Saturday, February 27, 2010

Oh Yeah. It's On.

Are you ready to see children's books duke it out, Hunger-Games-style, to the bloody finish?


Then turn your eyes away, because School Library Journal's second annual Battle of the Kids' Books starts Monday. Who will win? Who will crawl away bleeding? Who will rise from the undead, summoned by the eldritch arts (otherwise known as audience votes)? Who knows?

Follow the bloodbath via Twitter or at the official Battle of the Kid's Books Blog. That is, the blog for the Battle of the Kids' Books. Because no way am I getting involved in battles with my fellow book bloggers. I'm not ashamed to admit I'm terrified of Mother Reader.

Thanks to Fuse #8 for the announcement.

ETA: to correct the name of the sponsor. Scholastic? Where did I get that from?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Any Sick Puppies Out There?

How did I forget to note this? Well, whatever the reason, I did, but now I'm cluing you in.

I love dystopic novels. The Hunger Games, The Knife of Never Letting Go, and all their grim and gloomy ilk just make me smile. Something about seeing just how badly humanity can screw up is entertaining to me, what can I say?

Apparently I'm not the only one, because Lenore of Presenting Lenore declared February to be the month of dystopias (dystopiae?). It's a whole month just about that genre, with books for all ages and even some author interviews in there.  Pretty awesome, and doubly awesome is that the books are rated from 1 to 5 Zombie Chickens, with accompanying hilarious clip art. Most excellent, Lenore. She also gave an interview of her own over at Po(sey) Sessions about Dystopian February, which is well worth checking out if you're unfamiliar with the genre or if you've ever wondered just why you're so attracted to it.

The nice thing about being so behindhand on passing this along is that you now have a great list of dystopic novels to add to your TBR list. So. Yeah. It was intentional. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

What's your current favorite novel about the downfall of humanity?

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Robin and Lisa Diva Reality Show!

Tucson isn't exactly a hotbed of author visits, at least not when the Tucson Festival of Books isn't afoot, but on the 20th, I got to see authors Lisa McMann and Robin Brande at a local Barnes and Noble.

Robin started off the festivities by noting that whatever they said about each other, they were not being secretly bitchy. Well, no more than usual. They promptly attempted to out-diva each other for the whole presentation, to the merriment of all. (We as a society don't use the word merriment nearly enough, don't you agree?)

Lisa started things off by talking about a couple of books upcoming now that the Wake trilogy is finished. Besides Gone, she has a standalone scheduled for early next year, called Cryer's Cross, described as a "paranormal thriller with a love story." Ooo.

She also read from a book called The Unwanteds, due out in the fall of 2011. It's a dystopia (already loving it) about a society that suppresses creativity and purges unwanted children at the age of 13. Uh-oh. Having heard the first scene, I really want it to be 2011 now!

Robin read a hilarious and pivotal scene from her most recent novel, Fat Cat. After some pressure from the audience, she told us that her next book would be called Parallelograms, about a girl who creates an interdimensional portal and meets her parallel universe self! (Gosh, that happened to me last week.) Now, either I wasn't fast enough on the iPod's keyboard or Robin never said, but I don't know when that'll be out.

After those hijinks, Lisa and Robin asked each other questions. Some of them were covered by the cone of silence, but we learned about their writing habits, their earliest attempts at writing, and how long it took for them to get published. In response to some questions from the audience, Robin and Lisa both talked about writing, the craft side and the business side.

To finish things off, they signed books and talked to fans and posed for divalicious photo ops. Thanks, ladies!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cybils Book Review: Candor by Pam Bachorz

Book: Candor
Author: Pam Bachorz
Published 2009
Source: ARC from author at KidlitCon

Like Dulac, Candor is the perfect place. The houses are spacious, the families are loving, and kids mind their parents. Just like the good old days, right? If the good old days had subliminal messages, embedding morals in everyone's brain. (We'll talk about the Donna Reed show some other time.) Oscar Banks isn't just a citizen of Candor, he's one of the founders. It was his dad's brainchild, right down to the subliminal messages hidden in the constantly-playing music. Oscar is a glowing example of all that Candor parents want their teens to be: bright, obedient, hard-working, clean in body and mind.

Well. Body, anyway.

Because Oscar Banks has a secret: for a fee, he'll smuggle rebellious teens out of Candor, right out from under his father's nose. He'll supply them with alternative subliminal messages that counteract the ones their parents are using on them. Then he'll get them out of town and far away from the parents who wanted to fix their imperfect child.

When he meets Candor's newest resident, Nia Silva, he just sees another possible client. Then he becomes fascinated with this tough, funny, artistic girl who'll do just about anything to make her parents unhappy. But--as Oscar knows only too well--Nia's only a few Messages away from becoming a perky pastel clone who'll use her pencil for math problems instead of drawing.

If he helps her escape Candor, she'll disappear from his life. If he doesn't, she'll just . . . disappear.

Out of everything intriguing about this book, I think Oscar takes the cake. He's not some activist, fighting the Man, or an idealist, fighting for his beliefs about personal choice and identity. He is instead deeply pragmatic: accepting that there is very little he can do about the situation in Candor and getting what personal benefit he can out of it. Because make no mistake, Oscar's not doing this out of the goodness of his heart. For him, it's a money-maker. He picks and chooses clients based not on how much he likes them or how egregiously their parents are making them change, but how much ready cash they have on hand. While he could probably get away, he doesn't, because for the moment it's more profitable to stay where he is.

It's also his way of self-preservation. Even though he's been exposed to the messages longer than any other teen in Candor, his secret keeps his inner self alive. Unlike the other kids, who've all been molded into the perfect, interchangeable teen, Oscar is himself. Self-involved, cynical, disdainful, manipulative, and greedy, but himself. Instead of the messages, it's Nia who changes him--or rather, his own feelings for Nia change him. By the end of the book, there's someone who's more important to him than Oscar. The ending, while clutch-at-your-face-worthy, is also the best way of showing how far Oscar has come and how much he's changed.

One of my favorite little details in the book was when Oscar burned a CD for a client with the message "I am worthy." That's all it was: "I am worthy." The effect of this message is startling: with only a few repetitions, the two people who listen to it revert dramatically back to their former selves, battling the Messages that have been chipping away at them since their arrival. Because isn't that what's really behind all the other Messages? "You are not good enough the way you are. You need to change. Good people do this. Good people are like this. If you want to be good, you'll change."

There are some loose ends in here, most notably the fate of Oscar's mother. We're simply told that she "left" and while I hoped for a little bit more to the story, it never came, which makes me wonder if the author was headed that way and the story changed on her.

It's a good thing this is sci-fi. Because this could never happen, right? A society could never willingly tell people all day long, "You need to look like a celebrity to be beautiful" or "you need to have gadgets to be happy" or "if you're a good person, you'll go along" or . . . oh. Never mind. This enormously thought-provoking novel will have kids asking, "Just how much is me and how much is the Message?"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Doormat McLoser, I am Unfriending You

Meet Doormat McLoser. She (or, more rarely, he) is a perfectly nice person, with many fine qualities, often including intelligence, compassion, and a devotion to a less-than-mainstream pastime, like the school newspaper, drama club, stamp collecting or playing the ukelele with her teeth. Unfortunately, she (or he) is also Unpopular. Oh, the angst of being Unpopular. Oh, the horror of sitting at the lunch table slightly closer to the garbage cans. Oh, the pain of being ignored in the hallways by all the People Who Matter. How she ever bear it?

She cannot! She will not! She will become Popular any way she can, no matter who she has to trample on or what she has to give up. It's all in the cause of Popularity!

To do this, she must befriend Glittery LaBeautiful. Everyone looooves Glittery LaBeautiful. She (or sometimes he) is rich, tall, thin (except for her C-cups), blond goddess who has perfect teeth, is a shoo-in for the valedictorian, and was accepted at an Ivy League school as an eighth-grader. She runs the school. Nothing is done without Glittery's say-so. She picks everything from the lunch menu to the spring musical. Ergo, the road to Popularity lies in Glittery's stiletto-heeled footsteps.

Unfortunately, Glittery isn't very nice. In fact, Glittery is a sociopath whose methods would make Hitler sit down with a notepad and pencil, and all her little cabal isn't much better. But Popularity is more important than self-respect, so Doormat will perform whatever wacky and degrading hijinks Glittery dreams up.

Eventually, the line is crossed, and Doormat discovers that her old friends (Awkward Dorkman and Nerdy Geekington III) are her True Friends, and that's all she needs. Oh, and remember Dreamy Boy Doormat Never Noticed Because He Was Just Too Geeky For Her? (You know he's there too, often if not always one of the True Friends.) Now that she thinks about it, Dreamy Boy is sooooo much cuter than the godlike quarterback she dated for about thirty seconds. Luckily for Doormat, Dreamy's just cuckoo for her Cocoa Puffs.

Then it's time for hugs, smoochies, and a vicious takedown of Glittery that utilizes all of Doormat and the True Friends' arcane skill set. That taken care of, everyone rides off into graduation and the glow of acquired self-respect and Glittery's humiliation. The End.

I can't take it any more.

I realize that popularity is a preoccupation bordering on obsession with many teenagers. I understand that in realistic YA fiction, this storyline is a trope bordering on a subgenre. I'm just sayin', I'm over it. No more. Please, God, no more.

I want to scream at Doormat. "For Chrissake, have some self-respect." I want to kick the True Friends for taking her back after she dumped them like the cafeteria's tuna-fish sandwich. I want to decapitate the  Dreamy Boy who may actually have less self-respect than Doormat. Barring decapitation, I want him just once to say, "Yeah, I did like you, but now I'm snogging this smart, confident girl over here who has never once felt the need to dress up like an ear of corn and swim in a vat of tomato sauce at the senior prom. Buh-bye!"

The only one I have no loathing for is Glittery LaBeautiful. Because sociopath she may be, but by God, she  owns it.

There are excellent books with this storyline. But all too often it's the same tired stuff masquerading as wacky hijinx and deeply felt lessons on self-respect, and I'm done. I'll look at the covers, I'll shelve the books, and I'll put them on display when called for. But as the Internet is my witness, I'm never reading one of them again.

This was going to be a tweet. Then it evolved into a Facebook status update (more characters, dontcha know.) Then, as I thought about it, I realized that my rage was too huge to contain in anything less than a full blog post. If you've made it this far, I commend you. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to weed my TBR list.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Congratulations to the Cybils Winners!

It's the day you've been waiting months for, the day we announce the winners of the 2009 Cybils!

Courtesy of the Cybils website, here are the winners:
Picture Book (Fiction)
All the World
by Liz Garton Scanlon; illustrated by Marla Frazee
Beach Lane Books
Nominated by: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Musical text and breathtaking illustrations capture a day in the life of children "from morning sun becomes noon blue" to "crickets, curtains, day is done." From a quiet beach, to a busy garden, to a rained-out park, the fun and work and disappointment are shared and acknowledged in a way that encourages reflection. Diversity is naturally woven into community life where family, friend and neighbor connections cross age, ethnicity, gender and roles, embracing our distinction and our unity. Young readers will love finding the small stories within the pictures or going back to look at the page before to find the "hint" of the landscape coming up on the next page. This charming, lovely book is a delight to read and share.

Picture Book (Non-Fiction)
The Day-Glo Brothers
by Chris Barton; illustrated by Tony Persiani
Nominated by: Cynthia Leitich Smith
It’s hard to imagine a world without Day-Glo’s shocking greens, blazing oranges and screaming yellows. But before World War II, those colors didn’t exist. After an accident in a ketchup factory derailed Bob Switzer’s hope to be a doctor, he and his brother Joe, who was interested in magic, set out to find a paint that glowed. Eventually, the Switzers did what nobody else had — they invented new colors. The war produced a need for fluorescent paint, and today it’s everywhere. The brothers’ invention allowed both to do what they wanted; save lives and dazzle crowds.

This book is the first on its topic, a result of original research from family interviews and newspaper clippings. Barton explains the science with a kid-friendly manner and an easy narrative style. Readers can relate to the brothers’ thwarted plans and celebrate their persistence. Persiani’s stylized art evolves with the story, from a dull gray to splashes of color to brilliant Day-Glo tones at the end.

Easy Reader
Watch Me Throw the Ball! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)
by Mo Willems
Nominated by: Melissa
The Elephant & Piggie series continues with another perfectly pitched early reader. The book is a conversation between two friends who speak in simple repetitive phrases about their ball throwing prowess. The illustrations are dynamic and vibrant, offering many clues to help readers decode the text. In just a few words, Willems creates two very distinct, likable characters. Everyone can relate to the central idea that taking joy in what we do is sometimes more important than outstanding achievement.

Early Chapter Book
Bad to the Bone (Down Girl and Sit) 
by Lucy Nolan; illustrated by Mike Reed
Marshall Cavendish Childrens Books
Nominated by: Jennifer Wharton
This dog’s eye view of the world is laugh-out-loud funny. The book is narrated by Down Girl, who has learned her name from how she is most often referred to by her master. Down Girl spends the book trying to teach her master, whom she calls "Rruff," lessons like the need for vigilance where cats and squirrels are concerned and that paying attention to your dog is more important than house painting. The combination of humor and distinctive voice in Nolan’s writing made this a winning book.

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors
by Joyce Sidman; illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Elizabeth Bird
Observation, discovery, connection . . . Red Sings From the Treetops embodies everything  poetry is meant to be. The vivid words of poet Joyce Sidman -- which are fresh even when writing about the oldest of concepts, color -- and the gloriously hue-soaked pictures of illustrator Pamela Zagarenski combine  to create a poetry book that is both thoughtful and exuberant. Readers can hunt for small details in the sweep of larger images and thrill to a-ha! moments of discovery. They can read the book as one full, circular story or as a series of individual, eye-opening poems. Either way, the beauty of this book will leave them feeling  connected to something larger than themselves.

Graphic Novel
The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook
by Eleanor Davis
Bloomsbury USA
Nominated by: Scope Notes
This book rose to the top of a strong selection of finalists because of the richness and variety of ways Davis engages the graphic novel format. This is a story that could not be told in any other form but  comics. Charts, diagrams, maps and lists all pour forth, creating a wealth of material for the reader to come back to and get lost in. The art is accomplished, with rich inks and a humorous line that captures the tongue-in-cheek sense of old-school adventure in the story. Of particular note are the characters, three very different kids who discover they have very similar interests in the fun, dramatic and loopy possibilities of not just science, but "Science!"

Fantasy & Science Fiction
Dreamdark: Silksinger (Faeries of Dreamdark)
by Laini Taylor
Putnam Juvenile
Nominated by: Melissa
The judges were blown away by the three-dimensional world-building, believable characterization, lyrical writing and non-stop adventure of this complex fantasy. Silksinger picks up where Blackbringer left off, as fairy champion Magpie fights to find the sleeping Djinn and restore them to their rightful places of power. We meet two new fairy heroes along the way, each with secrets of his or her own. Themes of friendship and betrayal are explored in a way that doesn't shy away from ambiguity or nastiness, while retaining strong appeal for middle grade readers. Although it is a sequel, Silksinger is satisfying on its own -- but why wouldn't you want to start with the first book in this compelling series?

Middle Grade Fiction
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: melissa
Chains is a novel with guts and heart and an unforgettable central character. It tells the story of two slave girls, Isabel and her sister Ruth, who are sold in the 1770s to a wealthy Loyalist family. They're taken to New York where Isabel gets swept into the intrigue of the Revolutionary War, becoming a spy for the rebels.

Anderson writes in such a way that both the characters and New York City at the time come vividly to life. The everyday nature of cruelty is realized, and what was not shocking then, will be to today's readers. From the opening moments straight through the streets of New York, Anderson has readers hoping and praying that Isabel will make it through. It is incredibly well researched, and the historical detail flows seamlessly, never feeling like a lesson. The opposite of dry fact, here is an unflinching look at a cruel time. Expect Isabel's story to grab onto you and hold tight till the end.

Cybils Awards For Young Adult Books

The Frog Scientist
by Pamela S. Turner; illustrated by Andy Comins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Laurie Thompson
The Frog Scientist covers the ongoing research of biologist Tyrone Hayes into the effects of atrazine on frogs. Atrazine is the most commonly used pesticide in the United States, but Hays has discovered that exposure to atrazine causes "some of the male frogs to develop into bizarre half-male, half-female frogs." His careful development, both in the lab and the wild, of experiments researching diminishing frog populations is an example of science at its best.

Author Pamela S. Turner shows the control Hayes and his assistants exert over their experiments so there can be no questions when their results are determined. For this real-world example of textbook standards alone, The Frog Scientist would be a winner. That Turner makes the biologist's very compelling personal story key to the book's narrative raises it above similar titles in the field. Teens will find the heavily illustrated volume visually appealing but more significantly be intrigued by this powerful example of significant science at work. It's nonfiction writing (and photography) at its best, and incredibly inspirational to boot.

Graphic Novel
Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation
by Tom Siddell
Archaia Press
Nominated by: Paradox
Strange happenings at a mysterious British boarding school involving magic. A talented student who seems to have unique and special abilities. And the dark past of the characters' parents has come back to haunt them all. These elements, which may on the surface seem so familiar, are brought together in fresh and inventive ways in Gunnerkrigg Court. Tom Siddell has published nearly 300 pages of his webcomic in this first collection, and the length really allows for the reader to absorb the entire spectrum of adventures presented here: protagonist Antimony Carver and her growing assortment of friends have humorous, creepy, action-packed and mysterious storylines, all of which allow us to see the different facets of Annie's complex and fascinating world. It also puts lots of meat on the bones of those seemingly overly familiar story elements, to tell tales both unexpected and new.

Fantasy & Science Fiction
by Kristin Cashore
Nominated by: Jenny Moss
As her homeland of the Dells descends into civil war, Fire struggles with changing relationships and her own dangerous powers. If she misuses her gifts, she runs the risk of turning into her psychotic and amoral father. But if she doesn't use them at all, her beloved kingdom and the royal family she has come to love may be lost forever. Nobody combines the fantasy and romance genres like Kristin Cashore. With preternaturally beautiful monsters and unruly children, psychic powers and very human power struggles, her masterfully crafted worlds are close enough to ours to make sense and different enough to captivate.

Fire herself is a dynamic character, a mix of vulnerability and strength, and she is surrounded by others who challenge and support her, especially in the character of Brigan, one of the few who sees beyond her stunning beauty to the complex young woman beneath. Throughout the book, Fire learns to see the people she loves in shades of grey, and in the process learns to accept her own virtues and flaws. Out of all the books we read, this is the one at the top of everybody's list. It's great, start to finish, with appeal for both boys and girls, and the moment you finish it you'll want to read it again.

Young Adult Fiction
Cracked Up to Be
by Courtney Summers
Nominated by: Robin Prehn
Cracked Up to Be, Courtney Summers's debut novel, is a page turner that is sure to please. Once a model student and cheerleader, Parker Fadley has given up that life and turned instead to drinking and failing classes. But what could have caused this sudden change? Spare writing, carefully placed flashbacks, and strong character development create an intense and fascinating read, while the mystery unfolds. Whether or not you fall in love with Parker, her story will not soon be forgotten.
Congratulations to all the finalists and the winners! Also, many kudos to the judges and the administrators. I can tell you, it's a lot of fun, but oh boy, is it a lot of work too!

See everyone next year!

P.S. What's this Valentine's Day I keep hearing about? Is there chocolate for it?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Final Hunger Games Title!

And it's . . . Mockingjay. Aaaand the cover is off to your right. It releases August 24th, and trust me, there are not going to be any ARCs for this.

Now comes the rabid speculation. How will Kat and Peeta (feh, I know not this Gale you speak of) and the other revolutionaries bring down the corrupt Capitol government? Who will bite it? Because I wouldn't put it past Suzanne Collins to kill off somebody beloved and important. I have my money on Kat, but that's because I'm a terrible, heartless excuse for a human being.

In other news, has anyone seen my dignity? I think it fled after I let out a fangirl squeal fit to shatter glass when I saw the news on Tasha "Kid's Lit" Saecker's Twitter feed.

Eh, not like I was using it anyway.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Top 100 Chapter Books of All Time

If there's a poll to be done, trust Betsy Bird to take it on. Her latest project is the top 100 chapter books of all time. That link goes to numbers 100-90, but she's added links to the rest of the list at the bottom.

I meant to post about this while the poll was open, but kept putting it off until--oops!--it was closed. So I'm linking to the results. What do you think? Agree or disagree? For my money, the best part is reading the snippets that other people sent in with their favorites. Although I have to say that her inclusion of all the various covers and trailers from movie adaptations is pretty cool as well.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Reading Roundup: January 2010

By the Numbers
Teen: 26
Tween: 12
Children: 16

Review Copies: 3
Swapped: 4
Purchased: 3
Library: 35

Teen: Going Bovine by Libba Bray
The weirdest, most hopeful, and funniest book about a dying teenager you'll ever read.
Tween: The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane
So much more than a Dead Dad book.
Children: The Frog Scientist by Pamela S. Turner
Exquisite pictures and awesome science. Entertaining nonfiction for kids at its best.

Because I Want To Awards
Most Interesting Combination of Religion and Sexuality: Thinking Straight by Robin Reardon
Most Depressing Ending: The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp
Frack It, I Knew I Was Gonna Cry: Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Most Awesome Square Peg Girl: TIE Theodosia Throckmorton and Enola Holmes
Creeped Me Right Out: Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestly