July 31, 2009

A Change Will Do You Good

One of my favorite things about British school stories is the idea of girls who become sort of obsessed (asexually) with other girls. It's a weird thing to like, I know, but novels written in the fifties and sixties are better at discussing this phenomenon that we all experience -- finding a person we think is SO COOL that we emulate them and want to BE them, and get just a teensy bit obsessed and Single Whatever Female about them. These novels, like Anne of Green Gables or The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie always describe it as an infatuation -- and that's what Chloe has for Davinia.

Chloe is only a year in to her life at a dead dull British private school where the girls are all insular snobs, and she's already had to chameleon herself in order to find even a patronizing friend. Recently, her mother has left her father for a new man, and Chloe finds her father home after work with red-rimmed eyes and an inability to do anything to move on. At seventeen, Chloe hasn't moved on either -- she is devastated, furious, and ...numb. When Davinia comes in as a new student -- with her interesting hyphenated last name, and her perfectly awesome looks and her "screw all of you" attitude, Chloe sparkles back to life. She realizes that she needs a change -- an exciting friend who does fun exciting things, takes risks, and really ...lives. When Davinia asks Chloe to accompany her on a summer holiday to Malta, she agrees immediately, envisioning a glamorous summer ahead.

There is glamor, yes, huge, lavish parties, hip and trendy bars, and the works, but there's also a lot of other stuff Chloe hasn't counted on, including manipulation and rage and the scary feeling that she's been invited on the trip to be unpaid companion and keeper to an increasingly hostile, erratic and evil-tempered Davinia. Davinia's parents, who'd seemed so welcoming, turn out to be cold and utterly unconcerned with anything but their own comfort. Chloe -- broke, out of her league and desperate -- feels like a hostage in a beautiful place. It's time for her to make another change -- for herself.

There are a lot of beach reads about a girl falling into bad company and finding out that an ultra-rich, ultra-perfect girl is a scheming spoiled brat whose outrageous behavior gets old quickly. But, there haven't been a whole lot of novels where the girl says "Enough," and stands on her own. Kate Cann has crafted a realistic and utterly charming novel about a girl who goes from infatuation with who she isn't to being in love with who she is.

Look for this book -- Mediterranean Holiday in the U.S. (what a thoroughly uninspired and insipid name -- did they think we'd never heard of The Tempest and didn't know what a sea change might be???), and Sea Change in the UK -- and enjoy.

Buy Sea Change from an independent bookstore near you!

July 30, 2009

Fang Fatigue

Will Write For Chocolate

Visit Will Write for Chocolate for more fun writing-related 'toons.

July 28, 2009

Create Your Debut YA Cover

I have now officially begun praying that my debut YA cover (should I be blessed with one) does NOT look like this. On the other hand, if anybody would like to hire me for design services on the basis of this abominable creation, feel free to contact me. :)

I should note that my original book title was supposed to be "Whimper," which I quite liked, except no pictures came up with that tag. So I had to go with this one, which is of dubious appropriateness. Credit, blame, or random yelling people with pitchforks should go in the direction of 100 Scope Notes.

What will yours look like?


1 – Go to "Fake Name Generator" or click http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/

The name that appears is your author name.

2 – Go to "Random Word Generator" or click http://www.websitestyle.com/parser/randomword.shtml

The word listed under "Random Verb" is your title.

3 – Go to "FlickrCC" or click http://flickrcc.bluemountains.net/index.php

Type your title into the search box. The first photo that contains a person is your cover.

4 – Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Be sure to crop and/or zoom in.

5 – Post it to your site along with this text.

July 27, 2009

From Art to Cover Art...and More

I know I've mentioned it before, but don't miss the excellent contributions to the Readergirlz Art Saves project, which you can view at Bildungsroman. There are some fabulous ones already posted, and each one is so different. Keep checking back this month for more interpretations of how Art Saves.

The ongoing discussion about the cover depiction on Justine Larbalestier's book liar has overflowed from the kidlit world and entered the mainstream(-ish)--prompting some very thought-provoking discussions about depictions of non-white characters on book covers. My favorite post in all this so far is at the YA YA YAs, where Trisha has done some interesting research into Asian-Americans on YA book covers (thanks go to Tanita for the link). Notwithstanding the noticeable trend to use stock photos that lop off heads and limbs (regardless of race), there are not only not NEARLY enough books featuring Asian-American protagonists (in my opinion), but for 2009, there are very few with images of Asian-Americans on the cover.

I find this all very interesting to think about, because when I was quite a bit younger (i.e., in high school) I thought I might want to be a book cover artist. Of course, the field of book cover design has changed so much, with most genres going with stock photos and photo manipulation or even simple text design as opposed to work by illustrators, but I spent enormous amounts of time copying Michael Whelan fantasy book covers (like this one--I did a very time-consuming pencil copy) and that was the image in my mind of what a cover artist did. Now, it seems to be a lot more focused on overall design and layout--at least, most of the time, unless it's a children's book.

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.comAnyway, in her post, Trisha lists a number of excellent books (many of which I need to put towards the top of the TBR list!--anyone read Skunk Girl yet?? I have to try to find that...), and she also mentioned the upcoming Color Me Brown Book Challenge at Color Online. In August, read and review books by people of color, and you'll be entered into a prize drawing. I'll definitely make a point of seeing what I can find at my library, and we'll also be participating in the One Shot Southeast Asia day that Colleen is organizing, also in August. So stay tuned for much reading goodness.

Turning Pages - A Reading Recap

I've discovered a tree-lined riverside trail that meanders almost four miles to my favorite branch of the library. I. am. stoked. Of course, I haven't walked it carrying actual books -- please, those things are heavy -- but it's good to know that I technically *could* skip the bus, if it weren't constantly raining, and walk that way lugging twenty volumes, which is the base limit the libraries here impose on single check-outs. (Twenty? They make me laugh. The Benicia library would let me take thirty-one. And check out on Tech Boy's card and mine. They knew better than to get between an addict and her fix.)

I digress. The point is, I've been working hard, but I've also been reading. Tons. (And even books without weird, weird sexist overtones). However, since the blogosphere tends to cluster-review YA books at least, I won't bore you with more of the same -- although now that I've met a (fifteen-month-old) girl named Solace, I'm loving Siobhan Dowd's last book Solace of the Road that much more. (Hat tip to Kelly for a great review.) I powered through both of Laini's books -- and I'm having Magpie Windwitch Withdrawal. There are symptoms, including the wish for a facial tattoo, and/or a flock of crows as relatives. (Well, I'm halfway there, at least.)

Andi, Doret, Charlotte, Colleen, Sheila, and many others have written such complex and intelligent reviews of A Wish After Midnight that I won't bore you with my own wonderings and comments. Let me just say: Ms. Colon is a STRONG young woman. Some of the questions other readers have raised about the men in the book -- Paul, the doctor, Judah -- have gotten me wondering about and appreciating Judah/W.E.B. DuBois and co. a bit more. (Thanks, thinkers! P.S. - Judah's story, according to Zetta, will maybe be finished this fall!)

Eisha - I think (and if not, sorry for taking your name in vain, Eish) - mentioned Blown Away by Patrick Cave when we were working on the Cybils. Blown Away is told in alternating voices -- Dom, the son of a media mogul is imprisoned at his boys' school while massive changes take place in the world, and martial law is imposed. He records the world he knows, slipping away, in his diary... which falls into the hands of Addie, generations
later. Dom was turned into a soldier, and his genetic material was harvested... to create Addie. Who, knowing that her heart is weak, and that she has no chance in this brave new world, signs herself up for a game remarkably like that which we witnessed in The Hunger Games -- a televised bloodsport. The "Fit to Live" games in which Addie competes focus on being fit to scrounge, fight, and survive in a world of vanishing resources. There's an additional focus -- those "fit to live" should be ...British. The non-British? Aren't fit to live. Addie, with her differently colored eyes, has been prophesied as the savior of the Britons. Is all of that a fake? Or... not?

Sharp North is the first book in this series; if I had started with that one, perhaps Blown Away's storyline would have appealed to me sooner. Still -- it's quite a ride.

Another post-apocalypse book is John Brindley's The Rule of Claw. A group of fifty or sixty kids survives... on the beach. Only the open sand at the edge of the water is safe. Surfing is great -- except when the sharks or sea eagles attack. The forest... eats people. And there's something else out there, and it's not the adults who left them so long ago.

The kids rely a lot on what they've always done, and ritual, and in sort of a Lord of the Flies society, the person who is the "best" is the leader. When Ash loses a surfing competition, she loses her leadership status at a bad time. Suddenly quick-tempered, immature Jon is in charge. Their small group divides in confusion, and for awhile, no one notices that Ash is missing. But, she's been taken by an enemy they didn't know they had. And soon all of the surf camp knows there are giant raptors on the island.

Fortunately there are other communicating beings on the island that they also did not know existed. The Surf Camp kids never have been "alone..."

There are strong environmental messages here, and sometimes the action obscures the storyline, but overall, this novel has a central message of respect -- for the planet, for those around you, and also for those unlike you. This one was a little different from the dystopian novels I've read; it's got a bit of tension and some violence ongoing, as the kids fight for their lives, but would be good for older MG readers, I think.

More books rounded up in a few days. Back to writing!

You can buy Solace of the Road (after October, 2009), A Wish After Midnight, Patrick Cave's Sharp North and Blown Away as well as The Rule of Claw from an independent bookstore near you!

July 24, 2009

Eh? And again I say, EH!?

Sometimes it cracks me up to read old science fiction.

After reading Justine Larbalestier's The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, which was her PhD dissertation (or, thesis, as they'd call it in the British/Commonwealth educational system), I've been rounding up a bunch of the first women writers in the business, reading Connie Willis and Ursula K. LeGuin again, and now, Anne McCaffrey. Like old school science fiction written by men, the gender roles are... like, brittle antique, and some of what is said is hilarious and completely misogynistic. In McCaffrey's case, it's... weirdly backwards of what you'd expect, but still utterly wrong. Check this (and be warned, you might be slightly squicked, and/or think this is inappropriate -- if you're sensitive like that, stop now):

She quickly suppressed a flare of desire. This was not the time to intrude sex on his personal anguish. And she knew that her intense sexual hunger for him stemmed from a yearning for the child of his seed. A daughter, tall and fair, with Lajos's dimples in her cheek. A son, strongbacked and arrogant, with thick black straight hair.

This hunger for his child was so primal, it paralyzed the sophistication overlaid by education and social reflexes. Nowadays a woman was expected to assume more than the ancient duties required of her.

- To Ride Pegasus, by Anne McCaffrey

Whoa. Just... WHOA. And Oh. My. Word.

We've come a long way... in some direction, baby.

You can find Pegasus in Space and the rest of the Psionic Talents series (which, despite this icky paragraph, are good fun), as well as The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction at an independent bookstore near you!

July 23, 2009

Teen Classics, Now on Your Radio

Imagine my surprise--and glee--when I got into our old clunker Tercel today (my husband having taken the Civic) and turned on the radio (only radio in the Tercel) and tuned in just in time to catch the last half of Books That Helped Us Grow Up on Talk of the Nation. The book talk included guest Lizzie Skurnick, author of Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, and teen author Meg Cabot. I enjoyed hearing the guests as well as the callers gushing about "pre-Twilight, pre-Potter" favorites, like Katherine Paterson and Madeleine L'Engle; like Forever and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret--books that you probably grew up on if you're over thirty. (God, am I over thirty? Sheesh! Don't tell anyone!) Anyway, it's well worth a listen just for Skurnick and Cabot's enthusiasm about young people's literature.

Attention young writers: just a quick notice of a Dragon Song contest for writers aged 8 - 14 sponsored by Wizards of the Coast/Mirrorstone--the deadline is August 9, and kids "can participate individually or as part of a group. Entries must be submitted by a librarian and the winning library submission will receive dragon books and fun materials to share with the individual or group." The entries should consist of a short verse to continue a song about dragons, located here. More info can be found here.

July 22, 2009

Pass It On...

The United States Dept. of Health and Human Services, Office of Women's Health, is full of awesome. The Office of Women's Health has developed girlshealth.gov, which is a fun site with a lot of health information, stories from New Moon, and a place to talk about bullying and other mental health issues. Girlshealth.gov has invited girls ages 10-16 who are "outgoing, passionate, and active in their school community" to apply to be a part of their Sounding Board.

Being part of the Sounding Board gives girls the opportunity to share their opinions on anything from their favorite Web sites to the issues concerning their peers. The complete contest and application package can be found here. The deadline to apply is August 31, 2009.

If you know any 10-16 year old girls who would be interested, please pass this on. It's exciting to have an administration interested in the input of young adults!

What A Girl Wants #4: it's up! What sort of subjects do teen girls need to address in their reading that they can not simply find in adult titles? Our panel of authors respond thoughtfully and brilliantly.

It's always hilarious to me when my outside reading and my YA blogreading collide. mental_floss is talking about the ALA Book Cart Drills. Now I *know* Betsy has to do this next year. On rollerblades.

Did you know Dark Horse Comics is making a graphic novel out of Supersize Me? Neither did I. I could see that used in Junior High science. I would have preferred that, when I was teaching, to doing the life cycle of grasshoppers... not that they're not cool, too. But a graphic novel beats most things!

GET INVOLVED:~ Farida just reminded me, and it's a good excuse to post this again. Do NOT miss the Diamonds & Toads Fairytale Contest. You have until the 31st of July to tell, in 1,000 words or less, the story of Sleeping Beauty, in a YA friendly, but G-rated style. This is a lot harder than it sounds, let's just say! The gorgeous bookbox first prize is lovely, but having your words be read and admired might be even better. Go, writers!

The 'zine TBR Tallboy is taking short story subs 'til the 30th of September (August, Leila?) for the December 1st issue. Amusing, surprising, and quirky, it's quality short fiction, and you can be involved.

July 21, 2009

Dreamdark: Silksinger - A Rollicking Sequel

If you enjoyed the first book in Laini Taylor's series about the Faeries of Dreamdark (which Holly Black aptly described as "whimsical and tiny, but fierce"), you won't want to miss the second one, which in my opinion surpassed the first in terms of absorbing me into its unique and vividly depicted adventure.

In Dreamdark: Silksinger, we follow the complex, interweaving stories of a few different narrators—firstly, you'll remember Magpie Windwitch from the first book, her friend Talon, and her band of crow brothers. They're still on the hunt for the remaining djinn, which was their charge from the powerful Magruwen. But this time we're also following the story of Whisper Silksinger, the last of the Silksinger clan and the protector of the djinn Azazel. With devils dogging her trail, she'll do whatever she can to get the djinn back to his temple in the mountains…short of revealing her identity.

Speaking of hidden identities, there's also Hirik, whose path parallels Whisper's in more ways than one—and they could help each other, if only each knew the other's secret. And underneath it all—literally, under the ground—the poor, pathos-ridden snail-demon Slomby toils as a slave, made to suffer for his tender-heartedness in caring for the last of the captive firedrakes. And if he doesn't do his job, his ruthless Master wouldn't think twice about making him suffer even more. To complicate matters, that same Master is on a quest of his own, to track down the Azazel for himself.

This sequel has not only an intriguing and sympathetic cast of characters, it also masterfully weaves together a number of parallel storylines while maintaining a high level of tension and somehow combining faeries with massively swashbuckling adventure. And, as always, the illustrations by Jim DeBartolo are distinctive and fun. Ultimately, though, I guess I just like the idea that the tiniest, most seemingly innocuous creatures are destined to save the world.

Buy Dreamdark: Silksinger from an independent bookstore near you!

July 16, 2009

An ALA Oops, Bitterblue, and...Squids?

The ALA Conference this year has brought us many fine things: the music video. The news that the Best Books for Young Adults is still alive and well. For now.

The conference is a great place to meet your favorite librarians, book lovers, book writers, and whatnot, a fine place to socialize and talk about the business of books. It's where they fĂȘte the Newbery and Caldecott winners. It is a fine thing.

One not so fine thing the conference brought was this exchange:

Her: And if the numbers are good enough, we will send you ONE BOOK and IF WE LIKE HOW YOU HANDLE THAT TITLE YOU CAN HAVE ANOTHER ONE.

Me: (Blankly.) Oh?

Anyone who has worked with Tasha from the Kids Lit blog knows that she's a mild-mannered soul who has been seeking out some of the best in children and teen literature and blogging those books for the last five years. Before we even knew her name, tons of us knew her blog, and it was a go-to site for me before I went to the library. We know Tasha. Apparently, some publishing house reps don't... and they lump all bloggers into the same basket, and ...then they're rude to all of them.

Wow. Tasha's experience reminds us: that... a.) book blogging isn't a blog popularity issue, and b.) children's literature librarians and bloggers do this because we love books, and c.) we're independent reviewers. We read what we want, and we say what we want.

Right now, I'm glad Tasha is saying "NO" to the publishing company that expected her to kiss feet and beg to be allowed to do reviews their way so that she could pleasepleaseplease have another book.

As if.

Meanwhile, Charlotte already has the lowdown on the next Kristin Cashore book. Only seventeen months til publication! I kind of have to laugh at our long-term enthusiasm. I love that we're all waiting like this. Cashore is an evocative storyteller.

Another thing to anticipate and enjoy is the novelization of Cory Doctorow's latest book, MAKERS, in current serialization at Tor.com before coming out in print this November. How cool is that?

Everything Yat Yee knows about writing, she learned in the garden. I'm honestly not sure where those two snakes come in, though.

And finally: Quirk Publishing. Jane Austen. And... sea life. You loved Jane with the Zombies. Now, there's more to love. I posted the trailer yesterday... and am still completely bewildered.

Whose bizarre idea were these books!?

July 15, 2009

Art Saves...and Writing Sucks Up Free Time

Surely you've not only heard from Little Willow about the Readergirlz/P.L.A.I.N. Janes Art Saves project by now, but also submitted your fabulous and fascinating artwork for her to post. Or, if you're me, you've been writing and/or revising for several hours a day and have totally lost track of time and have the printed sheet (right) sitting next to you on the end table and staring you down meaningfully, asking where your good intentions went. Either way, check the Readergirlz blog for updates, and make your artistic contribution this month!

Another great effort to support books for kids is going on NOW thanks to Macy's and Reading is Fundamental--with Book a Brighter Future, Macy's customers can give $3 and receive a coupon for $10 off a $50 in-store purchase at any Macy's nationwide. Macy's will donate 100 percent of every $3 to RIF for their local programs. You can even enter to win a Macy's shopping spree. Shopaholics, start your engines. (This one's a little tough for me, since I hate shopping, doubly so when it's the mall...but the kids are worth it.)

And that's all from me for now...I just wanted to pop my head above the water, take a breath, and assure you I haven't totally disappeared.

July 13, 2009

On More Books for Boys, and "White Culture"

The sun's been shining in Scotland, which means I've been outside - not working - but all good things must come to an end. Eventually. While I warm up to actually doing something productive, I'll point out a few things I've noticed from the blogs:

Via Charlotte's, I found out the incredibly angering news that Diana Wynne Jones has lung cancer. Wow, talk about devastated. I'm so FREAKING SICK OF CANCER it's not even funny. We wish Ms. DWJ health and strength for the fight.

Galaxy Express, which is all about SF and romance (a mashup that more books have than not), talks about the awesome that is YA lit, and briefly reviews The H-Bomb Girl, one I hadn't heard of yet. The comments are full of other great YA SFF suggestions.

At The Spectacle, Parker questions School Library Journal writer Diantha McBrides's open letter to publishers, requesting more books for boys -- because boys will apparently only read books with male protagonists, and "some boys have never read a complete book in their lives." (McBride also feels there should be a moratorium on WWII books.) Are characters that fluid? Could it really be as easy as shifting genders? Should George Lucas have stuck with Luke as a Luci, which was his original idea, and thus spared us that whole Jabba-and-bikini episode? (And maybe given Leia a purpose in the whole Star Wars series other than being The White Robed Princess Who Must Be Saved?) These and other thoughts pondered, do join the conversation.

If you have been missing the important and intelligent conversations going on at Chasing Ray, as part of her What A Girl Wants series, I want you to know you're missing some important discussion among intelligent authors and readers. It's more than just talking about the best books for girls. We're talking about the teetering of traditional publishing, the opportunity for new paradigms to be established, the choices before readers and writers -- some really deep and amazing stuff, giving a lot of us quite a bit to think about. The latest WAGW was on representation -- and it has brought up a lot of ...stuff that people weren't sure they thought, but then said and realized that, "Yeah. I believe that." Laurel feels strongly that only Jewish people should write Jewish characters, and Zetta believes that no one can know the African American experience except an African American - yet Kekla feels fine writing Caucasian characters. Can no one can write the queer experience except for another queer person? Colleen's follow-up post to this is very thought-provoking. Where is "white" culture in YA lit?

July 08, 2009

Red and Yellow, Gay and Straight...

"It is ridiculous how many books are published each season with characters who look the same, sound the same and come from the same economic circumstance. Something needs to change. The questions put to the group this time addressed this issue in several ways. Do you think that writers and publishers address this identity issue strongly enough and in a balanced matter in current teen fiction? Can authors write characters of different race/ethnicity or sexual preference from their own and beyond that, what special responsibility, if any, do authors of teen fiction have to represent as broad a swath of individuals as possible?"

What A Girl Wants: Representing ALL the Girls, at Chasing Ray.

July 07, 2009

Wake-Up Call

From April Halprin Wayland, via the Teaching Authors blog:

One of the most valuable moments of my writing career happened during a meeting. There were six of us that night: a sculptor, a screen writer, a painter, a violinist, an interior decorator, a muralist and me.

I said, "Everything in my life has a voice— work, family, volunteer activities, doctor appointments, pets. But my writing is mute. It doesn’t have anyone to lobby for it."

The next day, the violinist telephoned. "I really need your help," she said, sounding desperate. "Can you give me an hour?"

I groaned silently…but because she was a good friend, I began mentally re-arranging my day to fit her in. "Yes, of course I can," I said.

"Good," she said. "Because this is your writing speaking." Then she hung up.

This week, the Teaching Authors are focusing on time management--something many writers with day jobs (or, dare we say, lives outside writing) struggle with. Read the rest of April's post here, and if you've got progeny affecting your schedule, too, don't miss this post by Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford.

April's story about the phone call from her friend reminded me how often I push aside my writing, fooling myself very ingeniously by assuring myself that, no, it's not that my novel isn't important--it's just that the other stuff is currently MORE important. But how many times can I tell myself that? There comes a time when we all need to decide to value our writing like we would a dear friend, giving it the time and space it needs.

July 06, 2009

Aaargh! Too True.

Revision Angst

Another nail on the head, from Inky Girl, Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Happy Revision-ing, writers!

July 02, 2009

No Snogging, No Thongs, but Lots of Angsting

If you're a fan of Louise Rennison's humorous, sort of breathless British YA lit featuring Georgia Nicolson, you just might like Helen Bailey's Electra Brown. Electra isn't quite as air-headed as Georgia, which is a profound relief, and she's thirteen when the series begins, which makes her a perfect match for post-MG readers looking for something quick and funny to read.

Electra thinks she lives a pretty dull life. However, there's a light on the horizon -- though her parents have split up (and her Dad's new girlfriend, The Kipper -- fake tan orange and bony like the fish -- is an absolute beeyatch, when no one's around to witness it), now she and her mother (Of the Mighty Mammaries) and her little brother Jack (aka The Little Runt) and Mum's boyfriend have a trip to America to anticipate.

Electra is excited -- and nervous -- to visit her cousin Madison in New York. They haven't seen each other since they were ten, and Electra wants to be as gorgeous and buffed and tanned as Madison is in her pictures, and score a Yank boyfriend while they catch up. After all, her friend Sorrel -- whose vegan mother would have a conniption -- is sniffing after Warren, who works at McDonald's. And Lucy, Electra's other gorgeous sidekick, has had a fling in France. Nothing is going on with Electra. Absolutely nothing, so in the fifty or so days left before the half-term break, Electra makes a Plan. She needs one; Madison is gushing away about someone called Max, and that's the last straw for Electra. She needs a man.

Which is why she emails her cousin a little lie...
That snowballs into a bigger one...when her cousin unexpectedly comes to see her in England. The reason Madison comes is serious. The repercussions of her visit -- and the lie -- are pretty much hilarious.

I love the snarky descriptive names Electra gives strangers and frenemies, the doses of British slang that are nonetheless easy to understand, and her unique ability to ramble on about nothing, and waste copious amounts of time, trying on "shed loads" of clothes she can't afford, and hanging 'round with her mates after school. I especially love the friendships depicted in this book. Electra's good friends have their own storylines; Sorrel, whose braid-wearing, lentil-loving, vegan-cafe owning mother named each of her children after an herb, is rebelliously eating meat anywhere she can, while beautiful Lucy struggles with a controlling mother whose hyper-perfectionism drives her to self-harm as a means of dealing. The girls support each other, despite their own issues, which gives the book a depth and breadth of feeling that the Rennison books sometimes lack.

There are four Electra Brown books in the series, and each one promises to be as much of a gem as this one. Swimming Against the Tide is a fun, quick summer read --dare I say "beach read?" -- which I've really enjoyed.

Buy Swimming Against the Tide from an independent bookstore near you!

So, Your Teacher Is Menacing You, And The Principal Says You're On Your Own??

So, you're reading along. You notice that the head of the school is kind of inept -- as an administrator, and as a ...person. He's got his wizard chops, yeah, but he rarely seems to use them, although there was that one time his bird spontaneously combusted, and came back. The Aunt and Uncle are vicious, some of the teachers are menacing, and the parents are dead -- murdered. And the kid with the scar gets only vague advice, and a Mona Lisa smile. What's wrong with this picture?

Maybe only I got irritated with Dumbledore, but it's a common malady in kidlit (and in Disney films, don't get me started) that parents are among the missing or the dead. Anne-with-an-e is perky and chipper, yet has her sad orphan tale, Oliver Twist figures out he can't trust Fagin, and Nancy Drew knows she can drive around in the convertible solving mysteries, and still be in a fresh twinset and pearls by the time her erstwhile father gets home. Once writers got past the 19th and early 20th century moral tales, in which the adult is always right, there evolved a lot of negative press for adults in children's lit, and we're becoming increasingly harder on adults every day. Parker Peeveyhouse has asked a great question about those absent adults in children's science fiction and fantasy.

The nice thing is, young readers have real adults to help them and care for them. And those who don’t can take courage from similarly disadvantaged literary heroes. But how do you think children are affected by reading about powerless, ruthless adults? How can these extremes be tempered in novels–or should they?

Join the discussion.

July 01, 2009

"It's All Over, Over Here," or Glaswegian Dystopia

2099, and the waters have risen on the island of Wing where Mara lives. Her family sees friends and loved ones -- and their homes -- swept out to sea, gone. They flee in boats, with the idea that somewhere there is higher ground. They arrive at what once was a great city, and find themselves refugees in a horrible situation -- a city bent on keeping them out, a lawless, chaotic raft-town, with water at exorbitant prices, and rampant sickness and death. Mara escapes -- but only just -- into the city, and finds there's both answers and opportunity -- and nothing for her there.

Aquafortis reviewed Exodus last summer, and I was intrigued to read it, and realize that it was about... Glasgow. All the neighborhoods, interlinked cities and towns and landmarks are used as character names, and even the bird, tree, fish and bell symbols from the city's crest are etched on the first page of every chapter. It was strange to read about a city with which I was just getting familiar -- in a more surreal way than even I saw it. The strong environmental message, with which some readers have struggled, was softened for me by the quirky glimpses of familiarity.

Apparently, Glasgow is a good city in which to set a dystopian end-of-days kind of story. Catherine Forde's Tug of War is a MG title which hearkens back to WWII, when refugee children were sent away from large cities, often with only a label around their necks, identifying them by name. Separated from family and often siblings, they were housed with total strangers, whose fitness for childcare was often only hastily assessed.

The Emergency came in 2012, on Capital Day, and a year on, the terrorist attacks and bombing back and forth has been nonstop. Glasgow as a ship building city is a prime target, and it's plain dangerous to stay. Molly Fogarty and her older brother, John, are being parent-evacuated -- the safest thing, her parents think, or else the Parliament will come up with an evacuation plan as disorganized and slapdash as evacuation during the Blitz. At least, if they put them out in the country with friends of friends -- people Dad knows from someone in Accounting -- they'll know right where they are, and there can then be no mistakes, no slip-ups, no problems. Right?

Molly and John are precious to their parents -- who are almost sixty, and had kids late in life. And though they're a regular family, and find each other aggravating and embarrassing, this separation is hard on all of them. Molly's mother takes most of her clothes out of her suitcase, filling it with toilet paper and canned beans, in fear that where her children is going will be worse than where they are. Molly and John find that they won't be housed together. John will be on a farm a few miles down the road, working for the amusingly named Will Nott, and Molly will be on Paradise Farm with Nilly and Phil Pearson. Molly wonders what will happen if she hates things.

But Molly's worries are groundless. Nilly and Phil are, of course, lovely. Loads of lovely. Unlike her own mother, Nilly is slender and beautiful, always perfumed and perfect and full of laughter and fun. And Paradise Farm is great -- no power outages, fresh indoor running water, and amazing and tasty farm food. Eggs! -- and milk! No more powdered crap. Molly is instantly beguiled by this place -- but when Nilly takes her shopping, paints her nails, and has her hair done, she's even more excited. Nilly is her teacher -- and turns into Mrs. Pearson in the classroom -- but she's still fabulous. And she just loves Molly so much.

So, why doesn't Nilly like Molly to write to her mother?
And why won't anyone let Molly see John?

**Spoilery Diversion, Highlight to Read**:
Mature MG readers will figure out long before Molly that Nilly has an agenda. When Molly hears from a schoolmate that John is "having a hard time," and when she sees him for the first time and he's sporting two black eyes, I expected her to go into hysterics and demand to see him. Obviously something is wrong. However, Forde writes Molly as a character very easily bought, who can easily set aside any concern for her brother in the face of the luxury in which she now lives. I don't buy that. Kids today are pretty savvy about stranger danger and abuse -- and slavery. How can Forde expect that in 2012 and beyond it would be any different? I think she doesn't give her middle grade readers enough credit.

The bombing continues in Glasgow, and Paradise Farm isn't a place where bad news is heard, but Molly knows things are bad. When a final disaster brings Mrs. Fogarty to escort Molly home, she's faced with what is, for her, an agonizing choice. Nilly wants to adopt her. She could have everything she wants, forever, and can forget about and ignore the post-apocalyptic nightmare her home city has become. Or, Molly can go back to it all. The choice is up to her.

Forde explains that this novel is based on her mother and grandmother's experiences in the WWII evacuation -- which must have been harrowing. Tug of War is a quick introduction to dystopia for middle grade readers, and will pique their interest in other parts of history.

You can find both the YA novel, Exodus, and the MG tale, Tug of War at an independent bookstore near you!

A Kidlitosphere Central PSA

Now that she's has been laid off from her library (On one hand, "Booo!" on the other hand, can't wait to see what she does next), MotherReader is taking this bittersweet gift of extra time to begin preparations for the The 3rd Annual Kidlitosphere Conference. The 2009 conference will take place in Washington, DC, on Saturday, October 17th, and it has a couple of field trips attached -- one to the Library Of Congress, if all goes well. At $100 or so, this is one of the least expensive Conferences I've heard about, and it includes two meals as well as the usual meet-and-greet and the presentations and panel discussions. Writers and bloggers alike: If you're able to go at all, especially in these grim times for publishing and the bookworld, GO. I can't help but believe that my fellow children's lit enthusiasts, given time, enough coffee, and a quiet room, can come up with solutions to some of the publishing world's problems.

*Aquafortis met one of our Summer Blog Blast Tour interviewee at the Conference, and a surprising number of writers in the area come out and meet their readers. It's apparently an awesome time, and SOMEDAY I'll manage to go. Not this year, though. :(