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February Favorite: Bone Gap February 20, 2015

Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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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

Posted by ccbooks in Classroom Books.
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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

Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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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!

Top 5 Things I Love About David Levithan October 7, 2014

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This is a Top 5 Things post that I’ll write on my own, as Ana doesn’t share my love of David Levithan’s books. Part of this is certainly literary taste: Ana is enamored of plot and many of Levithan’s books, especially the early ones, focus more on characterization and atmosphere than action. It may also be differing experiences of adolescence. In any case, here is my list:

5. Friendships that don’t become romantic

This is not to imply that Levithan isn’t a great writer of romance. He’s written some of my favorite couples in all of YA literature (Nick and Norah, Noah and Paul). But he’s also brilliant at writing about friendship and one of my favorite chapters is the one in The Realm of Possibility about Lily and Jed who love each other, but are not ‘in love.’

4. Variations on high school cliches

Levithan’s first book Boy meets Boy, intentionally turned the usual high school tropes on their heads. Published in 2003, a year before Massachusetts, it was a bit of an outlier for it’s time. The football quarterback is also the homecoming queen for example. But even in books set closer to our own experience, such as The Realm of Possibility or Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, Levithan and his co-writer Rachel Cohn manage to make the stock characters of rich girl, jock, or stoner into individuals.

3. Nuanced family relationships

My favorite Levithan book just might be Are We There Yet?, the story of two brothers on a trip to Italy. Part of this is because there are so many references to my own childhood favorites (such as E.L. Konigsburg) but mostly it’s the fantastic depiction of how you can share so much with a sibling and yet still have so much to learn about them. My one quibble with this book is that Julia is a bit of a MPDG but I have met people like her while staying in hostels so I will mostly let it slide. And (SPOILER) neither brother ends up with her at the end, which is exactly as it should be.

2. Girls I can identify with

I can remember reading The Realm of Possibility as a teen and thinking “Hey, she sounds like me” multiple times. This rarely happened in depictions of teen culture for me and is one reason why I was never particularly into John Hughes movies or 10 Things I Hate About You.  Levithan’s characters may have different tastes in music (Norah) or live in different places (Lily) but they were almost always kindred spirits.

1. Unfailing optimism

The pervasive sense throughout all of Levithan’s books is hope. Whether they are dealing with struggles over sexuality, the aftermath of terrorism, personal journeys or political action, the characters look to the future with hope and optimism.


One last bonus–in addition to being a writer, Levithan is also an EDITOR for Scholastic! Some of the writers he works with are my very favorites in YA, including Libba Bray and Maggie Stiefvater.

Imitating Eric Carle October 7, 2014

Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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When I tell people I’m a freelance artist, they always ask “What kind?” in a voice that makes it clear they are thinking about visual art. I’m a puppeteer, so all my art is visual, but I don’t do a lot of painting or collage or art like that. So whenever Betsy Bird over at the blog A Fuse #8 Production breaks out one of her art challenges, I try my best to create something, just to mix things up a little.

For her latest, Re-Potterfy Harry Potter, I decided to play around a little with Eric Carle’s style of illustration. I own a book by Carle where he details his artistic process accompanied by great clear photos of how he creates each illustration. Using that and a bunch of his books for reference, I painted a bunch of tissue papers:


Then I sketched out the pieces of the illustration on tracing paper and used them to cut out the various parts I needed. I used the train in one of Carle’s earliest books 1, 2, 3 to the zoo as my model for the Hogwarts Express and it was complicated. 


But in the end, I was pretty happy with the results. I like collage, as it’s a little more forgiving of my lack of formal training than other media and I think Carle’s bright style matches the tone of the first Harry Potter book well. Maybe someday I’ll make some other Potter illustrations just to see how they turn out.


Three Septembers and a January August 8, 2014

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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With apologies to Neil Gaiman for stealing one of his titles from Sandman, here are four ARCs I’ve read recently that I can’t wait to share with readers:

deafoEl Deafo by Cece Bell (September)

This is without a doubt my favorite graphic novel of the year so far. When she was four years old, an illness left Bell with limited hearing and she had to wear a hearing aid to school. As she struggles to make friends, explain the hearing aid and find a way to fit in, she creates the character of ‘El Deafo’ a superhero with extra-sensitive hearing. And although the hearing aid gives her some embarrassing moments, it also leads to some triumphs. This was a funny, inspiring and flat-out fantastic read.

Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire (September)

eggMaguire combines Russian folktales and his own special brand of wit and whimsy in this tale of two girls–one rich, one poor–and their encounters with a prince, a Firebird, an ice dragon and the indomitable Baba Yaga. With lush descriptions that never overwhelm the story, laugh-out-loud asides from ‘Miss Yaga’ and quiet wisdom about heroism and choices, this is a near-perfect read. A great title to pair with Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz or The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier for readers who want a mix of mystery, fantasy and history.

Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson (September)

loveI was a huge fan of Johnson’s YA debut The Summer Prince when it came out last year and I’m even more impressed by this thriller set in Washington DC. Emily Bird is a student at Devonshire Academy, whose mother insists on academic and social perfection. But she would rather hang out in Northeast with her uncle and cousin, dream of opening a small store and–maybe–get to know Coffee, the Brazilian non-conformist who just might be in love with her. But with a government agent lurking who is convinced Bird knows dangerous secrets, and a deadly flu virus ravaging the city, Bird must figure out how to take control of her future. This one is for readers who like mysteries, thrillers, love stories–really, for anyone who loves a  great read.

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (January)

warIt’s not out until January. But I just finished this new title by the author of Jefferson’s Sons and I am in love with it. This is the perfect read-aloud for kids who love the American Girl doll Molly and it will also please fans of World War II YA fare like Code Name Verity.  Ada is ten, but has never been able to walk or leave her house because of a clubfoot she has had from birth. Her mother is ashamed of her disability and abuses both her and her little brother Jamie. But when the war comes and Jamie is sent away to the country, Ada follows and slowly learns to walk, to trust others and to believe in herself.  With excellent period details, a spy story, horses and strong emotional resonance, this book will please just about everyone.

Latino Book Challenge August 2, 2014

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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I have given myself several book-related challenges this year. As a bookseller, I resolved to stop asking whether customers were purchasing for a boy or girl and instead focus my queries on gender-neutral characteristics like genre or other books the child has enjoyed. As the We Need Diverse Books campaign ramped up in May, I started trying to make sure I read at least two diverse titles every time I do a story time for the bookstore. And since January, I’ve been trying to keep track of all the Latino books I read for the Latinos In Kid Lit challenge.

The challenge is simple: read at least one book by a. a Latino author or b. about a Latino character each month. This challenge will go in a slightly different direction once I leave for South America later this month, but here are some favorites that I’ve read so far:


Fire! Fuego! Brave Bomberos by Susan Middleton Elya, illus. by Dan Santat

For any child who loves fire engines or firefighters, this is a fantastic read aloud with lots of Spanish mixed into the story. My preschool students loved it and played firefighters enthusiastically after listening.


What Can You Do With a Paleta? by Carmen Tafolla, illus. by Magaly Morales

Beautiful illustrations and an imaginative storyline about a sweet treat for the summer. Even if your reader isn’t familiar with a paleta they will enjoy finding all the little details in the pictures. It will probably also make you hungry.


Little Roja Riding Hood by Susan Middleton Elya, illus. by Susan Guvara

I love fairy tale retellings and this, along with the new Ninja Red Riding Hood is one of my favorites. Lots of Spanish mixed in, but the familiar storyline will help readers figure out the meanings. Great illustrations as well.


Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

A non-fiction picture book about the court case that integrated schools in California in the late 1940’s. Sylvia Mendez was told she had to go to the ‘Mexican school’ despite being an American citizen and speaking perfect English. Her family fought back with a lawsuit and won, establishing an important precedent for the more familiar Brown vs. Board of Education case. Tonatiuh’s text is a great read aloud and the pictures are vibrant and engaging.


Caminar by Skila Brown

This is possibly my favorite title here. In a poetry format, Brown tells the story of a boy in Guatemala in the 1980’s, whose entire village is killed in an attack by government forces. All along, he must climb a mountain to find his grandmother and warn her village of the danger. Beautifully written and with a sensitive author’s note, this book shines light on a piece of history almost always neglected by US history classes. A gem.


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