October 31, 2006

Multicultural Children's Lit Conference Upcoming

In light of some of the multicultural lit reviews--and the ensuing discussions--posted here and on our sister site, it's fortuitous that I recently ran across a link to Reading the World IX, A Conference Celebrating Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults, February 24 & 25, 2007 (thanks to Cynsations for the alert).

It'll be held at USF, for those of you in the Northern California area, and keynote speakers will include Joseph Bruchac, Ashley Bryan, Debra Frasier, Darwin Henderson, Yuyi Morales, Teri Sloat and Jane Yolen. So if you missed Jane Yolen at the SCBWI conference this past summer (like me), this might be a good opportunity to see her speak.

Jump on the Austen Craze!

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

A quick read and a funny one, Enthusiasm is another romance worthy of Jane Austen.

The year Julie's nutty best friend reads Pride & Prejudice sparks a new craze in Ashleigh's life -- now she and Julie must find themselves a Mr. Darcy and a Mr. Bingley. Only problem is there are yucky guys at their high school, and really -- they've never had boyfriends. They're only sixteen. But Ashleigh, never daunted by mere facts, is determined -- this is THEIR time, and they WILL model their lives after Jane Austen's characters.

And then Ashleigh goes forth to be WEIRD! She will only wear long skirts and ballet slippers. She speaks with weirdly Victorian sentence structure. And though Julie, an Austen lover herself, hates to encourage her best friend's weirdness, somebody has to look after her the night she crashes a dance at an all-boy's private school. That night has its good points... and it's great points... and it's also weird and ...pure Ashleigh.

Ashleigh's ditziness leads the girls from one complication to another, but as in real life, there are some tears along the way. Julie's father and stepmother are not nice, really, and they never become nicer. And it's not easy on Julie having a friend who doesn't actually... listen to her much. But rough edges and unresolved issues aside, this frothy and fun book is refreshingly light, filled with actual sonnets and some decent poetry, and will encourage readers to sally forth and try their hand at reading both Shakespeare's comedies and Austen's novels. It's the classics made understandable, believable, modern and more than palatable. A great one for high school reading lists.

She's Not a Lesson or anything, she's just normal.

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

Jean always thought she was pretty much ... normal. Okay, not body-normal, maybe, she did have cerebral palsy after all, but at least she could hang out with pretty much anyone and fit in with her friends. At least, that's what everybody said. She's always gone to mainstream schools, and she's going to be a senior this year, getting ready to take the plunge into Real Life, away from her parents and sister. She and her mother agree that the best thing for her to do is to go away to summer camp for awhile -- just to see how she'll do.

But Camp Courage in the summer of 1970 is like nowhere Jean has ever been. First off, she's never been around so many disabled people in her life. They don't inhabit her world. They don't compete academically or belong to clubs or go to movies. Some of them live in institutions. Some, like Sara, who calls Camp Courage "Crip Camp" and calls Jean "Spazzo" are outspoken and almost... bitter about "Norms" and people who have full use of their bodies. Some of the campers are ...disturbing. And some of the counselors are clueless to the point of disaster. Jean begins to wonder if she's really as 'normal' as she thought. Is she like everyone in her world? Or is she, too, an Accident of Nature?

This is a deeply interesting book, and while readers will be somewhat unfamiliar with some of the social norms of the 1970's, and what people thought back then, it's a real eye-opener in terms of what has changed now about how people perceive race, religion and disabilities. It's also a thought-provoking novel in terms of what still needs to change. Harriet McBryde Johnson is a lawyer in solo practice in Charleston, S.C. She has been a disability rights activist and advocate for more than 25 years, an activist for disability rights, and this is an authentic novel and a discussion of social justice that might just leave you with your 1970's consciousness expanded -- in the very best way possible.

The One Thing She Wanted to Say

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

When her sister Rebecca died, it was like a spark had been extinguished. She'd been waving from behind a cafe window the last time Leila had seen her, and then -- nothing. And it's impossible for Leila to accept.

There's been a lot that Leila has had to accept. She's her father's second family -- there was another wife before her mother, and two other daughters. Leila found her way to that other wife, found her way past the reserves of her much older sisters, found a distant kindness in eldest sister Clare, but found in Rebecca a true friend, one who told her she'd know herself when she really fell in love. There was so much left that Rebecca had to teach her... and so much left that Leila wanted to say. So why did Rebecca kill herself? What happened? Using the same dogged determination that she applies to her dyslexia, Leila strives to find out. And along the way, life -- in the form of school struggles, job, and family -- just keeps happening.

Leila's struggles through the year after her sister's death are chronicled in Stay With Me, a novel about another deeply gifted and loving family. Garret Freeman Weyr is a writer who isn't afraid to deal with sensitive topics, and this is another of her unique and thoughtful novels.

Pushing Through to the Truth

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

Dirty Liar is a difficult book to read. The rapid fire thoughts of Benji, called Dogboy by his maybe-friends, are disconcerting and uncomfortable. The reader is drawn deep inside of his head, and it's an uncomfortable place to be. See, Benji's family is completely dysfunctional. He's moved in with his dad and new stepmom and little sister because of something that happened at home. His mother's drinking was totally out of control and her boyfriend's physical and sexual abuse make Benji doubt he's a human being, much less a son. His father disapproves of everything he does -- if Benji ever let him find out about this... he'd make his son go away again for sure. His stepmother tries and tries to help him, but can he really trust her? So Benji stays high, stays unfocused, stays loose, and feels the demons closing in. Until a girl appears, like a light in a dark closet -- someone to focus on, someone who has her own troubles, someone who might help Benji care enough about himself and his future to break through... A new novel from Scholastic's PUSH imprint, by Brian James.

Girl Power—Bangladeshi Style

Ten-year-old Naima lives in a rural Bangladeshi village with her mother, father, and younger sister. Being the older sister means she has more chores, more household responsibilities, and less time to play with her friend Saleem. Moreover, he's a boy—and at her age, it's not considered seemly to play with boys anymore. It's not much consolation that she's the best painter of alpanas--traditional patterns drawn in rice-powder paint—in her village.

What good are alpanas? Naima wonders. They don’t earn her any money to help her family pay for her father's new rickshaw, or to help her sister to go to school. Her father says a daughter is as good as a son, but she isn't allowed to work to help her family. So Naima hatches a plan: if a daughter is as good as a son, then surely she, like Saleem, could help her father by earning fares driving his rickshaw. One afternoon she decides to try her idea while her father is resting. But disaster ensues. She loses control of the rickshaw and it crashes into some bushes.

How can she make everything right again, and help her father earn the money to fix the rickshaw, when her only real talent is painting alpanas? I don't want to give away the ending to Mitali Perkins' charming middle-grade book Rickshaw Girl (upcoming Feb 2007), but the secret lies in the modernization of Bangladeshi society, more prominent roles for women in village life, and the idea of microfinance providing small loans to village residents. And the end is truly heartwarming and uplifting—I was cheering for Naima's pluck, her friend Saleem's loyalty, and, especially, her father's support of his daughter in a traditional society where the idea of women working outside the home is often greeted with suspicion.

Less and less often is this the case, fortunately. It reminded me of the fact that my own father, born in Pakistan, could have been equally traditional about the role of women. But, like Naima, I've been lucky to have a father who never made me feel as though there was anything I couldn't accomplish simply because I was female. I hope the idea of microfinance and microcredit spreads throughout the world to other needy societies, and that women around the world begin to experience the same kind of blossoming opportunities. Perkins' book will go a long way towards informing young readers—and their parents—of these possibilities.

I also want to add a quick word about the illustrations by Jamie Hogan, which are deceptively simple and sketch-like but are just as charming as the story, incorporating some traditional alpana designs. This would be a great addition to any collection of multicultural books.

Tips, Tricks, and Treats

Happy Halloween! Has anyone else noticed that the Blogger logo on the login page has vampire teeth? Very cute. Hope everyone has something enjoyable planned for the day, whether it's encouraging small children's cavities, dressing up for a party, or enjoying a quiet evening at home with a book or movie. We'll be doing A and C, with a couple of friends over, since we did B over the previous weekend (you can read all about it and see pictures on my personal aquafortis blog).

Today I have one rhetorical question and a handful of tips for those who might be embarking on NaNoWriMo tomorrow. Last year was my first time participating, but I managed to get to that golden 50,000. I'll share with you a few ideas that helped me along, plus a couple of others that I just ran across.

But first: the rhetorical question. I was reading National Geographic with my toast this morning and read a short blurb about, basically, a scientist who heard about two new undocumented whale species and got a grant to go find them. Now, how come when a scientist decides they have some brainchild that they absolutely must drop everything and go after, people react by saying "That's wonderful, dear! Here's some grant money." But when a writer starts talking about that novel they're working on that they think is brilliant and worthwhile, people just say, "Uh, yeah...let me know when it's published." Anyway. It was just a rhetorical rant. And I'm sure it oversimplifies things so please do not write to tell me that I've got it all wrong about scientists. ;)

So, on to the advice! Here, in no particular order but numbered in reverse, are A. Fortis's Five Fabulous Fwriting Ftips For Fnanowrimo. (Say that five times fast!)

Tip #5: Getting Started, from East Bay Municipal Liaison Donna Summer: "If you open your empty document and find yourself completely stymied before you've entered a single word (been there, twice), try starting with setting. Where is your book happening at? What does it look like? Commit to two pages of setting, and that will take away the pressure of that mighty expanse of white page."

Tip #4: Quotes On Writing, from a comic book I randomly purchased and (quite fortuitously) read yesterday entitled Kabuki: The Alchemy by David Mack:
"...writing is like physical exercise. What counts is how much you can do after you think you are done. Then the real challenge begins. If you push through the barriers of your comfort zone, you hit a second wind. It is mostly just showing up and doing it that counts."

The character then went on to quote Somerset Maugham: "Someone asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. 'I write only when inspiration strikes,' he replied. 'Fortunately it strikes every morning at 9:00 sharp.'"

Tip #3: How the Hell Do I Write a Novel in a Month? The first trick is to break that question down into smaller bite-sized parts. First, you go to the NaNoWriMo website and sign up. Be sure to sign up for your local area forum(s) and maybe add a few writing buddies if people you know are participating. (Guilt at others' accomplishment is a surprisingly effective motivator.) Then, you read the instructions and realize that A) you only have to get to 50,000; B) it doesn't have to be any good; and C) nobody's checking up on you except yourself. Then, every day for the month of November, you sit down for twenty minutes or an hour or three hours--whatever you can spare--turn off that internal censor and write, write, write. Think of it as one long, structured freewriting exercise.

Tip #2: Getting Ideas: Not sure what to write about every day for the next month? Well, take a look at that list of back-burner ideas that you've been meaning to do something about but just haven't gotten around to. Or maybe there's something that's been rattling around in your head, tickling your brain, for the past week or so, that might make a good seed for a story. Pick up a book of inspiring photography or artwork and free-associate for a while. Buy a book of writing ideas/prompts. Take a look at some old work that you've given up on; maybe it's time to tackle it again in a new form.

Tip #1: Practicalities: A novel? Doesn't that take, well, planning and meticulous labor? NOT THIS MONTH!! If you find yourself getting bogged down by silly details such as logic or consistency, tell yourself, "NO, NO, NO! NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY!" Then put your fingers back on that keyboard (typing really helps--I don't suggest doing NaNo in longhand) and start with a word. Then a sentence. Then you're off and running again. Save the editing for later. During NaNo, editing is for chumps.

Hope some of you decide to take the plunge!

October 30, 2006

Bits and Pieces

The Guardian's podcast this weekend included Jonathan Stroud reading from Ptolomey's Gate, the third and final book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy.

It seems like so many things are ending... the warm weather of Indian Summer seems to have finally worn out its extended lease, the month is ending, and we are finally both entering and leaving October Country. I have always loved the metaphor that Bradbury presents in this series of stories, in that 'undiscovered country' of imagination. I think the October Country is where my imagination lives most of the time, but it's only in the autumn that others join me there.

I don't mean that I'm a Halloween person necessarily -- I'm not all that fond of being importuned by costumed little strangers questing for candy -- but the sort of melancholic half-light of time changes and shadows, slivers of moon and the wind rustling across dryness of stalks and leaves makes room for the senses, seems to speak to another part of the mind. In the sunfiltered days of autumn, before the endless rains and the dregs of the year, some of the best dreams are yet waiting to be discovered.

When I was very small and fiction-deprived, I read Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables over and over and over and over. Before I ever knew what it was, from ages nine through eleven I wrote what is now called 'fan fiction,' my own sequels and new endings to the novel, where I either wrote out Gilbert altogether, or added another boy who wasn't such a git -- and then I forgot about it before growing older and learning, safely away at boarding school in high school, that there were actual sequels to my hands-down-favorite-heart-pulling-vocabulary-expanding novel of all time. So you can see how the news I learned via Fuse#8 has me shrieking blindly at the screen, "NO!!!! NO!!!! NO!!!!!!" Because honestly -- a prequel novel before Green Gables? NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

October 27, 2006

The Genius of Pratchett: Wintersmith

Poor Tiffany Aching has finally gotten the hang -- a bit -- of her life. She knows she's basically going to work to be a witch, because that's what witching is -- Work. It's being the Wise Woman when one is needed, being the herbalist, when someone sick needs the brewing of tea, it's visiting the elderly, cleaning up, and making cheese. There's just not that much more to it than that, except the Boffo, which is kind of necessary. Other than that, that's it - no dancing around in one's underdrawers. No flashing and crackling lights. Just... sort of serving others, and using the broom to get around long distances.

Tiffany would be okay with that, really. Mostly. It's just that, life when you're thirteen is sort of complicated unintentionally. For one thing, there's boys. Only, Tiffany... hasn't attracted an average boy. She's gotten a minor deity all in a lather over her. Or, rather, all in an avalanche, maybe... TheWintersmith is who's crushing on Tiffany. And he's ... winter. Blizzards and avalanches and freezing cold and icicles. And his crush is pretty heavy.

Summer's ticked off at her, Winter's chasing her, and Tiff's going to need to think fast to get herself through the mess she made, and onward to Spring. Good thing she's got her friends, her Granny Weatherwax, Mrs. Ogg, and a lot of nasty little blue men to help her.

October 26, 2006

Random Topics from the World at Large

So, it's not going to be my stained sweats... via Chasing Ray we are clued in to a funny conversation about what to wear for a book signing from authors chatting on Justine Larbalestier's blog -- What to Wear is something we should all think of as we'll be giving readings and signings in the next year or two. My uniform of choice is sweats... but after all the commentary, I'm thinkin'.... maybe not.

Since I am a big fan of BRIEF -- ( not that I can do it, thank you fellow Flickr Fictioneers for reminding me), I cherished the intensely short, six-word stories at Wired Magazine, which I discovered via Bookshelves of Doom. Of the myriads funny (and unreprintable) listed, one of my favorites: Bang postponed. Not Big enough. Reboot. - David Brin

Something quite exciting for those of us who aspire to write fantasy with strong female characters: Tamora Pierce is coming to our end of the universe! WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15 Pierce swans into town with her newest novel, BEKA COOPER #1: TERRIER, which just came out the 24th. According to the details on Cody's Books' website, Beka Cooper lives 200 years before Pierce's popular character Alanna. Born and raised in the bowels of the Lower City, Beka is now a rookie with the law-enforcing Provost's Guard. She's shy, but her terrier-like demeanor and quick wits make her a fierce opponent for the Lower City's criminals. When the city's pigeons give Beka clues to two underworld conspiracies that include exploiting and murdering men and children, Beka thinks they are linked, and she will stop at nothing to arrest the perpetrators. Welcome to the beginning of an exceptional new series..." Seating is first come, first served, and readers will be let in between 6 pm and 7 pm. It'll be crowded, but if you're a huge fan, it'll be worth it, at Cody's Fourth Street, Berkeley.

"So, tell me again... Why do people do this?" I asked my Irish friend.
"For the same reason that people climb a mountain, or run a marathon," he replied with some asperity.
And I thought to myself, "That stupid of a reason, eh?"
Yep. It's just to say "I can."
I already know I can, but I got hornswoggled into National Novel Writing Month anyway. Eek. So the month of November will be just a joy. I will be: a.) substitute teaching the first week and a half, b.) planning a Thanksgiving Pageant, c.) badly writing 50,000 words for a new novel, d.) continuing to write/edit my historical fiction piece, e.) working with my editor on another piece, f.) planning a brunch g.) finalizing plans for Thanksgiving in Monterey. I plan to blame all of my stress on those who regularly participate in such madness and talked me into it (yes, A. Fortis, I mean YOU!), but I think that even though the schedule will be crazy, it will be doable.

I have learned this year, if nothing else, to be really, really, really prolific. It may be that I'm just blowing smoke every day, but it's writing, which is actually a good fourth of the battle. In today's Chronicle, (in which a professor of mine from my alma mater was honored YAY Micheline and congrats to Yiyun, too! ), one of the women interviewed talked about whatever we have in our backgrounds as being fodder for us learning useful writing habits. Yiyun was studying to be a doctor; I am learning to take all of the time and careful research that I brought into preparing lesson plans into creating plans for stories. Neither portion of our adult lives was wasted doing something before writing... now we can both just bring what discipline and meticulousness that we learned and apply it to now. That's a comforting thought.

Still... all this cramming-the-writing-in stuff sound like it makes about as much sense as running a marathon. (With apologies to those who run. I'm sure it seems like a great idea at the time.) Still, it's a way to jumpstart all the time you lose shopping and visiting during the holidays (okay, okay, it's not LOST time, but you know what I mean!), and it's going to help me hopefully be well on my way toward finishing something in time to start the round of publishing houses in January. It's going to be a busy November... maybe in December I'll take up yoga.

Mystery with a Message

Blue Balliett’s unique mystery Chasing Vermeer received a Book Sense Book of the Year Award, an Edgar Award, an Agatha Award, and a host of other honors. Her newest book, The Wright 3, is the sequel, and will no doubt garner some acclaim of its own.

In many ways it has much of the appeal of the first book: wonderful illustrations by Brett Helquist, codes to decipher, a mystery to solve, and the added bonus of saving a piece of valuable art. However, this time Petra and Calder are joined by a third wheel of sorts: Tommy Segovia, Calder’s best friend from before Petra moved into Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Tommy had to move away for a year, but now that he and his mother have moved back, things aren’t quite the same as they used to be. Calder has this new friend—Petra—and the situation bugs Tommy.

Meanwhile, their sixth-grade class is studying the Frank Lloyd Wright building that’s in the neighborhood, the Robie House. It’s slated to be divided into pieces and the pieces sent to different museums, but the class and their teacher feel that would be destroying a masterpiece whose magnificence depends upon how it fits together as a whole: architecture, art-glass windows, and all. And then, there have been reports of strange disturbances at the Robie House: windows opening and closing, strange lights and shadows and winds, constructions workers having unfortunate accidents. Can Petra, Calder, and Tommy learn to get along well enough for the Wright 3—as they call themselves—to figure out how to save the Robie House?

It’s another fascinating mystery in which there are no coincidences; in which every pattern has a meaning if only you’re receptive to figuring it out. My only complaint is that character development is sacrificed a bit in favor of the mystery-solving process. This is unfortunate, because the characters are all mixed-race kids who just are what they are (a conversation we keep bringing up here and on Finding Wonderland. Tommy is half-Colombian, half-English; Petra is part North African, Dutch, and Middle-Eastern; and Calder is half-Indian and half-Canadian. I love that about the characters, which is why I wish their mixed-up, all-American, melting-pot-salad-bowl-ness played a slightly larger role. But then, I suppose giving it a bigger part would make it an issue as opposed to just a trait among other traits. And the book absolutely holds its own as a mystery without that added complication.

And, if you find yourself in Chicago, you can visit the real-life Robie House and take the Wright 3 tour. Fun!

October 25, 2006

Reviews in November Edge of the Forest

Good historical fiction is, in a word, impressive. It immerses the reader in the world of the past—its sights, sounds, smells, and experiences. Through meticulous detail and a healthy dose of imagination, it brings different times, places, and cultures to life. Deborah Hopkinson's middle-grade novel, Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco, 1906, brings the black-and-white earthquake photos we've all seen into the full color of the imagination... More

There don't seem to be a great many Canadian authors prominent in the U.S. YA market, but Margaret Buffie is definitely a name I've heard before. Her ninth book for young adults, Out of Focus, has a dramatic storyline worthy of a problem novel, but the intriguing and varied cast of characters is well-realized, creating a story that's much less easily classified into a single genre... More

Censorship Updates; Website Updates

Just a few quick notes of interest. AS IF comments in their usual spot-on manner on a newspaper article reporting a Minnesota parent's complaint about newspapers being made available at her daughter's elementary school. Apparently, "giving students open access to the papers would be 'like leaving a loaded gun on the table.'" Sheesh! It's a newspaper. It's information. It's not as though it was a tabloid being distributed to kids, or Fox News being played in the classroom.

AS IF recently reported on another interesting article, too--this time about a battle over censorship of a book that is challenged due to alleged factual issues. I definitely suggest perusing this one. Very thought-provoking.

Lastly, via Big A little a, the November edition of The Edge of the Forest is up. I'm pleased and proud to announce that I contributed reviews this month--to the middle grade and young adult sections, which I'll post teasers of on Readers' Rants. Please take a look--there are great articles from a variety of YA/kids' lit bloggers, including author interviews and a look at humorous books for kids.

Sister or Not?

Family is really complicated -- and Seattle knows it. It's especially complicated if it's family you're not really related to. See, her Dad ditched her with his girlfriend about six years ago, and she's been hanging out with her almost-stepmom and her two sons, Jesse and Critter, forever -- at least long enough to know that they're who she wants to be family with. But, things change when Christopher -- aka Critter -- starts macking seriously on the lifeguard he was just supposed to flirt with so that he and Seattle could bluff their way into the ritzy pool across town during the heat wave. And things change further when Seattle meets Scooter, and Critter finds that he's weirdly ...jealous... of Seattle hooking up with him so fast. He's even... dreaming about her.

Exactly what is going on with the two peas in a pod, who used to be so totally inseparable? Sometimes when there's things you can't say, it's reason enough to stop talking. Told throughout in two voices, this chapter excerpt should get you interested in the reasons why Seattle and Critter both think this summer they should hang out with Anyone But You.

Florid of complexion, dull of hair

In an interview with Fairest author Gail Carson Levine, she relates the trouble she had writing Fairest, and discusses the book. Well worth checking out.

Aza's fifteen, and she knows she's not conventionally beautiful -- not at all beautiful like other people. For one thing, her face is doughy and big. Her height is ridiculous, her girth is truly mentionable. She sings -- and probably when she takes a breath she swells up like a ship under sail. She's just ungainly and huge and distasteful -- too strong to be a real girl, and too ugly to be thought of in terms of affection and romance -- at least that's what Aza thinks, and she projects those thoughts onto the world at large. In a culture that defines beauty and grace as being 'fair,' Aza understands that she is the least fair of them all.

It's not enough that she's a foundling, that she was placed in the Inn of her parents as an infant and abandoned. She's stared at rudely by people, and her own parents hide her away in the back of the Inn so that her appearance won't offend and lower business for them. The Gnomes like her, but they're ...well, green, so what do they know?

It's hardly reasonable to expect that someone like Aza would get within fifteen feet of the royal peers. But she does. It's even less reasonable to expect that a commoner like Aza would be asked to be the Queen's Lady in Waiting -- but she gains all of that as well. When Aza stumbles into the royal household, she is met with kindness by the nobility and curtness by the servants. Everything is upside down for her, and intrigues are not far behind.

From all appearances, Aza has the world she dreamed of, and the eyes of the prince upon her, but why in the world isn't all happily-ever-after? Do people really believe that people are as good and kind as their appearance makes them? What does that make the ravishingly beautiful Queen, then? And what does that make the oversized Aza? As always, life -- and beauty -- isn't ever all that simple.

Wednesday Already!?

Things are going by in a blur! I'm reading like a mad dog for the Cybils, trying to remember to sit down and read through all the paperwork in preparation to vote, launching off into an historical fiction novel, and starting to finalize plans for my non-traditional Thanksgiving by-the-foggy-sea. I took the time to read the paper this weekend, and you'll want to check out The Chronicle's two great articles on National Book Award finalist Gene Yang's graphic novel American Born Chinese.
The Chron's online Asian Pop column has a great author interview as well, and and Yang's nonreaction to finding out he'd placed as a finalist is posted on his blog.

After reading all the pieces, what stuck with me were Yang's comment regarding the state of Asian American culture today. He said, "I think the Asian American community right now is in the midst of defining itself. For a while I think we were all trying to be white. Then there was a period of time when we were trying to be black. And now we're finally coming up with something that's truly our own." That reminded me very much of Justina Chen Headley's Patty Ho character in Nothing But the Truth... at some point, cultural clarity must exist for every child or teen to be truly whole. But getting there -- is tricky. It requires some excellent books and some straight talk. And this cartoon? Reminds me of every interaction I ever had with any new African American student in my predominantly Caucasian school. If we weren't somehow cousins, obviously, we must date. Erg. Someday, someone has to write a YA book about how to balance being okay with people of your own race while completely avoiding them in your junior high classroom. (And incidentally? Sorry, Raymond Brinson... you were an okay guy... Really.)

Kate DiCamillo has warmed a lot of hearts with her middle-grade novels and picture books. In this interview, she talks about her most recent awards and how success has been kind of a surprise. A good surprise, however.

Writers and readers who know the digital revolution has only just begun should be interested in Adobe Digital, a new E-Reader software that will enable readers to better manage their digital publications. Authors on the fence about "someday" looking at their electronic rights should make that 'someday' soon, and start speaking up for retaining those rights; although most publicists, agents and editors claim that there is no YA market for electronic books, they may be in for a shock -- the market is changing.

Don't miss the Guardian Unlimited's interview with Eoin Colfer. Colfer reads a bit from his newest Artemis Fowl book, and shares a clip of his PR tour... which has turned into a sort of comedy tour called Fairies, Fiends and Flatulence during which he kind of waves around his books says, "They're out there, buy them if you like," and simply tells deranged stories. And no, don't ask -- he doesn't know why he's doing it either.

Now, you know how I feel about celebrity authors... and earlier this month, yet another pecked her way through the non-literary shell and was hatched. That being said, All Hail the Queen... I give up. I will now officially state that Everyone has the right to endlessly reinvent themselves... and if their latest invention is children's author, so mote it be. Further, until I actually read their books, I will reserve my snark.
But STILL! Could they all STOP now!?

October 24, 2006

One Last Thought-Provoking Read

The deceptively slim volume The Rag and Bone Shop--Robert Cormier's last novel before his death--is nevertheless classic Cormier, packing more emotion and edginess into a small space than one would ever think possible.

Cormier is so good at creating an atmosphere of foreboding that I knew, regardless of any hopeful signs, that the ending would contain a kernel of despair, if not something outright painful and disturbing. Certainly he has a past history of writing YA works that don't necessarily have a happy ending. This last written work is no exception.

When a seven-year-old girl is murdered, a renowned interrogator is called in to talk to the last person who saw her alive: twelve-year-old Jason Dorrant. Local politicians are demanding a culprit, and the interrogator's reputation is on the line. The novel takes a hard look at whether finding out the truth is really the most important thing, or if it's enough to just dig out what seems to be true. The novel also examines the responsibilities of adults in their treatment of children in this type of situation. Cormier shows that sometimes, if you want badly enough for something to be true, you can convince yourself that it is...but that only matters if you're in a position of power. And, sadly, sometimes perceived truth from someone in control will trump the real story. And then what happens?

Sadly, the murder victim is not the only victim in this story. Rather dark and disturbing, especially in its unflinching examination of the more unpleasant side of human nature, The Rag and Bone Shop is a gripping page-turner that will leave you unsettled at the end.

October 23, 2006

In the Dark with Vampires

Stephanie Meyer's highly romantic stories of star-crossed lovers Edward and Bella have garnered comparisons to a more modern Romeo and Juliet, and have gained her hundreds of thousands of fans. Her newest novel in the celestial quartet, New Moon, is rapidly gaining Meyer thousands more. However, it should be noted that while New Moon is somewhat of a stand-alone novel, it is best read after having first read Twilight (or at least seeing Twilight, the movie, which is allegedly due out in 2008).

Nothing is more important to the improbably-named Bella than her boyfriend, Edward. His perfect beauty, his perfect logic, his perfect... perfection keeps her going. It also bums her out. She's only human, and it's perfectly natural for her to assume that someday Edward is going to figure that out, and kick her to the curb. Oh, it's not just because he's so good looking... it's because he's a vampire, immortal and flawless, while Bella is flinching at merely turning 18, imaging wrinkles and death ahead, while Edward is forever young, beautiful, and lost to her.

A papercut at Bella's birthday party turns über-dramatic and almost ends in her death, as Edward, in trying to protect her from his bloodthirsty brother, Jasper, flings her across the room and injures her further. When Edward and his family leave New Forks in order to save her life, the anchor of Bella's life is ripped out of its mooring. She drifts for months, losing friends and contacts, unable to smile or get a grip. She's beyond wallowing. She's sleepwalking through life. But that begins to change when she reconnects with an old friend, Jacob Black. Jacob's only a sophomore, but his liveliness and sense of fun are just what Bella needs. Even better is Jacob's ability to keep a secret -- and his promise to teach her to ride a motorcycle and to cliff dive. Because Bella's found something almost as good as having Edward back -- wonderfully accurate hallucinations of his voice when she's in danger. And if that's what it takes to preserve a memory, Bella's all about living on the edge. But there's something else that Bella didn't count on... one, that Jacob loves her, and two, that Jacob can't stay forever.

The ending of this book will make you alternately want to slap someone and long for the next episode -- read and decide if you're still cheering for the path of True Love, or wondering if Obsession isn't a disturbingly melodramatic substitute. High school: from difficult to impossible, just add vampires.

The Second Tale of Crispin

Avi's Crispin is back. In Crispin: The Cross of Lead, the 2003 award-winning beginning to his trilogy, 13-year-old Crispin, living the rough life of a nameless orphan in the 14th century, is reviled and hated. Unnamed, he is called 'Asta's son,' and his mother seems to both love and hate him. When she dies, he is required to give up his only ox as a death tax for his mother, leaving him both penniless and without means to work. When he is falsely accused of theft, he must run for his life, bearing only the lead cross the village priest has given him, with words inscribed in the soft metal back. Asta's son learns that he's not just a nameless orphan, but that he is the illegitimate son of a knight, but this knowledge does not save him from imprisonment. He's meets with a big man named Bear, a juggler who he is not sure is friend or foe, but, in return for his freedom, Crispin gives up his lineage so that they can both go free.

In Crispin: At the Edge of the World, Bear and Crispin are free and happy, though their happiness is short-lived. Bear is a wanted man, and when he is injured, Crispin seeks shelter for them both in the forest hovel of a crone and her cleft-palated apprentice, who is learning herbology. Crispin is horrified that they are pagans, but he fears for Bear's life, and would do anything to save it. He tries hard to be a man, and make a man's decisions, but he fears that each new choice is wrong. Despite war and religion, Crispin learns that he would do anything to save his family, as he confronts what he fears is the edge of the world.

Chaos Under New York

It all begins when Ananka sees a sinkhole across the street from the New York brownstone where she lives. She sees a tiny person crawling out from inside it, immediately throws a coat and boots on over her pajamas, and goes to investigate. She finds a book and a ladder, and is on the trail of an adventure. There's a city under New York, the Shadow City. And more than anything, Ananka wants to find it. But it seems that someone has found it first -- and they want her to know all about it. Could it be the intriguing Kiki Strike, Ananka's almost invisible and strange classmate?

Interested -- and bored out of her mind by being ignored by her over-educated and under-socialized parents -- Ananka determines to find out what makes Kiki tick, and in so doing, find out the secrets of Shadow City. Ananka tails Kiki -- poorly -- throughout New York for two months, trying to figure out where she goes and what she does. An invitation from Kiki to get to know her is surprising -- and irresistible. Within weeks, Ananka is part of the Irregulars, a group of intrepid girls who use their particular talents to not only help New York's hapless citizens, but to map out and discover the secrets of Shadow City, once the haunt of gangsters and smugglers, and possibly endless treasure.

But all is not as it seems. First comes the realization of the true danger that they are in. And once everything cuts loose, Kiki vanishes. Who was she, anyway? And what did she want? Ananka thinks she's grown out of the whole Kiki stage... and then Kiki comes back, with one more request to be trusted -- for one last adventure.

An unbelievably labyrinthine mystery, Kirsten Miller's Kiki Strike is like taking the red pill to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. Full of plots, counterplots, kidnappings, spies, getaway Vespas, the FBI, and learn-as-you-go detective tips, this juicy mystery is so busy that you forget that the girls involved, the Irregulars, are all lapsed Girl Scouts with school and parents to worry about. But who's got time for parents when it's time to save New York?

Purling Girls

It's not as if Scottie wants much -- just for life to be somewhat... normal. For starters, maybe her best friend, Amanda, could start acting like her best friend again, and less like the Trust Fund Princess Prom Queen Wannabe she's morphed into lately. Or, her mother could start acting like a mother who has just lost a beloved sister, instead of Creative Artisté Extraordinaire, around whom she and her Dad must tiptoe. Scottie would even take just getting a good night's sleep as a quick route toward normalcy -- really, she doesn't want much. Just her life back. Instead, what Scottie gets is ...knitting. Hours of hypnotic peace that starts with twenty four rows of blue on its way into becoming a scarf. It's not sleep, but it's close. It's not friends, or Mom and Dad, but it'll do, especially when she finds a friend in a local yarn store owner.

When Amanda finally wakes up to the fact that she's lost her friend, she seeks Scottie out at KnitWit, the place where Scottie's finally found herself. And then Tay, one of the kind of goth girls from their artsy high school, happens by, taking up knitting on a dare from her counselor. And then comes the effervescently freaky home-schooled girl, Bella. And as suddenly as yarn snarls, Scottie has friends again: chicks with sticks. They knit their lives together, and Scottie suddenly feels a little less wobbly, even though things with her parents aren't any better, and things are as lumpy as a marled sweater. Anxiously, Scottie circles her bundle of friends, trying to hold them together by sheer willpower and fear. Because if it all unravels, she'll be left alone. And what good is a single strand?

Not just for crafty types (though there are actual knitting patterns in the book), this excellent novel is about the staying power of friends. Sometimes all you need for friendship is a little yarn and a little patience.

Summer on the kibbutz

A novel in free verse, The Weight of the Sky tells the story of Sarah, a high school junior whose self-absorption and stress-load are typical of most students whose parents are pressuring them to attend a particular college or head a particular direction after high school. Sarah assumes she feels more 'other' than her classmates, for not only is she a chunky band-geek, she's Jewish. As school and parental pressure mounts, the unhappy Sarah calls a halt to the madness by taking the opportunity to visit a kibbutz in Israel, and connect with her culture. Naively assuming that all will be well in the land of her homeland, Sarah goes and gawks like a tourist, falls in love with a soldier, and realizes that even on the soil of her people she's not the same as everyone else. Sure, there are Jews everywhere, unlike her Midwestern hometown. However, no one is united in Israel, either, and not everybody thinks that Israel is a cause worth fighting endless wars for. However, her confusion is glossed over by finding herself in relationships with another former boy; when her soldier-boy friend is killed, all Sarah wants to do is go home and forget. Still, Israel woos her back as not a perfect place, but as a place where she has grown. While Sarah's choice to go to college in Israel shocks her parents, it seems to her a perfect fit.

Though beautifully written, this novel seems to set apart Sarah's feeling of otherness as something foreign to other teens in her school. She makes little or no attempt to understand how other's feel, and so her very personal struggle to find her place is not as easy to read. The country of her people is the obvious answer to her, but other teens who read this, whose country of religious origin is perhaps Italy or America may not find they have as much in common with the protagonist as they may have hoped.

Faceless in New York

It was the difference of one night that spelled out life or death for Nicole Nieman. In the French town of Aix-les-Baines in 1943, she pestered her mother for one last sleepover with her dear friend Francoise, who was moving to Switzerland. Sleeping the night at the French girl's house meant that she wasn't home when the Gestapo moved in and carried off her mother, father and little sister to Auschwitz. For that one last night of fun and friendship Nicole paid an unfair and heavy price -- she was marginally safe, but frightened, out of place, and alone.

But the war in Europe was over soon. Nicole's aunt, whom she eventually found, moved into her parent's home with her boyfriend. Though in her own room, surrounded by the things the Gestapo hadn't looted from the house, Nicole didn't fit. Overseas with cousins who looked a little like her, but who had no idea of what she'd gone through, Nicole didn't fit. In the workplace, she's not quite like the other young girls, and slowly Nicole realizes that she's not like anyone else in the world. At the age of sixteen, Nicole finds herself Lost -- in America, among family and among friends. Without her parents, and left with guilt about how she treated her sister, Nicole doesn't know what to do to be found.

A quiet tale of innocence lost, of bravery and persistence, this true story is based on the experiences of Marilyn Sach's true-to-life neighbor, Fanny Krieger, and her first year in America, how she coped, and how she survived.

October 21, 2006

Past and Present – Both Tense

Gideon the CutpurseTime travel stories can be a lot of fun, but if they have one fault, it’s that the time travelers often go to the past or the future without a whole lot of repercussions in the present they just left. Conveniently, they return to the point in time where they just left, with nobody the wiser; or worse, "contamination of the time stream," to put it in Star Trek lingo, is just not dealt with at all.

One thing I really loved about Linda Buckley-Archer’s Gideon the Cutpurse was that she didn’t pull any punches as far as the story in the present was concerned. When twelve-year-old Peter and Kate have an accident with a physicist’s antigravity machine in the lab where Kate’s father works, they are somehow transported back to the exact same spot in the English countryside—in the year 1763. However, time doesn’t stop, so to speak, while they’re stuck in the past. In fact, what you’d expect to happen, happens: two children have disappeared. The police are called in to investigate. The physics lab works with NASA and is not forthcoming to the police.

Months go by, and they find nothing of the children except a few strange ghostly sightings—it seems that Kate and Peter can “blur” back to the present for short periods of time. They travel towards London by carriage and stagecoach, looking for the cunning and treacherous Tar Man who has stolen the antigravity machine that was flung with them into the past. In the process, on occasion they find themselves blurring into the present: three feet above a supermarket parking lot, to the amazement of onlookers; in a modern-day office building. These crucial clues are what the police need to solve the mystery of their disappearance, but will the scientists cooperate and tell them what they think happened?

Meanwhile, in 1763, Kate and Peter would be entirely lost if not for the kindness of Gideon, a former cutpurse (of necessity only) who believes their story because he witnessed their strange fall from the sky and the theft of their mysterious machine. With his help, they navigate the strangely similar yet different world of 1763, fumbling with social conventions, and all the while trying to figure out how to get home.

The level of detail, both historical and in terms of character development, is amazing, yet seamlessly incorporated into this complex adventure. The parallel stories are effective and exciting. And, luckily for us, it’s the first in a trilogy!

October 19, 2006

An the Nominees Are... (Drum roll please!)

Well, the World Cup it is not, but to my mind, it should be at least as important (and include face painting, screaming, and a requisite three day party in the streets of an Italian city. Oh, okay. Maybe not the screaming. But definitely Italy should figure in somehow...). Creating a piece of children's literature worth reading is a major accomplishment, and we want to honor the accomplishment of the people who gave kids and young adults their best this year.

I'm jazzed to be on the Cybils YA Nominating Committee, and we need you to step up and start nominating what you've loved in this year's YA novel crop. We don't all read or love the same thing, by any means, and you may have gotten tired of hearing the same novels talked up in the blogosphere, so speak up -- we want to hear what struck you as wonderful, funny, quirky, and worth passing on. Just remember - only one nomination per category, por favor, so make it count!

Non-fiction books for all ages, graphic novels, picture books and poetry is also going to get this treatment, so don't be shy - visit the Cybils website and tell us where your kid-lit explorations have led you this year. You're an opinionated person -- admit it. So nominate your favorite!

Tru... Romance?
Publishers Weekly reports that Harlequin is introducing a YA line for African American girls. Kimani TRU is the first romance genre dedicated to what Kimani Press feels is an underserved target market... er, audience. "African-American teens are underserved in today's literary climate with stories that solely dwell on the negative influences of the streets," states Linda Gill, general manager of Kimani Press. "Our goal is to reach out and embrace young adult readers with stories that are true to their life experiences, but that also encourage growth, and empowerment. At times, teens feel alone with the issues they are facing ... and in KIMANI TRU novels they will meet characters they can ultimately learn from," Gill concludes.

The novels will debut in 2007, and promise to present "characters that navigate this
crucial period and triumph through these hardships." The line is especially proud to debut the line with the work of 17-year-old Cassandra Carter, and another under-30 author, Cecil Cross II, who they hope will be able to catch the true voice of African American young adults.

A new to-be-read recently reviewed by ChildLit Book Club (the blogger responsible for the fabulous Cybils icon design) is going on my booklist - it's Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce. This novel takes place in a tiny Welsh town, and sounds like it's a good one for boy readers. Especially since someone I know loves all things Wales (ahem, A.F.), it's worth checking out!

ust say ...Happy Bunny?
Oh, WOW. PW also reports that the Texas Alliance of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America is going to be using HAPPY BUNNY, the über-snarky, plastered everywhere white rabbit for it's campaign ads. Good grief.

Via Ursula LeGuin's blog I found Fairytales for Cynics, wherein LeGuin reviews The Ladies of Grace Adieu And Other Stories, by Susanna Clarke. Clarke has written some fabulous fantasy novels that depict another England in which magic wakes up again. Definitely going on my to-be-read book list.

A sad truth of my life is that I've never even considered who wrote the six volume series of Mary Poppins adventures, and saw it only as one of the most aggravating Disney movies ever (although there are many more recent ones in the running, sans the winsome Julie Andrews). However, here's a great piece on the P.L. Travers, who was the genius behind the original STORY, not the horrifying musical. I take quite a savage joy in the fact that she couldn't stand Walt Disney either. Hee!

October 17, 2006

Another lightning post!

I've been blogging in lieu of novel-ing, so I'm told that I'm on a blogging time-out today, but I had to sneak by and say this:
Go get Cybilized!
How exciting is this!? And can I tell you how much I love the name? All the quirkiest and most entertaining people I know are named Cybil... and in the larger world of Cybils, foremost in my mind is Cybill Shepherd. With this award, we now all have permission to be snarky, sarcastic, wisecracking and brilliantly beautiful and successful, whatever our ages. Cheers!

The Cybils will be accepting nominations for the best books of 2006 through November 20, 2006. Books will be judged in the following categories: Picture Book, Middle Grade Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy/Sci Fi, Picture Book Non Fiction, Non Fiction (Middle Grade/Young Adult), Graphic Novel, Poetry. DO read more and find out how to nominate a book for the award and/or nominate your blogger-self to serve on a nominating/judging committee at Big A little a.

All right, back to the salt mines.

Down the Upturned Tree

It's been three months, and there's been no change in Chloe's condition.

Her brother Rob, whose life, and the lives of his actress mother, playwright father, and his godfather, Mac, have stopped cold. All of them are waiting... for something. For a change. If only something would happen. Either Chloe should wake up and live... or she should die. It's the coma, the waiting... it's killing them all slowly.

In need of a distraction, and finding that his parents are short on cash from Chloe's fancy nursing home, Rob takes a job on a local archeology dig, using his highly polished artistic skills to draw their highly secret find. It's not the greatest job... it's boring drawing and grunt work - but Rob is starting to find some really odd things at this archeology dig. Sure, they're unique and millions of years old... but they're...alive.

Outside the dig, Rob's met some really weird druid/New Agey types, too. And they seem to think it's all highly significant... and tied to his sister. What does what the archeologist is uncovering have to do with Rob and his family? How do the druids know so much? Should Rob trust them? Is there something going on at the archeology site that he should tell ...someone? And what about Chloe? Will the druid, Vetch, be able to wake her where she wanders? And does she want to come back?

Interweaving the classic Welsh myth of Taliesin and Ceridwen into a more modern tale, Catherine Fisher's Darkhenge explores the world of imagination, and the lines between it and reality. Chloe's emotions recreate her world. If we could live out our dreams, would we ever come away from them?

Road Trip

"There are some kinds of trouble you never see coming," begins Elise Broach's YA novel, Desert Crossing, and boy, is that an understatement. On what is supposed to be a routine, though hot and painfully boring Spring Break drive from New Mexico to Phoenix to see their dad - who doesn't really even have time for them - Lucy her brother Jaime, and his best friend, Kit, find that some journeys take you where you never expected to go.

14-year-old Lucy is relegated to sitting in the backseat, ignored and reviled, as the boys, both high school Seniors, discuss girls, girls, girls, girls, girls - their bodies, their parts, their disconnected bits in objectifying ways that make Lucy's skin crawl as they drive through the endless miles of desert. After the first several hours, Lucy hates both her brother and Kit for their mindless flirting with waitresses and basically anything upright and female. Her brother Jaime's easy morphing into whatever a woman needs to see or hear to be interested and Kit's sarcastic shallowness leaves Lucy feeling abandoned and resentful and strange. Is this how all guys act, all the time? It only gets worse when the boys finagle a trucker into getting them a six pack of beer. Lucy knows she sounds like a downer, warning her brother not to drink while driving, but she's worrying that they'll all be sorry... While driving too fast in a sudden desert downpour, the car hits something -- something that makes a bone-jarring thump. Heartsick, Lucy insists, and Jaime turn back, muttering that it was only a dog or a coyote. What they find is infinitely worse.

And it changes everything.

Like leading readers down a suspensful, hold-your-breath scary rabbit hole, this sparsely worded, sometimes painful, fast-paced novel uncovers mysteries, secrets and self-discovery. This is definitely a growing-up road trip, in more ways than one, and the end of innocent assumptions.

Half and Half Hapa

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

Who are you if you feel like you're in nobody's group, when even the stereotypes don't fit you? Patty Ho, in Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) isn't entirely sure where she fits in this world. She doesn't think she's got much going on -- after all, there's a white guy at her school who hates her, her strict mother, a woman of tradition, is positive that her mantra of Good Grades, Good Job, and a 'Good One,' (which means a Taiwanese man) is the only thing that will save her brainless girlchild. Always ready to lecture and to compare Patty unfavorably with the children of other Asian families they know, Patty's mom seems to think she's a willful, worthless, terrible daughter, unlike her precious and perfect - and more traditionally Asian looking - brother, Abe, who has capture the Gold and is going to Harvard. At their neighborhood gossip potlucks, Patty's "China Doll" friends think she's not quite Asian enough because she's a hapa, and has a Caucasian father, who is long gone.

Patty despairs of ever fitting into her own world, and she resents being left with the Taiwanese half. She wishes she could find her father. She wonders if her hair were black instead of brown, her mother would think more of her...

Patty's not a "banana" -- Asian looking but Caucasian acting -- nor is she an Egg - White skinned with a "yellow" center. While those stereotypes don't necessarily fit anyone well, they fit Patty even worse. Adrift, it takes the women of the Kung Fu Kick Ass Club she meets at the Stanford Math Camp, and finding out the truth about her mother to show her the truth about herself and her own worth. Given the gift of anger and clarity in seeing herself as beautiful and cool AND Taiwanese -Caucasian --- and worth fighting for, Patty stops kowtow-ing and starts kicking butt -- in a bitterly funny, tear-jerking, raise-your-fist-and-cheer YA novel about race and relationships and reality by Justina Chen Headley. You'll want to check this one out, and the upcoming novels on Chen Headley's webpage. I only hope someday to write something half as good and real.

October 16, 2006

A quick PS ~

Kudos, kudos, kudos to Aquafortis! Yay!

Meanwhile, finally, my opinion actually counts. Okay, not for money, but still! Over at Big A little aI learned that there will be a kids lit award given by ...kidbloggers! Book Buds' Anne Boles Levy is playing 'Name that Book Award.' The names which I thought of were so bad (The KidsBlogger Book Awards? Erg!) that I would NOT post them there but I'm going to keep trying... Those of you who can actually write titles to your YA novels that your editor doesn't change right off the bat? Well, perhaps you should give it a stab...

Don't Mess with Gilda

You thought Gilda Joyce was meddlesome, bold, and smartmouthed in Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator, the first book in the series. In the second book, Gilda Joyce: The Ladies of the Lake, Gilda brings these characteristics to a classic setting for mean girls and mysterious doings—an old, creaky Catholic girls' school called Our Lady of Sorrows.

With the same humor-tempered-by-seriousness that Jennifer Allison brought to the first book, this second book brings us yet another engaging Gilda Joyce adventure. Though it didn't have quite the same wonderful balance of Gilda recovering from her father's death at the same time she throws herself into solving a ghostly mystery, hiding her sorrow with humor and investigative passion, The Ladies of the Lake is still a highly enjoyable read.

Why is everyone at Our Lady of Sorrows so reluctant to talk about a girl who drowned in the lake a few years ago? Is Gilda's new friend Tiara really tormented by ghosts, or is she just looking for attention? Are Gilda's incessant questions about the mysterious drowning going to ruin her chance at making friends at this small, cliquish girls' school? And will she risk making all-out enemies of the most popular coterie of seniors?

Of course, the answer to the last question is yes, as Gilda forges ahead to solve the mystery at any cost. What I love about these books is that they're open-ended about the existence of paranormal phenomena—the mystery and its solution aren't dependent on a firm yes or no in that category. This is especially true of the first book; The Ladies of the Lake has a few definite supernatural encounters. But you'll have to read it to find out which ghosts are real, which are faked, and which are only in the minds of the guilty.

I laughed; I sighed; I gasped. I wished I'd written it. Another well-crafted offering from Jennifer Allison.

Good Tidings from the Land of Aquafortis

Remember my jubilation ages ago at getting third place in a YA short story contest? And then I never said anything about it again? That's because I had heard second- or third-hand that one of the editors at Blooming Tree Press--the publisher who is putting together the anthology of contest winners--had left her job, and therefore the remaining editors were suddenly swamped. At that point I had been very discouraged because I'd received a phone message from Blooming Tree early in the year. When I finally touched base with them, they said the anthology would get going in June or July 2006, but I never heard anything more. When I got the information about them being short an editor, I tried to resign myself to the idea that maybe it just wasn't going to pan out. Maybe my first real fiction publication was not ever going to make it into print.

But yesterday I came home to a message on my answering machine...from Blooming Tree. They are proceeding with the anthology. I spoke to the editor today and she'll be sending me an actual, physical contract. YAAAAY!!! And my story will be one of only 5 or 6 stories, she says. Perhaps now is the time to start planning my viral marketing campaign. (Those of you who've ever heard me ranting about my fabulous experiences in corporate marketing--for teen-oriented websites, no less--will have detected the towering level of sarcasm in that last statement.)

October 15, 2006

Random Acts of Imperialism (loosely YA oriented)

So, the big wheeze our way is some spat about an SF city supe having a child with a friend. Of the friends, one is gay, the other lesbian, and they are neither married nor in a relationship (obviously) and the discussion is about what constitutes a family that is strong and solid and appropriate for kids. One talk radio commentator stated quite correctly that children are not a social experiment. Kudos to that thought. But as to what else is needful to provide a good home environment and stable life... ? That is open to discussion yet, I would think.

So, now to my real point: in the world of the glitterati, it's Adopt-An-African-Young Adult month (apprently I did not receive the memo), and now that certain celebrated personages are jumping on the Bag A Brown Baby Bandwagon (just wait - as Big A, little A says, "literature" on the topic will be forthcoming!), Mitali has had a few comments about a recent Washington Post article on the effect isolating a child from its home-turf can have upon its development. She raises some deeply "Hmmm!" ful points. The word 'apartheid' is used. Read. Think. Enjoy your weekend.

October 13, 2006

Odds and Ends

You must read Maureen Johnson's blog today. She's writing about Edit Head. It's something like Pregnancy Brain, something people don't like to admit exists, but...

I know everyone else has blogged on it, but today is, in fact, The End, and that adorably lugubrious Daniel Handler, Lemony Snicket's, er, friend, was quoted in the SF Chronicle today as saying that he's surprised to find himself with a completed series on his hands.

What actually caught my attention -- other than the fact that this is a strange and clever series with a huge vocabulary and amusing literary allusions in -- is the number of copies in this first print run. According to the Chron, "The initial print run for "The End" is 2.5 million copies, the largest ever for HarperCollins' Children's Books. "One million is considered really big," said Kyle Good, vice president of corporate communications for Scholastic Books, which released that many copies of the latest "Captain Underpants" book in August."

Two point five MILLION.

I've learned a bit about print runs this week, as I've read up on contracts. Most authors receive 10% royalties on the first twenty thousand copies of their novel, and then there is something called an 'escalator,' wherein the contract may state that the author then receives 12.5% royalties for any number thereafter. At least I'm told that this is industry standard for a first novel, and it is pretty much the same over the board. I imagine that Lemony... er, Handler, even got that amount on his first novel, as HarperCollins only bought the first one, despite knowing that Snicket intended to write thirteen. I guess they felt safer that way, not knowing how such decidedly savage books were going to do. Of course things are different now, to which I can only say, YAY! since it's someone other than JK Rowling making that kind of dough (no disrespect for her, but other people can write), and I am happy to note that Handler is still planning on writing more kid books. I look forward to seeing what other droll tales he can produce.

"The Quills, an initiative launched with the support of Reed Business Information, is designed to be an industry qualified "consumers choice" awards program for books, honoring the current titles readers deem most entertaining and enlightening."

Okay. Admittedly, there are always questions about awards. I don't get the 'why?' of the Newbery most years - I can't pick a winner to save my life, nor can most people, several of whom are still bewildered about last year's honoree. Today, most of us are still scratching our heads at the dubious Quills awarded (ELDEST!? Over The Book Thief?!!? Rachel RAY over Julia CHILD!?!?!? Gaaaah! Are they INSANE!?!?! Oh, wait. This is a POPULARITY contest. Not a literary one. And note that they produced no statistics for the number of people who voted? Did anyone who can READ vote?? Oh, never mind...) this past week. But my question is, aside from the statuette, what do they win? For all of the "populist sensibility with Hollywood-style glitz " of which we are meant to partake October 28th with the televised Quills presentation, who is profiting from this? Where's the moolah? That's the question...

It's been a crazy week... and I'm just as glad to see the backside of it. Enjoy your weekend!

October 12, 2006

Cheers and Cogitations

Kudos, kudos, kudos to the cool kids at Not Your Mother's Bookclub who are mentioned with many props in this week's PW! NYMBC loves YA authors and YA readers and bring the two together in some truly innovative ways. This week they're supporting San Francisco's literary festival, Litquake with a meet-the-author thing that looks like fun. Congrats, NYMBC - may your tribe increase.

Further kudos to the proud Mommy over at Wands & Worlds, whose son's imagine-the-ending to the Snicket Saga was chosen to be printed by the Washington Post. The kid not only writes in complete sentences, he's ... hilarious! Cheers! Another writer on the horizon! Mazel tov to both!

I don't know from manga, but...Via A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, this Anne Frank edu-manga thing looks like a big, fat, NOOOO! to me. And I am a little stunned, too, at the idea of a pop-up book on the Irish potato famine... Exactly what could you pop-up to make it more... um... readable? In my mind, pop-ups are supposed to be ...fun? However! I will wait like everyone else and read the book before I comment. Any further. Ahem.

A post I'm late discovering is via Tockla's World of Children's Lit and it's on mixed-race kids books. This is of special interest to me because my book originally had a mixed-race protagonist, and my agent suggested that since I'm "plain old African American" I should take that out.
I was fairly steamed, to say the least, especially since a nice letter I got from a senior editor at Jump at the Sun who called it "refreshing" that the character was not in any way concerned that she was mixed race, and that the novel did not necessarily concern race. But the real question? Is anybody really "plain old" anything? And I wonder now if I did wrong to change my character. Oh well. As I write more, I learn more, I guess...

An interesting discussion at AS IF on manga and graphic novels and their, er, graphic content. Some want to ban all graphic novels. Not really the answer!? Also on this same fascinating weblog, Laurie Halse Anderson posts her approach to dealing with challenges to her book, Speak, and states she has "no business insisting" that her book is taught anywhere. Very enlightening and enlightened thoughts.

One of the things I love deeply about literature is that it can bridge cultures and traditions and backgrounds and people, and bring together humans in a commonality of experience that transcends political rhetoric and polarizing speeches. Music, too, can be as fluid and versatile as literature, so today's "check it out because it is heart-touching and energizing and hopeful and positive" site of the day is NPR, whose lovely pieces from Lullabies from the Axis of Evil will make you want to add this CD of Iranian, Iraqi and North Korean lullabies to your repertoire so you can do some peaceful meditative yoga stretches and deep thinking while it plays (if you have no babies to sing to sleep). The CD is about a year old, but the short stories and poetry found in the book by the same title (and aren't YA) was just released today. The sample story I read is equally beautiful, and pulls my heart to a world that I don't quite understand, yet is so close to my own understanding of things that I feel I can reach across the chasm and touch it. Music and books: just another way to save the world.

October 11, 2006

Graphic Novels Getting Their Due

I heard a news brief on NPR this morning about today's announcement of the National Book Award finalists (winners to be announced Nov. 15). Among the nominees for Young People's Literature, which seems to be code for Middle Grade/YA, are Feed author M.T. Anderson's mouthful of a book The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party; a new book I'm looking forward to reading by Patricia McCormick, author of Cut; and a graphic novel! Yay! by Gene Luen Yang called American Born Chinese.

It's amazing to see graphic novels getting recognized by venerable literary organizations. There are so many great graphic novelists and artist/writers telling their stories through words and images together, in a dizzying array of styles, and it's a genre--or rather, medium--that deserves attention in the U.S. (In Japan, comics don't seem to have the same "kids and geeks only" reputation they have here--we saw a lot of well-dressed businessmen reading graphic novels on the train.) Incidentally, for those interested in creating graphic novels, I found an interesting link via Gene Yang's website about the Xeric Foundation, which awards graphic novel self-publishing grants. That's a great idea, despite my suspicion of self-publishing--if you think it's hard to get a novel published, it seems that it's a hundred times more difficult to make it big with a graphic novel. Then again, maybe it won't be so difficult anymore now that authors like Gene Yang, Marjane Satrapi, and Art Spiegelman have brought some great graphic literature into the mainstream.

The Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Winners have also been announced--another prize for Kate DiCamillo's latest, which I'm ashamed to say I haven't had a chance to read yet. An interesting website for children's publishing information (which I may have already posted and, if so, I apologize) is JacketFlap.com, which offers "the world's largest and most comprehensive database of statistics and information on children's book publishers. The site helps writers most optimally find the publishers that are publishing new authors and that publish titles in the writer's category of work."

If you have a ton of money and some time coming up this month, the Highlights Foundation is offering a new Writing Novels for Young Adults workshop with Rich Wallace. It's a small workshop, so sign up soon if you want to go. I personally do not have $895 plus plane flight to Pennsylvania, so... Jack Prelutsky has been named the nation's first Children's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation, and high-school staple George Orwell has been lauded in a recent NPR story.

October 10, 2006

Guilty Pleasures: Lulu Dark

I must have been suffering from some kind of dementia, because I found myself picking up the second Lulu Dark novel in as many weeks! But, like candy, the highly aggravating girl detective is sort of addictive, even as she makes your teeth ache. Lulu Dark and the Summer of the Fox was actually quite entertaining. Lulu had already decided that the last detective shtick was a fluke, and that her real destiny lay in... well, lying around and doing nothing. Unfortunately, her mother came to town, which threw her off her stride. Lulu's mother, Isabelle, is an aspiring starlet... unfortunately, she's completely random and self-centered, and makes Lulu look normal. When she disappears, at first Lulu isn't excited. Her mother tends to be a dork like that. But then, when she shows up an awards show, and steals a statuette from somebody whoms she's supposedly taken under her wing... well, she's acting like the ringleader of a group of masterminds. SO not Isabelle's style. Lulu sighingly takes to the skulking around doorways and having guns pointed at her -- again. But really -- you won't guess your way out of this plot, so cheers, give it a shot, open the box of bonbons and dive in.

Wildly Successful Adventure!

Trouble rides a fast horse, cowpoke, and if you're not careful, trouble will run you right over. That's what 11-year-old Sallie and her sister, Maude find out when their aunt is shot dead right in front of them. Orphaned for the second time in their lives, before they know it, they've lost everything -- their Aunt's house, which wasn't paid off, their independence, as they're moved into the Minister's house as unpaid servants, her quilts and clothes, which the minister's wife uses freely and puts into the missionary bundles for poor people, and their freedom -- as the minister tries to marry off Maude. Sallie is furious. She'd rather read dime novels than do anything else on earth, but even an old man who brings her some to sweeten her up can't just off and marry her sister -- she's only sixteen, and he's old! So, they cut off their long hair, take an old nag and the minister's horse -- leaving their fat milk cow in trade -- and head for the hills in search of their Uncle Arlen, whom Aunt never much approved of -- in Independence, Missouri. It's 1869 in the wild, wild west.

Sallie uses all she's learned from the dime novel Westerns she inhales to keep their pursuers off of their trail, but it's not easy to be on your own in the wild. The girls accept help from a shady gentleman and find that newspapers are laying out a trail of blame that implicates Maude first in horse theft, then in -- murder!? I can't tell you too much without giving away too many details of a thoroughly delightful Western that you'll really love. The Misadventures of Maude March is not just a great story, but it's a story about the power of information -- or misinformation -- in the media that applies to today, and the fact that what readers think they know, because they read it in a magazine or saw it on TV -- is probably all made up.

500 Year Old Mysteries

Hero is starting the sixth grade, and she knows it's going to be bad. On the first day of school, some girl blurts out that Hero is the name her family calls their dog. Hero, and her sister, Beatrice, are named after characters in Much Ado About Nothing, which is a Shakespeare play, but that's not the point, in Hero's mind. Who cares about Shakespeare, except for her Dad, who is totally obsessed? Why can't she have a normal name, and a normal time in school like her sister, Beatrice, who is so pretty and popular that she gets just about everything she wants? But then, something takes Hero's attention away from her name and the teasing at school. The neighbor next door tells her that there may be a 500 year old diamond hidden in her house! Hero is determined to find it, and to shed the layer of anonymity and ordinariness that characterizes her life. She's not much of a hero, maybe, but she's a crack shot at solving a mystery. Oddly enough, the cutest boy in the whole middle school is suddenly willing and interested in helping her? Why? Is it because he's the son of the chief of police? Is there more to this diamond thing than meets the eye? A mystery within a larger mystery, Shakespeare's Secret is a middle grade novel that will keep younger readers guessing until the end.

The Aiken Wolves series

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a thoroughly dark and gothic tale, full of gorgeous descriptions and thoroughly evil henchmen, wild wolves and icy cold. Sylvia is a poor girl, coming to live with her wealthy cousin, Bonnie, where the contrast with her own life is wildly different - sumptuous and plentiful, where thinness and want has been her closest companion. But almost as soon as she arrives, in deep snow, with snarling wolves and gunmen escorting her into the safety of the gates -- her Aunt and Uncle are off to find a rest cure for her Aunt, and the sinister governess, Miss Slighcarp, has charge of them both. And horrors -- the Aunt and Uncle are reported wrecked at sea. Instantly, Miss Slighcarp begins firing servants, taking over the estate, and wearing Bonnie's mother's clothes. But Bonnie isn't about to take anything lying down. Though she and her cousin, Sylvia, are sent off to the poorhouse, they determine to escape, and set things right. An exciting story which has kept its wonderful sense of fun even though it was first published in 1962.

Blackhearts in Battersea introduces readers Simon, a boy who wants to be an artist, and is seeking his friend Dr. Field, who has promised him a position at his art school, only he's ...mysteriously disappeared! Simon moves in with Dr. Field's former landlords, the Twite family, and their irrepressibly spirited daughter, Dido, who is full of secrets and a bit lonely and ill-treated in her household. Simon meets the Duke of Battersea, who is somewhat mad, his nephew, who is sullen and snappish and wishes he didn't have to become a famous artiste like his grandfather, and reunites with his friend Sophie, the Duchess' maid, who keeps saving the Batterseas from being assassinated by political opponents. It's a wild adventure, full of random happenings all tying together in a complete whole that keeps readers guessing until the end.

Nightbirds on Nantucket is another story about Dido Twite, who wakes up from a ten month sleep and finds herself... onboard a whaling ship out to sea. She misses England immediately! The cabin boy, Nate, is very kind, but there's craziness aboard. For one thing, the Captain, a serious Quaker gentleman, is obsessed with finding a pink whale. He's sure he's seen it, and his terrified daughter, Dutiful Penitence, who has locked herself into his stateroom, is sure he's crazy, and that she, like her mother, is going to die onboard the whaler forever chasing the whale. Captain Casket urges Dido to help his daughter get more courage... and Dido really works on it. She helps 'Pen' get over her fear of her father, her fear of the ship, and her fear of her Terrible Aunt Tribulation, whom she knows her father is going to force her to live with, so he can get back to whaling. Then, just as Pen finally finds her courage, her father dumps the girls off with friends of his departed wife, the moment they touch land and he hears of another pink whale sighting. It's enough to tick Dido off for sure. She decides to head for the Captain's property, and never mind Aunt Trib -- who turns out to be a skinny and mean-spirited woman, one who Dido suspects immediately isn't whom she says she is. More political intrigue, a huge gun, several daring escapes, and the adventure ends safely and happily for all involved, including the pink whale, which actually exists.

Joan Aiken is a stupendous writer, aside from being amazingly prolific, her adventure tales really hold up over time. I truly enjoyed them, and can't wait to seek out more.