Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year End Favorites

Okay, I'm finally ready to do mine!

Picture Books
Sylvie by Jennifer Gordon Sattler
Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Chicken Cheeks by Michael Ian Black
Kiki's Blankie by Janie Bynum
Scaredy Squirrel at Night by Melanie Watt

School-Age Fiction
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Books of Umber: Happenstance Found by P. W. Catanese

Teen Fiction
Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Liar by Justine Larbalestier
Willow by Julia Hoban
Beka Cooper: Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
All the Broken Pieces by Ana Burg
Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart
Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey
Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor
The Devouring by Simon Holt
North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

Teen and Children's Nonfiction
Written in Bone by Sally M. Walker

Adult Fiction and Nonfiction
The Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen
Someone to Love by Jude Devereaux
Swallowing Darkness by Laurell K. Hamilton

Graphic Novels (All levels)
Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori
After School Nightmare by Setona Mizushiro
Pluto by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka
Otomen by Aya Kano
Dinosaur Hour! by Hitoshi Shiyoya
Fruits Basket vol. 23 by Natsuki Takaya
Monkey High by Shouko Akira
Tail of the Moon by Rinko Ueda
Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires
Jyu-Oh-Sei by Natsumi Itsuki
Honey and Clover by Chika Umino
Dororo by Osamu Tezuka
Ooku by Fumi Yoshinaga
Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer by Dustin Higgins
Buffy Season Eight: Wolves at the Gate by Joss Whedon
The Muppet Show Comic Book by Roger Langrige

And since I am who I am.....

Romeo x Juliet
Ghost Hunt
Ouran High School Host Club

Books to Movies
Sherlock Holmes

Now, some of these things did not publish/release in 2009, but I did read or watch them then!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Year's End Favorites

Here's my list. I forgot to add picture books, so maybe I'll do that in January. Basically, if Jan Thomas or Polly Dunbar or Emily Gravett or Amy Krouse Rosenthal created it, I adored it.

Yotsuba&! Vols 6, 7 by Kiyohiko Azuma

The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman

Lunch Lady comics by Jarrett K. Krosoczka

Mile Stellar Nerves of Steel by KA Holt

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

Magic Trixie: Dragonrider by Jill Thompson

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey

The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton

Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Perfect Fifths by megan McCafferty

The Treasure Map of Boys by e. lockhart

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd ed Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

Marching for Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

First Impressions.

I am so happy that I had to re-read this book for our Mock Printz. My first impressions were not all that favorable. I disliked the lack of information about exactly what the sisterhood is up to, I disliked the love triangle, I disliked the fact that they didn’t just have zombie head chopping missions (because why wouldn’t you???). So let me say it again. I am really, really, really happy I read this again. I liked it so much more than the first time.

Yes, I still had issues with the Sisterhood. I think more answers of what the Sisters were up to – obviously bad bad things - would have fleshed out Mary’s village and their particular culture more and added to the horror. Later in the story we visit another village, the contrast between the two is apparent. Where Mary’s village seemed to don dull clothing, this one had bright and decorative outfits. The sisterhood ruled every aspect of Mary’s village, in this new one they are conspicuously absent. The meaning of this would have been more dramatic had we learned more about the Sisterhood. So yes, I think answers are needed, but I’m willing to concede that they will be just as (or almost as) satisfactory when these revelations are divulged in the second book (notice I said “when” not “if”. Ever the optimist haha).

I did find Mary just as difficult to like the second time around. I love you, no I love you, no I thought I loved you but I didn’t but now I do, bored now, look at him over in that tree house, actually no back to you… Honestly, Mary is never satisfied. So no, she’s not the most likeable or sympathetic heroine, but I’m no longer wishing her death by zombie. In fact, I’m excited to see the next part of her journey. Does she go back to the forest to rescue her friends? Does she go back to the village to rescue the book? Are the zombie hordes going to invade her new residence? I’m interested to see where the author takes it. There are so many possibilities.

One final thing that I think could have been made clearer is the average life-span of the zombies. Gabrielle had a time limit – she used up her energy and no longer seems like a threat. This doesn’t seem to be the case for the other zombies. Do they live forever? They seemed to “go to sleep” like a computer, saving energy for later. Does this go on indefinitely? One would also assume that people would spend a lot of time shooting zombies in the head, regardless of the fact that they keep coming. Surely that would lessen their numbers? Mary has me feeling as though it isn’t worth it – that their numbers are inexhaustible. Almost certainly, the numbers of actual live people has been dwindling. Doesn’t it make sense that the zombie numbers would correspondingly decline as well? And yet there is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of them. I’m curious how it all works. Were they made? Is it a genetic engineering gone wrong? Bio-chemical warfare? I’m hoping this gets also fleshed out, as it were, in the next book.

Book Source: Library Copy

Mock Newbery Results

We held our Mock Newbery on Monday and here are our results!

Medal Winner:
Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me

Honor Books:
Burg, Ann E. All the Broken Pieces
Kelly, Jacqueline. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Walker, Sally M. Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland

Complete List of Titles considered:
Baskin, Nora Raleigh. Anything But Typical
Burg, Ann E. All the Broken Pieces
DiCamillo, Kate. The Magician’s Elephant
Kelly, Jacqueline. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Peck, Richard. A Season of Gifts
Philbrick, Rodman. The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg
Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me
Stone, Tanya Lee. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
Walker, Sally M. Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland
Woodson, Jacqueline. Peace, Locomotion

I know the discussion and voting for the real committee remains secret, but since this was for fun I'll discuss. We had a lovely conversation, very respectful, very quick (only 10 minutes alloted for each book). The most heated conversation revolved around Almost Astronauts as I'm sure you can all imagine. All the Broken Pieces, got a lot of love and I'll be interested to see how it stacks up in our Mock Printz discussion. No one seemed to be terribly impressed with The Magician's Elephant, even though everyone reported being able to remember how it felt to read the book, even if they couldn't recall anything about the books other than the generalities.

When You Reach Me was the clear winner on the first round of voting, we had 4 other books that were clearly more favored by the group. 3 of which you see as honor books, along with Homer P. Figg which got voted off the honor list on our second vote. That made me sad. I loved me some Homer! Anyhow a good time was had by all and the food was terrific!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Farewell Kirkus, I'll Miss You

I am seriously bummed about Kirkus going out of business. If I'm to be completely honest, I dislike much more of what I read than I like. Am neutral about much more than I love and so I always respected Kirkus because they always told it like they saw it. Did I always agree? No. But at least they never wrote up milquetoast mamby-pamby reviews that didn't convey any actual information about the book. I'd rather read a scathing review than one that isn't willing to be honest with you.

“No cliché is left unused in this insulting-to-its-audience, nonsensical flapdoodle.”

From the Kirkus review of James Patterson's new book Witch and Wizard.

Kirkus, you will be sorely missed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Years End Favorites

I suppose there is a slight chance I will read something else this year that will just blow my mind, but with all my Mock Printz re-reading somehow I doubt I'll get around to picking up anything else at all. So, here are my favorites!

Picture Books
Alsena, Linas – Hello, My Name is Bob
Fucile, Tony – Let’s Do Nothing!
McCarty, Peter – Jeremy Draws a Monster
Smith, Danna – Two at the Zoo
Thomas, Jan - Can You Make a Scary Face

Middle Grade
Philbrick, Rodman - The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg
Stead, Rebecca - When You Reach Me

Teen Fiction
Anderson, Laurie Halse - Wintergirls
Burg, Ann E. – All the Broken Pieces
Chima, Cinda Williams – The Demon King
Collins, Suzanne – Catching Fire
Duey, Katherine – Sacred Scars
Larbalestier, Justine – Liar
Ness, Patrick – The Ask and the Answer
Taylor, Laini – Lips Touch Three Times
Tan, Shaun - Tales From Outer Suburbia

Adult Fiction (Not Necessarily Published in 2009)
Berry, Jedediah – The Manual of Detection
Larson, Steig – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Rosoff, Meg – The Bride’s Farewell
Toews, Miriam – The Flying Troutmans
Wolff, Mishna – I’m Down: A Memoir

Stay tuned for some favorite covers.

Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson

Delinquents! Fairies! Never before have they met quite like this! Or in other words I don’t feel like writing a summary, read my first impressions on the book if you’d like one.

It was with great reluctance that I re-read Creature of the Night. My lack of enthusiasm was in great part due to the fact that I found Bobby, the main character, incredibly unsympathetic and unlikeable. I just didn’t want to spend more time with him. Regardless, I re-read and although I still disliked Bobby, I was once again impressed with the incredibly skilled writing. This is serious craftsmanship people.

I was completely immersed in Bobby’s world. It is a world filled with poverty. Poverty of the mind, poverty of the soul, and in the economic sense too. Bobby’s mother was 14 when she had him. Ill prepared for motherhood, she attempted to get ahead, but was unable. She submitted to a life on the dole, is grossly unhappy, obviously feels out of control, and is completely unable to regulate her finances (two words: Money Lenders).

Now Bobby is 14, forcibly removed to the countryside, away from his loser (my words, not his) friends, and is basically having the teenaged version of a midlife crisis. Basically, Bobby has to decide whether he wants to end up a drugged out thug or choose a life that is productive. After some time in the country, he clearly has more food for thought.

Bobby’s struggle is very well drawn. His harsh reality of theft, substance abuse, violence, etc. is clearly set up. You understand what appeals to him about this lifestyle. The quick rush, the camaraderie, the way you can forget your troubles. What is equally clear is how Bobby is finding it less and less satisfying. The drugs leave him feeling worse, his friends abandon him without any second thought – the closeness he thought they had was not as substantial or deep as he believed.

Bobby’s progression is very subtle. Thompson makes it clear, but she doesn’t spell it out for you. It is in every regrettable thing Bobby does. Every time he gets drunk or high and then loathes himself for it. The anger and hatred he projects on his mother is clearly an expression of his hopelessness. Bobby’s psyche is a dark and unhappy place.

And don’t even get me started on the fairies. The fairy lady was totally ‘freakin creepy. *shudders* I’m sure there is some sort of amazing thematic parallels going on here, but they totally went over my head. I was, however, amazed that two totally divergent stories (city juvenile delinquent and countryside folklore) could be coupled in such a smooth and cohesive story.

And so despite all my reluctance, I was very glad to have spent another couple hours with ol’ Robser.


Book Source: Library Copy

Audiobooks or Audio Books

This year I listened to more audiobooks than I ever have. I've been trying to listen to CDs of books that I missed, namely past award winners and those that are perpetually on my TBR pile. YALSA has a new audio book committee (Odyssey) plus the Amazing Audiobooks list, and the industry group has The Audies. (this just in via Fuse #8 - the Grammy's spoken word category!)I have wondered what they do, how they judge what is a really good audio book. I think that after this year of listening I have some idea.

Take for instance the book I'm listening to now.
The Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd. I'm such a fan of her stories. This one is another supernatural thriller, but... I didn't realize the main character, Fergus, is 18. She makes him sound like he's 12. I couldn't figure out why he was so obsessed with college exams when he's so young. Now that I know, it's irritating. I have 3 CDs left and it's the strength of the story that's keeping me going. I'm amazed the producers let that happen.

This brings me to the
Neil Gaiman NPR story on audio books as reading. He interviews David Sedaris who hates hates hates when readers use voices for characters. At first I thought, that's true. But then some of my favorites do use voices well, like the Tiffany Aching series read by Stephen Briggs.

Books I've listened to this year:

Scat by Carl Hiaasen read by Ed Asner
Ed Asner? Yes he does different voices and his pre-teen Latina Marta hit my funny bone. I know people who hated this reading. We'll have to wait to see what the Grammy's think. Also, I love the audio coming out the same day as the book. Good plan, producers. Let's do more of that.

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman read by Joel Johnstone
I listened to this classic on cassette, baby. Old school. And by the 3rd side I realized that it was so so familiar. Because I did listen to it 2 years ago.

The stories about Maine trilogy:

1. The Canning Season by Polly Horvath read by Julie Dretzin
2. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt read by Joel Johnstone
3. Madapple by Christina Meldrum read by Kirsten Potter
If you're going to dare this book, which if it were in bound form I would have chucked against the wall several times so instead I yelled "Arggh!!" in my car like a lunatic, check out the audio. I wouldn't have pronounced the names correctly at all.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt read by Sam Freed

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz read by a full cast
Hello, audiobook perfection

Kit's Wilderness by David Almond read by Charles Keating
Wow, this book was nothing like I thought it was going to be.

So B. It by Sarah Weeks read by Cherry Jones

Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher read by Joel Johnstone and Debra Wiseman
Seeing that the book is a guy listening to a recording, worked really well as an audio. And Joel Johnstone is a great reader. If he's reading, I want to listen.

In this advanced day and age and all there are several ways to listen to books. I have not ventured MP3, downloadable or Playaways. I listen in my car on CD and sometimes on cassette if that's my only option.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Killer Pizza by Greg Taylor

Fourteen-year-old Toby gets his first summer job at "Killer Pizza" where all menu items go with the theme--for example, "Mummy Wraps," "The Monstrosity," and "Creature Double Feature." While he tells everyone he just wants to earn some extra cash, he really wants to become a famous chef and enjoys the chance to cook everyday. Then he finds out that "Killer Pizza" is just a cover for a secret organization that fights monsters and other creatures of the night. Now he must decide whether or not he wants to be a M.C.O. (Monster Combat Officer).
This book is full of adventure and somewhat campy monster craziness. I mean, what 14-year-old boy doesn't want to be an MCO? Heck, I want to be an MCO! And the end papers are great; it looks like the inside of a greasy pizza box.

I really liked the characters, although again as in many YA novels, the parents and other adults are barely there. Even the bad guys aren't very flushed out. But in this case, that kind of makes sense. It goes well with the B-movie, monster thriller vibe. Hey, and at least it's not vampires!

This is definitely a book that you want to talk up to your tween and younger teen boys. Not that some girls won't love it, too, but the boys are definitely the target audience. If they love R. L. Stine, Darren Shan, and all things monster, they will love this one.

Oh, and it's on the Lone Star List, too.

Reviewed from Library copy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.

And so begins Thomas’ journey in a metal elevator, stripped of his
memories, delivered to a place where boys are fighting for their survival.

I picked this one up because it is on the 2010 Lone Star List. A very big deal in our lovely state of Texas. It’s also made some best of 2009 lists (Kirkus for one). I can see why this book was chosen – fast paced, non-stop action, a mystery that keeps building upon itself little by little, terrifying odds, and teen boys who are incredibly resourceful and smart despite their shortcomings.

I enjoyed several things about this novel. I loved the way the author got around swearing by inventing new terminology. “ Klunk” and “Shuck” were satisfying alternatives and sounded believable. In fact, they even sounded rude and fun to say– exactly what curse words should sound like (because we all know there is nothing like a good swear to get a point across). I especially respected how the emotional life of the boys was portrayed. They were fearful and emotional; they cried quite a bit, and not just the wimpy ones that got killed off, all the boys were emotional. I was so impressed – we rarely get such a depiction – usually it is all macho tough-guy bullsh*t. So bravo for that!

However, I wouldn’t be Patti unless I had major issues with a book everyone else just loved to death. The book is very suspenseful, but I think it could have benefitted from some judicious editing. It was a bit repetitive, it tried too hard to ratchet up the anxiety level and so it sometimes felt manipulative and forced, and it did a lot of telling rather than showing. It clocks in at 374 pages and it could have easily told the same story just as effectively at 250 and been a tighter more effective piece of writing.

It isn’t until page 351 that they finally escape the Maze and come face to face with the “Creators.” That leaves 23 pages to explain what is outside of the maze and why they were put in it in the first place. Yes, this is the first in a series. Yes, I understand that it is meant to be a cliff-hanger. But after so many pages dedicated to lost memories and maze running, I thought the ending lacked the oomph it needed…like a good reason they are in the GD maze to begin with. No, I did not find the so-called “rationale” satisfying at all and found myself frustrated by the rushed ending.

I think there is much to commend this book, certainly many others have loved it. I do feel as though it will be popular with boys and even reluctant readers despite its size. I just can’t say that I loved it for myself. Which is too bad because I was fascinated by its premise.

Book Source: Publisher Review Copy

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Most Frightening Book of the Year

It could be, it really, really could.


(Thanks to Joanna for finding this atrocity)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

Beatrice has moved once again. This time to Baltimore where her father has started yet another professorship at yet another University. It sucks to be the new person all the time and Bea has pretty much figured out how to survive on her own. So much so, in fact, that her mother has dubbed her “Robot Girl” for her seeming lack of emotion. Then she meets Jonah, Ghost Boy, someone who’s also retreated from interacting with people altogether and they strike up a friendship. It will change everything.

There is much to like in How to Say Goodbye in Robot. I loved the quirkiness in the story, the late-night call in talk show, the strange regulars who believed in time-travel and Elvis and magic carpet rides. I loved the jaunt to Ocean City and the anti-prom. And I especially loved Bea’s mom who is obviously on the edge of a breakdown and is trying to save herself with chickens (for dinner, for curtains, for shirts, even for rear-view mirrors). And hello! The author included references to John Waters’ films, a must for any book set in Baltimore.

I was terribly wrong about the direction the book was heading. I was convinced that Jonah had completely made up his twin brother, that he was an evil manipulator that was going to hurt Bea. When this turned out to be not the case, I still couldn’t shake my distrust of him. I started disliking his and Bea’s friendship – it was uneven, he treated her poorly. Yes he was hurting, and on one level I understood this, but on the other I wanted to shake him (after an equally hard shaking for Bea of course).

I had such a hard time connecting to the characters. I think partly this may be that I’m just burnt out on reading and need to take a breakso that I can fully dedicate myself to watching the rest of Battlestar Galactica (I. Am. Obsessed.). Whatever the reason, I had to make myself finish. Many other people seemed to really love this title, so'd I'd recommend giving it a go if you think it sounds up your alley.

Book Source: Publisher Review Copy

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

We first met Lonnie in Locomotion, a novel in verse. Peace, Locomotion picks up close to where the previous left off, but instead of verse Lonnie is writing a series of letters to his sister. I’ve heard some grumblings about the epistolary nature of this book, but it didn't bother me at all. I sort of took it that for granted that Lonnie used the letters as an excuse to journal his feelings.

That’s what it really what this book felt like to me – a journal. Perhaps he would one day give the letters to his sister like he says is his intention, but it seems much more likely that this was his just his emotional outlet, his way in which to quietly explore his feelings. Because, let’s face it, Lonnie’s got a lot of things going on in his life.

He’s still figuring out his place within his foster family, which only gets harder when Miss Edna’s injured son comes home from Iraq. He’s got school issues, he misses his sister desperately, and he is still coming to terms with the death of his parents. Wilson is a powerful writer and she can write emotion like nobody’s business. I had tears come to my eyes repeatedly when reading this book. Occasionally Lonnie and his friend Clyde would sound a little too mature for their years, but overall Lonnie’s voice is believable.

It is really a book about how love is a powerful and unlimited resource.

Book Source: Library Copy

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

First thoughts here.

I loved this book just as much on the second read as I did on the first. Just wanted to get that out!

I won’t spend too much time recapping the plot synopsis, but what we’ve got here is a high fantasy set in a world that is not our own. 1000 years ago Magicians made some mighty big mistakes and in their greedy insane quest for more power they pretty much almost destroyed the world. They needed the Clanfolk to help clean up their mess. The Queen, fostered among the Clan to learn their ways now has complete power over her kingdom. The magicians are under her control. The Clan make and control the magical amulets that the wizards need. Basically it is a system with checks and balances. Until now, that is. Things are afoot and it doesn’t look like things are going to end well.

It is a fantasy told from two perspectives. We’ve got Han, a reformed thief, who is trying to make an honest living to support his family. He’s street smart, tough, and has a way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time drawing him into events he’d sooner avoid. He’s a bit of a stock character (he’s very much the loveable rogue type), but his character is so well developed I think he moves past that. He clearly struggles with the guilt from the consequences of his actions and this is part of what rounds him out.

We’ve got Raisa, the princess heir who is trying to be more than just another empty headed princess. She’s tougher than her small stature would indicate, independent, and willing to do what it takes to make her kingdom a better place for all its citizens. What I liked most about her was that we see her struggle against expectations and barriers to learn things. She’s got to fight for everything. She also makes more than her fair share of mistakes, but she manages to learn from them.

The secondary characters, while rich and varied, were not as well developed. It didn’t bother me. I think that Chima has endowed them with enough humanity, especially the villains (although perhaps not the main one - Mr. Big Bad Wizard I’m looking at you) to make the development of them in sequels possible. As they become more important to the storyline I have every belief that they will become more developed.

It is a suspenseful plot driven book. I loved it even on my second reading. I can’t wait for the next one in the series.

Book Source: ARC provided by publisher

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I finished this book quite a while ago, but I kind of had to mull it over. After such a build up (I saw the illustrations in April), I think my expectations might have been out of whack. It's not that I didn't like it, more like it wasn't what I was expecting and without the sequels, I'm not completely sure how much I like it. Anyway, here's more of a review.

In an alternate history of WWI, the world is divided into Darwinists, who use gene manipulation to create animals to help with everyday tasks, and Clankers, who use machines for the same purpose. England, the US, Russia and most of Western Europe are Darwinists, while Germany, the Middle East and most of Eastern Europe are Clankers. At the start of the book, we meet Alek, the son of Duke Ferdinand of Austria, the famous duke whose assassination was the catalyst that led to WWI. In Leviathan this assassination was perpetrated not by Serbians but by Ferdinand's own family and people, in order to cause the war. So Alek must flee Austria with four of his father's most trusted men and hope to return in the future.

Meanwhile in London, Deryn (known as Dylan) has disguised herself as a boy and entered the Air Service to feed her love of flying. Through a series of strange circumstances, she finds herself aboard the Leviathan, England's greatest airship (and a modified whale). Soon Alek and Deryn meet and their fates intertwine.

I really liked Deryn and Alek, as well as some of the side characters, especially the Count and Dr. Barlow. It was so cool that there was a thylacine (tasmanian tiger) in the book; I want my own sniffer dog, too! Even the walkers and warships were pretty fascinating.

I liked the illustrations, but had two problems with them. First, while the map on the endpages was great and beautiful, I would have appreciated if one of them was more realistic than stylized, as it made following the action kind of difficult. Also, in all of the illustrations, both Deryn and Alek seemed much younger than 15, maybe closer to 12. That was a bit misleading....

While I really enjoyed the word-building of the story and I always love a gender-bender, this novel felt more like a set-up for future installments. So, maybe I'll wait to decide whether I liked it or not.

Reviewed from friend's copy. Thanks, Michelle!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are
Directed by Spike Jonez
Written by Spike Jonez, Dave Eggers, and Maurice Sendak

I finally saw this movie. I loved it.

I loved how Max’s family’s troubles are mirrored in the Wild Things. I loved that Max was thoughtful & loving and aggressively reckless. Aren’t kids like that at some point? Max could deal out the pain (encouraging and enjoying the torturing of Alexander during dirt clod war) and suffer from it. That’s his journey. The inclusion of the globe from his dad with the inscription “To Max Owner of This World” was a great theme.

Max looked for his place in his family and found it waiting… at home… where it was still hot.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Create Your Own Picture Book Cover

100 Scope Notes is celebrating book covers this week. He's done the YA book covers and now he's doing picture books.

Here's mine. Kinda cool, if I do say so myself! Click here to see the original picture.

Here's what you have to do to make your own:

1 – Go to “The Name Generator” or click

Click GENERATE NEW NAME. The name that appears is your author name.

2 – Go to “Picture Book Title Generator” or click

Click CREATE TITLE! This is the title of your picture book.

3 – Go to “FlickrCC” or click

Type the last word from your title into the search box followed by the word “drawing”. Click FIND. The first suitable image is your cover.

4 – Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Gettin’ creative is encouraged.

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

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

Lips Touch: Three Times
Laini Taylor; illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009

Among the surprises in the Young People’s category at the nominations for the National Book Award was Lips Touch by Laini Taylor. While what makes the NBA lists is generally a surprising mix of books, at least the other books on the list were ones I had read about previously. Additionally surprising, this is a collection of 3 stories, not a single novel. I had not read Laini Taylor’s Blackbringer, but I had heard great things about this fantasy writer. I was very intrigued.

Lips Touch, as you might guess, is a rather sexy collection of stories. Kudos to the NBA committee for that. The book jacket of my ARC copy says “three stories about the deliciousness of wanting and waiting”. There’s truth in that advertising. Deliciousness is a very appropriate choice of words. These stories are rich. The sad thing with the ARC is the lack of (Mr. Laini Taylor) Jim De Bartolo’s illustrations. It did contain several pages of illustration for the first story, but none for the rest.

The first story is the shortest at about 40 pages. The next is about 20 pages longer and the last encompasses about ½ the book. Preceding each story is a 1 page teaser. It’s the author, a storyteller, talking to us, setting the stage. I thought it a great addition.

After a little bit of thought, the first story “Goblin Fruit” stands out as my favorite. It is short, the teen girl dialogue is razor sharp (and hilarious) and the ending extremely satisfying if also a little shocking. After that, I knew these were going to be my kind of stories.

“Spicy Little Curses Such as These” (fantastic title) sets itself in India. I went out for Indian food this weekend, not exactly by coincidence. The story contains a character referred to as the Old Bitch who is the Ambassador to Hell. Add that to the list of things that make me like this book. While I enjoyed this story very much, I found it not as lasting on my mind as the first and third.

“Hatchling” is an epic of a story. The author flips chapters between different stories until they finally intersect. There are shape-shifters (mostly person-wolf so add this to your fangs vs. fur booklist), horrific monsters, demons, eye-plucking, a Queen who keeps little girls as pets, a mysterious benefactor, a mother with secrets, and the 14 year old girl who links it all together. This could have been a novel, but I am glad she pared down to the essentials to keep it a story.

The second and especially the third stories are about children. I can’t help but wonder at the influence of the birth of the author’s own child in the creation of these stories. The 3rd story pulled exceptionally strong at my own experiences as a mother. When I first started reading “Hatchling”, I did think about how teens might connect with such a strongly maternal story. In the end, though, it is such a strong fantasy story about love (loving, being loved) that I feel that’s more my personal projection on to the reading.

A highly recommended collection for short story & fantasy readers. And, because it is so sensual, give it to your romance readers.

Check out the Laini’s blog. If you like babies, it’s full-o-baby cuteness!

Source: ARC sent by publisher to a coworker

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

I have read Liar three times. Three times! I really want to know the truth of the story. I can’t help it. It is the same reason I love mysteries – I just like to know how they end (and I love to see how I was deceived along the way). So after three reads, I can’t actually say that I for-sure-absolutely-without-a-doubt know what happened, but I can say this is an amazingly well-written book. It holds up on each re-read because of the insane quality of the writing. It is a masterfully interwoven story with hints dropped, truths uncovered and then quickly covered back up, the truth is in there it is just hard to find. Frankly, I am wowed by it.

And now...let the SPOILERS begin.

I am definitely in the camp that Micah is in jail and is recounting her tale to a psychiatrist/therapist. She is an affirmed liar and gets great enjoyment out of lying. Everything she mentions in her “school history” sections (or perhaps more accurately, what little she mentions) shows the school as a jail/psychiatric unit. There are bars on the windows, it was built by the Quakers, it used to be a prison…I feel like It is probably a long-term psychiatric center.

I waffle back and forth on whether or not her brother Jordan was real. Today I’m leaning towards the he was real side, only because the vehemence with which she discussed him seemed too real to be completely invented. I find it hard to truly decide – she says at first he was born when she was 7, then he was born when she was 2. He is alive (and stealing Zach’s sweaters out of her room), he died when she was 12. Micah sneers at the idea that she was resentful of her brother, but it seems to me as though this is the case. I think she thought she could “accidentally” bump him off and all her parent’s attention would revert to her. How disappointing that they still celebrated his birthdays – how awful that she had to pretend not to be glad he was dead. I think this sustains her anger. Their attention should be solely on her.

As for Zach, I believe she was his “after-hours” girlfriend. I don’t think Zach was a good guy. He had an official girlfriend and he had girls on the side. Micah was one of his girls on the side. The feeling I got was that she was sort of obsessed with him. She wanted him, but more importantly she wanted him to want her more. Perhaps she killed him in a jealous rage after discovering him in his hidey-hole love spot in Inwood Park with another girl, but it is also likely is that he rejected her – broke it off with her, or wouldn’t break it off with the other girls. I do believe she killed him. I found it interesting that it is almost to the end of the book (p. 370 arc) where she finally says that she was harassed by lawyers and that there was a trial. The fact that she only mentions it once makes me believe the trial is a "true" thing.

I think it was possible Micah was born with a light covering of fur. Because babies sometimes are – especially if they are premature. It is called Lanugo. My own son had furry ears for a month or so. Or maybe her family suffers from hirsutism, which is a real condition where women suffer from excessive growth of facial and body hair. It can be treated, in part, with birth control pills.

Honestly though, I find it most likely that she made up the whole thing. Did she really have a survivalist Grandmother living in upstate New York? I don’t know. All I know is that I think she made up the entire werewolf thing. I think it made for a great story, one that distracted from the truth – that she killed Zach. Or if not distracting from killing Zach, explaining it away, attempting to reason why it happened, why it isn't actually her fault. Here’s the thing that convinced me the most. In Zach’s training journal Micah finds “punishing inconstant heart” written in someone else’s handwriting (p. 72 arc) – she never says it wasn’t her own although she leads you to think that with comments about how she could compare it to Sarah’s writing. Then much later (p 320 arc) she says “he didn’t miss me the way I missed him. He didn’t love me the way I loved him. There was nothing constant about his heart. Not like mine.” The use of the same word, the anger, that is what finally convinced me

Or maybe I’m completely wrong! I kind of want to hold the author hostage and make her tell me exactly what happened. Hmmm…is she coming to TLA?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder: My Life on the Dork Side by Julie Halpern

Jessie is having some problems. The school year is about to start and her two best friends have decided to go punk. This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t involve using Jessie to glom onto her older brother’s group of friends…And in particular, Van, Jessie’s long-term crush.

Jessie’s voice occasionally sounds a little young (she’s in grade 10), especially with some of the subject matter dealt with in the book, but overall I really liked her. She’s the younger, not as cool sibling (her brother is so effortlessly cool he is punk and yet not a school outcast), she is quirky – she makes her own skirts out of novelty fabric to match every occasion, and she is a little unsure of herself. She listens to audio books as she sews (which was some great YA like Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snoggings or Life as We Knew it) and is really into school. She’s always been the quieter, not in the spotlight, person in her trio of friends. Which, I think, is why it doubly hurts when her friends start pursuing her crush.

A lot of Jessie’s soul searching has to do with where she fits in. She knows she’s not part of the popular crowd, she’s not a punk like her brother, but neither does she consider herself a full-on nerd. So when she starts looking for new friends it is a little bit discomfiting to her that she’s drawn to some of the “nerdiest” people at school. Luckily for her (and the reader) looks can be deceiving. Jessie meets some really great people who aren’t at all like she thought they would be.

The cover is going to draw in a lot of girls and you’ll notice what at first glance might seem like diamonds are actually, upon closer inspection, Dungeon and Dragon dice. I thought the cover represented the book very well, there is some renaissance looking dress on the cover, the D&D die, and a cute home-made skirt on the back cover. A really sweet book.

Book Source: Tayshas Review Copy

Monday, November 2, 2009

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

A long time ago, in the spring before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere.

This dream propels Finnikin to pledge to be Lumatere’s protector. Although not fully understood until much later, this pledge would change the course of his life. Short months after his pledge, in Finnikin’s ninth year, the unthinkable happens. His country is invaded and brutalized, an Imposter King takes the throne and his country is cursed as a women burns to death at the stake, on display for all to see. Lumatere is shut off from the world by an impenetrable fog and those lucky enough to escape spend the next ten years in refugee camp rife with fever and violence. The people of Lumatere find it impossible to fully settle in new lands and unable to forget their homeland.

Enter Finnikin, under the care of the King’s First Man, on a never-ending journey to attempt to secure a new homeland for the exiles. On the power of another dream they visit the cloister of a Goddess in hopes that the Lumatere heir survived and is in hiding. It is Evanjalin, a novice who walks the sleep of the exiles, but perhaps more importantly, she walks the sleep of those still inside Lumatere.

I loved this book. I must admit I found it a bit hard to get into at first. And I think my two paragraph summary speaks to that point. There is a lot going on in this book, a lot for readers to wrap their heads around (and the names of those cities and countries…ugh). I think there is almost too much explaining at the beginning about this world where Lumatere is located, it is a bit bogged down. (However, even though I am an avid fantasy lover, this does tend to be something of a personal problem - as in I dislike weird names and lots of setting up - I just want to get to the story people! So I do think for others this may not be an issue.) There is also some weird jumping from characters perspectives – the book is third person, but for most of the book Finnikin is clearly the focus, then oddly, for a couple of chapters near the end it jumps to two other characters, then back to Finnikin. It jarred.

So I could see some readers putting this one down, which would be a shame because these are some kinda characters. They are fierce, brave, human in ways that will break your heart and make you want to sing their praises. The dialogue is outstanding – it is some of the best dialogue I have ever read. Hands down. And that is saying a lot, but I absolutely mean it – I met some of my favorite characters ever in this book: Finnikin, Evanjalin (especially her, my god), Perri the Savage, and on and on. These were fully fleshed characters, even the ones we meet briefly.

My only other comment is that it is a darkly realistic book. What one imagines would happen when a country is invaded does. There is bloodshed, there is torture, there is rape. Marchetta doesn’t dance around these issues – they are in there, they are prominent, and I think they make the book stronger because of it. This is a fantasy, there is prophecy and magic, but it is a fantasy that is extremely rooted in both the basest and greatest parts of human nature.

The Australian edition of this book won the Aurealis Award in 2008 for the Best Young Adult Novel category. Well deserved.

A final note on the cover. It is beautiful, but more than a whif of King Arthur don't you think?

Book Source: ARC provided by publisher

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

I should preface this review with the fact that I’ve never read any Richard Peck before. None. Not a single book. This is the first time I’ve encountered the formidable Mrs. Dowdel who has, apparently, completely won the adoration of every other librarian on the face of the planet. It must be said that after finishing this book, she won me over too. Even if I didn’t feel as though I got a complete picture of her (and that I was missing some sort of inside joke).

It was a road trip down memory lane for Bob, whose name, I continually forgot until someone/somehow/someway it was brought it up again in the text. I didn’t find any of the characters to be very well developed, but Bob was downright forgettable. He was like a shadow – I’d catch a glimpse of him every now and then and then *poof* off into the ether he’d go and I’d get wrapped up in the goings on of everyone else.

This makes it sound as though I didn’t enjoy the book, which isn’t true. I did enjoy this book, Peck’s language is wonderful, his phrases are delightful, and the story was cute. I just thought there was a whole lot of back story I was missing. Mrs. Dowdel was very humorous, very engaging, but not terribly well developed. We know she doesn’t neighbor, until of course she does, she’s got a shotgun at the ready, and is basically a loveable curmudgeon with a hottie for a grandson. But what about Bob? What about him people? I don’t even know what he looks like and yet he’s just finished telling me a 164 page story. I know he’s 12, not particularly brave, and that he fades into the background .

It read exactly like a humorous story your grandpappy would tell you about his years growing up in small town America. Which is great, it makes you laugh, you reminisce, but there isn’t any real meat to the story. He’s edited it out into comical anecdotes that are child friendly. And I do think children will appreciate this story. There is plenty of physical humor here to keep the story going.

Book Source: Library Copy

Monday, October 26, 2009

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President by Josh Lieb.

Oliver hides behind a façade of stupidity. Outwardly, he seems like a dullard, but in reality he’s an evil genius, the third richest person in the world, who happens to be running an international evil empire – from the secret cavern he built beneath his home (where he dons a purple silk cape – the color of royalty people!). As Oliver would say, cover is everything.

You’ve probably heard about this one – the title alone made it something people took notice of at least a year before its publication. And the author isn’t so shabby either – an Emmy winning member of the Daily Show crew who has also worked on the Simpsons. Humor, it seems, is in his blood.

There were several highlights for me. I loved Tatiana, a fellow student that is almost as evil as Oliver himself, she’s certainly a worthy nemesis (even though she wasn’t a fellow evil genius as I was hoping – perhaps in a sequel we'll find out she's the richest person in the world and also eeevvviillll?). I absolutely loved how Oliver commandeered the development of an inter-teacher romance by printing secret messages on a teacher’s cigarettes (and all for the belief that assisting such a romance would actually ruin his teacher’s life – which is perverse and funny all in one). And the scene between Liz Twombley and the Motivator was laugh-out-loud funny.

Fuse #8 called it the “ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy of any child more intelligent than their cruel classmates.” And it certainly is that. But at the same time, the ugliness of Oliver’s viewpoint wore me down, what was sarcastic and amusing in the beginning started to just sound sort of bitter by the end. His “evilness” began to seem like a shell he had constructed to protect himself, to build up a legend around himself - to the point where I really wasn’t sure if he was an evil genius or just a sad, lonely kid who had made up this entire crazy story. Honestly, at times it felt like a bit like it was an Onion article that went on too long.

I also had some problems with Oliver’s characterization, mainly because he often would speak as though he was severely developmentally challenged – not as though he were merely stupid. And to me that changed how people would have perceived him.

Probably though, my biggest problem is that I just didn’t like Oliver much. I didn’t particularly want him to win the election. Not because I was horrified by his methods, but just because I didn’t care enough one way or the other. I didn’t find him sympathetic enough to be a true underdog or truly wicked enough to be an anti-hero – either of which I could have rooted for. I loved Catherine Jink’s Evil Genius, I loved Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series, Stephen Cole’s Thieves Like Us, and I would die for E. Lockhart’s Disreputable History, so I think I’m predisposed to love these mastermind types of books, but this one… this one I just liked.

That being said, I think this one is going to be super popular. I know I’m going to make sure there are plenty of copies on hand for the kids who will be drawn to the title and cover, as well as the adults who will be drawn in by the author’s credentials.

Book Source: Tayshas Preview Copy

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

A preposterous fortune creates a sequence of unlikely events which culminate in a happy ever after. A fairy tale like story of the transformative power of love and hope and forgiveness.

I must admit, I was not as impressed as others (and by others I mean every blog review I’ve read sans one) were on the first read-through. I liked it overall, but felt a little dissatisfied, a little let down (hype is hard to live up to after all), but upon picking it up and reading it straight through a second time I began to see things that I hadn’t before. The deceptively simple narrative structure, the rhythm of the story, and possible allusions to historical events began to pop out at me. No longer was this simply a story of hope and love and magic, but a story where deeper truths are hidden just below the surface.

And this is where I have a confession. I need this story to be more than a fairy tale taken at face value. If I'm to take it as a story of a boy caught up in a magical story - this story doesn't quite work for me. Yes the language is beautiful, yes the atmosphere is so real I felt cold reading it, yes I agree that this is a spectacularly written book. And yet. And yet, I need for there to be a deeper meaning. For me to be swept away in the adoration of this book I need it to be a fable a la Animal Farm.

On my second reading I started seeing these deeper meanings. I wrote up a whole bunch of notes with quotes that I thought backed up my point. What first got me thinking was how this really felt like a piece of Jewish literature, the way in which the characters speak, the darkness, the dark humor, the terrible beauty of it all. The setting – doesn’t this feel like Poland or the Ukraine? Why did the author choose an elephant - did she choose it deliberately as a reference to the "elephant in the room?" What if this was really a commentary on the holocaust? And then I shared my thoughts with a couple of colleagues and realized I had lost my ever loving mind.

I can see why people love this book. I am even half in love with it. Ultimately though, It won't get my vote in our Mock Newbery because I think it's a story about a boy and magic and an elephant that needs to go home and that's just not enough for me.

Book Source: Library Copy

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan

Illustrator Matt Phelan breaks into the graphic novel world with this very nice historical fiction for middle-grade readers. While The Storm in the Barn also contains the supernatural element of the King of Storms, the portrayal of Dust Bowl life makes this an excellent addition to that era's nonfiction literature. An author's note at the end of the book provides information on the his inspiration of WPA photography* and an American Experience documentary called "Surviving the Dust Bowl".

The book appears to be long (102 pages) but it reads quickly. My 6 year old read through it this morning and offered this bare-bones summary: "This bad guy is the rain and this boy wants it to rain. So he battles the rain and he makes the thunder and it rains."

So there's that, but there's much more. There's the story of neighbor's abandoning their land and the itchy feeling of uselessness and restlessness among those staying behind. The story of a sister with dust pneumonia and a boy they think has dust dementia. There's superstition and the vicious extermination of an overpopulation of jack rabbits. There is a great use of story within the story - sister Dorothy's parallel reading of the Wizard of Oz books and the Jack tall tales.

The illustrations, done in pencil, ink, and watercolor are appropriately muted. When color is necessary it pops off the page to good effect. I am a fan of Phelan's style and think his illustrations of people, especially children, are some of the best out there. He achieves great movement and expression with minimal lines.

*I recommend Elizabeth Partridge's Restless spirit : the life and work of Dorothea Lange for more info on WPA photography. One of my favorites and the author personally knew Dorthea Lang. (and while you're at it, read the Woodie Guthrie one, too.) Next on my reading list is her new book. Stay tuned for that review.

Candlewick 2009
library copy

Sunday, October 18, 2009

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

First Impressions.

Second Impressions follow and discussion will include ***spoilers***.

I think that I enjoyed this book even more the second time I read it. The foreshadowing was clearer to me (insert big gasps of surprise, you know, because I, like, knew what to look for having already read the book *pats self on the back*).

The author planted the answers to the laughing man’s identity, how time travel worked, how the characters were so intimately related without the reader being aware of it. It was masterful. Particularly the laughing man calling Miranda “smart kid.” Or how the laughing man turns and runs every time he encounters Marcus. The significance of these things went completely unnoticed by me on the first read. I think because I was so completely under the influence of the growing suspense. On the second read they really came together and I was able to simultaneously get caught up in the story while appreciating the complexity of the writing.

And boy was it was complex. The author weaves several plot lines together, mixes in memories, current events, a mystery, and so on to the point where I think that this could have ended up a confusing mish-mash of what’s the point? or where’s this going? The fact that it does not - the fact that it doesn’t even remotely reach that point - is a sign of superb writing. Stead clearly knew where her story was going and was in control of how to get there. Truthfully, I am somewhat in awe that the author was able to tell such an intricate interwoven tale and keep it so accessible. This one is going to work well for a variety of readers.

I loved Miranda’s voice – I found her compelling, funny, her observations were insightful and seemed believable coming from a 12 year old. I alternately ached for her and was amazed by her and was at all times thinking she was a wonderful, bright, engaging character. There really wasn’t a character I didn’t fall in love with, with the sole exception of Jimmy whose yellow sweat stained shirts and racist attitude did not endear him to me. Regardless, I found the characters well-rounded, interesting, varied, and I connected to them.

I thought the author connected all the dots at the end of the story in a way that respected the reader by not delving into condescending over-explanations.

I would be remiss in not mentioning that I’m indebted to Nina from SLJ'’s Heavy Medal blog. In her discussion she highlighted things that really stuck in my mind as I read the book again. The discussion of the veil popped out at me more, I was better able to understand the time is a “diamond ring” analogy, and I found the overall explanation of time travel satisfactory.

Book Source: Library Copy

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

From the moment I opened the book, I knew this was going to be an unusual experience. The end papers are filled with a strange and interesting mish-mash of doodles, we next get a painting of a woman rowing a boat down a street with a cloud raining on her flower-pots, and then we get to the table of contents, which plainly put, is spectacular. Tan has designed it to look like an envelope, with the publisher in the ‘from’ area and his dedication in the ‘to’ area and the chapters each represented as a separate stamp – the page number is shown as the stamp cost. It is lovely and I love the symbolism that this book (and each individual chapter) will take you somewhere new.

The stories range in length from a page to several, from feeling like an anecdote to feeling like a fairytale, from having the art being an integral part of the storytelling to having a text that could stand independently from the art.

After having read this book twice I am still not sure what to make of all of it – other than I know I loved it and I know it was something extremely special. What exactly do these stories mean (I loved the Horn Book review where the reviewer said, “Tan follows his wordless epic The Arrival with a collection of -- stories? fables? dreams?”) because that is exactly what the reader is asking during the experience – what exactly is this???

I can only say that after two reads I sort of felt like Tan took the sterile and conformist setting of suburbia (little boxes made of ticky tacky anyone?) and infused it with a mythology, a history, a fairytale feeling of magic that one has in childhood regardless of where they are raised.

I have several favorite stories. I loved the one of Eric a foreign exchange student that is foreign in more ways that one…as in he’s an alien being. I enjoyed how the pictures were integral to the story – Eric, being a visitor, naturally has many questions about the function of things – but Tan chooses to draw these questions instead of verbalize them. It is very effective. I enjoyed Distant Rain, a story in which the format used (collage) captures the essence of the story. It is a story that describes how random scraps of words from discarded poems growing into a giant ball until it bursts forth upon the town spewing poetry on everything. I was seriously freaked out by Stick Figures, which I found eerie, weird, and downright disturbing.

If you would like to know more background on each story, I strongly suggest you visit Shaun Tan’s own website. There he goes over each story and explains his art techniques and also give a bit of an explanation of each story, how it originated, what may have influenced him, and sometimes when we’re lucky a bit of what the story is actually about.

I really want to see this title on the real Printz list.

Book Source: Library Copy

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Jarrett J. Krosoczka's picture book Punk Farm is a staple in my library storytimes. I'm game for belting out "Old Mac Donald Had a Farm" in my best rock star voice as well as demonstrating a little air guitar. Fun book.

Being a fan, I was thrilled when I learned that Krosoczka was working on graphic novels for younger readers. There is such a need for younger reader graphic novels-ones with larger type and simple text. Think beginner reader books. My 6 year old loves comics & I'm always looking for ones he can read to himself. Parents and teachers visiting the library have also asked me for ideas. I can't wait to recommend this one - and it's a series! Hooray!

I had lunch with my 6 year old at his school last week. He brings his lunch, but I had the day's special: grilled cheese and vegetable soup. My favorite part: chocolate milk, natch. Mmm. Anyway, next time I go back I won't be able to stop from thinking about Lunch Lady.

Our nameless Lunch Lady is a crime-stopper extraordinaire. When she's not serving up breakfast French toast sticks or lunchtime pizza (with gravy!), she's serving up... justice! ("Lunch Lady: Serving Justice & Serving Lunch") Batman has Alfred, Lunch Lady has Betty. Betty cooks up spatula copters, hairnet nets, and other gadgets that will make your elementary schooler giggle. Krosoczka also plops in as many food references as he can, inventing new ones as well. When faced with an army of cyborgs, Lunch Lady exclaims, "Cauliflower!" Love it. In addition to Lunch Lady's escapades, we also have a side story involving the Breakfast Bunch (Hector, Dee, Terrance) dealing with a school bully. That storyline was a nice surprise and very, very well handled.

Krosoczka uses thick black lines, shaded in greys with highlights of yellow. Kind of like a yellow Babymouse. (Psst. It would make a fun display to have these 2 next to each other.) It works.

Already out! Vol 2: Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians

More fun plus Evil Librarians. Bring it.

Coming December 2009 - Vol 3: Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta [an homage to Pinkwater's Flippy Bunny in his book Author's Day?]

Coming this spring! - Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shake Down

Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, 2009
source: library copy

Monday, October 12, 2009

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

First Impressions of Written in Bone.

This second review comes after a much needed dentist visit which was a direct result of reading this book. Call it inspiration, if you will, to avoid a colonial style death.

Basically, everything from the first review stands. I still enjoyed this book immensely even on the second read. I was still extremely impressed with the overall quality of this book and very happy with the variety of stories and the depth of investigation into the lives of Colonial people.

What struck me more on the second reading (and truly I probably picked up on this issue because I’ve been reading SLJ’s Heavy Medal blog entries on A Season of Gifts) was that in the Walker did not include Native Americans in her exploration of Colonial bodies. The forward contains an explanation that they were not included because of respect for Native American customs and that it wasn’t an attempt to erase them from history. I found it to be a reasonable and respectful explanation.

I can’t help but compare the writing style to Almost Astronauts, simply because the tone was so different in both books. One senses that Walker is intrigued and obviously enthused for her subject, but there is none of the editorializing that was so prevalent in Almost Astronauts. It was much more of an expositional nature, the reader understands that Walker isn’t invested in a particular outcome or judgment, but is simply wanting to explore a subject to its furthest conclusion. Forensic Anthropology offers many insights, but Walker is quick to point out that it is not unfailing. There are many variables at play and the only conclusions Walker makes seem to be ones where she feels the evidence is conclusive enough to stand behind.

I loved the layout of this book – it was fabulous. From the font, to the colors, to the pictures/graphics to the captions, it was top notch. The writing was exciting and easy to understand. This is definitely one of my favorites of the year.

Book Source: Tayshas Review Copy

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

Finished this Mock Newbery title in two hours. I love Richard Peck books!
Twenty years after the events in A Year Down Yonder we return to Piatt County and Grandma Dowdel. This time Bobby Barnhart tells the tale of his family's move next door to Mrs. Dowdel and the season they spend as her neighbors. It may be 1958 but not much has changed in this small "hick" town.

Mrs. Dowdel is up to her old tricks, getting people to do what she wants and helping others, while maintaining her grumpy, rough facade. And she has a shadow in Bobby's little sister, Ruth Ann, who spends all her time next door helping out. It is interesting to read about Mrs. Dowdel and the town from the point of view of a complete outsider, since Bobby is not even related to Mrs. Dowdel or any other member of town, but is the son of the new Methodist preacher.

I loved the hijinks and the warm moments, but I think I still like A Year Down Yonder best. I did like how the story tied back to its predecessors and Mrs. Dowdel's family at the end, though. I especially liked how things turned out with the Burdicks, the town's good-for-nothing family. It was nice to revisit this place and these people. Also, I feel that this is probably the conclusion and a nice one it is, too, with lessons about giving that shine through.

In a lot of ways, the Dowdel stories remind me of my childhood and my home. These characters, while they seem somewhat caricatured, are pretty close to people I know. And there values and beliefs ring very true. I am so glad that Peck wrote these stories and look forward to whatever else he decides to write in the future.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

Almost Astronauts is about 13 women who in the 1960s underwent the same tests that the Mercury astronauts did, but because they were women they were denied entry into NASA’s space program. It is about the women who were pioneers in the movement to get women into space.

What I appreciated most about Stone’s book is that she has a wealth of evidence to back up her argument – that sexism and sexist societal norms prevented qualified women from entering space. I valued the obvious depth of research because Stone isn’t writing in the usual detached non-fiction one usually picks up. Instead, this is an impassioned book where the author’s voice often intrudes into the narrative. When discussing an article which portrayed the ‘ideal’ female astronaut as married with a masculine body type, Stone asks “would anyone ever suggest that a male astronaut ought to be a married man with little sex appeal?” Stone also often answers her questions, in this case with a “No. He would not.”

I can see how this obvious belief in her viewpoint might grate, I can see others questioning her impartiality in building her case (did she only gather information that supported her viewpoint, many may ask). To this I can only say - have you taken a look at her sources listed in the back of the book? Impressive to say the least, the evidence in this case certainly seems to back up her position.

Her passion for her subject made this an extremely compelling read. It was truly fascinating and the pictures that were included were excellent and always complemented the text. Not to mention that there was a nice variety ranging from vintage military posters to photos of the women undergoing testing, to magazine articles, to other primary documents such as Lyndon B. Johnson’s opinion on a female space program (oy!).

I thought Stone clearly took this particular story and placed it into a greater societal context. She showed how these women’s experiences did not occur in a vacuum, how they fit into the women’s movement as a whole, and what came after.

I enjoyed this book very much and found it to be a well-written and persuasive piece of non-fiction.


Book Source: Tayshas Review Copy - ARC

Monday, October 5, 2009

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg

First Impressions.

I found this to be just as moving on my second read-through. My heart was in my throat the entire time. For such a slim book it packs a strong emotional punch and I think the decision to write this book in verse was a good one. One often wonders (or should I say I often wonder) why an author chooses to write their book in verse instead of prose. In this case, I think it is to whittle the story down to its emotional core, to make the writing as spare as possible, so that Matt’s voice – his quiet inner voice – is heard. I’ve seen it referred to as haunting in other reviews. I have to say, I couldn’t agree more. It is haunting, lyrical, simply put it is beautiful.

He never saw my face.
But she was already swelled
with love for him when he left,
taking with him
his blue-eyed promise
that it would not end there,
with the smell of burnt flesh
and the sound of crying children.

I will come back,
you said,
and she believed you.

Whether he is speaking of the father he’s never met, or of the family he left behind, or of the baseball game he is playing – Matt’s voice is strong despite the pain he feels. It is his voice that makes such a connection with the reader.

Matt is two years into his new life as an American and he is struggling. Struggling to come to terms with an entire life lived in a warzone, to come to terms with what happened in his old life, while at the same time figuring out where he fits in his new family.

He suffers from nightmares, from feeling unloved and abandoned by his birthmother, from feeling scared that his new family doesn’t want him anymore. His story neatly parallels those of the Vietnam Veterans who came back to a world where things were not as they expected. Burg does a fantastic job making this not only Matt’s story of healing, but also the healing of the wider U.S. population. After all, there were few families that were not affected by the Vietnam War.

The war changed
all of us, Matt.
Whether we went,
or whether we stayed,
the war changed us all.

If I have one hesitation about this book, it would be that Matt’s adoptive parents are so wonderful. They are amazingly understanding, they work tirelessly for him, helping him to come to terms with his life, finding outlets for his expression – baseball, piano – and finally a veterans group that a family friend (also his piano teacher) invites him to attend. Personally, I have no problem with how they were portrayed, but I feel as though some might feel that they were too empathetic, too perfect. I was just grateful that they were there to accompany Matt on his journey of healing and his discovery of a life worth living.

I think this one has a good chance of being an Honor book on either/both the Newbery or Printz lists.

Book Source: Library Copy