Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Goodbye, Prairie State!

I have some exciting/sad news, y'all.

I have really enjoyed my time at the Barrington Library, but May 8 will be my last day there. I have accepted a position at a library in Southern Indiana and I'm in the process of relocating to Louisville, KY (which is where I grew up, where my family is, etc.).

I am very sad to leave some of the best coworkers east of the Mississippi (and probably west of it, too). I'm sad to leave my lovely library and this wonderfully library-rich community that is the Chicago suburbs.

But I am excited to live close to my family and to start a job with wonderful new coworkers and some very different challenges.

What does this mean for this blog?

Not a whole lot. I'll still be posting book reviews, library programs, storytimes, days-in-the-life, and my thoughts about books and libraries. I probably won't be reporting on the Caudill nominees/awards (though it's very possible you may see some posts about the Young Hoosier Book Awards).

And I'll be taking a hiatus for the next couple of weeks. I promise I'll be back and I probably won't stop posting entirely, but posting may be sporadic as I, y'know, pack up my entire life and move to a different state. I'll also be catching up on my TBR pile and writing reviews. The hiatus should by over by around May 18 (which is when I start my new job) and I'll have some great reviews and posts for you to read.

I'll definitely be responding to emails, reading your blogs, and keeping any bloggity commitments I've already made. Thanks, as always, for reading my blog and for bearing with me during this short break. Maybe I'll have to have a fantastic giveaway or two when I get back to make it up to you... hmm.. :)

Goodbye, Prairie State, and Hello, Bluegrass! (Also, hi, Hoosiers!)

ETA (April 29): I would very much like to get back to Chicago for ALA this summer, but I don't know yet if that's a possibility (what with being the new kid at my new job and all). I'll try my darndest to get up there at least for the weekend and I'd very much like to meet up with any bloggers I can!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Interview with Darlene Ryan

Today I'm chatting with the lovely YA author Darlene Ryan. Writing's been a part of her life for just about as long as she can remember and her newest book, Five Minutes More, was just released on April 1. Five Minutes More is a searing portrayal of a girl dealing with her grief after her father has died (read my review of it).

AL: Hi, Darlene. Thanks for stopping by my blog on your blog tour and answering some questions. I love interviewing authors because y'all always come up with some great stories to share.

Five Minutes More is a searing portrayal of a girl dealing with grief after her father dies. What inspired you to write this story?

DR: This is a story that I’ve been working on for a long time. (A very, very long time.) I think part of my inspiration was that I’m so fascinated by families. I have friends who come from families that are loving and supportive and I have friends who come from toxic, destructive families. They all intrigue me. A big part of Five Minutes More is how this family copes with death.

I'm particularly fond of the character of Seth in the novel, but I also have a soft spot for Brendan. Can you tell us a little about how you developed your characters?

I love Seth. In one of the earlier drafts of the book—back when I couldn’t make the story work—Seth died. A friend who read that draft begged me to re-write and keep Seth alive. She was right. The story is better if Seth doesn’t die.

He isn’t based on any one person, by the way, but he does have qualities from people I know. I knew a guy in university who could juggle. The funny thing was that he was really uncoordinated at everything else.

I think there’s a bit of every jock I’ve ever known in Brendan. And when D’Arcy tells Seth about running the bases the wrong way in gym class? A good friend of mine from high school actually did that.

For the most part the characters seem to develop as I’m developing the outline for the story.

D'Arcy isn't a name that I've heard a lot... how do you come up with the names of your characters?

D’Arcy just popped into my head and many times during the writing I wished I had picked another name. It’s hard to type with the apostrophe.

For me the name has to suit the character. And if the name has associations for me I can’t give it to a character with a different personality. For instance, my friend Susan—the Susan the book is dedicated to--has a great sense of humour. I could never name a character Susan if the character didn’t also have a great sense of humour. It sounds silly, I know.

No, that doesn't sound silly at all! What kind of research did writing this book require?

I read a lot about suicide. I went to school with someone who killed himself when we were teenagers. I can still remember how his death felt and I used some of those feelings in the book. I learned a lot about ALS. I tried to learn to juggle. (It wasn’t pretty.)

Were any scenes harder for you to write than others? Do you have any particular favorite scenes?

The funny thing is, I know there were scenes where I sweated over every word, and there were others that came very easily—and I can’t remember now which are which. I like the food poisoning scenes and I like every scene with D’Arcy’s best friend, Marissa.

Was Five Minutes More always the title for this book or were there any others under consideration?

The original working title was Five Minutes More. For years, literally. Then I changed it to Waiting for Normal. That was the title when the manuscript went to my editor. He asked me to change the title because there had just been a book out called Waiting for Normal. His first suggestion for a new title was—you guessed it--Five Minutes More.

You mention on your website that you've always been a writer. Would you tell us a little bit about your path to publication? What did you do when you heard you'd sold that first book?

I feel as though I have been writing for ever. I got third place in a poetry contest in third grade. I didn’t do a lot of writing in university unless you count all those essays. For years I wrote commercials, which in some ways is like telling a story in thirty seconds. My first book was non-fiction, the story of my daughter’s adoption. I sold that book very close to my birthday and I think I ate cake to celebrate.

I do a feature on my blog called A Day in the Life of a Children's Librarian. Can you tell us a little bit about a day in the life of an author?

People always think it’s glamourous or they think I spend the day in pajamas. My day is probably not very different from anyone else’s. I get up between six and six-thirty, have my insulin shot, get dressed, obsess about my hair, and have breakfast. I pack lunch, I remind my daughter to take her gym clothes, I clean the bathroom—in other words I do Mom stuff.

At eight I go to my office, check my email and try to deal with anything important. After that I write until about nine thirty when I stop to eat again and have a second cup of coffee. I write after that until lunch. After lunch—unless there’s a blizzard or it’s pouring rain—I go for a walk. Then I work until school gets out at three, except on Fridays when I write until suppertime.

And finally, what are some of your favorite YA books?

I really like Graham Mcnamee’s Hate You. Diane Tullson’s Red Sea is terrific. And Susan Beth Pfeffer’s A Year Without Michael is a wonderful book. It must be close to 20 years old now.

Those are definitely some books I'll have to check out. Thanks so much for talking with me, Darlene!

Thanks for having me.

Book Review: Unite or Die

Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Jef Czekaj. (Grades 3-6.)

So, you know all about the American Revolution, right? And you know how in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed. And then we became a country, right?

Er... no. Not really. At all.

But that just shows you how much I remember from junior year American History (sorry, Ms. Fischer).

The American Revolution officially ended in 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Here was the United States of America!

But... they had a problem.

Each of the thirteen states had its own government. It had its own currency. Traveling between the states was like traveling to a different country. There was no central government to negotiate international trades or help the states if they got into trouble.

Something had to be done. And that something was the Constitutional Convention in 1787 where delegates from twelve of the thirteen states came together to build a new government.

Unite or Die gives a great overview of the Constitutional Convention. Jacqueline Jules's concise text explains why we needed it. It explains what issues the delegates discussed and what they debated. And it explains how our Constitution was created and designed to grow with us as a nation.

And the information is presented through children performing a school play. Some of the kids are dressed up as states, some as forefathers. Jef Czekaj pays great attention to detail and includes small things that kids will love to notice. The effect is similar to The Scrambled States of America (which I also loved).

An afterword presents more info and a great section of notes clarifies items presented throughout the book in an accessible way. A bibliography is included.

This is a great introduction to the Constitution and to American government. It's accessible and fun and I'll take pleasure in recommending it. The SLJ review suggests pairing it with Lane Smith's John, Paul, George, and Ben and I'll heartily second that.

Happy Nonfiction Monday! Anastasia's got the roundup at Picture Book of the Day (where you can ALSO enter to win a free virtual author visit to your class!).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book Review: The Thirteenth Child

The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede. (Grades 5+)

Ever since she was a little childling, Eff has been told that she would bring ruination down on anyone close to her. That's not something that's easy to hear and it's worse because Eff knows that it could very well be true.

Eff is a thirteenth child and everyone knows that thirteenth children only bring bad things. To complicate matters, Eff's twin brother Lan is a double-seventh - a seventh son of a seventh son - and everyone knows that he's going to be one of the most powerful magicians one might ever care to meet. Between the two of them, the Rothmer family can't get a moment's peace.

When Eff's Papa decides to accept a professorship at a frontier college in the west close to the Great Barrier, it means uprooting most of the family. It means possibly facing dangerous magical creatures. And it also means that Eff and Lan might have a chance to grow up without the watchful eyes of the aunts and uncles that presume to know their destinies.

The Thirteenth Child is a sweeping story of Eff's childhood. It starts with her at age five, being tortured by her cousins and verbally abused by her Uncle Earn because of her birth order. When the family moves out west, Eff starts to study magic and she makes the decision not to use her magic for fear she would hurt someone that she loves. Eff tells us about her childhood on the frontier up through age 18.

To be honest, I didn't like this book as much as I thought I would. What I did like was the world-building and the wonderful alternate history that Patricia C. Wrede has created for us. I love alternate histories and this one was fascinating. A frontier America with magic... The settlers in this wild west are facing things that are truly wild - swarming weasles, mammoths, steam dragons... A fantastic variety of creatures, both magical and non-magical, are ready to attack any settler who wanders west of the Great Barrier.

I also liked that there was more than one type of magic in the world. Eff studies not only Avrupan ("European") magic, but Aphrikan and other types as well. This New World (called "Columbia") is a mixture of many different cultures. Ooh, I also like the Rationalists, which is a group of people who don't believe in using magic. Very interesting! So, yes... it's an intriguing world that's been created. Definitely a world in which I'd like to spend more time.

Oh. And I'm in love with the cover. :)

My problem was that I never really felt a connection with Eff. The narration is such that it felt like Eff was looking back over her childhood as an adult. In 340 pages, we get Eff's entire childhood. Some of it was fascinating, but some of it was kind of boring. A lot happens, but at the same time it felt like there wasn't really a plot. I almost put it down several times, but in the end I'm glad I kept going. Still, it wasn't a book that I dove into and read straight through. It took me almost an entire week to read it.

Will I check out the next book in the series? Probably. I do like the world quite a bit and I guess I can hope that now that we've built the world and gone through Eff's entire childhood, there might be more action in the next book. Plus, (I won't spoil anything by saying) Eff's potential career path opens up a lot of very interesting possibilities for the sequel.

Check out other reviews at Book Aunt, Children's Book Reviews and Then Some, Book Dame, and Persephone Reads.

Book Review: Five Minutes More

Five Minutes More by Darlene Ryan. (Grades 9+)

Five more minutes. D'Arcy knows that she can stand anything for five more minutes. It's a game that she and her dad used to play. When she didn't want to go to kindergarten, he told her they'd just stay for five minutes and if she didn't like it they would leave. When she wanted to leave, he told her they'd just stay for five more minutes. You can stand anything for just five more minutes.

Now D'Arcy's playing the game alone because her father has died and the thing she can't stand is living without him. Worse, some people are saying that he committed suicide. D'Arcy doesn't want to believe them, doesn't want to believe that her father could hurt her like this. But now everything about her life has changed. She's not even sure she knows who she is any more.

She said she could stand anything for just five minutes more, but can she stand this?

Five Minutes More is a searing portrayal of a girl dealing with her grief and anguish over her father's death. D'Arcy's family has torn apart at the seams. Her mother is collapsing in on herself, her estranged half-sister is appearing to collect all the heirlooms she feels entitled to, and D'Arcy's boyfriend and best friend seem to expect her to bounce right back to normal. The trouble is, D'Arcy doesn't have a "normal" any more, and she's finding it impossible to pretend.

To me, the book started off as a testament to resilience. D'Arcy gets through the funeral and the days after her father's death by taking it five minutes at a time, by placing one foot in front of the other. But soon things start to spiral out of control. She starts drinking wine to numb herself to the pain. D'Arcy pulls away from her boyfriend and best friend because they just don't seem to get it.

When adorkable Seth Thomas starts helping her with her math assignments, D'Arcy feels drawn to him. Maybe it's because he doesn't seem to expect anything from her. But as they get closer, she'll realize that she really doesn't know anything about him and that he's got his own problems that are weighing on him.

There were a few passages that stuck out to me as particularly nice, this like one when D'Arcy stumbles across Seth playing jazz piano:

He's playing jazz. My dad loved jazz.

I didn't get that music for a long time. I couldn't find the rhythm and I couldn't follow where it was going. Then one day Dad said, "Don't try to follow it or figure it out. Just let the music be all around you and listen."

And I did. I just sat there with my eyes closed and listened without thinking. The music ran up my back, it slid over my head, it jumped from one knee to the other and it spiraled down my arms. It was magic. I finally got why my dad liked it so much. (pg. 107)

This is a book that may appeal to fans of issue books (there's certainly enough drama to go around), but it wasn't totally up my alley. I think it's because I had a hard time connecting with D'Arcy. Darlene Ryan plops you right down in the middle of the action (the book opens with D'Arcy's dad's funeral) and doesn't let up. I didn't get a sense of who D'Arcy was.

But maybe that's entirely the point. I mean, everything has changed for D'Arcy and she's trying to figure out who she is without her father. If things feel a little disjointed and empty, that's because it reflects what D'Arcy herself is feeling.

More of a problem for me were the somewhat flat secondary characters. Claire is an evil step-sister, Brendan is the pushy jock boyfriend. A little fleshing out of their characters (or just a hint at what they're feeling or why they're acting the way they are) would have gone a long way.

Read more reviews at The Brain Lair and A Patchwork of Books. Check out Darlene Ryan's website and check back here for an interview with Ms. Ryan tomorrow!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Around the interwebs

Let's see... what have I been surfing this week?

Interested in outreach to your Latino communities? (And what library isn't targeting this population?) Check out the ALSC blog's podcast Outreach to Latino Populations and a post from Adriana Dominguez, expert on Latino authors and books. Adriana talks about her blog Voces, which she describes as "A place for and about Latino authors and their books, Spanish language translations, and news from the Latino book industry."

Sarah's got our YA movie news over at GreenBeanTeenQueen. You'll want to check out the pic of the wolf pack from the upcoming New Moon.

Speaking of Sarahs, Sarah from The Reading Zone pointed me to this article from the Seattle Book Examiner: Reader-in-Chief: Read-aloud Tips from President Obama. The article gives great tips on reading aloud and explains how our President demonstrated them. From the article:

Encourage the audience to act like the characters. After reading about Max’s magic trick to calm the Wild Things, the President asks, “Can everybody do that? Try to stare without blinking.” When kids do something the character in the book does, they feel empowered and connected to the book.

A Twitter novel? Hmmmm. I haven't read much of it yet, but check out Kathleen Duey's experiment: Russet: One-Wing and follow along to stay up to date. Definitely interesting. And what fun to write! I wonder if NaNoWriMo would be easier if done on Twitter... HMMM.

I'm always a sucker for videos about how illustrators and authors do their work and Travis has a great one over at 100 Scope Notes: In the Studio with Mark Teague. And I have to link to his recent post on banned books because this sentence made me laugh:

Reporting (and I use that term very loosely) on the most challenged books is like reporting the contents of my lunch bag - ain’t much changing.

It's funny because it's TRUE! Read the rest about the ALA Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2008.

And lastly (for today), I want to point you to The Almost Librarian where Valerie has a cool early literacy activity idea: Adventure Notebooks. They'll involve your preschoolers while you're out running errands, giveyou plenty to talk about, and give your kids a chance to practice those pre-writing (and even pre-math!) skills. Early literacy for the win!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thoughts on Round 2

Um... it's Thursday already? Guess it's time to weigh in on the Battle of the (Kids') Books. Here are my (brief) thoughts on the winners. Check out Liz's thoughts on the matches because they are much more complete than my own. Plus, she made up a BotKB drinking game. WIN.

Match 1 pitted The Trouble Begins at 8 against Octavian Nothing Vol. 2 with judge Tim Wynne-Jones presiding. Octavian was the winner. No real surprise there. Everyone hearts Octavian. I still have no desire to pick it up.

Judge Wynne-Jones says this about Octavian:

I cannot say that I gobbled up Octavian Nothing, The Kingdom on the Waves. I read the first half intermittently over a three-month period. I could put it down. But the important thing is that I couldn’t leave it down. It demanded to be read (albeit in a respectful tone, without raising its voice).

Match 2 pitted Chains against Tender Morsels with judge Coe Booth presiding. Chains was victorious (yaaay!) and Coe Booth said this:

As a reader. I want to go on a journey with a character. I want to care about him or her. While Tender Morsels is bold and original and thoroughly memorable, I cared about Isabel. And for that reason, my vote has to go to Chains.

Okay, I haven't read Tender Morsels, but I definitely agree with Judge Booth that Chains took me on a journey with a character I cared about. I loved the book and I'm happy to see that it's getting recognition in this contest since I feel like it was so overlooked in this year's awards.

Match 3 pitted The Hunger Games against We Are the Ship, with judge John Green presiding. Ohhh, thank you, John, for choosing my favorite book of 2008 as your winner! I have high hopes that The Hunger Games might go all the way (and I, along with hundreds of others, would be delighted if that happened!). Judge Green said that The Hunger Games was "the most fun I've had reading in years". And I have to agree.

And Match 4 was announced this morning. It pitted Graceling against The Lincolns with judge Nancy Werlin presiding. I would really have liked to see a Katniss/Katsa throwdown, but alas. It is not to be. Still, I can't begrudge The Lincolns its win, especially when Judge Werlin had this to say:

Reading The Lincolns once or twice isn't enough. I want to study it. I want to flip through it randomly. I need to buy extra copies for friends. I read choice bits aloud to my husband, and soon enough he was reading over my shoulder, and then with awe we were poring over Lincoln's handwriting (his very handwriting!) on the Gettsyburg Address – and then, in the next breath, considering exactly why it was that you couldn’t consider this brilliant, but very pragmatic and ambitious man to be a saint. The material was presented clearly, beautifully, fully, and with respect for the reader’s intelligence and understanding. Reading the book was utterly absorbing, cover to cover.

Now we're getting down to the nitty gritty... Which book will be the champion of them all? Time will tell... As for me, I'm headed off to work. What did you think of this week's matches?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Children's Librarian

9:00am - Leave apartment, books in tow, and head to local Montessori preschool for an outreach storytime.

9:25a - Arrive at preschool and get situated.

9:30a - Start first storytime for a group of 2-4-year-olds. We start with the song Hello Everybody and I read The Train Goes Clickety Clack, Dino-Pets, and Can You Guess?. I also do the song Five Green and Speckled Frogs with some frog finger puppets, and I do a felt of Bark George. We have a slight speckled frog eye casualty. Oops!

10:00a - Say goodbye to the first group and head to the next classroom for another storytime (for 3-5s). I read Duck on a Bike and Dino-Pets, sing Five Green and Speckled Frogs and do the felt of Bark George.

10:30a - Wrap up storytime and say hi to the elementary groups at the school before I head back to the library.

11:00a - Arrive at the library, enter storytime books into the database and put them away.

11:25a - Googly eye casualty fixed with a little bit of glue. :)

11:30a - Talk with coworker about upcoming constellation program, print out some pictures of Pleiades and constellations.

11:47a - Check voicemail (I do not do this often enough - email is a much faster way to contact me). I have a message from my Recorded Books rep making sure that I got his email with the answers to a couple of questions I had. Email him back.

11:53a - Make out a program sheet for upcoming preschool visit that colleagues are going on, print out map & directions for them.

12:13p - (I have "Hello Everybody (Glad to See You)" stuck in my head...)

12:14p - Check email.

12:20p - Update our teen Twitter. We've had a Twitter account for several months and at first I struggled to remember to update it. Now, I've created a Google document with books that I'd like to promote (for March it was Women's History, for April it's novels in verse, poetry, etc. I also try to keep track of special days and holidays like Holocaust Remembrance Day or Encourage a Young Writer Day) and upcoming programs. Every day I go through my list and pick out two or three books or programs or services to Tweet about. It's been helping me keep Twitter updated! We don't have a large number of followers yet, but the Tweets also appear on our website's teen page.

12:28p - Work on prep for upcoming constellation program. Need to learn stories about Ursa Major and Cassopeia. (Stay tuned for post about that program, it should be a good one!) I make a sample of the craft we're going to make and hope that it turns out. (It did!)

1:20p - Lunch time!

2:24p - Back from lunch and I work on a few preschool loan bags. I pull books on bugs, ponds, doctors, and dentists.

3:08p - I'm trying to finish weeding my portion of the 600s (600-629s). I take a cart and my pull list and head into the stacks to pull books that aren't being checked out or that are outdated or that are in poor condition.

3:50p - Done pulling, back in office to evaluate & fill out weeding slips.

3:52p - (Too hot in here, going to get some ice for my water)

3:54p - (Ahhhh)

5:13p - Done with the 600s! The weeded books go on a cart for my department head to look over before they're taken to technical services. I enter stats for the preschool loans I filled earlier.

5:24p - The weeding never stops. I run a report on audiobook CDs for weeding and head out to the audiobook section to pull CDs (and help N on the desk).

6:00p - Time to go home!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sometimes life rocks

Um, yeah, I met Joss Whedon last night:

I went to the This American Life live show in Chicago with my dear friend M. Joss Whedon sang a song at the end of the show. And after the show, we stood outside the stage door until Ira Glass and Joss Whedon came out. They were both so super nice, talking to us even though it was cold and raining. I, of course, couldn't think of anything intelligent to say. But that's okay! :)

ETA (10:50p): Yes, it was Joss and Ira:

Reading Around the World for Preschoolers

A couple of months ago I got a preschool book bag request for "All Around the World" and it inspired me to compose a few book lists about people all around the world and multiculturalism. Here are some of my favorite multicultural books for young kids.

Reading Around the World - For Preschoolers

You and Me Together: Moms, Dads, and Kids Around the World by Barbara Kerley. Short, simple rhyming text and stunning colorful photos make this great for sharing with a group.

Yum! Yuck!: A Foldout Book of People Sounds From Around the World and Mung-Mung: A Foldout Book of Animal Sounds by Linda Sue Park. Both of these colorful picture books show how different sounds "translate" in different languages. In America, a cow says "Moo!" What do they say in Japan?

The Pebble Plus Life Around the World series from Capstone Press has many great titles including Families in Many Cultures and Homes in Many Cultures. I love the Pebble Plus books for preschoolers and early readers because they have large, vibrant photos and really simple text.

Homes Around the World ABC by Amanda Doering is another colorful book about all kind of homes all over the world.

Market! by Ted Lewin gives young readers a glimpse inside several different shopping markets worldwide. If your preschoolers have only ever been to the grocery store on the corner, give them a glimpse of markets in Ecuador or Morocco.

Can You Count Ten Toes?: Count to 10 in 10 Different Languages by Lezlie Evans. Rhyming verses introduce the words for the numerals 1-10 in different languages.

Let's Eat: Foods of Our World by Janine Scott. This book compares eating habits and customs from countries around the world.

Families by Ann Morris. The simple text in this book describes families around the world. How is your family different from a family in Vietnam? How is it the same as a family from Saudi Arabia? Large color pictures make this a great book to pore over with mom, dad, brother, and sister.

Happy Nonfiction Monday! Check out the roundup at Mommy's Favorite Children's Books.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Battle of the (Kids') Books: Second Round Picks

Well, there were certainly some surprises in Round 1 (but this wouldn't be fun if there weren't any upsets, eh?). Let's see how we do for Round 2. You can find an updated bracket on the SLJ BOB Blog (link opens a PDF).

Match 1:
Octavian Nothing Vol. 2 vs. The Trouble Begins at 8, judged by Tim Wynne-Jones.
I honestly have no idea how this one will go, so I guess I have to go with my heart and say that I hope Trouble wins.

Match 2:
Chains vs. Tender Morsels, judged by Coe Booth.
Again, I have no idea (they're so different!), but my heart wishes for Chains to win. (I have it going all the way!)

Match 3:
We Are the Ship vs. The Hunger Games, judged by John Green.
Ohhh, John Green. Please pick The Hunger Games!

Match 4:
Graceling vs. The Lincolns, judged by Nancy Werlin.
I can only hope that Ms. Werlin's recent foray into fantasy was a positive one. I did like The Lincolns and I've stated several times that Candace Fleming is adorable, but I'm rooting for Katsa in Graceling. (Wouldn't it be great to have a Katsa/Katniss showdown?!)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Thoughts about matches 7 & 8

Is it just me or has this week flown by? I can't believe they've announced all the Round 1 winners already!

In Match 7, Graceling faced The Underneath and Tamora Pierce chose Graceling. Personally, I loved both books (in very different ways) and I don't agree with Ms. Pierce's criticism that "it went on too long, meandering too much and losing a great deal of the dramatic tension in the main and secondary stories. Also, the violence and alcoholism are more suited to a YA than a middle grade book, while the characters are definitely middle grade."

But, as Ms. Pierce is the author of a stack of books with kick-butt heroines, it's no surprise to me that Katsa took this round.

Match 8 pitted The Lincolns against Nation with judge Ann Brashares picking The Lincolns for yet another nonfiction win. I have to say, it's great to see nonfiction making such a good showing in the first round. I also have to say that I didn't have a lot of stock in this particular match, although I did see Candace Fleming speak at Anderson's and she's adorable.

Another week, another round! I'll be writing up my picks this weekend!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Around the interwebs

Reading is Fundemental invites you to join the 2009 Read With Kids Challenge and help them collectively log 5 million minutes of reading with kids. Log minutes spent reading with kids between April 1 and June 30 and you could win a trip to Disney World! (Plus, you'll have the absolutely joy of reading with a child you care about, which is a reward in itself..)

The Winston Breen Puzzle Party kicks off today at A Patchwork of Books! So head on over there and solve the puzzle for a chance to win the newly-released book The Potato Chip Puzzles. (But if you don't try too hard, that's a-okay with me since it'll up MY chances of winning... Mua ha ha ha!!!)

Speaking of things you can win, the lovely Sarah at GreenBeanTeenQueen pointed me to a giveaway at Brooke Taylor Books for an ARC of Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd! Tell me this is not a book all us geeky blogger types want to read... So head on over there (or not, y'know, since if you enter it decreases MY chances...)

Steph's collecting first-pub stories for a new feature on her blog: Pub Stories. First up is Cindy Pon, author of the YA Asian fantasy Silver Phoenix. (Trisha's got a review of Silver Phoenix, so check it out.)

ETA (1:06PM): Annnd Steph's holding a giveaway for an ARC of Silver Phoenix, so make sure you head over there and enter!

John Green's participating in Blog Every Day April and answering questions sent in by readers. I found this post about Twilight and YA fiction particularly interesting. A quote:

I believe that we as readers should read both as a sweet devouring (as Eudora Welty famously put it)--but that we should also be able to read critically at the same time. Which is to say that I think one can read, and love Twilight while simultaneously being troubled by the manner in which it romanticizes and objectifies the other.

In honor of National Library Week, The Picnic Basket is serving up a few words from authors about how awesome librarians are. Awww. *blush* We try. ;)

And Shannon Hale writes about taking risks with her writing, specifically trying new genres and writing the stories she wants to write. From the post:

Alas, here I am. Not a smart businesswoman, but a weird little hausfrau still in my pajamas clicking away at a scifi trilogy one word at a time and biting my nails while I await reaction to my new book for adults. I knew I was taking a risk when I decided to write the actor and the housewife, hands-down the biggest risk I've taken as a writer for so many reasons. But I chose to do it anyway.

And that's all I've got for you this morning! The sun's finally peeking its head out today and it looks like it's going to be lovely in Chicagoland today. C'mon spring!!

Let me introduce my friend Judy...

I believe it was a long, boring summer day that I first picked up the classic story Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. The copy we had at my house was an ancient one that my mother had had as a girl (no offense, mom) and it felt like buried treasure to me. As I devoured the letters of the fictional Jerusha Abbott, I felt like I was the first person on earth to discover it.

"Judy" Abbott has been a life-long friend since then. She's one of my best literary friends.

Daddy-Long-Legs is about an orphan named Jerusha "Judy" Abbott living in New York in the early 1900s. She's lived all her life at the John Grier Home and now that she's 18, typically she would be on her own, but something miraculous happens. One of the rich trustees of the orphanage sees promise in her writing and wishes to send her to college to become a writer. He has a few requests: he is to remain completely anonymous and she is to write monthly letters to him updating him on her progress. Jerusha knows him only as "Mr. John Smith".

The bulk of the novel is comprised of these letters and we see scrawny Jerusha Abbott, used to being a pitied orphan at her high school, grow into a young lady who calls herself Judy, who attends classes, makes friends, and writes and writes and writes.

I read this book many times as a child and I recently listened to the audiobook on a car trip. Kate Forbes provides excellent narration and the story took me straight back to those lazy summer days when I curled up on the couch with my friend Judy. I also picked up on things that went over my head when I read it as a kid. There's an element of romance that's way more blatant than I remember it being (or maybe that's just because now I know the ending...).

Um, how did I not know there was a sequel?? You can bet that I'm going to go straight out and find it.

Pair this book with A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly for tales of scrappy literary-minded women determined to educate themselves in the early 1900s. It's too bad I can't introduce Judy and Mattie - I think they might be good friends. ;)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thoughts on Matches 3-6

They just keep announcing match results in the Battle of the (Kids) Books!

Match 3 (Chains vs. Washington at Valley Forge) went the way I hoped it would, with Chains taking the win. I don't really have much else to say about this one except that I think Elizabeth Partridge has convinced me to seek out Freedman's book.

Match 4 pitted Here Lies Arthur against Tender Morsels with judge Meg Rosoff picking Tender Morsels for the win. I haven't read either of them (okay, I started Here Lies Arthur, but put it down after 70 pages or so because I just wasn't that into it), but for the sake of my bracket, I'm pleased with Ms. Rosoff's choice. And she may have convinced me to pick up Tender Morsels by saying this:

I was shocked, transfixed, amazed by Tender Morsels. In my opinion, it has blown the lid off the genre. When was the last time you could say that about any book?

Match 5 (The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks vs. We Are the Ship) was the shock of the day. My poor bracket was blown to smithereens when Rachel Cohn went for the upset and chose We Are the Ship. The one bright side is that this leaves the way open for my personal favorite, The Hunger Games, to take it all! (I am 99% certain that my husband John Green would have picked Frankie over The Hunger Games, but now we'll never have to face that awful scenario!)

And that brings us to Match 6, which almost makes up for the heartbreak that was Match 5:

In The Hunger Games vs. The Porcupine Year, the lovely, wonderful, and talented Ellen Wittlinger picked... THE HUNGER GAMES!!! Which will make these ladies very happy:

We have two more matches left this week and then this weekend I'll make my picks for next week's matches. Whew. What do you think of the round one winners so far? Is your bracket still intact?

Book Review: Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass. (Grades 5-8.)

Life changes for Jeremy Fink when, a month before his thirteenth birthday, he receives a wooden box from his father. Jeremy's father died when he was eight and the box has words carved into the top: "THE MEANING OF LIFE. FOR JEREMY FINK TO OPEN ON HIS 13TH BIRTHDAY."

The problem? The box requires four special keys to open it. And the keys have been lost. Can Jeremy and his best friend Lizzy find the keys before his birthday?

Their quest for the keys will lead them all over New York City. They'll talk to people they never thought they would meet. And they just might find out the meaning of life.

What I love about this book is something that I've loved about the other Wendy Mass books I've read. I feel like I learned so much by reading it. And not in that didactic this-is-an-educational-novel type of way. It was so organic that I didn't even realize it at first, but then I kept having to put the book down to take a deep breath because she was blowing my mind.

In Every Soul a Star, I learned about astronomy. In A Mango-Shaped Space, I learned about synesthesia. In Jeremy Fink, the reader gets a dose of philosophy. And a taste of evolutionary theory. As Jeremy and Lizzy try to find out what their purpose is, they take the reader along with them.

Add to this a host of varied and well-developed characters and a really interesting plot and you've got yourself a great novel here. It's not perfect - the new neighbors and the seance scene don't fit with the story and the book would have been stronger without them - but it's a book I'll happily recommend to boys and girls alike.

This book's been reviewed all over the kidlitosphere. You can find a sampling of them at A Fuse #8 Production, Jen Robinson's Book Page, Big A little a, and bookshelves of doom. Check out Wendy Mass's website and read a great interview with Wendy Mass at HipWriterMama.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Book Review: Dinothesaurus

Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian.

Y'all already know that I'm a huge fan of Mr. Douglas Florian. Well, his latest book does not disappoint.

Dinothesaurus is a collection of poems about (what else?) dinosaurs. With his signature word play and detailed paintings, this collection is sure to please young dino-fanatics.

Each spread contains a painting of an poem about a different dinosaur from the ferocious T-Rex to the gigantic seismosaurus to the tiny micropachycephalosaurus. The paintings have lots of funny little details that make them so much fun to look at closely and each painting is different from all the rest.

Um, I tried and tried to pick a very favorite, but I couldn't because I love so many of them.

Here's a little bit of Pterosaurs:

The pterrifying pterosaurs
Flew ptours the ptime of dinosaurs.
With widespread wings and pteeth pto ptear,
They pterrorized the pteeming air

And one thing that librarians (and anyone who read aloud) will be happy to find is a pronunciation guide that accompanies each dino poem. Thanks, Douglasaurus! Head over to his blog to see more excerpts and spreads from the book. And then go pick this up for your favorite dino-fan.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Thoughts on Matches 1 and 2

This morning, the winners of the first two matches of the Battle of the (Kids') Books were announced.

In Match 1 (Ways to Live Forever vs. The Kingdom on the Waves) Roger Sutton's pick was no surprise to me. I haven't read either Octavian book and - no offense to MT Anderson or the legions of Octavian fans out there - I have no intention of reading them. Just not my thing, I'm afraid. Maybe someday I'll change my mind.

Some people may get up in arms about a YA book that doesn't have a wide YA readership being chosen, but Roger's reasoning makes perfect sense to me. He says:

It’s a book we didn’t have before and thus offers new possibilities for the books that will come after. I don’t think it will have a wide readership among kids, but it will be read by teachers, librarians, and perhaps most influentially, other writers. What will it allow them to write?

I can get on board with that.

As for Match 2 (The Graveyard Book vs. The Trouble Begins at 8), I'm delighted by Jon Scieszka's upset. I, somewhat begrudgingly, filled in The Graveyard Book to win this match because everyone seems to love it. I liked it. I didn't love it. But I loooooved The Trouble Begins at 8.

Jon Sceiszka writes about the book:

...The Trouble Begins at 8 is a clear winner. It is a thoughtful, funny, scholarly piece of writing. And it just might be the book to rescue one of the funniest American writers ever from the grave of required school reading.

Someone's already commented, lamenting the fact that "Another YA book wins that appeals to adults more than young adults." I'm not sure that's true. I remember reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (albeit, a watered-down, abridged version!) in elementary school and loving it. I really think that if someone had handed me Trouble after that, I would have eaten it up.

So, congrats to the winners and it remains to be seen whether my bracket can be salvaged... ;)

Book Review: Written in Bone

Written in Bone: Buries Lives of Jamestown and Colonial America by Sally M. Walker. (Grades 5-8.)

The boy was about fifteen years old when he died.

He had been born in Europe and traveled to America shortly before he died.

He likely died as a result of violence.

Oh, and he was someone none of us ever knew or met because he lived and died 400 years ago in the colony of Jamestown.

So how do we know anything about who he was or how he died? Written in Bone tells the story of scientists and historians who excavated graves at Jamestown and in Maryland and studied the remains to find out all they could about these early colonists.

With beautiful and informative photos, Sally M. Walker writes in incredible detail about the tests and research that scientists do to find out about early settlers from their remains. Did you know that you can usually tell a male and female apart by their bones? Or that you might find out where a person grew up by studying isotopes in their tooth enamel?

The book's compelling enough to be recreational reading, but Ms. Walker also includes tons of source notes and resources for further research, so this is a great choice for reports, too. Live in or visiting Washington DC? You can check out the Written in Bone exhibit at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, too. I'm going to DC at some point this year (in October for a wedding if not before) and I am definitely going to visit this exhibit!

So, so many different techniques are used by forensic anthropologists to research human remains and Written in Bone presents many of them in an interesting and accessible format. Color photographs show the remains that were excavated and how scientists studied the bones to determine who these people were and what might have happened to them.

What would your bones say about you?

Nonfiction Monday Round Up!

Hello, hello, and welcome to your Nonfiction Monday Round-Up where you can see what nonfiction the kidlitosphere has been reading and writing about this week! Please add your link in the comments and I'll update this post throughout the day.

I've got a review of Sally M. Walker's fabulous book Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial America.

StoryForce reviews I, Matthew Henson, Polar Explorer, a forceful biography by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Eric Velasquez.

Guest blogger, Paula Morrow, reviews What Kinds of Seeds Are These? at the Wild About Nature Blog.

Anastasia Suen's preparing for Earth Day next week with this book pair for K-8 over at Kid Lit Kit.

Lori at Lori Calabrese Writes! reviews Nic Bishop's Spiders.

Jill has a review of Abe's Honest Words on What's on Your Shelf?

Pam's reviewing Dazzling Dragonflies over at MotherReader.

Amanda's got a review of another Matthew Henson title - Keep On!: The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-Discoverer of the North Pole - over at A Patchwork of Books.

Mandy's added Remember Little Rock: the Time, the People, the Stories to the ACPL Mock Sibert blog. Stop by and leave your comments!

Roberta of Wrapped In Foil has reviewed Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out.

Shirley at SimplyScience has a review of Ocean's Child.

Nadine from Kiddos and Books chimes in with an oldie - The Outdoors Book.

Andrew's got a post up at the Carolrhoda Books Blog on science and storytelling: What IS Science?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Around the Interwebs

I've just got a few things to share with you this Sunday.

First of all, Jen Robinson reminds us that today, April 12, is Drop Everything And Read Day, a day for celebrating reading and making reading a priority. So drop what you're doing and spend some time reading!

If you need help picking out some books for little ones, Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile has a great post up with experts' tips on picking out books for babies. Various librarians and kidlit enthusiasts offer tips for encouraging a love of books in the very young.

And speaking of tips, Travis offers Three Tips for a Successful Book Fair over at 100 Scope Notes. School librarians, check this out! He's giving some advice on how to make your book fair work, complete with a photo of a Wild Thing.

I know it's a short post today, but I'm going to Drop Everything And Read (finishing up Fade and Evermore and trying to squeeze in Bones of Faerie because it's overdue - eep!).

Battle of the (Kids') Books: First Round Picks

Did you fill out your bracket (link opens a PDF)?! The Battle starts tomorrow, so if you haven't, you'd better get crackin'. And without further ado, I give you my first round picks (complete with peanut-gallery-type commentary).

(First of all, I just have to say that it's so hard to make these choices. The books we're comparing are so very different! But I'll give it my best shot.)

Match 1:
Octavian Nothing Vol 2 vs. Ways to Live Forever, judged by Roger Sutton. I liked Ways to Live Forever and I never could get through either of the Octavian Nothing books (maybe someday I will). Now, Horn Book didn't star Octavian and they did star Ways to Live Forever. But I think I've got to give this one to Octavian because everyone gushes about it. It just seems like one of those books that's going to be deemed "better".

Match 2:
The Graveyard Book vs. The Trouble Begins at 8, judged by Jon Scieszka (and yes, I can spell his name without looking it up!). There's no question that I, myself, prefer Trouble. I had a few problems with The Graveyard Book and I just didn't love it. That said, Graveyard is a popular favorite and who doesn't love Neil Gaiman? I have to go with The Graveyard Book on this one.

Match 3:
Chains vs. Washington at Valley Forge, judged by Elizabeth Partridge. Oh, this one is no contest for me. First, I must confess that I hadn't even heard of Washington at Valley Forge before this bracket was released. And a Russell Freedman book that's not getting buzz, well, doesn't that speak for itself? But mostly, I just loved, loved, loved Chains. (So much that I think I've got it going all the way...) So Chains is my definite pick for this one.

Match 4:
Here Lies Arthur vs. Tender Morsels, judged by Meg Rosoff. This was a bit difficult because I haven't read either of the books in question. I started Arthur but put it down because it just wasn't my thing at the time. I'm going with Tender Morsels on the strength of its Printz honor win (and it is being judged by a Printz-winning author...).

Match 5:
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks vs. We Are the Ship, judged by Rachel Cohn. This is another one that's just no contest for me. I loved Frankie; it was on our Cybils shortlist. I loved a lot of things about We Are the Ship, but I did have a problem with it. And I've got to think that YA fiction author Cohn is going to go with Frankie.

Match 6:
The Hunger Games vs. The Porcupine Year, judged by Ellen Wittlinger. Again, no contest for me. The Hunger Games was my hands-down favorite book of 2008. I even reread it and plan on rereading it again before Catching Fire is released.

Match 7:
Graceling vs. The Underneath, judged by Tamora Pierce. This is a tough one for me because I loved both these books, but in very different ways. Graceling has a kick-butt heroine and adventure and romance and a well-constructed fantasy world. The Underneath has achingly beautiful writing and unforgettable characters. I love them both, but I have to think that Ms. Pierce (author of many a kick-butt fantasy heroine) is going to go with Graceling.

Match 8:
The Lincolns vs. Nation, judged by Ann Brashares. I'm going to go with The Lincolns strictly because I heard Candace Fleming talk about it at an event and she's utterly charming. This one could go either way!

So, there you have my picks for the first round! We'll start finding out the winners tomorrow, so make sure you're tuning in to the Battle of the (Kids') Books Blog and following them on Twitter. Where do you think I've gone wrong? What do you agree with? What are YOUR picks?

Friday, April 10, 2009

By the Cover: Silouhettes

I've come across several beautiful book covers lately that feature silhouettes.

The first was Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman. So when I saw the cover of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, that's what it reminded me of. (Fitting since Calpurnia is about a young naturalist.) And then I saw the cover of Patricia Wrede's newest, The Thirteenth Child. The striking thing to me about these covers is that they all feature silouhettes on a background that looks vaguely old-fashioned. Warm. Or kind of like old paper. Here they are:

I find it interesting that the covers have such similar styles and the books are all from different genres. We have a biography, a historical fiction, and a fantasy (albeit: historical fantasy... is that a genre?).

And then I started thinking and, though it's a bit different, you could add The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski to this list. New trend? Perhaps... Who's got other examples?

And Lisa points out:

The Manny Files by Christian Burch
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Highway Cats by Janet Taylor Lisle