Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Um, Okay

Quill Awards Program Suspended

Wow. Way to leave out the detail there, PW. Is Reed Business Information just really, really cheap or what? Crud, now I'm all curious.

Okay, Google to the rescue once again:

But few readers voted and sales did not noticeably increase for winning books. The ceremonies, televised on NBC stations, were widely criticized as too long and poorly planned.

from The Canadian Press.

Well, okay.

Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for the first link.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Well, It's About Time

Picture this: Children's book art gains mainstream acclaim

A neat article from the AP about how children's picture book art is gaining cred in art circles. I do wish they'd shown a few illustrations, especially when they're talking about Ezra Jack Keats or modernism. But hey, it's good to see it there at all.

Full disclosure: Until I took a course in children's lit in library school, I tended to skip over illustrations too. Silly me.

Thanks to Kids Lit for the link.

Every Day is Nonfiction Monday

. . . at least it is at I.N.K., aka Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. We pay so much attention to the great fiction out there we forget that there's kickass nonfic too. Never fear, I.N.K. is here.

Thanks to practically every blog on my blogroll for cluing me into this blog.

More Proof That I Am a Bad Person

This made me laugh hysterically, whilst reflecting that some of the parents who come to my library could so use this page. You know the ones I mean. Yeah. Those ones.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Booktalking the Classics

Where ya been, Bibliovore?

Sick, working, cleaning the Pit of Despair, otherwise known as my apartment, reading . . .

Excuses, excuses.


Actually, this post is something I've been musing over for awhile now. About a week ago, a girl asked me to recommend something good to read. I discovered that she'd never read A Wrinkle in Time (gasp!) and took her over to the shelf. I pulled it down, opened my mouth to start my spiel, and realized I had no quick-and-dirty booktalk for A Wrinkle in Time and could not pull it out of my behind, where such things generally reside.

I mumbled something about Meg's dad and the witches and handed it to the girl, who fortunately knows and trusts me and took it without batting a lash.

For those non-library geeks out there, a booktalk is a short spiel about the book, designed to interest a TV-and-Game-Boy-addled kid, who's staring at you with the gimlet eye of, This better entertain me, 'cuz you know I have other options. In the army of librarians, it's the rifle--not nearly as flashy as the cannon or the bomb, but it targets the individual and (hopefully) gets the job done with a minimum of fuss.

For some reason, I find it terribly difficult to booktalk my favorite books--especially the ones I read as a child. Maybe it's because I'm too close? I want to talk about gawky, ugly Meg, with her braces and her spectacles and her tough shell that hides nougat (and an unfortunate tendency to scream and clutch, but what the hey, the book's nearly fifty years old). But getting to know Meg is not the plot of the book. It's something wonderful that happens during the plot. You have to hook 'em with something, and much as I love Meg, the chance to meet her probably not going to be that something.

I ran into the same problem with the novels of Jane Austen. You want to talk about Mr. Darcy and Captain Wentworth, swoon, swoon, but you know that the teenager in front of you is not interested in guys who wear cravats, whatever the hell those are. So you talk about the dueling lovers, or how Elizabeth needs to marry rich but won't take just anybody, thanks very much. With the other book, you talk about Anne, who screwed it up nine years ago and is now afraid it's too late to un-screw it.

Some books flat-out don't have a plot, but you love them anyway. How do you sell that?

The trouble is that, "Oh, just read it," only works if the kid does know and trust you, and that doesn't happen very often.

Maybe I am too close to these books. I have to get in my mental time machine, step way back, and look at the book as if this is the first time I have ever touched it, and I'm giving it a chapter to hook me before I go on to something else.

"This is Meg Murray. A year ago, her dad disappeared, and now everybody says he dumped her mom and ran off. She knows that's not true. One night, she meets a really weird old lady named Mrs. Whatsit, who's going to help her find her dad. Trouble is, he's a lot farther away than Kansas."

Well . . . it worked this time.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Book Review: Billie Standish Was Here by Nancy Crocker

Hey, folks. Here's the second in my series of Cybils finalist reviews. Again, these are in no particular order; this just happened to be the one that was ready to go.

Book: Billie Standish Was Here
Author: Nancy Crocker
Published: 2007

William Marie "Billie" Standish was named for the boy she wasn't, and she's spent every one of her eleven years trying to make up for that first mistake. Still, she knows she's never going to satisfy her Mama, and has come to believe that it's her own fault.

One rainy summer, she finds that the whole town has decamped for fear of the levees breaking, leaving only her own family and Miss Lydia across the street, a widow who lives alone. Billie offers to bring her mail from town, and Miss Lydia offers lunch in return, and a friendship begins.

When the unthinkable happens, Miss Lydia is the only one Billie can turn to, cementing a bond that will sustain them both for years to come.

This is a book that has a rape in it. It is not a book about rape. I think that's a pretty important distinction. Crocker's novel is, in the end, about love: the love of two women from different generations but with the same experience. It's not a mother-daughter love. It's friendship, pure and simple, with no boundaries of age or experience.

It's especially fascinating to see how the friendship changes Billie. She starts the novel as a ghost-child, apologizing for taking up air. She ends it as a woman strong enough to make the tough decisions about the people she loves most.

Due to its slow pace and historical setting (1960's) this one might need some book talking, but keep it on hand for mid-to-older teens who love a good, thoughtful story about human relationships.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Book Review: Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

Book: Boy Toy
Author: Barry Lyga
Published: 2007
Cybils Winner, YA Category

At twelve years old, Josh Mendel loves baseball, video games, and math. He goofs around with his best friends, tries to ignore it when his parents fight, and looks forward to learning all those neat mysteries of girls and sex. All that changes when he gets involved with Eve. She's an older woman. A lot older. Like, twice his age older. And she's doing things with and to him that are also twice his age. For awhile, it's the best thing that ever happened to Josh--a fantasy come to life. Then, when the secret breaks out, it swiftly becomes the worst.

At eighteen, Josh is applying to colleges and playing varsity baseball. He's still dealing with stares, whispers, and what he calls "flickers"--momentary sensory flashbacks, so real that it's like he's there again. He can't wait to get out of town and leave it all behind. But Josh is about to learn that he can't leave it behind until he goes through it one more time . . .

"Ripped from the headlines" is a term I heard applied to this book a lot. With the media attention to female-teacher/male-student relationships, it's an irresistible temptation to get into the heads of the people involved. Lucky for us, that's exactly what Lyga does. He introduces us to Josh and takes us along with him as Eve spins her web. This teacher's seduction of Josh is a masterpiece of subtle manipulation. At first, the secrets between them are small: video games he's not allowed to play at home. Then they escalate: wine, lies to his parents. None of this is wrong, she is swift to assure him. It's just that people wouldn't understand. And they really wouldn't understand what happens next.

We have such a double standard concerning older women seducing young boys. Girls molested by their teachers are the victims, no question about it. But a boy with a hot female teacher? Oh, right, poor kid. Lyga shows us how Josh's relationship with Eve is no different--no less abusive, no less manipulative--than a girl's with a man twice her age.

I'd be interested to see how Barry Lyga researched this subject; what kind of books, articles, and interviews he read to get a feel for this misunderstood relationship. While it has somewhat graphic scenes, there's a purpose to them, both for the character and the reader. Josh is amazed, overwhelmed, out of control--apt descriptions of his role in the entire relationship. For us, there is a kind of voyeurism that enhances the creepy, crawly sense of Something Very Wrong about what's happening on the page.

Older teens with a liking for psychological drama and an interest in the humanity behind sensationalism will snap this up.

The Cybils are Here!

Okay, folks, it's time for the most talked-about awards of the year! No, not the Oscars, silly. It's the Cybils!

And the winners are:

Elementary/MG: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
YA: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Picture Book (Fiction): The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington; illustrated by Shelley Jackson

Graphic Novels
Elementary/MG: Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano and Paolo Lamanna
YA: The Professor's Daughter by Joann Sfar; illustrated by Emmanuel Guibert

MG: A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

YA/MG: Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
Picture Books: Lightship by Brian Floca

Poetry: This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

And last but certainly not least:

YA: Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

Congratulations to all the winners! Check out the Cybils Website for more information on these marvelous books.

Since I was a judge in the YA category, I will be posting reviews of the books in the next few days. Watch for Boy Toy today, and the rest in no particular order.

Cybils ladies, thank you for a wonderful year. I had a great time and I'm hereby submitting my name for next year.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sporking Ahoy!

I do love me a good sporking (or if you prefer, MST3King, but that's so hard to type out, plus possible copyright violations). I also love to share the sporkage. With that in mind, check out the blog of Sarah Beth Durst, author of been-on-my-TBR-list-for-freakin'-ever novel, Into the Wild and its sequel Out of the Wild. Both deal very heavily with fairy tales, apparently, and thus SBD had to do a fair amount of research.

She's been turning all that research into comic gold with sporkings of obscure (and a few not-so) fairy tales. Key quote from the sporkage of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves"
The huntsman takes Snow White to the forest and tells her to run away. He kills a wild animal instead and brings its heart to the queen who eats it with ketchup.

I added the bit with the ketchup. She doesn't use ketchup in the traditional tales, of course. She actually uses A-1 Steaksauce.


Now, if possible, I'm looking forward to my library system getting Into the Wild even more. It's in the catalog! They promised! I have a request on it!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Reading Roundup January 2008

I skewed rather younger than usual this month, with the bulk of my list being picture books.

By the Numbers
Total Number Read: 97 (!!)
Teen: 11
Tween: 27
Children: 30
Preschool: 42

Teen: The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison*
Tween: Greetings from Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley
Children: Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford
Preschool: A Child's Guide to Common Household Monsters by James Otis Thach

*There actually is another teen standout, but it's part of my Cybils reading, and I don't want to give anything away. And really, The Princess and the Hound was freakin' amazing.

Because I Want To Awards

Quirkiest: Five Little Gefiltesby Dave Horowitz
Highest Words-to-Fun Ratio: Hippo! No, Rhino by Jeff Newman
Neatest Counting Book, and Probably Even More Fun If You Live There: 123 NYCby Joanne Dugan
Loved This Book Except For That One Little Thing That Made Me Tear My Hair Out: Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson (In the comments, as I don't want to spoil anyone)
Didn't Think I Was Going to Like It But Couldn't Stop Reading: Dogboy by Christopher Russell
Made Me Cry At Work, Thanks a Lot, Ellen: The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages
So Needs a Soundtrack: The New Policeman by Kate Thompson
Most Thought-Provoking: The God Box by Alex Sanchez

Book Review: A Child's Guide to Common Household Monsters by James Otis Thach, illustrated by David Udovic

I've been meaning to add something to Poetry Friday for a long time now, but I don't read much of the stuff. Since this is a picture book with rhyming text, I'm calling it poetry.

Book: A Child's Guide to Common Household Monsters
Author: James Otis Thach
Illustrator: David Udovic
Published: 2007

Late at night, a little girl sneaking a midnight snack hears creepy noises. It’s probably the wind, right? Or the cat! But the author assures us:

But now perhaps you’re old enough to finally know the truth,
Your house is full of monsters, from the basement to the roof!

Knowledge being power, the girl steels herself to peek underneath her bed at the gangly, orangutanish monster who lives there, eating her socks. He’s not so bad, but what about the monster in the closet? Each monster is terified of the one who comes next, until the final basement monster. And who is the basement monster scared of?

This picture book combined clever poetry (the slightly clumsy rhyme of truth/roof is made up by the kooky turn of phrase about “music to his nose”) with a common preoccupation among the audience and a reassurance that nobody is ever as scary as they seem, once you get to know them.

Luckily, they matched the cute story with gorgeously detailed illustrations. One thing that I noticed on my third or fourht perusal was that once the little girl meets the monsters, they are drawn as if they are three- or four-year-olds, compared to the girl’s seven or eight. The closet monster clutches a teddy bear, the under-bed monster sucks his finger, and they all cling to the girl in their journey through the house.

My favorite illustrations were the four dual-page vertical spreads. Good choice, Udovic and/or layout guys. I could spend all day studying the little details in each picture. (Follow the progress of the under-bed-monster’s roller skates as he traverses the house, for instance.)

One last thing: I’m not entirely sure why the little girl seems to have blue-streaked hair. It’s a bit of minor weirdness that caught my eye in this otherwise delightful picture book.

Great for readalouds (I tried it out on a preschool, who loved it), kids dealing with monster fears, and kids after a safe shivery time.

John Green Reacts to Being Called a Pornographer

The facts are these, as Jim Dale narrating "Pushing Daisies" might say. John Green's novel Looking for Alaska is being taught to an 11th grade English class in New York state. The school has allowed for the fact that not every parent wants their kid to read a heartfelt, moving book about life and death by use of permission slips, so that parents may opt out of having their child read it. But some people are not satisfied with that solution, and have raised holy hell with the school board, charging that pornography is being taught in school.

My first reaction to this was, "There's sex in Looking for Alaska? Really?"

My second reaction: "Wait, you mean that one scene? You're kidding, right?"

My third reaction: "Oh, brother."

If you've read Looking for Alaska and you're wondering where all the porn is, or if you want to support John Green, please contact him at sparksflyup (at) gmail (dot) com.