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Award Winners: My Take January 26, 2012

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The American Library Association Youth Media Awards were announced on Monday morning. Yes, I woke up early and watched the entire webcast at 8:30am (what can I say? I like the Alex Awards). There were announcements that made me squeal with joy and others that made me go “Huh?” Below is a quick summary of the highlights.

Printz Award for Young Adult Literature
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

I read this book back in the fall and it didn’t do a lot for me. Small town setting, two different narratives that the reader isn’t sure actually connect, a supposedly extinct bird and a sibling who disappeared. Other readers have applauded the sarcastic voice of the narrator and the novel’s structure, but I have to say I didn’t really care about any of the characters very much. I will have to go back and re-read it–maybe I’ll change my mind. At least The Scorpio Races won an honor!

Margaret A. Edwards Award: Susan Cooper

This was the announcement that made me squeal and probably wake up my housemates. Susan Cooper is one of my absolute favorite fantasy writers and the only contemporary author who truly makes me believe in historical time travel. I’m thrilled that she won this award and only the fact that I heard her speak and got her autograph at the National Book Festival this year makes up for the fact that I can’t hear her at the ALA convention in June.

Randolph Caldecott Award for Illustration:A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka

I generally don’t pay as much attention to the Caldecott predictions (there are just too many picture books out there, and my students are less interested in them) but the blog Calling Caldecott on the Horn Book Magazine website had this in their shortlist, so I had read it. While it probably isn’t my absolute favorite picture book this year (that would be Stars by Marla Frazee) I think it is a charming story and beautifully designed and illustrated.

John Newbery Award for Children’s Literature: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

I’m ashamed to say that this is one I did not finish. In keeping with the general trend these days, it is long and it came up in my holds list at the library at a time when I was reading too many other books to give it much thought. I read the first chapter or two, and then put it down. For some reason, Gantos’ writing style is hard for me—I often find I have to re-read a page a few times before it all makes sense in my head. I noticed this with a speech he gave that was printed in the Horn Book Magazine, so it must be that there is just something about his sentence structure or syntax that my brain can’t handle. In any case, I now have the book on hold again at the library and hopefully it will come soon. Congratulations to all these winners!


Printz Picks January 20, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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The ALA Midwinter Awards are just a few days away. I almost never really make a prediction for the Newbery or Caldecott (there’s just too much out there) but I did correctly predict the Printz last year, so here are my two picks–books that I believe both could, and should, win the Michael J. Printz Award for Young Adult Literature.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Stiefvater has done something that I thought was pretty much impossible: made me appreciate the proliferation of paranormal romance books. Because really, how else would a story about killer fairy horses have gotten published? Vampires don’t really do it for me. But a strong, silent guy who loves nothing except his murderous red fairy horse? Yes, please!

The Scorpio Races tells the tale of two teenagers who are both desperate to win the annual Scorpio Race, when the islanders of Thisby catch and race the capaill uisce–fairy horses that swim out of the sea and prey on humans and livestock alike. Puck Connelly  made an impetuous decision to race while Sean Kendrick takes it as a given, but each character approaches the challenge with a fierce dedication that draws the reader in. Secondary characters are just as finely drawn and by the end of the book, we feel we have known the citizens of this island all our lives.

Thisby is an island both magical and depressing, and it’s to Stiefvater’s credit that she has created a world that is nowhere near paradise, yet was fascinating to such an extent that I became disappointed when I finished the book and remembered that it wasn’t real, and I couldn’t go visit myself. Stiefvater spends as much time on the romantic beaches and lonely cliffs as on the bustle and tackiness of the parades and stalls all hoping to squeeze as much money out of tourists as possible. But looking through Puck and Sean’s eyes, it is all too clear why they stay here. As Puck says at one point “This island is a cunning and secretive thing. I can’t say what it has planned for me.”

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet

There has been some debate about whether or not this is a young adult book. It follows a similar pattern to many adult books, where one protagonist is a teenager and it follows their particular awakening (in this case, the protagonist is Clem Ackroyd and his awakening is both sexual and political, in the sense that he wakes up to the ways in which nations and wars affect each other). However, Candlewick (LOVE that publisher) has published it as a young adult book. And I can only hope that as a result, teens will read it and contemplate their own families, loves and place in the world and in history.

Life tells the story of three generations in the Ackroyd family: Win, who loses her husband during the First World War, her daughter Ruth, who in the book’s marvelous opening sequence gives birth as an air fight happens overhead, and Clem, who lives a life far beyond anything imagined by his ancestors. One of the great strengths of the book is its depiction of the strict class hierarchies of Britain, even after the Second World War, as people moved away from their families and took up new jobs and new lives. The gap between generations widened, as shown in the character of Win, who, when a telephone comes to the house “..refused, absolutely, ever, to have anything to do with it. If it rang when she was alone in the house, she’d cover her ears and shout, “He ent here!” at it.” Peet excels at finding these moments of sadness and comedy in everyday life, as the world changes. Other reviewers have commented on the slow pacing of the book, but I loved the way Peet broke up the story of Clem and Frankie by bringing in sections of historical fact about the movements of the Americans and Soviets during the Cuban Missle Crisis. While at times it was hard to follow the many different names, places and dates, the contrast between the activities of heads of state and ordinary people in the countryside of England was poignant and moving.

Will either of these books win the Printz? Or will the prize go to Franny Billingsley’s   Chime (upcoming post on this book) which everyone else in the world seems to love except me? Many major news outlets cover the Newbery and Cadecott Medals, but the Printz tends to fly a bit more under the radar, so if you’re interested, check out www.ala.org on January 23rd to find out the winner!

Winter Holiday: Picture Books in Amherst January 15, 2012

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Give up?

Amherst, MA!

I have wanted to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art ever since I first heard that it was being built. As you can see from the photo below, it is a huge, beautiful building completely dedicated to the beautiful art of children’s literature.

The Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA

There are three different galleries, a studio where kids can make their own art (didn’t get to go in there because I ran out of time) a library of picture books, an auditorium where I saw a lovely puppet show and the best gift shop ever. Here are a few more photos!

Sadly, you cannot climb on this statue. It was, however, designed by Mo Willems of Elephant and Piggie (to say nothing of Pigeon) fame.


This caterpillar has little seats inside it for tiny readers!

Looking forward to coming back soon!


Where in the World? January 6, 2012

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Happy New Year!  The very end of the year included a wonderful, book-related trip for me, so while I sort through photos, here are some clues as to where I went. Any guesses?

(This is the part where I pretend that there are lots of strangers in other cities reading this blog, instead of a very small group of friends and family who already know where I went–or went there with me!)