June 11, 2018

Monday Review: THE STONE GIRL'S STORY by Sarah Beth Durst

Synopsis: It's hard to resist a story about stories. We are the stories we tell about ourselves—that's the theme that shines through in Sarah Beth Durst's newest middle grade fantasy, The Stone Girl's Story. The stone girl is Mayka, just like a twelve-year-old girl in most respects except that she was carved out of stone by her father, a Master Carver. He gave her life, as he did with so many other stone creatures with whom she shares her cottage, and he carved her story onto her stone skin.

The story has a rather sad, poignant beginning, though. It's been a long time that Mayka has been caring for the cottage and its inhabitants on her own—stone lives longer than flesh, after all. We join the story long after Father has gone, but Mayka is saying goodbye to another longtime companion, Turtle. His marks have faded, and he has slowed to a stop. Mayka, determined to find another Master Carver who can recarve the marks and save her friend, leaves her remote mountain for the first time and ventures in the direction of the city of Skye, where she's sure to find someone skilled enough. She also, of course, finds adventure.

Observations: There's a classic quality to Mayka's journey—a quest that brings danger, new friends, and surprises, and ultimately ends in Mayka realizing (minor spoilers – highlight to read) that what she seeks lay within her all along. At the same time, she'd never have experienced that empowerment without going on her journey. The friends she meets along the way, and the wondrousness of the setting and its magical stone creatures, provide a nice counterpoint to the notes of sadness and urgency that are inherent to Mayka's situation.

The story itself, as I mentioned earlier, is really ABOUT stories, and the idea that our experiences carve themselves upon us and make us who we are. It's a gorgeous idea, and one that is echoed in the idea of tattooing, which for many people does tell a story of who they are, and who they might be. But don't be deceived into looking only at the surface--this book is also about power, who wields it, and who has the right to tell someone else's story. As in all of Durst's books written for younger readers, the simplicity is deceptive, and along with the whimsy are complex ideas shining through.

Conclusion: I feel like this is one of Durst's strongest middle grade books yet. Its starred reviews are well deserved, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's an award contender—but whether it is or not, I highly recommend it for fantasy fans and fairy tale enthusiasts of all ages.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the author and publisher (thank you!!). You can find THE STONE GIRL'S STORY by Sarah Beth Durst at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

June 07, 2018

Happy Summer!

Between early-summer travel, summer school class prep, copious novel rewriting, and some much-needed down time, it's been quiet here on the blog, but here's me and Tanita just cruising in to say HAPPY SUMMER and we'll be back with some more book reviews and other fun stuff soon! In the meantime, enjoy this happily reading hippo I found.

May 31, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading

This was pretty typical of me at a certain age (by which I mean all the ages including now...). I believe that is a Sweet Valley High book I was reading. We're at a Christmas party, and my mom and stepdad are engrossed in an actual conversation which I was trying very hard to ignore.

In all seriousness, this was a Christmas party I loved to go to as a kid, at the house of one of my mom's former teachers from Gardena High School, Richard Cody. We used to attend annually, driving from our home in the Inland Empire to their house in Santa Ana. In my role as endless, annoying fountain of Christmas spirit from July onwards, I was dazzled by something as simple as the taillights of the traffic on the 91 freeway, festive ribbons of red and white that were probably making my parents cuss under their breath.

Richard Cody and his wife had a huge network of extended family and friends, former students, children biological, foster, and adopted, and so on and so forth. We'd enjoy Christmas carols around the piano (often with me or my mom playing), orange sherbet punch, and a reading of The Night Before Christmas that culminated in Santa coming down the stairs and handing presents out to all the kids. When I was little, Santa was this really tall man named Benjamin, and then his son Malik inherited the post--that might be him on the left in the picture, or possibly his brother Ibi. (Clearly nobody was alarmed by Santa suddenly changing from white to black in the space of a year.)

That diverse cacophony of names, though: Malik, Ibi. Their mom Twyla. Erlene, Richard's wife. Ted and Ariana, their biological kids. Moises, Marcos. Plenty of others I don't remember. It was a music, just as much as the notes from the piano; a very SoCal music. The Codys' expansive and generous social circle taught me a lot about the diversity of where I lived.

This would probably be a good December post, but in keeping with my childhood singing of Christmas carols at any given time of year, I'm posting it now.

May 25, 2018

SAVE THE DATE: KidLitCon 2019 in Providence, RI

It's hard to believe, but I don't think we've posted about this yet--the next Kidlitosphere Conference is already well into the planning stages, spearheaded by our own Charlotte Taylor of Charlotte's Library and Mia Wenjen of Pragmatic Mom. It'll be in Providence, RI on March 22-23, 2019, and it's got its own nifty website!

The latest awesome news about the conference is that Charlotte applied for and GOT a sizeable grant from the Providence Tourism Council, which means we can stretch our small budget and make the conference an even more memorable experience for everyone. This next con promises to be bigger and better than ever, too, with Charlotte and Mia at the helm. Reaching Readers is the theme, and there's already an incredible list of attending bloggers and authors who have plans to come.

If you've been to KidLitCon before, you'll know that it offers a far more intimate and less formal opportunity for bloggers, authors, librarians, teachers, illustrators, and other devotees of kidlit to come together and discuss current and ongoing issues, as well as sharing our areas of knowledge and expertise for the benefit of the kids (and, let's face it, adults) who read and enjoy books for young people. Speaking personally, it's at KidLitCon that I "found my tribe," so to speak--I've made lifelong friends with fellow book lovers who might be writers, readers, or both, but regardless of our actual job titles, we share that same passion.

I'm planning to attend (although there's a possibility I might be traveling elsewhere at the time, I'm hoping to make it all happen!) and look forward to meeting even more members of the tribe--so if you're interested, go check out the programming notes and get involved in a panel!

May 17, 2018

Mental Health Awareness Month: A Review Roundup

Source: Mental Health America

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we've reviewed a number of titles over the years that we thought were exceptional portrayals of the experience of mental illness and related difficulties. As we all know, reading a good book can make us feel less alone--and, honestly, sometimes that's the one thing you need in order not to go over the edge. So here, in no particular order, is a by no means exhaustive list of recommended reads for Mental Health Month:

The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard

100 Days of Cake by Shari Goldhagen

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos

This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn

Define "Normal" by Julie Anne Peters

First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Nice Girls Endure by Chris Struyk-Bonn

These Gentle Wounds by Helene Dunbar

May 11, 2018


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

It's another E.E. Kelly book, which means there's going to be a lot of heart, and a lot of funny. Erin Entrada Kelly is a Filipino writer, so include this book in your list of titles for the Asian American Heritage Month celebration this May.

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Charlotte has something important to say, only, right now, it's sticking in her throat. Her best friend, Bridget, knows. Her mother knows. The teacher and the school counselor knows... but Charlotte, who is brilliant and articulate and knows the name of more rocks than you do; Charlotte can hardly say it out loud. Her father, who had a stent put into his heart, whose difficulties sent Charlotte down the rabbit hole of open-heart surgeries and knowing more about hearts than probably any other kid in junior high, Charlotte's father has had a heart attack. And it feels like the end of the world.

What's worse is that, in a way, it's only the beginning of the end. If nothing else, at least Charlotte can distract herself playing a good word on her online Scrabble game.

Ben wishes that people would take recycling more seriously. He wishes that people knew the impact of all of the plastic and paper that gets into the ocean, and harms dolphins, turtles, and fish. He wishes that people really cared about how species evolved, and he also wishes he weren't so furious with his father. If he'd paid attention to his life - and not spent so much time in his head - maybe he'd have friends. Maybe he'd be better equipped to survive middle school. Maybe all of his current difficulties wouldn't be so hard to get through.

But, right now, Ben can't even think of who he'd call if he won the lottery.

It's a good thing he plays online Scrabble with a girl called Lottie. At least he knows he can call her.

Observations: Two gifted and talented kids with the tiny bit of myopia all kids have, Ben and Charlotte are only able to see the world right in front of them, in terms of their friends, their concerns, their hobbies. Their bright minds only make their socializing challenges all the more difficult, and when there's a challenge to their families and home lives they are abruptly forced out of their unseeing days into a confusing, painful world where they question not only what they're looking at, but how they could have missed so much. Charlotte, through her father, is realizing her mortality -- and HIS. Now the times she's brushed him aside rise up, and she feels so guilty she's paralyzed - and later, as she questions her social behavior, she's paralyzed by horror and shame. Ben is furiously ignoring the chaos outside his bedroom, and is determined to evolve past the quiet, inward-turning boy who drifted along through elementary school. However, with the active pushback of some of his classmates, it seems that it may be too late for him to turn into a different kind of bird than he's always been. It's a troubling, difficult time for both tweens. Told in alternating voices, we see where both Charlotte and Ben use words to conceal and reveal the ragged edges of honesty and pain now informing both of their lives. There's a lot of emotion, a little humor, and a few hard knocks, but in the end, readers will be relieved as both Ben and Charlotte find a tiny bit of land under their flailing feet, and begin the long process of standing tall.

Conclusion: Middle school is an intense time of transition, and this seems to be one of Erin Entrada Kelly's "big idea" truths. I appreciate the realism that Ben and Charlotte do not confide in each other; they're virtual strangers, literally. While we trust each other with playing a game online, and while Charlotte and Ben share the occasional brief phone conversation, they're not emotionally equipped to use each other to lean on in the traditional sense of friendship. However, their isolation allows them to be helpful to each other at key points. This book will resonate with the emotionally intelligent tween who is looking for the truth in the statement that we're all alike, under the skin, and no one suffers alone.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my public library. You can find YOU GO FIRST by Erin Entrada Kelly at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

May 08, 2018

2♦sdays@the treehouse: Challenge Five: May

Welcome back to our monthly Second Tuesday writing challenge!

From January - June, every second Tuesday of the month, we're going to post an image here on Wonderland of a Creative Commons licensed Flickr picture to which you can respond - with poetic, prose, or whatever kind of writing - and hopefully, you'll share a link in the comments below, so that we can visit your site, read your work and respond. No genre or style limit - just come and join the fun!

Welcome to May!

I think we're over it with the May showers, but we're just getting started with Asian Pacific Heritage Month, and Mental Health Awareness Month. This month, it's time to celebrate National Salad Month, which, likely, features women laughing. Alone. With Salad. As they so often do. Additionally, May is National Bike and Barbecue Month as well, and extra points if you can celebrate these holidays simultaneously. This month's image comes from Flickr user Stefano Arteconi of Bologna, Italy:


I have... so many questions, don't you? Just leave your link in the comments below, and we look forward to reveling in your inspiration! Happy writing!