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Portland Extra August 29, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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Just to make it clear how much of a children’s lit nerd I am, I will admit to getting a thrill when I looked at a map of Portland and saw Klickitat St. listed. My uncle was nice enough to drive me over there and it looks pretty much exactly like I imagined it. He also took me to Grant Park, where there are statues of Ramona, Henry and Ribsy. Enjoy the pretty pictures!

Henry looks a little sad that he is away from the fountains and can't play in the water.

Ribsy's back is all rubbed and shiny from the kids who like to sit on him!

Ramona, true to her character, is right in the middle of a water splash!


Portland Means Powell’s August 28, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Classroom Books.
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I recently returned from a trip to Oregon to visit friends and family. Some people, when they go traveling, search out museums, or special restaurants or outdoor activities. I look for bookstores, usually used or independent bookstores. And once there, I always have to comb through the children’s section. Who knows what could be hiding at the back of a shelf, for only $4?

In Oregon,  I hit the jackpot with Powell’s, the legendary independent bookstore in Portland. Originally a used bookstore, it now takes up an entire city block and sells both used and new books. I was extremely impressed with the selection of children’s and young adult books they had available. Every fiction and non-fiction category imaginable seemed to be there. So, having spent a decent amount of money (entirely on used and sale books, I hasten to add), I thought I would share my finds with you.

First, some non-fiction for my classroom. I have other books by this editor and I’ve found they’re a good fit for third grade; clear text in short paragraphs, color photos or illustrations and a glossary and index at the back. Native Americans are not part of my curriculum, but every now and then I get a student asking for more information. This should be a good start.

Next, some silly books. Both of these were impulse buys. I chose Fairy Shopping because I’m finding it harder and harder to get my girls who like fairies to read longer books. They only want to read the short chapter books like So and So the Rose Fairy which are all exactly the same. This is a picture book, but it’s charming and has good vocabulary. I got The Dangerous Alphabet because I will buy pretty much anything written by Neil Gaiman.

Next up are two books to use in the classroom. I use Swamp Angel to teach tall-tales (love the tales with strong women!) and Ruby’s Wish will be a good tool to teach inferencing and comprehension. Plus, it’s the first book illustrated by Sophie Blackall, one of my all-time favorites.

Finally, two books that are more for me. The Sea-Serpent’s Daughter is a lovely little story about why we have day and night, from Brazil. The pictures don’t impress me that much, but the story is nicely told and I need to add to my collection of Latin American folktales. The illustrations for The Winter Wren were extremely impressive. Lovely watercolors and a quiet story explaining a change in seasons, always one of my favorite topics for a fairy tale. That one is staying on my own shelf, where I can enjoy it!

Children’s Books for College August 26, 2011

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Hello. Ana here.

I have moved out. I’m now installed at the University of Virginia, where I spend my days running from class to class and pondering deep thoughts. In my spare time, though, (of which I have very little) I have been reading.

Really, I’ve been reading the Iliad, and Richard II and my Astronomy textbook, but none of that was particularly interesting. What is interesting is my bookshelves here at college.

I brought 56 books with me to college, a number that shocked most people by its enormity, and eventually shocked me by its minuteness.

My dorm room at college. The bookshelves aren’t perfectly clear, but hopefully clear enough.

The (children’s) books I brought with me:

  • Swallows and Amazons
  • Jellicoe Road
  • Looking for Alaska
  • Saffy’s Angel
  • Star of Kazan
  • Journey to the River Sea
  • Trickster’s Queen
  • Ruby in the Smoke
  • Sorcery and Cecelia
  • The Game

These were the children’s books that, for one reason or another, I felt were essential. Swallows and Amazons was given to me as a parting gift from a friend, since it was her favorite childhood book. I’ve only just started it, but I really like it so far. Maybe I’ll do a review of it when I finish it.

As a book that consistently makes me cry, Jellicoe Road definitely earned a place on the bookshelf. I’m not obsessed with Looking for Alaska, but I think it’s a great book, and it’s one that I re-read often, so it came along for the ride too.

Cecilia and I already talked about the Casson family series, so you already know my opinions on Saffy’s Angel and hopefully you’ll understand why I had to bring it with me. I’ll only say in supplement that it’s a book my best friend Libby and I both love. In the series, Saffy and Sarah are best friends and have this incredible bond. Libby and I have dozens of nicknames for each other, but the ones we come back to are Sarah (her) and Saffy (me). Having Saffy’s Angel at college makes me feel close to her.

I can’t remember whether Cecilia and I have done a post yet about Eva Ibbotson. We disagree on several points about her, but one point we do agree on is that Journey to the River Sea was her best book and that Star of Kazan was her second best. I personally love Eva Ibbotson’s historical fiction and they are both books that I will pick up every month or so and re-read.

I meant to bring Trickster’s Choice with me as well as Trickster’s Queen, but somehow it didn’t get packed. I’ll grab it when I go home for Fall Break. I have to have some Tamora Pierce at college with me. Tammy Pierce was my favorite author for so long and still is one of my top five. I admit freely that the quality of her books is not always terrific and she can’t really be compared to people like J.K. Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkien, but I had to have some of her books with me and the Trickster series is the best in my opinion.

I love Philip Pullman’s Ruby in the Smoke and I think it’s the best of the Sally Lockhart series. The first book in a series so often is. Another book that falls under this rule is Sorcery and Cecelia, which is kind of the basic template for the renowned Letter Game.

Finally, I brought Diana Wynne Jones’ The Game with me. I was so sad when Diana Wynne Jones died earlier this year and I really wanted to take one of her books with me. I adore the Crestomanci series, but I couldn’t choose between them, so I ended up with The Game. I think The Game is one of the most perfect novellas written and it’s a very relaxing read.

These books are not my entire library here at college by any stretch of the imagination. But I don’t think any library is complete without a children’s section, large or small. So this is mine.

Review: Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want to Survive the School Bus August 23, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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Each day as a kid is fraught with many dangers. There are clothes to pick out, teachers to deal with, playground territories to negotiate and for many, the twice a day dreadedschool bus ride. Fortunately for all kids who worry about such things, John               Grandits has the answers in his hilarious new picture   book Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want to Survive the School Bus. 

Our intrepid protagonist Kyle tries his best to follow his brother James’ rules about seats, bullies, girls and   bus drivers. But Kyle just seems to keep making mistake after mistake as he goes through his school day. Each time, he tries to fix things and just keeps breaking more of the rules. Fortunately, by the end of the day, he’s learned a few things and when he gets back home, is even able to tell his brother the most important rule of all.

Michael Allen Austin’s illustrations are perfect, showing Kyle’s exaggerated imaginings of the dangers he faces on the bus. We first meet Kyle on the title page watching a nature show, so it makes sense that through his eyes, the other kids and adults appear as wild animals. Also keep your eye out for the squirrel that follows Kyle around all day!

My go-to book for addressing fears about starting school is First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, but I’m going to have to add this one to my read-alouds at the beginning of the year.

Overlooked: The Alex Awards August 22, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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The American Library Association established the Alex Awards in 1998. The Alex Awards are given to ten books annually, published for adults but which also appeal to teens, ages 12-18. Since then, books by many excellent authors have been honored, including Ann Patchett, Lev Grossman, Pat Conroy and Audrey Niffenegger. However, we feel that some wonderful books have been left out, either because they were published before 1998 or were just overlooked. So here is our list. If you agree or disagree with our choices, or have more to add, tell us in the comments.

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (1992)

Part of the Tor Fantasy series of re-imagined fairytales, this book combines Sleeping Beauty with stories of the Holocaust. A young reporter must travel to Poland to figure out who exactly her grandmother was, and what happened to her during World War II. While it often ends up on censored book lists because of its violent themes, the compelling mystery and subtle romance make it appealing to teens.

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros (2002)

Cisneros is probably best known for her book The House on Mango Street, which is curriculum or recommended reading in many places. But I think this novel, narrated by Celaya Reyes who grows up between Chicago and Mexico City is an even stronger portrait of an immigrant family pulled between two countries and cultures. It’s definitely a more detailed and complicated story than Mango Street but also more rewarding for the reader.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)

Dodie Smith is best known for writing 101 Dalmations (the good version, not the Disney movie!). Her first novel, however, was this elegant story of an artistic family living in an abandoned castle, set in the 1930’s. The book is written as the journals of the family’s 17 year old daughter Cassandra Mortmain, who chronicles her family’s poverty, her aspirations of being a writer and her first brush with love. This novel expertly captures the awkwardness of being an adolescent as well as the vision of a charming mid-century England.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)

The outsider as protagonist is a staple of young adult literature and the search for a home is a theme that the genre shares with many adult immigrant stories. Jhumpa Lahiri, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her debut collection of stories Interpreter of Maladies, tells the story of Gogol, a young Indian-American and his search for a place to feel at home. The novel covers the stories of both Gogol and his parents as they adapt to American life, grow and change over the years.

Neverwhere (1996) and American Gods (2001) by Neil Gaiman

Maybe the Alex Award committees thought Gaiman was getting too much love. His novels Stardust and Anansi Boys both won Alex Awards in their respective years. While these books are lovely and very appealing to teens, let’s not forget Gaiman’s other work. Neverwhere is a fantasy action tale reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland complete with murderers, angels, vampires and magical doors. In addition, while we love Anansi Boys, we both feel that American Gods is superior  in depth of theme and complexity of plot.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1979)

Classic. Whether you know every single King Arthur tale by heart or just vaguely remember he was an old guy with a sword, this book gives you a whole new perspective on a key legend. Told from the point of view of several different women, including Morgan Le Fay and Guinevere, Bradley debates questions of power, tradition, faith and sexuality. This should be required reading for every teen fantasy addict.

Top 5 Things We Love About Melina Marchetta August 17, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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Melina Marchetta became well-known in her native Australia in 1992 for her young adult novel Looking for Alibrandi. In 2009, she won the ALA Michael Printz Award for Young Adult Literature for her 2006 novel On the Jellicoe Road (published in the US as Jellicoe Road). Other novels are Saving Francesca (2003), Finnikin of the Rock (2008) and The Piper’s Son (2010). These Top Five Things cover all her books except Finnikin, which is her only book Ana and I disagree about. So, without further ado, our Top 5 Things We Love About Melina Marchetta:

5. Genre Jumping

Unlike most YA authors, Marchetta doesn’t confine herself to just one genre. Alibrandi, Francesca and Piper’s Son are all realistic fiction, Finnikin is epic fantasy and Jellicoe is a post-modern mash-up of realism and mystery. While we disagree about how adept she is in each genre (see the sentence above about Finnikin), there is no denying that she stretches herself and constantly steps out of her comfort zone as a writer. The only other YA author I can think of who consistently switches genre like this is Philip Pullman.

4. Her Names

No run-of-the-mill Emilys or Maggies for Marchetta’s books. Her characters accurately reflect ethnicity where appropriate (Josephine, Francesca), and are always slightly unusual while still being realistic (Tara, Taylor, Raffaela, Jonah). Unlike some YA authors, she doesn’t seem to be choosing deliberately odd names in order to stand out from the pack. Each name is exactly right for the character.

3. Sense of Place

I hadn’t really thought much about Australia before reading Marchetta’s books. Kangaroos, koalas, a big coral reef somewhere…that’s about all that would go through my mind if someone mentioned the continent. Now, after reading Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son, I can’t wait to get to Sydney and explore its neighborhoods for myself. Marchetta’s characters clearly love the city and she conveys the feeling of a sprawling set of neighborhoods inhabited by close-knit families and ethnic communities.

“My bus line travels along Parramatta Road from the inner city, past the University of Technology, where Mia works, past the University of Sydney, and then into the beginning of the inner west…Sometimes Annandale feels like a small country town, ten minutes from downtown. There’s still a working-class quality to it, but sprinkled with academics, musicians and professionals, it tends not to have a “type,” —Saving Francesca.

“Years ago it’s what they used to do during the week at this time of the night. Come down for a coffee or a quick pasta and glass of wine. They loved it here on weekdays because it belonged to the locals. All the people they wanted in their lives lived within a ten minute radius.” —The Piper’s Son

2. Relationships

Marchetta’s books are marked by strong family dynamics and friendships. Conflicts between parents and children, friends and romantic partners re-appear in each of her novels. Each of her main characters discovers or re-discovers, a support network of family or friends by the end of their story. Francesca starts her book by saying “My ideal community? Anywhere but here.” and ends with the declaration “It’s about me and the fact that I’ve felt like crap for so long and not just this year. That’s the weird part. This year has been one of the best years I’ve ever had and I might win the uncoolest-person-of-the-year award by saying this, but if you weren’t my friends, I think I’d just go into some kind of coma.”

By far, the most complicated and powerful relationships are found in Jellicoe Road where the mystery of how Taylor is related to characters in an unfinished novel propels the majority of the book’s action. Throughout the novel, Taylor struggles to connect to her classmates, the people of her town and especially her missing family. She could be speaking for many of us when she says “These people have history and I crave history. I crave someone knowing me so well that they can tell what I’m thinking.”

1. How she uses the concept of a story

Each of Marchetta’s protagonists struggles with their own story. Josephine Alibrandi discovers family secrets that change her relationship with her grandmother and her idea of her family story. Francesca Spinelli has to decide how much of her mother’s wishes she is going to live up to, especially now that her mother has disappeared from her life. Tom Mackee replays scenes from the past in his mind to try and figure out how to bring the various members of his broken family back together. As he says, after realizing that one of his closest friends also experienced a pivotal event from his childhood “Maybe she’d always been there. Maybe strangers enter your heart first and then you spent the rest of your life searching for them.” Taylor  in Jellicoe retells the story of her life to a boy she sees in her dreams, the story of her friend Hannah’s novel to her classmates at school and the story of her life with her mother to her love, Jonah Griggs. By the end, when missing people have been found and mysteries solved, “…there’s a joy and an abundance of everything, like information and laughter and summer weather and so many stories. My mother urges me to write them down because, “You’re the last of the Markhams, my love.” So I record dates and journeys and personalities and traits and heroes and losers and weaknesses and strengths and I try to capture every one of those people because one day I’ll need what they have to offer.”

Speaking as a reader, I’m so happy Marchetta has shared the stories of these special characters with us, because we are truly lucky to be able to learn what they have to offer.

Review: Goyangi Means Cat August 14, 2011

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   Many picture books for adopted children focus on reassuring          kids that they are loved and wanted. Sometimes books will                specify where the child is coming from (China, for example), but    more often, it is left out, I would guess to make the story more         applicable to different families. However, in Goyangi Means           Cat by Christine McDonnell, the little girl comes from Korea and   the story uses Korean language and her relationship with a pet to    show her growth in a new home.

McDonnell begins the story with a few Korean words, which are repeated several times throughout the text. This is a fabulous way to introduce a small amount of Korean language to an adopted child who was too young to learn it, siblings or students in a class. Kids will empathize with Soo Min as she misses her Korean friends and tries to express herself to her new family. They will recognize some of her activities, such as going to the library and the park, they will worry when her cat runs away and join in her joy when he returns.

The pictures in the book are a beautiful combination of paint and collage work. A note from the illustrator states that both Western and Eastern patterns were used in the collage paper, and it is a lovely, subtle way to depict Soo Min’s two worlds. Best of all, Korean characters are incorporated into each illustration for kids to see and explore.  This quiet, uplifting book allows kids to either step into Soo Min’s shoes and explore a new language or see their same experience reflected in her story.

Goyangi Means Cat by Christine McDonnell. Penguin, 2011. All ages.

Which Casson Family Book is the Best? August 9, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Debate.
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With the UK publication of Caddy’s World, British author Hilary McKay brings her series of books about the Casson family to an end. Now that Ana and I have both read the latest (Thanks, Libby for ordering it and then lending it to us!) we can start the debate about which book is the best. Ana can start.

Ana: Saffy’s Angel is my favorite book, and I think it’s the best because it has the most focused plot, and the best story with quirky little asides that enhance the book rather than being the main focus of the book.It has a couple of really deep themes, like family, belonging, and identity, and I think it manages to say a lot about these issues in an interesting, funny and relatively concise way.

Cecilia: Permanent Rose is definitely the funniest book. The character David is responsible for much of this comedy, as he tries to figure out how to be friends with the Cassons. The moment when he sees Saffy naked, when Saffy and Sarah laugh at Bill’s website and when Rose accidentally ends up in London with Caddy all illuminate character traits while being laugh out loud funny.

Ana: Indigo’s Star is, of the six books, one of the weaker ones. The best part of the book is undoubtedly the introduction of Tom and the way that the reader gets to see the Casson family interact with a stranger. In Saffy’s Angel, we got to see very little of the rest of the Casson family; we knew they were there, and they were all funny and sweet, but the book really dealt with Saffy and Sarah. In  Indigo’s Star, we get to meet the rest of the family and see the way that they take in a stranger. We, as readers, particularly like it because it gives us the feeling that we could be Tom, and that this is the way the Cassons would treat us if we got to meet them. Unfortunately, McKay tries to stuff a little too much into the book. She tries to juggle back-stories, plot, characterization and themes, and she doesn’t quite do it successfully. The book rambles a bit and can be kind confusing.

Cecilia: I think we both agree that Caddy Ever After is not the best of the series. It’s the first time that McKay tries to write in the first person instead of the third person and each section is narrated by a different Casson sibling. While the chance to hear about the same event from different points of view is amusing, it also makes the book difficult to follow and some of the new characters introduced (Oscar and Alex, primarily) are not that engaging. The teacher Miss Farley and Rose’s friend Kiran however, are keepers.

Ana: Caddy’s World is the latest Casson book (although it is a prequel) and I can’t remember everything about it, so please bear with me. I didn’t think it was the best book by any means (although that was partly because it had so little about the other Cassons) but neither was it the worst. Despite my initial disregard for Caddy’s friends, I ended up really liking them. I also loved the tiny pop culture references that she threw into the book. However, it was very difficult to match up Caddy’s twelve-year-old personality in this book with her extremely different personality in the later (earlier) books. The lack of continuity in her character was slightly annoying. In addition, I don’t think the themes of Caddy’s World were as strong as the themes in some of the other Casson books.

Cecilia: Forever Rose  is the book that I think is best at getting inside Rose’s head. McKay again uses the first person, but since it only focuses on Rose, it’s a lot easier to follow. Two years have passed since Caddy Ever After and I think the strength of this book is how you can really see how time passing has affected and changed each member of the family. Rose’s relationship with each of her siblings has changed somewhat and she comments at one point (remembering when they used to ride bikes together and she would shout at them to wait) “They always turned back then, however much of a hurry they were in, but I do not think they can turn back now.” Poignant and so true.

Ana and Cecilia: Regardless, one thing the books all share is fantastic ending lines. So we leave you with the following quotes (since Cecilia at least, has the habit of reading the last page of a book first) and hope that if you made it this far in the post, you will check out this lovely series.

Saffy’s Angel: “Caddy put the box down on the grass and took off the lid. Inside was the little stone figure that had come so far. Caddy lifted it out and stood it carefully in the sunshine. “Look!” she said. “Look at Saffy’s angel!”

 Indigo’s Star: “Rose did not say any more. But she and Indigo stayed out a long, long time, wishing, and watching stars, the steady ones and the ones that passed with red and green lights across the sky.”

Permanent Rose: “Why did you call me that? Why did you? Did you mean it for a joke?” “No” said Eve at once. “No Rosy Pose. Really…I really meant it for…”

“What? Tell me.”

“A promise” said Eve.

 Caddy Ever After: “Appendix Three: What Happened to Caddy. CADDY BURGLED ALL MY POSTCARDS FROM MICHAEL AND DISAPPEARED”

 Forever Rose: “But also there are jokes, friends, adventures, and homes. And these things will help you through the long paragraphs, lonely patches, perils, and even problems with as many heads as dragons. To live Happily Ever After. Which is exactly what I intend to do Forever Rose.”

Caddy’s World: “Don’t worry, he’ll love you” said Rose.

*Many thanks to Libby for getting those last two quotes for us!*