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