January 31, 2008

Toon Thursday: The Ferret Returns

Apologies to all writers referenced. No ferrets were harmed in the production of this cartoon. However, you may thank liquidambar for the return of the ferrets this week, after clamoring for another critter cameo in last week's Toon Thursday comments. Thanks for the inspiration, writerjenn!

I have to say, I almost included "The Ferrets of Madison County" but it just didn't quite make the cut. However, I was kind of looking forward to drawing a picture of a ferret in a prairie bonnet... Oh. One other thing. Just in case that drawing for "The Ferret Whisperer" has completely confused you, simply click here for enlightenment. (I wish you really could "click here for enlightenment"--how cool would that be? I'll tell you--it would be incredibly cool.) Okay, obviously I'm spazzing a little today, so I'll quit for now.

January 30, 2008

More ALA Goodness

I just had to spread the word (which I received as a link from Liz B. of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy)--this November 7-9, YALSA presents the first-ever biennial Young Adult Literature Symposium in Nashville, Tennessee. Very cool! The theme is "How We Read Now", and according to the website,

The symposium will begin with a preconference focusing on illustrated materials for teens, including comic books, graphic novels, graphic nonfiction, manga and anime. Programs at the symposium will showcase a wide variety of topics within young adult literature and librarianship.

I was excited to see a couple of familiar names from the blogosphere on the list of presentations--"Explaining and Exploring Fandom, Fan Life, and Participatory Culture" with Liz B, and "Books between Cultures" with Mitali Perkins. Congrats to both!

January 29, 2008

Massive Link Roundup...Prepare Yerselves!

There's nothing I like more than a massive link roundup late on a Tuesday night. Okay, maybe that's the glass of wine talking, or the ginormous backlog of items I've accumulated in my "stuff to blog" e-mail folder. Either way, hope you enjoy. Some of these aren't exactly hot off the press, but of course they're worth a look.

This is actually from a couple of weeks ago, via Jen Robinson's Book Page, but it's applicable any time, any place, especially for those of you who want to do more to support your local independent bookstore: check out Readergirl Justina Chen Headley's Fab Five Ways to Support Your Local Bookstore. Now, if only my local independent sold new books as well as used...

If you're curious about ALA winners A.M. Jenkins, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, Marisa Montes, Yuyi Morales, and others, take a look at this Cynsations post rounding up some of Cynthia's interviews with the lucky and talented parties. And, speaking of titles with the ALA seal of approval, cruise by Bildungsroman for a list of the ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers 2008. Some are clearly well-deserved, some were surprises to me, and some...well, let's just say my to-read list has grown yet again. Thanks, ALA. No, really!

In case your New Year's Resolutions are off to a slow start, you can always gain inspiration from others--via LW come some creative and bookish resolutions from others around the kidlitosphere. And if you're feeling extra ambitious, check out the Day Zero project...I know for a fact I'm not that ambitious!!

Lastly, just for fun, on a blog I recently discovered called Acephalous (even the name cracks me up), a collaborative noir novel, blog-style. Definitely good for a laugh. And on that note...might as well go to bed with a smile on my face!

A Valentine's Gift For All of You

I can't even tell you how much I wish I could afford to get this charm for all of you, who, like me, write and sometimes struggle with the motivation and the reminder that THIS is the most important thing you've lined up to do today. Not the laundry. Not the making of the bed. Not even the creation of the balanced meal. This: your thing you do. That's most important.

Butt in Chair. Hands on Keyboard.

Live it like you mean it!

(Via Smart B's/Trashy B's)

January 28, 2008

Dueling Reviews: The Professor's Daughter

{Previously reviewed by A. Fortis}

She needed an escort.

He was...just lying around the house.

When famous Egyptologist Professor Bowell is out of town and his daughter takes the world-renowned Imhotep IV out of her father's collection, it's only because she's lonely. She doesn't really mean any harm. Her father is too busy combing the world for more antiques to pay much attention to her, and she's grown into a young women who'd like to be out and about with a beau.

There probably isn't a more dashing and...er, old world escort than Imhotep IV. This is the first time he's been awake and alive in thirty centuries, and with the lovely Miss Bowell on his arm, what could go wrong?

In a word: everything.

First it's the poisoning.

Then it's the kidnapping.

Then...it's Queen Victoria?? In the Thames?!

All these adventures are all in the name of true love. And true love always wins...right?

This quirky and creative graphic novel is a quick read and has wonderfully dramatic and funny illustrations. Readers looking for a fast-paced silly story will enjoy it, and the pleasing sepia-toned drawings are dreamy and detailed and interspersed with color drenched panels that move the action along. A happy bonus at the end of the book is a set of sketches from the British Museum!

This review was first published in the January '08 Edge of the Forest Children's Literature Monthly.


The Second Virginity of Suzy Green, By Sara Hantz

Aussie teen Suzy Green likes to have fun, and she’s always been the life of the party. Grades, school - both thing her parents are concerned with - usually come in a distant second to what Suzy wants, which is not to be bored out of her socks by stupid teachers and dumb rules. Life’s short, right? If you only live once, why not have fun?

But Suzy’s carefree mindset changes when her sister Rosie dies in an accident.
Suddenly Suzy feels like her party attitude is the last thing her parents need. When her father accepts a transfer to another city for a year, Suzy jumps at the chance to change. She’ll make good grades. She’ll wear clothes with a bit more color than her goth threads. She’ll take out her tongue piercing and be good. She’ll pretend she’s… more like Rosie.

After all, isn’t Suzy being more like Rosie what her parents want?

It’s hard to turn off her old thoughts and attitudes and smother herself beneath a layer of sunny sweetness. It’s hard not to resent her mother for wanting her to be someone else. It’s hard to keep her mouth shut, and not say the wrong thing to her new friends; sporty Lori and gorgeous Guy, even though they wouldn’t be caught dead with the real Suzy Green.

But it’s easy to join the virginity club all her new friends are part of. Even though she’s not eligible to join the club, it’s not like anybody in this town will ever find out, right? So it doesn’t matter if she takes the vows…

The past and the present collide in this unique first novel by Sara Hantz. As Suzy discovers, maybe you can’t start over again with some things, but owning up to what you’ve done and who you are – while making room for who you want to be -- is entirely possible.

This review was first published in the January '08 Edge of the Forest Children's Literature Monthly.

One Leg At A Time... Or One Butt Cheek...

Gert Garibaldi’s Rants and Raves: One Butt Cheek at a Time By Amber Kizer

“My parents always say, “Put one foot in front of the other.” What is that? It’s discriminatory, for one thing. Not everyone has feet, nor can everyone move their feet. But here’s the epiphany that is my brilliance—we all have butts. Seriously, even people without legs and arms have butts, right?”

Gert Garibaldi hates her name, hates her teachers, hates some of her classmates, and even sometimes hates her best friend – not because he’s gay, but because he gets all breathless about his new beau, and sometimes doesn’t have time for her. As is true of many heroines of YA novels, Gert is sharp-tongued and outspoken, and sometimes really, really funny.

Gert’s mother gives her a diary – pink, with a unicorn on it, showing how little she knows about her daughter. But what Gert doesn’t know is that she needs this diary. She needs to start working out what’s going on in her head, on her own. Nobody else is there to do it for her, after all. Reluctantly, after remodeling the cover, Gert starts to talk to herself about who she is, and who she wants to be.

Despite the bright pink cover with what looks like a big-headed sheep (it’s a unicorn. Trust me.) and duct tape on the spine, this isn’t your typical chick-lit YA novel about an angsty, diary-writing girl, not after the first hundred pages, anyway. Gert’s forays into getting to know her body during a particularly insightful sex ed chapter in biology save this novel from being a cookie cutter of anything else you’ve ever read.

Unfortunately, sometimes Gert also seems a little too …old? sophisticated? smart? for the childish jealousy she acts out, and her character simply doesn’t always ring true. For all that she has an opinion on practically everything, and, with older parents, is used to being left to fend for herself, she seems to have no internal resources whatsoever, and if her best friend isn’t paying attention to her at all times, she pouts. She spends much of the novel wondering why she has no boyfriend, but the reader doesn’t get a sense that there is all that much to Gert for anyone to be interested in yet. While there are plenty of people like that in the real world, Gert’s self-centeredness doesn’t exactly make for riveting can’t-put-it-down reading.
A little uneven, but full of funny wisecracks, Gert Garibaldi's Rants and Raves will make readers smile.

This review was first published in the January '08 Edge of the Forest Children's Literature Monthly.

Not Everything Thrown Away is Garbage...

Joyce loves gruff Old Dad, and she loves the colored bottles he collects for her from the Resource Recovery Center where he works. Joyce loves the wildlife that lives on the road near the house, and the gorgeous produce that comes from the garden she and Old Dad have on their property. Because of the compost from the food garbage, they get eight foot sunflowers in their garden. Joyce would be really, really happy, if only she didn’t have to go to school. Ever.

School is not a great place. School is where Joyce gets called ‘The Dump Queen,’ and gets teased by her classmates that she stinks and she lives in a dump. Joyce’s classmates don’t care that their house is a long walk from the dump, or that Old Dad washes up and changes his shirt before he comes to dinner. They don’t care that her house is as neat as a pin, and even the garbage doesn’t stink because Old Dad separates it out and covers the food garbage with sand so it will compost. They don’t care about the truth. They just want someone to laugh at.

Joyce is lonely, lonelier than anyone else in her whole school, she thinks. But there are other people who are just as… alone. There’s the janitor, Mrs. Fish, for one thing. “Crazy Fish,” is what people call her, because she sings while she works. She wears the weirdest brightest clothes, gigantic bows in her hair, and she smiles all the time. Doesn’t she know everybody thinks she’s nuts?
She might. But the thing is, she doesn’t seem to care.

When grumpy, hermit-like Old Dad falls ill, everything falls apart. Can Joyce trust Crazy Fish to be a true friend – the kind who won't throw her away just because of where she lives? The kind who can save the day?

A quirky story of an unusual friendship for ages 8-12 by Norma Fox Mazer.

This review was first published in the January'08 Edge of the Forest Children's Literary Monthly.

January 27, 2008

Rounding the Corner Towards February

That's the sound of a month passing.
Good grief, if the rest of 2008 is this brief, we'll have a new president before we can get tired of all the campaigning! (Hah. I'm not even in the U.S., and ... yeah.)

Busy, busy month ahead, but there are plenty of goodies to anticipate! To begin with, the 28 Days Later promotion at The Brown Bookshelf getting geared to go. Next, there's Maureen Johnson giving away copies of Suite Scarlett (and sneak chapter previews!) at inside a dog where she's author in "residence" until the 15th; Ursula K. LeGuin is offering Read By the Author at her site -- lovely free MP3's of her reading chapters from some of her books and her poetry. There's a review of The Wednesday Wars in this Sunday's SF Chron, as well as a review of two nonfiction titles for YA: Nic Sheff's Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines (Ginee Seo Books; 325 pages; $16.99; ages 14-up) and Ashley Rhodes-Courter's Three Little Words (Atheneum; 312 pages; $17.99; ages 12-up). The three little words weren't "I love you;" they were "I guess so," which are very sad words in the case of an adoption. I'm adding those to the TBR list; read more about them and add them to yours.

NPR explores the roots of Pollyanna as a symbol of relentless optimism -- and discusses whether there's any room for that in the modern world. Also, in case you missed their Holden Caulfield retrospective awhile back, it's well worth hearing.

Finally, over at Shaken & Stirred, we find out that Glenda's really dying to be a good witch who goes bad (and then gets good again). (I just think she's warning us all not to piss her off.) As for me: you can find me in the library...

I'm very depressed that my hottie/evil quotient isn't high enough to make me Spike. *Sigh*


January 26, 2008

One Extra Book

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

You thought that Specials was the final adventure in Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series. You were wrong. You haven't seen the last of Tally Youngblood. However, the newest book in the series, Extras, isn't Tally's story. It's a new age, a few years after Tally and her Special friends brought about the end of the Prettytime, and new protagonist Aya Fuse is a product of her changed, changing world.

Now, take the idea of blogging. Take the idea of expressing your opinions for the world and ranking your posts on Technorati and becoming the Nth most popular blogger in cyberspace; take that idea and fast-forward it a few centuries into the future and take it to the limits of sanity. Then you'll have Aya's world: a society in which you mean nothing unless you've cracked the top ranks of story "kickers," a city in which your personal worth is determined by your "face-rank" as a kicker and by the merits you receive from performing your civic duties.

In a society like that, Aya, just fifteen, is hardly one of the glitterati. In fact, she's an extra, a nobody. Until she finds out about a group of girls with a shocking secret pastime, and she realizes that she just might have stumbled on the story of her life. But as she gains their trust (and gains some killer footage for her story), the entire group discovers an even bigger secret that might be truly killer: it might mean the end of the world as they know it.

This is an exciting, fun, fast-paced companion volume to Tally's story, and yes, Tally does make an appearance. I especially enjoyed the unabashed critique of our fame-hungry, reality-TV-obsessed, self-centered, appearance-focused society and Westerfeld's vision of what might happen if that ever went out of control and beyond the pale. Fans of the series should enjoy this latest book.

January 25, 2008

Poetry Friday: Robert Burns, 1759-1796

Here's a sad thing: For the last five months, I've lived in Scotland... and I have never really cared for Robert -- or as they call him here, "Rabbie" -- Burns.
I know! 'Tis a monstrous heresy, and it bein' Burns Day and all! But studying a lot of rhymed poetry in school --- the kind with really tedious forced rhyme, sentimental themes, and hideously long stanzas didn't endear me to what little I'd read of Burns. I shuddered and pushed him away to find shorter, more readable poetry.

Though much of Burns' poetry is as sentimental as any poet of his time, and though many of his verses reference specific things that, unless you're well versed in Ayr and Edinburgh's history through the 1760-80's, you won't get without a bit of digging, there are compensations to reading his work, as plenty of his wit flashes through, even in forced rhyme. He wrote scandalously funny epitaphs, numerous songs, (of which the traditional Auld Lang Syne is only one), a poem to a mouse, one to a haggis -- that, yes, people read on Burns' Night -- and more, giving us, through his eyes, a rare vision of the everyday life and vociferous opinions of a man of the 18th century in Scotland. Slowly, I am becoming if not a fan of Burns, an appreciator of his words and his country, and on his birthday, I gift you with this little glimpse from his collected works, courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

Epitaph On A Henpecked Country Squire (1784)

As father Adam first was fool'd,
(A case that's still too common,)
Here lies man a woman ruled,
The devil ruled the woman.

Epigram On The Said Occasion (1784)

O Death, had'st thou but spar'd his life,
Whom we this day lament,
We freely wad exchanged the wife, [would]
And a' been weel content.

Ev'n as he is, cauld in his graff, [cold, grave]
The swap we yet will do't;
Tak thou the carlin's carcase aff, [fr. Old Norse, karling, means old woman or witch]
Thou'se get the saul o'boot. [soul]

Thanksgiving For A National Victory (1793)

Ye hypocrites! are these your pranks?
To murder men and give God thanks!
Desist, for shame!-proceed no further;
God won't accept your thanks for Murther!

Epigram Addressed To An Artist (around 1787)

Dear _____, I'll gie ye some advice,
You'll tak it no uncivil:
You shouldna paint at angels mair, [Archaic for 'maid'?]
But try and paint the devil.

To paint an Angel's kittle wark, [16th c. Scots,'tickle,' "ticklish," difficult work]
Wi' Nick, there's little danger:
You'll easy draw a lang-kent face, [kent is past participle on ken, or known]
But no sae weel a stranger. -R. B.

Happy Burns Day! Poetry of a less insulting nature -- but probably not necessarily more fun -- can be found this week at Mentor Texts & More. Should you find yourself in convivial company this evening, be sure to raise a glass and recite a bit of Burns for your hosts. And enjoy the haggis for me - I don't think I can...

Burn Engraving courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica.

January 24, 2008

To YA or not to YA??

There's a fascinating discussion/debate/snowball fight/free-for-all over in the comments at Shaken & Stirred about the nature of YA (thanks to Gwenda for the link). For my own 2 cents--which I'm unwilling to add to the discussion itself because I hate confrontation--I wanted to quote from a review in the December issue of The Atlantic. It's a review of Nick Hornby's YA novel Slam, which, incidentally didn't get an entirely favorable write-up.

Favorable or not, the review did nicely boil down the positive traits that set YA writing apart while also making it worthwhile--the reviewer describes Hornby as "funny, empathetic, morally aware, [and] attuned to popular culture and lingo." The reviewer also didn't really seem to see "young adult" as a necessary category, which was refreshing, as was the presence of the review in the straight-up fiction reviews section.

There's also a cool web-only interview with Nick Hornby in case you're Nick-crazed like I am. In the interview, he said he wasn't specifically writing for a teen audience while he was writing the book. "It's certainly about a teen, and I would hope that teens would read it, but I'd also hope that if I had written the book about somebody who lived in Alaska, somebody other than Alaskans would read it as well." (That quote's for you, Colleen!!)

In the interview, Hornby goes so far as to say that he thinks most books written for adults are outright boring, so if you're looking for an antidote to all the anti-YA-mania, go check it out.

Toon Thursday: Title Trauma

This cartoon is dedicated to TadMack in her search for a title. However, please note that any resemblance to TadMack's actual editor is purely coincidental. Thanks also to Minh and Alkelda for planting the seeds for this idea in an earlier post.

I'm trying a new thang and I'm going to put links and such in a separate post, so that you can admire my cartoon in its full glory. Bwahahahaha.

Rewriting the Old Stories

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

The Class of 2k7's Sarah Beth Durst has written a quirky, heartwarming novel full of surprises, humor, and fairy tale characters aplenty. Into the Wild is the story of Julie. Yup, plain old Julie, whose mother just happens to be Rapunzel. Yes, that Rapunzel. Only now her hair is short, she owns a beauty salon, and her mother, wicked witch Gothel, has chilled out on the evil-making and watches over the magic well at the Wishing Well Motel.

Julie's just a normal twelve-year-old girl--so normal, in fact, that she sometimes wishes her mother weren't an escaped fairy-tale character with weird friends like the embarrassingly outlandish Cindy (aka Cinderella) or the egotistical Goldie (Goldilocks). And she really wishes that she didn't have to deal with the Wild living under her bed and trying to eat all her stuff...until one day, the Wild escapes and begins taking over the town, absorbing everyone into its fairy tales. Even worse, it's taken her mother.

But this isn't Rapunzel's story, or Cinderella's, or even the Wicked Witch's. It's Julie's. Can she outwit the Wild's cunning fairy-tale traps? I really enjoyed every character, every imaginative depiction of their backstories in the Wild and out of it, and Julie is a feisty and determined protagonist. I love re-imagined fairy tales when they're done right, and this is a great one to add to my collection. Too bad it has to go back to the library...

January 22, 2008

What is the sound of two pencils snapping?

Can't hear anything?
There's a reason for that. This is the sound of Women at Work.
It's a bit quiet 'round here this week.

Well, if you manage to get your head up, don't miss this month's Edge of the Forest, starring The Class of 2k8, and the usual happy melange of book reviews, interviews, and more worthwhile news in children's literature.

Okay, we've all joked about the Cassie Edwards thing, and even had a very fine Toon Thursday about it. NPR even got into the act -- twice. But did you realize that all the publicity has actually helped the ferrets? Romance readers/writers = good people. They raised $5,032.75 to further the romantic lives of ferrets and all animals. That's some serious money, peeps. I will never mock romance novels again. (Until next time.)

Writers: Don't miss some great contest ideas for this month! UK based Writer's Magazine sponsors an annual writing for children competition. The theme for March is bullying, and details will be updated on their website closer to the date.

Another UK gem is The Belmont Poetry Prize, whose contest has children as the judges. Details here.

Finally, I know a. fortis will get a kick out of this one -- a contest for children's stories set in Wales. The Alexander Cordell Literature Competition is looking for children's short story set during the Industrial Revolution in "Cordell Country." Never heard of Alexander Cordell? Find out more about himhere, and good luck!

Happy cold/wet/rainy/sleety/where's Spring?!/ weather to you!

January 18, 2008

Poetry Friday: Blundering

"Street Moths," by X.J. Kennedy, from The Lords of Misrule (Johns Hopkins University Press). If you haven't read any X.J. Kennedy, you're missing a treat. He writes for adults and children, check out the links!

The Poetry Princesses are a group of poets - and me - who are writing sonnets of young adulthood. Though this isn't a sonnet, it reminded me of a long play version We Real Cool and adds to the slowly growing pile of poetry I've found that records the adolescent masculine experience. I really like the imagery of blundering moths... so appropriate.

Street Moths

Mature enough to smoke but not to drink,
    Grown boys at night before the games arcade
Wearing tattoos that wash off in the sink
    Accelerate vain efforts to get laid.
Parading in formation past them, short
    Skirts and tight jeans pretending not to see
This pack of starving wolves who pay them court
    Turn noses up at cries of agony—
Baby, let's do it! Each suggestion falls
    Dead to the gutter to be swept aside
Like some presumptuous bug that hits brick walls,
    Rating a mere Get lost and death-ray eyes.
Still, they keep launching blundering campaigns,
    Trying their wings once more in hopeless flight:
Blind moths against the wires of window screens.
    Anything. Anything for a fix of light.

Poetry Friday is hosted at Farm School.

January 17, 2008

Toon Thursday: And the Plagiarism Continues...

* Big Old Asterisk: All credit for quotes (which, please note, are slightly mangled for the sake of humor) goes to Paul Tolme in his hilarious Newsweek commentary detailing exactly what it's like to have a romance writer "borrow" one's...factual essay on black-footed ferrets of North America.

Seriously, if you haven't read his article yet, go do it now...the cartoon will make a lot more sense if you look at the picture of the book jacket...

January 16, 2008

Hollow-headed Headrush

My brain is scrambled, so you'll have to excuse this post - it's kind of all over the board.
This is my brain on revision.
Sometimes the creative process seems like it saps instead of energizes, and those are the days I know I'm working on something stupid... like a title. Yes, Virginia, something that matters less than not at all has kept me up literally blinking sleepless. My editor said the working title The Time of Her Life reminded her of a bad 80's movie (not that any of the YA readers have even seen it, but...), and so now we're on the hunt for a title. My favorite at the moment is A. Fortis' suggestion Along for the Ride. I think that describes my sanity. My latest favorites (in the category of Very, VERY Bad) are Notes from the Middle of the Road and Postcards from a Road Trip Hostage. Hee.

(You have to understand that part of the book is a road trip... Never mind. This is only funny if you're as tired as I am. It's one of those "you had to be there" kinds of things.)

On the up-side, my editor has enough faith in me to have made an offer today, so that's Book #2 sold, my first for 2008! Yahoo! Of course, there's a lot of work between now and contract signing, so I should hush and get busy. But first, some observations...

People are posting Take II of their TBR lists. I call dibs on including EVERY SINGLE ONE of Bookshelves O' Doom's books (with the exception of my own) for my follow-up list. More Skulduggery! More Hilary McKay!! More Bad Kitty!!! More MELISSA MARR!!!! Diana Wynne Jones, Celia Rees -- people, it can't help but be a happy new year!!! It's certainly going to be awesomisity in terms of books. And if the sequel to Skin Hunger and Octavian Nothing come out -- I may have to lie down.

(And speaking of really cool book things, via Bookshelves of Doom, this dictionary wallpaper? I would TOTALLY do. I need to move back to my house and redo the living room immediately.)

Meanwhile, writers have been talking notesbooks, and now the Guardian is stroking that pen fetish. Apparently all writers worth their salt ought to write longhand, with gloriously beautiful pens. At least, that's the theory. I adore fountain pens as much as anyone. Too bad I can't really write with them without making a mess.

The 7-Imps interview Book Moot's Camille! Drop by and say howdy and thanks for all the Entling-entertainment. Someday I will have cool book-themed names for my entire family like that.

Cybil Sister and über-librarian Sara has been posting lately about great library tech -- well, YALSA is inviting teens to make up songs about the library for a contest. THIS should be... unique...

Speaking of library tech cool, Simon & Schuster Children's
Publishing and Ball State University announced that they're going into partnership
to take Simon & Schuster authors and illustrators into more than 30,000
schools nationwide through live, interactive Web broadcasts. (Via Ypulse.) While this sounds really cool -- why a University? Why not take authors into the classroom this way? The answer: "Simon & Schuster and BSU provide the author's books to a select group of teachers who then develop grade-appropriate activities for other teachers to use before the live broadcast. Booksource has signed on to be the sponsoring book supplier. To facilitate preparation for the EAV [Electronic Author Visit], Booksource will assist participating teachers with book orders through a convenient link to their site and ordering information."

Ah. SO it does involve actual children at some point. And then book orders. I guess it's a win-win?

WOW. What a shot in the arm for children's nonfiction. Tricia's blog Open Wide, Look Inside has only been up for about three and a half minutes, and already there are tons of books listed. Way to go Dr. Stohr-Hunt!

Minh's talking Tolstoy, doing a double-take on the Jon L. Muth adaptation of The Three Questions which has got to be the most unique children's book yet. Minh, like Nikolai in the book, is seeking answers to these three hugely philosophical and disturbingly open-ended questions:
* When is the best time to do things?
* Who is the most important one?
* What is the right thing to do?

The picture book's watercolor illustrations are gorgeously dreamy, but I'm still not sure about the "after eating a hot dog" answer to question one. Unless the question is "when is the best time to fall down in a unidentifiable-meat induced panic, choking."

Oh, all right, all right, peoples, just get OFF Christopher Paolini's back! The release of "Brisingr" (say that three times fast) on Saturday, Sept. 20, at 12:01 a.m., EDT, is only happening at midnight, says his editor, because bookstores wanted it that way, so they could host midnight launch parties. It has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the world's frantic search for the next J.K. Rowling clone. Nothing whatsoever.


January 15, 2008

Oh the Glory of the TBR Pile

To Be Read. To Be Savored. To Be Devoured.

Before I knew A.Fortis was going to do her own snazzed out graphic, I came up with one that's a bit simpler, but for me, quite a bit to the point: Anticipation. I still get a rush from being able to read any old book I want! Having grown up with concerned parents curtailing my reading choices, it still seems like such sweet, heady freedom to say, "I want to read THAT one!" And then to do it.

So, gleefully, and in no particular order, comes my partial (because people, it is EVER evolving) list of newbies and not-so-newbies that have caught my eye and made my TBR list for 2008 (and just for fun, I starred those that could be called "multicultural"):

YA Fiction
Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine *
Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah *
Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery, by Alan Gratz
Evil Genius, Catherine Jinks
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
How to Salsa in a Sari, by Dona Sarkar *
Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall, by Wendy Mass
It's Not About the Accent, Caridad Ferrer *
Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature, by Robin Brande
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin
Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt
Billie Standish Was Here, by Nancy Crocker
Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr
Beauty Shop for Rent, by Laura Bowers
Cures for Heartbreak, Margo Raab
Beige, by Cecil Castellucci
The Poison Apples, Lily Archer
She's So Money, by by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong *
Long May She Reign, Ellen Emmerson White
The Fold, by An Na *

MG Fiction
Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Blue Balliett - mystery
If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, by Gennifer Choldenko
Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff, by Jennifer L. Holm; (illus. by Elicia Castaldi)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney
Eleven, by Patricia Reilly Giff - mystery
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz

Into the Wild, Sarah Beth Durst - Cybils SF/F
The Spiderwick Chronicles, by Holly Black (all of them -- before the movie gets to the UK)
Prom Dates from Hell, by Rosemary Clement-Moore - Cybils SF/F
The Dead and the Gone, Susan Beth Pfeffer
Everworld series, by K.A. Applegate *
The Black Canary, Jane Louise Curry *
Snow, Fire, Sword, by Sophie Mason *
Galax-Arena, by Rubinstein, Gillian *
The Call to Shakabaz, by Amy Wachspress *
Never Never and Elsewhere, by Will Shetterly *
My Sister Sif, by Ruth Park *

Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers, by Nancy Amanda Redd
The Periodic Table: Elements With Style! by Adrian Dingle illus. by Simon Basher Kingfisher)
Tasting the Sky: a Palestinian Childhood, by Ibtisam Baraka

Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi *
Little Night, by Yuyi Morales*
Little Brother X, by Cory Doctorow
All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, Kathy Hoopmann
Hookay. This is a PARTIAL list, and I just realized I've spent well over an hour adding to it. Over an HOUR. When I'm in the middle of a revision that needs to be to my editor next Monday. (Which is why my books have no links, and apologies for that - just really should NOT take the time for that!)

Reining myself in, then, and simply saying, "and everything else on everyone else's lists that I haven't read yet." Definitely drop a few of your very best recommended into the comments box; I'm really looking for UK reads, too, since I can get them here, read them, and lend them to some of you in the U.S. (and Kel @ Big A, has already called dibs on this, so you'll have to wrangle with her).

I want to LIVE on the YA, YA, YA list, by the way. Just so you know. Also, am taking up residence at Leila's scarily organized list as well. I want them all.

More links for this anticipatory awesomeness at the ever-insightful Chasing Ray, who we can thank for this cool anticipation idea!

The TBR Pile 2008

Over at Chasing Ray, Colleen has asked what's on everyone's reading lists for 2008. Though I don't have quite the fancy list that some have, I did want to make note of a few titles--old and new--that I'm hoping to get to read this year. (And I made a fancy graphic--see that? Whee!) A lot of these are Cybils titles that I didn't manage to get to during 2007; some are books that have been lent to me and are still on my to-read shelf; and others are new releases that I can't wait to get my hands on.

Showing Some Cybils Love: There were so many great books released for children and young adults last year that it might take me most of 2008 to get caught up. At least I have a head start on the sci-fi and fantasy titles! Unfortunately, organizing the Graphic Novels category didn't necessarily mean I've gotten a chance to read all the nominees for GN, though. Some of the Graphic Novels I'm looking forward to reading are Laika by Nick Abadzis--Colleen has posted some great stuff about the title and the author, and the publisher, First Second, has an excellent catalog. I'm also looking forward to reading Flight Volume 4 and The Arrival by Shaun Tan.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that I can't wait to read the YA finalists in particular--after all, that's our area here at FW, right? After hearing about the book and talking with the lovely author at the fall SCBWI conference, I'm especially looking forward to Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend by Carrie Jones. I also look forward to Barry Lyga's newest, Boy Toy, and Jaclyn Moriarty's latest, The Spell Book of Listen Taylor, despite the mixed reviews it's gotten.

On the Loans Shelf: I have a handful of books that people have lent me or given me that I really need to get to this year. Ages ago, back in the late summer, Little Willow gave me copies of a couple of Minx graphic novels, Good As Lily and Clubbing, which are sitting on my bookshelf with a title that TadMack lent me, Epoch by Timothy Carter.

I also borrowed Chinua Achebe's No Longer at Ease from my father-in-law, who majored in African History/Studies as an undergraduate--last year I finally got around to reading Things Fall Apart and now I'm interested in the sequel. Speaking of in-laws, my mother-in-law gave me a copy of Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad, which I was putting off reading because it's based on the myth of Penelope and Odysseus and I worried that I wouldn't get enough out of it unless I'd read The Odyssey in its entirety. I've been told that is not the case, so I plan to read it this year. From my mother, I borrowed Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf.

...And Now for Something Completely Different: I bought my husband a copy of Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, a book of intriguing case studies specifically about music and the brain, by the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. It was one of those "I'm buying this for you provided I get to borrow it" presents. I also want to read Nick Hornby's YA novel, Slam--I've really enjoyed his work for adults, especially High Fidelity and A Long Way Down. And lastly, for ages I've been planning to re-read one of my favorite literary books ever, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. The way he uses language just astounds me.

I'm sure there will be more. In fact, I KNOW there are more--these are just some highlights. After all, I haven't even gotten to books that haven't been published yet. And I know that after reading everyone else's fabulous lists, mine will only get longer...hope you find a few here to add to your list.

January 14, 2008

Okay, okay, after this, I really am going to lie down...

A couple of news bytes that stood out to me:
...18-year-old Cassandra Carter, who rose to fame at 14 as a young author is putting off college to write a sequel to her first novel, in time for her second to be published. Ironically, the sequel is called Fast Life.

The second piece of news that stuck out to me is that Disney has crossed into a new market by marketing Disney tales like Aladdin, The Jungle Book and Winnie the Pooh Hindi, Marathi and Malayalam. I guess that's a great idea, but I'm more inclined to wonder why Disney doesn't find Indian stories to publish and market. But that's just me...


Ow! Ow, ow! OW!
I got my eyes dilated today so computers are NOT my friend, and I have a total migraine, but I have to squeal anyway that the ALA Awards are out. I am excited about the Printz Award winner,(which I REALLY enjoyed, but I have to admit that I thought that Sherman Alexie would rate in here somewhere...?) and I am excited about the Newbery -- haven't read it yet, but I've heard SUCH good things!! Boy, can my blogosphere friends pick 'em -- thank you, everybody who have read these books and talked them up and have made me want to read them too (but again: we talked about Sherman Alexie... I guess they figured the National Book Award was enough? Too bad). But I'm even more excited that two books chosen for the SF/F Cybils list and a book I absolutely ADORED this year has won an Printz Honor. A big yahoo for Dreamquake, but three huge unexpected shrieks for newcomer A.M. Jenkins' Repossessed, one of the sharpest and funniest bits of SF/F I've read this year.


I'll be back when the headache fades.

January 12, 2008

Book Lists, Book Bling, and Book Auctions

I'm doing a quick post tonight because I'm not sure I'll be home long enough tomorrow to get to blog at all, let alone write. So, here are a few quick picks for your Sunday:

Little Willow has put together another great booklist--stories told in diary entries, sketchbooks, blogs or other journal forms. Or, if diaries aren't your cup of tea, LW's also put up a list of Shakespeare Spinoffs. Happy reading!

Book bling! As if the Cybils weren't enough, the Newbery and Caldecott Awards are coming up, too. Check out Fuse #8's Predict-o-Rama, complete with her picks of what will win, should win, and won't win; along with the at-times-fiery discussion in the comments below.

Last but not least, our good bud Robin Brande--well, her book, anyway--is featured in a benefit auction for the nonprofit group Kids Need to Read, founded by author PJ Haarsma and tasty actor Nathan Fillion of Firefly fame. Hey, according to IMDB trivia his parents were English teachers, so clearly he's not just a pretty face for the cause. Anyway, if you have some spare holiday money rattling around, why not bid? You'll get goodies like an autographed manuscript page...and coffee...who doesn't like free coffee? I guess if you don't like coffee, then that's not really a selling point, but you like literacy, right? I knew you did.

Sticking It To "Repulsive" Books

Little Willow's impassioned response to a book-labeling got me thinking again about fame -- and publicity. Books get challenged and disappear when people don't speak up. Long live those willing to be notorious in their defense of challenged and banned books.

According to Sarah Dessen's blog, "The school board in Hillsborough County, Florida---where Just Listen was challenged by a parent, and called "repulsive"---has decided to keep it on the shelves, though many have opted to leave a sticker indicating that it's for "mature readers."

A sticker.
Well there. That's America warned.
I'm sure young people everywhere are much safer.

January 11, 2008

Poetry Friday: Hades Hath Frozen Over: I like a Bukowski poem.

"fame," by Charles Bukowski. From Open All Night: New Poems (Black Sparrow Press).

some want it, I don't want it, I
want to do whatever it is I do
and just do it.
I don't want to look into the
adulating eye,
shake the sweating
I think that whatever I do
is my business.
I do it because if I don't
I'm finished.
I'm selfish:
I do it for myself
to save what is left of
and when I am
approached as
hero or
half-god or
I refuse to accept
I don't want their
their worship,
their companionship.

I may have half-a-
million readers,
a million,
two million.
I don't care.
I write the word
how I have to
write it.

and, in the
when there were no
I wrote the word
as I needed to write the
and if all
the half-million,
the million,
the two million,
I will continue to
write the
as I always have.

the reader is an
the placenta,
an accident,
and any writer who
believes otherwise
is a bigger fool than

I had to read Bukowski in grad school. His violence, aggressive language and sexually charged fiction wasn't my favorite by a long shot, but with this one poem, I agree. Fame isn't anything all that desirable to me. I'm not sure if it's possible to make a living from writing without achieving some measure of fame, but I'd like to think I would still write every day if I won the lottery... so it must mean more than money to me. (Good thing, huh?!) If fame means having every facet of my life scrutinized and more attention paid to my couture choices than my writing, then I'm definitely not interested.

I wonder what the perks and drawbacks are for people who are 'famous' in YA circles... other than JK Rowling, of course, who is just having fun being a celebrity. If you don't flash your cash or own a castle like Rowling does but can make a living from your writing, are you still considered famous? What really makes fame? I wonder.

Someone posted the Naomi Shihab Nye poem on fame last week, which really got me thinking. I love her concluding stanza:

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do

Is that fame enough for you and me? I wonder...

(I also wonder why all the "kids" from Fame look about thirty five. Anyway!) More poetry people have gathered at The Book Mine Set, get thee thence!

January 10, 2008

Do You Believe in Magic?

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

I hate to admit it, but every time I think of the song "Do You Believe in Magic?" I think of that horrible McDonalds commercial from when I was a kid. But it's an appropriate title for a review of Gregory Maguire's latest novel for young readers, What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy. 10-year-old Dinah, her older brother Zeke, and her little sister Rebecca Ruth live on an out-of-the-way plot of land in the hills, and are essentially cut off from the rest of civilization when a disaster hits.

Their parents leave to find help, and they're left behind with their older cousin Gage, an English teacher. To help pass the time, and distract them from the dwindling food supply and their uncertain fate, Gage begins telling them a fanciful tale. Dinah, an imaginative child, is immediately drawn in, though her brother Zeke doesn't approve--they've been homeschooled by parents of fairly strict religious faith, and Zeke doesn't see how a fairy story could possibly benefit them.

But it's no ordinary fairy story. Gage begins to relate the adventuresome tale of an orphaned tooth fairy--known as a skibberee--named What-the-Dickens, who is born inside an abandoned tuna fish can and rises from these humble beginnings to discover a whole wide world that's completely new to him. After a few frightening but hilariously described run-ins with animals and humans, he meets Pepper, a fellow tooth fairy from a local colony. The tooth fairy business is run a bit like a homegrown military operation, and the more What-the-Dickens learns more about his fellow skibbereen and their role in granting wishes and leaving coins under pillows, the more puzzled he is about his own purpose in life.

Maguire has a quirky and vivid writing style, with some beautiful turns of phrase, and this book is both funny and deep. It leaves the reader thinking about the role of fantasy and the imagination in the overall life of the mind; how, as humans, we can't live without stories, because they lend depth and insight to our "real" lives. Though it's appropriate for middle-grade readers, this one would appeal to older readers just as much.

Toon Thursday: New Toons All Over the Place

Hmm...Zeitgeist Malone. I call dibs on that one.

It's a toon-y kind of New Year--not only is Toon Thursday back with a vengeance (or, at least, back with a mildly recharged sense of motivation), but there's now yet another weekly writing cartoon for your viewing pleasure and amusement. Over at JacketFlap.com, they're introducing Joe Hemingmouse by Peter Hannan. Li'l Joe is undoubtedly cool-looking with his retro color scheme and Crumb-esque edginess (did you get a load of those teeth?), so don't get all excited and forget about your old pal Toon Thursday, yo! 'Specially since I'm starting this dandy new "Two Writers Walked into a Bookstore" thing. I should be able to think of a few more of those. What can I say? I like recurring themes.

"Let's Think Of Something To Do..."

"...While We're Waiting."

Remember that song from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood? Apparently the people during the writer's strike have thought of something to do: write children's books. (Via Mitali's Fire Escape.) The article is titled, "Striking Writer's Turn to Child's Play." Let me tell you something, Washington Post: the picture book writing: SO not child's play.

I expect a few goodies in the mix since the people who write The Simpsons and other long-running TV favorites are writing. Will this be a shot in the arm for children's books, or a really annoying (semi-BACA-y) idea? Time will tell.

Ferreting (Heh) Out Plagarism

There's been a story I've been following along with the folks at GalleyCat about a romance author who lifted quite a few passages from other works (including a work about ...ferrets. Let the bad puns continue!). That started quite an intriguing discussion on the difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism.

According to Candy: "...plagiarism is an ethical issue. It’s concerned with what’s right and what’s not. Copyright infringement is a legal action...It’s concerned with what’s legal and what’s not."

That's the cut and dried interpretation. Personal ethics is a whole 'nother ballgame, folks.

When the Kaavya Viswanathan story broke awhile back, S.A.M. circulated a polite little letter around his circle of writers and told us that while our editors would make every effort to defend us in public if anything like this ever happened, we should know that if we ever made them -- or him -- look bad, we could really kiss our contracts goodbye. "DON'T even let it come up," he warned us.

My second novel is historical fiction, and you can bet I have an attribution list that will make it look like I've written a book report -- but it's important to me that everyone read the first books -- out of print, not widely circulated -- that sparked my interest in the topic. How could I do any less for those who wrote before me?

You never stand on the top for long unless you acknowledge the shoulders of those upon whom you are standing.

Booknerdom, Sentient Cars and Other Oddlings

While the Significant Other is narrowing down his PhD project topics, he's started talking with people in the Humanities Advanced Technology And Information Institute at the University, and is leaning heavily toward a project dealing with the ethical philosophy of data management and archiving. Archiving means libraries, and so he may actually take a few library science courses in the course of his studies. Since I always wanted to be a librarian (okay, BIG nerd alert) this is kind of cool to me - Mac is one step closer to being an even bigger booknerd than me!

Libraries on the brain today -- did you know that in the UK, authors can make (a little) money from their books in the library? Public Lending Right, or PLR as its called, is "the right for authors to receive payment under PLR legislation for the loans of their books by public libraries. To qualify for payment, applicants must apply to register their books with us. Payments are made annually on the basis of loans data collected from a sample of public libraries in the UK." Isn't this interesting? I wonder if there's any American library equivalent. This certainly encourages a relationship between authors and libraries.

I'm obsessed with book covers. Some of them -- like Laura Ruby's Chaos King are so well done - suffused with color and movement -- and others... like Northlander or Nightwalker leave a bit to be desired in the imaginative design realm, which is unfortunate, because they're both such great books. That's why I like
JacketWhys -- the site combines commentary on covers with mini book reports.

"I’d like to be able to see the past - the bulk of the children and teen book jackets from ten years ago. How often were these techniques used then? What will be the future? The big trend ten years from now?"

It's good to know someone else wonders what's up with some of the strange crop jobs and repeat themes that are dominating cover art. Year before last it was headless females, last year it was head bits and feet. Who knows what this year will bring? Arms? Knees?

The other day, I read that there was to be a musical of The Diary of Anne Frank. I chose not to believe it. However, I read it in the paper, and so I must.

People --

Never mind. There are no words.

A recent conversation with my editor came to mind when I read the Guardian Blog's mini-rant against tidying up children's book reprints. One of the characters in my latest YA-work-in-revision smokes, and while I definitely do not advocate it for young adults - old adults -- monkeys or marsupials, and have never done it, will never do it, and think it's a bad idea all-round -- the character who smokes is seventy-eight or so, and has been in the military. It's something the character DOES - it goes with the time period when they were born, when people still thought that tarring your lungs was a way to lose weight and look cool. Despite the fact that it's a grandparent smoking, my editor gently insists that I change a scene where it's hinted at that the character smokes in a car with teens.

I have no problem with that, but it strikes me as really interesting. This is a trend that started with this publishing company awhile back when they voted to digitally change the picture of the author of Good Night, Moon to erase his cigarette. While I have no problem whatsoever with making this infinitesimal change, I am bothered by the idea that everything I write is meant to stand as an Example to Young People somehow. That's almost a churchy thought; I grew up with the idea that I'm meant to be an Example to the World. It made me paranoid and uncomfortable then, ditto this is publishing terms now. Do the rest of you feel like you're meant, in all ways, to write as an example?

I think of a writer like John Green (whose Nerdfighter "Happy Dance" made me tear up for some weird reason) who was training to be a minister of some sort at one point, and people like Maureen Johnson and Sara Zarr and the myriad others whose work has been sharply criticized for language or content and banned. I wonder if anyone ever really feels just a little like they deserve the slap on the wrist for their book content... I mean, it follows if we believe that we really are Examples to the Young...

I don't know. I am so anti-smoking, it's not even funny. But I also don't really expect teens to pick up on a habit someone from who is a.) old, b.) scary c.)and in a book, for goodness sakes.

What struck me even harder is that an underage character in the novel has a drink ... and my editor didn't say a word. Not one.

What strange mortals we be. What strange morals have we.

Don't mind me, though, I'm still having a lot of "hmm" moments from my last editorial letter. My editor's mind works so differently than mine, and that's why I love her. She's given me lots and lots to think about.

Oh, now this is painful... Knight Rider... lives. What is it with resurrecting every single bad sci-fi show from my childhood? Somewhere, someone is reshooting Automan. *Shudder.*

January 08, 2008


Awhile back, some of us had a conversation about class in YA lit. And then e.lockhart posted a quiz about privilege and I read Liz's response to it just the other day.

I skimmed through all 31 question, and the quiz didn't hold many surprises. I didn't grow up particularly privileged, to my mind. The only 'original artwork' we had in our home was what we drew or painted and put on the fridge. Our parents didn't buy us cars, we didn't stay in hotels or fly anywhere. Some of the questions, though, are less about the amount of money and more about class. The question about the number of books in your home when you were a child made me wonder, is that privilege, really? In this day of libraries both public and private, bookmobiles and the like, doesn't every teen, at least, who really want books have access to them? Another question was having someone read to you -- does that denote privilege or literacy? Are the questions defining privilege in terms of literacy?

On one hand, it's good that the upwardly-mobile escalator isn't broken in most ways, but on the other, is a hand-me-down car, as is listed in question 21, something that means you're underprivileged? I didn't have a car until I graduated from college and bought one! Using public transportation is then classified as something for the underprivileged, despite the fact that if more people used it, both the privileged and the less so would be much better off. How bizarre what comes across as privilege.

Ignoring things like immigration status or family size/type, urban or suburban or rural settings, race, sexual orientation, or physical handicaps (there are studies that clearly show that people who carry something as innocuous as extra weight have distinct disadvantages) leaves this quiz less helpful than it could have been. Though it's inaccurate in terms of living, breathing people, in terms of characters in novels I read or write, I think it can be fairly telling. Are the characters you're writing always the three W's: White, Wispy (skinny) and Wealthy? Does your writing reflect reality or wish fulfillment? Does wish fulfillment always satisfy the reader?

I often think of this question when I read novels that name drop labels and brands. Does that say more about the author or the character? Hm. I haven't decided yet.

Now that the Cybils are over, many of us have tons of books and have to begin the task of digging ourselves out from beneath them. People, please don't forget your local juvenile hall. Check with your local branch or public library for information about kids in lockdown and the books they can use. Deborah Davis at Two Black Cats and a Cup of Tea has California and Seattle donation information. It's my privilege to pass along the books I've enjoyed to libraries and lockdowns. Things like THIS are what makes the difference between privileged and underprivileged...

Finally, the story of Diego Palacios made me smile. Monday morning, he glued himself to his bed. He figured gluing himself to the bed would mean he didn't have to go to school.

His mother, the paramedics and his teacher thought otherwise.

Poor Diego. Good try, though.

January 07, 2008

Take Me To the River: Wicked Cool Overlooked Books

It's the first Wicked Cool Overlooked Books of the new year! (In case you need a refresher as to why we do this, Chasing Ray will remind you.)

I am not, generally, a fan of novels about the Civil War. I am of the opinion that most books treat the subject simplistically, unfairly vilifying certain persons while equally unfairly deifying others. Throw in someone saying "Yassuh, mastuh," and a few belles in tragically faded frocks, and you've got Gone With the Wind, and me puking.

I wouldn't have picked up Richard Peck's The River Between Us, except that I respect his writing tremendously, enough to read anything of his. And I'm glad I did.

Far from being the usual tale of the fragile-but-beautiful-belle, this history is framed within a narrative told in the voice of fifteen year old Howard Hutchings, who is, together with his father and brother, on a journey to see family that they've never met. Howard's story is itself textured and layered, and doesn't feel tacked onto the main story, which takes place in a small Southern town in 1861. I love Peck's talent with setting and pace, and his imaginative detail of "the town, steeping like tea in the deep summer damp" (p12). It's a quiet place where nothing much happens until a steamboat from New Orleans arrives in town and Delphine and Calinda Duval depart the boat seeking a safer place to stay. They take a room in the home of Tilly Pruitt and forever change that family's lives.

Much is made of the contrasts between Delphine and the Pruitts. Delphine is lavish with scent; the Pruitts' use plain soap and water, sparingly. Jewelry, money, even talk is wealth that she shares freely about. p.47 "We weren't used to talk at the table, and the kitchen rang with hers." The women in this family are so different, there seems no possible way that they can ever come together in any meaningful fashion -- and yet they do. The Civil War interrupts so much of their lives that coming together is the only way they survive.

Because this is a woman's perspective on war, this is a story that has moments of heartbreak, and rather than being fragile, the women have to be tough and resourceful to survive. However, there are droll, funny moments too that are pure Peck, and best of all, nobody stands around saying "the South will rise again." For another perspective on a piece of American history, pick this one up.

In Case I Haven't Mentioned It...

So many people have graciously asked about my book, I'd like to give you an update:

1. It's for YA. It's about a girl who really wants to outshine Emeril (and erase Rachel Ray) on the TV cooking show circuit. (Respect to the Big Man from the Big Easy and the perkysmiley little cook, but don't we all??) This from the flyleaf: Seventeen-year-old Lainey dreams of becoming a world-famous chef one day and maybe even having her own cooking show. (Do you know how many African American female chefs there aren't? And how many vegetarian chefs have their own shows? The field is wide open for stardom.) But when her best friend - and secret crush - suddenly leaves town, Lainey finds herself alone in the kitchen.

With a little help from Saint Julia (Child, of course), Lainey seeks solace in her cooking as she comes to terms with the past, and begins a new recipe for the future.
Peppered with recipes from Lainey's notebooks, this delicious debut novel finishes the same way one feels after a good meal - satiated, content, and hopeful.

2. It's meant to come out in June. From what I've heard from others, that date is rather amorphous; often authors find their books in bookstores before the release date, and are shocked. I'm expecting one of you bookseller types to tell me if you see it -- since I'm here in the UK, and it won't be sold here until possibly after the Bologna Book Faire, which is when Secret Agent Man takes advantage of an Italian vacation plus work to sell the foreign rights to his client's books.

I really apologize for all of you who have looked for the book and felt a bit out of it when you couldn't find it. Mea culpa!

January 06, 2008

Sunday Evening Stew

Today I've got a veritable plethora, a potpourri, if you will, of links for your enjoyment. Yes, I've been saving them up--as part of my attempt to keep my blogging under control and stress-free, I'm limiting my blogging to a couple of times a week. I hope that I'll get more writing done as a result, as well as more blogging--when I feel like I've been neglecting FW and RR, I start to stress out, and the more behind I get, the more I have a tendency to go "YIKES!" and run away from the computer. Anyway.

Over on my personal blog I was left a comment by a blogger with a really interesting site called Shaping Youth, which is a "forum about media and marketing's influence on kids." The blog's founder focuses on topics like Body Image, Emerging Trends, Vapid Values, and a host of others, and there's also a great list of links pertaining to youth, education, and media.

2008's inaugural issue of Readergirlz is up, with info on Hattie Big Sky and Girl Overboard (including the Go Overboard Challenge Grant for youth-led ideas to change the world), as well as a big welcome to our blog bud Mitali Perkins, who is the newest Readergirlz diva. Congrats, Mitali!

I was super excited to see the Cybils nominations panel for Graphic Novels narrow down all of the fantastic nominees to two short lists of five finalists each--be sure to check the Cybils blog tomorrow for the announcement. The Cybils got a great plug from the folks over at the Kids' Comics Blog, which is a publication of RAW Junior/Toon Books. Graphic Novels in particular (and yours truly, yikes!) got plugged by Diamond Comic Distributors, who did a great job of putting a list of nominees together with ordering info for schools and libraries. Now we just have to wait for the finalists to be posted tomorrow, and the big announcement on V-Day!

Secret World

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

This debut novel by Rebecca Stead, one of the talented members of the Class of 2k7, deftly alternates the parallel stories of two young people who share a mysterious connection--but don't know it yet.

Peter is the son of two scientists--his father studies glaciers and his mother is a molecular biologist with a special interest in mitochondrial DNA. Ever since he can remember, his mother has battled with bouts of depression that she calls "headaches," and now he's started getting weird headaches too. Peter hopes that their upcoming research trip to the Arctic will somehow help everything get back to normal. But what he finds there turns his world upside down.

Thea, the other main character, lives in an isolated, almost fantastical icy world of sled dogs and skating paths, in the insular community of Gracehope. Raised by her aunt Lana, their lives are regulated and structured--until Thea makes a shocking discovery about their community and its origins. And when Thea and Peter accidentally meet, on the surface of the ice, two completely different worlds collide.

This fascinating book had an intriguing mythology in the world of Gracehope--which I could easily have devoured more of--and reminded me a bit of DuPrau's Ember series. First Light was an absorbing story that kept me hooked as discoveries and revelations were steadily unfurled--I look forward to re-reading this one.

January 04, 2008

On the Borders

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

It is only when the gate is closed that Southlander Ellin lets her frustration erupt. Fury overflows as she glares at the barred gates. What are these Northlanders so afraid of, anyway? One skinny Southlander girl can't come into the city, even though she makes it back before curfew just because she's a red-haired Southlander. Fuming at the injustice, Ellin prepares for a night in subzero temperatures.

She was outside the city gates gathering herbs for the Northlander king, whom her physician father cannot cure because he's not allowed to touch him. Who calls a doctor but won't let him touch the patient? Ellin is fed up and sickened by the Northlander prejudices, tired of being edged away from in the street, tired of being spat at and ignored as "Southlander trash."

A second chance at getting into the city -- and then into the palace -- places Ellin in the position of using the particular Southlander magic she's been taught. She's not able to use it in the way her father would have, and she's frantic. The King of the Northland cannot die on her watch! Ellin and her father pull the old King through, but his reward is to make her father dungeon guests of the Northlanders -- her father, forever, herself, only until she turns sixteen. Their escape -- with the assistance of the princes, who know what they owe her -- only places Ellin and her father in further jeopardy -- at home. What has happened to the Southland Ellin knew and loved?

A deadly encounter with the Guardians leaves Ellin stranded. Now nowhere is home, and nowhere is safe. Northland or Southland, what does it matter? Ellin only wishes to stop running. But... how much is safety worth? Is she willing to betray her beliefs for a kingdom?

Readers will love Ellin, and be on the edge of their seats at the choices she must make. A taut and suspenseful tale from new author Meg Burden, this is a hugely satisfying beginning of the Tales of the Borderlands series, and readers will be anxious to read more.

Sliding Out of Control

Through the good, the bad and the ugly about being a Cheng, probably the worst thing is being thought of as a Golden Child. Just because famous father, Ethan Cheng is a billionaire, and the family has a jet, several houses and more toys than anyone doesn't mean that all is well in Syrah Cheng's life.

Her older brother and sister from her Dad's first marriage hate her. They think she and her tiny, perfect mother have just swooped in to reap the benefits of their Dad's hard work, and their putting up with his hardnosed style of parenting. Her mother is just NOT there for her -- seeming only to see her when she's not dressed right or looks to thin -- (at 110~!), otherwise leaving all of the parenting to her Bao-mu, her "nanny" -- which she's way too old for, but longs to keep close anyway. Her Dad only sees her in terms of what she brings to the family "business." Kids her age only see her as a route to her Dad. Her best friend -- whom she's more than halfway in love with -- is avoiding her -- so his relationship with his girlfriend has "time to work." Clearly, things suck. Syrah is a Girl Overboard.

If this sounds like a lot of whining, it is.
Syrah's lucky. Really lucky. For one thing, she has her health. For another, her mother really does love her -- no matter how much she seems to ignore her. When reaching out to a new friend allows Syrah to discover just how much she has to give -- she learns to receive with her whole heart -- and finds out that the girl behind the name is worth more than she imagined.

As always, author Justina Chen Headley has an amazing ability to make a difference with her books. From her Amazon blog:

Burton Snowboards and Little, Brown Books are putting me on tour with Olympic Gold Medalist, Hannah Teter, for my new novel, Girl Overboard!  Hannah and I are hitting the X-Games in Aspen and other cities to talk about the Go Overboard Challenge Grant.  Along with Burton Snowboard and Youth Venture, I'm co-sponsoring this Challenge Grant to fund the best youth-led ideas that will change the world. 

We're giving away 12 Go Overboard Challenge Grants, up to $1,000 each!

For more information, make sure to check out www.burton.com/GoOverboardGrant .  And if you want to follow the book tour, you can read all about it here on the Girl Overboard Tour MySpace page. 

Dancing WIth Dragons

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

When Creel's dotty aunt decides to sacrifice her to the local dragon, even Creel knows it's one of her dumbest ideas ever. Creel knows she's not some "fair maiden" who is going to benefit the family by being rescued by a brave knight. She has no dowry. She's just another mouth to feed, now that her mother is gone, and their hardscrabble farm has been sold to pay the mortgage. Creel's aunt needs her to marry well for her keep, but Creel has other plans.

The first of those is talking her way out of the dragon's clutches. In return for keeping yet another annoying knight away from him, the articulate and interesting dragon trades her a pair of shoes. Creel walks her way to freedom, in the King's City, where through a series of lucky breaks, she lands a job that could help her make her fortune.

But sometimes, a pair of shoes is not just a pair of shoes... they can be what's beneath an enormous lie, the means for starting a war, and the last possession of someone you loved. These blue slippers are more than anyone would expect them to be.

Though readers at times may grow heartily annoyed with Creel, as she seems almost willfully ignorant and unobservant (yet the "bad guys" are infinitely intelligent?), overall Dragon Slippers is a fun, lighthearted tale of friendship and love, and the power of an awesome pair of shoes.

Just Beyond Touch

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

Sadima's family values what is real -- real is all they'll deal with. Magic? That's fake, of the worst thieving kind. A magician robbed her family and left her mother to die the day Sadima was born. So, Sadima keeps it to herself that she can communicate with animals -- although everyone knows something is different about her. A motherless girl, she cares for her brother and grim, brooding father, keeping her head down, and doing what is right.

A visit from a wizard's servant -- a professional one from the city, who has heard of her gifts -- is just one more bright-edged Sadima keeps to herself. Why was she made the way she is -- so lighthearted and optimistic -- if her father and brother are so leaden-souled? When her father dies, Sadima flies free of sad memories and her brother's disapproval -- to the city -- to the wizard's servant who once thought so much of her.

But life isn't what she thought there, either. The wizard is a dark, dour, closed man, and his hold over Franklin, his servant, of whom Sadima has dreamed for so long... is nothing less than evil.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the city...

Hahp is not his father's favorite. He is dour and strict and makes Hahp feel that all he does is fail. He manages to rid himself of his son's hated presence by enrolling him in a prestigious academy of magic, where failure represents disappearance. Haph must succeed -- or he'll never see his family again. Surviving the first days of school -- and the peasant boy who is his roommate -- is not guaranteed.

Two stories of lives lived in strict confinement and want mingle in an incredibly taut, complex and dark tale of Skin Hunger. Readers will be outright incensed when this first volume of this well-plotted trilogy concludes.