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Battle of the Books: Second Round March 27, 2015

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Oh the sadness, as books are judged and set aside! However, this round featured stellar decisions from both Elizabeth Wein and Alaya Dawn Johnson, so I am happy. I was thrilled that both El Deafo and Brown Girl Dreaming made it through, though I am not thrilled that they now must face each other. Can’t we just declare a tie right now?

I love how Jason Reynolds commented that there is probably a flag with Jackie Woodson’s face on the moon (if there isn’t, there should be!) and that she “…could’ve thrown a fire-breathing chipmunk in there and it would’ve worked” (I also agree, though it’s a little hard to picture).

I probably laughed the hardest at Elizabeth Wein’s line about using her “…skills as an unreliable narrator” which everyone who has read Code Name Verity knows are CONSIDERABLE. She is right that many judges start with the book that they are going to cut and what fun to see her do the opposite with her decision! I still need to read Madman of Piney Woods. I really enjoyed Alaya Dawn Johnson’s reasoning behind her decision, even if I kind of was hoping for a graphic novel match up between El Deafo and This One Summer. 

Now no matter who wins the next round, I’m in for some serious disappointment when either Brown Girl Dreaming or El Deafo have to leave. Hopefully the Undead Poll will solve all quandaries.

March Favorite: Goodbye Stranger March 23, 2015

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strangerHow is it March already? Three months into the year and I have read 95 books. I’m sticking pretty close to my 50% by or about POC goal, though I see that I haven’t read much with LGBTQ characters lately. I need to work on that! I also need to read more poetry, especially as April approaches.

My favorite for March has to be Rebecca Stead’s latest book, coming in August, which is called Goodbye Stranger. A story of friendship, growing up, and feminism, it has the same New York City setting as her previous books, but with slightly older protagonists and themes. This is a book I really wish had been around when I was in middle school–it would have given me a mirror to reassure me that I wasn’t so weird after all. It’s a great example of a book that makes it hard for me to figure out which I like more: the universal themes or the tiny specific details that remind me of my own adolescence.

I also had a tendency to eat lunch in out of the way corners like the theater and started participating in the theater both onstage and backstage in middle school. I had causes that I was passionate about (in the book, it’s feminism, for me it was pacifism) and drove my friends kinda nuts with all my diatribes. I didn’t have any close friends like Sherm, though I wish I had had one!

I think this book is going to spark a LOT of great discussions among readers and adults about the messages girls get from media and grown-ups, how to handle issues of growing up and friendship and in general staying true to yourself. I can’t wait to share it with as many people as possible.

Battle of the Books: First Round March 20, 2015

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HA! I think this is the best I’ve ever done in predicting the first round of matches. 7/8 correct, my only flub being Grasshopper Jungle vs. The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza. I haven’t read Joey Pigza, so I chose the YA title and Jo Knowles did not. The Newbery Curse did not disappear, even though Isabel Quintero is a poet and spoke about The Crossover far more eloquently than I ever could. I was sad to see The Story of Owen go, though I am now even more excited to read both the sequel Prairie Fire and judge Hartman’s books Seraphina and Shadow Scale (I know, I should have already read Seraphina, get off my back!)

And now? I am very nervous that Brown Girl Dreaming will wind up facing off with El Deafo and what will I do then? Elizabeth Wein and Alaya Dawn Johnson are possibly the judges I am most looking forward to reading. Wein has already contributed comments on many of the other matches, pointing out folklore traits, historical detail and other lovely nerdy elements I would otherwise have missed. I can’t wait to see what she says in her judgement of Port Chicago 50 and The Madman of Piney Woods. Onward!

Battle (Almost) Ready March 9, 2015

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The SLJ Battle of the Kid’s Books starts tomorrow!!

I haven’t been quite as on top of things as in some years, and there are still two books I have yet to read. Neither one sounded terribly appealing to me, but perhaps the comments from the judges will change my mind! Before things kick off, here are my thoughts about the books in this year’s list.

Brown Girl Dreaming vs. Children of the King

Brown Girl Dreaming made me cry multiple times, every single time I read and re-read it. I like Sonya Hartnett, but did not find Children of the King terribly impressive. The protagonist seemed way younger than her stated age and in general, I wasn’t terribly invested in the characters.

The Crossover vs. Egg and Spoon

Ahhh, I loved both these books! The precision and poignancy of sibling battles and the sweep and drama of epic magical journeys! How can I choose? Will The Crossover finally break the Newbery curse? Maybe…

El Deafo vs. The Family Romanov

No contest here whatsoever. I enjoyed The Family Romanov, but it didn’t stick with me and El Deafo captured my heart in a way few books have. It has my vote in the Undead poll as well.

Grasshopper Jungle vs. The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza

I have not read Joey Pigza. In general I find it hard to get into Jack Gantos’ writing for some reason, though I usually like it once I get going. I enjoyed Grasshopper Jungle, but got annoyed at the cardboard cutouts that were the female characters after awhile.

The Madman of Piney Woods vs. Poisoned Apples

I also haven’t read Madman of Piney Woods. I read Poisoned Apples in ARC form a very long time ago and liked it, but can’t point to any poem or image in particular that has stuck with me.

The Port Chicago 50 vs. The Story of Owen

Two books that I probably liked about the same. I wasn’t blown away by Port Chicago 50 in the same way that I was by Bomb, but I’m glad I now know about this piece of history. Likewise, The Story of Owen didn’t overwhelm me with greatness, but it was a super fun read and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

This One Summer vs. A Volcano Beneath the Snow

Ugh, I really don’t envy Nathan Hale. Talk about two ENTIRELY different books–genre, format, structure…what a thankless job. I loved This One Summer and admired Volcano. That’s about all I have to say.

We Were Liars vs. West of the Moon

Two more that I read quite awhile ago and haven’t felt the urge to go back to. I’m looking forward to hearing what Kelly Barnhill has to say about them.

Let the Battle begin!

February Favorite: Bone Gap February 20, 2015

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I am having a very good reading month in February! Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan was a middle grade historical adventure with twists and turns and a hint of magic. Gabi, a girl in pieces by Isabel Quintero was sweet and funny and strong and hopeful. Audacity by Melanie Crowder was thoughtful and lovely and helped me better understand early 20th century labor history. One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart made me miss Florence and think about cities and families, art and the brain in an entirely different way.

So many favorites, but I think my top pick this month has to be Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, which hovers in the back of my head and refuses to leave. I love the characters, the setting, the tone and the way it reveals big truths about our world through extremely specific moments that the characters experience. It is unflinching in it’s examination of the ways women are subjected to unfairness and cruelty, but at the same time, offers a portrayal of strong relationships built on respect and love. The prose is beautiful, the magic is entrancing and the painful moments are balanced with humor. I highly recommend it to everyone!

Oh My Gods! Comics for a Mythology Lover February 14, 2015

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For those of you who love Greek mythology, there are plenty of awesome comics retelling these ancient stories for both kids and adults! Here are a few:

Amazing Greek Myths of Wonders and Blunders

by Michael Townsend

blundersThe table of contents gives a sense of the tone of this one: “Pygmalion’s Rocky Relationship!” “Arachne Gets a Big Head!” This collection features mostly side stories (Icarus, Pandora etc.) rather than the twelve great gods. The artwork is brightly colored and occasionally silly, making this a good choice for younger readers. Also, there are sheep. Lots of them.

Olympians Series by George O’Connor

zeusIf you’d rather stick to the twelve main gods, look no further than this fantastic series, which has seven books out so far. Starting with Zeus, each book focuses on stories about one particular god or goddess, paired with gorgeous artwork. O’Connor shapes the stories to be as action packed and suspenseful as any superhero story and includes a bibliography and author’s note explaining his sources. In an additional section titled “G(r)eek Notes” he talks about his process in drawing the panels and points out tiny details and hidden references throughout the series for hardcore fans.

The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds

odysseyIf epic wanderings and misfortunes are more your style, why not try this take on the great Homer himself? Leaving out none of the adventures, from the Cyclops to the bloody homecoming at Ithaca, Hinds’ lush, detailed panels reflect the scope and rich language of the original poem. The monsters are scary, the gods are intimidating and Odysseus himself is very sympathetic in this fantastic retelling that makes it clear why this tale has lasted so long.

Letter to a Comics-Loving Student February 14, 2015

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In honor of El Deafo and This One Summer being the first books to win in all three top ALA Youth Media Award categories, I am writing this long-overdue letter. 

Dear Javier,

I’m not sure if you remember me but I was your third grade teacher at Tuckahoe Elementary School in Arlington. You were only there for a year before you moved with your mom to another part of Virginia. I was the teacher with the library of books in her classroom, who read out loud to you while we waited for buses to be called, and had everyone sit down to read independently every day. I remember there was one series of books that you read over and over and over again–Bone by Jeff Smith.

I want to say that I’m sorry for not understanding your love of comics and the genius of this series. You see, I didn’t read any sort of comics growing up–not even the ones in the newspaper most of the time. In my mind, a book was words only, and I thought that since Bone was a comic, it wasn’t the same thing. I was wrong. Bone has complicated characters, an action-filled plot and as many twists, and turns as any of the stories on my library shelves. The stakes are high, the relationships are strong and there are moments of connection and love as well as laugh-out loud humor. You learned just as much about reading from deciphering the expressions of Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone as analyzing their dialogue. You were probably my only student who knew about Moby Dick, thanks to Fone Bone. I wish I had talked about the series with you; asked you who was your favorite character, what surprised you and what you thought might happen next to Thorn and Gran’ma Ben.

I’m not teaching full time anymore but I am reading comics! I loved Cece Bell’s memoir El Deafo, the action-packed Battling Boy by Paul Pope and I’m eagerly awaiting the adventure The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks. I hope you are still reading comics too and maybe even writing and drawing your own. I hope your new teacher (and librarian) encourages you and other kids to read and share and enjoy more comics. I’m sorry it took me so long to open my mind and appreciate the value of this style of storytelling. Thank you for helping me get there.

your teacher,

Ms. Cackley

Jumping Up and Down in Excitement February 9, 2015

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I really should have written this last Monday, when the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced. SO MUCH AWESOMENESS all in a short span of time!! Almost everything that was a favorite of mine won some award, and several won multiple awards. Here is a recap of my favorites:

PURA BELPRE

I was excited and completely unsurprised to see Viva Frida win for illustration and Separate is Never Equal get an honor. I was slightly surprised that Gabi: a girl in pieces did not win for text and I am looking forward to checking out I Lived on Butterfly Hill, especially now that I’ve been to Chile.

CORETTA SCOTT KING

Pretty much no surprises here. I have been saying that Brown Girl Dreaming would (and should) win all the awards for months now. I’m so happy it got a nice shiny gold medal.

PRINTZ AWARD

Not at all surprised to see both This One Summer and Grasshopper Jungle get honors and now I’m even more excited to read Carnival at Bray (which neither of my two library systems had on hand when it was nominated for Morris and people started talking about it). I’ll Give You the Sun didn’t stick with me as much as other titles this year, but I thought it was well-written and definitely deserving of the award.

CALDECOTT MEDAL

This one had me screaming. At one point I could only stammer “I can’t type I can’t type” onto Twitter. I was so excited, I may have woken my roommates up and scared the dog with my cries of joy. To see Lauren Castillo get her first (I’m sure not last) award for Nana in the City,  as well as a graphic novel (This One Summer, again) get an honor, The Right Word win an honor and Viva Frida win an honor! Viva Frida is the first title EVER to win both Caldecott and Pura Belpre! EVER. Thrilling. Beekle has also been a favorite, ever since I read it way back in the spring.

NEWBERY MEDAL

Even more screaming. As I said, I knew Brown Girl Dreaming would turn up in this list but El Deafo? I was hoping and crossing my fingers and look what happened! IT WON!! Another huge first, a graphic novel memoir winning the Newbery–I couldn’t be more thrilled. There is probably only one title that I would have been happy to see take the gold medal away from Brown Girl Dreaming and that was The Crossover. Though I know absolutely nothing about basketball, the brothers in this story made their way into my heart and as I read, I was picturing all the thousands of kids who I KNOW this is going to speak to. I’m so happy it now has a big gold sticker to advertise its awesomeness to the world.

January Favorite: Stella by Starlight January 18, 2015

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Halfway through January, I’ve read nearly 25 books. More than half have been picture books and slightly less than half have been by or about people of color. I’ve only read one ‘adult’ book (the entertaining Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen) but I’ve read equal amounts of middle grade and YA.

stellaEverything I’ve read has been worthwhile, but the book that grabbed my heart was Stella by Starlight, a new historical fiction book by Sharon Draper. Based partly on family history and the town where her father and grandmother grew up, it’s about a community in the 1930’s struggling to assert their rights against the horrific racism of whites in the town. At the same time, it’s about a girl and her coming of age, as she gains new skills, and learns more about her world. Draper doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life for blacks in that place and time, but she also includes episodes of school days, and community gatherings that add humor and warmth to the narrative.

I think one of the biggest strengths of this book is how easy it is to identify with Stella. She draws the reader in with her struggles over writing essays, annoyance with her little brother and anxieties about the KKK being active in the neighborhood. There is no way for me–a white/Latina middle class girl born in the 80’s–to really understand the challenges and racism faced by Stella and her family. But reading her story helps me to try and imagine what if my father were insulted and threatened for trying to vote. What if  it were a real possibility my house would be burned down if I angered a neighbor? Stories like Stella by Starlight help us better understand both our history and its effect on us today. That is one reason we need more diverse books and this one truly delivers.

A New Year, a New Goal January 6, 2015

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Cecilia here, (Ana is tied up with finishing her senior year and applying for jobs or internships) finally back after a spell away overseas and lots and lots of work.

This past year was a great one for me and reading, with several events creating big changes for how and why I read.

-I started using Twitter much more regularly, getting and giving recommendations, commenting on kid lit happenings and telling lots of writers and artists how much I love what they create.

-Completing a challenge from the blog Latin@s in Kid Lit made me much more aware of what is out there in both Spanish and English for young readers and also what is lacking.

-Following on that, the We Need Diverse Books campaign gave me a way to find diverse reads in all genres and many, many reasons to champion these books to others.

I haven’t been writing as many in-depth reviews here, and there just hasn’t been as much time to research and write posts about other related topics. I’ve been putting energy into my other blog (which you should check out if you have any interest in puppetry or theater) and I don’t foresee that changing any time soon. So this blog is going to shift focus. This year, I’m tracking my reading. I have a fancy spreadsheet and a not-so-fancy composition notebook, and a whole bunch of categories I’m tracking, including of course, whether the books I read feature characters of color or are written by authors of color. I will do my best each month (maybe twice a month if I’m really on a roll) to write a short post about what I’ve been reading and see how I’m doing with regard to diversity. I’m excited to begin!

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