December 31, 2007

A Hogmanay Hootenany

Wow, it seems like only yesterday, the Cybils were still in the nomination stage, and we anxiously kept checking the list to see what else we could track down at the library. And now I can report that Saturday night at, midnight in the UK, anyway, our list was pushed screaming into the world.

Oh, it was not an easy birth by any means.
There were those books which each of us were clutching and sobbing over and writhing on the floor and drumming our heels to force everyone else into voting for them because they were our PRECIOUS LOVELY BABIES, but... *sigh* There's just a limit to the number of books we can foist off on the judges without giving them hives, and that's all there is to it. We've got to stop somewhere, but people, the books of 2007 -- are amazing. Thank-you to everyone who took part in the Cybils, by nominating or reading or talking up your favorite books. It's all about the books, isn't it? Look for the Science Fiction/Fantasy shortlist on January 1 to ring in the new year.

So much fun stuff going on! British station ITV has an interview with JK Rowling tonight which the British SCBWI is buzzing about (here's a clip). The documentary follows her through the last year of writing the Harry Potter series. So many people on our Cybils team really responded strongly to the book, so here's hoping this shows up on American TV for the HP7 fanbase sometime soon.

Quite an honor has been bestowed upon children's author Jacqueline Wilson. She's now Dame Jacqueline, having been made a peer of the British Empire. I've only read one Jackie Wilson book, but The Illustrated Mum, about a mother with tons of tats who isn't always able to take care of her kids, due to her bi-polar disorder, left me in tears. She's an amazing writer, is our Dame Jacqueline, and I look forward to reading more of her books now that I'm in the UK (and the Cybils are over).

Hey - want to learn a little Latin? A little learning isn't always a dangerous thing.

Once a graphic novel about an Islamic childhood, told from the point of view of a young girl, Persepolis is now a short film. Has anyone else seen this? I'm very interested, and the graphic looks really interesting. Hmm! Something else to look forward to on the TBR list.

Bottom Shelf Books leaves us laughing this year with the best list of book resolutions -- from book characters themselves. The Giving Tree vows this year to stop letting that wretched little boy walk all over her. Stop by to see who else is making resolutions. And don't forget to leave one of yours!

It's bad luck to wish you a Happy Hogmanay, according to Scottish tradition, so I'm not -- until tomorrow, anyway. Enjoy your burning sticks (which is what a Hogmanay is, literally), fireworks, bubbly drinks, and animal-skin wrapped processions. (Also part of historic Hogmanay celebrations, strangely enough. And don't get me started on the decorated herring in Dundee). Find a good looking dark-haired man to be the first over your door step after midnight, visit friends and bring them the traditional gifts of coal, shortbread, salt, black bun (a kind of fruitcake) and whiskey -- and play safely, kids.

December 29, 2007

Chaos Is King

This book is a 2007 Science Fiction & Fantasy Cybils Award Nominee.

This stand-alone sequel to The Wall and the Wing reintroduces readers to Gurl and Bug -- whose names and fortunes have changed. Gurl is Georgetta Rose Aster Bloomington, and she is The Richest Girl in the World, and no longer an orphan forced into stealing by a hateful housemistress. Bug is the king of the Wings, a flyer better than all of them, with tons of sports endorsements and photo shoots -- and no real time to fly.

But Gurl and Bug are not happy. Georgie feels overwhelmed by her parent's concern and their money, and by the hideous growth spurt that has her crashing into things and tripping. Bug is chased by paparazzi, ignored by his agent, and has to work, work, work. Both Gurl and Bug feel that the other has abandoned them. Each feels cut off, and alone. So when strange things start happening to Bug -- a giant squid drags him off in the middle of a photo shoot, and then returns him unharmed -- or when stone dogs in a museum come to life -- and bite people as Georgie watches -- it takes them awhile to find each other and open up again. They'd both love to turn to the Professor and ask him what's going on.

And they'd do that, too, if they could just find him.

Someone else has been looking for him. And from all appearances, someone else -- has found him.

And now chaos is unleashed in the form of wicked-hip vampires, annoying hotel-heiresses, a really giant sloth, a Perfect Poetess, and The Chaos King -- a Sid with a serious art fetish. Once again, Laura Ruby has constructed an amazing mélange of completely bizarre characters with a lot of heart, and a compellingly weird and wonderful novel.

December 28, 2007

Poetry Friday: Thoughts for a New Year

Ah Poverties, Wincings, and Sulky Retreats
by Walt Whitman

Ah poverties, wincings, and sulky retreats,
Ah you foes that in conflict have overcome me,
(For what is my life or any man's life but a conflict with foes,
the old, the incessant war?)
You degredations, you tussle with passions and appetites,
You smarts from dissatisfied friendships, (ah wounds the
sharpest of all!)
You toil of painful and choked articulations, you meannesses,
You shallow tongue-talks at tables, (my tongue the shallowest of
You broken resolutions, you racking angers, you smother'd
Ah think not you finally triumph, my real self has yet to come
It shall yet march forth o'ermastering, till all lies beneath me,
It shall yet stand up the soldier of ultimate victory.

This one says it all. Here's to the real self in the new year.
Ms. Mac is hosting (bravely wrapped in blankets) at Check It Out.

Moving Forward, Expanding Horizons (Finishing Books...)

Whenever I imagine that I will never manage to finish a novel, I think of what Libba Bray went through to finish her trilogy, and then I feel a little stronger. Even the best and highest profile writers have really bad days sometimes.

Via Squeetus Blog, Shannon Hale announces that she's going on a book tour with Libba Bray. What a fabulous idea! Though from two different houses (Bloomsbury and Random House), the authors' books are apparently targeted at basically the same crowd, so it made sense for them to tour together, in order to get the kind of audience they both deserve.

If nothing else, it means they won't sit at a book signing table all alone if no one comes!

Awhile back,via Mitali's Fire Escape, I learned of a "Expand Your Horizons" challenge started by Melissa at Book Nut. After realizing some of her own reading limitations, Melissa challenged readers to either read four books by authors in one of six categories (you can read more than one category, but you must read four books; not two books in one category and two in another) OR read six books, one from each of the six categories below. The categories are:

1. African/African-American.
2. Asian/Asian-American (This is not just East Asian -- Chinese, Korean and Japanese -- but also Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, and the Central Asian -Stans.)
3. Hispanic/Latin American
4. Indian/Indian-American (Again, books by Indian authors; not books by white authors set in India.)
5. Middle Eastern (Iran, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Turkey...)
6. Native Peoples (Can include Native American, Inuit, Polynesian --Maori, Samoan, etc -- Siberian natives and Australian Aborigines.)

The Expanding Horizons Challenge will run January through April of 2008, and while I'm not entirely sure I'll have the time to jump into the whole thing with both feet -- revisions are calling -- I'm pleased to have completed my first book in the series. I've read Miyuki Miyabe's Brave Story -- all eight hundred sixteen pages which make up the two volumes. Stay tuned for my (post Cybils) review, and I hope that when the new year is over, you consider joining the challenge, too.

Ypulse and Teen Pregnancy

What are the novels which you feel accurately portray teen pregnancy? Ali at Ypulse, citing a recent string of popular films such as "Knocked Up" and "Waitress" in which an unplanned pregnancy occurs, is a little miffed that the "cool factor" seems to come into play.

The cool factor is that ineffable movie-shtick which crops us in blockbuster films which makes everything okay. As in, Ooh, I had everything going for me, and I was a hockey player, but an injury meant I had to go out for pairs ice dancing and meet an annoying but beautiful girl who piqued me into vicious fights with her -- until we inexplicably fell in love. It was The Cool Factor!" Or, as Ali amusingly puts it, "I had everything going for me, and oops I accidentally slept with an annoying stoner. Hey, with a good soundtrack anything can work."

Yes? No? Is dealing with teen pregnancy too "after-school special" to matter anymore? Especially those of you reading YA for Cybils -- wha'ts out there? Is it all neatly and easily dealt with? What titles accurately reflect reality? Or is the reality that bad? Join the conversation at Ypulse.

Meanwhile, Bloomsbury publishing is concentrating on international book rights to find life after Harry Potter for their company. At least they're not going around saying they're looking for the next J.K. Rowling. How sick I am of that.

On Comebacks and Carrying On

I don't write resolutions.
I am horrible. horrible, horrible at consistency. The only routine I have is randomness, so there's really no point in resolutions for me.
What I do like to do is create opportunities to start over again. The end of a season, the beginning of a new year -- these are reasonable times to start over.

I was replying to AF's thoughts on the new year, and my comments got long enough to be their own post! So, no goals to share, just a few thoughts that can be applied to anything:

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.” - Sir Winston Churchill

Need a bit more? "When you're going through hell, keep going." - also a Churchill quote.

I think of salmon swimming upstream, when I think of writing. Yeah, it's about that hard sometimes, but every year, salmon get the job done. Bears, shallow water, eagles and losing their way don't stop that homing instinct from operating. They make the effort regardless of the difficulty.

Our writing group has a mock "wall of shame" where we report to each other our rejection letters. Even as we admit our failures, we are also admitting our attempts. Failure, in the face of unremitting attempt, is transient. It, too, shall pass...

Another skill salmon possess is the ability to change the direction of their attack. They're always heading home, but the difference between leaping up between these two rocks on the left, and above this chipped rock on the right is small. I think human beings don't know how to change direction enough. Sometimes as writers we feel our identity is tied up in a certain kind of writing. It's worth considering nonfiction if you only write fiction, a female protagonist if you only write males, a story about a mother and daughter if your work is overpopulated with fathers and uncles. And it can go deeper than that. Really looking at your work will show you themes and theories that you constantly espouse. Are they true? Could they use an update? A change might do you good...

Salmon can't quit. It's not up to them to decided, "Ah, didn't want to go back to the spawning ground anyway." If you have a writing group and friends to keep you honest, you'll find you have no choice, either. People in your corner are the best gift you can give yourself. A writer is sometimes only as strong as their writing group.

Persist. The only way to make a comeback is to continue onward. Think of all of the entertainers and sports personalities who have made comebacks -- repeatedly, in some cases. They simply trained and rehearsed and leaped into the national consciousness again. It's possible for anyone.

Attitude, they say, is everything. Since it's not over 'til you say so, don't.

*Click on the graphic if you can't see it clearly. The little puzzle says, "What's the difference between what you think and what you do -- and what you're doing?" Seriously: a point to ponder.

December 27, 2007

Another Book-Turned-Movie; New Year's Goals

I just saw in a TV commercial that they're releasing a movie based on Steven Gould's Jumpers books, which feature a young adult character and would arguably be of interest to older YAs as crossover novels. I only read the first one, and I can't say it was a favorite, but it was definitely suspenseful and interesting. I'm worried they'll mangle the movie, but that's always a danger, I suppose.

Thanks to Robin Brande, I found MotherReader's post on the Airing of the Grievances in honor of Festivus. I had a few grievances this year, but I also ended the year with some resolutions for my writing, as well as revised goals for my blogging. My resolutions are fairly straightforward: continue writing and submitting my work, of course; finish the novel draft I'm currently working on; start a new novel draft, probably during NaNoWriMo; and get The Latte Rebellion accepted somewhere.

Okay, that last one isn't under my control, but still. The proposal has officially been rejected four times already, but this next time I'm submitting to the Delacorte contest. We'll see how that goes. I'm busily drawing a couple of cartoons which go with the text before I submit the manuscript, which has to be postmarked by the 31st. Yikes!!

I'm also going to be stepping back a little from blogging, which will make a big mental difference even if it doesn't make a huge difference in my actual number of posts. The plan is to limit my blogging time--kidlitosphere-wise--to two defined time slots per week, and thusly about two posts per week. That's already my average anyway, but being more focused and organized about it will keep me from excess stress, at least that's the idea. And don't worry, one of those posts will be Toon Thursday, starting next week. :) I have too much going on, so I need to be more chary with the time I spend reading and writing blog posts, much as I love it.

What are your writing resolutions and goals? Leave a comment if there are any you'd like to share!

December 26, 2007

Breaking Borders

As the numbers of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder continue to rise, so too do the numbers of books that try to help educate young readers about the issue. No doubt it's crucial. Borderline, by Bonnie Rozanski, is the story of Guy Ritter, a normal boy with an autistic brother. It preoccupies his parents, affects family relationships, and pushes Guy into the background.

Understandably, Guy is resentful; fortunately, he has his best friend Matt (who can sympathize--he has his own struggles with obesity and difficult parents). And, after visiting his father's animal lab, he has NB2405, also known as Wolf. Wolf is part of an experiment documenting genetic changes over successive generations of wolves. Caught in the middle—he's not quite wild, not quite tame—and trapped in a cage, Wolf sparks feelings of kinship and sympathy in Guy.

Wolf may be doomed at the end of the experiment, but he's not the only one with problems. There's Matt and his father, with increasing obesity-related health problems. And, of course, there's Guy's brother Austin, who hasn't responded well to treatment despite their mother's unrelenting and obsessive search for a cause—food products, cell phone towers, immunizations. Ultimately, in many ways this is a story about control, loss of control, and learning to let go: not every problem can be solved, and it's important not to forget about those things you can control, no matter how insignificant they seem. Sometimes letting go is the key.

This is a complex, information-packed book—the story is strong and Guy is an endearing but sparky narrator, but in some ways I feel that it would be strongest as a piece that is read together by parents and children, or teachers and students. It would no doubt provoke some thoughtful conversations about not only autism but the connections between poor health, illness, and lifestyle, and ways to deal with those issues. It's definitely not a casual read—for my taste, the heavy flow of information slowed the story down a bit too much—but there's no denying these are important topics for discussion.

A Writer's Holiday...

The great Garrison Keillor has a funny little website called Writer's Almanac that I very much appreciate. You can get poetry and his little diatribes via email, and I always appreciate what he has to say about writing. When the holidays are over, some of us will be up against deadlines (Robin and Sara and maybe Mitali), and others of us will have to wade into revisions yet again (Me. Sigh). Writing is never just coming up with a great idea and sitting down. It's reading it out loud, it's refining and defining and sharpening and tightening. It's a lot of work... but it's truly one of the best jobs in the world.

"And when the book is done, which it will be, and it's in the bookstore, people ask, "How does it feel?" You say, "Great!" but that's not true. You feel relief, and disbelief, and a sort of sorrow that it's gone and what will you do with your life now? Also there is that long passage in the sixth chapter that you meant to rewrite and did not and now you know you should have. And there is that typo. The publisher sent you a copy of the book hot off the press and you opened it at random and there it is, the word "releif" - God showing you that no matter how hard you try, you still fall short. Humility comes with the territory.

Writers get obsessed with a project and lock the doors and sit and work at it, like animals in a leg trap trying to chew through the leg, which is not good strategy... "

The best thing to do right now, Mr. Keillor says, is go for a walk.
Okay, fine: walking in the mall counts, too.

Wishing all my writer friends a few more restful moments before the madness begins again.

December 25, 2007


Occasionally, during the Cybils, we nominate a book into the wrong category, or publishers send books to the wrong nominating committee. Last year YA had to send an excellent read to SciFi/Fantasy, and this year, after much wrangling, some book swapping has had to happen again.

Since I'm in the UK, I've understood that not everybody wants to pay the kind of postage it takes to get a book out to me -- small and independent publishers and authors alike. So, imagine how nice it is to receive a book from a Cybils team member -- who also stuffs the box full of candy and good wishes and love, and then it arrives on Christmas Eve.

It could make a person get a bit... misty.

Able to leap tall stacks in a single bound, Jackie isn't just a super YA Cybils person, readergirl and librarian. She's also just a plain super-person and friend. Thank you, Jackie!

Psst: Did anyone else get bookish gifts? I have handmade book marks!

As a Cybils nominator, I want to express thanks to all of the authors with small press, independent, or self-published books who put in the extra effort to send me a copy of their work. We aren't really able to acknowledge individual authors, since we want to be sure everyone's work is looked at equally, but we want you to know, authors, we really appreciate it!

The Cybils clock is winding down. Finalists will be posted on the Cybils blog on January 1!!! We've been reading like crazy, and all of us will sneak in a bit of reading even today -- (since it's a holiday after all, and why not spend it doing something you love?). The End Approacheth!

Judges: be getting lots of sleep. Your turn is coming.

December 24, 2007

Happy Holiday!

You know The Fat Man is already Busy. This is a good thing.

Christmas Eve already!

We at the Wonderland tree house want to wish you your favorite kind of holiday. May you get what you really want this year -- which is probably more books, more quiet time, and a higher wattage lightbulb.

(Okay, so maybe that's only what WE want.)

We wish you hot chocolate, cool toys, and millions of new stories, as well as keen enjoyment of the very oldest ones of all.


December 23, 2007

Deep Thoughts in B&W, Stories to "Watch" & Etc.

Via SF Signal, Neil Gaiman is offering a sneek preview of "not quite final" Coraline footage!
A few days ago Robin Brande posted about her moral corruption, and linked to this NY Times piece about the generational divide in copyright morality. I have to admit to having been on the fence about a couple of things, but many of Robin's commenting audience made the situation personal when they talked about their books. Would it be okay for someone to download your books and share them for free? What makes movies and music any different? Thought provoking.

Another thought-provoking discussion started at the YA YA YA's, and it's on the subject of class in young adult literature.

Class is something difficult to define. For me it's often tied into race or education, but reading a novel that's distinctly about class but isn't written in medieval times is unusual. I more often find reading on the topic of class in characters of South Asian descent, or novels set in South Asian countries. The striations of class seem much clearer in some cultures. Last year's YA Cybil nominee, Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet dealt with a girl who faced prejudice in her country not because of her race, but because of the shade of her skin color. This can definitely be seen as a class issue, as lighter-skinned girls in her community were expected to marry better and have more wealth.

Class may not be seen on the surface as an issue which concerns the dominant culture -- because pinker skin equals privilege most of the time, and there have been many discussion on the assumption of that privilege that readers make automatically. That's why Laurie Halse Anderson's novel Prom was surprising and satisfying to many readers -- Ashley was definitely from a blue-collar family -- and some of the Australian books I've read. Markus Zusak's Fighting Ruben Wolfe is definitely a novel that shakes away preconceptions about how people live. The protagonist is gritty and rough -- but a good person with goals and dreams the same as a suburban character.

Fantasy Magazine had some really interesting things to say on this topic this past week, as they continued their discussion on people of color in fantasy literature. One telling comment to me about class and race came from Nora Jemisin, an African-American writer who’s had a number of fantasy short stories published in Strange Horizons, Helix, and elsewhere.

"Much of the problem with depictions of PoC [People of Color] by white authors is that they fall back on clichéd tropes or ham-handed one-dimensional characterization. Whereas with white characters, they try harder. It’s not just bad writing, it’s bad writing aided and abetted by screwed-up notions of race, gender, etc."

Class is trickier in fantasy novels, as so many story forms come from Cinderella -- the rags to riches, servant-to-king is a classic -- and sometimes tiring -- story tradition. In modern and urban fantasy, the class issue differs. Who is interacting with the supernatural element? Is it a person of color? If they're Latino, we can call the story magical realism. If they're Asian, it's just Asian literature -- after all, ancestors and spirits walking around are normal, as with African American stories, since voodoo dolls and curses are depicted as just part of life. However, if a Caucasian character interacts with the supernatural, that is unusual, and can thus be seen as fantasy (because the default setting of most readers is to see all characters as part of the dominant culture, and the idea is that they're smart enough to know better than to believe in the supernatural. That's a racial thing, but class is inextricably linked in there as well, because intellectuals in our society are science-minded. Minorities are not the ones depicted as knowing anything about science...).Interesting, isn't it? I encourage you to read both halves of the discussion. Some good thoughts for when you have time.

I missed posting this in time for Hanukkah, but Ellen Kushner's The Golden Dreidel sounds really cool for the chapter book set.

I blogged about digital books last January, and enjoyed reading inanimate alice. It's a great, three part digital story to explore if you have some downtime this break. Chapter four is supposed to come this month, stay tuned!

Sea Change

This book is a 2007 Science Fiction & Fantasy Cybils Award Nominee.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea change

The Tempest is one of my favorite Shakespearean tales, and it is all about surface and depth. As is Peter McAllister's life: on the surface, he's kind of a middle-of-the-road kind of guy - pretty good grades, pretty good friends with Rosemary, pretty good life. Underneath, there's a hole in Peter's heart where his parents used to be. His uncle is away on business too much, and though Rosemary is his very dearest friend in the world, he's too afraid to cross the last gap between them. And can Rosemary really fill the emptiness of coming home to an empty house?

Peter tries to make the leap from friends to more-than-friends, and Rosemary panics. Their friendship is the anchor of her whole life. How can Peter be thinking of tampering with something to precious to them both?

Peter's heart breaks -- and then freezes. Now he's left with nobody.

Except... there is a woman, Fiona. He knew her, from before his parents died, he thinks. He recalls she was the babysitter. He dreams about her, hears her voice, wishes she would return to him. She loved him once, didn't she? Desperately seeking family, when the woman appears, Peter finds it easy enough to go with her. She says he's going home.

She says he was only a foster child in the human world. Peter is really a siren's child, and it's time to return to the world beneath the waves. Peter is seduced by the idea of a family -- his family -- waiting for him, and leaps at the chance to reunite with them. He's sure he will never miss land on the surface, that no one can truly care for him like his parents. He's sure he will find them in the sea.

But Rosemary doesn't think so.

Even though Fathom Five is the first of The Unwritten Books that I've read, I really enjoyed it. Peter and Rosemary's relationship rings true, and thus engaged, the reader wants to know everything about them, and roots fiercely for humanity to prevail. I did wish that Rosemary had been a little quicker to act, seeing as she did have another adventure earlier, but the reader doesn't have a clear idea of how long ago that was, so it may be that she has forgotten, except for the mark on her hand. Still, I enjoyed the action, non-sappy romance, and theme of knowing where one belongs.

As a bonus the author has posted an unpublished story in the Fathom Five universe. Rosemary's father has always teased her about Peter... until it turns out they're serious. Then Rosemary's Dad get serious too. Fast.

More Than A Wrinkle In Time

This book is a 2007 Science Fiction & Fantasy Cybils Award Nominee.

So many times we say, "Gee, where does the time go?" In the little village of Kinvara, J.J. is convinced that it's going somewhere for real. Why else is everyone always late, and why else is everyone in Ireland constantly scuttling around, looking at their watches and scowling at the angle of the sun? It is so rare to take a moment to grab a few musicians and just revel in the joy of their music anymore -- this pressure to go-go-go-go-go is taking the joy out of life itself. And J.J. does want to play -- the music in his heart is his whole life, but now he's got to find time to investigate what must be a family secret -- he hears his grandfather might have been a murderer... but if he's hardly got time to take a breath between school and home, how will he find time to find out?

But then a neighbor fills J.J. in on a secret -- time stands still in the faery realms... and she knows just how to get to them. J.J. may be the only one determined enough to enter faery and remember what he's been sent to do -- but to do so, he has to vanish from his own life. And when J.J. vanishes... into Kinvara comes The New Policeman

At first, this novel seems unlikely for a fantasy candidate, but little by little the magical is revealed. A fun and quirky tale, this book won both the Whitbread Children's Book Award and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. Enjoy!

This was first blogged about in May; I wanted to be sure to recommend it again.

December 21, 2007


This book is a 2007 Science Fiction & Fantasy Cybils Award Nominee.

It wasn't meant to be stealing.
Well, it was stealing, but only a little bit -- nothing bad. It wasn't like they stole from anybody. It was just a wishing well, and Josh went down it to save their bums. They needed to get the last bus home, and they needed the cash. Josh was cool, and sharp -- always thinking. He was smart. Chelle and Ryan were just grateful he let them hang around, always wanting to please. But they weren't bad kids. They didn't mean any harm.

But never mind their intentions: the wishing well in Magwhite had a Guardian, a Keeper, and already she has changed them, as surely as rust turns copper a Verdigris Deep green. Ryan, whose trick of making himself smaller to leave room in the house for his two larger-than-life parents, thinks he only wants to be a hero -- once -- but now he channels the will of the Guardian of the well. Chelle, with her garrulous tongue is suddenly not just running her mouth from an empty mind -- she's running her mouth with other people's minds -- and some of their minds are terrible. And Josh is powerful -- magnetic -- electric. And machines all around him pop and fizzle and explode. Josh has a better feel for the power than any of them -- and he wants more.

The creepiest thing about this book is its deep down truth: that people are made up of wishes and hopes and thoughts, and not all of them are nice and easy or straightforward. Most of us are made up of secret, frustrated, muddled desires. What do you think would happen if all of your wishes came true? "I just want to be left alone." A blessing, or a curse?

Frances Hardinge has written a fantastic, multi-layered novel that has all the pace and suspense of a headlong slalom down a snowy slope on a cello case. Hardinge shows more of the wonderful runaway writing style we enjoyed in her first book, Fly By Night and even in the tense moments, weaves in flashes of humor and insight. An ordinary morning in the grocery store parking lot turns into a terrifying episode. Those things with "far too much body language for objects with no heads or limbs," will have you looking sideways at shopping carts forever. Highly, highly recommended.

Poetry Friday: Observation

Come, Look Quietly

The bird on the terrace has his own name in French, but I don't
know it. He may be a nuthatch, only he doesn't eat upside down.
He has a perfectly round small purple cap on his crown and a
slender long mask from his ears to his eyes all the way across. Come,
look quietly. All the way across Paris. Far behind the bird, the globes
of Sacre Coeur form out of the rain and fade again, all by themselves.
The daylight all across the city is taking its own time.
The plump Parisian wild bird is scoring a light breakfast at the
end of December. He has found the last seeds left in tiny cones on
the outcast Christmas tree that blows on the terrace

by James Wright from Above the River: Complete Poems (Noonday Press).

Happy Solstice! May you have time during these busy dark days to look quietly for something meaningful to you.
Poetry Friday is at Gina's -- aka AmoXcalli, where she also shares some really amazing -- blindsiding -- news about the Lakota Nation... The Lakota Sioux are going to become their own nation. Wow. History being made, people. History being made.

O Picture Book Nerdom, O Picture Book Nerdom...

...we love our picture book nerds...

And today's coolest picture book nerd has POP UP BOOKS. Robert Sabuda is interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. Via The Book Blog.

I have to admit that the idea that pop-up books are assembled overseas... tarnishes my joy more than slightly. I know, it's not a Christmassy thought, but I really hope those people who work with pop-up books are getting decently paid and have good working conditions... Actually, that IS a Christmastime thought. Good will towards ALL, y'know?

A Phillip Pullman podcast with The Guardian Bookclub -- it's so much fun to hear English people chatting. There are kids and adults in this book club, and the kids have some great questions. Be prepared -- it's 47 minutes long.

This morning, the temperature is -2°C -- twenty eight degrees Fahrenheit. I shall swathe myself in scarves and go forth to the market. Sadly, I have to: I'm out of sugar, and I just gave away the last of five dozen parsnip cookies.

Cookies, you say? Why yes: and they're PARSNIP cookies, too. I was mildly challenged by the idea of a Cookie Baking Day, a non-denominational holiday where we could all bake and then rescue ourselves from gluttony by sharing. The ladies at the chemist's, who were so kind to a blundering American trying to figure out how to fill a prescription, the vegetable guy, the neighbors -- all of them have saved me from eating these by myself. And I have to laugh at the reaction I get when I say "parsnip."

"Are these... American cookies?"
Why, yes. Yes they are. An American made them; I think that's really the only prerequisite.

Speaking of American, Laura Salas has found a fun quiz on American accents. And sorry, sweetie: 'gull' and 'pull' -- will not ever rhyme.

December 20, 2007

Merry Holidays from Toon Thursday!

As a gift to you, why not enjoy a vacation? (A vacation, you say? Don't mind if I do!) Yup, Toon Thursday will be taking a break this week, and possibly next week, due to holiday-induced craziness. A. fortis is currently a gift-making, present-shopping, treat-baking, house-cleaning fiend. Not much time in there for toon-drawing, I'm afraid.

In the meantime, though, here are a few links I've been saving up:

December 19, 2007

Books into Film

Fans of the Lord of the Rings films are ecstatic that there will, in fact, be a Hobbit movie directed by Peter Graves. Well, you know what I think about books made into films -- and this one's going to have a SEQUEL. Yes. Hobbit II, hadn't you heard of that?


December 18, 2007

Bird's Eye View

This book is a 2007 Science Fiction & Fantasy Cybils Award Nominee.

Kelly MacBride is only thirteen, but she feels her life is over. She and her mother had always been together, and she barely remembered her Dad, who died when she was young. Her mother has been her best friend -- phoning her from business trips, opening and savoring new words and new worlds with her through language and literature. Now that her mother has died, too, Kelly is bereft and rootless -- and being sent to live with her Dad's mother.

Why hasn't her grandmother ever been in touch? Why wasn't she around when Kelly's mother was alive? How could she have abandoned them after her father, Hamish, died? Kelly he isn't prepared to like her grandmother, Brid -- or her house or her new life in Scotland. Kelly is terrified by the depth of her loss and how lost she feels. Furious at the fear and sadness is making her resentful -- and rude. It takes her breath away to see her grandmother's manor -- the castle where she lives, the ghillie who meets her at the airport, the cook and the Masters and journeymen who live and breathe the old Celtic ways. As she slowly begins to move past the crippling grief and take part in the life of the manor, she finds that there are mysteries here -- mysteries of her father's past, and mysteries in the old manor house itself. Some of the mysteries are darker than she expects. Not everyone in the cozy Scottish manor wishes her -- or her grandmother -- well. But who is it who is evil? Who is good? Right and wrong take on different colors when seen Through a Raptor's Eyes.

This deeply satisfying novel takes magic and myth, Celtic lore and history and knits together a page-turner that leaves the reader surprised and gratified by turns. Though at times Kelly seems far, far older than thirteen (and at times abruptly much younger), and some of the exposition drags a bit during the detailed middle of the novel, the series shows promise for the patient reader.

Amusing Timewaster

Via Bookshelves of Doom, who managed to be Woodstock. I love Woodstock! But I also really wanted to be Lucy -- but we all know my true nature...

Your Score: Marcie

Wishy-Washy: 50%, Mental: 71%, Physical: 31%

Marcie is Peppermint Patty's best friend, and secretly loves Charlie Brown. She is always willing to help Patty through class and with homework, and plays on her sports teams even though she would rather be doing something else. Always address people you respect as "sir".

Link: The Peanuts Character Test written by timberlineridge on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

S.A.M. is going to Italy -- again -- in March. I suppose when I'm rich and famous I'll go to the Bologna Book Faire, too. I may have a long wait.

Cookies and Ladybugs

Yesterday, Jenn let us know that it's Bake Cookies Day today -- and I'll have to let you know how my parsnip cookies fare later on -- if I can find a mouse to whom to give a cookie. But right now, don't forget to tiptoe over to Proper Noun and wish my Cybil sister -- and new Mama Mindy -- happiness on the birth of her first child, Ladybug. She's a little overdue, and Mindy's a little sleep-deprived, but everything is how it should be, right? Congratulations, Mindy! Joy to you and C. and your little one!

Now I call that the perfect holiday gift!

December 17, 2007

Blogging from a Nest of Blankets

The high today is supposed to be 1° (34° F), but this morning it was a balmy -2°! It's beginning to look a bit like winter is on its way, and this Californian is knitting madly, so I'll keep this quick:

Now that Arthur C. Clarke is ninety, he's made his gift wishes known on Youtube. He wistfully commented that he wished Earth would receive alien contact. That'd be one heck of a birthday gift.

An interesting study gearing up in the UK -- playground song as subversive humorous political commentary. How many playground ditties contain the name "Tony Blair?" Well, they'll all have to be changed now. Fortunately, Bush rhymes with everything.

Poet Wendy Cope cruises the Web making sites remove her poetry. She's obsessive about copyright law, and hates the idea that no one is paying her. The Guardian Blog argues that reposting poems is doing no one harm. Poetry People: what say you?

"More careful analysis shows that the entire product line--books, DVDs, ball gowns, necklaces, toy cell phones, toothbrush holders, T-shirts, lunch boxes, backpacks, wallpaper, sheets, stickers etc.--is saturated with a particularly potent time-release form of the date rape drug.

We cannot blame China this time, because the drug is in the concept, which was spawned in the Disney studios."

WHOA! The online edition of The Nation has nothing nice to say about Disney Princess products.

We're a little late, but we wanted to wish a Happy Blogversary to Jen Robinson -- two years of reading and writing and sharing about children's literature in her semi-professional capacity. Three cheers for those of us without kids who dare the strange glances of parents and librarians, wade into the kid's section, and champion books for our favorite age group. Thanks, Jen, for all you do!

And now a cup of something hot is calling me! More soon from the frozen north!

December 14, 2007

Publisher's Apertif: YA fantasy novel takes wing

I always love how the publishing industry news sheet, Publisher's Lunch has little euphemisms to discuss money. They say things like "a good deal" and a very good deal" to discreetly disclose the zeros behind the decimal point for book deals. Well, I don't know if this has been published as lunch, but Wonderland friend Stephen Hunt has sent a bird up to the treehouse with this "major deal" news:


14 December 2007: London and New York.

HarperColins sells US rights in Stephen Hunt's fantasy novels to Tor Books in major two-book deal

Airlie Lawson and Tara Hiatt, Rights Directors at HarperCollins in London, have confirmed a major two-book deal with Claire Eddy of Tor Books in New York, to publish THE COURT OF THE AIR by Stephen Hunt, and his follow-up fantasy novel, THE KINGDOM BEYOND THE WAVES.

HarperCollins Voyager acquired World rights in three novels from literary agent John Jarrold, and have already sold German, French, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese rights, and are presently pursuing interest in a number of other markets.

'I'm delighted,' said John Jarrold. 'I've known the guys at Tor for over twenty years, and they have a wonderful reputation. I don't think Stephen could be in better hands in the US. Congratulations to him, HarperCollins and Claire!'

Stephen Hunt's The Court of the Air was the lead title for 2007 of HarperCollins' genre imprint, Voyager, and was published in the same week as HarperCollins other main fantasy novel of the year, The Children of Húrin (JRR Tolkien & Christopher Tolkien).

HarperCollins acquired the Court of the Air in 2006 after the company won a fierce auction for the work, seeing off many other major publishers to acquire Hunt's title.

Fantasy and science fiction author Stephen Hunt is the owner of SF, the second most popular sci-fi site on the Internet with close to a million readers a month, clocking up 30 million hits a month. Established in 1991, is one of – if not - the oldest science fiction and fantasy web sites on the web.

Hunt's author's web site can be found at


"An inventive, ambitious work, full of wonders and marvels." – The Times

"Hunt can take his place alongside such eminent Magratheans as JRR Tolkien, Mervyn Peake and China Mieville. Creating a fully-realised other-world which feels new and different, yet cohesive and believable is half the battle in a fantasy novel, and it is a battle Hunt wins with honours... Hunt's world is so rich and colourful it keeps you engrossed ... It's a confident audacious novel." – SFX

"The characters are convincing and colourful, but the real achievement is the setting, a hellish take on Victorian London where grim, steam-driven machines work beside citizens with magical powers. The Court of the Air is aimed at young adults, but the depth and complexity of Hunt's vision makes it compulsive reading for all ages." – The Guardian (Emphasis Ours!!)

"Wonderfully assured … Hunt knows what his audience like and gives it to them with a sardonic wit and carefully developed tension" – Time Out

Another young adult fantasy novel takes wing. Congratulations, Stephen -- and thank you in advance for what we are sure is going to be an awesome book!!!!

Poetry Friday: Because Sylvia Plath Doesn't Make Everyone Think of Advent

Black Rook in Rainy Weather
On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can't honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then --
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical,
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.

- Sylvia Plath

Listen to the precise cadences as the poet reads this seasonal poem and an additional poem, titled November Graveyard. The Poetry People can be found at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

December 13, 2007

Toon Thursday, and a Few Links

This one's dedicated to you, Phillip Pullman! :) Don't miss the excellent post on Scott Westerfeld's blog about the Compass Controversy (thanks to Sheila over at Wands and Worlds for the link). And on a more positive note, don't miss the kidlitosphere's own Liz B, who recently guest blogged over at ForeWord Magazine on the topic of encouraging reading. Keeping it fun--that's the key. (I don't seem to have a problem with that...)

A Bit of Sci-Fi/Fantasy news

The political spectrum lately is filled with people espousing beliefs -- Whatever your creed or position, you've got to love Robert Heinlen's piece on Our Noble, Essential Decency. Since we were just speaking of Heinlen, I thought I'd share this with you. It's a lovely thing to hear read aloud.(Via Locus Online.)

Colleen's pulling out all the stops with her 12 Days of Christmas booklists at Chasing Ray. Don't miss her Cabinet of Wonders at Bookslut (in training) where she reviews Indigara by Tanith Lee and Click, the collaborative novel that begins with a camera, Kristen Miller's Kiki Strike: The Empress' Tomb, and of course the awesome-super-fabulous Diary of a Part-Time Indian by the one and only Mr. Alexie.

Speaking of Sherman Alexie, Liz has challenged us to find more good reads for guys. Visit her post and leave a title in the comments. There IS good YA out there for the menfolk, despite what snarkers say.

Via SciFi SignalDarling Wesley is back -- according to Amazon's gamers blog, there's a Princess Bride GAME coming out. Can that movie actually be TWENTY years old?! Unbelievable. (NO, I did not say 'Inconceivable.' That would have been really annoying of me.) There's even a game trailer.

Also via SciFi Signal, a really intriguing round table discussion on people of color in fantasy literature at Fantasy Magazine. Authors, grad students, publishers and readers of varying hues discuss what they hate, what they love, and what they'd like to see more. I found some really interesting sideline discussions of writing colorblind, as well as a definition of default writing, where one doesn't talk about race, but then the reader assumes that the character is from the dominant culture. This is an ongoing conversation, which will reconvene next Wednesday. Join in and have your say.

December 12, 2007

NO, no, no, no, oh no

Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's.

Pardon me while I weep.

A Devilishly Clever Plan

This book is a 2007 Science Fiction & Fantasy Cybils Award Nominee.

He stole a body. So SUE him, okay? It wasn't like the kid was going to live those three seconds meaningfully. He was dead, from the minute he stepped in front of that truck. Only, he... wasn't. Quite. Not when his body was possessed... His soul vacated the building, but... um, nobody noticed.

It was just meant to be a small, unauthorized break. His job of torturing the damned was pointless anyway. Showing people where they went wrong -- so they could whine and cry -- when there was a chance to see what existence was like? Oh, he so went with the column marked 'Existence.' Who wouldn't? And anyway, what are they going to do since he took an unauthorized vacation? Send him to Hell?

Oh -- and don't call him a demon. He prefers the term Fallen Angel.

The moment Kiriel - whose name means "mirror of souls" Repossessed the body of Shaun Simmons, he was in for a ride. Author A.M. Jenkins takes readers on a fast-paced hysterical and thoughtful week that reintroduces them to something heart-stoppingly sweet and awesome and astounding and intricate and wonderful: everyday life.

Ketchup! And baths! And ...sight. Clothing. Writing. And lust.

Kiriel knows it can't last forever. But there is so much he wants to do -- including make an impact on the Creator. Or will it be the Boss who comes for him? Has this handful of days made a difference at all?

Suddenly there's no more time to wonder. Kiriel's vacation is... over.

December 11, 2007

From the Big Screen to the Small Screen...

For those interested in the full gamut of opinions out there about the recently-released Golden Compass movie, check out the links on Chicken Spaghetti as well as the detailed review (with a full list of pluses and minuses) from Alison over at ShelfTalker. Of course, if you REALLY want a feel for the controversy surrounding this movie, take a gander at the comments underneath her review. All in all, I think I'm still going to go see it--I know it won't ever be the book, but I'm sure I will enjoy it much more than most other movies currently in the theaters. And, if nothing else, the special effects will be pretty, even if there are moments of cheese--such as (according to Alison) the alethiometer scenes, or even the voices: "I love Ian McKellen's voice but found it distracting to hear it coming from the mouth of a polar bear, almost as if Sir Ian (or perhaps Gandalf) had been swallowed and was calling out from the bear's stomach."

And, from the small screen (via your computer screen) comes further evidence of the dumbening of America. I would never, ever watch Are You Smarter Than a 5th-Grader? and now I'm convinced of the rectitude of that decision. As Ordovicius put it in his blog post (albeit in Welsh--sorry), this is even worse than Miss Teen USA's embarrassing moment from earlier this year. It makes you wonder what environmental factors are causing Americans to lose vital brain cells between 5th grade and adulthood. Of course, Miss Kellie may not have had them in the first place.

Notes from All Over

Okay, first it was Steve Martin with the alphabet book, and now it's a mole? What is it these days with children's books and poo?

Wow. I guess if Dumbledore can have a backstory, so can Paddington. He's apparently been outed as an illegal alien. If he could be legally held for that, imagine what someone could do to Tigger!

Via Cynsations,, the Virginia Friends School is calling for nominations for their Friends Medallion Award. Books which represent the concepts of simplicity, cooperation, harmony and community and the theme of friendship are eligible. Details here.

December 10, 2007

Monday, Monday

A rare, gorgeously clear day brings us to the treehouse, a bit cold, but optimistic. Saints & Spinners wants to know which A.A. Milne character you are. I'm pretty sure personality-wise most people tend to hang between Eeyore or Owl, but my favorite character is the unsung Roo. However, I think most adults will end up being Kanga, won't they? I mean, who would admit to being an unstrung manic like Tigger?!

I'm feeling a bit cranky about the L.A. Times article by staff writer Scott Timberg that derides Robert Heinlen as being a has-been and his work as not being anything classic to stand the test of time. "'When an emerging science-fiction writer's work earns him comparisons to Robert A. Heinlein," Dave Itzkoff begins a 2006 New York Times review, "should he take them as a compliment?'" OUCH. I disagree -- if I, as a YA writer had a YA science fiction novel compared to Heinlen, I would be beyond pleased. I love his books, and reading about tough, wary, narrow-eyed young people who, with steely determination, go out and take on the perils of the universe. Admittedly, I haven't read that much of his adult fiction but Have Spacesuit-- Will Travel is like the best combination of a frontier space western novel, ever. As a writer, I look at his work and see archetypes and the Hero's quest written in all kinds of interesting ways. It's a good exercise to mimic his style, for those who want to write adventures. No matter what anyone says, I can't imagine that his YA novels, anyway, will ever really be unpopular (as long as no one else makes movies out of them -- When I realized Starship Troopers was based on a novel of his? It just proved my point about YA novels and movies. BAD).

Cluck Roosterman is guest blogging at Bottom Shelf Books -- promoting Punk Farm's latest gig, their fundraising raffle. For only five bucks, you can buy in to a raffle to maybe win a painting of your favorite Punk Farm rocker. The money raised is going to the Central Massachusetts Arts Assembly, and to cover a few band expenses (band stuff -- you know, instrument tuning, etc.). Check out the portraiture -- punk rockers don't sit still for their portraits, man. They make MUSIC. More awesomeness for a good cause.

Via Bookshelves of Doom, probably the most inappropriate YA book of all time is being celebrated by Jezebel, and with it the bygone YA literary trope of The Parent That Had to Die. (Remember them?) Ah, the 8O's. One ten year span, one thousand percent awful...

December 07, 2007

Double Barreled Doris Lessing

"As I talk to them, the school in the blowing dust of north-west Zimbabwe is in my mind, and I look at the mildly expectant English faces in front of me and try to tell them about what I have seen in the last week. Classrooms without books, without textbooks, or an atlas, or even a map pinned to a wall. A school where the teachers beg to be sent books to tell them how to teach, they being only 18 or 19 themselves. I tell these English boys how everybody begs for books: "Please send us books." But there are no images in their minds to match what I am telling them: of a school standing in dust clouds, where water is short, and where the end-of-term treat is a just-killed goat cooked in a great pot.

Is it really so impossible for these privileged students to imagine such bare poverty?

I do my best. They are polite.

I'm sure that some of them will one day win prizes.

Then the talk is over. Afterwards I ask the teachers how the library is, and if the pupils read. In this privileged school, I hear what I always hear when I go to such schools and even universities. "You know how it is," one of the teachers says. "A lot of the boys have never read at all, and the library is only half used."

Yes, indeed we do know how it is. All of us."

Society has no idea what it means to have a hunger for books. The Literature Nobel Winner is eighty-eight and speaks her mind during her acceptance speech. Read It.

"Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas - inspiration." If a writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn. When writers talk to each other, what they discuss is always to do with this imaginative space, this other time. "Have you found it? Are you holding it fast?"

Are you?

Sauvez-moi: Save Me... From Myself

This book is a 2007 Science Fiction & Fantasy Cybils Award Nominee.

You might not expect to be in tears at the end of a ghost story, but readers might find themselves swallowing hard with thirteen-year-old Davia in Giving Up the Ghost.

She's known that her great-aunt Mari is dying -- of cancer, that's why she and her parents left Wisconsin to come to Louisiana -- they're the last members of her family who are close by and able, and they don't believe anyone should die alone. Davia's parent don't believe that, anyway. Davia herself is afraid to look death in the face again, when it's passed so close to her life before. Her mother has only recently gone into remission from a Stage 4 cancer. She's heard a Stage 4 never really goes away, and she's looking for proof -- daily -- that her mother is going to go out of remission and die, leaving her alone with her fears and her father and his empty jokes.

Davia's therapist -- a faceless but very evident character in the novel -- thinks allowing her to spend uninterrupted time with her mother will cure her of her rather dark tendencies to believe that every little frown on her mother's face means incipient death-by-cancer, but Davia's spending time with her mother has an unexpected side effect -- her mother is also hovering over her. In the sultry southern heat, Davia's asthma chokes and stifles her, and her every cough brings her mother running -- terrified. Davia resents her mother reminding her to be careful and carry her inhaler, and with her father gone to help out in New Orleans, the two wear on each other's nerves constantly.

Davia's mother has her hands full with crotchety, demanding great- Aunt Mari -- who also fills Davia's ears with tales of ghosts and "setting things to right" before she dies. A ghost named Emilie will come to her, Mari warns and Davia has to help her -- she just has to, or peace will never come to the troubled ghost, and Belle Forêt will be doubly haunted.

Readers will have little trouble disliking Aunt Mari, the suffocating Louisiana heat and the situation Davia finds herself in, with a random rock-throwing spoiled rotten ghost and an over-worried mother. They may also struggle to get a fix on just what is troubling Davia, despite the straightforward prose, her nebulous fears and dependence on Miss Terri, her therapist, are difficult to follow. Ironically, the only ghost that manifests is that of a spoiled Creole girl who had an arranged marriage; despite the fact that they are on an old plantation, only one mention is given to slaves, and no mention is given to their deprived and tortured lives and their unavenged deaths which might lead at least a few of them to lie in unquiet graves. Despite the ghost, Davia's struggle to face her fears for herself and her family is worth reading, and make her struggle to forgive herself and find peace with loss heartfelt and real.

Daughter of the Hound

This book is a 2007 Science Fiction & Fantasy Cybils Award Nominee.

The matter of fact, first-person perspective of Luaine in The Warrior's Daughter almost lulls the reader into believing this novel is simply well-told historical fiction. The tale of Luaine, her mother Emer, and her father Cuchulaine, the Hound of the King, is a gripping, windswept romance one could imagine being told by Irish bards.

Luaine is curious and lively, proud of her mother, in awe of her magnificent father, who throws her in the air -- as high as the thatched roof of their house -- and races with her on his stallion as fast as he can. She is never afraid, except when her mother bids her hide from him. Her mother does not hide, though he returns home from the battlefield, blood smeared and with the beserker rage that fuels him still upon him. He has returned to tell Emer and his household to flee, for war is on his heels.

Luaine and her mother are a warrior's family, and live out the lives that honor and revenge set out for them -- through lightning quick betrayals and alliances, the wily King rules, and not all would trust him, yet his champion, Cuchulain is true through and through. Emer is an amazingly strong and fiercely independent woman who stands out like a blazing light in the masculine setting, and though she is very young and small, Luaine fiercely sets out to be like her parents -- but things are different for her. The King's druid befriends her, and gives her a raven, in whose white wing feather she can see -- the future. She recognizes the Siddhe who comes between her mother and father, and dimly, the fork in the path that will change her destiny. And when in one crushing blow Luaine loses everything, she recognizes that her path in life will never be the same.

Vivid period descriptions and a lush rendering of both characters and countryside make this book one to savor.

Merlin Revisited: The Seventh Chair

This book is a 2007 Science Fiction & Fantasy Cybils Award Nominee.

If a giant chair bearing a nun floated onto the playground of your Catholic school, you can bet there'd be a lot of panic, excitement and chaos. That's what happens in Ann Keffer's The Seventh Chair -- which appears to be the first in a series of adventures for a boy named Davy, who is in remission from cancer, and his arch nemesis, Wally, who is the school bully.

Merlin alights from Siege Perilous -- one of the chair from the Round Table -- and is startled to discover he's been asleep for 1500 years. Realizing the need to discover another Arthur in this time, he is on a quest to find a boy. He has ridden the chair and followed the lead of his magic, and it has brought him to a Washington D.C. school.

Priests and nuns are horrified, and the children are entranced. But who is the boy who is Arthur Pendragon in this time? And how will Merlin find him?

Though this story has a lot of cute elements, the fact that the chair, Siege Perilous speaks in rhyme and tells the truth about individuals who sit in it reminds me a great deal of the Sorting Hat from the Harry Potter tales. This series is meant to be a new take on the Arthurian tale, despite the magic not leading Merlin to a girl or to a child of nonEuropean descent. Finally, the author spends a little too much time in the minds of the adults, making jokes that few younger readers would appreciate, and telling the story through the eyes of the adults. This will make it difficult for young readers to get into the story, but if they make the attempt, they will find a fast-moving story that ends tantalizingly too soon -- just as the adventure is beginning.

Fluttering Between Worlds

This book is a 2007 Science Fiction & Fantasy Cybils Award Nominee.

If everyone in your family group sailed and glided, but you had the urge to flap -- would you do it? Would you stand alone -- make a break with tradition for the sake of doing what came naturally to you?

Dusk is different. He has only two claws on each hand instead of four. His head is smaller and strange, and his ears are huge. His legs are weaker than his father, Icaron's. He is strange -- strange and ugly.

His sister, Sylph, has fur on her sails and four strong claws. Her legs are swift and strong, and she is stronger, faster and better than most of the chiropters in their age group. Her friends, Jib and Aeolus, are as fast and tough as she is, but Sylph still has a soft spot for her funny looking, weak-legged little brother. Even though he slews through the air like he's a diving dragonfly, instead of gliding like a normal animal. Even though he's gotten the attention of the whole clan turned on their family, because he rides thermals and goes up, instead of gliding down like nature intended chiropters to do. Sylph sticks by Dusk, even when she resents him.

Carnassial was raised to eat roots and berries, but just tasting the flesh of an almost-hatched saurian changes everything for him. He wants meat. He needs meat. His teeth were made to tear, weren't they? He is silent -- and deadly fast and accurate. Why shouldn't the felids dominate the world of beasts? Why can't his tribe understand? Why does the female felid, Panthera, twitch her tail in agitation as she sees him bring down his first kill? When they drive him out, he is alone, and every feathered beast must beware of him. But he will not be alone for long. Others have tasted the meat, too.

The world is poised on the brink of change. Does Dusk have the courage to stand alone and be who he is was born to be? And will there ever be anybody else like him?

A taut, fast-paced read anthropomorphizing the evolutionary struggles of the bat ancestor and exploring the idea of being 'Other,' Darkwing is a surprisingly enjoyable read. If you don't like books with talking animals, pick up this one anyway.

The lint in the pocket of the week

SF/F Alert: Tor Books has a great podcast out today, as Jon Scalzi interviews Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier (slaughtering her name genially). It's an insane conversation, of course -- from the zombies to the water to the books. Enjoy.

Further surreality can be found at in perusing the strange case of Topolino, Titty, Paperino, and Paperina, who have been counterfeiting something or other. Or so Minh says.

Via Bookshelves of Doom: the Kansas City Public Library's new Plaza Branch is PHENOMENAL. The massive bookshelf/parking garage alone gave me chills. And the people have a BULL inside. How cool are they?

Those of us (AHEM!) who have gone away to write our book on a gorgeous island beach are home again. And she took pictures! To make us all jealous!

Not that we are ANYTHING but congratulatory, of course.

Poetry Friday: Words For Writers

"The Mind is a Hawk," by Walter McDonald, from Night Landing © Harper and Row.

The Mind is a Hawk

The mind is like a hawk, trying to survive
on hardscrabble. Hunting, you wheel
sometimes for hours on thermals

rising from sand so dry
no trees
grow native. Some days, you circle
only bones and snakeskin, the same old

cactus and mesquite. The secret
is not to give up on shadows, but glide
until nothing expects it, staring

to make a desert give up dead-still
ideas like rabbits with round eyes
and rapidly beating hearts.

Care to read a few more samples of this poet's brilliant work? Find more poets for everyone at Becky's Book Reviews today. Happy Poetry Friday.

December 06, 2007

Toon Thursday: More Contest Goodness

Hey, mature artists steal, that's what they say, right? Today's cartoon is the final contest-winning entry, with thanks to Alkelda of Saints & Spinners. Also, thanks to ALL of you for helping me come up with cartoon ideas, which leaves me in the uncomfortably ironic position of having to get my OWN ideas. I guess I'll just have to drink up my nail polish and go rummaging in my kitchen drawer...

Meanwhile, over in the world of REAL contests, India Currents and Khabar magazines invite submissions for KATHA: DESI FICTION CONTEST 2008. Short stories or excerpts should be 3,000 words or less. Winners receive cash prizes and publication in upcoming issues of India Currents and Khabar.

Lastly, if you participated in the fabulous Robert's Snow Blogging for the Cure event, don't miss the wonderful little surprise over at Sam Riddleburger's blog. Even if you didn't win your chosen snowflake, Sam's ensured that you'll still have a keepsake to hang on your tree/window/etc.

At Home in the Forest

The children's literature ezine we all know and love is up!!

You do NOT want to miss the interview with Kevin Hawkes with Mark of Mark & Andrea's Just One More Book!, nor A Day in the Life with children's author Esther Hershenhorn, by Kim of Kat's Eye Journal nor Little Willow's awesome feature on Books That Opened Your Eyes.

By the way: BACA's back. Color me ever-so-pleased.

I always find statistics intriguing, and the new research from Junior Achievement and Deloitte which Anastasia reports on at Ypulse really gave me pause. If you believe the statistics, there are a high number of young people who don't mind lying and cheating to get ahead, because there is a huge pressure on them to be successful. Those of us on the SF/F Cybils nomination team were talking about some of the books we're reading, and some of the behavior of the characters. We were discussing them in terms of being realistic (For instance, how much of being a bully is over-the-top? Does anyone's parents, in this day and age, really allow that?), but Anastasia's concern was an alleged lack of ethics within an entire generation. It's an interesting discussion, you'll want to drop in if you have time.

As part of the Cybils SF/F nominations team, I'm deeply interesting in why many people think science fiction isn't literature.

Don't know if you've been following the J.K. Rowling v. Publishing Company story, but Camille offers and update. And even though this blog is normally ALL Bear (ahem), GO Stanford!!!! Seriously -- I very much respect JKR's authorial control over her characters and books, etc., but I think she's going after the wrong people, here.

December 05, 2007


Coloring books have always been smiled on as quiet fun in church -- but I think this is the first time the Catholic Church has put out one... and it's on how to be safe... at church. I don't know how to feel about that. I just... don't.

The Herald-Mail reports that Twilight is going to be adapted to film, followed by its sequels. Should be interesting to see who plays Edward, and how they figure out that whole shiny-granite skin thing. Hm.

The best movie news of today, however, comes from Bottom Shelf Books where Minh shares the director's comments from Disney's Ratatouille. The artistic vision -- the rodent inspiration! The... complete and utter randomness! It'll make you smile.

December 04, 2007

Tuesday Roundup: Girly Girls, Green Screens, and Golden Compasses

Apparently you can be an internet nerd AND a girly girl. Now, pre-teen and teenage girls (and boys, if they so choose) can sign up for, "a paper doll dress-up community site for everyone who enjoys fun, fashion and making friends. At Stardoll you can create your own doll or choose from our always growing collection of celebrity dolls and dress them up in our virtual fashions." Basic membership is free, but you have to pay for extras, like new outfits and such. This sort of thing just makes me go uuurrrrggghhhh. It's not the spending-real-money-on-virtual-items part so much as the wholehearted embrace and encouragement of the Cult of Celebrity. I guess I should just be glad they threw some athletes in there among the actors/actresses and singers and models and such. I also never would have found out that there was a Ronaldinho-based comic if I hadn't visited this site. I'm not sure I needed to know that, but anyway...

If you're suffering from writer's block, why not get rid of all those distracting windows and irritating icons and do some work on a good old green-on-black workspace? If you're still blocked up, BigHugeLabs has more fun for you--the Big Huge Thesaurus (Synonyms, antonyms, and rhymes (oh my!). They also have a list of--get ready for it--blog post ideas, like "Explain why your mother should have apologized to you." Now you'll never again have an excuse not to blog. (Though, if you're anything like me, you have the opposite problem.)

A few more items: If you're going to be in the Los Angeles area Dec. 16, MediaBistro is presenting a seminar on Writing the Young Adult Novel with instructor Kerry Madden, author of Louisiana's Song and other books. This is a few days old, but Publisher's Weekly has a good summary of the controversy over the Golden Compass movie complete with links to some good interviews with Philip Pullman. Lastly, if you're suffering the rejection-letter blues, Fuse #8's roundup of sculptures of beloved book characters should bring a smile to your face. Or at least a feeling of kinship with Eeyore. One of the two.

December 03, 2007

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books: The Possibility of Lemonade

"I am telling you this just the way it went
With all the details I remember as they were,
and including the parts I'm not sure about.
You know, where something happened,
but you aren't convinced
you understood it?
Other people would maybe tell it different
but I was there."

First lines of Virginia Euwer Wolff's, Make Lemonade, Henry Holt and Co ©1993.

Probably my voice was shaking as I tried to read loudly but with some kind of feeling. My students were... loud, not with their voices, but with their bodies. They shuffled and pulled up the hoods on their coats. Their actions spoke of disgust and amusement that their teacher was reading them ...a story. I mean, they were too old for that.

My students at Crestmont were at the school because they had been incarcerated for a variety of reasons. They were a strange mix of ancient and young, iron-hard and vulnerable, so it was fitting that I read a story that was rooted in the ground from which my students grew -- the rocky ground of urban poverty. It was not a story of a person of a particular race -- and my students were Caucasian, African American, Latino, and Filipino -- but of a particular class, the category of "poor" into which all of my students fit. The girls in the story were poor -- but one was poor and dreaming, and the other was poor and hopeless. One was a fourteen year old girl with a VERY determined mother, who'd grown up with the word COLLEGE in her house like a large piece of furniture that she had to step around during her day to day. The other girl was seventeen, already a mother of two with no mother of her own, and was advertising for a sitter.

Two girls from different sides of the street, but when their lives intersected, there was ...possibility.

I deeply wanted to introduce 'possibility' to my students. Most of them had the idea that they were going to die before they turned twenty-one, that they would never find any other kind of life, and that this was how it had to be -- nobody they knew had ever done anything different. They all wanted to somehow ascend the hill of fame, be Somebody Big, and then -- die. Because they couldn't imagine anything more than that.

And so I read them Make Lemonade.
I never really got to know what they thought of it, not really.
It wasn't an assignment. I didn't make them write response sheets (although our principal preferred that I had); we didn't do any experimentation with blank verse or follow a study guide. I didn't want them to have to do anything more strenuous than listen.

In time, they stopped moving, stopped shuffling, pulled down their hoods and were still. They listened, at times with a frightening intensity. They would ask me -- sometimes in the middle of a math class, apropos of nothing, sometimes just when we were ending our session for the day -- what something meant, why something had happened. I answered what I could, and others jumped in and put forth their own answers. I left those answers as they were -- I didn't try to gather them up or refine them or make them make sense. They felt too fragile -- and amazing -- to touch. As a group we were thinking. That on its own was enough.

With as much critical praise as this book has garnered, it maybe doesn't warrant being a Wicked Cool Overlooked Book, but it was to me. None of the other teachers had read it. Quite a few older teachers in our system implied that "teaching poetry" to our school's population was out of the question. But since this book was reissued in 2006, I know someone else must support my opinion: Make Lemonade is wicked cool.

I will always remember the first book I read to my Crestmont students. They listened, then like small children, they asked if we could read it again.