Saturday, August 30, 2008

Book Review: Far From Xanadu by Julie Anne Peters

Book: Far From Xanadu
Author: Julie Anne Peters
Published: 2007

On a scale from one to ten, Mary-Elizabeth “Mike” Szabo’s life is somewhere in the negative 300’s. Her father killed himself, her mother hasn’t spoken to her in two years, and the family plumbing business is so far in the toilet it’s taken up residence in the S-bend. But then exotic, alluring, damaged Xanadu comes to town, and Mike falls for her before they ever exchange a word. Unfortunately, Xanadu’s straight. But maybe love really does conquer all . . .

I almost put this book down. I meant to, and then I looked up and realized I was on page 74 and someone would have to hit me with a hammer to get me to turn it back in before I finished it.

Refreshingly, this is not a book about a girl who Realizes She’s a Lesbian and the Hideous Angst of it all. Mike knows that she’s gay and is comfortable with it, as is the town. I thought that element was a little fairy-tale--it is a small town in Kansas--but really, Mike’s sexuality is not the focus of the book, so I was able to forgive it.

It’s pretty clear that Xanadu is bad news, and I didn’t much feel like reading a book about a bad-news girl. But then I realized: this isn’t Xanadu’s book, it’s Mike’s. It’s a story about that first time you fall so hard for somebody that even the certain knowledge they’ll break your heart and stomp on the oozing pieces with soccer cleats isn’t enough to slow your descent.

At the same time, this is a story about a young woman slowly returning to life and hope after a tragedy that’s turned her inward like a turtle retreating into its shell. Like it or not, her passion for Xanadu is one of the catalysts that brings her back. But what keeps her on the path back to life is the love that others have for her. Her friends, her neighbors, and even part of her shattered family are there, whether she wants them or not.

In this book, love really does conquer--almost--all.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Book Review: Big Chickens Fly the Coop by Leslie Helakoski

Book: Big Chickens Fly the Coop
Author: Leslie Helakoski
Illustrator: Henry Cole
Published: 2008

Four chickens have a burning desire to see the farmhouse with their own eyes. So they climb out of their coop and set off. The path to the farmhouse is fraught with peril (horses! dogs!! tractors!!!), but the siren call of adventure is just too strong for these indomitable birds.

This book made me giggle. While it’s on the long side for storytime, I think that the rhythm of Cole’s words and the structure of the story will captivate kids. And check out the vocabulary! The chickens don’t just run away from the dog in the doghouse, they flounce, trounce, and body-bounce.

As if the words aren’t enough for you, there’s always the art. The chickens are deliciously silly as they squawk and flap, and there’s one spread of them after a retreat back to the coop, splayed over their perches in post-trauma exhaustion, that would make a stone crack a grin.

Want a book with peril, adventure, and chickens all in one? Try Big Chickens Fly the Coop.

On Matters of Coolness

Have you ever said to yourself, "Gosh, I wish I could help out with the Cybils, the only blogger-run literary awards, now going into its third year of pure awesome, but I just don't know if I'm cool enough?"

Rest assured, you are.
We’re once again seeking 80 masochists, er, volunteers for two rounds of judging. Eligibility rules are tighter this year, so please suffer through this whole memo before jumping in.
The rest of the memo can be found here.

Even if you can't judge, you sure can nominate.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Cybils Are Approaching Fast . . .

With a snappy new logo and new rules. Check out the details here.

Bang Head Here

File this under "Oh for cripes' sake."
South St. Louis County-based Citizens Against Pornography is taking steps to see that parents are informed about sexually explicit material in books targeting young-teen readers — books that can be found throughout the St. Louis County Library system.
And also "O unbiased reporting, where art thou?"

Autism and Storytime

The Association for Library Service to Children's blog published this post about adapting traditional library storytimes to suit the specialized needs of kids with autism. I was especially interested in the use of picture cards to explain the storytime pattern to kids.

With the rise in autism and autism spectrum disorders (see the Autism Society of America's fact page for more information), this is definitely something children's librarians need to be thinking about.

Jon Sciezska is Overqualified

Check out this article, entitled "Craziness Required", from the LA Times about Jon Sciezska, Guys Read, literacy of all kinds, and the perks of being the first national ambassador for children's literature.

My favorite quote:
"There's this thing happening with testing in every school that's just killing kids' -- and teachers' -- interest in reading. When I was teaching, we could follow a passion. If I wanted to read 'The Phantom Tollbooth,' we'd do it. We didn't have to be in lock-step with Week 23 of The Curriculum. I've seen the results of letting kids pursue what they love. It's much better than giving rules; if kids are inspired, they can do crazy things."
Salaam, Ambassador!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Twilight Glee

This filled me with maniacal glee.

Thanks to Gail over at Original Content for the joy.

Book Review: Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude by Kevin O'Malley

Book: Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude
Author: Kevin O’Malley
Illustrators: Kevin O'Malley, Carol Heyer, Scott Goto
Published: 2005

Once upon a time, there was a princess who had eight ponies she loved very much. (Oh, brother!) But one day, a terrible giant began stealing them, one by one! What’s a princess to do? What she really needs is . . . a cool motorcycle dude!

This book is just plain fun. The two storytellers each attempt to tell their own tale, but they influence each others’ versions until the story produced is something bigger than both of them. But don’t make the mistake of thinking they aren’t going to keep arguing!

I really liked the three different art styles used. It’s subtle, but it gets across not only an indication of which story is being told, but also the feel of each story. The girl’s story (by Carol Heyer) is all fine lines and delicate colors, a real fairy-tale look with the beginning scenes set mostly indoors. The boy’s story (Scott Goto) is in oils, darker colors and all outdoors. O’Malley himself works in a third, more comic-book style to show the two youthful narrators (who look to be in fourth or fifth grade).

This is a pretty fun book for all ages to sit down and read, but I can also see teachers using this book to discuss the writing process. The story changes as the boy and girl duke it out over whose character is coolest. There’s even an opening to discuss gender differences and how the stereotypes are twisted around as the story continues.

Kids of both genders in my library love this book, and you will too.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Sci-Fi and YA

Interesting Point/Counterpoint over at Io9, which discusses some of the developments in YA sci-fi lately and two different reactions to it.

The Point article, (which mentions Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series in particular) concludes that
[w]e should especially celebrate the awesome potential of YA SF to revitalize the field, and bring new readers to SF concepts.
Fair enough, though it seems to dismiss YA SF as merely a stepping stone on the way to "real" SF.

The Counterpoint article, as might be expected, takes the other tack. Not only does it argue that YA SF is unneeded, it calls into question the need for YA at all, dismissing it as unneeded niche marketing that will ultimately do more damage to the SF genre than it will do good.

It's especially hard on adults who read YA, comparing them to pedophiles. You think I'm kidding?
In an era where there is so much legal panic around relations between adults and young adults, it's hard to deny your knee-jerk response that there's something slightly distasteful and pedophilic about an adult reading stories aimed at people under the age of 18.
Um, okay. I haven't seen a logic leap like that since . . . I have no snappy metaphor for you guys here, that's just ridiculous.

Granted, this is a small part of the overall article, but it's one that really pushed my buttons. What do you think?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

And the Fangirl Goes Squee!

You guys, I'm sitting on a very, very cold, hard tile floor in the Anchorage (oh, yeah, you heard me, as in Alaska) airport, with slow internet (but hey, it's free so I'm not complaining too much), and I was just going to glance at my Google Reader and THEN.

Robin McKinley posted a snippet from her new book, Chalice. The post itself is about a week old but it's new to me, so . . .


Mysterious, evocative, hinting of a whole new world to discover, and juuuuust a lil' creepy. It's out September 18. Eee, eee, eee!

And now my butt is numb but it's worth it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Iron Man, Elephant & Piggie, and Early Readers

So Slate did another one of their neatokeen slide shows, this one on early readers and the history thereof, including the recent trend towards movie tie-ins. They were not entirely complimentary toward the latter (and seeing a scan of the Incredible Hulk early reader book, I can see why). They did feature some kidlitosphere faves like Mo Willems's Elephant and Piggie series (yay!) and the charming Hello Bumblebee Bat as alternatives. Check it out!

Thanks to Mo Willems's blog for the link.

Be Not a Goober

I have something to admit to you guys. I am a total goober.

I've had "register for the Kidlitosphere 08 Conference" on my to-do list for a month. A MONTH! I even printed out the registration form and everything. But it's been sitting on my desk, unloved, lonely, getting dusty, until tonight, when I finally sat myself down and said, "You are filling out that registration form and writing that check and you are going to put it in the mail! No excuses!"

And I said meekly, "Okay."

It's not that I don't want to go. This is going to be the highlight of my fall, in fact. A weekend with smart, cool, kidlit-lovin', more-or-less-techy geeks like me? What's not to love?

But I'm one of those people who put everything off until the last minute, just because there's so many last-minutes for other things that I have to do now. But no more! My registration is in the mail. Yours should join it.

See you in Portland!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Book Review: Very Hairy Bear by Alice Schertle, ill. Matt Phelan

Book: Very Hairy Bear
Author: Alice Schertle
Illustrator: Matt Phelan
Published: 2007

The very hairy bear has so much to do! In the spring, he fishes, in the summer, he hunts for honey, in the fall, he eats blueberries. And through it all, he doesn’t mind getting water, honey, or blueberries all over his hairy bear body, or his no-hair nose. But what about the wintertime?

What I loved first about this book was Matt Phelan’s bear, who is very hairy indeed. Done in soft pastels, the bear has a whimsical grin and enough flyaways on his shaggy bear coat to drive a hairdresser to drink. The bear’s world is also rendered in soft, lovely colors that express the beauty of nature.

On to the words, which match the gentle illustrations perfectly. While many picture books like to use a rhythmic rhyming style, a la Dr. Seuss, Schertle chooses internal rhymes and lots of alliteration, so that it flows like free verse. Check this one out:
Each summer,
he’s a sticky, licky honey hunter
with his bare nose deep
in the hollow of
a bee tree.
This is such a soothing book. With the repetition of words like “hairy bear” and “no-hair nose,” and with the winter hibernation at the end, use this for a bedtime story that will put your little one (hairy or not) right to sleep.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Wicked Lovely Award!

Via the Smart Bitches:

The Romance Writers of America gave Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely the RITA award in the YA category! Yay! Congrats to Melissa!

In a burst of synchronicity, I just got the sequel, Ink Exchange, a couple of days ago.

Book Review: Leap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Book: Leap of Faith
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Published: 2007

Abby Lorenzo was never in trouble before the day she stabbed the principal’s son with a Swiss Army knife and got expelled. Now she’s in the local Catholic school, her only option besides homeschooling (which, for her workaholic parents, is no option at all).

While at first she holds herself apart from these crazy Catholics, Abby begins to make friends, participate in drama class, and find a place at St. Catherine’s. She even discovers a kind of peace in the rituals of the Mass. But can you become a Catholic if you don’t, strictly speaking, believe in God?

I always say that I’m a practicing Catholic because I haven’t gotten it right yet. That’s only about 75% joke. Bradley approaches Abby’s conversion with the same spirit. There are no easy answers to be found--even though she’s taking classes and having regular talks with her friend’s mom and the school priest, Abby must find her own way to God and to understanding herself. Even though she makes the initial decision to become Catholic in order to provoke her parents, belief--or more correctly, the desire to believe--sneaks up without her realizing it.

I read the last few chapters with tears running down my face (in fact, I’m tearing up a little now). Much of that was due to my own experiences in the Catholic Church, but I think it’s accessible even to kids who have a different or no experience of religion, because the questions Abby faces about herself and others are so universal. No matter what, or if, you believe, this book is definitely worth your time.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Nick and Norah in Poster Form!

Check it out, guys! Leila at Bookshelves of Doom found the new movie poster for Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist!

I remain unsure about the choice of Michael Cera for Nick, but I really like the arrangement of that poster, our two protagonists with their heads together in a sea of faceless, blurred bodies. It really evokes the sense of the book for me, which was about two people who found each other and hung on.

Reading Roundup July 2008

By the Numbers
Total Number Read: 66
Teen: 18
Tween: 6
Children: 11
Preschool: 37

Teen: Paper Towns by John Green (review to come in October when it's actually, like, available. But seriously, y'all, buy it now.)
Tween: The Secret Language of Girls by Frances O'Roark Dowell
Children: When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm by Hannah Bonner
Preschool: Very Hairy Bear by Alice Schertle

Because I Want To Awards
Made Me Wanna Go Vote: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Most Like an Errol Flynn Flick: How the Hangman Lost His Heart by KM Grant. (Except that Errol might be playing the severed head. Just read the book.)
Delightfully Weird: You'll Be Sorry by Joshua Schneider
Most Kickass Girl: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Best Book for a New Big Sib: The Wicked Big Toddlah by Kevin Hawkes