Sunday, January 31, 2010

In My Mailbox #19

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi of The Story Siren!

I got a book in my mailbox this week:

An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank by Elaine Marie Alphin. Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group), March 2010.

From the jacket flap:

Was an innocent man accused of murder? 

On April 26, 1913, thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan planned to meet friends at a parade in Atlanta, Georgia. But first she stopped at the pencil factory where she worked to pick up her paycheck. Mary never left the building alive. 

A black watchman found Mary's body brutally beaten and raped. Police arrested the watchman, but they weren't satisfied that he was the killer. Then they paid a visit to Leo Frank, the factory's superintendent, who was both a northerner and a Jew. Spurred on by the media frenzy and prejudices of the time, the detectives made Frank their prime suspect, one whose conviction would soothe the city's anger over the death of a young white girl. 

The prosecution of Leo Frank was front-page news for two years, and Frank's lynching is still one of the most controversial incidents of the twentieth century. It marks a turning point in the history of racial and religious hatred in America, leading directly to the founding of the Anti-Defamation League and to the rebirth of the modern Ku Klux Klan. Relying on primary source documents and painstaking research, award-winning novelist Elaine Alphin tells the true story of justice undone in America

And that's it for my mailbox this week! Did you get anything exciting in the mail or bookstore this week?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Around the interwebs

So, what's been happening around the interwebs this week?

Betsy at A Fuse #8 Production let us know that the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation is accepting submissions for the Ezra Jack Keats Mini-Grant. If you work at a public library or public school, do check it out.

What fabulous YA books have not yet gotten the buzz they deserve? Kelly over at YAnnabe asked just that question and 73 bloggers chimed in. Check out her Unsung YA project to find out the top ten books you may have missed. Looks like she's considering making it an annual event and that's certainly one I'll look forward to! 

Remember when 2010 used to be the future? Thanks to @kidsilkhaze for the very amusing link.

Ohhhh, if only I lived in New York! Among other things, I COULD SEE BABYMOUSE: THE MUSICAL. Thanks to @randomhousekids for the link.

Imagine how nice it would be to look back and see a list of the books you read as a child. Or the books your children read. Over at Booklights, Susan encourages parents to start writing down the books your kids are reading. I don't have any kids, but I can add that keeping a list together could be a great activity to encourage early literacy skills or motivate your kids to practice their writing. (Which is one reason I have trepidation about libraries heading over into online-only summer reading club records... Just as reading over the summer helps kids retain their reading skills, writing down the book titles helps them practice their writing! But that is a rant for another day...)  

These are just awesome. Thanks to Fuse #8 for the link.

Travis of 100 Scope Notes gives us a peek at what he bought for his school library when he had $200.00 to spend.

In How to Complain About Your Publisher in Public, Editorial Anonymous talks about the Magic Under Glass cover fiasco and answers the question "Why wasn't the author the very first to object publicly to the cover?"

Have you checked out Fed Up: School Lunch Project yet? An anonymous teacher, concerned with the nutritional value of the lunches provided at her school, is eating (or at least buying and documenting) school lunch every day. It is gross, but kind of fascinating. And it's definitely got a lot of people thinking and talking about nutrition. Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the link.

Martin Scorcese is going to direct the (live-action) movie adaptation of The Adventures of Hugo Cabret. Hmm. Thanks to J for the link.

And speaking of movies, they've released a trailer for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie and it looks hilaaaarious! Do check it out. Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the (first) link (I saw).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Catching up...

And here I am, catching up on my to-review pile with three short reviews of books I've picked up lately. 

Epitaph Road by David Patneaude. (Grades 5-8.) Egmont USA, March 2010. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

In 2067 the virus came. Elisha's Bear. It only affected males and it was deadly. Almost every male on earth was wiped out. Now, thirty years later, Kellen is one of the few boys on earth. When Kellen hears that there might be another outbreak of Elisha's Bear near where his father lives, he knows he has to warn him... whatever the cost. But what he'll discover on his journey will change everything. 

It's an interesting premise and usually post-apocalyptic teen novels are right up my alley, but this one didn't do it for me. I liked the author's device of explaining the changes that brought about the current government through newspaper headlines. But it just took forever for the plot to get to where it was going. By the time Kellen undertook his journey and started figuring out the hidden truths, I had long lost patience. Plus, I understand from other Good Reads reviews that the premise has been done (and possibly done better) in The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper. 

Flawed Dogs by Berkeley Breathed. (Grades 4-6.) Philomel Books, September 2009. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher. 

This is the story of Sam the Lion, a pedigreed dachshund with a rare Duuglitz tuft. Meant to be a show dog, he soon escapes the clutches of the overbearing Mrs. Nutbush and elects to follow an orphan named Heidy who is going to live with her uncle. But when Sam steals the attention away from the champion standard poodle Cassius, Cassius will get his revenge. What ensues is a wild and wacky adventure as the flawed dogs decide to claim what is rightfully theirs. 

Now, this one I didn't expect to like as much as I did, but once I started it I found myself getting into it. The book reads like an animated feature and I could really see everything happening as the story unfolded. Plus, the voice of Sam, the scrappy dachshund, is hilarious. I'm not totally sold on the kid appeal because I've had a hard time selling books with animal protagonists to middle-graders, but parts of the book might be a little disturbing to younger kids. This might make a good family or classroom readaloud, though. 

The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin. (Grades 2-5.) Scholastic Press, April 2010. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.  

Before there was the Baby-Sitters Club, there were four girls - Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey. This is the story of the summer before they got together to form the BSC. That summer they were all going through things. Kristy was missing her dad and rebelling against her mom's new boyfriend Watson. Mary Anne was struggling with her father's strict rules. Claudia was discovering boys and feeling much more mature than her two best friends, Kristy and Mary Anne. And Stacey was dealing with her former best friends who dumped her. 

The Summer Before is exactly what you'd expect from a Baby-Sitters Club prequel. It definitely matches the tone and writing of the series and fans will be glad to get some more insights into their favorite characters. I don't know that it will necessarily attract new fans to the series, though. What I loved about the BSC books is the friendship between the girls and their babysitting stories, both of which are somewhat scarce in this prequel. That said, it'll please current fans. And I guess I'll hold off on weeding out BSC books just yet... ;)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What I didn't learn in library school...

Awhile back, the ALSC blog ran a series on What I Wasn't Taught in Library School. It's a great series, but I've been thinking of some additions lately and that's what today's post is about.

What I didn't learn in library school...

You get better with practice. I guess that's probably obvious, but it wasn't obvious to me the week before I did my very first preschool storytime for my internship. I was so nervous I couldn't sleep! Now that I do storytime all the time, it seems silly, but that's the kind of ease that comes with practice, with familiarity. You won't know everything when you first start and that's okay. That's what more experienced librarians can help you with. And as you keep reading and doing programs, you'll get better at picking books that suit your audience and you'll learn from your mistakes, too. The best thing is when you have a more experienced librarian to mentor you, to bounce ideas off of... I know that not everyone has this. I recommend joining PUBYAC or a state or system listserv to find a supportive community of librarians. Or, if all else fails, you can bounce ideas off of me (though I have to say that I don't have that much experience - I've been a librarian for three years now). 

Even though you're better with practice, new things may still make you nervous. This is okay. You'll get better at them, too, with practice. I've been doing programs for various ages for three years now, but I was still nervous before my first Mother Goose on the Loose baby program last week. I got through it. It wasn't perfect (I forgot the words to "This Little Piggy", among other things), but that's okay! I'll do better next week. And the week after that. And the week after that. Until this program becomes as comfortable as the programs I've been doing for years. And then we'll start something new... ;) 

Attendance at programs can be cyclical. So, you planned an awesome program, you advertised it, you were certain you'd have a huge crowd... and you only got two kids, one of which is a coworker's son. Is it you? Maybe. But probably not. So many things can affect attendance at programs - the weather, kids' extracurricular schedules, holidays, fear of the swine flu... So don't take it personally if no one shows up to your awesome program. File it away and try it another time.

Librarians share programs ideas. Like, all the time. Okay, not all the time. But very frequently. It's what we do! We have a successful program and we want to share it. We don't mind when others recreate it. And we're often borrowing our program ideas from other librarians. This is one of the reasons for listservs, library journals, and blogs. Sure, you'll come up with some news ideas and try them out, but you don't have to worry about coming up with original programs from scratch every single time.

You do your programs your way and that is okay. Librarians get inspiration from each other. We share ideas. We read journals and blogs and listservs and decide to copy these fantastic programs at our library. But just because one librarian does it a certain way doesn't mean you have to. Put your own spin on it. Do what works for you and your patrons. There's no absolute right way to do a program or a storytime. That said, if you're open to new ways of doing things you'll probably stumble across some great ideas that make your programs work even better for you.

No one knows what you're doing if you don't advertise. (This, of course, is different in every community.) Maybe you're the person in charge of promoting your programs and maybe you're not, but one thing I've especially learned over the past few months at my new job is that you have to get the word out! My library does not have the resources to mail out a newsletter or program schedule to all patrons in our district. We make use of the local papers, write blurbs for our website, send emails to district teachers, create signs and flyers (which I hand out to community members at appropriate networking meetings), and send word to area homeschooling groups.

And how about you, librarians? What have you learned on the job that wasn't covered in library school? Put it in the comments!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Magic Tree House Research Guides

Happy Nonfiction Monday! Today I'd like to post about a nonfiction series that is quite popular at my library: The Magic Tree House Research Guides by Mary Pope Osborne and some of them with Will Osborne and some of them with Natalie Pope Boyce.

Each research guide is written to go along with one of the books in the Magic Tree House series. The guides use the characters of Jack and Annie to present information on the topics in the books. The guides are written in short chapters and include illustrations, just like the Magic Tree House books, making them accessible to curious young readers. The usage of beloved characters provides a jumping off point, making the Research Guides attractive to kids who may not otherwise think about picking up a nonfiction book about space, Ancient Greece, or penguins.

I looked at three books in the series: Space: A Nonfiction Companion to Midnight on the Moon, Tsunamis and Other Natural Disasters: A Nonfiction Companion to High Tide in Hawaii, and Sea Monsters: A Nonfiction Companion to Dark Day in the Deep Sea.

Space starts with the history of space exploration. It provides information about the stars and planets and about space travel. While the book was published in 2002 and some facts may be out of date (according to the book the Very Large Telescope is still being built and Pluto is the smallest planet, although "Many astronomers today think Pluto shouldn't be called a planet at all!"), it's still a useful introduction.

Tsunamis and Other Natural Disasters begins with information about the 2004 tsunami that hit several countries in the Pacific. Each chapter takes on a different type of natural disaster including tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, mudslides, and avalanches. The text touches on how scientists try to predict such disasters and what to do if you find yourself in the middle of one.

Sea Monsters presents information about many different kinds of animals that live in the sea, including squid, octopi, and creatures that live in the depths of the ocean. It also includes information on prehistoric animals that once swam and various myths and legends about sea monsters.

These books are perfect to pair with the Magic Tree House fiction series and they may inspire kids to do some of their own research on topics that interest them. I'd certainly add them to your library or classroom shelves if you don't have them already. They could also be great reading for families with Magic Tree House fans.

It's Nonfiction Monday, so check out the roundup over at Playing by the Book to see what nonfiction the KidLitosphere has been reading this week!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In My Mailbox #18

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren!

This week I got a few books from Charlesbridge Publishing!

Every Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and Debates by Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw. February 2010. From jacket flap: Contrary to the brash images of tomb-raiding adventurers that Hollywood often creates, today's archaeologists are actually cutting-edge scientists. Their buried treasures are the remains of our hominin ancestors. Archaeologists and other scientists examine the evidence from each discovery in their laboratories, seeking answers about our history - clues that could offer insight into human behavior and culture. Every discovery adds a piece to the larger puzzle of our past, but sometimes the scientists disagree over how, or even if, the pieces fit together. Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw offer an engaging account of the discovery of four hominins - Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, and Iceman - as well as the laboratory deductions that scientists made in learning more about them, and the controversial, often heated, debates that ensued over the scientists' differences of opinions.

I'm a science girl and this one sounds similar to Lucy Long Ago and parts of Secrets of a Civil War Submarine, both of which I loved.

Ocean Soup: Tide-Pool Poems by Stephen R. Swinburne, illustrated by Mary Peterson. February 2010. From jacket flap: From the low-down dirty lobster to the old, cold fish living under the pier, playful poems introduce some of the squishy, shelled, and spiny creatures that call the Atlantic and Pacific tide pools home.

This one looks very cute and will tie in well to the collaborative summer reading program that many libraries are doing this summer.

Older Than the Stars by Karen C. Fox, illustrated by Nancy Davis. February 2010. From the jacket: How old are you? Older than you think. The iron in your blood may have once been part of a volcano... the calcium in your bones may have been part of an ancient oyster shell... the oxygen in your lungs was once probably breathed by dinosaurs... and every little bit of you was once part of a star. In a way, you are as old as the universe itself.

A picture book about the Big Bang Theory. 'Nuff said.

That's it for my mailbox; did you get anything awesome in your mailbox this week?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bobbing Along: A Float or Sink Storytime

What to read to a preschool class exploring things that float or sink? Here's what I did for storytime when they came last week.

Do Like a Duck Does by Judy Hindley - Large, colorful illustrations make this fun for sharing with a group, but be sure to read it a couple times first because the rhymes don't always rhyme exactly and the rhythm gets wonky in some spots. Still, there's a perfect spread for Float or Sink - when the ducks plunge into the water and the faux duck (read: fox) sinks like a stone!

Five Little Ducks Went Out One Day - Song with duck stick puppets that we fashioned from construction paper and craft sticks. As you sing each verse, move your hands (holding the ducks) behind your back and leave one on the chair behind you. I always finish by having the kids quack louder and louder and then finally bringing back all five ducks.

Ten Little Fish by Audrey Wood - Okay, fish don't really sink or float, I guess, but I love this one and it was perfect for the three-year-olds I was reading to. The bright, computer-generated illustrations really capture their attention. This one has great rhymes and I love that the last little fish doesn't end up all alone - soon another comes along and they start a fishy family.

Sailboats in the Water - This is an activity we made up! My lovely colleague T created 25 small felt sailboats in different colors. I gave one boat to each child and then sung this song (to the tune of "Do You Know the Muffin Man?"):

If you have a red sailboat, a red sailboat, a red sailboat
If you have a red sailboat, put it in the water!

As I said the different colors, the kids who had that color sailboat would come up and put their boat on the felt board (luckily, our felt board is blue so I told them to pretend it was water!). And see how simple these felt pieces are? I'll let you in on a librarian secret - felt pieces do not have to be elaborate or even beautiful to work for your storytime. Passing out felt pieces and allowing kids to come up to the board gives them something to do and engages them in your storytime.

After each color, we counted how many of that color we had. After every child had put their boat in the water, we counted them all together (another librarian secret - this is an easy way to keep track of how many kids are in your storytime!).

10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle - This is a great book for floating. Based on a true story, ten rubber ducks are tossed out of a boat during a storm and as they float on and on each one meets a different creature. The text is a little wordy for sharing with young preschoolers, so I paraphrased and that worked quite well.This is a great book for vocabulary - the ducks meet a dolphin, flamingo, seagull, and many other marine animals.

Mr. Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham - When Mr. Gumpy takes his boat out, everyone seems to want a ride! But when they misbehave, the boat tips over, spilling everyone overboard. I like to tell this one with puppets, using a basket for the boat and then dumping out puppets all over the floor when the boat tips.

I admit that this storytime is heavy on the "float" and light on the "sink". Combine some of these books with a sink or float demonstration if you're not afraid to get a little wet.

Friday, January 22, 2010

How could... what's wrong with me?!

This morning's Around the Interwebs post covered news of awards, book covers, new imprints, and predictive searching, but HOW COULD I FORGET THE MOST IMPORTANT NEWS OF ALL?!?!?!

John and Sarah Green made a person!!!!

Henry Green was born on Wednesday, January 20 and weighed (by all Twitter reports) 8 pounds and 9 ounces.

Congratulations, John! Congratulations, Yeti! And congratulations to Hank, who became an uncle:

Around the interwebs: Shiny awards edition

Oh, the shiny, shiny awards, they have been awarded. In addition to the ALA Youth Media Awards (Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpre, etc.), here are some others you'll be interested in. The American Indian Youth Literature Awards were announced as well as the Sydney Taylor Book Awards. And YALSA's just bursting at the seams with 2010 best-of lists including Amazing Audiobooks, Best Books for Young Adults*, and Great Graphic Novels for Teens. Betsy reminds us about the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for nonfiction (link opens a PDF) and the Edgar nominees for juvenile fiction (there are also Edgar nominees for YA fiction).

Just days before The Day Glo Brothers was awarded a Sibert Honor, author Christ Barton's son had this to say. And in case you missed Rebecca Stead and Jerry Pinkney on the Today Show (what, did you blink or something?)... Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link.

*And yes, BBYA is officially undergoing some changes. Marc Aronson has thoughts. Liz Burns is confused. And I, having just joined YALSA for the first time, have no opinion at this time, but you can be certain I'll be interested to see what happens.

In non-award-related news, Bloomsbury has stopped selling copies of Magic Under Glass and will be making copies available with a different cover shortly. They apologize for their mistake. Good work, kids, but I still echo Justine Larbalestier in saying that the way we're really going to fix this recurring problem (Mysterious Benedict Society, anyone?) is by putting our money where our mouths are. If you want to see more books about people of color published, if you want to see more book covers that feature people of color, start buying them and/or start reviewing them.

Sourcebooks has started a new teen imprint, Teen Fire. Interested high school students might also consider applying for Teen Fire's Teen Review Board.

Check out this post from the Swiss Army Librarian on Google's predictive searching. When I start a search for "Abby is...", I get "Abby is cool" and "Abby is queen" among other things. On the other hand, when I start a search for "Abby's..", I get "Abby's flying fairy school" and "Abby's farting hippo". Hmmm. How about you?

As you wait for the mid-February announcement of the 2009 Cybils winners, be thinking of any questions you have about the Cybils. Anne's updating the FAQs and needs you to send in your questions.

And last, but certainly not least, mark your calendars because The Brown Bookshelf's 28 Days Later feature is gearing up and will kick off February 1! Check out that stellar lineup and don't forget to tune in February 1 for the first of 28 great author and illustrator features. Thanks to @JensBookPage for the reminder.

Image: Success Way

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Best YA Books You Haven't Read

There are so many great YA books published each year that they can't all possibly get the buzz they deserve. Which is why Kelly of YAnnabe devised this one-day blog blitz to highlight our favorite YA titles that need a little more buzz. Check out her round-up of the Best YA You Haven't Read for bloggers' picks and lists of books that deserve a second look.

Let me paint you a picture:

The Hunger Games is entered in 3,943 Library Thing libraries and has over 29,000 ratings on Good Reads.

Twilight is entered in over 26,000 LT libraries and has over 265,000 ratings on Good Reads.

In comparison, each of the books I'm highlighting today appear in fewer than 500 LT libraries and have fewer than 1,000 ratings on Good Reads. I think they deserve a little extra buzz. If you're looking for a good book to read, do check out My Favorite YA Books You Haven't Read

Girl, Hero by Carrie Jones. Looking for a YA heroine who's not your typical YA heroine? If you're in the mood for something a little different, give Girl, Hero a try.

As You Wish by Jackson Pearce. This fun paranormal romance didn't get nearly the attention I think it deserved. I loved it! If you're in the mood for a feel-good romance with snappy writing, pick up As You Wish.

Good Enough by Paula Yoo. This was one of my favorite books of 2008. Fun and humorous with a lot of heart. If you're looking for a pick-me-up, grab Good Enough.

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher. This was on our Cybils shortlist the year I was on the YA panel, but I still think it deserves more buzz. If you're looking for historical fiction that you can really sink your teeth into, try Ten Cents a Dance.

Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick. Jordan Sonnenblick always makes me laugh and his stories have a lot of heart. If you're looking for a book that will make you laugh out loud and cry buckets, pick up Notes from the Midnight Driver.

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier. Hidier's writing brings Dimple's Indian-American experience to live and it'll pull you right in to the story. If you're looking for a vibrant book, check out Born Confused.

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger. This is a story about star-crossed love and finding yourself and your talents. If you're looking for a love story that's not a love story and if you love zines or if you've never heard of zines, try Hard Love.

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff. I loved this book when I was a teen and the trilogy has recently been completed with True Believer and (finally!) This Full House. If you like novels in verse and are looking for a truly inspiring heroine, pick up Make Lemonade (and then the sequels!).

Donorboy by Brendan Halpin. An Alex-award-winning book about a girl going to live with her sperm donor father after her two moms are killed in an accident. If you're looking for something compelling and a little different, Donorboy, told through emails, transcripts, notes, etc. may be right up your alley.

Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt. If you're looking to start a great fantasy series rife with political intrigue and a well-developed fantasy kingdom, pick up Jackaroo and start Cynthia Voigt's Kingdom novels.

And what are your favorite YA books that haven't gotten the buzz they deserve? Head over to Kelly's blog to join in the discussion or leave your picks in the comments!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book Review: Fat Cat

Fat Cat by Robin Brande. Grades 8+. Knopf Books for Young Readers, October 2009. Review copy provided by my local library.

Cat Locke is taking a seriously difficult science class this year and as part of that class, she has to pick a science project to work on and enter in the annual science fair. A winning project could be her ticket to the Ivy Leagues, so Cat knows it's got to be good. The trick is that her teacher is making them base their projects on a picture they draw out of his pile. She bravely goes to the front of the room to pick her fate, but her heart sinks when she looks at the picture she's chosen. It's a picture of early people, hominids. Naked hominids. What kind of project can she make out of that?

In a flash of inspiration, Cat decides that she'll try an experiment on herself. Seven months of living like an early hominid. That means walking to school instead of driving, no alarm clock, no cell phone... and eating a diet like early man's (i.e. mostly nuts and berries). Cat's hoping to win the science fair... but she's also hoping to see some changes in herself and find out what'll happen when she looks good instead of being Fat Cat. The results are in... and they're not what she expected.

I liked this book, I did. But there's a lot going on here. If the book had been pared down a bit, I think it might have been great. As it is, I liked it, but I didn't love it.

Here's what I liked:

I liked that Cat is science-minded. She's smart, she's sassy, she's a good friend. There is a lot to like about Cat.

I liked the secondary characters quite a bit. I liked that Cat, as her body changed, went out with a couple different guys and didn't necessarily fall head over heels just because they paid attention to her. (Again with the smart! Cat is smart!)

I liked that Cat explores the idea of eating organically and avoiding processed foods. I found it to be a little preachy at first, but by the end of the book I was intrigued about the idea myself. I think the book might inspire teens to examine their own diets and consider eliminating some of the junk.

Now, the thing I didn't like was that the novel kind of overflowed with stuff. I mean, in addition to the stuff Cat's doing for her project, there was this whole sub-plot about a failing vegetarian restaurant. I actually liked the restaurant scenes quite a bit, but I felt like they belonged in a different book. The novel would have been better overall with a little paring down.

Also, I did feel like there were parts of the novel that felt a little preachy about eating a healthy diet. And yes, I know that healthy eating is good, but it seemed like it was a little bit too easy for Cat to give up all the junk food she'd been eating for years. However, I freely admit that I am picky about my fat-girl books, so that might just be my own bias.

Still, I liked the book enough to want to tell you about it, so do pick it up if you're so inclined. Let me know what you think.

And if you want to know what other bloggers think, check out reviews at Steph Su Reads, Book Moot, Pinot and Prose, and Frenetic Reader.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A little buzz on a Tuesday

I'll be posting a full review soon, but last night I devoured Dark Life by Kat Falls and I am here to tell you that it is awesome!

In a future America where rising seas have claimed much of the land, leaving Topsiders to pack themselves in tiny stacked apartments, some people have taken to the ocean. These pioneers live on the ocean floor, farming the sea and sending crops to the government in exchange for their homesteads. This is where Ty Townsend has lived all his life. He was the first child to be born in the undersea community of Benthic Territory and he loves it there. But when outlaws threaten the safety of the settlers, Ty must do what he can to save the only home he's ever known. And when a Topsider girl appears, searching for her prospector brother, she'll join him on his quest and together they'll find that there are secrets being kept about the Dark Life. 

This one's going to be big, folks. The action is non-stop and it's set in a really well-developed future world. I wouldn't hesitate to hand it to fans of City of Ember and The Hunger Games. (Yes, I just compared it to The Hunger Games. That shows you how much I loved it.) 

It's due out in May. 
And it's a debut, all you 2010 Debut Challengers!
You can officially put this one on your radar. More thoughts to come soon.

Book Review: A Match Made in High School

A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker. Grades 9-12. Razorbill, February 2010. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

**Spoiler alert! I, myself, am not too sensitive to spoilers, but just in case you are, I want to warn you that this review contains information that some might consider to be a spoiler.**

When all the seniors at Fiona's school are forced to take a marriage education class in which they are pretend-married, Fiona is horrified that she's partnered with uber-jock (and uber-jerk) Todd Harding. They're forced to do activities together outside of school and work together on projects for the class. To make matters worse, Todd's bitchy girlfriend (and Fiona's arch-enemy) Amanda is paired with Gabe, the guy Fiona's been crushing on for years. But just when Fiona thinks her senior year couldn't get any worse, she just might manage to turn it around. 

Ahhhh, the pink books. 
This is a pink book extraordinaire. In fact, it's my favorite kind of pink book - light and funny and fun, but with heart and a little substance. 

(Do you know what I mean when I say "pink book"? Basically, a light 'n fluffy chick lit read... usually romance, usually humorous.) 

My favorite thing about this book? Well, about a hundred pages in, I was ready to put the book down and pick up something else. Fiona was getting on my nerves. She was being completely self-centered and obnoxious and she was totally oblivious to everyone around her. And it turns out that that's the point. 

Imagine a comedic romance in which the protagonist realizes that she's being an ass and decides to turn things around, decides that she can change and actually follows through. Yeah. 

The other thing I really liked was that, while the plot was somewhat predictable, it wasn't totally predictable. I think there are a lot of ways the ending could have gone and I would have been completely happy with it. 

Also, I dug Fiona's snarky humor. 

So, if you like pink books, you won't want to miss this one. (And if you find yourself annoyed by unlikeable protagonists, power through!)

Read more reviews at Lost in Ink, Books by Their Cover, and The Book Blogger

A Match Made in High School is due out on February 4!

Monday, January 18, 2010

More winners..!

I know we're all aflutter over the Newbery and Caldecott announcements today, but did you know that the American Indian Library Association also named award winners today?? The American Indian Youth Literature Awards were created "to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians".

Winner for Best Picture Book is A Coyote Solstice Tale by Thomas King, illustrated by Gary Clement.

Winner for Best Middle School Book is Meet Christopher: An Osage Indian Boy from Oklahoma by Genevieve Simermeyer, photographs by Katherine Fogden.

Winner for Best Young Adult Book is Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me by Lurline Wailana McGregor.

Thanks to @debreese for the link! You'll want to follow her blog, American Indians in Children's Literature, if you're not already.

And the winners are...

I had such fun this morning, getting up early to Tweet about the ALA Youth Media Awards with a bunch of other kidlitters!

The winner of the 2010 John Newbery Medal is When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead! I'm so happy about this! This was one of my favorite books of the year and I know my library owns it already because I bought two copies that just came in last week. Woo!

2010 Newbery Honors are:

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Philip M. Hoose (I really need to finish this one!)

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (I was not such a huge fan of this one, but I know many others were.)

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Yaaaaay! Very much deserved!) and

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick (Again, I was not such a huge fan of this one, but Kyle will be happy!)

The 2010 Caldecott Medal went to The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney! This was not a surprise at all since this was everyone's Caldecott pick.

Caldecott Honors went to All the World illustrated by Marla Frazee and Red Sings from Treetops illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. And since I don't ever know what to say about picture books, we'll just move it right along...

The 2010 Sibert Award for nonfiction went to Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone, which I apparently did not review, but I did mention it in my post about booktalks for Women's History Month.

Sibert Honors went to

The Day Glo Brothers by Chris Barton - Yaaaay!

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Philip M. Hoose

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca

The 2010 Printz Award went to Going Bovine by Libba Bray. And can I just say that I so called it? I did. I called it.

Printz Honors went to Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (*squee!!* I loved this one!), The Monstromologist by Richard Yancey, Punkzilla by Adam Raff (I've not heard of this one), and Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973 by John Barnes (I think maybe I'd heard of this one, but I'm not really familiar with it). Once again, I just have doubts that any of these Printz winners are going to have much teen appeal. I could be wrong - I've only read Going Bovine and Charles & Emma...

The NEW YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award went to Charles and Emma! Wooo!

The 2010 Coretta Scott King Author Award went to a book I'd not heard of:  Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. I've placed my request at the library so as to remedy this situation. And the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award went to My People, illustrated by Charles R. Smith. I'm pretty sure we bought that one for my department.

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin and Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork both won Schneider Family Book Awards (for middle grades and teens, respectively). I'm quite happy to see both of these titles honored, as I liked both of them very much.

And I think those are about all the thoughts I have on the 2010 ALA Youth Media Awards. You can see the full list of awards and winners here: American Library Association announces literary award winners.

All in all, I'm extremely happy with this year's winners. I've read all the Newbery winners (well, I'm in the middle of Claudette, so I'm counting that one, too) and the Sibert winners. I think we own most of the titles at my library, though I'll have to go through and fill in some gaps.

What are your thoughts about this year's winners? What got left off the list that you wish had been on there? Anything win that you don't think was deserving? And how do you think the winners rate on kid appeal?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

More whitewashing, just in time for MLK Day...

Remember the Liar cover controversy?

Well, we've got another whitewashing instance on our hands and guess what? It's the same publisher!

Bloomsbury USA published the December debut Magic Under Glass with a white girl on the cover when the character in question is described as a dark-skinned girl from the Far East. Mmmhmmm.

The Book Smugglers brought this up in December,  Bookshop urges us to stop buying Bloomsbury titles, Editorial Anonymous writes an open letter to Bloomsbury, Reading in Color asks "Where is all the outrage?" (I suspect that it's about to be unleashed in a big way...). Bookish Blather says that bloggers "have an obligation to comment when a cover egregiously doesn't match the main character".

And while I agree with all that and Bloomsbury really should have learned their lesson, I can't help but think that this is still all a symptom. Why is Bloomsbury publishing this book with this cover? Because they think it will sell more copies.

We vote every day with our credit cards and we need to be the change we want to see*. So we should all keep that in mind the next time we're at the book store and the next time we're choosing which book to publicize on our blogs. I'm not any better than anyone else when it comes to promoting books by and about people of color, but it's time for a change.

* ETA (8:43pm) Let me clarify this - I'm not suggesting that we boycott a particular publisher or author. I hate that this controversy might adversely affect the sales of a debut author, especially since I know that oftentimes authors have little-to-no say about their covers. What I'm trying to say is that if we, as a community of readers, PURCHASE BOOKS by and about people of color, that is a surefire way to get publishers to publish books by and about people of color. We vote with our credit cards. I'm not urging you to vote against any particular titles, publishers, or book covers. I'm simply urging you to vote for books that feature people of color if you are, in fact, as outraged by this cover controversy as you claim to be.

(And yes, contacting the publisher may be an effective way to let them know you're outraged about this particular title, but until we are able to change publishers' ideas about what will sell, reacting on a book-by-book basis is only a bandaid.)  

Wondering where to start? Here are some blogs to add to your reader:

Reading in Color
Color Online
Black-Eyed Susan's
Paper Tigers
BrownGirl Speaks
The Happy Nappy Bookseller
The Brown Bookshelf

ETA (8:52pm) - And, AND the post at Jacket Whys reminded me that I don't even like this cover that much! To me, it looks like dozens of other teen fantasy books. I had seen reviews and talk about this title around and I hadn't bothered to find out more about it because it just didn't look interesting. If it had had a dark-skinned girl on the cover, you can bet I would have paid more attention. Especially because the story and book trailer actually sound pretty intriguing.

(Boy, am I filled with opinions tonight, or what?)

Thank you never goes out of style...

Excuse me while I rant just a tiny bit.

Since I started this blog I have occasionally gotten emails from readers wanting some advice. Sometimes it's blog advice, sometimes it's advice on becoming a librarian or choosing a library school. I don't consider myself an expert on any of those things, but I am always happy to share my experiences and help however I can.

And after I've taken time out of my day to write you a thoughtful response, I really appreciate getting a "thank you" email back, even if it's just those two words. Some people have and some people haven't. To the people who have, I thank you for being polite and decent. To the people who haven't, I'd like you to know that it's rude.

I work with kids and we don't always expect kids to remember to say "thank you". In fact, depending on the age of the child, it can be quite a pleasant surprise to hear "Thanks!".

If you are old enough to have email and to read blogs, you are old enough to remember your manners. And if I take the time out of my day to write you a thoughtful response to an unsolicited email, there's no reason why you can't take two minutes to respond and say "Thanks for your advice. It's given me something to think about. And by the way, you are generally awesome." ;)

So if you're considering librarianship or blogging and have questions, I can't guarantee that I can answer your questions, but I will be happy to try. And all that I ask is that you acknowledge that effort with two magic words.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

In My Mailbox #17

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi of The Story Siren!

This was a fantastic mailbox week because I got a box of ARCs from Scholastic!

Here's what's in that pile (I've marked the debuts [as near as I can tell] for the 2010 Debut Challenge - keep your eyes out for 'em!):

Stolen by Lucy Christopher (Chicken House, May 2010) [debut! - though it was originally published in 2009 in Australia, I believe]

Life, After by Sarah Darer Littman (Scholastic Press, July 2010)

Forbidden Sea by Sheila A. Nielson (Scholastic Press, July 2010) [debut!]

Lost Tales of Ga'Hoole by Otulissa and Kathryn Huang (Scholastic, May 2010)

Kristy's Great Idea by Ann M. Martin (Scholastic, April 2010)

The Baby-Sitters Club: The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin (Scholastic Press, April 2010) - *squeee!*

Sophie the Awesome by Lara Berger (Little Apple, May 2010)

The Deadlies: Felix Takes the Stage by Kathryn Lasky (Scholastic Press, May 2010)

Sellout by Ebony Joy Wilkins (Scholastic Press, July 2010) [debut!]

Elvis & Olive: Super Detectives by Stephanie Watson (Scholastic Press, July 2010)

The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty (Arthur A. Levine Books, June 2010) - Australian import, originally published (I believe) as Dreaming of Amelia.

Dark Life by Kat Falls (Scholastic Press, May 2010) - [debut!] This one sounds kind of like City of Ember set under water!

Bone: Tall Tales by Jeff Smith (Graphix, August 2010)

Everlasting by Angie Frazier (Scholastic, June 2010) [debut!]

Whew. So, that was my mailbox this week. How about yours? 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Around the interwebs

I have a few things for you on this Friday...

First of all, of course, this is the weekend of ALA Midwinter. Our faithful award committees will meet and hash out the winners of such prestigious awards as the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpre, Printz, Sibert, AND MORE! Many more! Want to follow the awards live? The live webcast starts at 7:45am and you can follow ALAyma on Twitter for up-to-the-minute announcements! (Of course last year the Twitter feed broke down right before the two biggest awards... the Twitterverse came through, though, as people at the awards and watching the webcast Tweeted the winners and spread the word that way.) As much as I will miss sleeping in on my Monday off, I will be up for the live announcements!

Learn more about these awards at the ALSC website and the YALSA website

And speaking of awards, do check out's Coretta Scott King Award resources. Listen to authors and illustrators talk about their books, watch videos, access lesson plans and reading guides, and more! This is definitely a resource you'll want to check out when thinking about Black History Month lessons and celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The tragedy in Haiti is on everyone's mind this week. Mitali Perkins has compiled a great book list of children's titles set in Haiti. Thanks to Jen Robinson for the link.

Not strictly children's-lit related, but did you hear that Miep Gies, one of the people who helped hide Anne Frank, died this week at 100?  Maybe a little more related is that Disney is making a new Anne Frank movie. (Apparently that is old news, but it was new to me!)

Participating in a book tour or wanting to add author interviews to give your blog readers some variety? Do check out Justine Larbalestier's tips on interviewing authors. She's got some great advice and I know I'll be taking it the next time I do an author interview! Thanks to Jen Robinson for the link.

And speaking of Jen Robinson, it occurs to me that you might be unaware of her awesome site, Jen Robinson's Book Page. In addition to thorough book reviews, Jen writes about early literacy and ways to develop a love of reading in your children. Here's a post to start with, an awesome roundup of news around the blogosphere.

If you're curious about the process of designing book covers (I know I am!), you won't want to miss The Hows and Whys of Cover Design over at the new Macmillan Children's Blog.  Ann Diebel, Creative Director of FSG and Roaring Brook, shares the process to come up with a cover design for the upcoming release Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien. Personally, I'm glad they didn't use the third image in the post because it CREEPS ME OUT. Thanks to Tricia at The YA YA YAs for the link.

And if you're getting excited for the release of the Lightning Thief movie (February 12!) or if you need door prizes for a Percy Jackson program, you might be interested in Carlie's post about Percy Jackson gear from Hot Topic.

And that's all I've got for you today! Have a great weekend!

Photo: Georgie

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ye Olde Award Predictions

For some reason, the ALA Awards keep sneaking up on me this year. I keep forgetting that this Monday is the day! I don't think I've ever predicted the awards correctly (I don't even think I made any predictions last year), but I'm just happy if I've read the Newbery winner and if I've heard of the Caldecott winner. :)

Newbery Predictions

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
The Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara O'Connor 
When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton

Caldecott Predictions

I refuse to predict the Caldecott on account of I have absolutely no idea.
But I would just like to say that I would love to see a shiny sticker on The Mermaid Queen illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.

Sibert Predictions

Lucy Long Ago by Catherine Thimmesh
The Frog Scientist by Pamela S. Turner
The Day Glo Brothers by Chris Barton (some might say it doesn't have enough "oomph", but it was one of my favorites this year!)
Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (and this is also a finalist for the YALSA Nonfiction Award...)

Printz Predictions

This is another one where I have noooo idea. Lots of people seem to think Marcelo has a chance, but I'm going to go all in for Going Bovine by Libba Bray.

As for the rest of the awards...

I really have no idea. Check out more predictions at A Fuse #8 Production and 100 Scope Notes. 

And I know you're still trying to get your five comments in for today, so feel free to tell me your predictions in the comments. :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Review: Calamity Jack

Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale. Grades 5+. Bloomsbury, January 2010. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher for the Kidz Book Buzz Tour.

So, y'all know how much I loved Rapunzel's Revenge, right?

Yeah, I loved Calamity Jack, too.

Jack first appeared in Rapunzel's story, but here we get the full scoop on his sordid past. See, Jack grew up in the city and he hatched his first scheme when he was a toddler. He's an expert at hustling people out of their money and he'd surely be rich if it wasn't for the bad luck that seems to follow him wherever he goes. Every scheme he hatches comes with unforeseen consequences. Which is how Jack became an outlaw in his home town.

Now, Jack's met Rapunzel and he's determined to return home and make things right. But when he arrives at a city much changed from the home he knew. Terrible ant people are waging war on the city and the only protection comes from the shady giant Blunderboar. Jack knows something fishy is going on, but how can he show the townspeople what's really happening?

The story is a great blend of traditional fairy tale elements and an original plot. The story of Jack and his beanstalk serves as the back story that fleshes out Jack's character. By the time he's stealing the golden goose, the reader has a good idea of who he is and what his motivations are. He's a good guy who's done bad things and wants to make it right.

Calamity Jack's got the same sassy, funny writing that made Rapunzel's Revenge such fun and the illustrations are just as eye-catching. I was a little afraid that the kick-butt heroine I so loved in Rapunzel's Revenge would be lost in a book about Jack, but it wasn't so. Rapunzel's back and she's just as feisty as ever. We also meet some new and interesting characters like Jack's pixie friend Prudence and a newspaper man who's obsessed with gadgets.

You don't have to have read Rapunzel's Revenge to enjoy this story (but why wouldn't you want to read it?). Fairy tale retellings are hot and these books very much remind me of Fables for the younger set.

And do check out the rest of the blog tour:

Sally Apokedak, Reading is My Superpower, Fireside Musings, Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Becky's Book Reviews, The Hungry Readers, The Friendly Book Nook, My Own Little Corner of the World, Book Blather, GreenBeanTeenQueen, Book Crumbs, Dolce Bellezza,, The Book Cellar, Carrie's YA Bookshelf, A Bookshelf Monstrosity, Everyday Reading, Frenetic Reader, and

Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Review: Heroes of the Environment

Heroes of the Environment: True Stories of People Who Are Helping to Protect Our Planet by Harriet Rohmer, illustrated by Julie McLaughlin. Chronicle Books, August 2009. Review copy provided by publisher.

There's a general consensus that the environment is in need of some saving and in Heroes of the Environment we meet a dozen people who are doing just that. From providing space in cities to grow fresh vegetables to installing solar panels to bring electricity to rural Native American houses to inventing new ways to test water for harmful chemicals, these people are doing what it takes to make positive changes.

I don't know that this book has a large amount of browsing appeal, but I do know that it'll be a valuable addition to units on ecology and the environment. (And hey, Earth Day will be here before you know it!)

One thing I really, really liked about Heroes of the Environment is the diversity of the people featured. Each chapter gives information about a different person and what he or she is doing to help the environment. The people featured are all Americans (with the exception of one Mexican and maybe a Canadian or two) and they are all from different areas of North America, different ages, and different ethnicities. Kids may find most compelling the stories of actual kids who are doing something to help the environment, but they will find inspiration in the works of others, too.

This would be a great book to start a discussion on what your kids could be doing to help the environment in your community. Start a recycling program, clean up local beaches or parks, investigate threatened animal or plant species in your area. Some tips for getting involved are included at the end of the book.

Happy Nonfiction Monday! Check out this week's roundup at All About Children's Books.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I can has challenge?

So, back when I first started blogging, I signed up for a couple of reading challenges, failed miserably, and have avoided challenges ever since (with the notable exceptions of MotherReader's 48-Hour Book Challenge and the Comment Challenge). But I think it might be time to take the plunge. I'm starting out slowly, with a challenge that I probably would unofficially complete on my own, The Story Siren's 2010 Debut Author Challenge.

Kristi challenges us to read at least 12 debut novels in 2010, but I'm hoping to read at least 20. I'll keep track of my reviews for the challenge on this post.

Books read and reviewed:

1. A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker
2. Dark Life by Kat Falls
3. Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham
4. The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
5. Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai
6. Plain Kate by Erin Bow
7. The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
8. The Line by Teri Hall
9. Matched by Ally Condie
10. The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
11. Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards
12. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
13. The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
14. Nice and Mean by Jessica Leader
15. Firelight by Sophie Jordan
16. Stork by Wendy Delsol
17. Nevermore by Kelly Creagh
18. Love Drugged by James Klise
19. Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
20. Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales (a-whoo-hoo! I met my goal!)
21. The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
22. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
23. A Love Story Starring my Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner
24. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

In My Mailbox #16

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren.

I got a book in my mailbox this week! How exciting!

Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham. Putnam Juvenile, January 2010.

Here's the summary from the back of the ARC:

Set in 1932 and inspired by the rich quilting history of Gee's Bend, Alabama, this sparkling debut tells the tale of an extraordinary young girl facing a brave new world. Ten-year-old Ludelphia Bennet has only ever known the log cabins, orange dirt, and cotton fields of her small sharecropping community. But when Mama gets deathly ill, Ludelphia does something drastic - she leaves Gee's Bend for the very first time. Mama needs medicine badly, medicine that can only be found in Camden, over forty miles away. It's a dangerous journey, but Ludelphia weathers each challenge in a way that would make Mama proud, including documenting her journey - her story - in a new quilt for Mama as she goes along.

And that was it for my mailbox this week - what was in your mailbox?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Around the interwebs

First, in non-interweb-related news, I bought plane tickets to NYC for BEA and I just want to squee about it. *Squee!!* Will Betsy still be around? Can we convince her to organize a KidLit Drink Night??? Who else is going to BEA this year?  

Well, the Cybils finalists were announced (just in case you were, y'know, under a rock or something). And the lists instantly inspired some debate over at Black-Eyed Susan's. What about recognition for non-historical books about African-Americans? Be sure to check out the comments. To shed some light on the subject, Charlotte looks at the books in her category (Middle Grade Sci-Fi/Fantasy) over at Charlotte's Library. Thanks to the Cybils blog for the link.

In other maybe-you-were-under-a-rock news, Katherine Paterson has been named the next Ambassador for Young People's Literature! The torch has been passed. 

Award alert! The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan (you might know him as the illustrator of the Newbery-award-winning The Higher Power of Lucky) has won the 2010 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Thanks to Read Roger for the link.

Just in case you need something to do during this cold and snowy month, Betsy has announced the Top 100 Children's Fictional Chapter Books Poll. Put your thinking cap on and weigh in by January 31. This should definitely be interesting...!

Speaking of things to do in January, join the 2010 Comment Challenge, hosted by MotherReader and Lee Wind. Starting TODAY, Pam and Lee challenge you to leave five comments a day for the next 21 days. You'll make new friends! You'll add to the conversation! You'll promote your blog! And hey, you might win a prize.

Also, this weekend is Bloggiesta, hosted by Natasha at Maw Books Blog. If you've got some catching up to go, blog-wise, why not do it in the company of others (and also maybe win prizes!)?

That's all I got for ya this week. Happy surfing!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Audiobook Effects: Good and Bad

First, the good:

Feed by M.T. Anderson, read by David Aaron Baker. (Grades 9+) Listening Library, 2008. Copy provided by my local library.

Okay, so not only is this an awesome, intense, well-written book, but the audiobook is really fantastic.

Abridged summary from publisher:

"We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck." So says Titus, a teenager whose ability to read, write, and even think for himself has been almost completely obliterated by his "feed", a transmitter implanted directly into his brain... But then Titus meets Violet, a girl who cares about what's happening to the world and challenges everything that Titus and his friends hold dear. A girl who decides to fight the feed."

Narrator David Aaron Baker does a great job with the voices, capturing the cadence of teen speech. That's essential because it's one thing that makes the story so great - it's set in the future and the kids deal with unique problems, but they still sound like teens. They act like teens. The characters felt completely real, even though they are traveling in flying cars and chatting with each other using the internet inside their brains.

The "special effects" in the recording were great, too, and really added to the listener's understanding. There's a slight echo effect when the characters are chatting each other, giving the voices a kind of tinny quality to differentiate from when they're speaking out loud. And throughout the book, you're periodically interrupted by snippets of commercials, "TV" shows, and news reports (just like you actually had a feed sending you constant information). These snippets sound like actual commercials and news reports. They're very, very well done and add to the overall atmosphere of the book.

The Feed makes a GREAT audiobook and I can't recommend it enough for teens and adults looking for a good listen. (Fair warning, there is a fair amount of foul language.)

(Many, many thanks to Kelly at Stacked for recommending it!!)

Now, for the bad:

The Giver by Lois Lowry, read by Ron Rifkin. (Grades 5-8.) Listening Library, 2001. Copy provided by my local library.

The Giver is one of my favorite books of all time, so I was excited to revisit it on a recent car trip.

Jonas lives in a future where people have embraced Sameness. At the age of 12, everyone is assigned a career by the panel of Elders that guides their community. When Jonas is assigned the most prestigious career, Receiver of Memories, he discovers the cracks in his Utopian community.

Ron Rifkin does a great job narrating the story. Characters have voices that are subtly different, enough so that you can tell them apart.

The problem here is that whenever something strange and "magical" happens (like the transferring of memories), there is this terrible, distracting music playing. I get that it's intended to set apart the special events, but I just found it distracting. I wished that the music would stop so I could listen to Rifkin's excellent narration. And the worst thing is that the scenes with the music are some of the most emotionally moving scenes in the book. Since I was already familiar with the story, I'd gear myself up for the big reveals, only to be totally annoyed by the swelling music.

Maybe someone who wasn't familiar with the story might find it useful, but I think Rifkin's narration would have been just fine alone. I'd definitely recommend picking up The Giver, but I'm afraid I can't wholeheartedly recommend the audiobook.

So there you have two different examples of audiobook effects - one greatly contributing to the experience and one greatly detracting from the experience. Can you think of any audiobooks with particularly good - or particularly bad - effects? Put 'em in the comments!