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