Monday, December 31, 2007

Last Bets, People!

The Cybils shortlists are going to be posted tomorrow. Keep an eye on that page! And don't forget to read all those great reviews of the nominees.

I'm judging the YA category this year. Since I can't say anything about them while judging, I'll try (try) to write reviews and hold onto them until after the final announcements.

Book Review: The Extraordinary & Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle by Catherine Webb

Book: The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle
Author: Catherine Webb
Published: 2006

Meet Horatio Lyle, amateur scientist and professional Special Constable. He’s been asked (by people who have a hard time taking no for an answer) to investigate a recent break-in at the Bank of England. The object of most concern is the Fuyun plate, a Tibetan artifact valued at no more than 200 pounds, but with “cultural significance.” The British government would like it back, please, and they’re surprisingly insistent.

With the help of Tess, (an irreverent street thief he caught breaking into his house one night) Thomas, (the son of the man responsible for the Fuyun Plate when it was stolen) and Tate (a dog), Lyle will chase all over Victorian London on the trail of the Fuyun plate. Along the way, they’ll meet some truly nasty characters who’ll do anything to get their hands on the Fuyun plate first.. Maybe Lyle should ask which culture finds it significant . . .

The first review I read of this book mentioned that it’s one of those rare young-adult books which doesn’t actually star a young adult. Tess and Thomas are both fifteen or thereabouts, but the star of the story is Horatio Lyle. I would put him at no younger than his mid-twenties, and probably older. Still, I agree with that reviewer that the appeal is most definitely teen or even scientifically-minded about-to-be-teen.

This book reminded me forcibly of Philip Reeve’s Larklight. It’s just good, clean, slightly kooky fun. Things go boom, people are chased and kidnapped and make Faraday wheels out of entire cathedrals, sidekicks wisecrack and bicker. If this were a movie, it might be a Bond flick, albeit one that stars Q instead. If you like a rollicking good time, pick up Horatio Lyle.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Coraline Movie Preview!

So the movie version of Neil Gaiman's Coraline could be really good, or really, really bad. Either way, here's a preview, courtesy of his website.

I kinda want to pull Coraline's face into alignment, but other than that, it looks appropriately creepy and atmospheric, with a great little eeky shiver at the end. What do you think? Weigh in in the comments!

Check here for a higher-res Quicktime version, if you're lucky enough to have a computer that plays nice with Quicktime.

Thanks to Child_Lit for passing it on.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

All I Want for Christmas is a Really Good Book

I’m writing this on a laptop that’s propped up on a folding chair in what once was my childhood bedroom but now appears to be a Stuff Repository that happens to have a bed in it. Merry freakin’ Christmas.

Actually, I’m happy to be home. Or I’m happy to be at my parents’ house, since I haven’t seen them since the last time I was freezing my tush off in the Stuff Repository, last Christmas. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this annual trek back across the Mississippi, it’s that I’m not meant to live anywhere that gets below freezing on a regular basis. Brrrrrrr.

Since this is meant to be a blog about children’s literature, let me ask you--what is the most memorable book you ever got as a holiday present? How about the top five?

1. Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

Strange to say, at one time in my youth I was a complete and unrepentent Star Wars freak. Episode One broke my heart so badly I left the fandom, but Zahn’s continuation of the original trilogy came out long before that, which also happened to be long before I had much disposable income to spend on a book. I begged and pleaded and wrote it in large letters at the very top of my Christmas list. It was waiting for me under the tree on Christmas morning, with my brother’s name in the “From” field. The guy could usually take a hint.

2. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth Speare

I got this as part of a Newbery Award winners box set. This was probably from my mother, who is a teacher and can’t help it. The other books were stuff like The Sign of the Beaver--dullsville. But Kit’s adventures in stuffy New England were heady stuff for an eight-year-old; witches and Puritans and Barbados and sexy sea captains, oh my! I’m still very fond of it.

3, 4, 5. Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery

Oh, yeah, I cheated on my own meme. I am so getting coal in my stocking.

Around the time they got their 12th grandchild, my grandparents gave up on the whole picking out gifts thing and gave each of us a shopping spree with Grandma and Grandpa. Needless to say, I headed right for the bookstore, which is where I found these three books and the entire set besides. I’d read the first before, but none of the others. I don’t think anyone will argue with me that numbers four through god-knows were pretty forgettable, but the trilogy formed by the first three books is the greatest character arc of Anne Shirley, the red-headed orphan. They can be overly sweet sometimes, but Montgomery’s gift for drawing everyday characters and concerns in the midst of the Romantic movement makes these books a consistent good read.

Unfortunately, as the years went on, my book tastes got so esoteric (read: romance novels that I was embarassed to let my parents know I read) that I started asking for Barnes & Noble gift cards instead. But I’ve gotten some great stuff under the tree in my time.

I tag anyone reading this. Anyone? Bueller?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hey, That's My Daemon!

The webcomic Shortpacked had a "Golden Compass" themed comic a couple of days ago. Read and giggle.

Thanks to the Child_Lit list for pointing the way.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

But My Child is Sooooo Advanced!

YA author Alix Flinn just put up a great post about parents of advanced readers who have rude awakenings when they bump into books that are (surprise!) too mature for their child.

Key quotes:
I am then faced with the unpleasant task of explaining that my books aren't really for 10-year-olds.

To which they say, "But (s)he's a very advanced reader." (Yes, every single one of them. Apparently every single child within a 10 mile radius of my home -- including my own children, I should say -- reads above grade level. This does make me question the concept of "grade level," but it wouldn't be the first time).

Hehe! I see this a lot at work: the parents who diss Charlotte's Web because their seven-year-old's reading levels mean s/he should be reading War and Peace. Then I bite my lip until it bleeds to stop myself saying, "Have you ever read War and Peace?"

I know whereof I speak. I was one of those supremely annoying precocious children, and during Easter break of my fourth-grade year, I decided the time was ripe for me to read Gone With the Wind. I hated it. I still hate it. If I'd read it at a time when I was emotionally ready for this story, I might have felt differently. (Maybe not, though. That Scarlett was a pain in the ass.)

As Alix writes, there's a difference between sentence structure and vocabulary that a kid is capable of unraveling, and the actual content of the book. My horror story about this concerns Annette Curtis Klause's The Silver Kiss. Amazing book, but very definitely for 12-up. Maybe even 15-up. But according to Accelerated Reader, it's suitable for a fourth-grader.

I wonder how many parents of "advanced readers" ever read for the joy of it. Maybe if they had, they'd understand that reading is not a racetrack, but a map to an undiscovered country.

Thanks to Liz B over at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy for pointing me at Alix's post.

P.S. In a fun bit of synchronicity, I'm currently reading Alix Flinn's Beastly. This book is unputdownable. Would I give it to a fourth-grader? Hell, no.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Book Review: Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Book: Ballerino Nate
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, ill. R.W. Alley
Published: 2006

After Nate sees his first ballet, he announces to his parents that he wants to learn to dance. Mom and Dad are supportive, but big brother Ben warns him that “Boys can’t be ballerinas. They never, ever, ever can.” And if they could, they’d still have to wear a tutu. Ben is in second grade and knows almost everything. Nate is horrified at the idea of wearing a pink dress, or a flower in his hair. Isn’t there a way he can dance and be a boy?

This is a valuable book for the encouragement it gives to young male dancers. Nate takes no guff from his open-minded parents for his ballet madness; instead it all comes from his brother, who swears up and down that boys simply cannot dance. While not every aspiring young ballet dancer is going to encounter this percentage of support, it was a good idea to concentrate the discouragement in one character.

What really made this book stand out for me, however, were the illustrations. You get the sense that every character is fully thought out and defined in Alley’s mind as he draws, because almost every character is doing something instead of being stock figures in the background. Illustrations of Nate’s ballet class include a little girl whose tutu is falling down and a classmate noticing, another little girl practically jumping up and down for her teacher’s attention, girls stretching in the hallway. None of this is mentioned in the text; instead, it’s all there to make Nate’s world that much more real.

However, Nate is the star of the book, and has the best pictures. As befits a seven-year-old bitten by the dancing bug, he is rarely still, and everything seems to be high drama. Check out the four-picture combo when his brother drives him to tears with the insistence that he’ll have to wear a pink tutu. Nate’s eyes widen in horror, he falls on the floor to cry, he hurls himself at his father, sending newspapers flying. In the last illustration, Nate is folded up double on the floor, boneless, with one forlorn tear dripping down his nose, as desperately brokenhearted as only a seven-year-old can be. The only part of his body higher than floor level is his arm and hand as he clutches his father’s finger.

The only quibble I have (and it’s a relatively minor one) is Alley’s decision to make all his characters anthropomorphized dogs. I’m not sure whether this is a decision to soften the effect of a dancing little boy, or he just chose to do it this time. It just struck me as weird. He does it well, including all different breeds and making full use of their physical characteristics. (Nate’s dance teacher, for instance, is one of those really elegant dogs with the long ears that look like a sweeping, glamorous mane of shampoo-model hair.)

Get this book for the pint-sized dancer in your life, male or female. Or read it yourself for a sweet story and a grand time perusing the illustrations.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Onion Reports on Golden Compass Brouhaha

Because you knew they'd get into it eventually.

Protests Over the Golden Compass

I especially like the second-to-last reason.

Wizards and Vampires, Oh My

So according to the Hollywood Reporter, the same actor who played Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter films (wait, wasn't he just in number four? Number five just used flashback footage), is going to play Edward in the film version of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight.

There's some debate about this, but I think it's a good choice--they're both the kind of too-decent-to-even-exist romantic hero. Heck, he can even recycle his noble expression with very little effort.

Anyone going to see this?

Thanks to the Child_Lit listserv for the heads-up.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Interview with Tomie dePaola

It's nothing startling, except for the news that dePaola meant to be a monk at one point (what, really?) but check out this article for a little visit with one of the greats of written-and-illustrated-by children's books.

I grew up with Tomie dePaola's books, especially his religious stuff. Whenever I think of the Virgin of Guadalupe, I think of his version, with the beautiful roses tumbling from Juan Diego's tilma as the bishop looks on in wonder. DePaola's art is a central part of my childhood.

At the same time, I'm interested in where dePaola is going that he feels the need for a younger editor who'll be more supportive of being "dangerous." Hmm. . . .

Monday, December 10, 2007

John Green is an Eleven-Year-Old Fangirl

. . . at least for today. Check out the video below, one of John's bidaily messages to his brother Hank and all the other Nerdfighters out there in Internetlandia.

Logically, I know I may be old and grey and mean before this happens. Even besides the strike, Hollywood in general moves at about the speed of a frozen slug.

Still, I'm excited, if only because I'm a nerdfighter, and I also want to see how they're going to make such a mathy book sexy and hip without involving David Krumholtz somewhere.

Note to studios: See if you can involve David Krumholtz somewhere. We need the pretty in our lives. I would settle for multiple Krumholtz clones in a crowd scene.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Just in Case We Ever Need an Official Kidlitosphere Drinking Game

A lot of you probably know this one, but if not, head over and subscribe your lil' ol' self to KidderLit. It's a blog that posts only the first line of a children's or YA book.

Take a drink for every first line you don't recognize. Take two if you've read the book and you still don't recognize the line. Take three if it's one of your favoritest ever and you still don't recognize.

Something tells me I'd be the first one under the table.

Seriously, it's amazing to see what a good first line can do for your interest in the book. We talk about covers, but first lines are twice as important, for my money. I have about seventeen of them saved in my Bloglines account because the first line was so intriguing that it made me want to read the book.

Monday, December 03, 2007

More Best-Of Lists!

They're coming fast and furious now.

Horn Book has a nice little spread, including a couple I haven't heard of yet.

The New York Times mentions these notable books.

And from waaaaaaaaaay across the really big pond, an Australian blog nominates some of Oz's faves.

Thanks to Chicken Spaghetti for the links!

One Week Out of the Month, I'm Not Very Nice Either

Pirate Monkey's Harry Potter Personality Quiz
Harry Potter Personality Quiz
by Pirate Monkeys Inc.

Considering I've had a mad fangirl crush on the man since meeting him in Book 3*, I'm rather flattered by the comparison.

*Yes, I do know he's a fictional character--your point?

Thanks to A Chair, a Fireplace & A Tea Cozy for the link.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Book Review: The Silenced by James DeVita

Book: The Silenced
Author: James DeVita
Published: 2007

In the near future, Marena has a reasonably normal life. She goes to school, she fights with her dad, she hangs out with her boyfriend. The catch? Her school is a Youth Treatment Facility that specializes in “loyalty correction.” Her fights with her dad are all about her mother, executed for speaking out against the state. And she’s not even allowed to touch her boyfriend in public.

As the state regime grows ever more totalitarian, Marena knows she has to do something, and does it under the name of the White Rose. It starts small--graffiti, flyers urging her classmates to speak out, mild vandalism. Even this is too much for the state, which promptly begins the hunt for her. Marena has to stay one step ahead of the authorities, because when the state party’s name is Zero Tolerance, mere detention is pretty low on the list of possible punishments.

Based on the story of Sophie Scholl, this book is a thought-provoking tale about the consequences of both speech and silence. Even for those who've never heard of Scholl and the White Rose, the parallels to Nazi Germany are blindingly obvious, even down to the “Racial Purity” index that is part of their state IDs. However, DeVita’s story takes place in a future America, one that seems altogether too possible these days.

Marena’s memories of her mother and her passionate belief in self-expression in the face of imposed doctrine form the spine of this thick but absorbing novel. Equally as compelling, in a different way, is the subplot about the state official searching for Marena. While it serves to amp up the tension, it also shines a light on the power of Marena’s forbidden words.

Finally, kudos to DeVita for not making Marena’s relationship with Dex the plot of the book. While it is central, the real story is about Marena’s growing strength and conviction, and the power of words to change the world--and more important, people’s minds.

Reading Round-up: November 2007

It's been a bad week, blogging-wise. I was one sick puppy, and the things that came out of my nose, well, you don't want to know, that's all. But back to a better schedule next week!

Here's what November was like, book-wise.

By the Numbers
Books read: 57
Teen: 18
Tween: 16
Children: 16
Preschool: 16

Teen: The Silenced by James DeVita (review to come!)
Tween: So Totally Emily Ebers by Lisa Yee
Children: Permanent Rose by Hilary McKay
Preschool: Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (review to come!)

Because I Want To Awards
Longest Awaited: Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter
Better Than I Expected: Before, After, and Somebody in Between by Jeannine Garsee
Not Actually On My List of Stuff to Read: Ethan, Suspended by Pamela Ehrenberg
Most Likely to Prompt a Book Challenge: Hellbent by Anthony Gowan
Just Plain Weirdest: The Greedy Apostrophe by Jan Carr