Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday Twitterbits

Given that I'm getting an estimated seventy-eleven percent of my news from Twitter these days, I thought I'd start doing a roundup post instead of letting half of them expire of old age in my favorites column.

I'd like to add something that a co-worker recently pointed out--you don't actually have to have a TwitterID to use the service. You can drop by the web interface and search for any hashtag or topic you like, and follow what people are saying that way. Of course, you can't put in your own two cents, and everyone knows that's what's the most fun.
  • The Right Honorable Gregory K. Pincus (Esq.) has started co-hosting (with Bonnie Adamson) a Kidlit chat via Twitter at 9 o'clock eastern time (6 Pacific) on Tuesday evenings. This goes along with his poetry chats on Thursdays at the same time. I bet if you hurry, you can get over there before they start dancing on tables. The hashtags are #kidlitchat and #poetrychat, respectively. Just plug the appropriate one into the search box and keep refreshing.
  • Lisa McMann retweeted this from Simon and Schuster: You can read Cassandra Clare's City of Bones online for free. That's right. You do have to sign up for LivingSocial or Facebook's Visual Bookshelf, but it's still free. You heard it here . . . uh . . . third.
  • And this made me shriek aloud. Thanks, @interactiver. Thanks a lot.
That's it for now. Who are you following this week?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week is coming up!

Given that we all do this for free, I love the idea of BBAW. Add yourself to the grand list of bloggers and vote for your favorites! Nominations are open until August 15.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pants on Fire

The latest kerfuffle in the kidlitosphere centers around Justine Larbalestier's novel, Liar. Or more accurately, around the cover. Have a gander at the cover to your right.

Now read the description of the main character that the author herself gives on her blog:
Micah is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short.
Now look at the cover again. Erm . . . that's what you might call a fundamental disconnect.

There have been kerfuffles before, but this time even PW caught wind of it. They went asking around and got this shriek-worthy quote:
“The entire premise of this book is about a compulsive liar,” said Melanie Cecka, publishing director of Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA and Walker Books for Young Readers, who worked on Liar. “Of all the things you’re going to choose to believe of her, you’re going to choose to believe she was telling the truth about race?”
In a word? YES. There are unreliable narrators and then there's just a big ol' mess where nothing hangs together. What makes unreliable narrators so tricky for readers is that there's truth and lies all mixed together. If you make it all lies, then, well, let Justine tell you:
One of the most upsetting impacts of the cover is that it’s led readers to question everything about Micah: If she doesn’t look anything like the girl on the cover maybe nothing she says is true. At which point the entire book, and all my hard work, crumbles.
She goes on to position this misstep in a long history of white-washing covers and ghettoizing black fiction because "black fiction doesn't sell," and just why that perception doesn't hang together.

If you want to explore this even deeper, check out Jen Robinson's roundup or this post at BoingBoing, more particularly the comments. There's one comment that examines and deconstructs all those prior like a debate captain at a kindergarten roundup.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Book Review: Audrey Wait! by Robin Benway

Book: Audrey, Wait!
Author: Robin Benway
Published: 2008

When Audrey broke up with Evan, she thought that was the end of it. But then he wrote a song about it. And then it got picked up by local radio stations. Then national. Then international. Then he's a bona fide celebrity, and to Audrey's dismay, so is she.

Audrey just wanted a normal life, hanging out with her best friend, going to awesome concerts, and building a new relationship with the adorkable James. But fame is hungry, and Audrey can only hide from it for so long before it devours her--if she lets it.

You're probably nodding along and going, "Yeah, yeah, everybody's talked about this book already. What can you tell me new about it?" Not much, admittedly. This was last year's Red Hot of the Red Hots. I can only tell you what I loved about it, which is what this blog is all about anyway.

This book is the furthest extension of the worst kind of breakup, where everyone's on your ex's side, and you just want to move on with your life but oh, my god, nobody will stop talking about it. Audrey is cast as the villainess and the slut by celebrity-culture America, when we know that it takes two to make or break a relationship.

Audrey and her friends are smart and sarcastic, but not brittle. They care about each other, even when they screw up--and in their own ways, everyone screws up at least once.

I loved Audrey, Wait!, and I'm sending Benway good vibes for her next one. Give this book to music lovers, breakup survivors, and anybody who likes a smart, funny story about kids who break up, mess up, and get up again.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Book Review: Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve

Book: Here Lies Arthur
Author: Philip Reeve
Published: 2008

The first time Gwyna sees Arthur, King of the Britons, Dux Bellorum, he's just ravaged her home and burnt it to the ground. She escapes by diving into a frozen stream, but it's just her luck that the person who fishes her out is none other than Myrddin, Arthur's bard, teller of stories and worker of magics. He recruits Gwyna to play lady of the lake for him, and so another legend is born.

When this role is done, Myrddin transforms Gwyna into Gwyn, his servant, and together they follow Arthur around Britain. In the process, Gwyna sees both the man Arthur, a mere dime-a-dozen warlord, and the legend Myrddin is spinning in order to turn him into King of the Britons, and how far apart they lie.

Every so often, an author's preoccupations are laid right out there on the page, and that's the case with Here Lies Arthur. If we're lucky, they've got the chops to make an absorbing story out of it. In this novel, Reeve thoroughly explores the power of storytelling to seduce and create. He makes it clear that Arthur is hardly the stuff of legend as he is, and that it's largely Myrrdin's stories that made him into the mighty, benevolent king. Yet this is no cynical political wheeling-dealing, or at least not totally. Myrddin truly believes that Arthur has the power to unite the mess of scrabbling fiefdoms against the Saxons, and he uses his stories as a tool. The stories themselves become succor for the Britons, for Arthur's men, even for Arthur himself. In spite of her cynicism, Gwyna herself begins spinning tales for herself and others by the end.

One of the more subtle but no less interesting themes is the way that Gwyna and another character, Peredur, slide in between gender roles. In a way, it's just another story--they encounter times and places when being male is too dangerous or simply doesn't fit, and so they become female, or vice versa. Just as Gwyna is ever aware of the human man at the center of the legend, she retains her identity no matter what clothes she wears.

If you enjoy Arthurian tales already, it's fun to play spot-the-roots. Reeve includes a note at the end that mentions a few of the harder connections, but sharp-eyed readers will see the seeds that become the Round Table and other enduring tales.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Horrible, Horrible Glee

This week, I'm cementing my position in at least the fourth circle of hell.
  • I can't take credit for this list, but I wish I could: 50 Reasons No One Wants to Publish Your First Book, from Bookgasm. Especially numbers 6, 25 and 45. And 4, 5, and 50 deserve special mention as well. Mark this one with a star and hide it away to read at home, because it's so very, very NSFW. Tweeted by SmartBitches.
  • You've heard of the Bulwer-Lytton award for bad writing, right? Seems they left out the Children's category this year. Fie upon you, gentlemen and ladies. Fie, I say! But never fear. From Cheryl Klein (by way of a Tweet from Gregory K. Pincus) comes this challenge to cook up your own awful children's writing. Can you compete with the utterly delicious submissions already in the comments?
  • Well, okay, this one probably won't send me to hell, unless you believe that anything Harry-Potter-related consigns one to the flames. The blog Cake Wrecks marked the release of the Half-Blood Prince movie with a magical Sunday Sweets. I'm told there's some acrimony in the comments, but I just drooled over the cakes.
  • Oh, lord, I almost forgot the TwiLOL. How did I survive before this existed in my life? (Answer: prty well akshuly.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Grownups Who Read YA

Well, blow me down--an article about adults reading YA fiction that's actually respectful of the people and the genre. Actually, it's not an article, but an answer in an advice column. Cynthia Crossen of the Wall Street Journal recommends YA novels for an 80-year-old woman who's lost her taste for adult fiction.

Crossen gives the "kiddie books" appellation a miss in favor of sentences like this one:
Good YA is not dumbed-down adult fare; it’s literature that doesn’t waste a breath.
Later on, she staunchly defends YA against allegations of being minor-league. Cynthia, don't take this the wrong way, but I think I love you.

And folks, don't miss the comments.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wizards vs. Vampires in Wall Street Journal

Someone on the Child_Lit list pointed me at this one--an article in the Wall Street Journal comparing Harry Potter and Twilight, and examining the competing popularity of both franchises.

Mostly they focus on the movies. Both studios are very careful not to step on each others' toes while acknowledging the prominence of the other. It's all very polite.

Rather hilariously, WSJ claims that the Twilight adaptation was an overnight success when it hit theaters last November. Either someone is unclear on the exact definition of "overnight success" or they're ignoring the raging popularity of the novel that led it to be adapted in the first place. Um, right, guys.

Wisely, the article doesn't attempt a literary comparison of the two series, probably because they didn't want sixty-seven pages of comments reading, "OMG AVADA KEDAVRA!" or "I'm biting you right now."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Garth Williams Article

Remember Garth "Charlotte's Web/Little House/Stuart Little Illustrator" Williams? Well, now you do. This article talks about all those books and more, including the exhaustive research and work Williams put into his illustration.
Williams then embarked on a long, ten day driving expedition along the same trail that the Ingalls family had taken, and eventually re-located the place on the prairie where the Ingalls house had once stood. The trip culminated in a search along the riverbank along Plum Creek where the family had built their sod house home, so long ago.
Zowie. I'm kind of intimidated now.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bloggers and the FTC

If ever you need to get ahold of MotherReader, just look for her on the ball, cuz that's where she is at all times. Bloggers should check out this post from her regarding the FTC's attention to tactics of "word of mouth" companies, and how this could be stretched to include book bloggers.

Now, none of us in the kidlitosphere are here to make money. But we do get review copies from publishers and authors--some of us more than others. We do pursue relationships with publishers and authors--again, some of us more than others. Certain books have been reviewed all over the kidlitosphere thanks mostly to incredibly energetic publicity.

Of course, we can and do post negative reviews. But as author Shannon Hale recently pointed out, even negative reviews are better than nothing, in terms of publicity.

There's a grey area there, one that we should probably try to define before somebody starts to define it for us. What are your thoughts?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Book Review: Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten

Book: Wherever Nina Lies
Author: Lynn Weingarten
Published: 2009

Nina was the kind of girl who captivated everyone, especially her own younger sister. Ever since her sister disappeared, Ellie has floated through life, clinging to the belief that one day she will know what happened. But now, two years later, everyone but Ellie has stopped believing that Nina will ever return.

When Ellie finds one of her sister's sketches in a box of junk at a second-hand shop, nobody believes her that this is The Clue--the one that will eventually lead to Nina, to how and why. The only one willing to help her is a boy she's just met. Together, they set off cross-country, following a tenuous trail of clues in a quest for answers--even the answers Ellie might not want to hear.

Okay, I admit it. I read the end, so I knew the great twist. (You think I'm going to tell you? Pft!) But I have to say that knowing it didn't weaken the story, except that I read a number of things differently. It'll be a great read both times.

A great deal of the plot hinges on unlikely coincidences--Ellie happening to look at the right ad on a lamppost while recalling the right memory, for instance. For me, this contributed hugely to the charm of the book. There's something quixotic about their tenuous trail through tattoo parlors and underground indie concerts. But if you need to be able to bounce a quarter off your plots, this may not be the book for you.

It may seem like a contradiction in terms that the process of following the trail of an overshadowing sibling will teach a young woman exactly who she is, but that's just what happens in Wherever Nina Lies, with captivating results.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

BBYA Goes Bye-Bye?

(I'm going to pre-emptively apologize for any inaccuracies or oversights made in this post. The first thing I did this morning was remove a Bugzilla from the children's area, and the day kinda went from there. But I wanted to post my thoughts on this hot topic.)

Currently, there's a bit of a kerfuffle around the news that YALSA may be moving away from their longtime Best Books for Young Adults list (picked by YALSA members) and toward a more reader's-choice model.


Truly, I fear that the first four books on the list will be the Twilight series. This is not more of my good-natured Twilight bashing. I have nothing against kids reading these books; really, I don't. It's the very point that every-damn-one is reading them that gives me pause.

Surely the purpose of these Best Books lists is to expose librarians and teachers (and through them, the kids) to the really excellent books they might not be aware of. Nobody's unaware of the popular books. That's the whole point of being popular. Alix Flinn posts a wonderful discussion of popularity contests in publishing and the pitfalls of same in today's glutted YA market.

Now, the YALSA memo that Flinn linked to doesn't mention doing away with the current BBYA totally, although it does state that YALSA members aren't satisfied with the list as it is. They cite issues of list currency and workload for the BBYA deciders--both concerns I can get behind. Even I'm a little floored by the amount of work that BBYA folks have to put in. It also doesn't say that the contributors to the readers' choice list will be thrown wide open--only to YALSA members. People who presumably work around a lot of teen books and a lot of teens every day.

Still a lot of folks in the kidlit arena are pretty concerned.

May I suggest? The Cybils works in a readers' choice/judging format and the results for the past three years have been pretty spiffy. Perhaps a combination would work best. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Quitting is for the Weak

Over at YAnnabe, Kelly posts 7 Tips for Quitting a Book. Yes, my children. Quitting. It's okay.

When it comes to books, a lot of people seem to feel that it reflects on them morally if they don't finish every book they start. As if they're Bad People because they couldn't make it through a book. As if books, unlike movies and TV shows and webpages, don't vary wildly in their quality and content. No, you must Finish the Book. Otherwise you are weak. Weak! They tell their kids the same thing, and what's the result? Reading is a chore. Moooo-ooom, don't make me reeeeeeead. It goes hand in hand with the idea that books are Good For You, like broccoli.

I quit eating broccoli a long time ago.

Meg Cabot occasionally reiterates her own personal motto that quitters actually do win, because they've tried it, discovered that it wasn't for them, and gone on to something better. Awesome.

I recently computerized my TBR list on LibraryThing and was amazed that I have over 1500 books on my list that I want to read. Granted, many of them are picture books, and I read fast, but . . . 1500?! And with the number of blogs I read, more gets added than subtracted. I've had a fifty-page rule for years, but it's only been recently that I even started weeding my TBR list, glancing at plot summaries and reviews to decide whether I really want to spend my reading time on this book, I mean really.

I've quit a book for all sorts of reasons--"who really talks like that?" dialogue, "as you know, Bob" infodumps, plots with all the twistiness of a block of wood. A few months back, I quit a book because the romantic interest was too damn perfect. (Author, please. He's a teenage boy. He can make a fart joke or something. It's allowed.)

What's your personal tipping point?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Newsweek, I'm Gonna Kick Your Butt

So last week, Newsweek did a gathering of nine authors' favorite books in their own genre. I was nodding along--Melissa Gilbert on Hollywood memoirs, Bob Woodward on political scandal, Jenna Bush on children's books--

*sound of needle screeching across record*

Jenna Bush?

Undoubtedly they were going for a little star power, a recognizable name. We all know Bob Woodward knows his political scandals, after all. But Jenna Bush? Granted, she's not a totally moronic choice. She did write a nonfiction YA book (more on the fundamental difference between kids and YA later) and is currently a sixth-grade teacher. So presumably she has a waving acquaintance with children's lit. But seriously, Newsweek, with all the amazing children's authors out there, this was the best you could do?

The list itself is perfectly serviceable, hard to disagree with, but the kind of thing you would find on any summer required-reading list.

Who would you have picked instead? And if they'd picked you, what would your list have looked like?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Chaos Walking Prequel Story!

Bless his little heart, Patrick Ness wrote a prequel story to The Knife of Never Letting Go and posted on the Booktrust website for all of us. You can read it without having read the book first--it spoils only a very little bit. But I'd still read Knife first.

Thanks to the adbooks listserv for the link.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Book Review: Fact of Life #31 by Denise Vega

Book: Fact of Life #31
Author: Denise Vega
Published: 2008

Kat Flynn is sick of her job in a home-birth midwife's office. Her boss, Abra, never listens to a word she says and delivers improving lectures constantly. After a disastrous episode at a birth, Kat's not even being allowed to think about helping out at deliveries anymore. She's got to quit. Too bad her boss is also her mom.

Then Kat finds out that the most popular girl in school is pregnant. Now Libby Giles is hanging around constantly, bonding with Abra in a way Kat's never been able to manage. To Kat's surprise and resentment, she finds that she can't exactly hate Libby. Under the popular gloss, there's a girl who's just as confused and confusing as Kat herself.

In fact, she's realizing that a lot of her peers, girl and boy, popular and pitiful, are more than they seem. But the one person whose outer shell she can't seem to pierce is her own mother. As Libby gets closer and closer to delivery, the gulf between Kat and Abra widens until it seems impossible that they'll ever understand each other.

From the description, I thought this was going to be a much fluffier book. It's fun, but underneath there were more serious themes of Kat growing into herself and her own abilities, as well as coming to understand the complexities of other people underneath their labels.

What I loved about this book was the way that Denise Vega told the whole story. In places where other authors would have stopped (the adorable crush finally asks pining girl out, jerky boyfriend is roundly dumped for being, y'know, a jerk, daughter finally tells her mother what she thinks), Vega went on, taking us through overlapping series of character and relationship arcs that wind up telling a much more complete story.

Also, Kat is quirky, but not in that, "Look at me, I am sooooo quirky!" way. She does yoga in the halls and genuinely doesn't take offense at the way people snicker and mock. At the same time, she's not the Amazing Zen Girl. She gets mad and scared and confused about her feelings. You can see how much she is like her mom, and how unlike, so that their constant battles ring true as the normal push-pull of a mother and her teenage daughter.

Try this one for a novel about a young woman finding her way into her own skin.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Varigated Glee

It's Friday again, which means that we need more glee!
  • Jen Robinson Tweeted this one: You Know You're a Book Blogger When . . . Um. Guilty.
  • Doubtless you've heard of the uproar over Francesca Lia Block's Baby Be-Bop and one Wisconsin group's determination to see it burn. A teen reacts, most marvelously. Thanks to Liz Burns for the informative Tweet.
  • And it just wouldn't be a Friday Glee post without some manner of Twilight bashing. But this . . . is just fantabulous.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Reading Roundup June 2009

By the Numbers
Teen: 24
Tween: 18
Children: 11

Teen: TIE: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness AND Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Tween: Lucky by Rachel Vail
Children: Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman

Because I Want To Awards
Most Constant Laughs: Diary of a Chav/Diva Without a Cause by Grace Dent
Most Thought-Provoking: Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve
Sorry About the Cover, Author: A Difficult Boy by M.P. Barker
Great Kickstart: Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Worthy Successor: Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
Most Old-Fashioned: When the Sergeant Came Marching Home by Don Lemna