Battle Books Revisited March 6, 2014Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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The Battle of the Kids Books officially starts on Monday! So here are my comments on the books heading into the ring. Bear in mind that these are VERY rough thoughts, especially for those titles that I read six months ago and haven’t opened since!
All the Truth that’s in Me: I finally got around to this one after it was picked for the Battle. The somewhat disjointed style (and the present tense narration) are not my favorite and at a certain point, I just wanted to know the ending without really caring how we got there.
The Animal Book: I loved this book and sold many, many copies over the Christmas season. Definitely one of my top non-fiction picks of the year–I always learn something interesting from Steve Jenkins’ books.
Boxers & Saints: Possibly my favorite graphic novel I read last year. I was so grateful I got to hear Yang speak about these books and learn a little more about the journey he took in telling these stories. I was hugely disappointed this did not get any love at the YMAs.
A Corner of White: I just finished this, having started it months ago and put it down, put off by what I saw as a twee magical kingdom concept and a boring protagonist. I admit that I was wrong. The ending especially just knocked it out of the park and I can’t wait to read the second book in the series.
Doll Bones: I really enjoyed this, having been a big fan of similar games as a kid. That said, I haven’t felt compelled to re-read it recently and none of the characters really stuck with me.
Eleanor & Park: Despite the fact that I identify far more closely with the protagonist of Fangirl, I believe that E & P is the better book and the relationship between the main characters is amazing. I can easily see this coming back from the dead, should it get knocked out earlier in the Battle.
Far Far Away: I really enjoyed this creepy fairy tale and the oddly distanced narrator worked for me. Not in my top ten, but still a good read.
Flora & Ulysses: I loved both main characters in this story and was thrilled that it won the Newbery. Can it beat the Newbery Curse?
Hokey Pokey: Pacing was an issue for me, but once I got past all the introductory stuff and descriptions and hit the urgency of this day being different for Jack, I really enjoyed this one.
March Book One: I was lucky enough to hear John Lewis speak multiple times at my college and I sang for him on several of those occasions as part of the college choir. This is a wonderful introduction to the civil rights era and his experiences as a leader and activist. I hope it becomes widely read and appreciated.
Midwinterblood: This one really did nothing for me. I didn’t hate it, but after how much I loved Revolver by the same author, I was pretty disappointed. The format didn’t build into anything bigger and more meaningful and I didn’t really care about any of the characters (in any reincarnation).
P.S. Be Eleven: Delphine is one of my favorite middle grade characters ever. While the episodic structure of this title didn’t build for me as smoothly or effectively as One Crazy Summer, I’m still a big fan.
Rose Under Fire: It didn’t quite tear my heart out in the same way as Code Name Verity, but it would be unfair to expect that. I loved every single character in this story (Anna Engel!!!) and got to hear Wein speak about it back in May, which was a thrill.
The Thing About Luck: This was an ARC that I picked up, read a few pages, and put down. When it started getting love on the Heavy Medal blog, I went back and tried it again. Kadohata’s work is never going to really be my favorite–the style is just too slow for me. That said, I love the character building, there were lots of funny moments and I appreciated learning about a group of workers I never knew about before.
True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp: Similarly, Kathi Appelt is a writer I appreciate, but hasn’t been one of my favorites. However, I LOVED this title and really wish I still had a classroom to read it aloud with. Great voice and setting and just a fun, rollicking adventure all around.
What the Heart Knows: I pre-ordered this as soon as I knew it was coming out. Joyce Sidman is one of my favorite poets and every single poem in this collection touched me in a different way. I want to have printed copies of them on little cards that I can carry in my pocket as a talisman. Another title I was very sad to see without a shiny sticker after the YMAs.
Another March, Another SLJ BOB February 19, 2014Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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I’m buried in plays, puppets and grant applications right now, but still trying to find the time to search out books from the ALA media awards that I haven’t read, as well as persuade myself to go back and finish those I put down (ahem, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, Maggot Moon!). And then there is School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kid’s Books. Otherwise known as “the site Cecilia checks first thing in the morning every day in March.”
The list of judges this year is AMAZING. Yuyi Morales! Jennifer Holm! Rae Carson! KATHERINE MARSH (who says she will come to my bookstore when her new book comes out, yeeesssssss!) You see, there are authors out there whose books I enjoy. Then there are authors who just impress me so much that I want to hear their thoughts about other books. Especially if they might be funny about it (Looking at you, Tom Angleberger and Mac Barnett. Adam Rex has set the bar high here. No pressure.)
This year I’ve read nearly everything on the list, with the exception of three: All the Truth That’s in Me, Hokey-Pokey and A Corner of White. The first two I never got around to picking up and the third I started, then got bored and put down. Time to visit the library and do some catching up. Only a few weeks to go.
Twas the Night Before the YMAs… January 26, 2014Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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Just a few thoughts before I get up insanely early (well, for me) to hear the results of the ALA Youth Media Awards. I have to work tomorrow too, which means that I hopefully will be able to make a display of award winners–always assuming we have them in stock! My final ponderings…
-I would not be sad to see The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp or The Thing About Luck win the Newbery.
-I REALLY hope that Boxers & Saints gets recognized. Somehow.
-If something out of left field wins big, I can only hope that DC Public Library will have it on the shelf.
-Is it too much to hope that the winner of the Edwards is another fantasy author?
-If The Kingdom of Little Wounds gets recognized, I guess I actually have to go back and try to finish it. Sigh.
-I will probably be happy no matter what with the results of the Caldecott. Well, unless Journey gets left out entirely. But I don’t think that will happen!
YALSA Hub Challenge January 21, 2014Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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Despite the fact that my interest in the ALA Youth Media awards borders on obsession, I’m not actually a librarian. I’m certified to work in K-12 school libraries in Virginia, but so far, I haven’t applied for any jobs because I’ve been doing other things. Still, I read all the online material posted by School Library Journal, and this month I’ve been adding YALSA’s blog The Hub to my daily to-read list. I decided to take on the challenge they posed of reading all the finalists for the William C Morris Award (given to a debut YA author) and the Excellence in Non-fiction Award before the YMAs are announced January 27. I’m in the middle of rehearsals and have nowhere near enough time to write full reviews, but here are my brief reactions to each book.
Excellence in Non-fiction Award finalists:
Courage in Color: Great piece of history, but not compelling enough to really stick with me. The most interesting part for me was the balloon bombs sent by the Japanese, which made me wonder what other crazy things people did during wars that have been hidden from the public?
Imprisoned: I loved the book Farewell to Manzanar as a teen, so this was familiar territory to me. A fantastic overview that I hope LOTS of people read.
The President has Been Shot: Meh. It wasn’t bad. But I wasn’t blown away. It’s nowhere near as compelling as Kennedy Assassinated! The World Mourns: A Reporter’s Story, which was one of my favorites in high school.
The Nazi Hunters: THIS one was compelling. I knew the sketchiest of outlines of this part of history; it was told with precision, great pacing and just enough detail. Great to pair with fiction by Elizabeth Wein.
Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design: This one was also exceedingly fun. If I had the time, I would love to work through this with an art class of kids and have them try all the challenges and project.
William C Morris Award finalists:
Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets: It took me a REALLY long time to get into this. Partly it felt too close to Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, another book this year with a depressed teenage boy protagonist. In the end, I was engaged, but overall the characters didn’t really stick with me.
Belle Epoque: Similarly, I had just read The Painted Girls, an adult title set in the same time period so that may be why I found this kind of underdeveloped. It was fun, with a nice happy ending for everyone, but not thematically very deep, at least to me. And first person present tense narrators always bug me more in historical fiction for some reason.
In the Shadow of Blackbirds: Great historical detail in this one–I haven’t read so much about the 1918 flu epidemic since A Time of Angels, by Karen Hesse. Occasionally it felt like just a string of strange facts though, and the plot was a bit meandering for my taste. I did like the main character though, and I’m interested to see what else this author writes.
Charm & Strange: I read this one in one day at the bookstore and it’s a testament to the strength of the prose that I never got distracted by anything else. Once again, a damaged teenage boy narrator (yet again in present tense) who in some ways reminded me of A. S. King’s narrator in Reality Boy. Good pacing and tightly focused characterizations put this one at the top of my list.
Sex and Violence: Past tense narration, finally! The main character of this story (Evan), while just as damaged as the narrator of the previous title, has more of a sense of humor and a wider circle of people helping him. The book covers a much longer period of time too, which means he gets farther along in his healing process. I loved this one for the humor, the authentic teen dialogue and the nuanced handling of the themes which the title states so blatantly. Now to figure out how I’m going to sell it to people who won’t buy books with the word ‘sex’ in the title.
Picture Books & Paper Theaters January 17, 2014Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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Like any other form of visual art, there is a wide range of media used for picture books. Most people are familiar with the paper collage illustrations of Eric Carle; some love the watercolors of Jon J Muth, others love the woodblock and pencil drawings of Erin Stead. This year there were several titles that all used a format I haven’t seen much of in picture books: paper drawings (and sometimes other objects) arranged into layered compositions, almost like a toy theater. The stories are very different and the technique achieves a different effect in each, but all are beautiful and unique
You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey, artwork by Soyeon Kim
Accompanying a text that is an extended meditations on the many connections between humans and the natural world, these illustrations feature three-dimensional crystal forms of paper and cutouts of trees and animals alongside cutouts of children. Many of the spreads resemble grade-school dioramas, with animal cutouts dangling on strings in front of a paper background. Kim includes dried flowers, handmade papers with rich texture and painted acetate to flesh out her detailed landscapes of our world. Some pages are close-up views of earlier spreads, inviting the reader to closely examine the visuals, just as we are more closely examining our world and ourselves through the text.
My Father’s Arms are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde, illustrations by Oyvind Torseter
If Kim’s illustrations are lush compositions crowded with life, the pages of My Father’s Arms are a Boat begin quiet, spare, and white. Composed almost as a film, with interior and exterior views, and various angles, the furniture in the spreads looks like it came from an ultra-modern dollhouse, with simple lines and pale colors. Objects and the father and son in the story are more detailed, if clearly two-dimensional. Tilted angles to some of the spreads convey the uncertainty felt by the young narrator, while the stylized snow and trees of the exteriors have the distinct feel of a stage set. If the cool colors and sharp angles feel distancing at the beginning of the story, by the end the pen and ink detail and carefully chosen lighting have brought us into the world of the family and we know, along with the narrator, that everything will be alright.
The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan, illustrations by Sophie Blackall
In some ways the most classic book on this list, The Mighty Lalouche is set in Paris and tells the story of an underdog mailman who becomes a boxer. Although the story is set in France, the illustrations are actually done in a Japanese style called ‘tatebanko’. Blackall painted the backgrounds and figures individually, then assembled them into very shallow dioramas and photographed them for the illustrations. The shadows are visible, giving depth and definition to the characters (literally) and making you feel as though you could step into the setting, while also giving you an appreciation for the time and effort that went into painting and cutting out so many little details. Blackall talks a little about the process in this interview. I have my fingers crossed that this gets a Caldecott nod at the end of the month!
Stardines Fly High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky, illustrations by Carin Berger
The illustrations for these poems differ from those of the above books in that they are more contained and much more surreal. Unlike the previous texts, which have paper spreads taking up the entire page, many of the illustrations by Berger are contained within their own boxes, similar to the shadow boxes of Joseph Cornell. Yet they still layer paper cutouts, giving dimension to the flat and occasionally (as in ‘PLaNdaS’) exploding out of the box and onto the rest of the page. Berger uses a variety of papers and ephemera, giving the spreads just as much of an old-fashioned feel as Lalouche, while still holding onto the playful and witty style of the text.
Review: Africa is My Home January 13, 2014Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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One thing that used to drive me nuts when teaching history to children is that there is just so much to cover. In our era of standardized testing, teachers are often forced to focus on the events and people required by their grade level and have to skip the most interesting parts. So historical fiction and non-fiction are important, as they help to draw students into reading about the past and finding out about what teachers skipped. Narratives that focus on people who have long been ignored by ‘official’ history are even more important. Now Monica Edinger has given us one of these engrossing stories with Africa is my Home, about a child on the slave ship Amistad.
Margru is only nine when she is sold to slave traders, away from her home in Mendeland on the west coast of Africa. After being taken to Havana, she is sold, along with three other children, to the owners of the ship Amistad. When the slaves, led by a man named Cinque, take over the ship, Margru and the others explore and wonder about mysterious objects like a mirror and books. Eventually though, the Amistad is re-taken by whites off the coast of New England. Over the course of several years, Margru learns to speak and read English, eventually returning to Africa as a teacher and missionary.
Originally conceived as a non-fiction book, Edinger ended up creating a fictional first-person voice for Margru which helps the reader immediately connect with her. Her observations and homesick longings are occasionally poetic but never stint on the challenges and struggles she faces on her journey. The wonderful illustrations by Robert Byrd match the carefully chosen details of the text and follow Margru from her life as a child to her final homecoming as an adult. An all too rare hopeful and triumphant story from the history of slavery and the African diaspora, it is a welcome addition to the canon of historical literature for children.
Get Excited About Spring December 15, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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You should be excited about the spring, even if it’s still cold and December-ish, because there are some great titles coming out from both new and established authors. Here are a few that I’ve read and am looking forward to getting into readers’ hands:
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
Oppel returns to the world of his Printz Honor-winning Airborn in this tale of high adventure on a cross-country train. Will’s father is the chief engineer on the Boundless, an enormous train traveling across the country to Lionsgate City. Along the way Will will encounter a murderer, a Mountie, a girl with a talent for wire-walking and disappearing, and a sasquatch, among many other characters. It’s a plot crammed with incident and danger and a fantastic tale for middle grade readers.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
Fans of Catherynne Valente, here is your next read. Ophelia is wandering the halls of the massive museum where her father is curating a swords exhibit when she meets a marvelous boy. However, he is trapped by magic, and the Snow Queen is coming for him. Will Ophelia (who for the record, is scientifically minded and doesn’t believe in magic) be able to rescue him? This one is for lovers of fairy tales, adventures, creepy museums and quirky female leads.
West of the Moon by Margi Preus
In this second fairy tale inspired work, Preus (who won a Newbery Honor for Heart of a Samurai) mixes various Scandinavian tales with the story of two girls who are trying to find their way to the magical land of America. Dealing with obstacles from difficult relatives to a surly goatman to a spinner girl who might be magical, they use knowledge gleaned from tales like ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon’ to reach their goal. Preus was inspired by the journal of one of her ancestors and the back matter is fascinating.
Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
A middle-grade debut, this will satisfy fans of Elise Broach’s Masterpiece and Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer (as well as any kid who’s heard their parents raving about Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch). Theo Tenpenny is trying to scrape together enough pennies to keep herself and her absent-minded mother from starving when she inadvertently finds a potentially priceless painting in her late grandfather’s studio. A fun mystery with added interest for young artists and art historians.
The First Drawing & Kali’s Song December 10, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Classroom Books.
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Two picture books in the past couple of years have explored the possible ways that humans first discovered music and drawing. These titles would make a great starting point for students studying early humans and their world or just a fun read aloud for families.
Mordecai Gerstein sends the reader back in time with his first images and sentences in The First Drawing, about a boy living “…thirty thousand years ago.” In present tense sentences that give a sense of immediacy, Gerstein sketches the reader’s life back then: “You live in a cave with your parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers…and your wolf Shadow.” “You love to watch animals.” Illustrations with bright color and scratchy line quality show how the protagonist (you) looks at clouds and stones and sees animals there, that no one else in the family can see. After an encounter with a woolly mammoth, while sitting by the fire, the young artist finally finds a way to show the rest of the family these visions–in drawings on the cave wall. After initial panic (the father throws a spear at the wall, expecting the drawing of the mammoth to charge) everyone agrees that “It’s MAGIC!” which, of course it was. And still is. In his author’s note, Gerstein points out that children are much more likely to draw than adults…so it makes sense that the first person to invent drawing was probably a child. Read this book and then do some drawing, of woolly mammoths or whatever you like!
Jeanette Winter imagines a somewhat similar tale about discovering music in Kali’s Song (complete with another woolly mammoth on the cover.) Kali is familiar with drawing, as his mother paints animals on their cave wall and tells him “Soon you’ll hunt and kill animals like those.” Kali’s father gives him a bow so that he can practice shooting, but Kali soon discovers another use for the weapon: plucking the string to make music. As in Gerstein’s book, family members are astonished by this new idea and honor Kali for his talents. This book would be fun read aloud for young musicians, kids interested in history or anyone interested in wondering a little about the past.
Friends, Food and SciFi December 7, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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One of the genres in YA lit that has exploded recently is comics and graphic novels. A form traditionally dominated by male artists and male voices, it has been great to see more women writers and artists getting recognition for their fantastic work. Here are three female comic artists and writers to check out:
Lucy Knisley is based in Brooklyn, NY and has two autobiographical graphic novels centered mostly around food. French Milk details a trip she took to Paris with her mother at age 22. Knisley includes photos from the trip, along with countless doodles of meals and food that are no less tantalizing for being black and white sketches. This is a great read for anyone who has fallen in love with Paris, as well as those teens who long to get away and travel. Anyone who enjoyed To Timbuktu by Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg will also like this combination of words and images.
Knisley’s latest book is Relish: My Life in the Kitchen which is a more comprehensive food-centered memoir. Structured around a set of recipes, each one caps a story or episode from Knisley’s life. Many are about family, her mother’s work at restaurants and farmers markets, trips abroad, and the experience of working at a gourmet store in Chicago during college. Each episode is well-paced and as in her other work, Knisley is excellent at using her artwork to make you hungry.
I think one of the big appeals about Knisley’s work for teen readers is her focus on everyday things like food. There are plenty of comics and graphic novel series about superheroes, magic and grand epic battles, and fewer about common experiences such as being with family and preparing food. Knisley has talked in interviews about her goal to use comics to create a bond between herself and her readers, and that warmth and dedication to connection definitely comes across in both these titles.
Hope Larson writes for a slightly younger audience but is just as good a storyteller, with her titles Salamander Dream, Chiggers and Mercury (to say nothing of her adaptation of the classic A Wrinkle in Time). Similar to Knisley, much of her work is in black and white, with the addition of blue to A Wrinkle in Time. All of her work features believable female protagonists and often a touch of mystery or the supernatural. Change and growing are themes in many of her books, with an emphasis on friendship. Hailey in Salamander Dream encounters an ambiguous being named Salamander, Tara in Mercury must find the connection between a quicksilver necklace and her family’s past, while Meg in A Wrinkle in Time of course discovers her true abilities while fighting IT on the planet Camazotz. Larson’s compelling characters and unusual settings make her a great choice for any middle school reader interested in comics.
Faith Erin Hicks takes on the twin themes of family and friends in her book Friends with Boys, as well as Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, authored by Prudence Shen. Both titles have families with absent mothers and friendship struggles. In Friends with Boys, Maggie is starting public school for the first time and worries about making friends. Add to that a gang of older brothers with their own struggles and a ghost hanging around and you have a great coming of age story with a slightly creepy touch. Charlie Nolan in Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong ends up as a candidate for student body president as his neighbor and his cheerleader ex-girlfriend fight over whether student council money gets spent on cheerleading uniforms or a robotics competition. Campaign tactics reminiscent of the movie Election get the teenagers in trouble both at school and at home and it seems as though Charlie will never be able to find a peaceful moment. Hicks’ drawing style is a little busier than either Larson or Knisely, her characters’ faces defined with sharp lines and shadows around the eyes. Readers will root for her teenagers and agree that their happy endings are entirely deserved.
Comforting Words December 4, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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We’re getting to a time of year when seasonal books are flying off the shelves. People are coming in asking for holiday books and new versions of old classics and holiday tales starring familiar characters. But when picking gifts for older readers, sometimes it’s nice to give a book with beautiful illustrations and words that resonate beyond winter. Here are two books suited to older readers or perhaps a family to whom you want to give something special.
Sidman’s latest book of poetry tackles some of the harder moments in a lifetime: heartache, illness, and loss. In four different sections, Sidman celebrates the idea of words as magical. The section headings ( Chants, Charms, Spells, etc.) reinforce this idea, that words can smooth over hurt places and help us heal. Beautiful mixed-media illustrations by Zagarenski, twice a Caldecott Honor winner, capture the essence of each selection. This is a wonderful choice for a loved one, a teen getting ready for new experiences or anyone facing change in their life.
Celebrated author Katherine Paterson brings a calm wisdom to this collection of poems, prayers and praise songs, just in time for Thanksgiving. If you are looking for a new reading to share with family at your dinner table or just to read in quiet moments, this is a wonderful choice. Paterson includes prayers and poetry from different cultures, Bible selections alongside Native American blessings, lyrics to spirituals and Amazing Grace. Dalton’s illustrations are traditional scherenschnitte paper cuttings. Elaborate borders and page edgings are in white and some pieces are painted with watercolors, creating a nice contrast. This beautifully designed book would be a special addition to any family collection.