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F&G Goodness August 29, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Bookstore.
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This is the counter at the store, where Kristen and I have been going through a new box of F&Gs–bookseller-speak for ‘Folds and Gathers.’ These are picture books that haven’t been published yet, review copies sent from the publisher to entice us into ordering the finished books.

We go through the stack slowly, our comments ranging from “Cute!” to “Well, that was pretty bad” to “Pretty pictures, boring story.” One question we both had was “Is it just us or are all picture books about hats specifically about red hats?” A couple  of books that stuck out to me:

Again by Emily Gravett

Gravett is known as an illustrator who incorporates flaps and cutouts and collage pieces into her books.  Her characters also tend to have huge amounts of energy, which can sometimes lead to destruction. Occasionally it seems as if her stories are taking over the book as a physical object, in the best kind of way. Here, a little dragon asks for a story before going to bed. His mother obliges, but similar to David Ezra Keat’s Interrupting Chicken, bedtime doesn’t quite go as planned, since the dragon keeps demanding “Again!” If you turn the book over, there is a little clue about how it all will end.

Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin

I think I first became familiar with Halperin’s work through her illustrations for Cynthia Rylant’s Cobble Street Cousins series. In my mind, I group her style of drawing with Tasha Tudor and Barbara Cooney–calm and filled with thoughtful, beautiful details. This book is no exception. Halperin guides the reader through an attitude almost more than a story; a way to live life mindfully, aware of the connections between people and places around the world. Only when we realize that peace in our world depends on peace in our cities, neighborhoods, schools, homes and hearts, will we be able to create it for ourselves and others. Each spread gives the reader a glimpse into various locations and families around the world, criss-crossed with quotes about peace from well-known and obscure world figures. I could see this being a calm, thoughtful read-aloud and also a book that kids could pick up on their own to find all the tiny details. Lovely.

Brave New Voices August 26, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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I read two debut novels in the past month–one is out, the other will be published in September–and was blown away by both. Printz and Morris committees should take note; both of these books should get serious consideration this fall.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth

Cameron’s story begins with the news that her parents have died in an accident, but her first thought is relief that they will never know she has been kissing her best friend Irene. Growing up in Miles City, Montana, Cameron becomes an expert at dealing with her Grandmother, her ultra-Christian Aunt Ruth, and her growing attraction to girls, especially her best friend Coley Taylor.

This is a coming-out story, a coming of age story, and especially, a portrait of a particular time and place. Danforth nails the sounds and sights of Miles City without ever losing Cameron’s voice or getting bogged down in descriptions. Two aspects of Cameron lend themselves to this obsession with details: Her favorite pastime is watching movies and she has a habit of picking up small items and turning them into decor for her old dollhouse. Movie references ground the story in the mid-1990’s and also help the reader understand how and why Cameron sees the world in a certain way. Her ability to process the motivations of people around her, as well as her instinct for connection make Cameron a truly compelling narrator, and I’m excited to see what other stories and characters Danforth creates.

Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie

Kokie takes on multiple heavy subjects in this first novel: parental abuse, discovering the homosexuality of a sibling, losing a family member in the military. It is to her credit that the book doesn’t feel unwieldy and also doesn’t hit the reader over the head with the lessons the main character learns. Occasionally I wanted to strangle the narrator (‘Just LET SOMEONE HELP YOU!’ kept running through my head) but I always understood the reasoning behind his decisions.

It’s almost the end of the school year and Matt Foster is struggling. He’s trying to figure out what he’ll do after high school, since college isn’t an option. He’s trying to avoid the worst of his father’s anger and his feelings for his best friend, Shauna. Most of all he’s trying to come to terms with his brother TJ’s death. Maybe he will find some answers if he looks at his brother’s belongings that the army returned. But some objects bring more questions than answers and in the end, Matt will have to revisit his image of who his brother was and come to terms with the truth.

Shameless Bragging August 20, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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My siblings have to put up with a lot from me. Lately, they have had to put up with ridiculous text messages of photos of the ARCs that I get to read and they don’t. Occasionally I can bring something home for Ana to borrow, but more often (especially with the picture books) I read the book in the odd moments that the store is empty and I have to leave it on our shelf for others. There are SO many amazing authors with new work coming out this fall. Here are a few of my favorites:

Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman. I defy anyone to resist this absolutely adorable little panda, illustrated by Adam Rex. The book follows Chu through a day as he visits a library, diner and circus and tries not to sneeze. Because when Chu sneezes…well, if you read the book you’ll see what happens. The illustrations are gorgeous and the text is engaging, witty and to the point. Well done, Gaiman.

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. This is the book that I squealed audibly at when I first saw it listed in a preview on Monica Edinger’s blog. Schlitz is a writer who never EVER repeats herself, something I admire hugely. She has written biography, fairy tale, fantasy and historical fiction, winning me over completely with each. Splendors and Glooms is no exception. A Dickensian melodrama of kidnappings, death, magic and love, it follows two orphans, one unhappy rich girl, a witch and a puppet master. The puppets alone would have been enough to get me to read it, but the fine prose, wise themes and beautiful images are what made me fall in love with it. Any time Ms. Schlitz wants a puppeteer to do a marionette demonstration at one of her author signings, I’m there.

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale. The first Princess Academy book won a Newbery Honor and yet I had to be badgered into reading it by Ana. I’m not a reader who automatically picks up anything with ‘princess’ in the title, but the book won me over with it’s varied characters and beautifully imagined natural setting. This sequel follows the main character, Miri, as she travels away from her home to go to university and in the process, gets caught up in a brewing revolution. While I am inclined to agree with Ana’s inevitable comment of “Is a sequel really necessary?” it was nice to have the chance to see more of this unusual world that Hale has built.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. Sometimes, you can tell when an author is holding back. There are books that were always mean to be the first of a series (Harry Potter) and books that ended up that way by accident (The Thief). The Raven Boys is the first book in a quartet and it is MADDENING, I tell you, because Stiefvater drops all these hints about events that MIGHT happen or COULD happen, and yet I don’t KNOW because it’s only the first book! There, rant is now over. I wouldn’t say that cars and private schools and psychics and energy fields are things I am usually interested in, but she made me care about them all.

Review: Pocketful of Posies August 5, 2012

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This is a book that I would have read to pieces when I was in elementary school. Salley Mavor won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Best Picture book of 2011 for this gorgeous set of fabric collages.   Pocketful of Posies collects familiar and obscure nursery rhymes together and pairs them with elaborate and detailed visuals.  The collages fill each entire page, with no white or negative space. The text complements the image, sometimes appearing in a corner, around the edge of the image or following a line of embroidery.

If I had seen this book as an eight year old, I would have wanted the pictures to be ‘real’ and available to play with. Throughout the book appear children with painted faces made from wooden beads, sporting detailed clothing and flowers, teacups and trays of cakes in their hands. I probably would have also badgered my mother to somehow make me a fairy costume like the ones by Mary Mary quite contrary and the Daffy Down Dilly, with a scalloped collar, layered skirt and leaf necklace.

If I had seen this book as a ten or twelve year old, I would have wanted to imitate it. Mavor incorporates natural materials such as driftwood and acorn cups into many of the collages, as well as wire, beads and buttons. I probably wouldn’t have chosen nursery rhymes, but I’m sure I would have tried to dress tiny dolls as book characters or fairies from my imagination and attempted to put them on a fabric background. At least until the embroidery thread tangled and I lost patience with the sewing.

This would be a lovely choice for a baby gift or a bedtime story. Children will look at each page again and again to find all the tiny details, and choose their favorite images. Mavor has achieved something special with this book, not just because of the labor and time that clearly went into all the carefully stitched images, but because of how her choice of medium conveys a love and appreciation for handmade art and tactile beauty.

Review: Boy + Bot August 2, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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Friendships, as any child can tell you, are difficult. So many signals to mis-read. So many games and conversations to negotiate. And what if your friend isn’t even human?

Author Ame Dyckman brilliantly exploits both the comic and poignant potential of this situation in her new picture book Boy + Bot, about a little boy and his robot friend. Each views the other as a perfect equal, so when things go wrong–a battery accidentally switched off, or a tired body at the end of the day–naturally, they try to fix the problem in their own way. When Bot stops responding, it must be because he is sick, so Boy administers applesauce, stories and a blanket. When Boy won’t answer, Bot decides that oil, an instruction manual and spare batteries will fix him. Fortunately, indulgent parents (and inventor) are there to prevent mishaps and approve of play dates.

Dan Yaccarino’s illustrations provide a bright complement to the cheerful text. Some pages are laid out in panels, each one showing a different activity the two friends enjoy together. The backgrounds provide just enough detail to give a sense of place, either in the little boy’s house or the inventor’s castle, but the reader can fill in plenty of other information on their own. Yaccarino’s background as an animator is clearly evident, and the energy of  his simple shapes and clear expressions help the reader understand the story and sympathize with the characters. This is the perfect book for a small child who loves robots or for anyone looking for a sweet story of friendship. Better yet, pair it  with A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead, another story about friends whose differences don’t get in the way of their efforts to help each other.