June 30, 2010

Dispatches From Vacationland

ALA 2010 060
BEHOLD! The shoes of awesome!

Thank you all for your emails and good wishes about the ALA thingy -- all nervous bits are done now, thank God, and vacation commenceth. Met SO, so many wonderful people, especially my kidlitosphere peeps -- The Fabulous Poetry Princesses (who should really begin to investigate a certain poetry assignment, *cough*), Liz from Tea Cozy, and Pam/MotherReader -- and so many exceptional librarians! Woot! I truly wish everyone who wanted to come could have been there; thanks so much for the encouragement and the pushing from some of you (you know exactly who you are, Pam).

Dispatches upcoming (as soon as I get my pictures together) include The Enigma of Jama Rattigan, and The Quintessential Guide to a Happy American Childhood with Charlotte. Truly: getting to know your fellow bloggers is an amazing and amusing thing. It's truly wonderful when it leads to an evening of catching fireflies...

Now, about those shoes!!!! Laurie Halse Anderson (who is truly a gloriously nice person and who gave me some thought-provoking advice from her own experiences) and Nancy Werlin were rockin' their book-related shoes -- obviously Laurie's match her latest book thematically, but Nancy went one step further and ordered hers from Zazzle.com... and used a photo of her book cover to make them!! Must. Try. That. She thinks Mare's head would make a great cover, and I agree. (Of course, in Scotland, no one would know why I had a soldier's head on my shoes, but whatev.)

Pictures to come -- details of the Coretta Scott King event -- coherency will come... soon. Tomorrow I'm out and about in D.C. again, now that the weather has calmed down and the humidity has fallen.

Reporting live from vacationland...

June 24, 2010

Book Blurbs of June, Part I: Harmonic Feedback and Nothing But Ghosts

Before I get into the blurbs, I just want to say that Finding Wonderland is going to represent at ALA this year, by which I mean Tanita is going and I'm envious but glad. Have fun this weekend, everyone!

Oh, one last thing....... Look at this! And THIS! Wheeeee! OK, enough about me.

If you've ever felt awkward around other people, if you've ever felt shy or detached or even just a little different, you'll really feel for Drea in Tara Kelly's debut novel Harmonic Feedback. Though Drea has been diagnosed with ADHD and "a touch of Asperger's," she's eminently relatable and, in some ways, the most normal person in her family. She's intelligent and musically gifted, but has trouble connecting with others...or so she's always been told.

The brilliant part about this book is that it leaves it up to the reader to decide how much of Drea's "issues" are truly innate and how much is a perfectly reasonable reaction to difficult circumstances and an unusual upbringing. After all, who's going to find it easy to connect with people when you move to a new town every year or two? Nevertheless, now that Drea and her mother have settled in Bellingham, she acquires a couple of new friends almost despite herself, despite her defenses. Of course, letting her defenses down opens her up to new hurts as well as rewards. I really related to Drea—I don't have Asperger's or ADHD, but I think just about every writer knows what it's like to feel like you're an observer, like you're on the outside looking in.

I received a review copy of this book from literaticat. (Thank you!) Buy Harmonic Feedback from an independent bookstore near you!

Every one of Beth Kephart's books seems to have a quiet thoughtful strength about it, and more than one of her protagonists has the driving internal need to discover something about themselves or about someone else—often both. Perhaps that's how they derive their inner strength—through discovery. Nothing But Ghosts finally made itself available at my library, and it fits nicely in with her other titles. Like her other books, it's tightly, simply, but vividly written.

Katie is still learning to deal with her mother's death from cancer the preceding winter, but she and her dad have fallen into a kind of routine by the following summer. While her dad restores paintings in his workshed and cooks up a storm for dinner, part of Katie's routine is her summer job gardening at the massive estate of the mysterious Miss Martine. In the process of working there, she discovers intriguing secrets about the owner of the place, and she also discovers friendship and love after having closed herself down for months after her mother's death. Where the everyday and the unusual interweave and lead one another along—that's the stuff of life, and this book is in many ways about the small moments of life, the ones that are easy to miss if you aren't careful. As always, I'm in awe.

I got this book at the Stanislaus County Library. Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

June 23, 2010

Three Things:

1.) Charlotte's Gender and Writing SFF for the Young conversation is continuing,
2.)Laini has a new book coming out -- and SO DOES KELLY. Happy dance again, Kel!
3.)What A Girl Wants, the nonfiction version, is posted today. We cover stuff we wished we knew back in high school. The roundup of historical figures is fascinating.

Go. Read.

June 22, 2010

SAVE THE DATE: It's the Kidlit Con!

I resisted the cute photo of twins to represent the "Twin Cities" motif, but I couldn't hold back on the lake. Minnesota's state motto is "Land of Lakes" and that's where the butter comes from, people. You've gotta respect the butter.

And now there's this Kidlitosphere gathering there as well! Hosted by Andrew Karre (Carolrhoda), Ben Barnhart(Milkweed Editions), and Brian Farrey (Flux), this convention will be populated with smart, articulate book activists (to coin the Maureen Johnson phrase) like yourselves who want to talk about the future of YA lit, publishing, and how best to get out the word about great books - to kids, parents, schools, and more. There will be blogger-directed panels and discussions and debates and strategy sessions and photo ops, and possibly, just possibly, things made with butter. There will be Minneapolis, which I am assured by my friend Alex, is a Most Awesome City, especially in the gorgeous autumn. You won't want to miss it.

Your best source of information about the panels, topics, guests, costs and locations of the various KidlitCon features is at the OFFICIAL KIDLITCON BLOG. Sure, there's a Facebook page and lots of Twitter feeds, but if you want the real deal, coherently stated and organized, check the blog early and often. And if you think you can go -- say so now, using the words "Intent to Register" in the subject line, and receive a wee SuperEarlyBird discount.

Plan now to attend and celebrate the books that are at the heart of our community, and the bloggers and thinkers and writers and readers of the kidlitosphere. Save the date: KidlitCon 2010, coming in October!

June 19, 2010

A Shout-Out for Planet Esme, and More

When I got my latest copy of the UC Berkeley e-mail newsletter, I was excited (as I always am, because I am a big nerd) to see that they've announced their latest summer reading list for incoming freshmen. It's been a tradition for a number of years--asking faculty and staff to recommend books along a particular theme--and this year's theme is Education Matters. And, in among titles such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Winning the Dust Bowl (by Carter Revard) was one Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher's First Year, by our own Esmé Raji Codell of Planet Esme. Score one for the kidlitosphere!

In other kidlitosphere news, Kayla Chronicles author Sherri Winston (whom we interviewed here for the Summer Blog Blast Tour last year) recently started her own blog at Bowlofsherris (a fabulous name)--so far there are reviews of When You Reach Me and The Magician's Elephant, plus useful information for aspiring writers. Go check it out!

Speaking of Rebecca Stead, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for 2010 were announced, and When You Reach Me got top billing for the Fiction and Poetry category. Another book I've been hearing a lot about, but haven't read yet--A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner--was the honor book for the same category. I was also pleased to see a graphic novel lauded as one of the non-fiction honor books--Smile by Raina Telgemeier. Here's hoping we continue to see worthy graphic novels getting mainstream attention!

Lastly, on the topic of graphic novels, an English-language GN publisher in India called Campfire is going to be releasing its first U.S. titles next month--they seem to publish mostly adaptations of classics, biographies, and mythology (all worthy subjects for graphic novels), but they've also got a small line of original publications. Their mission statement is "To entertain and educate young minds by creating unique illustrated books to recount stories of human values, to arouse curiosity in the world around us, and to inspire by tales of great deeds of unforgettable people."

Sounds good to me. In my opinion, titles like First Second's Zeus and Athena, and the various adaptations of Robin Hood and Beowulf and Poe and other classics, have been great for the graphic novel genre as a whole, in the sense of showing how easily they can be fit into an educational setting--and also helping to showcase the range of graphic literature. We'll see how the newer kids on the block compete...

June 17, 2010

Nnedi Okorafor at John Scalzi's BIG IDEA

Here's another gem from Mr. Scalzi's Big Idea series:
"When I was deep in the writing of Who Fears Death, a spider kept appearing in the same spot in my bedroom. Spiders prefer shadowy places, but this black wolf spider came out in the open. It would stand in front of my bed. I smashed it with a book twice (I don’t normally kill creatures…but this spider was huge and in my bedroom), I sprayed it with Raid, I sprayed the spot with Spider Killer (this is supposed to keep spiders away for 6 months!), I had my brother capture it and put it outside once. Each time, it returned to stand on that same spot (or some other spider took its place).

The spider returned six times over several weeks. By the sixth visit, I left it alone. I had a feeling that I was being visited and that it had something to do with what I was writing. In West African culture, spiders tend to represent creativity and storytelling. That recurring (or shall I say reincarnating) spider in my bedroom might have been sent by the famous storytelling Ghanaian spider named Anansi.

Or maybe it wasn’t Anansi at all. Maybe it was the lesser-known but equally formidable Nigerian story-spinning spider named Udide Okwanka. He is the supreme spider artist who toils beneath the ground, in the ekwuru (the spirit world). He possesses the power to gather fragments of any object and shape them into a new object. Maybe Udide Okwanka had gifts to impart to me, writing tools, perhaps. Sounds like magical realist mumbo jumbo, doesn’t it? Imagine that! But see, this is my Big Idea—The Story."

(Okay, that whole spider thing happened to my Mom when she was pregnant with each of us. I prefer Ms. Nnedi's version of why spiders might be visiting to my Mom's casual "Oh, I guess it's just something that happens when you're pregnant and to slow to get up and chase them." Um, no. I'll go with "African Storyteller" for $500, Alex.)

This isn't a YA selection, but if you've read anything of Ms. Okorafor's, you're intrigued and want to check out her stuff marketed to adults. When you're done shuddering about the spider, go and find her new book!

June 16, 2010

Counting Blessings


Another friend-I-haven't-met is counting down his last ten treatments for radiation - Go Kirk!

Elsewhere, biopsies have come back clean, eyebrows are regrown, and the specter of Stupid Cancer is fading. For today.

With so many losses lately, this is not a "little thing" to celebrate at all.

Happy Wednesday! May you have untold blessings to count - even more blessings than just long warm days and good books to read.

P.S. - Andrea's blog We Can Rebuild Her is a sometimes tear-inducing, enlightening, intimate, brave journal of survival. Andrea is a serious survivor, and we're so glad for our blog buddy!

June 11, 2010


Le Sigh.
It's out today, a whole 90 pages of D.M. Cornish goodness.
But, only in Australia.
And no Half-Continent, either.

The Third Monster Blood Tattoo book isn't out until October or November sometime.
::mournful sigh::

June 10, 2010

Hunger Mountain: Join the Conversation

Pssst. Have you noticed that Hunger Mountain has a new issue up now?
There's a bunch of cool stuff in there -- plus me totally arguing with Mitali Perkins.

Okay, I'm lying. Our pieces for Flipside are a discussion -- Mitali wrote one side and I wrote another view. At issue: teens of color on book covers. Should there be more? Should covers be ethnicity neutral? I looked at the issue from one angle, while Mitali looked at it from another way. Who's right? Or is this really an issue of right vs. wrong? Please read both sides and join the discussion!

You'll also not want to miss Chris Barton's piece on voice, Naomi Shihab Nye fans will enjoy her poem, and Ann Teplick's piece on writing with teens in a psychiatric hospital is gripping and frankly might leave you sniffing. (Bonus interview with me, wherein Arts + Life editor Claire Guyton asks unusual questions, and I get to show off the top of my niece's head. (At ten, she was a really ARTISTIC photographer.) I'm excited that this issue is so chock full of good things -- Yay, Bethany, Kekla, and Claire! Good job, writers.

Hunger Mountain is a print and online journal of the arts produced by the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

...why are you still here? Go. READ.

June 08, 2010

Food for Thought and Free Books

No, I'm not giving away free books, although I probably should purge my done-reading piles sometime soon. It's actually a brand-new blog devoted entirely to middle-grade books and authors, and to celebrate their launch, they're having a fabulous giveaway--so go check out From the mixed-up files and enter to win NINE middle-grade books. You have until June 22nd!

Now, on to the food for thought. Just in case you were sick and tired of the next big vampire thang, done with dystopia and sick of steampunk, and wondering what the next hot YA theme might turn out to be, fret no more--io9 asks the critical question "What comes next after steampunk and zombies?" (I personally am unlikely to get sick of steampunk or dystopian books--I guess we all have our guilty pleasures--but vampires? Zombies? Meh.)

On a different topic, but still food for thought for us writers, is a series of blog posts to be posted this week on Ash author Malinda Lo's site covering the topic of how to avoid LGBTQ stereotypes in YA fiction. While today's post on Major LGBTQ Stereotypes didn't hold many surprises for me, I'm definitely interested in the rest of the series.

June 07, 2010

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books: LW's lists

The first Monday of the month, and time once again for book talking.

Not this month. (I'll do two books in July to make up for it.) Sadly, I'm a little short on my usual effervescence. Aside from getting ready for a week of company, and being a bit sad that I missed my sister's 8th grade graduation last Thursday, I'm in shock. Last Wednesday, a Mom I knew went to bed and went to sleep - and next morning, simply didn't wake up. Her eldest daughter, a high school freshman, had one more day of finals left. Her youngest, a ten year old, was looking forward to the end of school water slides trip. And just like that - everything has changed, for no discernible medical reason. Their mother was in her early forties.

In good times or bad -- there are books. If you've never visited any of Little Willow's booklists, you are doing yourself a disservice. The woman is organized. You can find lists of retold fairy tales, lists of "transition times" books, lists of books that feature kids with autism, and books that feature cats (Go, Bad Kitty!). Each of these lists is broken down by age or reading stage, or the simple Motion Picture Association Ratings like G, PG, and PG17.

Under the post Tough Topics for Teens, I found loads of subtitles. I clicked on Loss or Illness of Parent. While I've read a lot of the books there, I know there must be more, and possibly titles more appropriate for younger readers.

A little help? I know that eventually the number of people streaming through the house will slow, and the girls will have quiet time alone to think and grieve. If you were their Book Auntie (or Uncle) what books would you have sitting, ready for them?

Thanks for your help. And happy reading in June.

June 06, 2010

May Graphic Novels Roundup, Part Two: Prime Baby, Mercury, and Stitches

Gene Luen Yang's latest, Prime Baby, is a graphic novelization of a serial that appeared in the New York Times Magazine's Funny Pages--a site that's new to me but which seems to have serialized a small number of graphic novels so far. Kudos to that! Anyhow, from the humorously redacted jacket blurb to narrator Thaddeus Fong's precocious backtalk to the pink sluglike space aliens, this very quick read should spark laughs for readers of various ages. In a nutshell, Thaddeus is jealous and resentful of his baby sister until he discovers something ominous about her, something with the potential to DESTROY THE EARTH!...maybe. Fans of Gene Yang will enjoy this one, as will readers with short attention spans. I requested a review copy of this one from the publisher, First Second.

Buy Prime Baby from an independent bookstore near you!

I was pleased to see that Hope Larson has a new graphic novel—I think she's one of the most distinctive comics authors working right now, particularly in terms of visual style. Mercury does not disappoint, visually or otherwise. Parallel coming-of-age stories in the past and the present link two distant generations of a family. In the present, we learn that Tara, a modern-day teenager, is living with her aunt and uncle after a fire destroyed their old family home. However, she's strangely drawn to the old place which, a few generations in the past, was home to her ancestress (love that word!) Josey. Josey's tale is rich with historical detail about Nova Scotia, where both stories are set, and shows how she came to fall in love with a mysterious and roguish prospector named Asa.

There are hints of the supernatural tastefully woven in to give the entire book a very dreamlike and contemplative quality. The artwork, as always, is nicely done; simple black and white are used to full effect and changes in the background color of the page subtly cue the changes between past and present. Another enjoyable and unique read from Larson. For a nicely written and informative review from Guys Lit Wire's Jesse Karp, check out the Booklist starred review reprinted on Amazon. I borrowed this book from the Stanislaus County Library.

Buy Mercury from an independent bookstore near you!

Last but not least, I read a book that would probably be best suited for older YA and adult readers: a graphic memoir called Stitches by David Small. Stitches was full of grim and disturbing irony, a tale of the lies told to children and their later ramifications, and the things left unsaid in families, things that simmer under the surface until something gives.

In his childhood, David underwent a throat operation that resulted in the severing of a vocal chord, leaving him without the ability to speak for quite a while. His father, a doctor, withheld the truth of his diagnosis—throat cancer--and his mother was too emotionally withdrawn and cold, lost in her own troubles, to reach out to him. The artwork heightens the feeling of distance between narrator and adults, with many of the adults depicted as looming, grim figures whose eyes are hidden and unreadable behind opaque glasses. As I mentioned in my brief review on Goodreads, what happened to the narrator in his boyhood is truly appalling, and it's hard to find redeeming qualities in the adult figures. However, there is redemption of a sort at the end of the story, hard won on the part of the author. I borrowed this book from the Stanislaus County Library.

Buy Stitches from an independent bookstore near you!

June 05, 2010

May Graphic Novels Roundup, Part One: Resistance and City of Spies

Firstly, good luck to all of those participating in MotherReader's 48-Hour Book Challenge! With houseguests staying this weekend, I knew I didn't have a hope of taking part, but one of these years.... Anyway, instead, I'm getting caught up on my reviews, and popping my head up finally after spending a couple of weeks hiding in obscurity, scribbling away at freelance articles and whatnot.

May was a good month for graphic novels—I managed to read five, all of them worth reporting on here. In part one of the roundup (check back soon for part two!), I wanted to juxtapose two different graphic novel takes on World War II, both suitable for younger audiences (middle-grade and up, or mature elementary-school readers). The seminal work Maus by Art Spiegelman certainly paved the way for future graphic novels on the subject, but it is definitely for more mature readers. Two recent releases from First Second give readers who aren't quite ready for Maus a serious look and a lighter look at life during the Second World War. I received both of these books as review copies from First Second.

The more serious approach is taken by Resistance: Book 1 by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis. Paul Tessier and his sister Marie are coping with life in occupied France—and their life is complicated further when they decide to help hide their Jewish friend Henri from the Germans. Paul's sketches are a nice touch, and the story itself shows the impossibility of trying to live an ordinary life at a time when families and communities were being torn apart and turned against one another. There's a lot of tension and suspense, as well as action, which helps balance out the fact that the book has a sort of educational ring to it. I didn't love the artwork—some characters were hard to tell apart—but the interactions were clear and the colorist did a really nice job setting a time-appropriate tone. A good one for putting an individual face on the events of the war. I could easily see this one used in classrooms.

Buy Resistance: Book 1 from an independent bookstore near you!

City of Spies by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan and Pascal Dizin takes place during the same time period, but is completely different in tone, setting and purpose. In 1942, ten-year-old Evelyn comes to New York City to live with her artistic Aunt Lia for the summer while her jet-setting father gets hitched to yet another new wife. Evelyn is of German Jewish descent, but she's a wholly American girl who loves to draw comics in her spare time—sadly poignant comics in which a dashing superhero named Zirconium Man (who strongly resembles her father) and his valiant sidekick Scooter (who resembles Evelyn) save the world from monsters and spies. When Evelyn makes friends with Tony, an adventurous and equally imaginative boy in her building, they get a little carried away looking for real-life German spies. The more serious family subplot nicely counterbalances the more madcap spy-chasing action, and the artwork is strongly reminiscent of Little Orphan Annie/Little Lulu and other comics that I associate with the time period. And Evelyn's own comics are rendered in full old-style superhero-comic fashion, complete with brash primary colors and Ben-Day dot patterns. A very fun read that harkens back to, and honors, an earlier and more traditional comics feel.

Buy City of Spies from an independent bookstore near you!

June 03, 2010

Go maire tu! Mr. Landy!

Congratulations are in order...

Derek Landy, the ever-awesome Skulduggery Pleasant series has won the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book of the Decade Competition! WOOT!

The shortlist was selected by a panel of experts from the Irish literary community including editors, librarians and book retailers. The shortlist comprises 50 of the best and most popular books written by Irish authors over the last 10 years and truly represents the interests of all readers across every genre. It included internationally renowned Irish authors and national treasures such as William Trevor, Eoin Colfer, Anne Enright, Colum McCann, John Boyne, among others.

“When Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant first came to prominence, Derek was hailed as a literary sensation, an unknown author who secured a seven figure sum on the back of a debut novel – not an easy crown to carry,” said Tom Owens, Chairman of the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards. “However, not only was Skulduggery Pleasant a huge international success, it mobilized many young people not only to start reading but to get passionate about reading.”

Author Derek Landy says that he “seized the chance to write about all the things that I love: monsters, magic, martial arts, murder and mayhem.”

Skulduggery Pleasant, now published in thirty languages and with a major movie in development at Warner Bros, is one of our favorite series IN THE WORLD, and we stand by our claim that Skulduggery is a hottie.

Ach, he's a fine figure of a skeleton.
Congratulations, Mr. Landy!

The Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book of the Decade competition was devised primarily to encourage reading and to build awareness of Irish authors. For more information on the awards, go here.