Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book City: Historical London

image by Tanita Davis

A while back a group of us were kicking around a collaborative endeavor, and well, we're all pretty busy, so it turned into a celebration of cities. Any city, in any representation, anywhere in the world. An especially great companion to this post, among the many participating, is Sarah Stevenson's Alternate London, over at Finding Wonderland. Check out the entire (growing) tour over at Chasing Ray*

I don't know what it is about London. I don't tend to specifically get into much of the contemporary realistic fiction set there, but historical? I can't really get quite enough. Between Reformation and Restoration and the hell London went through during WWII, I'm fascinated. I intended to give you a list of some of my favorite titles set in historical London, but this post got hijacked - by the latent passion I discovered that I feel toward one of the books:

FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper
I have unbridled love for this second book of the Montmaray Journals. The enormous love I thought I felt for A Brief History of Montmaray pales in comparison for this longer, quieter, less axe-laden sequel. Our fictional royalty has moved off their island nation because of Nazi bombing, and now find themselves in London in the late 1930's as WWII is reving, fascism is creating divisions among and within the classes, and the city has no real understanding of what is in store for them just over the horizon.

Sophie, whose journal we're reading, Veronica, and the rest of the Montmaray Royalty... wait. Let me explain this first. That sounds all posh. It's not...

So, the first book, A Brief History of Montmaray, finds Sophie, her younger sister Henry and her cousin Veronica holding up the crumbling remains of their castle as her uncle the King gets progressively more insane, and her brother comes home more infrequently. They get by on selling the treasures of their formerly wealthy kingdom. They don't have much left and are the very picture of impoverished royalty. Then the Nazi's arrive. The Nazi's have their eye on their small but strategically located island nation for a couple of reasons. The impact of this results in lots of drama, some lethal axe-wielding, and some things that aren't going to be shared with the high society the group finds themselves plunged into at the start of FitzOsbornes in Exile. They've lost control of their beloved and historic nation, and they want it back. Now in the titular exile, and having fled to London and the estate of their long-expat, and very wealthy, Aunt Charlotte, the girls find themselves torn between Charlotte's expectations (they must be presented to society as proper royals of the highest order, and find very wealthy husbands) and their own concern for Montmaray. The girls, however, are far past the pretentious and uselessness of one ball after another (even if Sophie sometimes doesn't hate it), and their goal is to speak to the League of Nations and secure support for them to reclaim their island. But, royal or not, they're just a bunch of teenagers from a country no one remembers existing.

It is beautifully written and character-driven, full of fascinating historical and political details that are so perfectly woven into the plot that there is nary a single example of those pesky info-dumps so frequent in epic historical novels like this. You will learn a ton about the era without even realizing it - and it's definitely not at all the point. It perfectly captures the atmosphere of the location and time. None of it could have happened anywhere else. What you have is a quintet of characters desperately trying to grow up while being respectful to their heritage in a most tumultuous time. Oh, and due to the youngest of the clan, it's also often quite hilarious. It's not easy to prep a tomboy used to having reign of an entire island to become a debutante someday. Luckily (?) for Henry, we know that by the time she comes of age, there won't be so many balls.

The balance of fantastic, fully-developed, and lovable (no mere likable here!) characters set in a fascinating fully-realized setting, with a plot that is seemingly insurmountable for anyone, except maybe the particular talent combination of these characters, makes this a book that will always have a place in my heart alongside my rabid love for Ellen Emerson White's President's Daughter series, and Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia series. Cheesy or not, there you have it. Total fawning love.

Oh, and FitzOsbornes at War will be out on October 9, 2012. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to know that I get another one. Sadly, it looks like that's the final one, making this a trilogy, when I was hoping for a series taking us at least to 1945. Something epic like that.

Comparisons to I Capture the Castle are of course obvious, but even the most rapid fan of Dodie Smith's classic will not be disappointed with this trilogy.

As for the cover: Kelly pointed out some crazy about it some time ago, but regardless of phantom smoke (which until she said something, I'd just assumed it was light from a window I couldn't see), I think that it perfectly captures the tone of the book. Sophie right there in the thick of things, but still outside, looking in, and observing with an eye more aware than even she realizes.

Now, those other books I was planning to tell you about:

Newes From the Dead by Mary Hooper
Once upon a time I interviewed the author, and reviewed this one. It's based on a true account of a girl who failed to die when hanged, and was paralyzed, but fully aware, as the medical community of 1650 prepared to preform an autopsy. If you poke around enough, I bet you can find a digital version of the pamphlet this story was based on.

Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer
Ok, I'll be honest here. I stopped reading this series. No, not like that. I switched to consuming these on audio. Katheryn Kellgren is THAT GOOD. She is, in my opinion, the absolute best audio narrator out there today. She rivals Jim Dale in talent. I'm not kidding. The ninth (!!) book in the series was just released in October, and while this series has covered almost every ocean and continent on earth, Bloody Jacky Faber often returns to good olde London (and Boston!). When she's not fighting pirates or the British government itself. The first book is most effective in its depiction of life a street urchin in the 1790s, and how desperate that life was.

Cat Royal Adventures by Julia Golding
Very much a Jacky Faber with a bit less sparkle, this still raucous adventure series starts with Cat being abandoned in a theater in London around 1790. There's more focus on mystery than with Jacky, at least in the first novel, and much more focus on slavery for the whole series (I've liked what I've read, but I haven't read them all).

I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
An older title with tinges of fantasy, this is set in Cromwell's England. As with any situation of tyranny, it's a frightening and precarious time where any misstep can end with deadly result. I posted about this one way back in 2006 (!). Notable mostly for the setting during the English Reformation and the fascinating (and/or horrifying) political situation, as well as the unusual combination of fantasy. I still think there should be more books set during this time period. Gardner has since come out with The Red Necklace and The Silver Blade about the French Revolution, which has been recommended with the highest enthusiasm, but I've yet to get to it. But I will.

A True and Faithful Narrative by Katherine Sturtevant
Reviewed back in 2007 (I'm really mining the archives here, aren't I?) this is set just a bit after I, Coriander, during the Restoration. Meg desperately wants to be a writer, but in the 1680's the "gentler sex" were not respectable writers. This remains a favorite four years later.

The Agency: Mary Quinn Mysteries by Y.S. Lee
I haven't yet read the second in this series, The Body at the Tower, but the interwebs reveal that the third book, The Traitor and the Tunnel was released in the UK in August. I'm hoping to see this hop the pond, because I was pleasantly surprised with the nuance of the first title, A Spy in the House. It was just a Victorian mystery, it explored every aspect of class of the time, from the upper, to the poor, to, most interestingly, the hidden Asian population of London.

Folly by Marthe Jocelyn
Speaking of Victorian... This was a tough read. One thing you have to know is that there was no tolerance of unwed pregnant servants during this era (and several after). A maid would find herself ruined if she were to be discovered to be pregnant. She would get dismissed without reference, reputation ruined. Many of that era then found themselves in squalor, and often turning to prostitution to survive. Mary Finn is lucky, comparatively, but she's still got a hard road in front of her. Side note: Holy new cover! I hadn't seen this, and I think it'll reach more readers than the original.

*and read Colleen's book The Map of My Dead Pilots!

Friday, November 04, 2011

All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky or Pretty, Pretty Titles sometime aren't

I'm going to say that I loved the first chapter of this. Loved. Even now, as I read it for the fourth time, I believe that first chapter and a few that follow it are beautifully written, tonally perfect, and bleak as hell. Bleak in a deliciously appropriate way. It is, after all, set during the Dust Bowl. All the Earth Thrown to the Sky by Joe Lansdale begs to be read aloud, and I was happy to oblige with Kyle as my quickly engrossed victim.

"The wind could blow down a full-grown man, but it was the dust that was the worst. If the dust was red, I could figure it was out of Oklahoma, where we were. But if it was white, it was part of Texas come to fall on us, and if it was darker, it was probably peppering down from Kansas or Nebraska.

Mama always claimed you could see the face of the devil in them sandstorms, you looked hard enough. I don't know about that, it being the devil and all, but I can tell you for sure there were times when the sand seemed to have shape, and I thought maybe I could see a face in it, and it was a mean face, and it was a face that had come to puff up and blow us away"
p 1.

June 4, 1937. Goodwell, Oklahoma (picture by Mrs. Emma Love)
Found here.

There's nothing left in Oklahoma for Jack Catcher. His parents are dead; his mom from the dirty pneumonia of the dust storms, his dad, suicide. There's nothing left for Jane and Tony Lewis either. Their dad got run over by his tractor as he fruitlessly tried to plant in dead ground, and their mom disappeared as easily as the good farming soil that used to provide a living for both families. It's the Great Depression, and there's nothing left for anyone, so the three of them might as well set out and just hope for something better than the nothing they've got. There's nothing to lose but their sorry lives - which might be exactly what the wind takes next as they spin from one adventure to the next, stealing cars, hopping trains, running into murderous bank robbers and criminal farmers and traveling circuses.

To my disappointment, while the writing is always beautiful, as the madcap - well, madcap isn't quite the correct word as it implies a levity that the book lacks, but we'll go with it - as the madcap plot revs up it never quite matches the tone of the writing. Does the writing match the barren setting? Yes. The hopeless era? Definitely. What you essentially have in this novel is an old-fashioned adventure plot that has potential for serious consequences. But despite the horror of the first chapters, and even of the repeated danger of the subsequent events, there is a distancing that takes away the visceral impact the first chapter had, and therefore removes the feeling of true danger the events warrant. Now, of course, that's my interpretation, so perhaps others felt differently while reading. However, when you never really believe the worst will actually happen to the characters, dire situations become less threatening and that bleak, hopeless writing doesn't have anywhere to go.

This is what I believe the intent to be: I think Lansdale wanted the plot to mirror the uncontrollable dust storms with three kids swept up in adventure and danger as though they were the earth that had lost its ground. It is in part, successful. But not entirely. After those first few chapters I never felt invested in Jack Catcher again. He's overshadowed by Jane and her lying ways (despite the fact that we never really understand quite why she's so pathological in her falsehoods). The driving force is not so much the wind and it's random ways, as it is Jane. Now, does Jane personify the wind? Perhaps. Everyone and thing must fall in line with her whims, and she'll say anything to make it happen. Which is not bad, but if this is her story, and Jack is detritus that helps her on her way, her character isn't quite developed enough for the reader to become anything but irritated at how she gets in everyone's way by lying outrageously each time she opens her mouth.

It ceased to be the character driven novel one would expect from the opening chapters and the traditional "road trip" theme, and became merely a series of crazy events that were not only improbable in a setting that was all too real, but didn't possess gravitas in tune with that beautiful opening. You can't have a character be the driving force unless you want to have a character-driven plot, and you can't have a plot-driven plot diven book unless you want to invest in some sort of logic to the series of events. What happens in cases like these, when you don't pick a side (or fail to invest enough in either side), is that the whole thing flounders. And that's what happened here. It just got boring. Which, HELLO, there are murderous robbers, and kindly old ladies, and alligators, and carnies, and... and... WHY WAS THIS BORING?

"The humming blackness came doen from the sky and hit the willows down below, and in a moment the grasshoppers ate the green off of them, and the willows shook like they was in a high wind, but the only wind was the wind the grasshoppers made" p 76.

It may appeal to those who liked As Easy as Falling of the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins. Or those who really dig the old-time romantic bank robbers and gangsters from that era like Bonnie and Clyde and Babyface Nelson, who were clearly inspiration to the plot. Although those looking for that subplot will probably be left wanting more than the book delivers on that subject. It was beautifully written on the technical and art side, but lacked both plot and character development.

Found here.

Copy obtained through publisher, Delacorte Press. Started to read because I wanted to, finished because it is a Cybils 2011 YA Fiction nominated title.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Leverage by Joshua Cohen, or There's No Way this Book Doesn't Feature Roid Rage

Which is totally true, by the way. Lots of steroids, and all the ways that drug can destroy things in high school.

The three football captains are the king of the school, and no one, no matter how talented in any other sport is excused from their bullying. Especially not the gymnastics team. Danny has a real chance at eventually qualifying for the Olympics in gymnastics and Kurt is a stuttering hulk who’s new to the school and the football team. Neither of them like the bullying, and they forge an unlikely friendship that is in jeopardy after they both witness a graphic attack that has tragic consequences. Leverage has some of the most awesome sports writing I’ve ever read, but this is also the most intense and possibly disturbing book I have ever read, so I recommend it to more mature readers.

Kurt is damaged going into the story. He's a foster kid, and in his last placement he experienced treatment that will scar him for his entire life. This is told in flashback in slow and desperate reveals, and the memories send him into a red rage. Danny and his teammates have been trying to hold their ground, retain their dignity, and fight the football team for access to the weight room, something they all know they need to be able to truly compete on the level they aspire to. But every which way they turn, they keep running into the immovable bulk of the impossibly large football team.

Characters are flawed, even broken. Some come into the tale that way, others will fall apart right before your eyes. You will hold your breath and read faster to get through the dark, drastic, brutal parts, most likely wiping tears of fury or sadness away as you turn the pages. They make huge mistakes out of fear and shame and pain. They suffer consequences that will haunt them.

I wish I could say that these kids experience abuse and bullying so brutal that it is unbelievable, but sadly, we all know that isn't true. And that's one reason I think that this book is important. Maybe it will help some kid out there find his voice and stop the cycle. Get help. It's a solidly upper high school read, unless you know, or have an inkling, that it's something an 8th or 9th grader may have had some experience with. Or the kid's just a fan of A Child Called It (I jest, don't give it to those 5/6th graders).

The horrible thing is that it is all so frighteningly believable. Until you get to the Hollywood ending, where you witness a shift from bleak to a resolution that doesn't match the tone of the rest of the book. Which, while satisfying, doesn't ring true, because despite the honesty in which the rest of the novel was handled, this was just a little too neat. A little too grand. A little too unrealistic. That's not how these stories ever end in real life. Fine, usually, for most novels. But not when nary a punch was withheld during the previous 270-ish pages.

I will admit that I booktalked this (along with around 30 other titles) this past June for 7-10 graders. I did so ONLY with a strong emphasis on the graphic nature of the story, and encouraged the teens to self-censor if they didn't think they were ready for it, but that I thought that it was an important story because this level of abuse and bullying does happen. I had warned the school librarians and teachers of the title before I talked it, and after hearing about it, I had specific requests from a few teachers to be sure to share it with some classes, which I found very interesting. Of the 875 holds I placed for students after my June visits, there were 25 for this title.

Recommend for older fans of:
Ellen Hopkins. Patricia McCormick. Compulsion by Ayarbe. Courtney Summers. Dirty Little Secrets by Omololu. Laurie Halse Anderson. Anything brutal.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Between Shades of Gray (mini post)

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

"'Nothing could be worse than Stalin," said one of the men at the dining room table. 'He is the epitome of evil.'

'There is no better or worse,' said Papa, his voice low. I leaned farther around the corner to listen.

'But Hitler won't uproot us,' said the man....

'My point is that we're dealing with two devils who both want to rule hell'" p168.


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Books I Want to Read

Here's a post of non-content for you. I want to read:

All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky by Joe R. Lansdale. Because that is a beautiful title, and the writing continued to be beautiful when I started. Unfortunately the Cybils nominations began, and I really can't read or finish anything that isn't on that list for the next three months. I read the first chapter aloud to my insanely critical husband, and even he was impressed.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. Because I haven't read a good ghost story since Beating Heart by AM Jenkins. Or Whitcomb's A Certain Slant of Light. Whichever came out later. I shouldn't be able to count good ghost stories published for teens on one hand.

Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith. Because I truly loved The Way He Lived, and I very much want to see more from her. It's been out since April, so the only excuse I have is that I've never once seen it on the shelves here at my library.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Because everyone seems to be falling over themselves for this, and because I've been waiting for my hold to come in FOREVER. Which is really unusual for a first-time novelist. Although, Amanda did say "It's no Book Thief." But, really, what is?

Big Crunch by Pete Hautman. Again, this one's been out for ages. I think for the first 6 months I wasn't able to even understand that this brightly colored cover actually had Pete Hautman's name on it.

Don't Stop Now by Julie Halpern. Because I loved Into the Wild Nerd Yonder with unbridled passion. And the title reminds me of the Queen song.

Everybody Sees the Ants by AS King. Because I think AS King is one of the truly fresh voices of YA.

Every You, Every Me by David Levithan. Because it's David Levithan. Even though the cover model looks just not-Joseph Gordon-Levitt enough to weird me out.

A Plague Year by Edward Bloor. Because how many books for teens have you read about meth?

The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall. Because I'm curious as to what happens when a someone who's written a metric ton of horse books for tweens writes a murder mystery for teens. I tend to forget that she also wrote Eva Underground (which I liked a lot), and a few other teen titles.

You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis. Because there's a certain 13 Reasons Why angle there, but I'm hoping for a little bit more depth.

I don't think I meant for this list to get so long... lala, back to Cybils madness. Have you submitted your nominations yet?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, or Psychological is better than Paranormal

I don't know why I picked up The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. I was aware of its existence when I took it, but knew nothing whatsoever about it. By just the cover, it looked like yet another entry in the revolving door of paranormal teen fiction. But the title itself, specifically the word "Unbecoming..." that was interesting to me.

Mara was in a coma for three days. Upon awakening, she is told that her life-long best friend, her boyfriend, and another girl, died in the accident that plunged Mara into unconsciousness. Understandably haunted by the events, the loss of her memories surrounding the accident, and the loss of her friends, Mara is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Her entire world is a reminder of what she's lost, and she manages to convince her family to move away and start new lives in Florida, where she continues to struggle with reality, but with the eventual addition of a couple new confidants.

Mara's family is awesome. The characters are excellent. Their interactions are immensely believable. You love the family and the love interest even as they walk up and smile at that line that would make them a little too perfect. Even the villains are enjoyable, albeit less dimensional. Sadly, the character of Jamie, who plays the role of first new friend, and openly refers to himself as the token black Jewish bi-sexual, entirely disappears two thirds of the way in. There's an explanation for it, but it's weak.

For 300 pages, this was a compelling psychological exploration of a fragile, damaged, teen mind coping with tragedy and change. And then, suddenly, all of that subtlety was thrown out on page 309. Look. It's a heck of a lot harder to get a reader to buy into an unreliable narrator working with a sliding scale of reality than it is to simply throw in super powers - it's a heck of a bigger feat as a writer, too. Hodkin did it. I was totally on board with this damaged girl. It was brilliant. And then it all gets cheapened with paranormal solutions. I don't believe that the story needed paranormal elements. I'm ranting about this, but I feel that it's almost like this beautiful, straight psychological novel got marred by a sudden infusion of deus ex machina. There was a fantastic way out of the story without using the fantastical.

Now, don't let me confuse you, the ground work for the paranormal elements was set early on, they were definitely there, but those elements were far more compelling with a straight, non-paranormal, interpretation. "Is she nuts? Is she hallucinating? Is it the PTSD? A coping mechanism? A psychotic break? Is she a murderer?" Nah, she's just got super powers. It literally, up until page 309, could have gone either way, and in my inconsequential opinion, it went in the wrong direction chasing a fad that's already blotto.

I've clearly my knickers in a twist over this, and I do want to say that despite my plot issues, everything else stands up pretty well. It's quite well written and compelling. The dialog is lively with well-executed and clever banter. The romance has chemistry, even if it was a tad contrived (the hottest guy in school that every girl wants, with an English accent. But he's only got eyes for her, and that makes ALL the popular girls conveniently hate her.). Whatev. I can imagine a bond between them being shared through traumatic pasts (non-paranormal explanation) or through magic (paranormal explanation), which means it works.

It ends in a blatant cliffhanger.

Recommend as an interesting match to Liar by Larbalestier, Compulsion by Ayarbe, and The River by Mary Jane Beaufrand, as well as Choker by Woods. It also goes well with Lisa McMann's Wake Trilogy and Nova Ren Suma's Imaginary Girls; two others I think would have been stronger had they chosen to follow straighter genre lines.

300 pages. I still can't get over that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where Things Come Back, or let's hope the cover doesn't

Did you know that many of the youth awards accept field nominations? I've never nominated anything. Until now. I actually field nominated Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley for the Morris Award. It turns out that you don't find out what happens after you nominate something, but I'm happy just to force a committee to read something that I believe in.

Yes, I do enjoy being evil.

Before Gabrielle disappeared, Cullen Witter held onto the hope that he wouldn't end up trapped in tiny Lily, Arkansas. He bides his time by coming up with book titles and imagining the zombie apocalypse (especially zombies attacking people who annoy him). Without Gabrielle, Cullen does his best to maintain normal amid pain and absurdity when the town forgets one of their own has gone missing and instead becomes obsessed with the reappearance of a supposedly extinct woodpecker. But if a bird can reappear after 60 years of assumed extinction, surely a little brother can come back, too. This is a coming of age tale of hope, redemption, grief, and wonder.

I stumbled upon this book by sheer luck. I peruse all new teen titles that come into the library, and often set several aside to share with my teen advisory board, or book group. This was one of the random newbies that came in several months ago, and I was so captivated by the quirky jacket flap that I had to read it. But let's face it, it was probably the promise of zombies. You know me.

I'm not going to pretend that this is anything other than an odd book. It's weird. There's a B plot going on there that seems rather inconsequential for a long time. It isn't, of course. Adding to the quirk factor is the fact that Cullen occassionally slips from first person into third as he distances himself from pain, embarrassment, or boredom, and starts narrating his life as though it were just a chapter in a book that he could close when things get to be too much. Cullen wants to be a writer, and maintains a growing list of book titles inspired by the happenings around him.

What Whaley has created is an unusual story that never fails to captivate despite its oddities. It's also wryly humorous (the book titles), and so well-structured that it calls for an immediate re-read. It feels fresh even while covering the well-trod small-town and missing child plots, and reminds me of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or John Green before he got tediously repetitive. For newer titles, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, The Lucky Kind by Alyssa B. Sheinmel, and Okay For Now by would probably be good matches. I will definitely be watching to see what's next for this first-time novelist. Regardless of whether the Morris committee agrees with me.

If you are a NPR nerd like me, you might have heard the NPR feature about the real return of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. The story was framed by a Sufjan Stevens song The Lord God Bird. I believe (but don't quote me) that this story, which stuck with me for so many years, was what inspired John Corey Whaley. So, that Lazarus burger and haircut in the book? Yeah, that really happened. In Brinkley, Arkansas.

The potshot about the cover is perhaps unfair since it is appropriate for the story, however, I can't deny its questionable appeal to the intended audience. But perhaps the kid who would pick this one up because or in spite of the cover would be the exactly right audience for it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

RIP Perry Moore

Perry Moore, whom I interviewed here back in 2007, has been found dead in his NYC apartment of, according to sources in the NY Daily News, possible prescription overdose. He was found by his partner, Hunter Hill. This is nothing but sad, so I'm reposting the interview (sans most of my commentary) from when he was hot off his YA Title, Hero, and the success of producing the first of the new Narnia movies.

November 6, 2007:

In Hero, we find a teen who wants more than anything to have a superpower, to work with the heroes he admires, and to bring his family out from under the infamous shadow his former superhero father casts. There's more though; Thom is gay. His father makes openly homophobic statements, and as Thom slowly discovers that he does have superpower, he has to hide more that just his sexuality from his dad, since heroes and power are just as forbidden as being gay.

Perry Moore enters the world of teen lit from a unique angle, his other job is as a producer on the Chronicles of Narnia movies. This of course makes me rather curious:

1. You are a first time novelist who's coming from Hollywood. Have you read much of the current fiction written for young adults? What have you especially enjoyed? As a producer, is there a teen book out there you'd love to see on the screen?

I’ve always been a rabid fan of YA literature. That’s how I came to play such a special part in getting the Chronicles of Narnia made. Sheer passion for staying true to what makes the source material special. By the way, I don’t come from Hollywood. I live in NY. Only lived in two places in my life. First Virginia, then New York. I go to Hollywood often to work, but I’ve never lived there. To be honest, I think that played a crucial difference in helping to get the rights to Narnia. I’m not very Hollywood. It’s funny because most reviews will often mention this like I’m some Hollywood producer taking luxurious baths in all my cash, but it’s not like that at all. My passion is good storytelling. Always has been. I live in a modest one-bedroom in NY. I work out at the local rec center. I play tennis on public courts. I surf waves in Montauk, not Hawaii.

At any rate, I loved so many books growing up. I never knew how much of a bookworm I really was until I started working in Hollywood where few people have time to read books. My favorites, among so many others, were The Chronicles of Narnia, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, S.E. Hinton’s books, I went through a huge Lois Duncan period when I was a boy, too. I’m sure they’re so many more. Actually, I’d classify Stephen King’s Carrie as a YA book, too. I just loved that one. The movie was good to, It was such a dream to co-direct a movie with Sissy Spacek as the star. I would love to make Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles into a movie franchise like Narnia. Same for Madeleine L’Engle’s books. Not to mention HERO! (Stan Lee is hard at work?)

2. Thom is mostly unaware of the extent of the power he wields - to the point that he doesn't even take credit for what he does. Not only that, but he doesn't SEE the good he does - only the inadvertent side affects. Poor kid's got some serious self-esteem issues. Even taking away the power element, Thom's got a lot of normal-kid angst. What do you want reader's to take from Thom's experiences?

The book doesn’t feel like homework: it’s a fantastic book, full of love, hope, loss, bottoming out, seemingly insurmountable challenges, and redemption. My theme is very true: That those very things that may make you feel alienated are actually what make you unique, and once you embrace those things and integrate them into your life, well, that’s about the most powerful thing you can become!

3. There is a lot of inherent conflict with Thom's power. What stops him from getting bombarded with people wanting him to heal them?

Wait until the sequel for more on that one.

4. Much relies plot-wise on Thom remaining ignorant of the extent of his power. I had difficulty believing that once he accepted that he had power that he didn't run around experimenting and familiarizing himself with it. Could you enlighten me?

Well, Thom grew up in a household where powers were strictly taboo. Much like being gay. I didn’t run around experimenting with being gay when I was young, much like Thom doesn’t run around doing that or experimenting with his powers. Plus, he doesn’t have one of those obvious powers like flying that we all want to have where you’d just love to soar the heavens if you found out you could do it.

5. You took a bit of a risk on page 203 in allowing Thom's first kiss to happen with a stranger who offered him a ride. Why the choice? Any worry that might incur some opposition?

You have to write the truth. This was the truth to the story. I’d been there, a lot of people have been there, and Thom went there. It happens. At a certain point the characters take over, and you just have to make sure that you, as the writer, doesn’t get in the way. As far as opposition goes, I’m not really all that bothered. Sure there will be some people who don’t want to recognize truth, there always are. But the truth will set you free!

6. In your opinion, what are some of the lamest super-powers out there? What were some of the powers you discarded?

Look at Pied Piper. One of DC’s token gay characters. Sometimes a good guy, sometimes a bad guy. Blows on a pipe to make others do his bidding. Ugh.

7. On your site you've listed gay characters in comics. Listed thusly, it becomes disturbingly clear that most of them are either evil or meet horrible ends. Why did you decide to write this as a novel, where we find many positive depictions of gays, rather than in Graphic Novel format, where you could perhaps enact some change?

First, YA books changed my life. They opened me up to a world of hope and change. It’s why I loved all the books I mentioned above. CS Lewis taught me that tapping into a young person’s mind, without condescending to them, is one of the most powerful things you can do. Don’t think young people are as stupid as what you see on MTV. They’re not. They’re imaginations are limitless. So I chose to tell the story in book form first. Would love to do a 12 part miniseries for Marvel or DC, too. About time they stepped up to the plate. They’ve never had a story starring the world’s first gay teenage superhero, and if HERO is any indication, there’s a tremendous appetite for it. With regards to the list, let’s make it better. Let’s update it. Things will get better! E-mail me!

My parents taught me two very important things. One, none of us were put on this great earth to ride on the back of the bus, and two, the pen is mightier than the sword. Write Marvel, write DC, tell them what you want!

8. Superheroes first made their indelible mark on society just before and during WWII, and have experienced a recent resurgence of mass appeal with movie after movie adaptation, when, at the same time, the world has become increasingly unstable. What do these powered heroes provide us both then and now?

What a great question. Not sure I can articulate the best answer because being a lifelong comic book fan that aspect of superheroes has always been so ingrained in me, just part of my nature. I believe there’s a HERO in all of us! There’s a tremendous appeal in that inspiration.

9. In my limited comic knowledge, I've found that alien superheroes always comment disparagingly on humans tendency to abuse our environment, and that evil alien supervillians use it as an excuse to try and destroy earth, under the famous and brilliant "you-weren't-appreciating-it-anyway" clause of argument. Since both of these things happen in HERO, what do you have to say about the trend? Is it merely an environmental message or chastisement? (p415)

I didn’t know it was a trend. As far as I know, it’s not the majority of what supervillains are after in the comics I read. I guess there are a few. Please write me about trends and things you see or things you want to see explored in the sequel. I’d love to hear more. Excellent question.

(Jackie: I was mostly thinking of Karolina's alien betrothed in Runaways & The Silver Surfer in F4. And possibly all the Captain Planet cartoons I watched as a littlie. Admittedly, this is not my area of expertise.)

10. "I had never let myself fantasize about being with someone my age, because it stopped being a fantasy at that point. It entered the realm of possibility, and that's where you can really get hurt" (p396). That? That right there? That stopped my heart. It's more than just about relationships - I think it applies to anyone who wants something but is too scared to go after it. What was your great fear that you had to overcome to get what you truly wanted?

You got it. Man, you really got it. I think anyone can relate to that unrequited crush in school that was so very real. There was a guy two years older than me on the basketball squad above mine. In many ways, he inspired Goran. Obviously I could never say anything to him. What would you say to that person now?

11. I was surprised to find myself thinking of Nick Hornby when reading HERO. Are you a fan? Would you put HERO in the category of "Lad Lit," albeit on the younger side?

I’d consider it an honor to be lumped in with Nick Hornby on any list.

12. In your interview yesterday (part 1, part 2) with The YA YA YAs, you said: "Anything Walden Media makes will be good, for instance, because they stay so true to what makes the book special in the first place. If you want to satisfy both audiences, you must stay true to that great story." Do you stand by this statement now that they've released The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising in conjunction with 20th Century Fox? Cheeky, aren’t I?

You are indeed cheeky. I wasn’t involved in that movie, so I don’t have anything to say about it. Haven’t seen it either, but I do love anything Susan Cooper writes. Moreover, I do stand by my words regarding Walden Media’s commitment. Their support of Narnia is the reason those movies exist! Same goes for Bridge to Terabithia and Holes with Shia LaBoeuf. Unless you’ve made one, you can’t imagine how hard it is to make a stellar movie. Truly it takes a miracle of commitment. And Walden has that commitment. They’ve revolutionized the industry in so many ways.

13. You've told us to wait for the sequel. Can you give us any hints (no spoilers) for what's to come?

I love this question! Yes, this will be a series. Like I said, please e-mail me about what you want to know more about, because I’m in major planning stages. Now that these characters are alive, they keep coming to me with their stories. Hmmmm? hints. Well, what do you think Thom’s mom has really been up to all these years in her absence? And how do you know the Invisible Woman is really dead if you can’t find a body? Wonder about where Thom and Goran’s relationship is headed? And what exactly are the true natures of Goran’s abilities and his background? Expect a lot more from Typhoid Larry, Scarlett, Golden Boy, and some new characters, too! Remember, as Thom learns in the first book, things aren’t always what they seem!

Thanks, Perry, for spending some time with us!

Read the full interview with my obnoxious commentary.

Here's hoping I never have to do this again.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Sorta Like a Rock Star or Fame With or Without Spotlights

There's always chatter among writers and publishers about the slush pile. The great mass of unsolicited manuscripts that publishers are sent every day. While I've never worked at a publishing house, I have to say that for me, the first few weeks of the Cybils is always a little like being confronted by an enormous slush pile that you have three months to get through. After five years, I've somehow come up with an odd balance of excitement and apathy that works for me. Essentially, I lower my expectations, and don't put too much thought into what the next book to read will be. I allow myself to be pleasantly surprised.

One particular quirk I have about reading is that I don't like to read to far into reviews, or the book description before I read. Invariably, too much is given away, and it sucks the fun out of the whole thing for me. Going along with that, I don't pay a whole lot of attention with the blurbs that show up on everything. But, in the Cybils slush pile that appeared on my kitchen table, I couldn't help but notice that Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick (Incidentally, I went to college with a guy with this name, so that never stops weirding me out.) was blurbed by Justina Chen and Sara Zarr. When I flipped open the back cover, there was a blurb from Dana Reinhardt. I love all three of these authors. All three. I knew what I was reading next.

There is no one like Amber Appleton. She's frank, honest, and not only willing to see the bright side of everything and everyone, she's going to make the world a better place through sheer force of will. She WILL win over even the most curmudgeonly. But her unfailing optimism isn't merely altruism. It's how she gets through the day. It's how she can bear her life. Amber Appleton doesn't have the best of mothers. When mom's last boyfriend kicked them out, they had nowhere to go, and now live on the school bus mom drives for a paycheck. It's cold on an unheated bus in Pennsylvania in the winter. It's lonely when mom's out trolling for men until late. It sorta, like, sucks. But Amber Appleton knows it will get better. Because, really, it can't get worse. Of course, it can, and it does. And even the spectacular, remarkable hope that Amber has always possessed and shared freely can't raise her above the pain she's about to endure.

I want to repeat this for emphasis: There is no one like Amber Appleton. She is both annoying and uplifting. Her voice is so unique and so powerful. One of both the strengths and weaknesses of Sorta Like a Rock Star is Amber's jargon. As someone who works with teens, I know that many have weak filters and an annoying habit of saying the same phrases and exclamations over and over. Most of that stuff is normally cut out of novels in favor of readability. That's not necessarily the case with SLARS. "True? True."

"[Mom] never again tried to make me play sports, although we ate many more hoagies on that bench and fed flocks of ducks for years to come -- and the feeding-ducks memories are something I truly treasure. Quack, quack. Ducks. Pretty killer" p 14-15.

Random meanderings like that are fairly typical for Amber, and frankly, I've known a teen or two who would say things like that. It serves to lighten up the rather serious mood of the preceding thoughts, and prevents Amber for dwelling on the horrible situation she's saddled with. But, it doesn't necessarily make it easier to read if you haven't already been completely captured by her voice in general. Which I was.

But above voice, and above a great depiction of setting, is character. Amber is kicked when she's already down, and it changes her. She goes from the most positive, uplifting person in that town, to an angry, hurt, sad individual. Regardless of whether a reader understood Amber before, by the time she gets to the depth of her depression, you simply can not look away. Her pain is palpable.

"I decide to quit being Amber Appleton, which isn't to say that I change my name or anything. I just decide that I can't keep living the way I used to live -- swinging for the fences, believing that things are going to work out, that everything is worth fighting for, and that I am brave and strong enough to change my reality, because I'm not and I can't. Joan of Old was right. I get her now, and what she said about life being a hell that I was only beginning to experience -- that makes sense suddenly" p 178.

However, even though she herself wouldn't have believed it, Amber Appleton isn't one to stay down.

I think more than any other book I read this year for the Cybils, this is the one that stays with me. This is the one that has a special place in my heart.

Obviously, the sequel should be entitled "I'm Kinda a Big Deal." <-- Joke.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Bitch Media's Got Something to Say About Teen Lit

UPDATE: Ok, so there's a bit of a kerfuffel about this list. Seems someone got offended by the inclusions of numbers 49, 69, and 83. The comment thread at the original link below has gotten CrAzY. Bitch Media (whom, it seems are lacking the backbone you usually find in those claiming such a descriptor), wishes to replace those three with a different three. I think the whole thing it quite ridiculous, although I recognize that their intentions are good, if wildly short-sighted and ill-informed. Their actions, while calling the worth of the list itself into question and screaming a passive sort of censorship, have also managed to piss off just about everyone in the YA Lit community. But it's just a list, and it's worth about as much as any such thing is. I, being contrary, am just as happy to have three titles to add to the list, as no, removing, isn't really the way to go here. Besides, it ups my numbers to 47 read out of 103. *grin*

Original post:

45. I'm a little appalled that I've only read 45 of Bitch Media's 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader. Appalled, because this is clearly the most awesome list of titles ever compiled. They even pull out six super awesome titles for extra commentary. One of which is Tanita Davis' Mare's War. As if the list needed to be MOAR AWESOME.

Bold are the ones I've read.

1. Estrella’s QuinceaƱera by Malin Alegria
2. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez
3. Choir Boy by Charlie Anders
4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
5. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
6. Alt Ed by Catherine Atkins
7. The Rhyming Season by Edward Averett
8. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
9. Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black
10. Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block
11. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
12. Forever by Judy Blume
13. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
14. Debbie Harry Sings in French by Meagan Brothers
15. All-American Girl by Meg Cabot
16. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
17. The Plain Janes by Cecil Castelluci and Jim Rugg
18. This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn by Aidan Chambers
19. Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You by Dorian Cirrone
20. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
21. Magic Knight Rayearth by CLAMP
22. Celine by Brock Cole
23. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
24. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
25. The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
26. Sex Education by Jenny Davis
27. Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis
28. Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
29. For the Win by Cory Doctorow
30. Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole
31. A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
32. El Lector by William Durbin
33. The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake
34. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
35. Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn
36. Crossing Stones by Helen Frost
37. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
38. The Year They Burned the Books by Nancy Garden
39. Sticks and Stones by Beth Goobie
40. Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen Headley
41. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
42. It’s Not What You Expect by Norma Klein
43. Uncommon Faith by Trudy Krisher
44. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
45. Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson
46. The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson
47. Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby
48. White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages
49. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
50. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle
51. Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier
52. Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin
53. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
54. Gravity by Leanne Lieberman
55. Ash by Malinda Lo
56. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
57. Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
58. Sold by Patricia McCormick
59. The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
60. Thunder Over Kandahar by Sharon E. McKay
61. The Secret Under My Skin by Janet McNaughton
62. Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
63. Night Flying by Rita Murphy
64. Revenge by Taslima Nasrin
65. A Step from Heaven by An Na
66. Skip Beat! By Yosiki Nakamura
67. Simply Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (although I have read others in this series)
68. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
69. Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
70. Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
71. Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters
72. Luna by Julie Anne Peters
73. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
74. Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce
75. What Happened to Lani Garver by Carol Plum-Ucci
76. Imani All Mine by Connie Rose Porter
77. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
78. The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
79. Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar
80. The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds
81. Flygirl by Sherri Smith
82. Lucy the Giant by Sherri Smith
83. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
84. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
85. Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught
86. Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
87. Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
88. Izzy, Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voigt
89. Cress Delahanty by Jessamyn West
90. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
91. When Kambia Elaine Flew in from Neptune by Lori Aurelia Williams
92. Blue Tights by Rita Williams-Garcia
93. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
94. Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
95. Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
96. The House You Pass on the Way by Jaqueline Woodson
97. Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
98. When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright
99. Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
100. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

101. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
102. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
103. Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

So, consider this a meme. Repost it at your site, and leave me a link in the comments. Or, just comment. No need to have a blog. Obviously.

What's the most shocking book on this list that I haven't read? What should I drop everything and Read. Now.? Forever? Make Lemonade? Izzy Willy-Nilly? Dangerous Angels?

Many thanks to the great Kelly Fineman for tweeting about this list!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Beautiful Between, or Rapunzel's on the Upper East Side

I like quiet books. Books that slip under the internet buzz, books that take their time, aren't splashy, and don't make a big fuss with outrageous plots, but that take you by surprise at how well they can speak to one small part of your soul or being, or the magical wonder juice that makes us all tick individually from each other. It's why I like Jenny Valentine so much.

We haven't seen Valentine's new books here in the states, yet, so I was looking for a fix. Alyssa B. Sheinmel's The Beautiful Between was just that. Quiet. Dreamy. Believably introspective. So, obviously it's got to be the one reviewed after Zombie Haiku. I gotta keep things balanced around here.

Connelly's content in the middle. She does exactly what she has to do not to get noticed, she speaks up, but only enough so that her silence doesn't mark her as a freak. She blends in with the mediocrity. She spends her idle moments fantasizing about the similarities between high school and fairy tales, quietly casting her peers in the classic stories. So, when the school prince, Jeremy Cole, proposes a tutoring trade with her (he'll help her with physics, she helps him with vocab), it's a little surprising. What's even more surprising is the interest he takes in her life - but there is a reason for his interest and when it turns out that Jeremy knows more about Connelly's father than she does, it throws her life and her past into a spiral that risks fractured relationships and has to end with major revelations.

The Beautiful Between was elegantly written, dripping with genuine emotion, and believable as a character-driven piece. The pace is steady, and it's short enough that you never get bored with it's thoughtfulness, or Connelly's introspection. The little bit of mystery helps propel both the reader and the protagonist forward.

The writing is lyrical, the story of loss is moving, and I will definitely keep an eye out for Sheinmel's next book, The Lucky Kind, due out in May.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mare's War Giveaway

Tanita Davis, a dear and beloved friend, has just received copies of the paperback version of her Coretta Scott King Honor-winning book Mare's War (is that cover not STUNNING?!).

She's giving away copies to the first 25 homeschoolers or homeschool-serving librarians to comment (read here). She's written also just written a teaching unit for teachers to use along with the book, so you should take a look at that.

If you count yourself of the legion of homeschoolers, definitely hie thee to her post!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Predictions, Now with Winners!

So I really did try to go to bed without posting my ALA youth media award predictions, but I couldn't do it... so... here ya go. And yes, I know none of you save possibly Tanita will read this before the announcement. I had to get it off my chest before I could sleep.

Newbery: I've only read Once Crazy Summer & Mockingbird, so I'm just going off of internet chatter, reviews, and colleague love for most of these. Oh, and the fact that I actually want to read the ones I haven't gotten to yet.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. Innocent but seeping with the flavor of a contentious time, Williams-Garcia does an excellent turn on 1969 and the Black Panther movement making it accessible for the audience. It's a little short on the reasons why Panthers were getting arrested, but since it's all from an 11-year-old's point of view, that might be forgivable. For slightly older students who are intruigued, don't forget about last year's excellent The Rock & the River by Kekla Magoon.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. The fact that this one won the National Book Award probably hurts it, but even given the fact that I'm completely over Autism/Asperger books, this one had me completely within it's charming grasp. This said, it's probably a shoo in for the Schneider.

Books getting the buzz, that I can't speak personally for:
The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan.
Countdown by Deborah Wiles.
Keeper by Kathi Appelt.
Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Printz: Theoretically, the Printz should be easier for me to predict since I'm so much more familiar with it, but gosh, I'm just stabbing in the dark here. I wouldn't be surprised to see more science fiction and fantasy on the list here. The fact that I spend the last quarter of the year willfully and painfully ignoring SFF for the Cybils hurts me a little when SFF is strong. This said, if any of my Cybils YA Fiction titles made it, I'd be through the roof.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. The world-building and the voice are what stand out miles from the crowd here. The pacing is excellent, and it would certainly be a crowd pleaser if it made it in.

They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. This is exquisitely done. Bartoletti manages to keep a completely objective tone, letting primary source documents speak for themselves. A few more facts on the KKK today would have been appreciated, but as for a historical account of this subject, I don't think there's anything better out there. It's immensely readable, and should be found in every library. I won't consider the Printz complete this year if this one isn't included.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. I can't tell if this is eligible or not, and it's too late for me to be willing to research it, but in case it is... Since, I, personally, disliked it greatly, it's chances are good. I thought it dull and racked with pacing issues, but I appear to be the only one, so since those are my usual complaints about winners I don't like...

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. The seven stages of grief are worked through by this mean girl as she goes a bit Groundhog's Day with death. While I, personally, think it could have been a little shorter, especially in the beginning, what Oliver was able to do with character development deserves recognition. It's not a perfect book, but it's damn close.

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta. I don't think that this one really breaks any special ground when it comes to epic fantasy, in fact, it might even be a little derivative. But people love it, and it's got healthy buzz. None of which actually means anything. I hated Jellicoe, but it won, so perhaps this author and I will just never get along.

Coretta Scott King:

Sweet, Hereafter by Angela Johnson. I can't tell you how much I loved this one. It's lyrical language and complicated structure begs a second or third read. It's not a bad bet for Printz, either. However, some do have issue with it's place as the last in a trilogy. I don't think it matters.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. As mentioned above.

Caldecott: I would say that the birth of my niece almost exactly a year ago means that I have more knowledge than usual in this category, and I've certainly read more this year than in a long time, but in reality, who ever knows? I also have to give props to my desk-mate Sarah Z., my children's librarian, who makes sure I see all the good stuff. I also might take a more populist view on the Caldecott. For that, I blame my short attention span. I think.

Art & Max by David Wiesner. It's never bad to bet on Wiesner, but with this one, I actually believe that the text detracts from the illustrations - to the extent that I believe they are unnecessary. That's the only thing I can think of that would keep this favorite from receiving yet another nod, 'cause the illustrations are mind-bending, beautiful, and full of personality.

Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown. I have a real soft spot for this one. I can't but help get a kick out of it, and I totally dig the retro illustrations. They are spot on in tone and whimsy.

Chalk by Bill Thomson. This is a bit of a weird one, taking pages from both Wiesner and Van Allsburg, but the illustrations are truly remarkable as they slide from one style to the next.

Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World by Mac Barnett. This one is super fun. There's more of a plot than any of the other books I'm talking about here, and it's equally clever, thoughtful, and funny. The illustrations match it perfectly on those three counts with small details that will appeal both to the kids, and the reading adult.

Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton. I don't know that I actually expect this to make it on the list, but it is by and far my favorite picture book of the year, and since this is the absolute only time I talk about picture books on this blog, I'm mentioning it. Because if you DON'T already know this book, you simply must. Seriously.

Schneider Award: I always think it's odd that the Schneider only picks one book per age group. I don't think it would hurt them to toss off a few Honors now and again, but whatevs.

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly. It's probably too dark and racy for the committee, but it is an excellent portrayal of a teen with Asperger's where the disorder isn't really the issue. It's more just a quirk as she gets through a very normal life. Well, normal in the world of dark teen books.

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk. This will probably win the teen grouping. It's lovely fun with a noir twist. Very Veronica Mars, had she been a deaf, overweight boy. It approaches many of the issues and controversy within the deaf community (or so I've read), while not making that the issue itself. No, the issue is murder.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. As mentioned above. Shoo-in for the middle grade demographic. I hope.

Since most likely you've already heard the results (probably before me, as I'll be teaching homeschoolers at the time of the announcements), what do you think? What's missing? What makes you glad?


Ship Breaker! Yay!
Nothing by Janne Teller. I'm kicking myself for not mentioning this one. That's what I get for posting predictions at midnight. This is a WILDLY disturbing read, but very well done.

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick. I always wanted to like Sedgwick, but I was burned by My Swordhand is Singing, and haven't been able to read anything else by him because of it. I'll try my luck here, and see what happens.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King. This was nominated for Cybils YA Fiction panel, and having enjoyed Dust of 100 Dogs, I was eager to read it. I had to stop when I got to the talking pagoda and kick it over to SFF. I was totally digging it, though, and was sorry to have to move it on. I haven't had a chance yet to return, so I'm excited for the impetus.

Stolen by Lucy Christopher. This book forced me to coin the phrase "creep-ass love." Which then got applied all over the face of teen literature. Well, at least by those of us on the Cybils YA Fiction panel this year. This was one of our finalists.

Winner: Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. I got nothing. Looks like something I would have been first in line to read when I was a kid, though.

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm. All I know is that it's supposed to be good, but that there's hate for both covers. I figure now that it's an honor, there will be plenty of opportunity for new covers.

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus. Looks interesting.

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman. I was scratching my head trying to figure out why this was familiar, when I remembered it was a Cybils Poetry Finalist. cool.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. Yay!

A Sick Day for Amos McGee illustrated by Erin E. Stead, written by Philip C. Stead. *Shrug* The cover looks pretty strange (yes, I did just judge it by it's cover. Whatever. You know I'll read it.)

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Laban Carrick Hill.

Interrupting Chicken illustrated and written by David Ezra Stein. Called in the comments by Trisha.

Coretta Scott King:
One Crazy Summer! and Dave the Potter from the above Caldecott.
Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers. I didn't think this was one of his best. At all.
Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes.
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri. I've heard really good things about this one. I love it when graphic novels get honored, so I'm already waiting a hold on this one.
Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, written by Gary Golio. I hearby predict that this will forever be in Seattle bookstores.


The Pirate of Kindergarten written by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Lynne Avril. I'm fairly certain I've read this, but it wasn't terribly memorable. Although fun.

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick. This makes me happy. Too bad I didn't think of it last night.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John. Again, to Trisha in the comments. I haven't read it, but I know it's set in Seattle, and I noticed a review of it last week sometime, so it was on my distant radar... That's about it, though. My system doesn't have it, so I've placed a hold at my home library.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


Some of you already know that I'm co-hosting the 2011 KidLitCon with Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray and Bookslut fame. We are still very much in the planning stages and we could use your help. If you have ever attended on of the conventions, or have ever even thought you might someday want to, please take this survey, so we can best plan the 5th annual convention here in luscious, green Seattle.

Start thinking about sessions you'd like to present or see, too!

More on this as we have it!


Friday, January 07, 2011

Poetry Friday: Zombie Haiku

Poetry Friday has been around forever. And I've never participated. I've looked at posts over the years and though, gee, I really should join in. I like poetry! I definitely think we should promote this oft under-appreciated form. And yet, I never have.

Until now.

Because, really, if I am ever to participate, it really should be with this book. This marvelous collection of haiku. And yes, I do mean marvelous. I don't even think it has anything to do with my obsessions about the zombie apocalypse. Much.

Now, admittedly, you might need to be one who appreciates the macabre, as ZOMBIE HAIKU by Ryan Mecum alternates equally between the grotesque, the disturbing, and some of the most hilarious poetry I have ever read.

The pages are a blood spattered and offal smeared account (including pictures & illustrations) of the last days of the zombie apocalypse, not from the view point of a survivor, but that of one zombie. The voice is clear and entertaining, and pacing is such that the reader has no time to think about the feasibility of a zombie being able to manage fine motor functions well enough to write. In fact, this poor guy is better as a zombie poet than he ever was as a human one.

I've been sharing passages with coworkers to general hilarity.

My favorite passages:

My instinct steers me
to my gourmet dinner feast,
a nursing home.

The side door is shut.
From the side window, they stare.
So many meals stare.

They are so lucky
that I cannot remember
how to use doorknobs.

I circle around,
and a great surprise greets me:
automatic doors.

It is hard to tell
who is food and who isn't
in the nursing home.

I really need blood.
Moaning "brains!" is hard to do
with a dried out tongue.

Little old ladies
speed away in their wheelchairs,
frightened meals on wheels.
p 44-47.

My shoes are slushy,
with my decomposing feet
leaking clear liquid.
p 57

Elbows bend one way,
except for this guy screaming.
His bends two ways now.
p 72

One eyeball has shrunk.
I'm glad it's tied to something
so it won't fall far.
p 110

I keep saying "brains."
I remember other words,
but I just need one.
p 118

I cannot wait to bring this on school visits.

This week's Poetry Friday is with Irene Latham at Live. Love. Explore.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


synchronicities: 1. the quality or fact of being synchronous. 2. the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung.
--Merriam-Webster Online

This list of similarities and coincidences among the 2010 Cybils YA Fiction nominations is humbly submitted to you by the 2010 Cybils YA Fiction Panel. It is no way to be considered completely exhaustive, as we are certain nominated books and coincidentals will have been missed. This list was originated out of amusement as the seven panelists read their way through the 182 titles. If you know of a nominated title that should be included in one of the synchronicities below, please feel free to submit it in the comments! To get the entire list, you’ll have to visit all seven of the panelist’s blogs:

  • #1-10 Amanda Snow, A Patchwork of Books [TW]

  • #11-21 Ami Jones, Three Turtles and Their Pet Librarian [TW]

  • #22-32 Cherylynne W. Bago, View from Above and Beyond [TW]

  • #33-42 Jackie Parker, Interactive Reader [TW]

  • #43-52 Justina Ireland, The YA 5 [TW]

  • #53-63 Kelly Jensen, Stacked [TW]

  • #64-72 Melissa Wiley, Here in the Bonny Glen [TW]

  • **Please, if considering buying any of the nominations, do so through the Cybils, so we can give our deserving winners a tangible token of their merit.

    33. Jewish Characters: The Beautiful Between; Hush; Life, After; Queen of Secrets

    34. Journals of Dead People: Hold Still; Revolution; The Secret Year

    35. Kidnappings: Girl, Stolen; Stolen; The Tension of Opposites; Woods Runner

    36. Lunchtime Oak Tree: A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend; Hold Still (ok, treehouse!); A Little Wanting Song; Lifted (under a Pecan tree - it IS Texas!)

    37. Meaningless Sex to Forget the Issue at Hand or Deaden the Pain: Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour; The Duff; Forget You; Hold Still; Saving Maddie; Nothing Like You; Not That Kind of Girl

    38. Mental Issues of Some Sort or Another: Abe in Arms; A Blue So Dark; The Brothers Story; Compromised; Forget You; Revolution; The River; Tangled; The Unwritten Rule

    39. Michigan: Exit Strategy; I Now Pronounce You Someone Else; Sing Me to Sleep

    40. Murder: All Unquiet Things; The Dangerous Days of Hamburger Helpin; The Deadly Sister; The Less-Dead; Revolution; The River; The Space Between Trees; The Twin’s Daughter, Wicked Girls; Woods Runner; When I Was Joe?

    41. Musicals or Theater: A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend; Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour; Hold Still (Play); Nothing Like You (drama class); Scrawl (Play); Sorta Like a Rock Star (talent something); Will; Will Grayson, Will Grayson;

    42. Musicians: A Little Wanting Song; Beat the Band; Dirty Little Secrets; Freefall; Friend is Not a Verb; Harmonic Feedback; The Less-Dead; Indigo Blues; Mindblind; Revolution; Sing Me to Sleep; The Sky is Everywhere; Somebody Everybody Listens To; Stringz; The Summer I Got a Life; Will; Rhythm and Blues