Friday, February 27, 2009

Those Cybils guys know what they're talking about...

I'm working this weekend, so today was my day off and I've spent it catching up on ER (Dr. Carter!!!) and reading The London Eye Mystery and Wake.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd was the 2008 Cybils winner for middle grade fiction. Ted's cousin Salim comes to visit in London and disappears after getting on the London Eye. He goes up... but he never comes back down. While the adults are frantically calling the police and freaking out, Ted and his older sister Kat set out to find Salim. I really liked Ted as a narrator. He's on the autism spectrum, which he relates to his brain running on a different operating system than most people's. It's this very difference that helps Ted figure out what's happened to Salim.

One thing that sometimes bugs me about mysteries for kids is that there's no reason why they can't just tell an adult and get things taken care of. Instead, the kids try to solve it on their own, making it needlessly complicated. I don't have the patience for that. So one of the things I loved about this book is that Ted and Kat really try to get the adults to listen to their theories. The adults are so freaked out, though, that they don't spare the time to listen to Ted's theories and questions. He's so frank about things that he's often shushed so as not to cause Aunt Gloria more grief. It was totally believable to me that Ted and Kat would and could set out on their own to solve things.

Also, there were tons of London-y details and English slang. I don't necessarily consider myself an Anglophile, but that was really neat.

So, I finished The London Eye Mystery this morning and this afternoon I picked up Wake by Lisa McMann. Honestly, I didn't think I was going to like it (I generally find dream sequences pretty annoying), but it's gotten so much buzz that I thought I should try it.

Oh my gosh, you guys. I could not put it down. I don't typically finish books in one sitting, but I honestly never wanted to put it down. I can totally see why it was on the Cybils shortlist in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi category.

Since she was eight years old, Janie's been pulled into other people's dreams. She learned pretty early on that sleepovers were not for her. She dreads having study hall right after lunch. Without warning, she might be plunged into someone's dream where she has to watch what unfolds. She's paralyzed until the dreamer wakes and the dream stops. Nightmares. Sex dreams. She thinks she's seen it all. But when she witnesses an extra-horrific nightmare, she decides she's had enough. Something has to change... but how?

I love, love, loved the romance in the book and it felt really realistic (well, except for the dream-catching thing, obvs). The story unfolds in fits and starts and the format felt very dreamlike (which I didn't think I would like, but it's actually really appropriate).

Y'all know how I feel about sequels and series (as a rule, I don't like them, although recent evidence [Envy, Starclimber] would suggest otherwise). So it says a lot that before Wake was even over, I was already looking forward to Fade.

So, that's how I've spent my day off. It's been quite pleasant. :)

I've got several posts planned for next week (if I can stop reading awesome Cybils finalists long enough to write them), including a Day in the Life and a post about an author visit I attended this week. So stay tuned. And enjoy your weekend. :)

Mini-Review: The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. (Grades 5-8.)

This is more of a plot summary than a review, but here's what I wrote after reading this in July '07:

"The year is 1967. Holling Hoodhood is stuck having Wednesday afternoons alone with a teacher who hates his guts. At first, she sticks to assigning him manual labor - he pounds erasers, cleans out the rat cage, cleans the classroom... But then she thinks of a more appropriate torture: Shakespeare.

Set with a background of the Vietnam War and the political climate of the late 60s, this story explores religion, politics, finding oneself, and coming of age. Holling's older sister has decided to be a flower child, much to the chagrin of their father. The girl that Holling has a crush on is the daughter of his father's fiercest business competitor. Holling's teacher, Mrs. Baker, has a husband fighting overseas in Vietnam. There is a lot of strife going on here. But through it all, Holling starts to figure out how to figure out exactly who he is, even if it's not who everyone else wants him to be. "

I remember that it took me a long time to figure out that this was historical fiction. And to be honest it wasn't one of my favorite reads (but it won a Newbery honor, so that shows how much I know...).

I think I may be alone in my "meh-ness", so be sure and check out many better-written reviews by people who loved the book like Sarah, Betsy, Becky, and Carlie.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book Review: Flygirl

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith. (Grades 7+)

Ida Mae Jones loves her family and she loves her friends, but above all else Ida Mae loves to fly. The problem? Because she's a woman and because she's black, she's not allowed to fly. When the US enters World War II and her brother goes off to serve in the military, Ida Mae is determined to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). So she fakes a pilot's license and "passes" for white. But the rigors of flight school are hard enough without the constant worry that someone will realize she's black. Ida Mae's risking everything to follow her passion and help her country.

I appreciate any historical novel that deals with an interesting period or aspect of history. I had never read anything about the WASP program before and that was interesting enough. Add to that Ida Mae's struggle with the Jim Crow laws and you get a richly layered historical novel that I just didn't want to put down.

Ida Mae's living in the south in the 1940s, a time when blacks have their place and there are disastrous consequences if they don't know it. Ida's father was really light-skinned due to conscious planning on the part of his ancestors and Ida Mae has inherited this light skin. She's light enough that she can pass for white, but if she's found out she'll almost certainly be lynched. The flight training is in Texas, a dangerous place to try to pass.

The premise was intriguing and the characters interesting. I'd highly recommed this one to fans of historical fiction.

Read interviews with Sherri L. Smith at Shelf Elf, The Five Randoms, and Bildungsroman. Also check out reviews at Finding Wonderland, Presenting Lenore, Reading Rants!, Reviewer X, and A Patchwork of Books. Check out Sherri L. Smith's website and Ida Mae's Myspace page (hehehe).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Book Review: This Full House

This Full House by Virginia Euwer Wolff. (Grades 9+)

LaVaughn dreams of escaping her poor, inner-city neighborhood and going to college to become a doctor. It's a dream she's been working towards since she was 14 and she answered an ad for a babysitter to save up money for college. When she answered that ad, she met teen mom Jolly and her two young kids and LaVaughn's life changed forever.

Now LaVaughn is a senior in high school and her goal is coming ever closer. She's been attending a Summer Science program and now she's accepted into a Women in the Medical Sciences group. LaVaughn knows that it's her ticket to good recommendations, to knowledge, to college. But when her LaVaughn discovers something about her teacher, she has to make a decision. Is she doing the right thing? Could this jeopardize her entire future?

Let me paint you a picture:

I'm 11 or 12 years old and we go to the Middletown branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. I browse the tiny YA section (I think it was only one bookcase and I'm certain it wasn't called Young Adult at the time). And I pick out the book Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff.

Later, I bring the book along when we go to my grandparents' house to have dinner. I am rarely without a book because I generally prefer to sit and read whenever I have a choice. There, sitting on my grandparents' couch, I devour much (if not all) of the book. Its verse format is unlike anything I've read before. And the story of LaVaughn and Jolly and Jeremy and Jilly sticks with me.

Years later, I take a YA Lit course in college where we read Make Lemonade and the National Book Award-winning sequel True Believer. It's then that I learn that this book is the second in a trilogy... only the third book has never come out.

Until now.

So, when I tell you that I have been waiting years for this third book in the Make Lemonade trilogy to come out, you know exactly what I mean. I've loved LaVaughn and her story since I was a young adult myself and I was so excited to see that the third book was finally available.

I highly recommend that you read Make Lemonade and True Believer before you tackle this one.

This Full House is about LaVaughn taking the next step in her journey. I have to say that a major plot point in the book felt like a bit of a stretch, but I will also say that I love LaVaughn so much that I don't care. LaVaughn definitely qualifies as one of my best literary friends. I will suspend my disbelief to the max just to spend some more time with her. I found it to be a very satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, but I am kind of fangirly about these books so you might want to take this with a grain of salt.

And the writing! I kept flagging passages to share, but this review is already really long, so I'll just share one. Or two. Um.. or three.

LaVaughn's describing a statue she sees at the art museum:

Their naked bodies were sitting down
and they were the quietest pair of people in love
I ever saw.
You couldn't not stop and stare
at these huge connected bodies.
Bronze, made of tin and copper taken from the earth,
made into human curves and muscles and lips.
And I looked through her bent leg
almost but not quite touching his bent leg,
the pyramid shape of air under their knees,
and I was in love with them.
(pp 73-74)

On wondering about love:

To have a boy find you like a treasure
he has been hunting for.
What would that feel like?
(pg 104)

And her love of science:

Through a door I see the genetic analyzer
in its clean, isolated room,
a machine that would make Gregor Mendel's heart jounce.
I have read about this invention
and I recognize it 30 feet away,
a throne of smartness that looks like a refrigerator.
(Sometimes couldn't you just jump up and down
to celebrate electricity? I could.)
(pg 236)

If you've got a teen who loves novels in verse, hand them this trilogy. NOW.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Review: The Trouble Begins at 8

The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West by Sid Fleischman. (Grades 4+)

Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth.

The event took place, as far as is known, in a San Francisco hotel room sometime in the fall of 1865. The only person attending was a young newspaperman and frontier jester named Samuel Langhorne Clemens

So begins Sid Fleischman's superbly entertaining biography of Mark Twain. He follows the life of Samuel Clemens from boyhood to his time piloting riverboats on the Mississippi River to his adventures in the Wild West and everything in between. I honestly wasn't sure that I was all that interested in Mark Twain, but I found his life to be very interesting and the funny, Twain-ian tone of the book completely sold me.

I found myself laughing right along as Fleischman described Sam Clemens's escapades and reading this biography really made me want to pick up more of Twain's work.

Plenty of photos accompany the text, but I think my favorite part of the book was Fleischman's annotated bibliography. He introduces it thusly:

I have no grudge against the alphabet; I live by it. But in this listing of books about Mark Twain, I felt that it would be misleading to call in the ABC's to impose a marching order. Instead, I have chosen to arrange my sources according to the magnitude of their charm for me as a reader and their usefulness to me as a biographer.

He then lists his sources, each with a note describing how they were useful and/or appealing to him. I've never seen that before and I think it's totally awesome and seriously ups the chance that someone might actually seek out some of those books.

This is a great book to hand to kids who have to read a biography and aren't really that excited about it. I'd especially hand it to kids who have read something by the author before because that might make it a little more appealing.

Read more reviews from Sarah Miller and Becky. Check out Sid Fleischman's website.

And Happy Nonfiction Monday! The Miss Rumphius Effect has the roundup.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Winner of Something Maybe!

Congratulations to Natasha who is the winner of an ARC of Something Maybe!

Thanks so much for entering, everybody!!

Anderson's Children's Lit Breakfast

This morning, I had the good fortune of being able to attend the 7th Annual Anderson's Children's Literature Breakfast with a group of wonderful friends. The snow did not deter us! (As Sharon Draper said... we're in Chicago. We don't play with snow.)

Luckily some of my friends got there extraordinarily early, so we got a great table at the front of the room. The lovely, bloggity Andrea Beaty was seated at our table and I'm mad at myself because by the time we got there and I figured out that's who she was, they had pretty much started the announcements and talks and I never really got a chance to chat with her. I reviewed her book Cicada Summer on my blog last summer. So Andrea, if you're reading this, A BELATED HELLO! And I'm sorry that I didn't get to chat with you more!!

The authors seated at the tables rotated after each talk, so we got a chance to meet and chat with several Illinois authors, all of whom were lovely.

We also heard from the four headlining authors. First up was Meg Cabot, who was predictably hilarious and sweet and everything you would expect Meg Cabot to be. She showed us pictures from her childhood and talked about writing. She had signed lots of stock, but I was pretty disappointed to realize that she had a flight to catch and would not be sticking around after the talks to sign books. I'm sure that Anderson's had no control over it, but it would have been nice to have a head's up (especially since Ms. Cabot was at Anderson's on Thursday signing things).

After Meg Cabot came Steven Kellogg, who was delightful and a really sweet guy. He drew a Pinkerton, read letters from students and teachers, and read part of his book Best Friends. I will have to do some research to find out if he has recorded any of his titles on tape because he was a great reader. And hey, why hasn't he won a Caldecott??? Seriously, if you get a chance to have him visit your school or library, take it.

Next up was Sharon Draper who made us rap. She talked about her upcoming series for young readers, Sassy. It sounded funny and I will definitely be checking it out. She also talked about her Ziggy series, which I have to admit I had never heard of before, but which sounded interesting.

And last, but certainly not least, was Peter Yarrow. And okay, I am of a generation which did not grow up listening to folk protest songs, so I may have been a little skeptical. But he had some great things to say about peace and respect and by the time he was finished singing Puff the Magic Dragon with everyone on stage, there was not a dry eye in the room. He was really promoting materials and music for Operation Respect, which promotes respect for all people and an end to bullying.

All in all, it was a really fun morning. We got a bag of freebies (mostly posters and teacher's guides to books) and there were door prizes. OH. And everyone got a free copy of Three Cups of Tea, which is awesome because I've been wanting read it since I read Amanda's review.

I would have to say, though, that having gone to this event and having gone to last year's YA Lit Conference, the YA Conference would be my event of choice. It felt like there were more attendees at the breakfast, while the YA Conference felt like a more intimate event where you could actually meet the headlining authors, ask questions, and attend panel discussions. At the YA Conference I bought tons of books and got them all signed. I didn't buy anything or get anything signed at the Breakfast. They had lots of signed stock, but it seemed like they were discouraging personal signing and Meg Cabot had already left by the time anyone got a chance to have anything signed.

Also disappointing was the fact that on Feb. 1 Anderson's sent out an email saying that Richard Peck, Ann M. Martin, and Kevin Henkes would be at the breakfast. Which they were not. Maybe it was due to the weather? But that was a let-down.

That said, this was my first time attending both events and I'm sure that each year is different depending on which authors are attending and that sort of thing. I'm still glad I went because it was a fun, book-centric morning with my librarian pals, but I probably wouldn't attend the breakfast again unless it was authors that I really, truly could not live without seeing.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I am in the middle of several great novels and I honestly can't decide which one I want to finish first.

On the one hand, I started Envy this week and I'm loooving it. I kind of rushed through Rumors for the 48-Hour Book Challenge, so I wanted to make sure and take my time with this one. I'm completely caught up in the adventures of Penelope, Elizabeth, Henry, Diana, and Carolina.

Then, also this week I started Ways to Live Forever, which I am also really enjoying. It comes highly recommended from coworker J.

And then the lovely and talented Sarah of GreenBeanTeenQueen (best name for a blog ever) graciously sent me an ARC of Starclimber, which I really want to finish before the book comes out on Tuesday. It makes me feel special to read books before they are generally available. And I started it (because even though I was already in the middle of two books, how could I not?!?!) and it is awesome and I love it. (Thank you, thank you, Sarah!!)

And what I should be reading is Enemy Women for the first meeting of my book club on Tuesday. But I have to confess that I started it and even though it was one of the books I suggested we read, it's just not really doing anything for me. I really dislike the no-quotation-marks thing. But maybe I am just not literary enough. Or something.

And what am I doing to alleviate the situation? Am I curled up reading my little eyes out? No, I'm blogging.


(PS: Blog post about Anderson's Children's Literature Breakfast will be up tomorrow! Stay tuned!)

Book Review: The Mozart Question

The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman. (Grades 5+)

A young journalist has an unexpected assignment: to interview Paolo Levi, a famous violinist. Her supervisor cautions her on one thing: Don't ask the Mozart question.

In the interview, Paolo opens up and tells the story of how he started playing the violin and how his playing unearthed family secrets. Both Paolo's parents were Holocaust survivors and the reason they survived was that they were musicians. Their playing saved them, but the fact that they were used to comfort new detainees as they got off the trains sickened them.

It was an interesting story, based on fact. There were Jews that played music for new detainees. They played to save their own lives even though they knew that the people they were "comforting" were destined for hard labor or the gas chambers.

I'm not a fan of this type of story, where the entire story is narrated by someone within the story. I think this smacks of a "children's book" that's really for adults and I wonder how kids will react to it. The art is certainly beautiful, but the book's not exactly a picture book or a graphic novel. I'd hesitate to call it a novel, though. Maybe an illustrated novella.

I do think the topic has potential kid appeal. World War II and the Holocaust are both popular topics with kids and this story approaches a unique aspect of the Holocaust. And other bloggers disagree with me: 100 Scope Notes calls this "a must-have middle grade selection".

This book just wasn't my thing. But I'm not the one voting in the Caudill awards!

Check out Michael Morpurgo's website.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Around the interwebs before the snow

It's supposed to snow 6-8 inches tonight and tomorrow morning. Um, yeah. That will be a fun time to drive to Glen Ellyn for Anderson's Children's Literature Breakfast. But I'm pretty sure nothing can stop my friends from meeting Meg Cabot, so... ;)

Have you been reading Douglas Florian's blog? If not, I encourage you to start because it is fantastic. For instance, check out his Poetry Friday post: Poemagram. By using an anagram finder, you can find all the anagrams of your name... and then make them into a poem! His is suitably creative and wonderful.

Oooh this is one that the kids at my library will salivate over: Jen Robinson's got a press release about the final Percy Jackson book. She reveals the cover (which I'm stealing) and a bunch of special stuff that is happening before the release of the book on May 5.

Sarah's got another Hot Books in My Classroom post, so head over there are see what books are popular in her class. I love seeing what books her 6th-graders are crazy about!

Mary Lee wrote about 5 things her students expect when picking up a fiction book. That's definitely something worth thinking about for all of us and I love getting insight into what kids think about reading and books.

If you haven't seen this yet, you should definitely check it out: the AL Focus video of many of the 2009 Youth Media Award winners getting The Call. It's fun and funny and feel-good. (Thanks to Liz and Lisa for the link.)

John Green posts this kinetic typography video of a section of Paper Towns:

(What is wrong with me that I still haven't read Paper Towns??) And, um, kinetic typography is really freakin' cool. If you like Blink 182, check out this video, too.

Remember that there's still time to enter Steph's Dust of 100 Dogs contest. Purchase Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King and send proof to Steph by March 1 to be entered to win lots of awesome prizes including over $100 in gift cards and a whole bagful of signed books! I haven't read it yet, but I'm thinking that trekking through the frozen wasteland to my favorite independent bookstore tomorrow might be the perfect opportunity to procure the book and enter the contest... HMM. :)

And speaking of contests, there's still time to enter my giveaway for an advance copy of Something Maybe by Elizabeth Scott! Leave a comment on the giveaway post by this Saturday at midnight (that's tomorrow!!) for your chance to win this very sweet and fun book. If you like YA romance like Sarah Dessen, you'll want to check out this book!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mini-Review: Shark Girl

Shark Girl by Kelly L. Bingham. (Grades 7+)

Shark Girl may be the easiest book to booktalk ever. I mean, who doesn't want to read a book about a girl who loses an arm in a shark attack?

Here's what I wrote about it when I read it in December '07:

"This novel in verse tells the story of Jane, an artistic high schooler whose life changes completely when she loses her right arm in a shark attack. A bystander videotapes the event and it's shown on the news. Suddenly strangers from all over the country are sending her cards and flowers, acting like they're her new best friend, like they understand her. In reality, Jane shrinks from all the attention and seems to abandon the things that gave her joy before the accident. Little things like cracking open eggs or buttoning her pants are suddenly insurmountable. But as Jane gives herself time to heal, she realizes that although she wouldn't have wished for this accident, it's taking her down a new and interesting path. Perhaps not worse... just different.

I have no firsthand experience, but I imagine that the voice of Jane is pretty realistic and it's an interesting glimpse into the world of someone with a disability. It made me think about things like how long it would take me to relearn how to write using my left hand (or type, for that matter). Again, I'm not a huge fan of the novel-in-verse format, but I think it mostly works and there are instances where it really works in this novel."

I find it interesting that there are two novels in verse on the list this year (Shark Girl and Home of the Brave). I'm still not sure how I feel about novels in verse, but they're growing on me I suppose.

Consider pairing this one with Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm in a shark attack and managed to return to surfing. Is it in bad taste to also recommend Shark Life by Jaws author Peter Benchley? Oh, well. :)

Read more (better) reviews at MotherReader, Bildungsroman, Oops...Wrong Cookie, Shelf Elf, and Becky's Book Reviews. Shark Girl was a readergirlz pick in April 2008. Read a roundtable discussion about the book at Miss Erin's. Check out the readergirlz forum chat with Kelly L. Bingham and interviews at MotherReader, Bildungsroman, and Cynsations (did you know that Kelly used to be a story artist for Disney?).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A break from your regularly scheduled kidlit...

Generally, this blog is strictly librarian- and kidlit-related. But this is important to me, so please forgive the tangent.

On Sunday, a friend of mine from high school died of leukemia. He had been fighting the disease for five years and finally died on Sunday at the age of 27. Seriously, a more loving person you have never met. If you had met him you would have liked him. And he would have liked you, too.

Please consider joining the National Bone Marrow Registry. They are especially in need of donors from diverse backgrounds. We couldn't save Ali, but just think of the life you could save if you were a match for someone.

Additionally, my brother is running a marathon in May to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Please consider sponsoring him.

And that's all I will say. Forgive me for this interruption and I'll return you back to your regularly scheduled Kidlitosphere.

Book Review: Something Maybe

Something Maybe by Elizabeth Scott. (Grades 7+)

Okay, I read this last month and I just can't wait any longer to talk about it!

Hannah's parents take embarrassment to a whole new level - her aging playboy dad is the star of a reality show and her mom poses as Candy Madison, running a paid website in her negligee. Hannah has perfected the art of being invisible, which is a shame when it comes to the object of her longing, a coworker named Josh. How can Hannah retain her invisibility and still get Josh to ask her out? And as she gets to know Josh a little better... is Josh really the one she wants to go out with?

I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Scott's realistic characters and romantic storylines (well, not all of them are romantic...). I think Something Maybe is my favorite of hers so far. I loved it!

Okay, so it's kind of predictable. It's completely obvious to the reader who the better man is, but it's that kind of predictability that is so comforting and makes for a really great feel-good read. And there's plenty that makes Hannah's story stand out. I love all the supporting characters - Hannah's mom flirting with guys on the internet to pay the bills, Hannah's dad who only invites her to visit him when his reality show ratings are down. Finn, her annoying coworker who is totally into her (although Hannah has no idea). Teagan, her best friend who left fashion school to move back home and take care of her mom.

And just as much as I love all the supporting characters, I love Hannah's voice. It's funny and a little sarcastic and... well, see for yourself*:

Josh doesn't date guys like me. He dates tall, skinny, dark-haired girls who care about political causes and social injustice and wear short, gauzy dresses that I could never get away with wearing. Ever. Plus they always have cool names like Arugula or Micah. (pg 10)

(Is it just me? The thought of someone being named Arugula really cracks me up..)

"I love this time of day," Josh says - talking to me, he's talking to me! - and I try to think of the right thing to say.

"I love you" sounds a little intense for this conversation
. (pg 14)

Can you see why I love this book? I'm not the only one. Read more reviews at Reviewer X, The Compulsive Reader, and Teen Book Review.

And I have a treat for you. The fates smiled on me and I got an extra ARC of Something Maybe, which I'm going to send to one lucky winner! To enter, just leave a comment on this post and make sure you leave your email if it's not readily available from your profile/blog. Post about this contest in your blog or Twitter and leave me a link to get an extra entry. This contest is open to ANYONE ANYWHERE!

Contest ends Saturday, February 21 at midnight Central Standard Time.

The book is due out March 24, so this is your chance to get an early look!

ETA: The contest is now closed. Thanks so much to all who entered!

*Quotes are from an uncorrected ARC and maybe not be reflected in the final version of the book.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Book Review: The Year We Disappeared

The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir by Cylin Busby and John Busby. (Grades 9+)

Thank goodness for the Cybils. No, really. Because if this book hadn't been on the MG/YA Non-Fiction shortlist, it probably would have slipped right by me*. And that would have been a shame.

In this book, daughter Cylin and father John share the story of what happened to their family in 1979 when John, a police officer, was shot in the head. John wasn't killed, but the bottom of his jaw was shot off and he had a long, painful recovery ahead of him. Worse was the fact that he was certain that the man behind his attempted murder was a local criminal who thought he had the police force in his pocket. John refused to give in to this man's threats and as a result he almost lost his life and his family was put in danger. Police were posted at the house to protect John's family and John had security in the hospital as he recovered to make sure no one came back to finish the job.

The really neat thing about this book is that you get two different perspectives. John writes his story - his painful recovery and crippling anger and frustration at an investigation that went much too slowly. Cylin writes her story - constant fear that her dad might die or that someone might be coming to kill her too, social ostracism because police officers followed her wherever she went.

Both stories are breathtakingly intense and they mesh together to paint a picture of a family interrupted. In one moment the world changed for the Busby family and nothing would ever be the same.

This book isn't for the faint of heart. Lots of medical details are included about John's injury and recovery, so if you're squeamish be aware.

This is compelling nonfiction and compulsively readable. I absolutely could not put it down. It's also been reviewed at Estella's Revenge, The Reading Zone, Becky's Book Reviews and Jen Robinson's Book Page. And we found out on Saturday that The Year We Disappeared WON the 2009 Cybil for Middle Grade/YA Nonfiction.

Nonfiction Monday is at Jean Little Library this week, so go see what the Kidlitosphere is reading!

*Even though, as I look for reviews, it's been talked about... I don't know where I've been...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mini-Review: Shooting the Moon

Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell. (Grades 5-8.)

The Vietnam War seems to be a popular topic on the Caudill lists lately. This year we have Shooting the Moon and The Wednesday Wars. Last year we had Letters from Wolfie.

This one got some Newbery buzz this year and here's what I thought when I read it last February (warning: there may be a slight spoiler at the end of this review. Read at your own risk if you are sensitive to spoilers!).

"When Army brat Jamie Dexter finds out her big brother TJ has been sent to Vietnam to fight, she's ecstatic. Her father, The Colonel, has raised Jamie and TJ to support the army way and to take pride in fighting for their country. Jamie declares that if she was allowed to enlist, she would immediately do so. Since she can't go fight, Jamie looks forward to her brother's letters. She's sure they're going to be filled with all the action and adventure going on at the front, so she's surprised when TJ sends her a cannister of film and asks her to develop it for him. Puzzled, Jamie learns to develop film and soon TJ sends more and more cannisters. As Jamie begins to get a look at what's going on in Vietnam, the things her brother can't write home about, and as Jamie befriends an army private who works in the rec center, she begins to change her opinion about the war.

The ending seemed really abrupt and although I appreciate the fact that it wasn't completely depressing, it seemed like it tied things up a bit too neatly. I thought it was interesting to see Jamie's perception of the war and of her father change throughout the book."

Read more reviews at A Patchwork of Books, A Fuse #8 Production, The Reading Zone, Becky's Book Reviews, 100 Scope Notes, and A Year of Reading. Check out Betsy's Winter Blog Blast Tour interview with Frances O'Roark Dowell.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

You can't escape it...

My doorman gave me a tulip and asked me to be his valentine. He gives me my book packages, so of course I said yes! :)

Cybils winners announced!

Head on over to the Cybils website to see the 2009 winners! It's a great list of books, so thanks to all the judges for their hard work! All of the finalists were fantastic, so I know it was a lot of hard work. :)

(And finally The Hunger Games got some recognition! Woohoo!)

Congratulations to all the winners!!

Literacy Lunches Take Two

This week I've been visiting a local elementary school to do a Literacy Lunch Bunch program for 2nd graders. We've done programs like these before for older kids and I was interested to see how the younger kids would take to it.

Every day this week a class of 2nd graders has met in the library during their lunchtime to hear Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker. One difference between this program and the last time I did the program is that I only read to the kids for 20 minutes a day. The older kids were able to sit and listen for a longer period of time, but the second graders needed part of their lunch break to run around outside and blow off some steam. (This was a decision made by the school librarian and I think it was a wise one!)

Partnership with a school librarian is one thing that has made these programs a success. In this case, the school librarian chose the class that would visit the library and she chose the book. (When I did this program at a different school last year, the kids signed up if they wanted to come and they voted on the book after hearing several booktalks from their school librarian.) In both cases, school librarians were instrumental in getting kids excited about the program. They endorsed it as a special treat and the kids saw it that way, too.

One exciting thing about reading the book Clementine this go-round is that Clementine is on the Monarch Book Award nominee list. So now there's an entire class that's listened to the book and might vote for it later this month. A few of them had read the book before, but I think they enjoyed hearing it again!

I had a lot of fun doing Literacy Lunches again and I loved getting the chance to read another novel out loud. It's not something I often get to do, so it's an enjoyable challenge.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Book Review: The Mousehunter

The Mousehunter by Alex Milway. (Grades 4-7)

The Mousehunter is set in a fantasy world where there are thousands of species of mice. Mice are kept as pets, collected, or used in the workplace. A mousekeeper's job is to take care of the mice - feed them, keep their cages clean, keep them happy, and find them when they escape. This is easier said than done with some species of mice, like the wiley Sharpclaw Mouse whose talons can cut through most any material or the Comet Mouse that's quick as lightning.

Emiline is the mousekeeper for the wealthy mouse collector Isiah Lovelock. She loves her job and dreams of one day becoming a mousehunter and scouring the globe for rare and special mice. When she gets the chance to serve as a mousekeeper on a privateer ship hunting the dreaded pirate Mousebeard, Emiline is thrilled. She's off on her first adventure! But with sea monsters, storms, and political intrigue, it's much more dangerous than she ever would have thought.

I was interested in reading The Mousehunter after reading the publisher's description. The many different kinds of mice sounded fascinating and they did not disappoint. At the end of each chapter there is a page from Isiah Lovelock's Mousehunter's Almanac describing a different species of mouse and notes about finding or collecting it. For me, this was the best part of the book and I'm sure young lovers of small, furry creatures will feel the same way.

The Mousehunter is also an action-packed adventure story with plenty of twists and turns. Personally, I wish there had been a little more character development (we never really find out where Emiline came from or how she feels about any of the things that happen to her...), but the fast-paced story had me turning the pages. I also wish that we found out a little bit more about the mouse-obssessed world in which the story is placed. We get lots of tidbits about different mice, but no hint of how this mousy world developed. The sequel's already out in England, so maybe that'll flesh out the world a bit.

It's an interesting premise for sure and I'd hand this to any middle-grader looking for an engaging fantasy adventure. Check out the Flashrific Mousehunter website for more info on the books and author (also check out Alex Milway's blog). The American cover was designed by C.B. Canga, who also has a blog (cool... don't think I've ever run across a cover artist's blog in my review research).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Book Review: Charles and Emma

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. (Grades 8+)

In the summer of 1838, in his rented rooms on Great Marlborough Street, London, Charles Darwin drew a line down the middle of a piece of scrap paper... He was in his late twenties. It was time to decide. Across the top of the left-hand side, he wrote Marry. On the right he wrote Not Marry. And in the middle: This is the Question.

So begins Deborah Heiligman's portrait of Charles Darwin and his wife Emma. Charles did decide to marry, although he was afraid that it would take time away from his scientific work. In Emma he found a friend, a lover, a caretaker, and an editor. In quotes from the many letters the two wrote to each other, you can tell how much Charles and Emma meant to each other.

But there was one problem that plagued them throughout their marriage. Charles was working on the theory of evolution. Emma was devoutly religious. Charles doubted his faith. And Emma constantly worried that she would not meet up with her husband in the afterlife.

I had no idea Charles Darwin was so fascinating. He was a dedicated scientist as well as being a loving husband and father to ten children (seven of which survived to adulthood). He spent years researching and observing barnacles. He studied birds, orchids, and worms. He was driven to publish his work and start a dialogue on the theory of evolution, but he was wary of causing a firestorm of criticism from Christian believers.

This is a very readable biography that concentrates on a particular aspect of Charles Darwin's life - his relationship with his wife and family - and how it influenced him and his scientific work. Heiligman includes quote after quote from Charles's and Emma's letters to each other and to other friends and family members. The effect is that of postulated dialog, except that in this case it's their actual words.

Got kids coming in looking for narrative nonfiction? Hand them this book pronto. I'd also hand it to fans of Pride and Prejudice or other such classic lit. It's readable enough to be recreational, but it's factual and will work for research reports, too.

Pair it with a typical Darwin biography for those wanting to know more (might I suggest the DK biography?) and Peter Sis's intricate picture book biography The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin for a little something different. AND today happens to be the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birthday (not just Lincoln's!).

So, happy birthday, Mr. Darwin!

Be sure and check out the Bookslut column Celebrating Darwin and an SLJ interview with Deborah Heiligman: Meet the Darwins. Do check out Ms. Heiligman's fantastic website where you can learn more about her, check out what other books she's written, and see how she did her research (a lady after my own heart).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Now Available - Skeleton Creek

A few weeks ago I reviewed Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman and it is available today! So head on out to your favorite bookstore and look for this creepy book.

And if you like all things creepy, you won't want to miss the Skeleton Creek live webcast from 6:30 to 8:00pm (Pacific time) on Friday the 13th. Make sure you bookmark that site and head over there on Friday to chat and ask your questions!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Non-Fiction Roundup

Here's a round up of the nonfiction I've been reading lately:

Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

With a lyrical tone and words that beg to be read aloud, here is the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. Gorgeous, emotional illustrations cause every page to pop and passages like the one following had me hanging on every word:

"We said if you don't, we won't. If you don't let us ride in any seat we wish, we won't ride at all. If you don't treat us fairly, we won't pay the fare. If we don't pay the fare, you won't have a bus business. And we won't let Jim Crow smack us back with his bony wings. Or slow us up with his peck, peck, peck.

Uh-uh. We won't.
And we stood by our word. Yes we did.
Child, child. We did."

Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan by Tony O'Brien.

This book is a collection of photographs of and interviews with children and teens in Afghanistan. Their country has been war-torn for centuries and many children go without the basic necessities. They dream of having enough food to eat, of safety for themselves and their families, of getting the education they crave, of peace.

The photographs are beautiful - some joyful and some haunting. I think this is a book that could truly inspire kids to learn more about Afghanistan and to do what they can to help. It would have been useful to have included some resources for those wishing to learn more or to help in some way. I'd pair this one with other books about children across the world (maybe A Life Like Mine by DK Publishing) for a multicultural unit or display.

Duel!: Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words by Dennis Brindell Fradin, illustrated by Larry Day.

This one is a Cybils finalist in the Non-Fiction Picture Book category. The book describes the fateful duel that resulted in Alexander Hamilton's death. The feud between them ran long and the book does a great job of explaining things clearly. Plus, the art is just great.

And I have to admit that I really can't think of Burr and Hamilton without recalling the first Got Milk? commercial:

This week's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Charlotte's Library, so head on over there to see what nonfiction the Kidlitosphere is reading this week!

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Congrats to the winners of my Ranger's Appentice giveaway! I've contacted them by email (so if you didn't get an email from me this morning, I'm sorry to say that your name wasn't randomly chosen). Thanks so much to everyone who entered the contest! And stay tuned because I'm planning another giveaway within the next couple of weeks. :)

And a HUGE THANK YOU to Jillian at Penguin Young Reader's Group who generously provided the ARCs for this contest! You rock!!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Waiting on

Waiting on Wednesday is a popular feature in the book-related blogosphere, but I am not nearly organized enough to collect my thoughts and post about the upcoming releases I'm looking forward to every Wednesday. So I offer you this Waiting on ________ (fill in the blank) post. Because there are a bunch of awesome books coming out that I can't wait to get my hands on. Here's what they are and why:

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. From the publisher description: "In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery." I mean, come on. It's Laurie Halse Anderson! How could I not be looking forward to this book?? It's due out March 19.

Ditto Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen. I'm a big fan of her previous books, so of course I'm looking forward to her next one. From the pub description: "It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live.
A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend." Due out June 16.
Do I even have to mention Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (due September 8) or Fire by Kristin Cashore (due October 6)? Probably not, but I just did anyway. I'll cross my fingers that I can find ARCs at ALA this summer...

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. This one got a lot of early buzz and to tell you the truth I'd almost forgotten about, but it's definitely on my TBR list when it comes out March 10. I mean, Scott Westerfeld says "A post- apocalypse romance of the first order, elegantly written from title to last line." And Sarah Miller says "I...found myself fascinated with the way Carrie Ryan created an entire society, plunged me into it, and parceled out its history and secrets bit by bit -- just enough to make me feel continually intrigued instead of lost or frustrated." Sounds like world-building at its finest. Sign me up!
While perusing the 2009 Debutantes site, I came across Breathing by Cheryl Renee Herbsman. This tiny blurb really intrigued me: "What if the guy who took your breath away was the only one who could help you breathe?" I checked out Cheryl's site where you can read an excerpt from the book and I was sold on Savannah's funny voice. It's due out April 16.
And last but not least (for today) is As You Wish by Jackson Pearce. I first heard of Jackson Pearce when somebody linked to her video about imagining the publishing process and I've been following her blog ever since. I mean, wouldn't you want to read a book written by this girl:

Blurb from the 2009 Debutantes: "High school student Viola Cohen inadvertently summons--then falls for--a young jinn after her boyfriend tells her a life-changing secret." And it's due out September 1.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Storytime Selections (for the older set)

Last week I did a storytime at a K-4th grade after school program. Here's what I did:

I started with If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen. This was last year's Monarch winner, so I was a little afraid that the kids would be sick of it. A couple of them knew it... and loved it! This one even coaxed one of the older boys down from his perch on the back of the risers (i.e. where the "cool kids" sit). After driving home in his dad's boring station wagon, a boy imagines the car he would build. It has a pool inside, an automatic snack machine, and it can go underwater and up in the sky. The rhyming text is fun to read and it's the perfect length.

Next, I read Alfred's Nose, a quirky little picture book. I wish that it was a larger size and that all of the pictures were nice and clear. The kids liked this one, but who doesn't like dogs? The story's a little strange, but it's the pictures that make it fun. Alfred is a dog with a round head, a flat nose, and a tongue that sticks out all the time. When he finds a box of costume animal noses, he tries them all on to find one he likes better than his own.

Then I read Ducky by Eve Bunting. The story's based on the true story of the shipment of bath toys that crashed in a storm and drifted up on beaches in Alaska and the Pacific northwest. The story itself is written from the perspective of one of the plastic ducks, alone and afraid as he bobs along in the ocean. The language is a little young for most of the kids in the group, but I read the author's note before I read the story and explained that it was based on a real event. That seemed to hold their interest pretty well.

Last, but certainly not least, I finally read Don't Take Your Snake For a Stroll by Karin Ireland. I've been wanting to try this in storytime for awhile now and it always seemed to be checked out or I forgot about it. I think maybe I found it a little funnier than the kids found it, but it's got silly rhymes and even sillier pictures. The reader is urged not to take their elephant to the beach, their pig to the mall, or their alligator on a late night walk. Each of these will surely result in dire consequences. David Catrow does the illustrations, so you know they're hilarious. My favorite is the elephant, so wide he nearly fills the page spread, wearing a yellow Speedo. This made for a good readaloud, but would also be great for individual reading because there are so many funny details in the pictures.

They all seemed to go over well, but the big surprise for me was that the kids requested that I bring Big Plans next time. I read it last month and I didn't get a big reaction from them, but it must have stuck in their minds! That was the first thing they asked me when I got there: "Did you bring Big Plans I Say?" And as I was leaving they asked me to bring it next time. As any librarian knows, it feels really good to introduce kids to books they like and remember!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Around the interwebs

I was alerted to the launch of a new website - - which includes lots of great resources about graphic novels. Looking for reviews? Author interviews? Best-of lists? This site's got a multitude of resources on graphic novels for all ages.

MotherReader's got some advice for authors starting blogs and commenters are chiming in, too. If you're a blogging author, definitely take a look, and if you're a different kind of kidlit blogger there just might be some tips for you, too. ;) (ETA Feb. 6 - Pam's gone and written up Blog Advice II which incorporates suggestions from the myriad of comments on her first post. Definitely worth checking out!! And I will be checking all my links this weekend... ;)

Uh, there's nothing like the last minute, so: JOHN GREEN WILL BE IN CHICAGO TOMORROW. Yes, Friday John Green will be at the Hideout bar (1354 W. Wabansia) from 6:30 to 8:00 on Mark Bazer's Interview Show. And it gets better: he's promised to buy one drink for any librarian who shows up! I haven't decided yet if I'm too shy to go... but if you're in Chicagoland and not shy, don't miss it! (And take pictures and tell me how it is!)

Steph's holding a contest you don't want to miss. Head on over there to see the MANY FANTASTIC prizes you can win and how to enter.

Speaking of contests, there's still time to enter to win an advance copy of the sixth Ranger's Apprentice book, The Siege of Macindaw. I know you know some kids dying to read this new book before all their friends (or maybe you want to read it yourself!). Five winners will be picked on Sunday, so head on over to that post and get your name in!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rebecca Caudill 2010 Nominees

Woohoo! The 2010 Rebecca Caudill Master List has been posted!! (Link opens a PDF.) This looks to be another great list and I can't wait to dive in to the titles I haven't read.

Amato, Mary. Naked Mole-Rat Letters. (2005)
Applegate, Katherine. Home of the Brave. (2007)*
Bingham, Kelly L. Shark Girl. (2007)*
Dowell, Frances O'Roark. Shooting the Moon. (2008)*
Freedman, Russell. Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. (2006)
George, Jessica Day. Dragon Slippers. (2007)
Graff, Lisa. The Thing About Georgie. (2006)
Hahn, Mary Downing. All the Lovely Bad Ones. (2008)
Hobbs, Will. Crossing the Wire. (2006)
Kent, Rose. Kimchi & Calamari. (2007)*
Mass, Wendy. Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life. (2006)
Morpurgo, Michael. The Mozart Question. (2006)
Nuzum, K.A. A Small White Scar. (2006)
Schmidt, Gary D. The Wednesday Wars. (2007)*
Smith, Roland. Elephant Run. (2007)
St. John, Lauren. The White Giraffe. (2006)
Stead, Rebecca. First Light. (2007)*
Tarshis, Lauren. Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree. (2007)*
Urban, Linda. A Crooked Kind of Perfect. (2007)*
Wolf, Joan M. Someone Named Eva. (2007)

Starred titles are the ones I've read prior to the list being announced. 8 out of 20 is not quite as good as last year, but I would like to point out that I predicted A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Home of the Brave, and Emma-Jean Lazarus last week. :)

I've linked to my reviews for those titles that I've reviewed. As I read & review them over the next couple of months, I'll change the links from Amazon to my reviews. For those books that I read before embarking on the magical journey that is blogging (or books I didn't review for whatever reason), I'll post a "mini-review" with my thoughts on the book at the time that I read it.

I'll also be adding discussion questions and maaaybe some video booktalks, so keep checking back! I'll link this post in the sidebar of my blog so it'll be easy to find.

ETA (April 15): Apologies, but it looks like I probably won't be getting around to adding discussion questions or other Caudill-related content this year!

Thanks to the Caudill committee for their hard work in coming up with this list!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Interview with Walter Dean Myers

The Learning First Alliance has posted a great interview with author Walter Dean Myers.

From the interview:

When I see that 50 percent of African-American kids don't finish high school, that's a crisis of tremendous weight to me. These kids are not finishing high school. They're not getting the core knowledge of how to conduct their lives and how to move on. As far as I'm concerned, from a national point of view as an American, we have to rescue these kids. We have to reverse this. We have to go into these communities and turn this around.

Mr. Myers has a new book Dope Sick coming out on February 10. Want a preview? The first three chapters are now available for download on And wait, it gets even better! The entire book will be available online at from February 10-24.

Book Review: Knucklehead

Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing Up by Jon Scieszka. (Grades 4+)

Growing up as the second-oldest of six boys, Jon Scieszka had many an adventure as a child. His dad called them Knuckleheads since it was easier than saying "Jim, Jon, Tom, Gregg, Brian, and Jeff!". As in "Get out of the water now, you Knuckleheads!" was just so much easier, and much quicker than saying, "Jim, Jon, Tom, Gregg, Brian, Jeff, get out of the lake now because it is raining and lightning bolts are crashing in the trees all around you." (pg 106.)

In Knucklehead, Jon tells us about his life in elementary school. Grew up in Flint, Michigan where he attended Catholic school and spent summers at a cottage on the lake. He played pranks on his brothers and they played pranks on him.

This book is laugh-out-loud funny and its short chapters make it ideal for reluctant readers. It has a certain gross-out factor and one notable chapter about swearwords (but nothing worse than hell and damn), so be aware of those potential red flags.

To flag all the funny and interesting passages in the book, well, you'd practically mark the entire volume. This book will be an easy sell for booktalking by sharing a passage or two and I'd like to share a couple of my favorite teasers:

When talking about sharing a room with his brother in the cold basement and the space heater they used in the winter:

The twisty metal coils on the heater had a great orange glow when they got hot. Just like the fires we would build with Dad out at the lake.

I guess that's what made me and Jim think we could put out the heater the same way we put out the fires at the lake - by peeing on it
. (pg. 16)


Watch your brothers. That's what my mom used to tell me and Jim - "Watch your brothers."

So we did.
We watched Jeff roll off the couch.
We watched Brian dig in the plants and eat the dirt.
We watched Gregg lift up the lid on the toilet and splash around in the water
. (pg 35)

I was laughing the whole way through this book and I can't wait to booktalk it to some elementary- and middle-school kids. This will be a sure hit with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid crowd.

Read more reviews at Bookends, Fuse #8, A Year of Reading, Becky's Book Reviews, and 100 Scope Notes (among others). Also check out the book trailer, an interview, and Jon Scieszka Worldwide.

Happy Non-Fiction Monday! Anastasia's got the round-up at Picture Book of the Day!