - Enright (1941)
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins - O'Dell (1960)*
49. Frindle - Clements (1996)
48. The Penderwicks - Birdsall (2005)
47. Bud, Not Buddy - Curtis (1999)
46. Where the Red Fern Grows - Rawls (1961)
45. The Golden Compass - Pullman (1995)
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Blume (1972)*
I was traumatized by Fudge eating the turtle. That poor turtle! Swimming around in Fudge's stomach!
43. Ramona the Pest - Cleary (1968)*
42. Little House on the Prairie - Wilder (1935)*
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Speare (1958)*
One of my first swoony romantic books. Oh, Nat! With your huge, manly . . . ship.
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Baum (1900)
39. When You Reach Me - Stead (2009)
38. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Rowling (2003)
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Taylor (1976)
36. Are You there, God? It's Me, Margaret - Blume (1970)*
Like practically every American girl since 1970, I owe my understanding of menstruation to Judy Blume. I was also kind of blown away by Margaret's Jewish/Catholic family.
35. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - Rowling (2000)
34. The Watsons Go to Birmingham - Curtis (1995)
33. James and the Giant Peach - Dahl (1961)*
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - O'Brian (1971)*
31. Half Magic - Eager (1954)*
30. Winnie-the-Pooh - Milne (1926)
Parts of it. Do parts count? Do I get, like, .5 point?
29. The Dark Is Rising - Cooper (1973)*
Probably kickstarted my Anglophilia.
28. A Little Princess - Burnett (1905)*
27. Alice I and II - Carroll (1865/72)*
26. Hatchet - Paulsen (1989)*
Weirdly enough, the old cover looked exactly like my brother. No. Exactly. It was freaky, I tell you.
25. Little Women - Alcott (1868/9)*
24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Rowling (2007)
23. Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder (1932)*
22. The Tale of Despereaux - DiCamillo (2003)
21. The Lightning Thief - Riordan (2005)
20. Tuck Everlasting - Babbitt (1975)
I know. I know!
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Dahl (1964)
18. Matilda - Dahl (1988)*
Did anyone else jump up in the middle of class and shriek, "I KNEW IT!" when Miss Honey revealed who the Trunchbull was? No? Just me then.
17. Maniac Magee - Spinelli (1990)*
16. Harriet the Spy - Fitzhugh (1964)*
15. Because of Winn-Dixie - DiCamillo (2000)
14. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling (1999)
My favorite Harry Potter. I knew from the beginning what Harry would do for his parents' murderer. I got the identity wrong, of course, but I knew what he'd do.
13. Bridge to Terabithia - Paterson (1977)*
I . . . I . . . I'm getting a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves.
12. The Hobbit - Tolkien (1938)
Never got the love for this book, or LOTR in general. Only reason I finished it was because I was reading it for a class. I am now erecting a tomato barrier.
11. The Westing Game - Raskin (1978)
Actually, I may have. Or maybe it was her other one. Y'all, I just don't know anymore.
10. The Phantom Tollbooth - Juster (1961)
9. Anne of Green Gables - Montgomery (1908)
True story, I once declared my intention of naming any future children Anne and Gilbert. Luckily for them, they haven't materialized yet.
8. The Secret Garden - Burnett (1911) *
First child I ever encountered in a book who was a brat and not ashamed of it one bit. Too awesome.
7. The Giver -Lowry (1993)*
I never knew there was a controversy about the end until years after I read it. Amazement. Wasn't it obvious that he lived?
6. Holes - Sachar (1998)
I once used this book to explain the concept of magical realism to a family member. Still not sure they got it.
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Koningsburg (1967)*
I was so envious of these kids. They got to swim in a fountain.
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Lewis (1950)*
I felt soooo smart for spotting the resurrection allusion when I was ten. Of course, I had no notion it was intentional. I thought it was a neat coincidence. Oh, small me. So clever and yet so dumb.
3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - Rowling (1997)
Ensnared from the first line. ". . . perfectly normal, thank you very much!"
2. A Wrinkle in Time - L'Engle (1962)*
Speaking of book crushes, raise your hand if you still have a secret soft spot for gangly, smart redheads who talk about "dreamboat eyes.". . . The rest of you are lying.
1. Charlotte's Web - White (1952) *
After sobbing my way through Charlotte's exceedingly gentle death, the ending soothed my bruised heart.

What's my score? 77/100, a little lower than I thought but not utterly shame-making, especially since it counts books I'm not sure if I've read and books I tried to read and couldn't.

Something occurred to me as I was going through this list, and it's that so many of the books I read as a child, I don't actually remember what happens, but I remember the feel of the book. I remember what it made me think of and ponder and obsess over. Also, I remember where I was. I can picture almost perfectly the classroom and the time of day where I first found out who the Trunchbull was to Miss Honey. I remember sitting on my toy chest in my room and reading about Laura in the Big Woods. I remember getting The Secret Garden for my ninth birthday and ignoring my new Barbie doll to read it. I couldn't give you a synopsis of most of these books if my life depended on it, but they're still there, sitting in some corner of my brain like a jewel in a dragon's cave, occasionally sparkling up into my thoughts when the light turns the right way.

And that's why children's literature is important.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Banned Books Are Here Again

Once again, the ALA has put out the list of the ten most banned and protested books in America for the past year, and once again I reflect on how many people in our country need a hobby. From the ALA website:
1. ttyl, ttfn, l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs
2. “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality
3. “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide
4. “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee
Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group
6. “Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
7. “My Sister’s Keeper,” by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group (Bibliovore's note: Ummm. Wasn't this written for adults?), Drugs, Suicide, Violence
8. “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things,” by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
9. “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
10. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
Say it with me, people: "I have every right to stop my kid from reading a book. I have no right to stop anybody else's kid from reading a book." Sigh.

It being the end of a decade, we also get the most challenged books of the 00s. Our old favorites like Robert Cormier and Scary Stories to tell in the dark are back, and of course, Harry Potter. My favorite reasoning? Harry Potter's anti-family themes.

. . . Yeah.

P.S. Wait, Twilight has explicit sex? I so missed that. Somebody tell me a page number so I don't have to read the whole book to get to it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Book Review: Willow by Julia Hoban

Book: Willow
Author: Julia Hoban
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

"To lose one parent . . . may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness." Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Willow always thought she had an all-right life. She had decent parents and a neat brother and good friends. But that was before the rainy night that both her parents were killed in a horrifying car accident, and she was at the wheel. Now Willow is living in a tiny, tiny world, filled only with pain. She divorces herself from everything good in a twisted penance. The only thing she can do to let the pain is to cut herself. Somehow, when that razor bites into her skin and the blood wells up, she's able to handle it again. At least until the next time.

Then she meets Guy, and it is through her blooming relationship with him that Willow's world of pain opens up, one inch at a time, to let life back in again.

After I closed this book, I was struck by how little happened. Not to say that nothing happens, but there was very little Huge Drama. Willow does not land in the hospital as a result of her cutting, she doesn't faint in the middle of school, there's no enormous blowup with counselors and teachers and others swarming around her. (One exception is a rather spectacular meltdown directed at her brother.) Everything is outwardly small-scale. She makes baby steps toward new friends and Guy and her brother David. But it all feels huge because it's such a seismic shift for Willow to reach out again.

Another thing Hoban does incredibly right is Willow's halting progress away from cutting. She takes steps through her grief and back into real life: going back to her old house, finally opening up to her brother and forcing him to open up her, talking to the best friend she's been avoiding, and most of all letting Guy into her painful little world. But at the same time, she clings to her razors. While the frequency of her cutting diminishes, she clutches them like a lifeline until the very end, and even then you know that during bad times to come, she'll think about the gleaming steel edges with longing.

That's not to say this is a perfect book. Stylistically, Hoban uses italics and ellipses so much as to make it annoying. Also, Guy was a little too wonderful. He was allowed to let off steam occasionally, in frustration and horror over what Willow was doing to herself, but there was a real White Knight vibe about him: the perfect boy, sent to rescue Willow from herself. Finally, I often got frustrated at Willow's blame cycle. She made everything her fault.

But of course, that's where her head is. That's why she's cutting, because there's no other way to let it all out, and that's the final thing that Hoban does amazingly well. This is not the story of pain diminishing. Willow will always be the girl who was driving the night her parents were killed. That's not something that anyone can fix, ever. But throughout the novel, Willow learns to forgive herself, take on her own grief, and start living again.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Friday Glee: Oh, These Kids Today

Check out this recently published article: Teachers Bemoan Thrilling Books and Cinema

Recently, in this case, being April 2, 1932. The Irish Times dug this out of their archives to share with us all.

Just in case you thought this generation was the only one crying, "Such trash is being published nowadays! Won't somebody think of the children?"

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Parent Problem?

Everyone's reacting to this lately: The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit. The author, who also serves as the children's book editor of the Times, seems to be decrying the rise of less-than-perfect parents. Not just those problem-novel staples of alcoholics, abusers, and abandoners, but also flat-out hapless: physically present, mentally checked out. These parents, she seems to say, aren't realistic and certainly are lesser characters than the parents in YA lit of her youth.

The line that I and fifty-seven other bloggers are pointing to is
the father in “Once Was Lost” becomes somehow peripheral, his problems more muted and less interesting than his teenage daughter’s.
And that's a problem in a YA novel . . . why?

She traces this change to the change in expectations over the past decades, but I think she's focusing on the wrong end of the stick here. By definition, the YA novel is about teenagers. This is an age that routinely thinks all adults couldn't put their pants on without the respective legs being clearly labeled. This is also an age where kids are finding out that their superhero parents are, well, not. That they have problems they grapple with, just like the kids.

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

And the Winner Is . . .

Well, I actually don't know yet. I'm a little behind on the two great kid's-book battles going on at the moment.

The first is Fuse #8's countdown of the greatest chapter books of! All! TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIMMMMME! Well, she doesn't really put it like that, because I imagine her throat would get sore.

As of this writing, she's at #5 (From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, in case you're interested), having counted down from 100. Some have been a surprise to me (seriously, guys? That many of you liked The Phantom Tollbooth?) and others have made me preen, newly vain in my own clearly excellent taste. Ever the trouper, Betsy is doing one per day. What will be #1? Place your bets now!

The second big contest of the past month has been SLJ's Battle of the Kid's Books. It's been fascinating to read some of the judgments, and my favorite are the ones where the author-judge says flat-out, "This is totally my subjective opinion because they're both awesome, mmkay?" The Peanut Gallery (reactions to the judgments) have also been worth the reading.

But the One Book to Rule Them All turned out to be . . . *drumroll while I check the website* Marching For Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge. As if that's not enough nonfic love, the Zombie Book was Pamela Turner's excellent The Frog Scientist.


ETA: And if you think you'll go into Book Battle Withdrawal once Betsy's announced her number 1, never fear, for Nerds Heart YA is here. Contestants to be announced soon, according to the website. And there was much rejoicing.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Reading Roundup March 2010

By the Numbers
Teen: 15
Tween: 5
Children: 5

Review Copies: 1
Swapped: 2
Library: 18

Teen: A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
Well, what did you expect? Review soon.
Tween: No Laughter Here by Rita Williams-Garcia
A tween book about female genital mutilation. This was a brave book for Williams-Garcia to write, but the bravest thing about it is that she doesn't fix everything all better in the end.
Children: Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing) by Alison McGhee
A tender examination of fear and courage in the heart of a nine-year-old, armed only with a raccoon mask. Review soon.

Because I Want To Awards
So Totally Would Have Won Standout if Not For Eugenides: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
Most Wrenching: Willow by Julia Hoban
For the So-Over-Twilight Crowd: Life Sucks by Jessica Abel AND Uninvited by Andrea Marrone
The Weirdest Thing You Will Ever Experience Sober: The Order of Odd-Fish by James Kennedy