Saturday, February 28, 2009

Book Review: Genesis Alpha by Rune Michaels

Book: Genesis Alpha
Author: Rune Michaels
Published: 2007

Josh has always known that he and Max are more than just brothers. Josh was conceived to save Max's life. They're special. They're a part of each other. He knows his brother best of anybody in the world.

But now Max is accused of a horrific murder. He's innocent, of course, and it's all just a mistake. Except it may not be. When Josh meets the sister of the murdered girl, the evidence mounts until he has no option but to realize that the brother he thought he knew inside-out is a dark and twisted stranger. Now Josh is haunted by the most frightening question of all.

If Max is a murderer, than what does that make him?

Rune Michaels takes a subject already fraught with turmoil, sibling relationships, and adds layer upon layer to it until it becomes a rumination on the very nature and origin of evil. Luckily, the layers never topple over under their own weight. In spite of the quagmire of ethical, emotional, and moral issues at play, this is actually a fast-paced novel that will keep kids turning pages.

One of the most fascinating characters for me was Rachel, the sister of the murdered girl. Storywise, she works in all sorts of interesting ways. Her relationship with her sister mirrors that of Josh's with Max. In addition, she is at Josh's mercy in the same way that Karen was at Max's--yet she is safe, showing that for all Josh's worries, he is not his brother and never could be. And simply put, her pain is raw and compelling. Although an antagonist, she is also Josh's ally and guide as they both wrestle with the pain of losing an adored sibling in very different ways.

I'm going to turn to Albus Dumbledore's immortal words. "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are." This is a book about a boy discovering the terrible truth of those words for himself.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Twitterpated Authors

I recently got sucked into the gigantic group addiction that is known as Twitter. (My name on there is mosylu, in case any of you guys are interested.)

Sheila Ruth recently posted a link to a list of children's and YA authors on Twitter. It's not totally up-to-date yet, but you can apparently submit names, so I have hopes it will grow.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lisa Yee Interview with PW

I've enjoyed Lisa Yee ever since reading the Millie Trillie, otherwise known as Millicent Min, Girl Genius, and its two parallel books Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time and So Totally Emily Ebers. Her blog is worth checking out as well.

Her newest book, Absolutely Maybe, moves into YA territory, and PW sat down with her to get the skinny on that. Favorite quote on her misspent youth:
I never caused my parents a problem, mostly because I never got caught doing anything wrong. Everyone thought, “Oh, she’s an honor student, she couldn’t have done that.”
Bwaha! Enjoy, kiddies.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Savvy at the Movies!

I haven't read Ingrid Law's Savvy yet, but I've heard enough to be pretty excited by the news that Walden Media is turning it into a movie due out in 2010.

I found that news in the first paragraph of a lengthy article about how Walden is working closely enough with HarperCollins to get their own imprint, Walden Pond Press. Naturally, anything that goes through WPP has the potential to become a Walden flick.

Ordinarily you'd get a lot of wailing from me about Hollywood encroaching on the publishing industry. But I like Walden's adaptations, which are generally well-written and close to the book. So I'll see how this turns out.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Age Lines

This one popped up in my Google Reader yesterday and made me think. How dare it. On a Monday, yet.

In a review of a book called The Local News by Miriam Gershow, the reviewer mentions asking another YA author (Blake Nelson) about his definition of the YA novel.
In the spirit of casual conversation he said, "Anything with a teenage protagonist. Anything."
Ah. Beg to differ. Plead, actually.

Now granted, it was casual conversation. You can't expect airtight arguments over coffee or pedeconferencing down the street. But I feel as if that's just too simple. By that definition, David Copperfield and Great Expectations are both teen books because David and Pip go through the teenage years in the course of the novel. Yes, we make teens read them. But are they teen books? I don't think so.

Betraying my soft white underbelly (what do you expect, it's winter), I have to admit that I myself have no good definition for YA. Teenage protagonists do dominate. Prominent themes include coming of age, identity, relationships (especially first relationships). But does that mean you can throw all that in a pot and call anything that gets ladled out a teen book? I don't know.

Tell me what you think.

Monday, February 23, 2009

AuthorsNow! Online

Here's a link that'll be handy to teachers and librarians: AuthorsNow! bills itself as "The Internet’s Largest Collaboration of Debut Children’s and Teen Book Authors and Illustrators." Pretty keen.

My favorite part? Being able to narrow down authors by age group, geographic location, speaking availability, and a number of other factors. Very nice.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Moribito Interview


I have Moribito: Guardian Of The Spirit sitting on my shelf, waiting patiently for me to read it. On the same day I took it home, I found this interview with Cheryl Klein, who worked with the author and the translator. She talks about issues of translation and even mentions the kidlitosphere! Woo!

It's a PDF, so you'll have to scroll down a tad, but you'll find it on page 5.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Book Review: Madapple by Christine Meldrum

Book: Madapple
Author: Christina Meldrum
Published: 2008

Aslaug Hellig is on trial for her life, accused of murdering her mother and later her aunt and cousin. That’s not what happened. She knows it’s not. But what did?

It’s only the latest in a series of unanswered (and possibly unanswerable) questions that construct her life and identity. Was she truly a virgin birth, as her mother and cousin claim? Who is the father of her own miraculous child? What do her aunt, Sara, and her cousins Susanne and Rune truly want of her, or think of her?

What is real? What is the truth? And where do they diverge?

Although we covered the concept of an unreliable narrator in my senior-year literary theory class, this was the first time I’ve ever really doubted a narrator on my own. I tend to take things at face value, and yet Meldrum’s story not only encourages, it forces you to question the reality of the words on the page.

The only thing that didn’t completely work for me was the climax of the trial. For me, the character who spurred it hadn’t been fleshed out enough to create a really tense or satisfying climax. However, that’s a small quibble, since aforesaid character is not Aslaug herself, nor anyone else really central to the story.

Moving back and forth between dispassionate trial transcripts and Aslaug’s dreamy, introspective narration, Christine Meldrum weaves a story that will have you questioning everything.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Glee #3

I'm contemplating moving the Glee to another day of the week. I've had a hard time getting it out on Friday lately (although to be fair, lately I've had a terrible time getting any blogging done at all). What do you think? Sunday Glee?
  • First up is the future of the book, as envisioned by Kyle Bean and passed along by Bookshelves of Doom. It's pretty neat, but can you take notes in the margin?
  • I'm always a little wary of book-to-movie adaptations, but "Coraline" seems to be a winner. At the moment, it's got an 87 rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty darn good.
  • Presenting Lenore is podcasting! If you love YA, stop on by and have a listen to the Read Carpet.
  • Oh, I like this. I do, I do.
  • In more Coraline movie stuff, drop on by one of my favorite webcomics, HijiNKS Ensue. While it's usually a more adult-oriented comic, every so often the pop culture commentary will overlap into kidlit territory. I find it funny that the girl compares it to the Twilight Zone instead of a kids' movie. Who does she think watched those the most?
That's all for now!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Belated Congratulations to Cybils Winners!

I had a busy weekend (Saturday in particular was a day I think I should have just slept through) so it's only now that I'm getting the chance to say:

Congrats to all you Cybils winners!

Especially the winner of "my" category, Fiction Picture Books, which was Bob Graham's beautiful How to Heal a Broken Wing. Watch this space for a review coming soon, and reviews of the other Cybils books. I won't promise reviews for all, but I've got at least a few half-written.

I've been a Cybils judge for two years now, in different categories, and both years it was a blast talking about the different books and debating strengths and weaknesses. It always reminds me why I love not only blogging but being a part of the kidlitosphere, sharing my odd little passion with other people. Thank you, everybody, and I'll be here again next year.

Vampire TV Alert

Apparently, 'tis the season to make money off vampires. They're adapting L.J. Smith's The Secret Circle into a TV series for the CW. Hmmmm.

I never read this series, but I do remember the way my classmates snatched them up at library time. Maybe that's why I never read them. At that age, I was firmly anti-crowd.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Book Review: Wake by Lisa McMann

Book: Wake
Author: Lisa McMann
Published: 2008

Ever since childhood, Janie’s had bad dreams. Not her own. Other people’s. If someone’s sleeping around her, she gets sucked into their dreamworld. She’s seen more naked-in-school dreams, sexual fantasies, and trauma-fueled nightmares than she can count. At least the dreamers don’t remember seeing her in their dreams once they awaken--small mercies.

Then she meets Miss Stubin, a resident at the nursing home where she works, and realizes that she’s not alone with this curse. At the same time, she gets pulled into classmate Cabel’s horrifying nightmare, but discovers that she can actually help him change the course of events and lay it to rest.

Is it possible this curse is a gift in disguise?

This was one of those two AM, can’t-put-it-down books. I kept thinking that I should go to sleep, but fell victim to one-more-page until I turned the last one. McMann’s prose is short and choppy, often using sentence fragments, but strangely enough, the narrative as a whole flows so smoothly and strongly that you’re drawn in like Janie into another person’s dream.

I’m also a sucker for a good romantic subplot, and what made this one particularly interesting is that while Janie learns some of Cabel’s deeply buried secrets early on, he keeps others longer, and for good reasons. After reading the sequel’s blurb on Lisa McMann’s website, I have the feeling there are things we still don’t know about Cabel, which is a pretty neat trick considering how emotionally intimate a relationship is when you dream together.

I do have a minor bone to pick with the publishing house. The blurb on the back made it seem as if the story was going in a different direction, a much more horror/thriller direction. While it’s a great hook, it’s also deceptive and may turn off the kids who would really like the book that’s inside the covers. But overall, I’d hand this book to any fan of the paranormal.

The end does leave you hanging a little, but the sequel, Fade, is out now and the third in the trilogy, Gone, is due out February 2010.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Tripods Are Coming

. . . to the silver screen, anyway. Did that freak you out? I'll admit it, a little shiver went down my spine.

I vividly remember reading that series around the age of twelve or thirteen. For some reason, the thing that sticks in my head was that not only were people mind-controlled (by means of a mesh cap applied by the Tripods in the early teen years), but even the uncapped kids were brainwashed into believing that the cap was a rite of passage, a sign of adulthood. Talk about efficient control of the masses. Yikes.


From School Library Journal comes an article about that shaky line between selection and censorship for librarians buying books. To put it another way, the line between, "My library doesn't need this book," and "I don't need the grief this book will bring me."

It's good stuff--thought-provoking for anyone who's ever had to decide whether to keep or chuck a book, or even to order it at all. Teen books especially suffer from this, as librarians decide that a book is too mature for the kids or too risky for the community or even that it goes against their personal beliefs.

The exciting part, even in a Very Serious Article? The Cybils got mentioned! Last year's YA winner, Barry Lyga's Boy Toy, is discussed as an example of a book that didn't get to kids because librarians simply didn't order it. I'm doubly excited because I was on the YA committee that year. Feels kinda awesome, I must say.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Luv is in the Air

Fine, okay, I know V-Day isn't until Saturday. But you should still be prepared with this list of teen romances from Donna Freitas. Display time!

I am a sop from way back. I was reading historical romance novels at twelve (and still do, in between kids and teen books), and that made me quite the conneisseur of (fictional) relationships. I've read a lot of teen books with romantic subplots, but it takes something special to make me smile and say, "Yeah, they're meant for each other." They've got to be good, strong, imperfect characters who make each other better. Here are some of my personal favorites.

Eugenides and Attolia - The Queen of Attolia (The Queen's Thief, Book 2) by Megan Whalen Turner (And there's a scene in the sequel that is quite frankly Made of Hot.)
Harry and Corlath - The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
Will and Kate - Perfect You by Elizabeth Scott
Katsa and Po - Graceling by Kristin Cashore
George and Beatrice - The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison

And if you love the sweet, sweet mush as I do but get annoyed at the less-than-satisfying "romances" in the teen section, there's a new blogger out there in bloglandia doing the work for us. Ana over at Young Adult Romance Reviews not only features teen books with love stories, but breaks it down for those who love the romance. How much is there? How physical is it? How satisfying is it? (As a romance, you sick puppy!) She seems to be posting pretty steadily, and I hope she keeps it up.

Anyway, that's it for me. What are some of your favorite romantic books?

The Books That Changed Your Life

From the Detroit News, an article that asks, "What are the books that really changed your life?" and answers, "Probably a children's book." Further quotage
It's not that children's books are pure entertainment, innocent of any didactic goal — what grown-ups enviously call "Reading for Fun." On the contrary, the reading we do as children may be more serious than any reading we'll ever do again. Books for children and young people are unashamedly prescriptive: They're written, at least in part, to teach us what the world is like, how people are, and how we should behave — as my colleague Megan Kelso (The Squirrel Mother) puts it, "How to be a human being."
He waxes a bit rhapsodic about the Wholesome Lessons for the Kiddies in children's books, but I think he's got some points in there. And of course, it's nice to see some respect for the literature.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

John Green on Reader Appeal

John Green posted at his blog about reader appeal, and how conventional wisdom regarding teen books may not be quite bang on the mark. He then quotes some surprising statistics, and winds it all up by saying,
But none of this really distracts from what I'm trying to argue, which is that a LOT of teens REALLY LIKE the books that many people presume teens won't like, and that a lot of young people have more enjoyable reading experiences with ambitious work than they do with books that pander to their dreams and desires.
Of course, that's always been one of the challenges of an adult working with kids and teens, and something so unpredictable and individual as that kid's taste in books. We can only assume what kids will like, based on our own memories of childhood and our impression of the individual kid we're working with (which is about 1% of what's really going on inside their head anyway). I've settled on a professional philosophy of, "it's a crapshoot and they're gonna surprise you."

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Book Review: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

Book: Cracked Up to Be
Author: Courtney Summers
Published: 2008

Parker Fadley was once the perfect student, the perfect cheerleading captain, the perfect girlfriend. Now she’s a perfect wreck. Her once-Honor-Roll grades have tanked, she has to see the school counselor every week, and her parents have imposed a seven-thirty curfew.

Geez, you drink an entire bottle of vodka and chase it with a container of sleeping pills one time and nobody ever lets you forget it.

Parents, administrators, ex-friends, even her ex-boyfriend--nobody knows quite how to account for this sudden nosedive, except Parker herself. And she’s not telling, because it’s all her fault. She doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. She keeps everyone at arms-length with a combination of stunning bitchiness and outrageous behavior. But now there’s a new kid at school, Jake, who’s not put off by withering sarcasm or outright disdain.

How can Parker convince him that she’s not worth his time? Because the thing is, she’s starting to doubt it herself.

A lot of people have compared this novel to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, and I saw the similarities too. But Parker is a very different character. She lashes out, using words as defense in exactly the opposite way from Melinda. The only way Parker could be more self-destructive is if she were actually mid-air after jumping off a cliff. She doesn’t want to be saved. She knows she doesn’t deserve it. The terrible thing that happened is all her fault.

In spite of that, Parker is hilarious. You know she’s a mess, but she’s making you snort with glee so often that you kind of forget that.

Her perfectionism has led her to believe that she not only has to control everything, she is responsible for everything that goes wrong in her life. Now this enormous and awful thing has happened, she’s in pieces and doesn’t know how to rebuild. Summers carefully and slowly reveals the depths of Parker’s despair and simultaneously the events that led to them. It’s not what you think.

Cracked Up to Be is a wowzer of a first novel, and Parker is the kind of character that makes you forget someone had to think her up. She’s as raw and dangerous as a power line in the road, and so real you feel like it’s possible to reach into the book and slap her upside the head like you so badly want to. Good show, Courtney Summers. Keep it up.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday Glee #2

It's an all-Twilight-mocking Friday Glee this week. If you worship at the Altar of Edward, do yourself a favor and just skip this one.
  • Twilight as performed by bunnies in thirty seconds. Yes!
  • Oh dear god. As if the Bella Womb wasn't enough in itself, there's an itty-bitty offspring within. I have to go lie down and whimper now. Thanks a lot, Bookshelves of Doom.
  • Zee Says posted a High School Musical/Twilight parody from YouTube.

That's all for today. Don't send your therapists' bills to me if you click through that second link.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Prepping the Canon

Over at the Guardian, Tim Martin discusses the possibility of a children's literature canon. He offers some title suggestions, but I wonder whether we need one at all.

There are always the books we believe every kid should read, but that tends to fluctuate wildly from person to person. Some of us can't stand the idea that a child hasn't read The Secret Garden, and others believe it's a requirement for graduating elementary school that a kid reads Charlotte's Web.

This is a subject that comes up every now and then. The only benefit I can see is that a canon might lend the study of children's lit some respect in academic circles. On the other hand, maybe not. Canon is becoming something of a dirty word in literary criticism these days.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Graveyard Movie

You probably noticed it if you watched the interview on "The Today Show," but The Graveyard Book is on its way to the silver screen, directed by Neil Jordan. I think that whole episode in the underground will be pretty cool visually, but I wonder how many of the standalone chapters in the first half are going to be cut to fit time. Oh well--cool anyway.

It's slated for release in 2011.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

BBYA 2009

The ALA just released their annual Best Books for Young Adults. I feel all cool because I've read or heard of nine out of the Top Ten BBYA.

Now I have to get my hot little hands on Joseph Monninger's Baby. Any of you guys read that one?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Various Awards Reactions

Today marks a week since the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced, which is more than enough time for everyone start the discussion. Here are some facets of that discussion:
  • Esme Raji Codell posts about the contradiction of the Coretta Scott King Award being restricted to African-American authors and illustrators.
  • The Guardian (a British newspaper!) ran an article about Neil Gaiman's win for The Graveyard Book, touting the difference between the reaction to his popular novel and quieter winners from the past years. However, someone on one of my lists pointed out that for all the discussion about The Graveyard Book's popularity, we seem to have forgotten that Neil Gaiman is already a mad popular adult author. Many of his fans well could have followed him into the wild realms of kids lit. How is this skewing our perception of kids reading it? Hmmmm.
  • Lisa Chellman jotted down her first thoughts on the winners. Like me, she is not surprised.
  • Over at the Cybils Blog, Brett crows that the kidlitosphere shares the ALA's opinion of many of the award winners, and notes which books made it onto both the ALA lists and the Cybils shortlists. So who's catching up to who, is my question?
  • The Today Show had its traditional nod toward the world of children's lit on the morning after the awards, running a mini-interview with Neil Gaiman and Beth Krommes. Wish I could embed it, but follow the link instead.
  • And I'm sure you all know that Just One More Book!! scored big, posting an interview with Neil Gaiman the day after his win. Wowzers, you guys. Check out the kidlitosphere's official podcast.
Of course, the discussion never really ends. Heck, we're still arguing about whether Secret of the Andes should have won over Charlotte's Web, and that was in 1953!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Reading Roundup January 2009

By the Numbers
Teen: 23
Tween: 8
Children: 10

Teen: Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
Tween: Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Children: Forever Rose by Hilary McKay

Because I Want To Awards
Best Biography in Verse: Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill (okay, you guys, I know it's kind of a specialized category, but I honestly read about three of 'em in a row.)
Most Fun for Puzzle Lovers: The Painted Circus by Wallace Edwards
Book with the Coolest Pre-teen Main Character: Moving Day (Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls) by Meg Cabot