March 30, 2009

Prepare to Be...Poetified! Or Something.

There are so many great online events going on for National Poetry Month this year that I had to share some of them here--our fellow bloggers have been busy, and you won't want to miss checking out their efforts to get the word out.

Firstly, kidlitosphere icon and blog-cataloger extraordinaire Anastasia Suen has started a new blog for kids' poems in honor of National Poetry Month, called Pencil Talk. So go find any K-12 poets you might know and encourage them to submit their work this month!

Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect has compiled a great list of literary events in April, so go check that out--and be sure to keep checking her blog in April, because a little bird told me that she's got something extra-special planned for this year's National Poetry Month!! And that's all I'm allowed to say about it. :)

Greg at GottaBook, one of our favorite resident poets, has also been hard at work planning 30 Poets in 30 Days, his first-annual celebration of children's poetry featuring a new previously unpublished poem by a different poet each day of April. Nikki Giovanni? Check. Jane Yolen? Check. Jon Scieszka? Check. AND MORE!! You can even follow along on Twitter.

Over at Just One More Book!!, Mark and Andrea have put together an excellent booklist of 66 favorite poetry/rhyming books, complete with links to their fabulous podcasts.

Last but not least, want to try out your own hand at some poetry this month? Robert Lee Brewer, editor of Writer's Market, invites you to participate in his Poem-A-Day Challenge on his Poetic Asides blog. And of course there's always Poetry Friday. So go to it! Riff on a rhyme, slip into a sonnet, or whatever suits you best.

March 27, 2009

Friday Misc.: Anniversaries, Awards, and More!

You all know by now that I'm an inveterate NPR junkie. Today I was driving around, running errands, and on PRI's The World I happened to hear a tidbit about this year being the 50th anniversary of a beloved French children's book character--and no, he's not Le Petit Prince, though he is petit: Le Petit Nicolas (link leads to story/podcast permalink) is a wisecracking, troublemaking French schoolboy brought to life by Rene Goscinny and currently being commemorated with museum exhibits and other celebratory events.

The news story stood out to me for two reasons: one was the interesting angle about how Le Petit Nicolas never quite caught on in the U.S., partly because it's now somewhat dated but also because it's just so indefinably French. Of course. The other reason it stood out was that I've actually read this book, I think because it was recommended by my high school French teacher. I enjoyed it, but then I wonder if that's because I also like a lot of books set in that authoritarian British school system of old. Something to ponder.

"A story retold in graphic novel or manga form will necessarily lose most of its original word count. The challenge is to retain the bones and sinew of the original and to present it in a strikingly visual form," says Betsy Mitchell, Editor-in-Chief of Del Rey Books, in a roundtable on Read the rest of the roundtable on adapting prose to comics--very interesting stuff.

On the awards front, Nickelodeon Magazine announced the winners of its first annual award for kids' comics, and a lot of familiar names and faces populate the list, such as Garfield, Snoopy, Calvin (of "and Hobbes" fame), and the Simpsons, along with favorite graphic novel series Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I'm still not convinced that's strictly a graphic novel, but I guess it's moot now! Check it out here.

Lastly, on the topic of anniversaries AND awards, we've got the 40th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, given to African American authors and illustrators for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions. The 2009 awards were announced already, of course, including one of our personal favorites, Kadir Nelson's We Are the Ship. (That man is ADORABLE and BOY can he paint!!) Also recently posted to the page were a number of resources, including book talks with various winners and a page of fun facts about the awards--for instance, Walter Dean Myers is the author with the most Coretta Scott King Book Awards, with five wins. Read more here.

March 25, 2009

One Shot Over the Fence: The Geek Wins Again

When Colleen of Chasing Ray had the idea to organize us into a community of over-the-back-fence book-sharing neighbors, I was torn, of course, as to what book to pass on to the neighbors.

Book choices are so... telling. I mean, there's a copy of The Thornbirds the people in the pink house across the street have been passing back along since the seventies. The cover is taped, and there are parts underlined. The couple in the house next door have been forcing How Things Work into the hands of anyone under five for ever. Should I pull out my Muriel Spark, and nudge Memento Mori through the back fence for the older man back there batting around croquet balls and chuckling on the phone to his cronies in the mystery club? Or is that too English major-y? Should I peer over at the neighbor to my left, who is staring morosely at a picture of his ex, and hand him my copy of The Shipping News, which I must read every single year when it gets foggy and stormy, and I need a story of imperfect redemption?

Or, should I just ...give up and out myself yet one more time as the big geek I really am?

Look: it's not my fault. My mother watched Star Trek. The original one. My great-grandmother loved the Monkees. Geek happens. If I can identify the sound of the doors on the Enterprise in my sleep, so be it. If I can watch (and rewatch) episodes of Babylon 5 (until that last season) and weep, and wish they had chosen to revive it instead of Battlestar Galatica, so be it. We know who we are. We are geeks, and we live large, with our fanfic and our cons, our cosplaying and our filking... or, we live undercover, in our closets with our lamps and our stacks of paperbacks and Mystery Science Theater 3000 marathons, and our microwaved popcorn. Whichever. Whatever.

I know what I am, and as such, the only books I can pass across the fence or tuck in through the boxwood hedge for the girl next door are the ones I really, really love... ancient, sexist science fiction.

Yes, I had to get the sexist right out there.

I'm rereading Justine Larbalestier's The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, and boy, there's a history of misogyny for you! In spite of that, though, even as far back as the forties, women were reading science fiction, and loving it. So I join a proud tradition of not seeing myself in the work, and imagining myself there anyway -- don't we all do that? Today I'm passing a stack of James White's Sector General novels over the fence to you. You'll see in a moment there's more than one reason you might not see yourself right off in the cast of characters.

James White's Sector General books combine my love of Other Worlds with a very concrete link into humanity -- doctors. Nurses. Hospitals. Sector General is a hospital station, floating through space (cue the music for General Hospital, the other show my mother watched.) administered by a stern human doctor, and staffed by...


Yep. Humans are just another classification in the universe - one head, four mobile appendages, unfurred, except for strategic points. Humans are DGDB -- bipedal, oxygen breathing, warm-blooded. You'll find plenty of DGDB types at work at Sector General, but they aren't, by any means, the only people -- er, beings -- who have lives and cultures and traditions. These books explore xenophobia, racism, sexism and classism in surprising ways, always with a pacifist angle, to which the Belfast-born White was committed. Sexism amongst the humans isn't exactly turned on its head, but the most important human female in the books is the head of nursing... who has an exceptional bust and stunning blonde hair, but we'll consider the time and be grateful that girls show up at all.

The first chapter of the first novel, published in 1962, begins this way:

"The alien occupying O'Mara's sleeping compartment weighed roughly half a ton, possessed six, short appendages which served both as arms or legs and had a hide like a flexible armor plate. Coming as it did from Hudlar, a four-G world with an atmospheric pressure nearly seven times Earth normal, such ruggedness of physique was to be expected. But despite its enormous strength the being was helpless, O'Mara knew, because it was barely six months old, it had just seen its parents die in a construction accident, and its brain was sufficiently well developed for the sight to have frightened it badly.

It's the babysitting job from hell. O'Mara is accused of causing the accident which killed the huge being's parents, and so he is forced to share living space with this creature, feed it every few hours, and figure out how to bring it -- alive -- to its destination, or face consequences.

O'Mara is not at all a likable character, to begin with. One of his coworkers, a victim of an accident aboard a space-going vehicle has a nervous system which was shattered by radiation, and so he twitches and stammers. O'Mara mocks him, teases him about his stammer, and needles him, much to the disgust of all the other workers. In the beginning, readers might wonder why White chooses someone like O'Mara as a main character -- he's certainly not sympathetic. And yet...

O'Mara is young, muscular and was gorgeous, but now is disabled, very bitter, and seems angry. No one on board likes him, and now there's no one who will believe his story about how the accident happened. O'Mara knows next to nothing about Hudlars, but he's got a First Aid book of sorts... and that will have to do. Of course, while he's figuring out how not to let the baby die, he's got to see the Monitor, who is investigating the accident, and determining whether or not O'Mara still has a job and his freedom.

You will no longer find these books for sale as single editions unless you aver very lucky indeed, they are way out of print. All of the novels in the series appear in omnibus form, as you can see to your left, and were reprinted by popular demand. (Yay! Geek power!) The Sector General novels have compelling characters and storylines which are by turns playful and serious. The drama of meeting all new beings -- classifying them so that the hospital knows what kind they are, and what will work with them -- the medical staff keeping their own prejudices under wraps -- the frustration of seeing patients die because of what you don't know -- all of this creates memorable, eminently readable books. The political undertones of these novels came from White's frustration with the years of violence in Belfast, and the great lengths to which the ambulance personnel, xenobiologists, doctors and medical staff go to avoid having to injure or kill in the field or back at the station -- even when under attack -- speak of his deep desire for the world he knew to work a little harder at preserving lives.

These books remind me of the 1957 Murray Leinster Med Ship series, which is less like General Hospital, and more like M*A*S*H. The Sector General series has also been compared with Alan Nourse's 1959 YA novel Star Surgeon, which I'm still tracking down. If you like S.L. Viehl's StarDoc books, you may like these, but Sector General includes less relationship stuff than Viehl does, less violence, but definitely more weird aliens.

So, at the next block party, look for the absent geeky girl with the massive, sun-defying straw hat and dark sunglasses, lounging with pillows and blanket in a shady back corner of her own backyard. She's the one with the stack of paperbacks and she doesn't actually hear you when you walk up to her and ask her what she's reading. As long as you bring a plate of brownies or something to go with her bottle of lemonade, you're welcome to sit down, pick up a book, shut up, and read.

There are other fences and other neighbors and other books going by. Grab a few from:

The new neighbors we might not know, but don't let that stop you from grabbing a book from them. Check with Chasing Ray for the full lineup.

Buy the Sector General omnibuses from an independent bookstore near you!

March 24, 2009

Many Happy Returns!

Psst! Don't forget to wish Aquafortis a happy one!

March 23, 2009

One Shot Recs Coming Soon!

Our resident genius planner, Colleen at Chasing Ray, has something fun in store for this Wednesday the 25th, so stay tuned--it's a special edition of One Shot Reading Recommendations, and the theme is "Over the Fence"--what books would YOU pass along to your friends, gush about, and insist they read until you're blue in the face and they're absolutely sick of you? Now's your chance to gush away. Don't miss it.

Now, a few links to amuse and entertain and enlighten: for book enthusiasts who can't get enough, there's not only a Wintergirls trailer on YouTube for you, but also an official Paisley Hanover website with all sorts of Flash-based fun. (Thanks to the folks at Penguin Putnam for the links.) And if you're a fan of book trailers, there's a handy-dandy archive at JacketFlap that also includes interviews with authors and other cool stuff.

Do NOT miss this really fascinating op-ed from about a high-school English teacher who uses Watchmen--the graphic novel--in his classroom, and how students in his class and other teachers are responding to it (here's a hint: it's working out great!). I'm always happy to see quality graphic literature not only recognized as such, but introduced to young readers who might be able to use it as an entry point for other great literature, graphic or traditional.

And, speaking of the graphic novel format--and artists who've used it--another don't-miss is the 7-Imps' fabulous interview with Dave McKean, who is at least partially responsible for me picking up my first Sandman comic at age, oh, fourteen or so. I am a huge fan, and his work makes me want to cry. Go look at the interview, even if all you do is scroll through for the amazing pictures he kindly provided. The man is a genius. Such a genius that I think I have to end there and go ponder his amazingness. Cripes.

March 20, 2009

Healing Wounds: House of Dance by Beth Kephart

This book was not at all what I expected—with a title like House of Dance, it’s easy to assume that it might be just another story about a girl who wants to be a dancer. That wasn’t it AT ALL. And I’ll now eat my humble pie for judging a book by its cover...which I routinely do.

House of Dance is truly a gem of a book. Written in prose that is spare, lovely, raw, and haunting all at the same time, I frequently found tears coming to my eyes at this story about fifteen-year-old Rosie Keith, whose father left the family long ago, whose mother is drifting away emotionally, and whose grandfather is dying.

The book itself has a rhythm, a flow like a stately dance, as the days of Rosie’s summer pass with visits to her grandfather, helping sort the piles of books and ephemera in his house as his health slowly deteriorates. With each visit, she learns a bit more about the past that he rarely discussed before, and Rosie finds out about the vibrant, music- and dance-loving grandmother she never met. Meanwhile, her mother continues to avoid the situation entirely, spending long hours at work with her boss/receding-hairline paramour Mr. Paul.

And then Rosie finds her own secret to keep: the House of Dance, a ballroom dancing studio upstairs from the shops on the main street near her grandfather’s house. The whirling color and music plant the seeds of an idea that she hopes might bring some joy to her ailing grandfather... and, in the process, Rosie herself finds joy in surprising places, even in the midst of sorrow. A complex story, simply and vividly written and brimming with emotion. Gorgeous. Should appeal to older YAs and adult readers.

Buy House of Dance from an independent bookstore near you!

Eric Carle Wins for Cutest Google Ever

According to the UK Telegraph, "The book, published in 1969, still sells one copy every 30 seconds in the world, 40 years after it was originally published." (Emphasis mine.) Whoa.

Google always has awesome ways to celebrate special days, and I'm just really stoked that Mr. Carle, who is eighty this year, has had his special day. Who knew -- a hopeful story that started from the inspiration of a hole puncher turns into this great little tale about a small, soft thing that ate and ate and ate, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then -- whoo! -- changed. And flew.

Simply lovely, and a nice choice for the first day (theoretically) of Spring. Friends tell me they woke up to snow this morning in New York, so... um... well, it's coming. Theoretically.

Poetry Friday today is at Elaine's The Wild Rose Reader. I just discovered Elaine's Political Verses blog, and am chuckling. An interesting way to vent! In iambic pentameter!

For everyone who has slogged and stumbled and finally made it to Spring Break, congratulations! And enjoy!

March 19, 2009

Evildoers Beware: Skulduggery Pleasant - Playing With Fire

You thought there was swashbuckling supernatural action in the first Skulduggery Pleasant novel. Just wait until you read the sequel.

Now that Stephanie Edgley has officially taken on her secret identity of Valkyrie Cain, fighter against the evil forces who aim to bring back the Faceless Ones to destroy the world, she’s in the path of danger nearly constantly. Her old life seems like merely an afterthought as she’s caught up in her apprenticeship with the skeleton detective Skulduggery Pleasant. And when the powerfully evil Baron Vengeous escapes from prison with the help of the rogue earth-tunneling Billy Ray Sanguine, Valkyrie, Skulduggery and their allies must race to stop him before he re-assembles the Grotesquery, an unimaginably horrible and near-invincible monster cobbled from awful bits and pieces of other unimaginable horrors.

The sequel is a fight-a-minute and action-packed read, and though I missed some of the complexity of story and laugh-out-loud humor of the first book, Playing With Fire was a fitting follow-up with some truly scary moments of danger that kept me hooked. Plus, don’t you just love those character names?

Buy Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing With Fire from an independent bookstore near you!

March 18, 2009

Mummies (and Grandmummies) Gone Wild: Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris

I don’t think I need to tell you how much we here at Finding Wonderland are squealing Theodosia fan-girls, do I? Good. Suffice it to say that we found her first adventure, Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, to be rollicking, surprising, and refreshing fun.

Our twelve-going-on-thirteen-year-old heroine is back in Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris, and her second dive into danger and intrigue is just as enjoyable as the first, if not more so. The sinister secret society the Serpents of Chaos are now back in London, and they have it in for Theodosia, who foiled them quite soundly in the first book. And, sure enough, some strange things are happening around her parents’ antiquities museum—and in all the museums of London.

Mummies are disappearing—and reappearing in her parents’ museum! Suddenly her father is a suspect, and Theodosia herself is the only one with the resources and the supernatural knowledge to clear his name. Fortunately, she’s found a clue in the form of a very odd magical artifact in the museum basement. But she’s also got her hands full with other matters beyond her control: an animate and rampaging jackal statue, an oily and overly ambitious assistant curator, and a grandmother who’s hell-bent on finding her a proper governess to keep her under control.

There’s excitement left and right in Theodosia’s second adventure, and you’ll find the heroine just as fearless, witty, and clever as before. This is a sequel that has me hoping for more…

Buy Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris from an independent bookstore near you!

March 17, 2009

Ice Chip on his Shoulder: Thaw by Monica Roe

This title was a 2008 Cybils YA finalist.

This book is nothing if not thought-provoking and discussion-generating, let me tell you. Let me also say that it seems people either really liked it or really didn’t like it—as can easily happen with a book in which the narrator is extremely UNsympathetic. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether there was enough of the redeemable in his personality to make it work.

Dane, the narrator of Thaw, is one of those popular athletic guys who seems to have it all—until he’s felled by Guillain-Barre Syndrome, resulting in almost total paralysis. Much of the paralysis is temporary, but it’s up in the air whether he’ll ever regain full mobility, let alone go back to being the champion skier he was before.

Dane also has an attitude the approximate size of the expert ski slopes he used to conquer with ease. That attitude, and the utter disregard with which he seems to view anyone who doesn’t meet his impossibly high standards—an attitude he picked up from his father—resulted in a breakup with his girlfriend Elise, just after he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre. Now he’s got an even bigger chip on his shoulder and a set of uphill battles that are both physical and mental. But he’ll have to learn to respect that people have frailties and weaknesses as well as strengths if he’s going to heal…and he’ll have to accept that it’s not just his friends, family, and rehab therapists whose weaknesses he has to respect, but also his own.

Buy Thaw from an independent bookstore near you!

Everything Changes: Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

This title was a 2008 Cybils YA finalist.

The old adage says that inside every fat person is a thin person struggling to get out. Well, it’s kind of the opposite for Jenna Vaughn. She’s lost the weight, and now she’s several years older and doing much better at a different school, but the little overweight girl Jennifer Harris is always hovering at the edges, threatening to slip out and ruin the precarious but perfect life she’s built. The memories of taunting and bullying—those she can’t shed as easily as the pounds.

The other memories she can’t shed are of her former best friend, Cameron Quick. He was her ONLY friend during those dark days, and she, in turn, was privy to his dark secret of an emotionally abusive and physically threatening father. Jenna thinks those days are long gone—in fact, she never found out what happened to Cameron after he suddenly stopped showing up to school. So when he shows up in her life again, it’s a jarring shock. So much about him is the same, but just as she’s changed in more apparent ways, Cameron’s changed, too; it’s just that the changes are less obvious.

Sweethearts is in many ways a very ambitious story that is deceptively simple on the surface—author Sara Zarr paints not only the main characters of Jenna and Cameron with loving detail, but many of the minor characters are also quite compelling, particularly Jenna’s sympathetically portrayed stepfather. I did feel the story’s main antagonist, Cameron’s father, could have been developed further, and I expected more tension and drama from that quarter. However, the core story about friendship and how it changes so easily is solidly and sensitively written.

Buy Sweethearts from an independent bookstore near you!

March 16, 2009

Playing Hardball

Laura Wiess has produced another imminently readable novel, detailing a reality that is hard to turn away from, while being also hard to watch.

Ardith and Blair couldn't come from two more different backgrounds. Blair's family is wealthy, her parents are upwardly mobile attorneys and her life, from a distance, is shiny and immaculate. Up close it is bloodless, empty, and cold. Blair's mother had her dog put to sleep, because it didn't fit in with their shiny, clean lives. Blair's father is having an affair, but he, too, is putting in his time until Blair's mother says he can go. Everything in their lives is about appearance -- and control.

Ardith's parents are alcoholics, making money designing adult websites, and making life an everyday hedonistic binge of drunken partying. Ardith escapes her father and her brother's drunken advances -- and the drunken rambles of their friends -- by sleeping with a padlock on her door. Everything in Ardith's world is out of control, and Ardith tries desperately to keep herself in check, so that her own dreams of being a doctor can be someday fulfilled.

In spite of their differences, and after the world leaves them world weary, jaded and knowledgeable Ardith and Blair understand each other even better. They know what it feels like to feel cut off from all help, and to have to rely on yourself to survive. They know what it is to have dreams, and have no way of getting to them. And when something threatens the one person who has shown them unconditional, disinterested respect and affection, they know how to take action -- and get their revenge.

On one hand, this book is terrifying -- as it seeks to show the reality of victim and perpetrator. On the other hand, what Blair and Ardith do makes perfect sense -- and that makes it even scarier.

A suspenseful, tightly written novel for older readers that it's hard to put down, and hard to forget.

Buy Leftovers from an independent bookstore near you!

March 12, 2009

Complicated Love: I Know It's Over by C.K. Kelly Martin

This book was a 2008 Cybils YA Finalist.

C.K. Kelly Martin’s debut novel I Know It’s Over really feels like two stories in one. First, there’s the story of Nick and Sasha’s whirlwind summer relationship, two seemingly opposite personalities who don’t mingle at school but have undeniable chemistry outside of it. Sasha is a classic “good girl” with protective parents; Nick is one of the popular guys, well-liked but with a little of the attitude that goes along with that. They don’t see eye to eye on everything, but their relationship moves quickly enough.

Of course, sex complicates things. Sasha breaks up with Nick, and while he’s still recovering from that bit of news, she shows up on his doorstep during Christmas break to let him know that she’s pregnant. That’s where the second story starts—there’s Before, and then there’s After. Now Sasha’s pregnant, and neither of them is sure what to do. To make things more complicated, Nick’s divorced parents are not the most approachable individuals in the world, and his friends all have very different takes on the situation. On top of it all, Nick still cares about Sasha, and isn’t sure she feels the same way in return.

Fully-rounded, sympathetic characters and a very believably depicted, confused narrator with a convincing voice make this one difficult to put down--especially during the second half, when the tension really picks up and we see the effect on Nick of having a pregnant ex-girlfriend whom he still loves. The side characters are also well-rounded, and add depth to this complex and sensitively drawn story, making it much more than just another book about teen pregnancy. Most of all, though, I was struck by how well the author captured the "sound" of the narrator’s voice—Martin has created an authentic character in Nick, and readers will want to follow his story to the end.

Buy I Know It's Over from an independent bookstore near you!

Librarian to the (Death) Star, Library Lions, Books@Home & more

Yeah. That's how not to do it.
I found that poster today at a great interview with our very own cool-shoe-wearing Librarian to Lord Vader, Adrienne. The very awesome Jules interviewed Librarian Adrienne on how she has risen to the heights of the Death Star, and surprisingly, it had not a lot to do with a small child named Luke... but more to do with just being a really cool children's librarian and not actually minding, um, kids. And when people drop books in the bathtub. *cough*

Amazing, that.

If you've not been following the Share A Story - Shape A Future reading celebration blog tour, there's not only time to go backwards IN time to read up, but there's incentives in the forms of gift and giveaways, and there's more informative reading today.

Eva Mitnick @ Eva’s Book Addiction hosts the round-up today. As well as Making the Library Work for You, over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, there's also:

  • “From Cozy to Cool — Library Spaces for Everyone” — Eva Mitnick of Eva’s Book Addiction

  • “Lions and Marble and Books, Oh My” — Elizabeth Bird @ Fuse#8 shows off her gorgeous library, and the world *sighs* with envy.

  • “The World Beyond the Library’s Walls” — Melissa at librarian by day

  • “ABC Storytimes: Taking the Library Home” — by Pamela Coughlan at MotherReader talks about how NOT to push a kid to read - those who don't heed this, might get whacked. Knuffle Bunny to the head, folks.

Much of this week has seemed to appeal more to board books, early readers, and the very young. The final day has something for everyone, so writers and readers for MG and YA, tune back in, and check it out:

Friday: Technology and Reading — What the Future Holds. Hosted by Elizabeth O. Dulemba:

Happy Reading Thursday!

March 10, 2009

A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

This title was a 2008 Cybils YA Finalist.

Books that can be classified as magical realism—and I’d call Jellicoe Road an example of that—aren’t necessarily for everyone. There’s mysteriousness, not necessarily explained away. Things happen that may seem destined; or they may seem entirely random. The sense of taut mystery, but of needing to know the answers, that pervades Melina Marchetta’s latest novel is something that will keep the reader going despite the occasional moment of seeming arbitrariness and the feeling of constant enigma.

Taylor Markham doesn’t know why her mother abandoned her by the side of the Jellicoe Road six years ago, but now, at age seventeen, she’s been going to the Jellicoe boarding school, her only mentor the rather odd caretaker/housemother type person, Hannah. But Hannah has disappeared, just when Taylor is confronted with a number of converging situations that all somehow relate. She’s become her house leader, for one thing, dealing with the politics of the other house leaders and the needs of her own charges; for another, Jonah Griggs, an estranged friend who attends the area military school, has come back into the area on the school’s annual outdoor expedition. And that means that a traditional years-old territorial battle between the Jellicoe Kids, the Cadets, and the Townies is about to begin again. Nobody knows the real origins of the conflict, but elements of their mock battle are echoed in a manuscript of Hannah’s that Taylor has read bits and pieces of, and this interplay between the written and the real constantly has the reader on edge.

Slowly, strangely, the strategizing and confrontations draw key parties together—Taylor, her friend Raffaela, Jonah, the Townie kid Santangelo—and illuminate the parallels between their story and Hannah’s sad tale, a tale of five friends who once created a game of territorial wars…and who were torn apart by the inevitable harshness of life. A strange, gripping, and dreamlike journey.

Buy Jellicoe Road from an independent bookstore near you!

March 09, 2009

What Harm Can One Song Do?: Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

This title was a 2008 Cybils YA Finalist.

Doesn’t every high school girl daydream of having a boyfriend who’s in a band? Well, Audrey has one—or rather had one. She just broke up with Evan, actually…who decided to drown his sorrows by writing a song about the breakup. A little while later, at their next concert, Audrey and her best friend Victoria are shocked when the band breaks into a little tune called "Audrey, Wait!"

The next thing Audrey knows, she’s catapulted into the wrong kind of stardom as That Girl Who Broke Up With Poor Evan. Not such a great daydream anymore. The paparazzi are following her around, Victoria’s acting like it’s all an awesome adventure, and even James, the shy boy with a crush on her who works with her at the ice cream shop, isn’t sure how to deal with her. And Evan—well, he’s famous and he’s living the dream, and he’s so out of reach there’s no way to tell him he’s made her life a nightmare. Not that she’d want to talk to him, anyway.

If you enjoy music and concerts, you’ll appreciate the giddy atmosphere and song-infused style of Robin Benway’s Audrey, Wait! But it’s also got a hilarious premise, a funny and likeable and very down-to-earth narrator, and enough snowballing hijinks to keep the pace moving quickly all the way to the inevitable confrontation at the end.

Buy Audrey, Wait! from an independent bookstore near you!

March 08, 2009

Share A Story, Make a Reader, Shape a Future

Share a Story - Shape a Future We heard about this program from Jen Robinson, our local reader evangelist, and though we're not personally involved, we think the "Share a Story, Shape a Future" program is pretty cool. The idea of the program is to talk up books, and librarians, authors, teachers, and parents in the kidlitosphere will be basically doing that all week long -- and swapping fun ideas, gifts, and prizes. We encourage you pop by and read and contribute to this celebration -- we're not parents or teachers or librarians, but we totally get behind celebrating reading, and sharing ideas on how to make it more accessible and part of the everyday life of everybody. And full props for the fabulous bear icon to Elizabeth Dulemba.

Monday: Raising Readers
hosted by Terry Doherty at Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, the Reading Tub blog
Tuesday: Selecting Reading Material
hosted by Sarah Mulhern at The Reading Zone
Wednesday: Reading Aloud - It's Fun, It's Easy
hosted by Susan Stephenson at the Book Chook blog
Thursday: A Visit to the Library
hosted by Eva Mitnick at Eva's Book Addiction blog
Friday: Technology and Reading - What the Future Holds
hosted by Elizabeth O. Dulemba at

The kidlitosphere is vast, and there are new people around sharing new ideas and books every day. Find a corner where you're comfortable, and jump in!

March 06, 2009

Late Winter Link Extravaganza

You guys probably already know I love extravaganzas. Well, I love the word "extravaganza." And, evidently, I like to save up a couple of months' worth of links and spew them back out way after the fact. Strangely, these two likes seem to go together pretty well. So, here is your Linkstravaganza for the season.

Here's one that I meant to post ages ago but totally forgot about: an NPR interview on our local Insight program with the utterly captivating children's author Francisco X. Alarcon. Not only does he recite a number of his bilingual poems in Spanish and English, he also recites a poem in the Nahuatl language. Don't miss it!

Via comes a useful manga glossary for those not as familiar with the genre. There's also an informative roundtable interview with librarians about graphic novels in libraries--just in time for the announcement (in Feb.) of YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens.This month is also the second anniversary of Readergirlz, so be sure to stop by and check out this month's issue, which features Mary E. Pearson and her fabulous dystopian novel The Adoration of Jenna Fox.

I'll wrap up with some newer stuff: recently debuting is the page AuthorsNow!, a collaborative site for debut children's authors and illustrators (via author Cynthea Liu). Lastly, congrats to Lee Wind for his excellent and heartfelt guest column on GLBTQ books for kids in Queer Times. Whew! Now I think I'm finally caught up. For now, mwahahaha...

March 05, 2009

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher

This book was a 2008 Cybils YA finalist.

Ruby Jacinski is just fifteen years old, but in 1940s Chicago, that's old enough to drop out of school and work in a meat-packing plant when her mother is too ill to keep doing it herself. But it barely makes enough money to support the family, which consists of Ruby, her sister, and their mother. As they fall deeper into debt, Ruby runs into the notorious Paulie Suelze, who's a bit older with that bad-boy appeal. Everyone says he's no good, so of course, Ruby is intrigued that he seems interested in her.

And when he tells her about a job opportunity that will net her enough money to support her family with plenty to spare, Ruby doesn't feel like she has any other option. Being a taxi dancer at a local dance hall--dancing with men for money, half of which she gets to keep--isn't exactly considered respectable. But the job has its perks: customers might tip extra, give her jewelry, buy her meals after hours and take her out on the town. Some even become "fish" who regularly supply their favorite dancers with money or after-hours dining and dancing.

Of course, the job also has its risks--jealous coworkers, aching feet, and customers who expect something more than just a dance and a conversation. And then there's Paulie. What does he expect from Ruby in return for the favor of finding her the job? This is a lively story full of color and authenticity and the flavor of 1940s Chicago, as well as the story of Ruby learning to make her own decisions and get herself into--and out of--trouble. Likeable side characters such as Oscar the saxophonist and Manny and Alonzo, the Filipino customers who regularly visit the dance hall, show the racism of the time without being preachy. However, it's Ruby's adventures that really bring the story to life. An excellent read, despite the somewhat tidy ending.

Buy Ten Cents a Dance from an independent bookstore near you! And don't miss the Cybils love on the author's blog! Woo hoo!

March 04, 2009

And Now That You Mention It...


Monster Blood Tattoo has been shortlisted in the YA Andre Norton Award category of the 2009 Nebula Awards. Color me happy. I know some people still can't get into those books, but I love, love, love them, the strange monsters, odd characters and endearing boy-with-the-girl's-name. Don't fear the tome, people!

Boy, there's a good discussion-started over at the Gratz Industries blog. Many of us have attended writing conferences at SCBWI functions and other places, and have paid to have a manuscript critiqued. It is, as always, the luck of the draw whether you get an editor or a random (probably a guest speaker, so not so random) author critiquing you. There's a point to the critiquing process, no matter who does it -- to give you a clear view of the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript. So it doesn't matter who wields the red pen. Right? RIGHT!??? Oh, just drop by Alan Gratz's discussion of The Publishing Fairy.

Another great conversation on ethnicity and race over at the Fire Escape -- this all started because Mitali is collection tough questions about diversity in children's publishing to discuss at the New England SCBWI panel in April. Thought some of the responses were brilliant, and now she's discussing the language we use when we talk about race. Will we wever agree about how to talk about these things if we can't even agree on a vocabulary?

There's snow on the ground, and there are only two days 'til the weekend. I think I can stay awake for this...

Tales of Tomorrows

Neil Gaiman.
Margo Lanagan.
Kelly Link.
Garth Nix.
Scott Westerfeld.
Alastair Reynolds.

Any of these names make you want to pick up a book?
What if all of these names show up in the same book?

The best thing about anthologies is that I'm constantly introduced to new authors, and want to track down their work. These sixteen stories/novellas have me checking out my local indie and the library.

The Starry Rift has some fresh new sci-fi tales all packaged in a thick, gorgeous hardback book, with nifty artwork. From Gaiman's "Orange," which is a series of ...answers about a peculiar event in a family's life, to Cory Doctorow's "Anda's Game," which sticks out its tongue (in an articulate and intelligent Doctorow way) at people who say all video games do is make kids violent, to Alastair Reynolds' creepy tale of ill-intentioned-cyborgs, there's a wide array of writing styles and story types from which to choose. Whether you like "life out there" stories or tales that take place on Earth after mankind decides to live among the stars, there's something here for you.

You can read interviews with all of the authors here, and find out what they have to say about their work. Each story has a short author bio, and details about the how and why of their particular story. This is a good book to read when you just have time to snatch a mind-expanding story of "what if?"

Buy The Starry Rift from an independent bookstore near you!

The Wondering World

Martin's life is... decent. He runs with his friends and they play games, they hate school, but have to sit through it, plugged in to their handhelds, downloading information every half hour. Things are predictable -- Dad goes to work each day, and Mom makes nifty experiments for dinner each night -- but life isn't supposed to be exciting or different. The TV has all the answers anyone will ever need. Only it's too bad no one told Claire.

Claire is Martin's little sister. She's a Wonder Baby. Or, she was. Now she's a wonder-girl. The Wonder Babies were a marvelous experiment. They were designed to be perfect kids, to help raise themselves. Only, the adults don't like that. They hate how independent Wonder Babies are, how smart they are, and how they ask so many questions. In a world where everyone lives sealed under a dome, things like, "What's a robin?" are the wrong things to ask. No one knows anymore, and the not-knowing makes them nervous, then sad, then hostile, all in one go.

The Wonder Babies are harassed, constantly, and practically answer to the name "freak." But the day somebody crosses the line, Martin takes a stand. Nobody should be beating up on little kids, even if they are freakishly smart. Martin starts to care -- for the first time -- about someone other than himself. He starts to wonder things, to ask questions, and with his robotic dog at his side, he begins to find answers.

But it turns out that Martin's questions come too late. The message has already come down from the top -- the Wonder Babies are to be rounded up and taken away.

The experiment has ended.

Younger fans of dystopia might find Clare B. Dunkle's The Sky Inside a first bite of a world of "what ifs." Older readers may find that not enough of the questions of "what if" are answered for them, but this is a good "survey of dystopia" book that combines some of the The City of Ember ideas, as well as themes from The Giver, and allows young readers to really think about what makes a perfect world, and what it would be like to live there. Martin is a believable, lovable thirteen-year-old readers will want to see win through the obstacles that face him.

Buy The Sky Inside from an independent bookstore near you!

The Forgotten Realms

Already at twelve, Maimun has been twice lucky.

He's survived the death of his parents at the hands of raiders which razed their village, and the burning of the forest where he lived with his guardian. Each time someone has come and saved him -- and only him -- alive.

Maybe it's not so lucky to be living when everything and everyone he knows keeps getting stripped from him.

Maimun has just lost his most recent guardian -- and Perrault was like a father to him. But at least now he knows why trouble seems to follow him like a deep black shadow. He's in possession of a stone which something wants to possess at any cost. If only Perrault had lived long enough to tell him why...

The Stowaway is the fast-paced first volume in a father-son series written by R.A. and Geno Salvatore. If you're not familiar with The Forgotten Realms series, don't worry, this is a completely new story in and of itself, and is designed to introduce younger readers to the realm. See Charlotte's interview with the authors here, and read a sample chapter here.

Buy THE STOWAWAY from an independent bookstore near you!

Marching Off the Deep End

After meeting band geek goddess Ellie Snow, you might think that she's got everything under control. She's always been a force of nature in her marching band, and she's always known what she's wanted -- to choose the music and direct the crisp notes of her own marching band. Ellie's a senior planning to go to the state university near her home. Everything's perfect. Her boyfriend Connor, a sophomore in high school, will be right close by. She won't have time to miss her parents. Nothing in Ellie's life will change from the way she likes it.

Somehow, her parents don't think this is a great idea. Under protest, Ellie visits her mother's alma mater, an East Coast women's college which she expects to be just a bunch of snobs -- and finds herself seduced by the idea of hipness and belonging to someplace cool. She realizes that a little change just might do her good. Maybe she really is Band Geeked Out, and done with the whole thing...

This second installment of the trials and fun of a band geek girl has some unexpected twists, and we see the world more fully through Ellie's eyes. Connor's not as mature -- and sometimes Ellie seems to resent him for being who he is, showing her own immaturity. Ellie sees herself falling into behaviors which she acknowledges as increasingly badly thought out and hurtful, yet allows herself to do so, rationalizing that she's trying out something new -- something not boring and predictable. The novel's conflict is presented somewhat simplistically, but it's clear that Ellie's new needs and desires are part of the growing up experience. The ending may surprise some readers, but many will cheer as the band geek marches forward into her newest formation.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you! COMING APRIL 2009