July 31, 2008

Toon Thursday - Still Thursday Over Here!!

See, told ya I'd have it up in time. You didn't believe me. Now you owe me...oh, let's say two dollars. (Name that teen movie without clicking the link? Nice job.)

Happy Weekend-to-Come!

Lateness and Links

Toon Thursday is going to be a bit late today. It will still technically be Thursday PST, but it may be Friday in some places by the time I get it posted. This week has included some unexpected activity--friend drama, car drama, and lots of good old-fashioned work. Anyway, in the meantime, enjoy these links.

Teen Ink is "a national teen magazine, book series, and website devoted entirely to teenage writing and art." It's distributed in classrooms, but is also available online, so go check it out. It's been around since 1989, and is produced by a non-profit group called the Young Authors Foundation, Inc. For a free sample of the print issue, go here. It looks like a great chance for young artists and writers to get their work out there--makes me wish the internets were all fancy like that when I was a teen. Sadly, they were not. I remember going to a study group at a friend's house when I was a junior, and he was SO EXCITED because his family had just gotten Prodigy, which at that time was not much more than a series of tubes that you could use to send e-mail.

Anyway, for more reading pleasure, check out the latest issue of Readergirlz, which is all about body image; or cruise by Guys Lit Wire for this week's reading suggestions. Lastly, there's a nifty book trailer for Monster Blood Tattoo: Lamplighter featuring some D.M. Cornish artistic goodness, and a contest over at Chronicle Books for girls who want to win a Hello Kitty fender guitar in honor of the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls. Personally, I'm not so sure about the Hello Kitty part, but winning a guitar? Coolness.

July 30, 2008

An Island Mystery

Kids these days. That's what everyone thinks when Findlay Wheat says he's been chased by a ma wielding lunatic through the koa forest. A ma is a stealthy Hawaiian slingshot, and nowadays nobody uses them anymore -- tourists wear them as belts! Why should anyone be chasing Fin? And why would some tourist shove a handful of shredded paper into his boat's radiator? But someone has done both -- chased him and scuppered his double-hulled sailboat. No more tourist cruises means no money for Cornell by term time. And if a Wheat doesn't enroll for that first year at Cornell, the three subsequent years of tuition the Wheat Family Trust supplies will never happen. Fin's got just six days to figure out how to raise two thousand dollars.

Why would someone try and stop him from going to school?

Maybe it was the two men who had made off with a quarter of a million dollars worth of antibiotics from the Honolulu airport. Maybe it was the deputy sheriff, Duke, who doesn't seem to believe a word Fin says, and is acting awfully suspicious. Maybe they're in it together -- and only Fin and his best mate, Piwee, can stop them.

Or, maybe ...not.

Another smashing mystery from Cyrus T. Fisher, published in 1956, and likely only available in libraries or in used bookstores. It was last reprinted in 1984.

Look for other titles by Cyrus T. Fischer -- he's worth reading.
For other YA novels from the 40's - 50's, please visit The Pulse for more great titles.

Buy this book from an independent used/out of print bookstore near you!

A Weems Family Portrait

When last we visited Gentle's Holler, the big Weems brood was waiting with hope for news of their father, who had been in a serious car accident. LOUISIANA'S SONG opens with Olivia and her sister Louise waiting along with their multiple siblings for their father's return.

They've put up a banner and made a special meal, but Daddy's not the same as he was. He doesn't remember any of them -- nobody, really, but Emmett, and worst of all, Daddy won't touch his banjo, not for a minute.

The story's narrator, Livy Two, is scared -- and that makes her furious. As moody as a clump of nettles, she fights with everyone, including her quieter younger sister, Louise, who, at eleven, is now almost six feet tall.

Without Daddy working, the finances of this family in 1963 Appalachia are on the verge of collapse. The Weems' don't accept charity, and Grandma's been helping out -- grudgingly, with plenty of complaints -- and it's a big black cloud over this once happy family. Livy is sure that Louise's artwork could save them, if only she'd lay aside her shyness and get out there and hustle -- like she does. Not only does she have a job with the local bookmobile, Livy frequently sends songs to guy in Nashville who someday might just make her fortune. Their older sister, Becksie, has a job at the local pancake house, and Emmett sometimes sends home a little money, but he's under stresses only Livy knows. Mama's knitting as fast as she can, but with Grandma's constant criticisms, the heart has gone out of the Weems family.

And then, Daddy disappears -- again.

It's another rocky episode in quaint and charming Gentle's Holler, but through it all, the Weems' retain the love and unity which makes them strong. Readers can't help but cross their fingers that good things will happen soon.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

July 29, 2008

Pssst! Wanna see the drawing on my next book?

Visit Readers' Rants for a sneak peek at the cover concept for MARE'S WAR!

Would You Judge A Book By Its Cover?

(Drum roll, please.)

I've waited a long time to share it with you, and here it is: the cover concept of my next novel which will be published in 2009! Drawn by the incredibly talented Jody Hewgill, this novel is being worked over by meticulous copy editors, all so that it can be presented to discerning readers next June.

(Please note: this is a cover CONCEPT. This is not the final cover, and please remember that it is shared courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House, USA, and it's their property, under their copyright. Thanks!)

One reluctant grandmother, two grumpy siblings, and a road trip together create an amazing story you might have never heard before: the story of MARE'S WAR.

Support Independent Bookstores!

July 28, 2008

Hero Status

John Wayne casts a long, tall shadow.
At least he does if you're Liliana, and your stepdad's dead, and your real dad has kind of been known to be... well, someone you're weirded out talking about, and your Mom's auditioning creepy guys to be the next dad in line.

Writing letters to a long-dead cowboy is a whole lot easier than dealing with the people who don't make the cut in the real world. Certainly talking to Mr. Wayne is easier than talking to your Mom, who thinks that every new guy who comes around is going to be a hero -- a straight talking, clean-shaven, good guy with a big white hat. She falls for that lie time after time after time, and she's fallen for it again.

Liliana isn't going to fall for anything. She knows the truth when she looks at her sister, who's pregnant, and being beaten up by her husband -- and she keeps going back. She knows it when she looks at her best friend, Nicole's brother, who is NOT a nice guy, and she knows it when she looks at her father, who sometimes forgets to FEED her. Her Mom's new boyfriend stands outside her bedroom door at night and breathes; he's definitely not someone who's got her best interests at heart. Some guys are horrible, and some adults aren't trustworthy, and really, a girl has to step up and look after herself.

What gets confusing is when Paolo, who is so very cute, doesn't make fun of Lily's John Wayne obsession, and doesn't run off just because her father is different. When Lily's Dad turns out to be someone who loves her, in spite of what he is, it cracks her heart wide open, and leaves her wobbling. Can anyone save Lily? What will it take for her to save herself?

A powerful novel, emotional, quirky and humorous novel about learning to find a safe place to lean, taking risks, and standing up to save yourself.

Buy GIRL, HERO from an independent bookstore near you!

July 26, 2008

Lazy Weekend Links

Via Kiki Strike, a seriously cool idea hitting gumball machines in Manhattan. Ideas. Plus a $.25 refund.

Cover to Cover this week tackles unusual plots. The seventh graders who answer are adorable, and their reading material is excellent.

Via the Smart B's (and I would LOVE to hear SB Sarah sing O, Canada to get her little one to go to sleep) is the Puppy Singer. Kind of like The Wedding Singer, but three times as cool. If I ever had kids, it wold be because this guy was moving into my house to do the heavy lifting. Or, the heavy laying down, as it were.

July 25, 2008

Poetry Friday: Neurotic

Join the Club

Flashing my neurotic's badge I dare them

to ask me for my license. I don't look

much different from the rest of them -

in fact, a certain calm emanates.

I've seen and felt so much I'm like

a bird on a withered tree, singing.

Diagnosis proclaims me not psychotic.

Sensitive and shy, this patient

has symptoms of depression with a touch

of anxiety and agoraphobia.

We're not supposed to read our files,

but just the same, we do.

It's really quite interesting

the way the doctors size us up,

and there's a preening of feathers,

and comparing of notes.

Sensitive and shy sounds quite genteel,

as opposed to schizoid, paranoid

and abusive, anorexic, manic,

or simply mad.

I'm really quite presentable - not that

you could take me anywhere - I tend

to shiver and sweat in open spaces.

Still, I only suffer from a disease

as common as a cold, ubiquitous

as birds on withered trees, singing.

Poetry as therapy is not quite acceptable.

Myself, I find it more effective

than valium. It's just that if

the literary world took us too seriously

we'd be out on our necks, and ours,

like Anne Boleyn's, are extremely slender,

even if the executioner is very expert.

We are a clean and well-behaved lot,

don't need a leper's bell,

but keep our badges polished

just in case we recognise our kind.

I'm introspective. What are you?

Oh, me, comes the reply. I'm just a bird

on a withered tree, singing.

Elizabeth Bartlett was born in 1924 and died early this summer. I discovered her through a piece in the paper and really enjoyed the poem there. Before she died, a major retrospective, drawing on more than 50 years of her writing was published - Two Women Dancing: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Publishing) - emerged in 1995. This poem is from that collection, and also appears in a new anthology, We Have Come Through: 100 Poems Celebrating Courage in Overcoming Depression and Trauma, edited by Peter Forbes. The volume celebrates the 10th anniversary of Survivors' Poetry, a UK charity founded to help support the mental health community.

Poetry Friday is today at the mentally balanced blog of A Year of Reading.

July 24, 2008

Hide for Your Life...

I find almost every story about the Armenian genocide almost impossibly painful to read. Still, Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch's fictional account Daughter of War brings humanity, love, and hope into a story that is, at the same time, dark, painful, and horrific.

When the story begins, Marta has been living in the home of a Muslim, given refuge but also forced into the status of inferior wife. Upon finding out Marta is pregnant, the elder wife bundles Marta into a cart, bound who knows where. Meanwhile, Marta's love from before the "deportations," Kevork, is working as a cobbler, disguised as an Arab. Neither has any idea whether the other is even still alive.

But they maintain hope, somehow--and both end up fighting the injustice of their society as best they can. Marta returns to the orphanage where she lived as a child, hoping to find refuge during her pregnancy, and ends up helping other orphaned children; Kevork begins a difficult odyssey as a messenger for those resisting the government. This is a story filled with both excruciating historical detail and no-holds-barred emotion--at times disturbing, but it's a story that needs to be told, with an ultimately uplifting ending.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Toon Thursday: ARC-Tastic

Hey, we're topical around here, yo. I've been keeping up with the discussion, even though I've only been able to start contributing over the last day or so. After being out of town for a couple of weeks, I really was fiending for my blog fix. The break was nice, but I just missed you guys way too much. :)

So, much as I'm worried that my toon will be upstaged by those awesomely adorable knitted Daleks down there, I offer my two cents on the bloggers-inundated-with-review-copies kerfluffle. (And believe you me, I have had my share of unrequested and inappropriate review copies. Chronicle Books, I'm talkin' to you! Thanks for your interest, but YA fiction only please! "My Mommy's Tote"--not so much!) What appalls me most is the waste--in packaging and postage costs, but also in the sense that I'm unlikely to read some of these titles, so the publishers are quite literally wasting their time sending it to me. I'm much happier getting sent a specific request from an author or publisher, or a catalog that I can peruse. But I'm NOT a full-time reviewer. I don't get paid for any of this. I want to be able to give due attention to the books I do write about. I hate having to ignore anyone who was kind enough to send me a review copy simply because I'm swamped with them, but that's what tends to happen when I find myself inundated--it will take me ages to get to the review, which isn't really fair to the person who sent it to me; and it will turn into a chore.

I know the "blogging-as-chore" thing has been on a lot of minds in the kidlitosphere lately, and I'm right there...but cutting down on my blogging time has really helped. I have paying work, and a life, and of course I have my creative work (paid or not...). So at one point I decided that I would focus on trying to put out two blog posts per week; no more. One of those would be Toon Thursday, with or without additional commentary or links. The other would be more of a soapbox or link roundup. Book reviews would trickle in to Readers' Rants as I have time to do them. I'm trying to give the blog--and the kidlitosphere--its own niche in my working life, without feeling like it's an enormous obligation. After all, I do this because I WANT to. I'd like to keep it that way.

Gratiutous Geekery

These. Are. Too. Cute. Yeah, yeah, they "Exterminate," and all of that, but these Daleks are adorable. And knittable: crafty bloggers can check out the "extermiknit" pattern here. Hat tip to one thread, two thread.

But What's A Boy Sound Like?

In actual BOOK news, On the Guardian Book blog, UK children's author Anthony McGowan talks about toilet humor encouraging kids to read. Middle graders are a tough audience -- and the gross factor matches well with his book, HELLBENT. Not sure if this one is slated for a U.S. release any time soon. (And how much do you want to bet they'd have to change the name?) One thing I do have to say is that I'm glad McGowan doesn't say he encourages BOYS to read by using toilet humor. He said, "KIDS." As in, girls too.

Liz takes a moment to wish that those people who whine about "there are no good boy books anymore," and "whatever happened to strong female protagonists" could have a booklist exchange. I'm in full agreement that I don't believe in "Boy Books" and "Girl Books." There are certainly some things which have more appeal to guys or girls, but it's a slippery slope trying to divide books by gender.

Brian F., in the comments brings up another good question for writers constantly wondering if their characters sound genuine. When a female is writing a male character and asks the question, "Does this sound like a boy," what's the right answer? "What," pray tell, Brian F. wants to know, "does a boy sound like?"

That question echoed into my brain and brought me to something else: dominant culture assumption in novels, or how to make a character "sound black." Anyone want to touch that with a ten foot pole?


I've just spent a lot of time in the past week doing what my editor calls "polishing," which is making sure a character's country-flavored drawl and Southern colloquialisms are absolutely readable to the average person. Even as a minority, I had no one to ask if my character sounded appropriately ethnic or not -- yet there's always the niggling suspicion that maybe my version isn't the "right" one.

Is the characterization that I did enough? Despite the fact that I didn't mention coffee, mocha, chocolate, cinnamon or anything else edible in reference to her, do you think readers will understand that she has an African American ancestry?

Perhaps the only thing that can be said on the "boy" or the "black" issue is this: no one's got the final word on anyone else's perception. No one is the authority. Girl, boy, black, blue, go with what you know, do your best to depict things as you hear and see them, and you should be fine.


There will always be someone who disagrees, who thinks you didn't do enough, who wants to point out you didn't do it "right." Like so many other things in the writing life, one just has to take that in stride.

New poverty estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey indicate that about 13 percent of people nationwide were living in poverty in 2005. However, estimates from the American Community Survey (or ACS, a nationwide annual survey of households conducted by the Census Bureau) show that poverty rates in 2005 varied widely around the country, from less than 8 percent in New Hampshire to 21 percent in Mississippi. The ACS estimates also show that seven states had statistically significant increases in their child poverty rates between 2004 and 2005.

And now for a word from Colleen:

If you don't read about kids in your economic strata who make it, who study great subjects, or build great things, or create great art, then you don't think you can either. If you don't see success for those from "your world" reflected on tv or in movies or in books then you will come to believe that certain - or maybe all - levels of success are not possible for you.

You will never be rich enough to be anything.

Can it be said any more clearly that all young adults need to see themselves reflected in the literature they read? Though I am personally hesitant about titles which glorify violence and no copy-editing urban lit arguably reflects a socio-economic group that should also be represented. Definitely something to consider. Go, read Chasing Ray, and put in your two cent's worth.

July 23, 2008

Who Gets to Influence A Kid's Reading Choice?

Part of the question that bounced around in print media circles about who is "fit" to refer books to readers means that for some there is an idea that there are only Certain People who can engage the reading public. They're librarians, of course, but after that, the list seems to stop with book critics. Certainly the list hasn't previously included the average blogger, and Slate's Erica Perl adds to the question in another way: What media entity is encouraging readers to read, that should not have anything to do with reading? Hollywood. (Launch the little slide show to get the whole article, with pictures.)

NPR's Alex Cohen talks with Erica Perl about what she calls "fast-food lit" for early readers. Should movie tie-in books count as fair game for first graders? If kids are interested in reading at all, doesn't that make the whole movie-tie in thing okay? As always, I hate things titled "What Happened To ____," because in this case, NOTHING has happened to children's books, they're alive and well, thanks, but for this time, I'll let it go. Some interesting thoughts.

The Girl With the Leaf-Colored Eyes

The Tree Shepherd's Daughter begins the Fair Folk Trilogy.

Keelie Heartwood has high hopes for the Wildewood Renaissance Faire. She's been hanging out in her dad's "home on wheels" for a bit too long, and really would like to get out, and get to hang out with a few people her own age. Her Dad's always on her about "danger" and staying safe, and waiting for him, and it's very dull. He just doesn't seem to understand that without her buddy Raven around, she's bored, and lonely, and missing her mother more than ever. Worse, the boy she met at the last Faire hasn't called -- or anything -- and now Keelie's around more elves who look at her like she's something stuck to their shoes. It's a good thing she has the trees to comfort her.

Or, she did. But the oaks are acting really mean -- insanely so. And that horrible Elia elf has turned up again, and she's being a wicked beeyatch. The boots Keelie ordered are REALLY SERIOUSLY EXPENSIVE, and Dad isn't going to just let it blow over and pay for them. Keelie's got to get a job. She's pissed off Finch, the boss-lady around the fair, so she's in big trouble. Elia's Dad's also around, looking creepy, elven and aristocratic, and there's obviously some bad blood between he and the others.

To top everything off, she's being called Into the Wildewood... by a unicorn...

Once again, Keelie's not having quite the life everyone else is! But, this is her life, and Keliel Treetalker, daughter of the Tree Shepherd, is going to do for the Wildewood what she's got to do.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Sarcastic Cyrano?

I don't imagine that Cyrano de Bergerac could have worked any harder. In this novel, his female counterpart, Cyrie, is -- perfect. She makes straight A's, is a tennis champ and editor of the school paper. She's brilliant, and her way with words also makes her a vicious opponent in the game of "let's make fun of Cyrie." She doesn't take the big nose jokes lying down, oh, no. She has caustic comebacks and razor-sharp repartee. From the outside, it looks like Cyrie's all right.

Inside, she feels like a dumb girl with a big nose.

If only she were pretty. If only...

Leyla, is fun, bubbly, and not exactly concerned with grammar, punctuation, and spelling, but she's gorgeous. Better, she manages to be blindingly popular, and still make time to engage Cyrie's friendship. Cyrie's so... good with words, that when Leyla admits how into Eddie "Roz" Rosanninoff she is, Cyrie offers to help out her less gifted friend. It's the least she can do, right? After all, it'll be easy -- Eddie stole Cyrie's heart a long time ago.

In this retooled romance, Cyrie finds out that sometimes using the right words is too easy. Readers might be tempted to think this is a story they know, but the ending has a nice little twist. AT FACE VALUE, coming from Flux in October 2008, is a new spin on an old truth: true beauty always shines out.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

First-born Daughter

It's not that she's a queen-bee or anything, but Josey Muller is the only girl in her family, other than her Mom, that is, and she's gotten used to that. She might have wished for a sister sometimes, but only to discuss boys and help her with her homework.

Then Josey gets the news from her very nervous Mom: she has a sister. She's always had one. And now, she's going to meet her.

Josey's parents, when they were unmarried teens, were pressured to give up their daughter, but now, she's found them.

This changes... everything.

Josey expected her parents would be... well, happy, and that her brothers would be more freaked out, but that her sister would be cool, but that's all she expected. She doesn't expect her mother to be so happy, like she's won the lottery or something. She doesn't her Dad to say over and over and over how much she and Audrey look alike. Josey doesn't expect the feelings of jealousy and guilt lashing at her to cause her such mood swings, and bouts of screaming. When she practically flunks a test in a class she loves, she feels like everything is falling apart. Josey's beginning to hate the whole idea of having an older sister. Nobody asked her if she wanted a one, after all.

Can you uninvite someone into your life? Can you share your parents? Can you recover, if the life you thought you had turns out to be a lie?

S.T. Underdahl records the realistic and turbulent changes of a family stretching to include one more. It's her own story, in more ways than one.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Confessions of an Accidental Player

Brookband High's popular senior guys are preparing for the Senior Rituals, the annual end-o-year hijinks everyone always loves -- or so they would have you think. The rituals involve "The Alternative Yearbook" which has labels for the girls like, "Most Likely to be Frigid;" "The Graffiti Project," wherein the senior boys "decorate" the girls' bathroom with their thoughts on the senior class females. Finally, The Rituals include "The Book of Busts," which is a recording of the measurements of every girl in the senior class.

Yes. The measurements. Of every girl. In the class.

Kevin's just a geeky flautist, or, at least that's how he views himself. Will his high school experience really be complete if he doesn't join in with The Rituals? He doesn't think so, and longing to be thought of as cool just once, he joins in.

Unfortunately, Kevin doesn't know what he's getting into, and man what a tangled web he weaves. No sooner does Kevin earn himself a place in the sun, he loses everything else -- his best friend, a chance to get what he really wants, his mother's trust, and his own self-respect. Once he finds out what The Rituals entail, will he have the courage to stop the madness, and stand up for his best friend, Abby, and the other girls in the senior class? Or, will he cross the line into objectification and end up hating himself, and everyone else?

It's easier to cross the line than you might think. Read the book, and realize how easy it is to get ...BUSTED.

Coming from Flux in October, 2008!

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Can Dead Men Wink?

Poor Alice. She's cold, and it's raining, and this is a miserable, humiliating, and on top of that, heartbreaking duty. But it IS a duty, and Alice is a girl who knows hers. Her Uncle Frank was kind to her. He was funny, he made her feel beautiful, and he always treated her like life was going to be an adventure. It was for him that she came to the ugly, rambling house in London with her stupid Aunt Ursula and her ancient grandmother. And now that he's been hung and beheaded, she's going to claim the body, and give him a decent burial.

His name is Dan Skinslicer. He's a poor man, has dirty hands, and is generally spattered with blood. His wife is a castigating shrew, and his work is actually a relief. He's a hangman, and he does a good, clean job of it, puts those poor souls under the axe with a bit of dignity, he does. When Alice catches his attention, he just sees a small, thin girl who is one of his betters. He doesn't see someone who has more gumption and guts than common sense. He doesn't see someone who is bossy and impetuous. He doesn't see someone he will someday love, and for whom he will turn his back on safety.

All he wants is to do his execution properly so he can have a bit of a rest and a good dinner. Unfortunately, there's Alice. And soon, there are red-coated soldiers chasing him.

Sometimes, the course of love runs... completely backwards, crooked, and upside down.

But love is love, anyway.
K.M. Grant lives and writes in Glasgow! You might find this book with the U.S. cover, or read the U.K. version, like I did, but HOW THE HANGMAN LOST HIS HEART is exactly the same in either version.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

It's Not A Question

Lurlene McDaniel's work is not anything I've read before, but this book looked different from her usual, so I picked it up.

PREY is the story of the relationship between a student named Ryan and his teacher, Ms. Settles. Told in the voices of Ryan, his childhood friend, Honey, and the teacher with whom he becomes involved, the novel is short and moves quickly. The cover pretty much answers any question you might have(other than, "Is it a murder mystery." The answer to that is, "No.").

Ryan is a boy with plenty of free, unsupervised time, good looks, and a father who doesn't give him much attention. His mother died when he was young, through circumstances which aren't readily apparent. He is attracted to a gorgeous new teacher, like any male student might be.

Ms. Settle is first described as being overtly sexual, wearing miniskirts and plunging necklines and ridiculously high heels to school. Later revelations describe her last job ending with her being fired when she became involved with an under-aged teen boy.

Honey, we're told, has a desperate crush on Ryan, and she, predictably, hates Ms. Settle.

The expected relationship between Ryan and Ms. Settle progresses like a ball rolling downhill. No surprises -- and the reader can be squicked out by Ms. Settles' desperation and dark thoughts. Ryan's reaction is more honest - he's thrilled at what he perceives to be good fortune, and then he is scared and feels trapped by Ms. Settles' desperate neediness. It's not too terribly long before Honey finally blows the whistle, and the relationship ends.

It is possibly at this point that the most surprising developments in the novel occur.

Suddenly Ryan is characterized as not a victim of a sex crime, which he is, but as a perpetrator of the crime against Ms. Settle. In the epilogue he is over eighteen, and is characterized as an evil, depraved male, lying in wait for Ms. Settle to return from prison, biding his time and doing the bare minimum in life until he can entangle her again. Readers will be surprised and bewildered by this; it's as if there's a new character in the book altogether.

At the end of the novel, Honey is sent to an all-girls school, broken and depressed. Despite the fact that she was the school's star forward, and was characterized as reasonably intelligent and skilled, she is punished by the author, and twisted -- as if the reader is to believe that being rejected by Ryan has pushed her to want a world where only girls exist.

The author clearly wants the reader to take away certain things from the story, and because of this and some of the other improbable elements of this novel, I am unsure whether this is meant to be a novel, or a set up for a class discussion out of a life skills workbook.

This book seems to invite the reader to explore the question of "predator or prey," but anyone over twenty-one who has an intimate relationship with a teen, and certainly any teacher who does will always be a PREDATOR.

It's not a question. It's just not.

This book is sold at independent bookstores.

Hollow Bones

He looked dead. The horrible pile of bones, which was overlaid with spider's webs and dead flies, was moving, though, and Michael wanted to be sure it kept moving. He shouldn't be in the garage -- Mum had warned him, Dad had warned him, but HE was in there, and now that Michael knew about HIM, he was his responsibility.

Dr. Death had already been coming to the house to check on his sister -- Michael needed there to be no more illness, no more trouble, no more uncertainty. He'd already had enough. If 27 and 53 was what HE wanted... well, then, Michael would figure out a way to help HIM.

Michael's new neighbor, Mina, is strange and flighty, and she knows a ton of thing about angels and birds, science and poetry. She is just the perfect person with whom Michael can share this marvelous mystery. He can only hope she doesn't take over, or tell the secret... So much can go wrong.

A beautifully lyrical story of a completely improbable friendship, David Almond's SKELLIG was the winner of several medals, but you probably won't care. You'll read it, instead, because it's just an awesome book.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

No More Barbies

It isn't easy being Maria's daughter. She's gorgeous and rail thin, and a real go-getter, that's what everyone says. Carmen ...isn't, and every chance her mother gets, she reminds her. How can Carmen stand her piggy self? Doesn't she want to succeed, meet boys, stand out?

When Carmen's mum leaves her Dad and moves them in with Gran, it's even worse -- Carmen is desperately lonely, pinched between her corpulent grandmother who equates food with love, and her mother, whose stinging criticism grows more caustic daily. Struggling to grow up fast and be more who her mother wants her to be, Carmen no longer knows herself after awhile, but her mother still wants more.

Perfection. It's what they both strive for. And if that means leaving a few meals behind with the flush of the toilet, well, then, so be it, right? After all, if Carmen finally looks like her mother wants her to, won't she be happier? And, if she's finally happier, won't she finally eat?

Julia Bell's MASSIVE is a hard one to read, and it explores the question of whether or not a person can inherit eating disorders. There is NO tidy endings, but a great scene with Barbies at the end gives the reader an understated hope for the future.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

July 22, 2008

Fighting Words

“...with a few exceptions, the critics of children’s books are remarkably lenient souls. They seem to regard books for children with the same tolerant tenderness with which nearly any adult regards a child. Most of us assume there is something good in every child; the critics go on from this to assume there is something good in every book written for a child. It is not a sound theory.”
- Katherine Angell White in a long ago New Yorker as quoted from last week's Lives and Letters, The Lion and the Mouse.

"I'm not sure it has lead [sic] to better reviewing: can we truly "all be in this together" at the same time some of us are judging the work of others? Authors active in the blogosphere get treated differently there from their out-of-the-loop compatriots: they get more and kinder attention. It's hard not to be nice to someone, author or editor, whose own site may appear on your blogroll, or who regularly drops by your place to comment."
- Roger Sutton, Horn Book Blog

Last April, the Horn Book Blog did its usual "pour trail of gunpowder, light match, stand back and look thoughtful" thing and made a statement about the "squishiness" in children's book reviewing. Mr. Horn Book essentially said that things mightn't be as above board and equal as people might think -- children's reviewers "make nice" while reviewing in order to have copy, receive free swag and talk up their friends, was the gist of the furor. And a furor it was -- a big "boom" followed by a fierce and quick paced conversation with which I didn't dare get involved, but I admit that I felt a little indicted. Was I being bought and manipulated, simply because I accepted free books and wrote reviews for The Edge of the Forest?

I revisited this topic recently, when reviewing a novel -- I pointed out a few things which were questionable to me, then immediately wanted to take them back. I was encouraged to stand by my opinion by another blogger, who admitted that their stomach often churns as well when they have questions or critical thoughts about certain aspects of a book. None of us wants to offend. None of us wants to come across as snobs or people who are vicious and mocking. None of us wants to turn off our brains when we read, either.

So where does this intensive self-scrutiny and periodic self-censorship leave blog reviews?

In tiny bits, crumbling. Unfortunately, over the past month, several people have discussed how conflicted they've been feeling, how much of a toll the hemorrhage of review copies is taking on their lives, and they're on the verge of quitting. They're reconsidering reviewing, backing out of blogging, and saying that none of this is fun anymore.

To a large degree, the angst is self-produced, because we are good people, and we are hard on ourselves, examining our motives and constantly worrying about doing the best job possible. We've waded in, unasked, and added our voices to a place where voices are diminishing, and we're not entirely convinced, perhaps, that it has made a positive difference. Some of us have been seen as merely tools for the market's free use, and we've gotten burnt out.

I'm partially frustrated, because I really do think this is the "fault" (if there is such) of people who have turned the massive magnifying glass of censure and criticism on people who were once just ordinary mortals who loved books and talked about them on their blogs. Where did that go? When did loving books and talking about that love be something that had to be weighed and measured and scrutinized for "worthiness" to do so? If there is fault, it can also be laid at the door of some major publishing organizations who have inundated their readers with free -- and unrequested -- books that are often not even in their genre preference. People have implied that bloggers "use" books to have copy, but I don't think anyone ever stopped to consider the obligation those boxes of free books have on conscientious people. Since blog reviewing is, of old, an unpaid position, it really is difficult for a person of good conscience to keep up with the tide, yet most of us will not not review what is sent. Boundaries have to be made, people. And maybe we have to find our voices and be honest -- about the potential for "squishiness," even. We have to rediscover our desire to connect readers with books, and leave it at that.

I'm happy to have only one publishing company sending me books at random intervals. The books I receive don't always bat a thousand with me, but the ones I like, I talk about. I also like going to the library and picking out books by cover art, books whose authors I've never seen or heard of, books completely out of my usual milieu, and discovering them, and talking about them. I like being a reader, and a writer, and I like to write about what I'm reading. What I don't like is the atmosphere of tension and frustration and the inference that bloggers are lacking some kind of professionalism, and are inherently less-than. I am offering no solutions here, unfortunately, merely remarking with sadness that some of the fun people seem to be leaving the room, and that is simply too bad.

Laurie Halse Anderson has a few "snarly, cranky, maybe a little over-the-top" things to say about the ignorant or idiotic who diss YA writers. How utterly ironic that the disrespect, condescension and patronizing attitudes young adults have to put up with from the culture are also given to many YA writers. Jules made a comment this morning that really struck me -- she mentioned that there is in fact a flaw in how our culture views childhood. I agree -- how is it culturally acceptable to worship youth, but hate actual kids? I think it's all just jealousy.

Wow. And people think YA writers need to grow up.

Yesterday, Colleen interviewed Margo Rabb, and reminded us about her middle grade girl detective novels, which create an unprecedented Rabb-level-of-coolness. MUST. READ. THOSE. Margo's chat with Mark Haddon made me a little sad -- he's not writing any more books for children or young adults. Until he changes his mind, and does, maybe. Still -- the advice "stick to what you know" -- for him will always be true: writing is what he knows, and cheers to getting more of his!

A Good Great Day for Writers

Further congratulations go to Cynthia Leitich Smith on the sale of BLESSED, an "interconnected Gothic fantasy suspense" in the same universe as her previous novel, TANTALIZE, and its semi-sequel which is now in production, ETERNAL. Cynthia also tells us that a graphic-novel adaptation of TANTALIZE is in the works as well.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer Texan. Congratulations, Cynthia!

Dr. Who and SFF Geekery

Absolutely TOO COOL: Delia Derbyshire, who in 1963 was in charge of mixing the theme music for the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop's SF series, died in 2001, with 267 unheard mix tapes in her attic from the music she used to create cool swishing, spacey, swirling title theme for Dr. Who. With all of the sounds of glass bottles, wind machines, electronic oscillators and the like, this was sixties music on the cutting edge. Now BBC's Radio 4 has cracked the vaults, and oh, the ultimate fan geekery that is ensuing in this house! Delia, who, since she only did the composing and mixing, is never mentioned on the show -- is now my heroine. Rock on, Dr. Who-girl. Go,listen, and do a little dance.

Did you catch that Tor.com is giving away free stories through the 27th to celebrate their web redesign? Go! Scoop up the freebie goodness! Hat tip to Smart B's.


Boy, here's something we thought deserved its own blog post!Congratulations to our blog buddy C.K., who has just received a **starred review** from Kirkus for her upcoming (pre-order-able now, coming September 23rd) I KNOW IT'S OVER.

"Authentic and sophisticated, the teen banter appeals to both casual readers and literary enthusiasts. Rich characters and honest interactions set Martin’s debut novel apart, and readers will look forward to whatever gestates next.

Wow, C.K. -- "literary enthusiasts!?" Kirkus doesn't throw that kind of stuff around lightly! Really, really, REALLY happy for ya! Again, well-deserved kudos to you!

July 21, 2008

"But Don't You Want To Write Something... Better?"

Just after college, I published my first book. It was a paperback with a small press and has since gone out of print -- probably a good thing, because though it had its moments of beauty, it was fairly awkwardly written, and showed how young I was. I was proud of that book, though. I was doubly proud when a sequel was published a year and a half later. I was doing the one thing I had ever wanted to do -- write books.

Soon after that, a friend I'd known since I was nine, who I'd assumed was also happy for me asked, in all seriousness, "Okay, but don't you want to write something better?"

I remember being more confused than hurt. Sure, I thought, all writers want to keep improving. I was publishing through a Christian press at the time, and yes, I wanted to move into mainstream publishing someday, simply because I wanted to write for a broader audience. I also wanted to publish a book someday that came out in hardback first. But none of that was what my friend meant. What he meant was that this was "okay," but that I should want to write for adults, because writing for adults was better.


Margo Rabb's NY Times essay, I'm Y.A. and I'm O.K. brought this back to me, and I had to smile, a bit sadly. Her book is nuanced and intelligent, sensitive and unique, and I can't believe that someone actually pitied her for it being a crossover. Pity. I almost wish she had spit tacks at the person across the table. Pity!

I have to say that I'm disappointed that some publishers feel that it's okay to bow to...whatever, and package a YA-to-adult crossover differently when it emerges in paperback. It's as if the book were previously some kind of neon sugar cereal and has now been turned into a "breakfast bar" and slapped with the label "whole grain" and thus rendered immediately acceptable. That's definitely the feeling I got looking at the adult vs. YA versions of the Potter books here in the UK. I always wondered, "Why does J.K. Rowling let them do that?" Of course, it's a marketing decision, to reach the largest demographic, but I think it stinks.

I struggled for so long to be published anywhere that I was thrilled to tears to be included in the YA pantheon, even on the fringes where my first book lived. It cut me deeply that someone thought it was only "okay," and that I should move on from the one thing I'd wanted my whole life, and ...well, essentially, "grow up." That hurt stayed with me a long time.

This incident was years ago, and the person has since insisted that he didn't mean things badly, but I know what he meant -- it's an opinion that many people share. Writing for kids is viewed as wallowing in childhood. It's embarrassingly non-upwardly-mobile, and it isn't a career builder that's going to get you on Oprah -- and that's the new question, the one which has replaced the gauche query about "something better." "Don't you want to be on Oprah?"

Heck, doesn't everyone want to be on Oprah?


I won't outright say no -- despite the fact that being on TV figures more largely in my nightmares than in my dreams. It would be disingenuous to imply that if a story of mine achieved that kind of fame, I wouldn't be pleased and proud to have one of the largest movers and shakers in the world talking it up on her show. But I can also say that if nothing of mine ever makes ripples large enough to touch on Ms. Winfrey's Chicago offices, that's okay. I'm thrilled to have been published by Knopf Books for Young Readers. Maybe I should aspire to "more." But this children's literature/young adult reading and writing life is what I've got, and I'm delighted with it.

I can't even express how much.

That I don't have much interest in career building TV appearances doesn't mean that I don't occasionally feel the pinch of the YA-shunning. Choosing an MFA program was tough, because I really wanted to focus on young adult literature, and couldn't find a program for that on the West Coast. Everyone said, "Oh, just go to Vermont," because everyone knows the heavy-hitters in American YA and children's lit usually have some connection there, but who had that kind of money? Not I, and my other half was already at USF, and so I needed to choose something closer.

I found in Mills College a great MFA program, but even there, prejudice against young adult literature remained. Though young adult literature was listed in the catalog, the program was disappointing -- with one professor who taught two classes and supervised YA theses projects. Period.

Worse, though I participated in classes and tried to bring my enthusiasm for the genre with me, the supervising professor seemed ambivalent to me personally...to be blunt, she didn't like me. When I considered doing my thesis project on young adult lit, I was actively and openly discouraged from working with this professor by several other professors who rated her skills and even her intelligence and integrity as several notches below their own. If we had hit it off personally, I think I would have ignored them, but I opted for the path of least resistance and ducked the criticism and pitying looks that were directed to those students doing a YA thesis. I chickened out, only to receive a note from Dr. Lecourt, one of my thesis readers. "This would have been so much better from the point of view of a teen. This would be really great as YA lit."

And we were back at that again.

At that point, it occurred to me: this is who I am. This is what I do. And as Justine Larbalestier was saying over on her blog, I haven't ever aspired to anything else.

More responses to Margo Rabb's op-ed piece have been rounded up at Chasing Ray, who's going to be interviewing Margo later this week. And don't miss Margo posting at her own blog the bits of that essay -- and the quotes from several more young adults writers -- that landed on the editing desk and didn't make the piece.

July 20, 2008

Work In Progress. No, Really.

Happy Sunday, peeps!

Normally I'm curled up somewhere with a book, but today I'm actually -- *gasp!* -- working. I got two emails from my editor, on a Sunday, which means if SHE'S giving up her weekend, then so am I. And though I've said it ninety times by now, I really am on the home stretch with my final edit. I hope the copy editors appreciate the effort. But they won't. They never do. *Sigh!*

Meanwhile, Five Cool Things I've Discovered Today:

1. ) Somebody else hated Ethan Frome. I'm totally feeling interviewee Thomas on that one.

2.) Bradley Alert: SFSignal has the goods on a Ray Bradley speech.

3.) Laini Taylor. Enough said. Go. See. Sigh.

4. and 5. are via mental_floss: 4.) The twenty-six best comic books to have, and

5.) Really cool albino animals. Check out the whole gallery on ABC news.

As you were, weekenders!

July 19, 2008

The Bee Goddess' Secret

Another fabulous novel from Cybil's nominated author Juliet Marillier, yum! Another awesome cover drenched in color and mystery. A sequel to Wildwood Dancing, double yum.

Paula, the most scholarly of the five Romanian sisters from Wildwood Dancing is off to Istanbul with her trader father, to assist him by translating and doing paperwork. She also is happy to leave home -- to get away from the longing she shares with her sisters Jena, Iulia, and Stela, to visit the Other Kingdom again, and see her older sister, Tati. Only she and Stela are home now, and Stela's only twelve. It's high time she got started on her life, and to set up her dream to be her own bookseller.

Her father is after an artifact called Cybele's Secret. Cybele is some sort of an icon or idol, and the merchant competition in Istanbul is fierce. Will their big guard, Stoyan, be enough to protect them? People are being killed for this thing. And is the dashingly handsome pirate, Duarte involved? This is a mystery that Paula dearly wants to unlock. But there are more mysteries afoot -- the Other Kingdom is closer than ever before...

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Memphis Summer Blues

Elvira's thirteen, and she's never had the type of family that you could find in a storybook. She snipes at her mother Mel and father, Tony, and Mel are constantly bickering. She can't stand her own eight-year old sister, the sometimes lisping, baby-talking, way-too-cute Kerrie. Her mother has been estranged from her family for years. Tony's first love is Elvis, and he's leaving to compete in one more Elvis-Look-alike contest. He's a fan of the King, and he's been an Elvis impersonator forever, so how can he pass up one more gig? Mel thinks he should, for her sake, and for the sake of the new baby that's on the way.

Unfortunately, Tony goes away angry, and for Elvira, it feels like everything is falling apart. Kerrie's afraid she's losing her mother's attention, and Elvira's not keen on having to put up with yet another baby -- on top of Mel, whom she feels like she has to keep an eye on. And then Mel's long-lost family intrudes -- a call from her sister makes it seems like her mother is not long for this world. Mel throws the girls into the car, and heads for Memphis, determined to do one thing to make things right.

Love Me Tender is the story of a family who may not be the kind found in books or on TV commercials, who show that love -- in all its forms -- is what makes their family -- and every family -- work.

House of Cards

Harper's family is kind of a disaster. What had been a magical thing -- herself, her stepmom, stepsister and Dad -- has been demolished. Her stepsister, Tess, has been her very best friend, and now steps away from her, as if they're strangers. Her father is deeply depressed, and Harper's had enough -- time to get the heck out of dodge.

"Away" turns out to be a building site in Tennessee, peopled with strangers and the victims of a real disaster -- a tornado. Harper is there to get a job done -- to do some work, build some muscles from hefting power tools, to find anonymity and some space in her head, and to learn How To Build A House. But there's a quiet Tennessee boy, for whose family they're building the house, who has caught Harper's attention. She hadn't counted on falling into a family all over again. It's not too a long way from building a house to the first splinters that fly away from the wrecking ball. Can she trust Teddy to be her all-the-time friend? Can she build a bridge to where she can reach out to her sister, Tess, again?

How do you build a house, anyway?

Out of the Frying Pan, Into ...the Magic Kingdom?

Poor Julie Marchen. She's only twelve, and already she's learned that her family keeps secrets. They're secrets that keep her mother, Zel, safely anonymous -- wouldn't the neighbors think it was weird if her hair just grew and grew? -- and they're secrets that keep the neighbors quietly uninformed about the nature of her brother, Boots, who is, after all, not exactly a house cat, and her grandmother, who is kind of a witch. No, really.

The biggest secret the Marchen's keep is the fact that The Wild, which everyone thought was just a bad dream, lives under the bed in Julie's room.

It just ate one of the Three Blind Mice. And uurped out... Julie's Dad.

Things are about to get seriously weird.

A fun and fast-paced sequel to last summer's Into the Wild, Sarah Beth Durst's Out of the Wild careens wildly through the countryside, turning the old stories onto their heads, and writing a new story -- about family, trust, hope, and the real business of "happily ever after."

(Fantasize about what OUT OF THE WILD scenes we'd best like to see in movie form here!)

Weekend Update

It's a long "bank holiday" weekend here in Scotland, the week of the Glasgow Fair, which is supposed to be a high time celebrating sun and picnics, but which will be a weekend of thunderstorms and showers. Never mind. We have books.

Fine Lines sends up one of my all-time FAVORITE books, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase -- some good fun there. Kelly reviews a UK novel which isn't yet on the American publishing horizon, Just Henry, which is well-worth looking for (hint to American publishers looking for a classic). Gail's "Computer Guy" reviews The QuickPick Adventure Society at Original Content, and advocates for "a whole series of civil engineering related adventure books." (Um, Mr. Johnson? Could you take him up on that?)

Shannon Hale debuts the paperback covers of the Bayern books -- I think Enna's gorgeous, but I don't like River Secrets at all. (What is UP with Razo's mouth?) And Eisha hilariously reminds writers what being a fan is all about -- it's the love. It's the faith. And then, it's the break-up.

I DEEPLY appreciate Laurie Halse Anderson. The other day, she did a post on the financial realities of writing that made me want to hug her, and possibly walk her dog (and clean up after it -- and it's a BIG dog). Even with the little writers get paid, and the near impossibility of supporting oneself with one's art -- which she made clear -- she said something very lovely:
"The course of a creative life is littered with lots of crappy temp jobs. It's nice to get paid for living your dream, but the truth is, the real benefit of an artistic life comes in the joy and excitement of the work itself, the moments that no one else can experience; when you are in the story and you are surrounded by magic."
That's what it's all about. That, and your audience, who, like Eisha, will hang in there with you, if you're lucky, like true fans.

Backchat in the Blogosphere: This next week, we're going to be talking about YA literature -- the controversies and issues of writing for this field, the way the world looks at writers and readers of YA literature, and how to connect more readers with some excellent books, etc. Margo Rabb has kicked it off with her fabulous piece in The New York Times and we'll be revisiting the issue with personal anecdotes (the struggle for editors to decide where to place your book publication-wise) and commentary later in the week. For now -- go, read Margo's article.

July 18, 2008

Poetry Friday: Okay, Kay!

Whew! Friday.
And tons of good news.
First, Kay Ryan has been named US poet laureate. Yay for Northern California, Marin County, hermits and mountain bikers. According to The Guardian yesterday, "Upon hearing that the Library of Congress had called, she thought to herself, 'I can't have that many overdue books.'" Hah! In a 2004 interview, Ryan described writing as a self-imposed emergency," the artistic equivalent of finding a loved one pinned under a 3,000-pound car. This emergency allows her to tap into a self which she would not otherwise find.

My second bit of good news is that I am nine and nine-tenths through with another manuscript, which is A Good Thing. Copy editing will take place before August, huzzah. Finally, finally some good progress. Thanks to those who shoved me off of the starting line and cheered.

I received a letter this week from a former student who has just finished a first draft of a novel -- and said that she wishes she knew exactly what to do next to be sure it would be published.

I wish I could tell her "exactly" what to do as well, but there's nothing exact in writing. It's a Herculean task at times, horrible and wonderful and indefinable. No one can step in and help, not really. At some stages, it's up to you...

And this succinct and thoughtful poem by the inestimable Kay Ryan fits right in as well:


Extreme exertion
isolates a person
from help,
discovered Atlas.
Once a certain
ratio collapses,
there is so little
others can do:

... read the rest of this concise and meaningful poem here.

More of our poet laureate's goodies can be found here.

Poetry Friday is being ably hosted at Writing and Ruminating with poetess and princess Kelly Fineman. Don't miss her celebration of Kay Ryan, and Eisha's too. None of us have posted the same Ryan poem, imagine that!

A little SF/F news, via SFSignal: Our beloved British hottie, Patrick Stewart on baldness. Who knew -- Tor does podcasts! Check out their interview with David Lubar (THE CURSE OF THE CAMPFIRE WEENIES), and F. Paul Wilson. Both guys have new YA stuff out. Also plenty of John Scalzi (THE LAST COLONY), too.

July 17, 2008

Toon Thursday: Your Favorite Reruns! Not.

Remember this one? Yeah, that was a good one.

I sometimes take for granted how nice it usually is here in the blogosphere, but occasionally controversy creeps up...and sometimes, I'm also reminded how hard it is to be a YA writer in the first place (or a writer, for that matter--holy Jebus, can you say "1950s-era pay rates"?). I'll be musing more about that next week...

On My Mind

Issues of Class~
Sometimes it takes me awhile to get bothered about things, not because I don't have an opinion, but mainly because I know that what is said or done may be *bothering* me, but I can't articulate why. (That's really a great trait for a writer, isnt' it?)

The Horn Book's short blog piece I linked to yesterday about brand name dropping in YA literature really bugged me, because apparently many highly-placed industry people are okay with that practice. However, YA writers are not Judith Krantz. (Unless they are, and apologies to Ms. Krantz if she's written a metric ton of YA lit. I've missed.)

I strongly believe that name dropping contributes to the distortion in reality and panders to an upper class system to which most of us don't even belong. As it is, 'upper middle class' has many members nowadays only belonging by the skin of our teeth, and thousands of young adults and their families, as economic factors kick in, will lose even that dubious distinction, and be flat out poor.

This is not to say that I expect that we should all sit down to pen Dust Bowl memoirs because hard times are about to hit -- not at all. I just feel strongly that name-dropping and normalizing affluence in YA literature creates the wrong idea about young adult literature as a genre and gets far more attention somehow than novels pertaining to lives more ordinary. I find that it's important to me for a young person to read a book and be able to identify -- either to say, "that life is not like mine, but 'hmmm'" or, "that life is like mine, I wonder if I would have made the same choices." It just seems that this engenders much more reflection and discussion than novels larded with references to Chanel and other fashion names a reader may feel sheepish not recognizing. As always, it seems to me that a novel that name-drops is saying more about the author than the characters... but that may just be me being a snob, as books peppered with fashion labels and name-dropping might have perfectly deep and relevant plots and story lines and be written by perfectly self-effacing and modest people.

I just ...don't often find that to be the case.

On the other hand, Mother Reader's Summer Reading Club constantly discusses novels that they don't like because they're "too realistic." So, apparently there's a balance... I just haven't found it yet.

Okay... you've put up with me mini-ranting. Time for some cute overload. Ducks. Dumb, but so cute.

July 16, 2008

Escape To "Wild"...Kingdom. No, Not THAT One...

(Oh, wow, remember the animal show with the bad segues into insurance talk? That was Wild Kingdom, back in, what, nineteen eighty? Sorry. Flashback. Happens when I'm revising heavily.)

At Finding Wonderland, we loved us some Into the Wild. It was superfun that it was included in our Cybils nominations as well. (Yay!) And Out of the Wild is tons of fun as well, which is why I had a great time reviewing it with Jules and Eisha of the blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

"Durst took me in places I didn’t expect to go."
eisha"And I loved the encounter with the Wolf – that was seriously scary, and totally nasty."
tadmack"The word ‘clots’ was used. Clots. People, I was traumatized."

Definitely go see what else was said, in more coherent form.

We don't often do reviews here (we put the bulk of them on Readers' Rants and The Edge of the Forest), but we wanted to give a big high five or something else eighties and nerdy to the 7-Imps for including us in their tri-review, and just a high five and a hip-check in general for all that they've done in the blogosphere. Here's to keeping them around -- at their own pace -- for years to come.

Almost done with the major heavy lifting in terms of revision. Meanwhile, I've sneaked a quick look around the blogosphere, and noticed The Shrinking Violets Marketing Guide to Launching a Book. WOW. That's a lot of work... which I should consider doing. At some point. I guess.

Interactive Reader blogs about the trend in ebooks for teens -- is it a trend if there's only been LITTLE BROTHER before now? Anyway, there's a new one you can test drive via your Blackberry or whatever -- Savvy, by Ingrid Law. Hmm. Will have to check that out.

I absolutely adore the Mother Reader Summer Book Club, and they're reading one of my favorite funny books, Happy Kid!

Oh, the conversations I have missed!! Read Roger feels that brand name dropping in YA lit is ...okay. Many adult authors do it. I guess that's ...some... justification, and many people don't get too upset about it, but I remember high school as being a time when I just plain was too dorky to be a teen, and too young to be an adult. Designer label clothes weren't something we could afford, and their presence wasn't something I could avoid -- except in the alternate reality of books. Nowadays, reality is a bit intrusive... Meanwhile, my editor staunchly supports the idea of not including anything that can date a book, which includes brand names. Society is fickle -- things are "in" and "out" too quickly to be included in fiction, methinks.

Finally, check out Cynsations, for a chance to win a copy of Immortal: Love Stories With Bite. All you vampire fans, you know what to do!

July 15, 2008

...seen on a bus

...with a very amusing picture:Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging. Apparently "Full Frontal" was a bit much for the UK movie-going public?

Also saw a children's book with a fox on the front and the words, "I Am Not Your Friend." That cracked me right up.

Stay tuned to a special fun post on Wednesday. Meanwhile, back to work...

July 12, 2008

Hard at Work

(Pay no attention to the tumbleweeds rolling by. This site IS still inhabited. Promise!)

Hello, dear readers! A sudden looming deadline has taken me away. Found out that my editor is going on maternity leave very soon. Congrats to SuperE! But alas for me, so I am taking a break from the blogworld to focus on final revisions for my second book -- for which I've just received a fabulous, glorious, gorgeous sneak preview of the cover! Check out the work of sublime artist Jody Hewgill -- she, and my book designer, Kate, have done an absolutely amazing job. I'm so thrilled...gobsmacked... humbled, to have an artist of her skill work on something I wrote!

Between frantic revisions, I am taking breaks and reading some fabulous books. I'll be reviewing a couple of them for The Edge of the Forest... Confessions of an Accidental Player has started off to be pretty darned amusing!

See you around the middle of the week...~!

July 10, 2008

Toon Thursday Frooommmm the Paaaast....

Though I'm away this week and next, I thought I'd revisit some old favorite cartoons about the blogosphere in anticipation of the fabulous discussion sure to happen the week of July 20th. So, here ya go. I might put in a brief appearance between now and then, but in reality I'm in Seattle at the moment...and then Iowa next week.

July 09, 2008

More People, More Stories for the Elusive Listener

Ahh, another gem for the introvert writer: Slate's Interviews: 50 Cents. The tagline says, "Interviews come along all the time... all you have to do, is wait." NPR's Alex Chadwick is laid back and funny, just letting people approach him and ...talk. And people are wonderful, in their difference -- sad, tipsy, poignant, thoughtful, pathetic, amusing -- as different as fingerprints and autumn leaves. I love to observe them and hear their stories. Check it out!

Via Original Content -- a gorgeous new edition of Our Anne!

July 08, 2008

Words and Worlds

Wowza. Have you checked out the Sixth Annual Fire Escape Poetry and Short Fiction Contests winners and runners-up at Mitali's? Some WORDSMITHS growing up here, people. Serious wordsmiths. Wow. Third place is blowing me away. I'm a little scared to see the winners.

Laurie Halse Anderson (she of the fabulously sculpted arms) continues to encourage and badger us toward our fifteen minutes a day. It seems so little, but can turn into much more!

Via Fritinancy, a great discovery: bloggers did not make up the word 'fanboy.' Fangirl, possibly, but fanboy has been around since 1919. That the word 'edamame' has just now gained enough in terms of usage to be included in the dictionary clearly indicates that Merriam-Webster's offices are not in California!

Blogoversy Revisited!

We tend to be so happy in what we do here in the children's and YA lit corner of the blogosphere that I forget we've had our share of controversy, heated debate, snarky comments, and everything else that comes along with a thought-provoking topic. Colleen has posted a nice recap of some of this year's fun over on Chasing Ray. On the week of July 20th, she says, "What I'd love to see is many other blogs pick up on this thread and write about the aspects of children's and teen publishing that frustrate them....now is a great time for everyone to share those opinions and actually create a few ripples in the literary pond ourselves, rather than just riding someone else's waves."

Well, I'm all for making waves (though if you ask my husband, he'd say I'd rather ride the ripples down the lazy river while drinking a few beers). So tune in that week for the FW soapbox, TadMack and a. fortis style!

July 07, 2008

This and That

A little note to all of us writers who blog from Jeff Vandermeer. In this piece, the bit about "balance" stands out strongly to me! Don't let the Web suck up all your time... (*ahem* Note to self.)
I'm completely late on this rejoicing, but Lucia will be the next girl who hears dragons. How cool. (And if you don't know what I'm talking about, I'm referring to The Girl Who Heard Dragons by Ann McCafferty, only Lucia reads dragons.)

Via Galleycat, New York independent book sellers are banding together to strengthen their position. Cooperating may recreate indies as a force with which to be reckoned, something that many writers would love to see.

And speaking of independents, here's big news: my favorite Booksense.com is no more. Readers and writers will welcome its new incarnation, IndieBound.org. Its new name reflects individuality and uniqueness and also gives it a sense of hipness and fun. Yay, local bookstores! Yay, indies!

Over the weekend, Mitali quietly posted that Rickshaw Girl has been included in a list of 25 Notable Books for a Global Society. I am really pleased for her.

Have you heard the buzz at Shrinking Violets? Mary Hershey is celebrating the launch of her new book, Ten Lucky Things That Have Happened To Me Since I Nearly Got Hit By Lightning (!! that title!) by inviting family and friends to buy a gift card from a local independent bookseller and to donate it to Girls, Inc so that it can be used to get a copy to a kid who wouldn't otherwise have spending money for that. What a great -- and philanthropic -- idea.

Kelly and I have had a good old-fashioned, stomping, screaming tantrum that though both of us are in the same country, we aren't going to manage to get together while she's in Scotland! Boo! Hiss! The new plan is for us to get together in Iowa between snowstorms the next time I'm in the U.S. - we'll see how well that goes.


Wicked Cool Overlooked Books: But What Is the Truth?

It's the first Monday of the month, and time once again to enjoy WCOB ~ Wicked Cool Overlooked Books.

Africa. It's a continent that is constantly embroiled in conflict, and it's a gathering of small nations and kingdoms and peoples of which I didn't really learn much in school -- except from the viewpoint of 19th century novels, which were required reading for most of my high school and college years. I learned to loathe the phrase "dark continent" as a cop-out and a nasty racial euphemism, and squirmed uncomfortably as teachers trotted out pictures of bushmen with wild hair and bones in their noses, spouting what sounded like gibberish, and reminding everyone of what Western Civilization was not. There had to be a broader Africa, I knew, but we never saw that one. Instead we focused on nearly-naked people who guided the Wild Kingdom guys around the jungle. I often wished that I could see the people as more than National Geographic photographic fodder. There were other worlds in Africa, real stories, real experiences, and real girls like me.

Beverley Naidoo's Carnegie (and myriad other) awarded novel, The Other Side of Truth is one of the first novels I read which produced evidence of another Africa.

Twelve-year-old Sade Solaja and ten-year-old Femi lose their mother almost before their eyes -- two loud cracks, squealing tires, and she's on the floor, bleeding. It doesn't pay to be the wife of an outspoken Nigerian journalist; you can die for what your husband believes. Nigeria, Sade's father, Folarin, is horrified by his wife's murder, and is stunned by grief and terror for his two children. But he can no more stop writing the truth about the corrupt government of Nigeria than he can stop being an African man.

He would not be silent, not save himself. But Sade and Femi -- must be safe. They decide that the family must emigrate to London, but there's a problem -- their Papa can't get out. Posing as the children of another woman, Sade and Femi exit the country that very night -- not realizing that they may never see their father or homeland again.

This is a harrowing, fast-paced adventure told through Sade's eyes. Sade has to be incredibly resilient, incredibly mature and incredibly brave as circumstances conspire against she and her brother. Every step toward freedom takes her that much further from memories of her mother, her Grandma, her family, her home. Grief is tangled up with terror, as the very real danger stalks them all the way across the sea. Twenty four hours after the death of their mother they are freezing, homeless, alone, and not exactly sure that they'll ever be safe again.

Does telling the truth, regardless, harm you? Or will it save you in the end?

On a recent flight from Miami to Dallas, I had the experience of sitting in the plane with several African families -- mothers with babies slung on their backs, young girls, young boys, toddlers, uncles and fathers. In traditional clothing, they had blankets tied around their bodies printed with the letters USAID, which indicated that they were part of a State Department refugee relocation plan. They spoke no English, and I could not begin to guess from which country on their massive home continent they hailed, but around me, all of the passengers changed from their busy workday attitudes, and became astonishing. Peole gently helped them into their seats, buckled their seatbelts, helped them choose refreshments from the drink tray, and smiled at their children. This is us, we all told them silently. We are America. It will be better here.

At least one hopes.

I thought about this story that day, and I wished I could launch a thousand paper cranes -- symbols of all the good luck and good wishes to them, thoughts of comfort, prosperity and peace as they begin life from scratch with no one but each other.

What is the truth? That justice and human rights are the right of every person, on every shore. Keep hoping that no other child will lose a parent to a corrupt government, and not another person will flee their homeland for a safer, less familiar shore. Keep hoping that someday freedom and the right to speak the truth will belong to everyone.

More Wicked Coolness rounded up at Chasing Ray.

July 06, 2008

This Weekend In Children's Lit Links

Man, all kinds of children's lit greatness this weekend on NPR -- Lois Lowery on the Willoughby's, a new award named for Roald Dahl honoring the "funny" in kidlit, and a fun piece on superheroes. The SF Chronicle also adds to the fun with a review of a great piece of nonfiction -- dealing with fiction: A Reader's History From Aesop to Harry Potter, by Seth Lerer. This book looks like a must-have for those who are interested in the history of children's literature, as it also deals with the adult perception of the child, and how that's changed through the years, from the days when Pilgrim's Progress was thought to be especially entertaining for children, to the nasty hidden messages in fairy tales (for girls, anyway) and beyond. Some great stuff.

Quite Possibly the Most Perfect Reading Room

(The little glowing orb is a Kim & Jason floating mood light I won in one of their fabulous Thursday giveaways.)

This isn't a great picture (I wasn't done lighting all fifteen candles, so it's a little dim), but it's one of my favorite reading spots in my little place. Since the library is now right across the street from me, I can pop over and grab a stash and settle down for a nice, long weekend. Reading Eoin Colfer's Airman is a goal this week, as well Glaswegian author K.M. Grant's How the Hangman Lost His Heart. Good fun for a lazy Sunday.

Hope your Sunday is made of awesome, too.

July 04, 2008

Andre Norton's Estate in Question

Seventy years of writing comes down to basically a screaming fight. That's really sad.

After the Owl: Poetry Friday

I have owed you all this, since you put up with my very grouchy winter mood and drippy winter poetry.

We whinge a lot about the weather in Scotland, about the freak June hailstorms, the incessant rain, and driving wind and the fact that it seems like the body wants to stay in hibernation mode and hang on to warm insulating fat, but the truth is that it's really lovely here, and I'm enjoying the temperate and modestly warm summer weather. I feel a little guilty almost for not being in California with the breath-stealing wildfires this season; it seems like it's almost cheating that we've had one day that's been over eighty, and the rest of the time has been days where it has rained every afternoon and the high has been a balmy sixty-eight. It feels like one long springtime, which is why today's poem is kind of a chuckle. Summer has come in -- but we won't really notice until winter comes back.

Oh well.

Sumer Is Icumen In

Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu.
Sing cuccu!

Awe bleteþ after lomb,
lhouþ after calue cu,
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ.
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu,
Wel singes þu cuccu.
ne swik þu nauer nu!

Sing cuccu nu, Sing cuccu!
Sing cuccu, Sing cuccu nu!

Summer Has Come In!

Summer has come in!
Loud sing cuckoo!
Grows seed and blooms mead,
And springs the woods anew.
Sing, cuckoo!
Ewe bleats after lamb,
Lows after calf the cow.
Bull starts, buck farts,
Merrily sing, cuckoo!
Cuckoo! Cuckoo!
Will sing you, cuckoo.
Nor stop you ever now.

Sing cuckoo now! Sing cuckoo!
Sing cuckoo now! Sing cuckoo!

This is not, in fact, terribly patriotic, but I am, of course, in Scotland, which didn't manage to get away from England, but has the usual lovely summer light and their gorgeous countryside to celebrate today instead. Poetry Friday's host today, complete with cucumber sandwiches, is In Search of Giants. Happy 4th! Enjoy a summer holiday.