Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New for 2010

2010 starts in two days, and I can start salivating because we're that much closer to these books coming out.

After Ever After by Jordon Sonnenblick (February 1) - In a sequel/companion to Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, Sonnenblick takes a look at the life of a kid after cancer. Intriguing.

Heist Society by Ally Carter (February 9) - The start of a new series about a family of con artists, jewel thieves, and the girl who can't quite manage to leave her family traditions behind. Bloggers I trust have already read ARCs and pronounced it great fun.

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X Stork (March 1) - I want to see what else the author of Marcelo in the Real World can spring on us.

Lord Sunday by Garth Nix (March 16) - The last couple of books in The Keys to the Kingdom series got pretty complex and I admit it, lost me a few times. It's an intricate series, and probably is best read all in one gulp. But I can't wait to see how Arthur Penhaligon will collect the last Key, and what will happen to him when he does.

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner (March 23) - If you can't understand my slavish devotion to Turner and her tales of the trickster Eugenides, I can only direct you to The Thief and envy you the ride ahead.

The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott (April 4) - Y'all, I would read The Toilet Paper Chronicles if Elizabeth Scott wrote it, and probably would love it.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (April 6) - John Green and David Levithan? Which kidney would you like?

A Wizard of Mars by Diane Duane (April 14) - I've been waiting for this one, literally, for years. Publication got pushed back a couple of times, but this time they're almost pretty sure it'll probably come out this year.

Runaway by Meg Cabot (May 1) - The third in the Airhead trilogy (I think), this promises to answer a lot of questions, including the most important one--are Em and Christopher just gonna smooch already or what?

The Princess and the Snowbird by Mette Ivie Harrison (May 4) - I loved The Princess and the Hound so much that I'm going to remain optimistic for this title.

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness (May 5) - Another third of a trilogy, this in the wowie-zowie Chaos Walking Series. My reaction: !!!!!!!!

Perchance to Dream by Lisa Mantchev (May 25) - What the heck is Bertie going to do on the outside? This could be wondrous or completely hollow, without the setting of the Theatre. Hoping it's the former.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater (July 20) - Just finished Shiver last night. Besides my love for Stiefvater's style, my interest is piqued by the fact that this is a sequel about the same characters in the aftermath of the first book, not another love story between two different people.

Hunger Games Book 3 by Suzanne Collins (August 24) - Peeta. Katniss. Revolution. Cliffhanger. Nuff said.

What are you looking forward to for 2010?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Year's Blog Resolutions

Okay, New Year's Day isn't until Friday. But I thought I'd get these out there now. Lately, my life has been just a little insane, and my blogs are two things I pushed to the back burner. I have no problem with that--for a little bit, other things took precedence. But now I want to get back to blogging, and also to improve some things about my own blogging experience.

Resolutions work better when you set a specific goal, so I'll include one.

This year, I resolve to:

Comment more
I know people love getting comments, and there are varying schools of thought on their value. Speaking for myself, I like commenting and getting comments because it feels like I'm deeper into this awesomely fun conversation we've all been having for, oh, the last four years or so. I hear murmurings of a comment challenge in January. Maybe this will be the kick in the pants I need. I resolve to leave at least 5 comments a week. At the moment, that's 5 more than I am doing.

Post more
Like I said, I haven't been blogging much lately. That's been life-related, but it would be too easy to let that non-blogging habit continue. I resolve to post at least twice a week on both blogs. My next resolution should help with that.

Review more
My policy is not to review a book unless it has That Thing. That special spark that makes me go, "Ooooh, this is something I want to talk about." All very well and good, but I've been skipping books I wanted to review but just didn't. MotherReader's 48-Hour Reading Challenge in June taught me that I can write a review in twenty minutes or so, and even the blathery ones don't take more than half an hour to 45 minutes, including links and images. Surely I can carve out half an hour each week to write a review of a book I want to talk about anyway. I resolve to post one review a week on either blog, and preferably on both.

Not sweat the small stuff
Okay, this one might seem contradictory, given all those great intentions I have up there. But I do tend to overfocus and obsess a little, even if it's in the privacy of my own mind. So this is the year I'm going to relax and not chew on things like statistics. I've always done this for me first, and I want to stop grizzling because So-and-So has more followers than I do. Or whether I've read that hot book everyone's talking about. I'll get to it. If it's that great, it'll still be that great in ten months or whenever. No goal for this one, because I can't really say, "I resolve to not freak out at least once a week."

So that's my plan for 2010. What are your New Year's Blog Resolutions?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sign of the Times

If ever you needed visual proof of the rising profile of YA, have a look at the "Deals" column in Publisher's Weekly for this week. Half the deals mentioned are for YA series, with a couple of MG novels thrown into one deal. Pretty snazzy.

And hey, more Lisa McMann! Always a good thing.

Thanks to a tweet from @lisa_mcmann.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Book Review: Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Book: Liar
Author: Justine Larbalestier
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

Everyone lies a little, right? Well, Micah lies a lot. She lies to her family, to her friends, to her boyfriend. She even lies to herself. But that's all done now. Over. Finito. She's not going to lie anymore. And she's going to start by telling the story of how her boyfriend died, and what she knows about it. This is the truth. All of it. Every word.


Oh, lord. How to write a spoiler-free review? Here goes: This book made my brain twist into a pretzel.

It's a good thing Justine Larbalestier is such a good writer, or else this would always be that one book with the cover, yeah, that cover, you know the one. But I forgot about all that three pages in.

Basically, it does what it says on the cover. You know Micah is a liar, it says so right there. But what is she lying about? It's not easy to tell. The things that seem wildest are true, and the things that seem most basic are false. Every time she doles out some new piece of information, either about what happened or about herself, you have to stop and consider it. If it's the truth, why would she tell us? If it's a lie, what's the truth she's trying to hide?

Surprisingly enough, the biggest, craziest thing that Micah tells us, I actually believe. I'm not sure why, even, because she admits to telling large and complex lies about herself and what she is. Perhaps it's that nothing else really makes sense if that's a lie. Everything really is built on this revelation, which occurs about two-thirds of the way through the novel. There has to be some truth, or else it wouldn't be so hard to figure out what's a lie.

As we get into the last third of the novel, Micah's lies--and her world--are crumbling around her. More and more, she asserts to the readers that she would never lie to us, even while admitting that she has, repeatedly, sometimes as recently as the previous page. There's only one small group of people that I don't remember her ever lying to--the people she can truly be herself with. Of course, she is our eyes on the scene, and just because she never admits to and we never catch her in a lie to these people, doesn't mean that she never has. But again, sometimes you just have to take something as the truth.

About midway through the book, she talks about the counselors and shrinks who try to tell her why she lies, and she says, "Maybe the world is better the way I tell it." This is the world that Micah wants to be true, but the trouble is that reality can't be changed with words. One major revelation is left almost too late, and there are threads trailing after the novel is done. I'm not sure whether this is a flaw or not, since it helps to undercut our belief in Micah's final assertions. Undercut, but not completely negate. At the end, you're not sure whether everything you've finally decided is real is just what Micah wants to believe.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Reading Roundup November 2009

By the Numbers
Teen: 13
Tween: 10
Children: 5

Swapped: 9
Library: 23

Teen: Liar by Justine Larbalestier (review coming soon!)
Tween: Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry
Children: Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

Because I Want To Awards
Most Unflinching Look at Farm Life: The Beef Princess of Practical County by Michelle Houts
Gotta Read More of the Series: Fringe Girl by Valerie Frankel
Even Though It's the End of the Series, It Left Me All Happy: Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Review: The Song of an Innocent Bystander by Ian Bone

Book: The Song of an Innocent Bystander
Author: Ian Bone
Published: 2004
Source: Local Library

Years ago, a madman held thirteen people hostage in a hamburger restaurant for thirty-six hours. At the end, two men were dead and the rest walked away. One of the hostages, nine-year-old Freda Opperman, became the face of the event, the innocent victim, the brave survivor. Her mother keeps the legacy alive through the media and various good works done in Freda's name. But inside that restaurant, with the gunman, Freda knows she wasn't innocent or a victim or even particularly brave. It's all documented on a set of napkins written by the store's manager, one of the eventual dead men. She's never read them, but ever since being carried out of that restaurant, she's hidden them away like a treasure, or a secret.

When a reporter comes to write a ten-year retrospective of the siege, his questions are different from all the others--more penetrating, more accusing. As Freda weathers this attack from outside, she has to decide whether to bury her long-ago actions forever or to forgive herself--and she doesn't know which will be harder.

This is a story that you uncover gradually, chipping away at like a fossil or an onion. You're given the basic facts at the start, but the interpretation of them--who did what, who felt what, why, when, where, how--keeps shifting as pieces of the past are revealed.

Ian Bone does some interesting things with point of view and pronouns. He uses a first-person point of view for Freda's present-day reflections and experiences. Then the camera pulls away into a third-person omniscient for the siege itself, showing things that Freda wasn't witness to. Sprinkled throughout are the infamous napkins, documenting the manager's fear, despair, and changing view of the nine-year-old Freda.

Yet another version is the heroic victim that her mother and the media have created. Freda often refers to herself in the third person as the brave survivor, especially when she's reflecting on the role she plays for the cameras and the reporters.

She is never called by name in the flashbacks--she is only "the girl," which made me wonder if we were going to be treated to a switcheroo where Freda was not the girl taken under John Wayne O'Grady's wing. In fact, she is, but it's the Freda that O'Grady wanted. His soldier, his comrade.

All these facets of the same character show us how one person, and one event, can be viewed differently by every witness, even the one behind the eyes. Try this book for a thought-provoking look at the stories we create about ourselves and others.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's the Best Time of the Year

Not the "most wonderful" . . . what do you think this is, a Christmas carol? I'm talking about the time of year that everyone starts putting out "best of" lists. I was going to gather them, but Chicken Spaghetti has already done that, and quite ably too. I'm told she keeps updating, so check back often.

I always reserve my judgement until my end-of-the-year roundup, but I'd like to hear from you: What's the best book you've read this year?

P.S. It doesn't need to be published in 2009 - just read by you this year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Series Questions

So I've been cogitating on series lately. The reason for this cogitation (which should only be attempted by a trained professional, with spotters) is that I'm reading the second-latest in a long-running series that I won't name because really the question is not about that series, it's about series qua series, and I've descended into pretentious Latin that I may not in fact be using correctly, oh god, help me.


Ahem. I promise, no more sentences like that.

So what kicked off all this babbling was that I started the book and went, "Oh, more of this stuff." And then I went, "Uhoh." Because the main character is genuinely a lot of fun and spunky to the max and all that, but I was like, "Really, kid? Again? Do you ever learn? Like, ever?"

I've noticed this with other series, too, especially the ones that get up to about four or five books with no end in sight. I'd argue (and some may argue with me) that the Harry Potter series actually escaped this. Yeah, there was a certain formula. Important elements always included Voldemort, DADA teacher, infirmary visits (god, that kid got banged up), Ron and Hermione, Dumbledore, and often Quidditch. It was a Harry Potter book, so you knew all this was going to happen. But Rowling kept raising the stakes and Harry kept encountering situations and choices that pushed him out of his comfort zone, and ours. Can you imagine first-year Harry doing what seventh-year Harry did? Not me.

It may be the Harry Potter thing, it may be the Will of the Almighty Dollar, but series seem to be longer-running than ever lately. And they're thick books. It's not just the Magic Treehouse model anymore, a whole row of 100-pagers that you can skip through. What this means is that, more than ever, I'm getting the Oh This Again feeling. I'm a completist, so it takes quite a bit to stop me reading the rest of the series, but I'm starting to re-think that.

At what point does a series lose the pull, that Oooh, What's S/He Going to Do Now and become More of the Same? What has an author done that has pulled it out for you?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Winter Blog Blast Tour

So, I'm a dingbat. You know this already, but today I'm a dingbat because we're halfway through the Annual Winter Blog Blast Tour and I'm just now realizing it. So far my favorite interview has been with Megan Whalen Turner at HipWriterMama,

MWT is one of my favorite fantasy authors, and one whom I routinely recommend to adult fantasy readers who go "Euww, teen books. Icky! It'll get all over my hands!" Then when they gush to me, I laugh evilly.

Here's my second-favorite exchange of the interview:
HWM: What is your writing routine?
Megan Whalen Turner: Routinely, I wish I had one.
Snork! But seriously, this was my favorite:
HWM: Will [A Conspiracy of Kings, out in March] be the final book in the series?
Megan Whalen Turner: Oh, no. There should be two more books after this one. I just have to go lie down first.
All the fangirls together now: squee!

There's more quality interviews in the Blog Blast Tour. Check out Chasing Ray's master schedule, updated daily with quotes and linkage.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reviewers, Amateur and Otherwise

A few weeks back, Betsy Bird posted a piece at Fuse #8 about the Amazon VINE program, which offers free books to members in return for reviews. She discussed certain things that unsettled her about the program, the titles were offered to participants, and the reviews generated. A lot of people who are part of the program stopped by and weighed in.

Now, Amazon VINE and similar programs are being discussed on other blogs. I'll leave that to them. Myself, I wanted to take note of a certain tone that seemed to run through the comments.

One of Betsy's initial concerns was about--well, let her say it.
You see, on the children's literature side of things, the people submitting reviews are often getting products for kids that require a subtle hand. And when they find that the book they're reading isn't Goodnight Moon Redux, they can get negative. Not critically constructive. Not helpful in their feedback about what does and does not work. Just mad.
This I agree with, and I took note of the response, which boiled down to: "We're (or they're) not professionals. You shouldn't hold us (them) to professional standards."

So what are professional standards? I'll guess that they mean reviews like you find in the New York Times, or Kirkus, or any other number of publications that compensate their reviewers. (Even at print journals, not all reviewers are paid in cold hard direct deposits, which was one of the things swirling around the FTC stuff last month.) You generally expect--nay, demand--that these reviews are fair and balanced. Sometimes they're analytical on a story level, sometimes they make considered recommendations of appropriate audience.

But in all cases, they step back from the book. Whether or not they're getting paid in money, books, or even the thrill of having their name in print, they're writing their review from a different position than somebody just reacting to the book.

This argument about professional standards gets at something that the kidlitosphere chews on every so often. We do this for the love of it, and we do this as ourselves. I'm not writing for Kirkus in exchange for $$, I'm writing for Confessions of a Bibliovore . . . just 'cuz. Do independence and volunteer basis give us carte blanche to write one-line reviews? Of course not. Because we do this for the love of it, and we know people read our blogs, we try to step back just as the professionals do, and produce thoughtful, balanced reviews that aren't knee-jerk first reactions. We all have our own style--I'll be the first to admit that my weird jokes wouldn't make it in Kirkus, for instance. But there's a wide spectrum of quality between review journals and "This book sucked, don't buy it. Love, me."

So much for bloggers. What about Viners, or LibraryThing Early Reviewers, or any of the other programs out there? As the name posits, they are early reviewers. They're the first ones to dole out the rating, and the ones who are most likely to influence what other people think. No, they're not getting paid, except in the chance to read a book for free before everybody else. But their position of being the first reviewers, and ones who are highlighted when others decide whether to read the book or not, should affect the review. Not positively or negatively, but the style. Why did you hate it? Why did you love it? Why did you want to whack that girl upside the head with the Clue Bat?

In the interest of transparency, I should note that I'm part of the LibraryThing Early Reviews program, through which I get about one book a month. I'm not the best at reviewing those and usually only post them at LT. Having written this post, I'm feeling kind of guilty about that and resolving to do better.

I want to add that I'm not trying to bash on Viners or LT Early Reviewers, or anything like that. It's difficult to write a review, even for a book you loved (or hated!) It's work. While I hear that Viners are experienced Amazon reviewers, it still takes a lot of time and thought to do a well-rounded review, and it's probably tempting to jot down the first thoughts in order to fulfill the requirements of the program. But I also think that people should be aware not only of their own opinions, but of the audience that will be reading their reviews and the context in which they will be read.

Finally I'd like to say that, no, nobody gets paid for blogging or early reviewing. At best we get free books, which are more of an experience than an object. But--cereal boxes and sporting gear endorsements aside--the only thing that Olympians get is a trip to a different country, and maybe a lump of metal on a ribbon.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Book Review: My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson

Book: My Life as a Rhombus
Author: Varian Johnson
Published: 2007

Rhonda Lee is the most serious, studious girl at her school. Her idea of a hot evening is math tutoring and Chinese takeout. She has a plan for herself: graduate with honors, go to Georgia Tech, become an engineer, and most of all, don't waste her time on the popular crowd. But she can't avoid Sarah Gamble, the queen of the populars, the daughter of an important Georgia Tech alumnus, and her newest student.

Rhonda and Sarah are becoming tentative friends when the other girl's symptoms become obvious--exhaustion, nausea, cravings. Rhonda knows exactly what's wrong, but can she face the buried memories in order to be there for another girl in trouble?

At the beginning of the novel, Rhonda has allowed what happened three years before to become her entire life. She is Rhonda, Abortion Girl. She's cut everything out of her life that led up to the event--friends, fun, love--because she feels vulnerable and also as a kind of punishment. Even her relationship with her father is limping along like a half-dead donkey, which she characterizes as punishment for her sins.

Sarah's situation forces Rhonda to examine the event again, and to see what she's done to herself in its wake. What I liked best about this book is that she never really decides that she was right or wrong to have had an abortion. It's just there, part of her life and always will be. The novel is about accepting something that happened to her and what she had to do about it, and not letting that infect her whole life. Yes, she's still battling her own sorrow and regret, as well as her conflicted feelings about basically being pressured into the procedure by her father. But she also has plans for her future that never could have come to pass if she'd had the baby.

By the end, Rhonda has found the courage to face down her own fears and forgive herself enough to start living her life again. I do wish we'd been able to get some closure between Rhonda and her father--after all, that was one of the most screwed-up, and therefore intriguing, relationships in the book. But overall, the end was pretty satisfying.

In this novel, Johnson takes a thought-provoking look at teen pregnancy, abortion, and all the effects of both.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Reading Roundup October 2009

By the Numbers
Teen: 23
Tween: 15
Children: 14
Something I've forgotten to note lately: because of books that fall into multiple categories, sum > total number of books read. Just in case you think I go without sleep or meals to read. I eat.

(New category! Just to give you and the FTC an idea of where I get my books)
Review Copies: 3
Swapped: 8
Purchased: 1
Library: 32

Teen: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Tween: Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko
Children: The Runaway Dragon by Kate Coombs

Because I Want To Awards
Most Entertaining Apocolypses: Death From the Skies! by Philip C. Plait
Loudest "Eek!" Produced When I Got It In My Hands: The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
OMG, The Other Mother Freaked Me Out Again: Coraline: The Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell
Most Difficult to Get a Handle On: The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

YA, MG, and Blurry Borders

Back in August, the blog MiG Writers assembled a number of opinions about YA, MG, and what makes them different. They discuss such distinctions as the age of the protagonist, the wordcount of the novel, and the focus of the story itself. There are a lot of differing opinions gathered in one place. For instance, the definitive wordcount of YA novels is given as anywhere from 40k to "oh, heck, these days anything goes." Check out the post for more thought-provoking contradictions. There is a wind-up at the end of the article that seeks to distill and resolve it all.

The article is aimed at writers, but I think it's also interesting for librarians, teachers, and kidlit lovers in general.

It is a blurry line, as anyone who's ever had to decide where to put that could-be-MG, could-be-YA novel. Some libraries have even gone to an additional "tween" distinction--stuff too YA for the MGs but too MG for the YAs. And of course, kids themselves rarely stick to one section. It's Harriet the Spy one day, then maybe some Princess Diaries tomorrow.

As regular readers know, I'm on the Round 2 SFF panel for the Cybils. Now this one's unusual in that we'll be judging both MG and YA novels, and giving the Cybil to one in each category. It's not our job to decide which is which--that's already been hashed out by the most excellent adminstrators. But I'm keeping this discussion in mind as I look forward to judging after the first of the year.

How do you decide if the book in your hands is YA or MG?

Twittered by Greg Pincus of The Happy Accident.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Book Banners and Unspoken Messages

See, I told you this kind of stuff was year-round.

In April, The Boy Book was challenged in Texas, and when she found out last month, E. Lockhart posted a response on her blog. She discusses the elements that were objected to, acknowledging that the book isn't for all ages, but my favorite part is this:
Also, I am sad for the kid whose mom made the fuss. Because that kid's mom has just said to her: "Don't come to me with questions about your developing body. Don't come to me with questions about drinking. Don't come to me with questions about boys and how to negotiate intimate situations. Because these things are SO UNSPEAKABLE that I will wage a serious battle, devoting significant time and energy, to make sure no one in your whole school even reads about them. This door is CLOSED between you and me." How sad is that? To be thirteen and know that you can no way talk to your mom about any of those subjects.
E. Lockhart, you rule in ever so many ways.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Review: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Book: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Author: Grace Lin
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

Every day, Minli works alongside her parents, ekeing out handfuls of rice from the dry, stubborn soil in the shadow of Fruitless Mountain. But every night, her Ba tells marvelous stories. Minli knows her parents work hard with what they have, but she dreams of better for them and for herself. With this in mind, she sets out on an impossible quest to find the Old Man of the Moon from her father's stories and ask him what she can do to change her fortune.

As she journeys through a China-like land, she meets and befriends all manner of creatures with a little magic about them. A talking goldfish, a dragon who can't fly, a king who enjoys going in disguise among his own people. It's Minli's wit and compassion that bring her finally to the Old Man in the Moon. But can even he give her what she wants most of all?

This whole book has a folk-tale air about it, even aside from the magical characters and coincidences. Minli's quest--and how it's wrapped up--echoes stories from before written print. Stories and storytelling weave through the narrative like golden threads. Most of the chapters include a story told by one character to another, often about the Old Man in the Moon or the wicked Magistrate Tiger. The reader with a strong memory will start putting together the pieces of this complex mythology, and delight in how it all ties into the main story by the end.

Strangely enough for a book that prizes family, this novel is filled with disobedient children, and yet their disobedience is all for the sake of the family. It's a neat trick, and one that upends expectations.

Try out Where the Mountain Meets the Moon for a captivating tale about the power of story and the love of family.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

KidLitCon: Overview Part Two

As promised, here's the second half of my conference day.

Greg Pincus of the Happy Accident kept us wide awake, even after lunch, with his presentation on Social Media for Fun (and Profit?) His advice? Go play in traffic--meaning put yourself out there in the online stream. Things will come to you much easier if you go where they are, and even pursue them. Something else he brought up that I tend to forget is that all forms of social media are simply tools. So MySpace is on its last legs, Facebook is (allegedly) fading, and Twitter may soon hit the downslope. There will be something else to take its place. What's important are the connections you make through it, and how those connections help your goals or enrich your life. One example is the most excellent Mitali Perkins' recent idea of Twitter book parties, where she tweets the title, author, audience, and publisher of a novel published that day and encourages everyone to retweet. This has become such a success that non-kidlit authors are running with the idea. Finally, remember to comment, say thank you, and generally play nice online. I'm not always the best at remembering the "social" part of social media, so I was glad to get this refresher.

After that, we had a panel discussion on Authors, Publishers, Reviewers (and ARCs). This starred Sheila Ruth of Wands and Worlds, Liz B of A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, author Paula Chase, and Laura Lutz of Pinot and Prose, who also works for HarperCollins as their School and Library Marketing Director. They discussed how the three groups see each other, and the way that the lines have become blurred. Also touched upon was the Liar controversy, also known as "that one time all the bloggers started talking about a cover at once and got the publisher to change it," as an example of the new power that bloggers are gaining and the need for responsibility to go along with it. Laura also talked about things from the publishing end, and pointed out that often bloggers are names in a (sometimes outsourced) marketing database with little room for details, which explains how a kidlit blogger can randomly receive an adult cookbook.

Our last (formal) session of the day was Coming Together, Reaching Out, with Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page, Gina Montefusco from PBS Booklights Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub, and Ernestine Wells Benedict of Reading is Fundamental. We're all in this gig because we want to connect kids and teens with the best books possible. They talked about what happens beyond the blog, or how to leash the passion and knowledge of the kidlitosphere for others. The PBS Booklights blog is an example of this--written by experts for parents, its focus isn't on the hottest new picture books but on how to read with and to your kids to spark their love of reading. From the audience, Laurel Snyder had the idea to get various literacy organizations together and host a read-in day across the country. The response? "Absolutely, let's do it!" Awesome.

And that was it for the day! We had a dinner in the evening, where I shared a table with Karen and Bill of Literate Lives, Lara and Julie from the new company Grow Up With Books, Mary Lee of a Year of Reading (and her husband) and two more people who I remember talking to but can't quite recall their name. Oh dear. If this is you, apologies and please leave your name in the comments!

I have one (1) measly picture from the day, which was when BookNut came over with her camera. Here you can see our elegance and decorum.

Again, great time and thanks to everyone who made it so, especially MotherReader! I shared a hotel room with the woman and I can tell you, she worked her tail off on this one, even the evening before and the day of. I can only imagine the months of work that already went into it.

If you didn't make it this year, there's always next year. No firm place yet, but I heard Minneapolis being thrown around. (Not the actual city; that would be loud. And I imagine distressing to Minneapolites.) I can tell you, being one of only four people who've made it to all three conferences thus far, it's worth it.

Check out the Twitter transcript over at The Happy Accident, and look for more roundup posts, collected in the comments of this MotherReader post.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

KidLitCon: Overview Part One

What a great weekend this was! I love meeting the people whose blogs and books I've been reading. I hung out and talked books, blogging, general geekery, and all manner of other things.

As to the conference itself, here's what we did.

The Blog Within: This was a solo presentation by MotherReader, about the 5 W's and one H of blogging. It wasn't so much a presentation as a rather Zen reflection on why we blog, who we blog for, etc. She also recommends doing this at specific times during the year to return yourself to your original intentions for your blog, and re-energize yourself.

Building a Better Blog: MotherReader and GalleySmith did this one as a team. They talked about such nitty-gritty, nuts & bolts things as the design of your blog to make it a better experience for your readers and how to comport yourself online knowing that the Internet is forever. While they gave a lot of great tips, it all boiled down to three things to keep in mind: purpose, passion, and professionalism.

At this point, we split into concurrent sessions. I went to It's All About the Book, presented by BookNut, BiblioFile, The Miss Rumphius Effect, and A Year of Reading. We talked about writing reviews, content vs. filler, and ways to participate in the larger blogging community. By the way, what do you guys think about comments? I don't often get the chance to leave comments, but there's a difference between "Cool post, yeah" and "Interesting, here's my thoughts." Greg Pincus of The Happy Accident thinks blogs should have a "Like This" button like Facebook, and I agree. It's a way to participate a little if you don't have time for more. Google Reader did recently add a "Like" option, but it only works for readers, and the blogger doesn't get notified. Hmm. Something to think about.

Then it was back to the big ballroom for Meet the Author. My inner fangirl really comes out to play at these things. I got to talk to Varian Johnson (who gave me one of the two ARCs he'd brought with him, largely because I begged shamelessly), Elizabeth Scott, Joan Holub, Jacqueline Jules, Paula Chase, Pam Bachorz, and too many other authors to count. Between this session and the ARC table in the back, I ended up mailing boxes to myself. It was either that or lug it all in my carryon luggage, and then the plane would never get off the ground.

Then it was time for the last-minute, special surprise treat of the conference: FTC Regulations for the Blogger. Okay, that's not the formal name but it was so last-minute that it didn't even have a formal name. Pam got ahold of the FTC last week and managed to get a representative to come out to us. Mary Engle, Associate Director of Advertising Practices, agreed to visit and hear our concerns, and give the answers that she could. This was probably the most useful session in a whole valuable day. There are excellent, thoughtful recaps from Galleysmith, Jennifer R. Hubbard at WriterJenn, A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, and any number of others. Here are the main points I got out of it:
  • There's a difference between an impartial reviewer and someone who's part of a specific marketing campaign. We're the former; they're looking at the latter.
  • The FTC is targeting corporations who are advertising unethically, not individuals who are the medium by which the corporations are advertising. They have no ability, or desire, to patrol the entire blogosphere and bring the hammer down on individual bloggers.
  • That scary $11k figure that was getting thrown around is a miscommunication. That fine is for the hard-and-fast rules, and the recent blogger regulations are more guidelines. Like the pirate code.
  • It's a smart idea to disclose review copies, but the FTC isn't requiring it. (That being said, the kidlitosphere has pretty well agreed that disclosing ties like free reviewer copies, Amazon Affiliate/Vine membership, etc, is the professional and ethical thing to do.)
  • However, if you do disclose, especially things like Amazon Affiliate membership, it needs to be upfront and prominent. In Engle's words, readers should not have to search for it. The best way is probably a short line right in the post. For instance, LizB at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy has taken to noting her Amazon Affiliate membership at the end of every post.
  • This is all a work in progress. Engle admitted that they could have set more definitions to clarify the difference between reviewers and marketing programs. The FTC has set up an email address,, for concerns. They can't answer individual questions, but it sounded like they were going to use the emails they get to write a FAQ for bloggers.
Awesome work by MotherReader getting that set up, and thanks to Mary Engle and the FTC for taking the time for us.

After that, it was lunchtime. Part Two of the day is coming your way tomorrow! By the way, if you want some more dimension than my brief comments provided, check out other roundups around the blogosphere (here are a few, in the comments of MotherReader's post) or check out the Twitter transcript that Greg Pincus posted at the Happy Accident on the evening after the conference.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

KidlitCon: Checking in

It's our break hour now, before the cocktail hour/dinner this evening. The conference has been so much fun! I Twittered like crazy, and now my fingers are so tired that I'm just going to direct y'all to the handy-dandy transcript that Greg Pincus posted over at The Happy Accident. Plus this way, you get everyone's tweets, not just mine. If you couldn't be there, following the Twitter stream seems to have been the next best thing.

So many new friends met, old friends reconnected with, blogs to read, books to find. Thanks to MotherReader for putting this all together--it was truly a heroic undertaking. More tomorrow.

Friday, October 16, 2009

KidlitCon: T-Minus 1 Day!

I'm hanging out at my hotel, waiting for the fun to begin. The full conference doesn't start until tomorrow morning, but there are expeditions planned to the Library of Congress Children's center today, and tomfoolery at a local house of eating later tonight. The LOC trip is awesome enough for this geeky librarian, but the real fun is meeting/seeing again the fun, cool people that make up the kidlitosphere.

By the way, MotherReader worked some kind of magic and got somebody from the FTC to stop in and talk to us tomorrow about the recent regulations regarding bloggers and review materials. Wowza. I don't know whose goat she sacrificed but we're all excited. That will most definitely be Twittered and blogged.

If you're unspeakably jealous and now want in, there are a few slots that just opened up due to illness. Stop by MotherReader's blog for the details.

If you're coming, I'll see you there! If you can't make it, I'm sad--but hey, there's always next year. If you want to spy on the hijinx, follow #kidlitcon at Twitter or keep an eye on the blogs.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Bloggers and the FTC - Again

The big news in the blogosphere today is about the FTC's new regulations on bloggers' endorsements, be they clothes, furniture, or those weird papery things people read before the Internet. There's a PDF file that's something like 81 pages of legalese, so thank god there are smarter people than me to untangle it.

Some commentary from a Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy:
In a nutshell, I think it's best for book reviewers to note on the individual post if the book (whether final version or ARC) came from a publisher, publicist, or author for the purposes of reviewing it or posting about it on a blog.
Given that as a community, we pretty much decided that was a good idea awhile back, I don't think this is going to be any skin off our nose.

So much for the general thrust. For all the little details, hop on over to Edward Champion's Reluctant Habits. This blogger actually called up the Bureau of Consumer Protection and had what he describes as a "civil but heated" discussion with one Richard Cleland of that bureau.
Cleland informed me that the FTC’s main criteria is the degree of relationship between the advertiser and the blogger.

“The primary situation is where there’s a link to the sponsoring seller and the blogger,” said Cleland. And if a blogger repeatedly reviewed similar products (say, books or smartphones), then the FTC would raise an eyebrow if the blogger either held onto the product or there was any link to an advertisement.
Did you notice that bit about holding onto books? Hmmm. It gets elaborated on later, with Champion and Cleland debating the regulations' apparent double standard between unpaid bloggers and paid newspaper critics. Thanks to both men for taking the time to do this.

I appreciate what the FTC wants to do here. It's awfully easy for an apparently neutral blog to be not much more than a well-hidden advertising trumpet, with no one the wiser. It's even easy for a blogger to develop such a close relationship with a particular company that they're tempted to review everything positively.

However, whether it's in print or online, a good reviewer reviews what's in front of him or her. I've had relationships with publishers before, getting ARCs in the mail or at conferences, but I like to think that I reviewed the book, not the publisher. Because my policy is to only blog what I love, I don't always write a review either. In fact, I once did the math and realized that I review about 10% of what I read. Between BEA and ALA 08, I amassed eight months' worth of books. I wound up reviewing seventeen titles--the bulk of those during the 2008 48-Hour Book Challenge, which was an anomaly in that I reviewed everything, and not always positively.

Okay, now as to keeping the books. Most of my ARCs have found new homes with the teens at my library, or sometimes get traded to other bloggers. As far as I know, the publishers don't want them back, for a number of reasons. They don't always have cover art or inside art, they can contain mistakes or sections that are edited from the final book, they're of lower quality (paper, binding, etc) than the finished product, and finally, they're not terribly useful after the book is published. Legend holds that publishers have closets full of the things. If we had to start sending them back, there would probably be a lot of bonfires in New York City.

Cleland acknowledged that they're still working out the kinks, so I imagine we'll hear more about this from the FTC and also from bloggers. What do you think?

ETA: All things being Twittered, the hashtag is #HeyFTC. There's some interesting commentary bouncing around Twitter as well.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Children's Authors' Exquisite Corpse

Although they probably would leave exquisite corpses, I'm not talking about imminent death. Unless it's in the story.

Exquisite Corpse is apparently a game in which writers write a chapter each, picking up where the last left off. Other than that, no rules. Sound awesome yet? Wait, it gets better. Jon Scieszka wrote the first chapter in this game, with other chapters to be written by fellow children's lit writers. Chapter 2 is up now, written by Katherine Paterson. The game runs for a year, with a new episode by a new author every 2 weeks.

It's hosted by the Library of Congress at You can get emailed updates or follow them through RSS. Thanks to KidsLit for the heads-up!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Banned Books Week Non-Glee

If I post on Fridays, I usually do a Glee. No glee here, but there is intense pride that authors, librarians, and readers aren't taking this kind of crap lying down.
  • Over at I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell Do I Read? Lee Wind posted a marvelous two-part group interview with six authors whose books have been banned, including Ellen Hopkins, Sarah Brannen, and others.
  • Speaking of La Hopkins, she wrote what may become the rallying cry for Banned Books Week and anti-censorship efforts for about the next century. Check out Manifesto. I posted the link last week, but it's worth seeing again.
  • BookDads talks about And Tango Makes Three, returning to the number one slot on the Banned Books list for the third year in a row. Seriously, check this post out, you guys.
  • The irony, it burns. Bookshelves of Doom dissects an ongoing book-banning case, and all the little dips and loops thereof. (Define "dips and loops" however you please.)
  • The comic strip The New Adventures of Queen Victoria is running a special Banned Books week storyline all this week. Awesome. Link goes to Monday's strip; just keep clicking next.
  • And last but not least, author Jacqui Robbins talks about her experience of reading a banned book to her child:

Banned Book Week ends tomorrow, but this stuff goes on all year round. Every parent has the right to tell their child what to read; they do not have the right to tell yours.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Reading Roundup September 2009

By the Numbers
Teen: 23
Tween: 11
Children: 6

Teen: Body Drama by Nancy Amanda Redd
Tween: Sonny's House of Spies by George Ella Lyon
Children: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (review coming soon!)

Because I Want To Awards
So Had the Wrong Cover: The Taker by J.M. Steele. It was a romantic comedy in problem novel clothing.
Wrapped Things Up Nicely: Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel
Best Depiction of Everyday Kid Concerns That Didn't Become the Problem of the Novel: Eighth Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. Hard to explain, exactly, but Reggie encounters racism, parental joblessness, and other things that impact kids' lives without any of them overtaking the storyline. Nicely done.
Kickoff That Will Leave Kids Begging for More: Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


You guys! Tomorrow, the Cybils are opening up their nominations! Have you got your titles ready yet? Have you, have you?

They've revamped the nomination system this year, so you don't have to read through a zillion posts to see if your title has already been nominated or accidentally nominate two titles.

Oh, and I'm a judge this year, too. I'm joining the SF/F team, which is comprised of these awesome people:
Panel Organizer: Sheila Ruth, Wands and Worlds

Panelists (Round I Judges), MG/Elementary:

Anamaria Anderson, bookstogether
Cindy Hannikman, Fantasy Book Critic
Brian Jung, Critique de Mr. Chompchomp
Eva Mitnick, Eva's Book Addiction
Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte's Library

Panelists (Round I Judges), Teen/YA:

Steve Berman, Guys Lit Wire
Gwenda Bond, Shaken & Stirred
Tanita S. Davis, Finding Wonderland
Nettle, The Muse, Amused
Sheila Ruth (see panel organizer)
Angie Thompson, Angieville
Samantha Wheat, Twisted Quill

Round II Judges:

Maureen Kearney, Confessions of a Bibliovore
Anne Levy, Cybils
Sam Musher, Parenthetical
Tarie Sabido, Into the Wardrobe
Tasha Saecker, Kidslit

Stop by the Cybils blog for more info on everything, and get your nominatin' fingers ready!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Book Review: Dooley Takes the Fall by Norah McClintock

Book: Dooley Takes the Fall
Author: Norah McClintock
Published: 2008

Seventeen-year-old Ryan Dooley (just Dooley, thanks) thinks he's doing all right, pulling his life together. He's got a (crappy) job, a place to stay, and he's even managing to make it to school regularly. All he's got to do is keep his nose clean, follow his uncle's rules, and graduate on time, and his juvie past will stay in the past.

But then he's the only witness to a seeming suicide. All at once, Dooley's back in the familiar mess of cops and suspicion. This time, he knows he's innocent, but the cops thinks otherwise. Every morsel of evidence that turns up seems to do two things--one, make it more likely that Mark Eversley's death was homicide, and two, blame it all on Dooley.

This was a pretty decent mystery (maybe the end was a little sudden), but the great strength of this novel was Dooley's voice. Cynical, tough, a few unexpected pockets of softness, and a certain maverick streak that could be frustrating but also appealing. McClintock makes it clear that the crime that sent him to juvie was no aberration, but the logical extension of his difficult past, replete with drug and alcohol problems as well as petty theft and occasional bursts of violence.

There was a plotline with Dooley's counselor that got dropped midway through, but I didn't miss it too much. I was more interested in the mystery and how Dooley was going to work his way out of it.

McClintock goes for, and succeeds at, a very hard-boiled feel with Dooley Takes the Fall. From Dooley's criminal past to his dispassionate assessments of the people around him and not always letting the reader in on the pertinent information until it hits the fan, Dooley reads like a young Sam Spade. This should appeal to older teens, especially those who are far from angels themselves.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And It Rages On

About a month back, the New York Times published an article about letting kids pick their own books. Wow! What an astonishing, avant-garde educational philosophy!

In response, Meg Cabot posted about "How to Foster a Hatred of Reading," talking about her own experience with the Great Books and affection for (read: obsessive love) of the novelization of The Fantastic Voyage.

Here's another side of the discussion. Over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books a few weeks back (yeah, I'm a little late on this one) Smart Bitch Sarah talks about the two camps in literary-land, which might be called the snobs and the slobs.
The slobs think the snobs think everything you read should be a work of literature that will enrich your life forever, and be a statement of art and the human condition. . . . The snobs think the slobs are intellectually lazy, and don’t understand why you’d want to read something poorly-written, or that adhered to a formula. . . . Both sides are really annoying, because they both, by and large, have it wrong, even if they do get a couple of things right.
(There's more; click through for the full, fascinating post.)

Like any really good debate, I find myself nodding at some things all the debaters say, and going, "Ummm . . ." at others. As a public librarian, I'm more firmly in the "Pick Your Own" camp, but some of the things Sarah mentions about the two camps' pre/misconceptions of each other resonate.

Where do you fall?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Well-Aged Twitterbits

It's time for another edition of Tuesday Twitterbits, wherein I hoard interesting tweets like a squirrel hoards nuts and then forget where I hid them and when I find them, they're all stale and moldy and this metaphor got lost somewhere.
  • Hello, Wikipedia. Why, is that a Cybils entry I see in you? It is? Oh, Wikipedia. Keep this up and maybe librarians will one day stop burning you in effigy. Thanks to @abbylibrarian. (By the way, are you gathering your Cybils nominees? Nominations start October 1!)
  • takes on Twilight. Make sure you have fresh pants on hand before clicking through. Thanks, I think, to @LizB.
  • Hey, wow! Wicked Lovely, the first of Melissa Marr's dark urban fairy books, is headed for the screen. Thanks to @OfficiallyAlly, and congrats Melissa!
  • Interesting. Harmony Book Reviews has a discussion about ARCs, or specifically what happens when you're done with them. We all know it's illegal to sell them or add them to the library's collection (although both happen, a lot), but how do you feel about swapping them with other bloggers? Is that too far in the grey, or the best possible fate? Thanks to @thestorysiren.
That's what I've got. Follow me, @mosylu. Who are you following this week?

Monday, September 21, 2009

YA for Beginners

Liz over at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy pointed me at Mary Pearson's rather excellent discussion, "What YA Lit Is and Isn't" at She addresses some of the things being said to adults who read or write YA, and ponders why this particular field of literature gets more than its fair share of derision.
I wonder if everyone’s very strong opinions about this one segment of literature comes from our attitudes about the teen years? We fear them. We want teens to “get over it” quickly, and heck, let’s not mess with books that just dwell more on the teen years! Move on!
As someone who works with teens and reads 99.5% teen or kids' books, I'd say she's got a point. I was once told "Grow up!" by a co-worker because of what I read. I'm sure he meant it to be funny. If I hadn't read books like Looking for Alaska, Speak, Boy Toy, The First Part Last, Living Dead Girl, and many other books that some adults might not be able to handle, I might have laughed.

Click on through to see her follow up.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Have You Read a Banned Book Today?

It's the second day of Banned Book Week here in the U.S. I've said a lot about banned books and censorship on this blog, but I don't think I've ever said anything that summed it up as well as Ellen Hopkins' amazing Manifesto.

This is the week where free-speech-lovers everywhere call attention to the attempts to silence others' voices. I applaud those librarians, teachers, and others. But don't forget that there are 51 more weeks in the year. This may be the week we focus on censorship, but it happens year-round.

ETA: I can't read a calender. How sad is that? Banned Book Week actually starts on September 26th. Go reserve your favorite banned book at the library today.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Book Review: Sight by Adrienne Maria Vrettos

Book: Sight
Author: Adrienne Maria Vrettos
Published: 2007

Dylan has a secret.

When she was five years old, she saw a classmate's dead body in a vision. Three days later, the police found Clarence's body. Ever since then, she's seen dead or dying children, always too late. She does her best to deal with it, though. She helps the police with kidnapping cases and keeps it a deep, dark secret, even from her closest friends.

Then Cate comes to Pine Mountain and somehow, Dylan finds herself spilling all to this flatlander stranger. What she doesn't know is that Cate has secrets too . . . and she's not the only one.

One of the most interesting things about this book was that Vrettos took some time to explore the effect of a child's murder on other children, even years later. There's one scene where everybody who was in Clarence's kindergarten class takes turns to tell the story to Cate. They've told the story to each other over and over, so many times that it's acquired a pattern of who says what when, and that routine is now part of the memory. The murderer himself has become a formless monster that shadows their shared childhoods.

Dylan's struggle to make sense of her gift and the way it affects her friends and family form the core of a compelling book about the secrets we keep and the destruction they wreak. The child-killer mystery itself gets a little lost among all the other plot threads--I never got a sense of why the murderer did what he did, for instance--but I still enjoyed it immensely.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week is Here!

You guys! It's totally Book Blogger Appreciation Week! And I just turned into Cher from "Clueless"!

Hop on by the BBAW website to see all the nominees, and check back all week for the winners. I was especially happy to see how well-represented the kidlitosphere was this year. I've already added lots of feeds to my Google Reader.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Next Big Thing Has Feathers

Some time back, a blogger posted the question, what's the Next Big Thing? We're tired of vampires, so who gets the next ride on the hot-topic carousel? We said it would be werewolves, mummies, and zombies. Well, we got a little of each (though I'm still waiting for the swoony romantic novel with the bandage problems), but now it seems that angels are next on the list. An editor ponders the appeal over at PW:
“The young books like [Sharon Creech's The Unfinished Angel] are using angels to suggest the world can be a better place,” said Kate Jackson, editor-in-chief of HarperCollins Children's Books. In YA books, however, she believes angels “are a symbol of forbidden love. What's more forbidden than having a romance with someone who's not human?”
Not to mention he's got a really powerful boss.

I joke, but there do seem to be some swoony possibilities in angels. About ten years ago, there was a little explosion of angels in romance novels. At the time, I couldn't fathom it, but now it makes sense. There's the fearsome goodness, for one. There's the hint of superpowers. There's the feeling that your love interest has a higher calling, and is involved in Big Things. Hopefully for the story, this means that you get mixed up in Big Things too. (Of course, all that's upended when the angel in question is fallen, and that's even more fun.) And anybody's who's seen Mischa Collins as the angel Castiel on the TV show "Supernatural" (you're welcome) knows that being angelic doesn't mean you're all fair and pasty and go around strumming the harp all day.

Will the vampires turn to dust? (Ha, see what I did there?) I'm sure all those trends from the first paragraph will hang on for awhile, especially as the New Moon adaptation comes out this fall. And of course, there is the caveat to every trend--a really good book, even if it's waaaay out there, is going to find its readers.

Myself, I'm hoping that the upcoming angel books will also be books that ask questions about faith, religion, and morality without being so heavy you could tie them to the feet of your worst enemy and toss them in the East River. What would you most like to see in the upcoming angel books?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

KidLitCon Meme

There's a new meme in town, and it's all about the KidlitCon. Being as I've been to both so far and am all set to go to year 3, I figured I'd chime in.

Why did you decide to attend the KidLitosphere Conference?

The first year, when it was in Chicago, because my brother lived in Chicago. It was a two-fer--I'd get to visit him, and I'd get to meet some of the people whose blogs I followed (and still do).

Plus, as it got bigger and bigger, it just sounded like so much fun that I didn't want to be left out.

Who was most like their blog? Who was least like their blog?

MotherReader was exactly as I would have expected from her blog. With Pam, what you see is what you get. Lee Wind, also, pours forth the same energy in person that you can feel from his blog.

Who was least like? A startling number of people were on the quiet side in person, but were still great fun to hang out with.

What surprised you at the conference?

That people actually knew my blog. Perhaps because blogging is so physically solitary, I had this idea that my words were drifting out into the void. I was shocked when somebody said, "Oh, yeah, of course! Confessions of a Bibliovore!" Me: "Bwuh?"

What will you always remember about the last conference?

Hanging out with people in the evening, talking for hours about nothing and everything. That was also the night that Jackie of Interactive Reader talked me into buying an iPod Touch merely by demonstrating WorldCat on her iPhone that evening. My god, I'm a geek.

Did you blog about the conference?

Sure did.
KidlitCon 07
KidlitCon 08:
Parts One
Three and

KidlitCon 09 is October 17th, in DC. Step on over to Kidlitosphere Central to find more information, including the sign-up page.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Book Review: Sonny's House of Spies by George Ella Lyon

Book: Sonny's House of Spies
Author: George Ella Lyon
Published: 2004

When Sonny's daddy left, he said, "A man can't live in a house of spies." But seven years later, thirteen-year-old Sonny feels as if he has no choice but to spy. Nobody will tell him anything, and there are so many things he doesn't understand. Where did his father go? Why did he go? Is he ever coming back?

Over the course of one summer, Sonny will come to the realization that the answers about life, his family, and his father are at least as complicated as the questions. Understanding them--and himself--is a process that could take the rest of his life.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I generally don't snip passages, but Lyon has such a gift for quirky-yet-evocative description that I kept wanting to mark passages to include in this review. (Note to other librarians: no, I didn't actually mark the book. You can breathe.) This one particularly stood out:
We just stood by the shiny gray coffin with its handles like fancy toilet-paper holders and . . . breathed whatever breaths came by: mint, onion, tobacco, whiskey, and bad.
This isn't the generic sadness of a funeral, but a sharp eye for the experience of a person near the center of all that ceremony.

The plot hinges on setting--the 1950's, in Alabama--and the specific prejudices and beliefs that go along with that. Even today, the man who leaves his family because he's gay is in for some trouble, but back then, it was the kind of thing that could cause any number of little worlds to fall in, which it does in this book.

I wasn't entirely sure we needed the race-relations subplot--it felt sort of obligatory for a book set in 1950's Alabama--but it did intensify Sonny's growing knowledge of the complexity and unfairness of his world.

With Sonny's House of Spies, George Ella Lyon brings a particular time and place to life while telling a universal story about the hard questions we all confront sooner or later.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Unshelved Zombies

I do love the Unshelved Book Club. They featured The Forest of Hands and Teeth a few weeks ago. While I read it for the 48-Hour Book Challenge, this comic made me kind of interested again, and capped it with a line that made me giggle plenty.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Fantastic Mr Fox Featurette

I got this one from 100 Scope Notes--a featurette on the upcoming "Fantastic Mr. Fox" movie. It's done in that incredible stop-motion animation, and while it does appear to be set in the US, if you go by the accents, everything else about it looks made of awesome.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Book Review: Geek Magnet by Kieran Scott

Book: Geek Magnet
Author: Kieran Scott
Published: 2008

K.J. Miller has a problem. She's surrounded by geeks, and she can't seem to give any one of 'em the heave-ho. They're impervious to body language, hints, or any other subtle form of discouragement. It's going to take a sledgehammer to rid K.J. of her entourage so she can focus on her ultimate crush, gorgeous Cameron Richardson.

Enter Tama Gold, lead in the school play (for which K.J. acts as stage manager). Tama is beautiful, popular, and never afraid to tell a geek to beat it or a beautiful boy to come closer. And she's going to teach K.J. everything she knows.

Strong characters and a serious subplot made this book more than the fluffy, predictable meringue I was expecting. One thing I noticed straight off was that the geeks were really, really annoying. It went beyond the surface trappings of geekdom and into truly teeth-gritting. This made K.J's frustration perfectly understandable, while their basically good hearts made me sympathize with her reluctance to hurt their feelings. (Although I would have made an exception for the one who stared at her boobs all the time. I mean, really. Honey, you're gonna have those things all your life; take control of it now.)

Of course, we all know what Tama is right from the get-go, but the neat thing about this book is that she actually does help K.J. stand up for herself. While Tama's tutelage leads her pretty deep into the bitch side of the Force, she and the people in her life need that.

K.J.'s problem with the geeks clearly stems from her experiences with her father, whose alcoholism and uncertain temper have the whole family cowering. K.J.'s newfound bravery at school crosses over into her home life. For awhile, there's a surfeit of losing-control and lid-flipping scenes, but it worked for me. Sure, she was pushing it a little, but given how passive she was at the beginning of the novel, it made sense that there was an awful lot of pressure building up inside that had to be let loose before K.J. could begin to understand how to be strong without being nasty.

Overall, this was a fun, funny book, with some darker notes, about a girl learning to take control of her life.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Reading Roundup August 2009

By the Numbers
Teen: 17
Tween: 13
Children: 12

Teen: Marcelo in the Real World by Franscisco X. Stork
Tween: The Reminder by Rune Michaels
Children: Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters by Lenore Look

Because I Want To Awards
Most Fun to Play Spot the Allusion: The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper
More Than I Expected: Geek Magnet by Kieran Scott (review coming soon!)
Most Melancholy: Robot Dreams by Sara Varon
Most Heartwarming: That Book Woman by Heather Henson

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cybils Ahoy!

The noms don't start for the Cybils until October 1, but you can put in your name to be a judge right now. From the Cybils blog, the requirements:
  • blog about some aspect of children's or teen books on at least a somewhat consistent basis;
  • or contribute regularly to a group blog about same;
  • know a thing or two about what kids/teens are reading these days;
  • are planning to be reading obsessively over the next few months anyway
Sound like you? Check the rest of the post for more info. Make sure you know what you're getting into! I've done this for the past two years. It is great fun, but also a lot of work. But if you're up to it, let the organizers know!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Are You Signed Up for KidlitCon 09?

Admit it, you were just thinking, "Gosh, I'm not doing anything on Saturday, October 17. Whatever can I find to fill up the time?" I know. It's spooky how I read minds like that.

Well, wonder no more! Head on over to Kidlitosphere Central and sign yourself up for the Third Annual (Third! Annual! I know!!) Kidlitosphere Conference, taking place this year in Washington, D.C. We're having sessions on reviewing, the publishing biz, giving back, plus a meet-the-authors session. And that's not all--there'll be social-type fun on Friday and Sunday both.

Seriously, I've been to the last two and I loved them. It's so much fun to meet the people you've been reading, to jabber about kids books and blogging and all sorts of other topics. Both years, it refreshed and energized and empassionated (it's a word, because I said so) me to get back to my blog.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Sigh. A Google Map of book challenges for the years 2007-9. I love that we're outraged enough to make a collection like this, but depressed that it's necessary. If you click the little flags, you can find out details of the challenge in question.

Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for the link.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Comic Strip and Library Glee

  • The New York Times recently ran an article on some recent book challenges at the Brooklyn Public Library, and their classy-but-firm responses. Don't miss the actual challenges and responses, linked in the sidebar. Thanks to John Green, whose Looking for Alaska was among those challenged.
  • This comic strip cracked me up, further proof that I have a heart of stone. Thanks to Janni Lee Simner for the link.
  • The main character of the comic strip Luann has been volunteering at her local library for some time now. This week, she talks to a visiting Aussie about why American libraries are awesome. Which they totally are. This was my favorite:Luann

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two for the Show

Over at Booklights, Susan posed a question that's always in vogue amongst book lovers: Which book would you love to read for the first time again? She posted the answers today.

Some books I'd love to read for the first time again. Harry Potters 1-7 spring to mind, alongside The Hunger Games, and I'm sure there's others. Then I thought, What about the second time around?

I don't often re-read, or want to, unless the book is just yowza amazing. I recently re-read The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. The first time, it grabbed me and wouldn't let go. The twists and turns of Eugenides' crafty mind, the ups that you thought were downs, the downs you thought were ups, and that kiss after the attack . . . hooo . . .

Wait, where was I?

Oh, yeah. My point here is that I still enjoyed all those elements the second time, but I also noticed the second major theme of the book, which was Eugenides' youth, his homesickness, his uncertainty, his reluctance to truly take on the mantle of kingship. Quite a trick when you consider that Turner never once used his point of view. It's a quieter theme, one that's easy to lose in the rollercoaster of the first time around, but one that gives depth and resonance to all the twists and turns. With this addition, it becomes almost another book.

Another book that often gives me this experience is Pride and Prejudice, which many of you know is my desert island/nuclear bunker/oh shit the library's closed book. I've read it at least once a year for the past ten years. I've read books about first impressions, self-deception, about family, about the claustrophobia of small towns, about money and rank and self-respect versus worldly admiration. These books all happened to have the same plot and the same two main characters.

Susan touches on this in her discussion, saying of Harry Potter:
But as much as I loved that thrilling, spine tingling first time, it was in the re-reading where I discovered the true magic. Rowling planned out all seven books before the first one was even accepted for publication. All the books are full of subtle, deftly hidden clues and wonderful misdirection that are a delight to discover.
For me, book like this are the ones with grit and guts and staying power. These are the ones you remember, not for the experience of your first time reading it, but because every time you read it there's something more.

Which books have you re-read and found more the second time?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Book Review: Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Book: Marcelo in the Real World
Author: Francisco X. Stork
Published: 2009

Marcelo likes his life just the way it is, thank you. He has his routine all set. He's going to spend the summer training the therapy ponies. Then he's going to spend his senior year as he has his last eleven--at Paterson, his special private school that understands and works with him on his Asperger's-like condition.

Then his father throws all his plans for a loop. Marcelo is not going to train therapy ponies. Instead, he is going to spend the summer in the mail room at his father's law firm--and if he doesn't fulfill expectations, he's going to spend his senior year at the local public high school. His father isn't trying to be cruel. He's trying to educate Marcelo in the ways of the real world, the world he's been able to hide from for the past seventeen years.

But the real world is full of traps and pitfalls even for the people who spend all their time in it. Before the summer is out, Marcelo will discover that the good and evil exist together in ways that all his religious studying has never prepared him for, and that the only way to find the right path is by discovering where his own faltering steps lead him.

Although Marcelo is on the very high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, there's no doubt he's on that spectrum. He is a baby chick, newly hatched from the egg, but a chick who is painfully aware of how much he doesn't know. He has very little natural sense of others' emotions, deception, or other such ulterior motivation. Rather than using it to make him naive and bumbling, Stork has Marcelo aware of that deficit and consciously attempting to work out what other people are thinking and feeling. Some things, such as Jasmine's resentment over Marcelo's presence, are obvious to us but take a great deal of sussing out on his part. Others, such as Wendell's hidden motivations, are less clear to anybody. As a reader, it forced me to look at everyone more carefully. What were they hiding? What were they lying about?

Overall, this is a novel about moral choices, and how difficult it can be when the right choice may hurt people you love. Marcelo struggles most with the revelation that his father has made and continues to make morally suspect choices, and yet he's not a villain.

The Holmeses are almost cartoonishly bad, but they do have real power that can be wielded against the people Marcelo cares about, and in a novel where simply distinguishing good from evil is a skill to be learned along the way, more complexity in the overt villains might have muddied the waters.

One element that I loved is that Marcelo and his family are Latino, but that is simply the way they are. The question of ethnicity comes up in one discussion with the pompous Wendell Holmes, and the family background is touched on every now and then, but it's not central to the novel. Nobody's trying to either suppress or get in touch with their heritage in this novel, and it's not about the Nice Brown People vs. the Evil White People. Stork reflects a world more complex than that.

I didn't feel as if the second half of the book was quite as strong as the first, but overall this was at least as good as advertised, if not better. For a novel with such a unique protagonist, Marcelo in the Real World illuminates a painfully familiar experience for everyone.

This review is part of Color Online's Color Me Brown challenge.