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.
Bookstore Bakes #1: November Cakes! November 30, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Bookstore, Nerd Line.
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Possibly the only way to make a great book even better is to add good friends and delicious food. Some of my co-workers at the bookstore (Hooray for Books! which is located at 1555 King St. in Old Town Alexandria) came over a few weeks ago so we could make November cakes, a food from the book The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Not everyone had read the book, but we were all game to try a recipe that involved orange extract and caramel. So a new blog series was born: Bookstore Bakes! We shall attempt to make this a semi-regular event and meet up to make recipes from books we have read. Here are some photos of how things turned out this time:
Move over NaNoWriMo, it’s PiBoIdMo too November 28, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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You’ve probably heard of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and November 30. Hundreds of thousands of people sign up to attempt this challenge each year–and many of them continue working on their projects and eventually get them published. Ana has attempted NaNoWriMo several times (this year it fell by the wayside pretty quickly due to schoolwork, I think) but I’ve never really bothered, since I’m not a novelist.
HOWEVER…I heard that there was a similar project centered around picture books. It’s called Picture Book Idea Month (or PiBoIdMo) and it was dreamed up by picture book author Tara Lazar. Based on her blog, it basically entails coming up with a new picture book idea every day in November. You register for the challenge on her blog and if you finish and sign a pledge saying you actually did come up with 30 ideas, you can win prizes. It’s pretty awesome.
I’ve never tried to write a picture book. I find the idea incredibly intimidating, because I know picture books (good ones) are one of the hardest kinds of writing in the world. But I’m not intimidated by ideas. I come up with those all the time (you can ask the other members of my theater company. They complain that I have too many ideas!) Will any of these ideas ever make it into book form? Who knows? Here are a few random ones–mostly terrible–that I’ve come up with this November.
1. How to Make a Tumble Tower. Not really sure what this book would be about but I like the phrase ‘tumble tower’. It reminds me of pillow fights.
2. Zombie Pizza. So many people seem to be into zombies now…it kind of sounds like a Peter Reynolds/Adam Rubin kind of book.
3. A tape dispenser runs away from the store because it’s lazy and doesn’t want to work overtime during the holidays. This one is straight from real life. Our tape dispenser at the bookstore keeps disappearing!
ALA Awards: Early Thoughts November 18, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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I guess really it’s not so early. At any rate, here are my thoughts on possible winners of the top ALA YM Awards.
Newbery: Unlike last year, when Splendors and Glooms stole my heart in June, there is no middle grade book I’m really feeling evangelical about. There are several that I would be perfectly happy with seeing with stickers though:
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kahodata
And I’d probably be happy with Far Far Away by Tom McNeal getting something, although I really hope that teachers won’t just then randomly assign it to kids because it’s an award winner. It’s SCARY.
Printz: My top pick for this is probably Boxers and Saints, which I am still pondering and questioning and wondering about (in a good way). I have greater love for Fangirl but I think Eleanor and Park is in some ways more original.
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Eleanor and Park or Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Caldecott: These are my top picks. I think right now I’m the only person pulling for Stardines, but I love basically anything that is an homage to Joseph Cornell. There were SO MANY amazing picture books this year!
Stardines Fly High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky, illus. Carin Berger
Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales
Journey by Aaron Becker
The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan, illus. Sophie Blackall
The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illus. Jon Klassen
Favorite New Graphic Novels November 12, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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Here are two very different but equally fantastic graphic novels that I recently read. One was just named a Best Illustrated Book of the Year by the New York Times, and involves my first love among literary classics, Jane Eyre. The other is a humorous and thought-provoking tale of friendship for all ages.
Jane, the fox and me is by Fanny Britt and illustrated by Isabelle Aresenault, translated from French by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou. Helene’s old friends have turned on her, writing mean comments about her weight in bathroom stalls at school. She takes the bus alone where she reads her new favorite book Jane Eyre and tries to ignore the whispering from the back seats. She struggles through shopping trips for bathing suits with her mother, listens to the music of the McGarrigle sisters and dreads an upcoming school camping trip. But just like in Jane Eyre, the story ends well, thanks to an encounter with a fox, and an unexpected friend.
One of the strengths of this book is how Helene retells the story of Jane, summarizing it concisely and focusing on details that speak to a young reader. She recounts what I recall as my favorite moment in the book when I was ten, Jane creating a picture of herself and a contrasting one of Miss Ingram. Helene’s wish to be Jane is evident from her repeating of the phrase “…she grows up to be clever, slender and wise.” When Jane has to leave Rochester, Helene imagines her to be a sausage, the same way she imagines herself in a bathing suit. So it is an even bigger revelation at the end of the book, when Jane ends ups with Rochester, both in love with each other. Something like that would never happen in real life, Helene thinks. Would it? By the end of the Jane, the fox and me, though, Helene believes in happy endings, having found one of her own. This is a wise and wonderful book, perfect for anyone who loves a good story, an outside heroine or yet another proof of the everlasting power of reading.
Odd Duck, by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon begins with Theodora, a duck who is perfectly happy with her life just as it is. The odd duck is her new neighbor Chad and he has some very strange ideas about swimming, building strange art projects and skating and sledding in winter. Of course eventually they become friends, bonding over stargazing and condiments. But then a snide remark by someone leads to an argument over who exactly is the ‘odd’ one. Will they mend fences? And does it really matter if someone is odd, as long as they are a good friend?
Like Jane, the fox and me, this book sends a gentle message without ever being preachy. The details in both the images and the words are numerous and always funny (Theodora uses an egg replacer when baking, and after the argument with Chad, suffers from ‘general malaise’ and ‘uncontrollable twitchiness’). The story throws a twist at you–we expect Theodora to befriend Chad in the end and to finish with a nice lesson about appreciating those who are different from us. We don’t expect her to have to re-evaluate her own actions and habits and to realize that her relationships with other ducks in the town are perhaps not as friendly as she thinks. However others judge you though, being unique is a good thing, as Castellucci and Varon make clear in this delightful tale.
Review: The Summer Prince November 4, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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It’s no secret that dystopias and futuristic settings have been hugely popular in YA fiction for the last few years. Most of those books involve some level of violence, whether it’s the every-teenager-for-his/herself of The Hunger Games or the faction wars of Divergent. But how many of these teenage rebels fight primarily with art? And have we ever seen a dystopia clearly inspired by a Latin-American country?
Now we have, thanks to Alaya Dawn Johnson’s first YA novel, The Summer Prince. If you like your YA lit with matriarchal societies, subverted love triangles and diversity, here is the book for you.
June lives in Palmares Tres, a tiered city run by a group of older women called ‘aunties’ and led by a queen. In a world where technology has led to longer lifespans, the gap between the ‘grandes’ or older adults and the ‘wakas’ or teenagers is considerable. As a concession, every year the wakas choose a Summer King, who has the power to choose a new queen. But each Summer King is killed at the year’s end. This year, the Summer King is Enki, who will upend every part of June’s life, art and ambitions.
My favorite things about The Summer Prince are June’s growth as a character, the descriptions of her art and how her understanding of the history and structure of Palmares Tres changes. I also love the authenticity of her feelings for Enki and her loyalty to her friend Gil, even as she tries to figure out where her relationship with Enki is heading. The world-building was occasionally a bit cumbersome, and I can’t speak to the authenticity of the elements of Brazilian culture referenced (samba, Carnival, etc). However, I am thrilled to see a YA dystopia with main characters of color and a beautiful cover featuring one of them. Yes, it’s still the ‘headless teenage girl’ image cliche. But at least she has natural hair!
All in a Single Sentence October 31, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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One of the more tedious and time-consuming jobs at the bookstore where I work is entering data for the New York Times Bestsellers every week. Each of the four categories for children’s and YA lit (Middle Grade, Young Adult, Picture Book and Series) has a list of the top ten bestselling titles printed in the New York Times Book Review each weekend. But I have to enter data for WAY more than just those ten titles. The online site organizes books alphabetically by title, not author, so I’m constantly skipping back to authors who have two (or three, or four, or seven) books in a particular category. It’s a pain. However, when I open the actual print review, it’s fun to see what made the top ten list, and the sentence that goes along with each title. Who writes those sentences? Some are great, some are succinct but accurate and a few are just plain misleading. Here are some examples from a recent edition:
Out of My Mind: A brilliant girl with cerebral palsy longs for a way to speak.
Journey: A lonely girl draws a red door on her bedroom wall and enters a lushly detaailed imaginary world. I would quibble with the word ‘imaginary’ (says who?) but otherwise, a great summary.
Fangirl: Cath, a writer of popular fan fiction, struggles during her freshman year at college.
Looking for Alaska: A boy seeking excitement finds that and more in a girl named Alaska.
OKAY, BUT NOT THE WHOLE PICTURE
The One and Only Ivan: A gorilla who lives in a mall meets an elephant. Yes. And THEN??? No hint of the way Ivan takes control of his destiny.
Paper Towns: After a night of mischief, the girl Quentin loves disappears. Why does this sentence not mention the ROAD TRIP?
SHORTEST PHRASE POSSIBLE:
There’s apparently only so much you can say about the books for the really young set.
Press Here: A dance of color.
Pete the Cat: I Love my White Shoes: Well-shod Pete.
LEAVES OUT MOST OF THE STORY:
The Fault in Our Stars: A 16-year-old heroine faces the medical realities of cancer. WHAT??? This makes TFIOS sound like a CANCER book, which it is definitely NOT. What about love? What about sparkling wit and conversations and true friendship? Epic fail, New York Times Book Review.
Review: Mouse, Bird, Snake, Wolf October 30, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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What if the gods had started creating the world…and then got lazy? What if there were holes here and there? And what if a group of children starting creating new creatures and they got a little out of hand?
This is the premise of David Almond’s marvelous new picture book Mouse Bird Snake Wolf. I first encountered the book in Paris (thank you, Shakespeare & Co. bookstore!) and London, but it is available in the US as well. This is a wonderful title to read aloud, to use as part of a unit on myth or creation stories, or just to sit and ponder in your own mind.
Harry, Sue and Ben (known as Little Ben) are taking a walk through their world. The gods have made many wonderful creatures, both familiar (the whale) and unfamiliar (the zowet). But now they have grown lazy and are drinking tea, eating cake and taking naps. So the children wander and wonder about the many empty spaces in their world. It’s only to be expected that they try to fill these spaces, and soon there is a mouse, a bird and a snake where before there was nothing. But Harry and Sue are not satisfied. They decide to create a wolf…no matter the consequences.
Dave McKean’s illustrations are marvelous and occasionally creepy, depicting the gods in grey wisps of cloud, and the children in rich color. Sets of panels which occasionally go inside a character’s head give a close up view of thoughts and the process of creation. As Ben says at one point “Sometimes…when you look into an empty space, you can kind of see something in it.” That’s as good an explanation of the impulse to make art or tell a story as any I’ve ever heard.
Jugenbibliothek München October 27, 2013Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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I promise this will be the last post about my summer travels! Most people have special places that they look for while traveling. For some, it’s historical monuments, for others it’s great restaurants, stores or parks. I usually look for bookstores, but I think I’m going to have to add libraries to my list. Because in Munich this summer, I found the most amazing library.
The Internationale Jugendbibliothek or International Youth Library is housed in the Schloss Blutenberg, a castle dating to the 13th century. It is the largest library for international children’s and youth literature in the world, with a collection of almost 600,000 books in addition to documentary materials and journals. With rotating exhibits on writers and illustrators and shelves of recommended books in many different languages, it’s a paradise for librarians, researchers and anyone who is a reader.
There are two different exhibit halls in the library. One has cases for a visiting exhibit, along with examples of work by Binette Shroeder, a German artist that I had never encountered before. Her illustrations are dreamy and filled with light–the exhibit has them mounted in light boxes that you open, giving the best view of the work. There is also a tiny door in the wall, which you can open to see a music-box type automaton of her characters. So cool!
If you love children’s book and happen to find yourself in Munich, I highly recommend visiting this magnificent library. I’m now scheming ways to get enough money to go back and do research there!