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April Favorite(s): Lenny and Lucy, Waiting April 26, 2015

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The days are growing longer, and publishers are sending boxes and boxes of new books that are coming in the fall! Since I don’t want to think about cold weather coming back, lets just focus on all the new books, shall we?

I’ve read more than 150 books so far this year and I’m maintaining my 50% by or about POC goal. This goal has pushed me to read books by authors I’ve heard about before, like Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, as well as new titles by authors I’m not familiar with, like Sofia Quintero’s Show and Prove. I’ve been reading a few more adult books than normal, completing Pulitzer winner All the Light We Cannot See in addition to speculative fiction A Darker Shade of Magic and The Just City. The two favorite titles I’m going to talk about this month, however, are both picture books, due out later in the summer and fall by Caldecott medalists Kevin Henkes and Erin Stead.

Waiting, by Kevin Henkes, uses a cheerful pastel palette to introduce the reader to a series of toys sitting on the windowsill. This book pushes all of my puppeteer, I-like-making-objects-talk buttons and hearkens back to many of my childhood favorites about what dolls and other toys think about when humans aren’t in the room. It’s a quiet book, a thoughtful book, a book that rewards careful re-reading of the pictures and not just the words. I fell in love immediately, and I think you will too.

Lenny and Lucy, by Philip Stead with pictures by Erin Stead, is the first new book from this champion team in three years and it is well worth the wait. That said, it was NOTHING like what I was expecting. I had seen the cover on Twitter, of a boy and a dog and so I assumed the dog Lucy and the boy was Lenny and this was a friendship story. Not so. Lenny and Lucy are neither the boy nor the dog and the story is one of home and fears and changes. It is also about the power of imagination and our ability to create. The pictures are stunning and I know this is going to be a new favorite for many, many people. I can hardly wait to share it!


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!

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!

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:


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.

Imitating Eric Carle October 7, 2014

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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.


And the Winner Is… April 3, 2014

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I’m SO HAPPY with the result of this year’s Battle of the Kid’s Books! I’ve been following now for about four years and for the last couple of battles I’ve appreciated but haven’t really loved the winner. This year, however, I was rooting for Boxers & Saints from Round 1.

“This book is brilliant in the way only older children can be.” –Jennifer Holm.

Why, thank you! (Yes, I’m an oldest child) I absolutely loved the family metaphor that Holm used to start off her decision. Books and literature are a family–a huge fantastic one with cousins and second cousins and not-really-related-but-might-as-well-be cousins (I have lots of those) and I love how she reminds us that different kinds of books all have their merit. And yes, that line from Eleanor & Park is one of the best love lines ever.

Holm, from the standpoint of a historical novelist, makes us appreciate even more the challenges that Yang faced in distilling the events of the Boxer Rebellion into a narrative. Patrick Ness touched on this as well in his decision, but one of the reasons that I think this book resonated with me so much this year was the fact that it illustrated how a specific story can illuminate huge historical events or experiences. I am a playwright and puppeteer, and storytelling is something I ponder on a daily basis. How to create fresh stories? How to communicate the horror of events and experiences to audiences? This book reminds me that the specific can also be universal and by telling a single person’s story, we can create empathy and understanding. I love that Holm talked about the technical aspects of Boxers & Saints as a graphic novel. Her gushing about the layouts, the panel design, the color palette are all aspects that we haven’t heard as much about from the other judges and I love that she gets to remind us how rich and varied the visuals in Boxers & Saints are, along with the text. And then she quotes Neil Gaiman. Perfect.

BOB, Round 3 March 31, 2014

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Only one more week! What on earth am I going to read online to procrastinate once this Battle is over? I know, I know–that’s what Twitter is for. Two matches in this round, and here are my thoughts:

“YA has grown into such a gorgeous, vast country that to narrow it down seems impossible and probably undesirable.” –Patrick Ness

I probably would have been more surprised at the incisiveness and punch of Ness’ decision if I didn’t follow him on Twitter. After reading his ongoing comments on Twilight, I somewhat expected him to takedown one of these two titles. While I definitely agree with his pick of Boxers & Saints, I myself was not so harsh towards Far Far Away which I read as being intended for a slightly younger audience than YA, if not for middle grade. The fairy tale aspects of it, for me, took the book far away from reality and the real actions of teenagers, almost into the realm of allegory. However, I appreciated Ness’ comments on the need for specificity in order to achieve the universal and his acknowledgment of Boxers & Saints as some of the best work that YA has to offer.


“Do you hear that sound? That is the sound of Fate laughing her fool head off at me.” –Robin LaFevers

I probably would have gone the other way, to be honest. For me, the episodic structure of P.S. Be Eleven disrupted the pacing more than it helped the story. While I smiled at the antics of Vonetta and Fern, I laughed out loud repeatedly at Summer and Obaachan’s tangled arguments. That said, I thought LaFevers explained her decision thoroughly and I wholeheartedly agree with her final sentence and reminder that anyone who reads either or both of these titles is a winner.

As a side note, can I just say how much I love that Kid Commentator RGN is pulling so hard for Rose Under Fire to win the Undead Poll? We’ll find out the winner tomorrow…


BOB, Round 2 March 27, 2014

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Three matches that made me happy, one that made me shrug my shoulders a bit. That’s not a bad record, as far as the Battle of the Kid’s Books goes. ALSO, can we once again say how incredibly amazing these judges are? Katherine Marsh even came up with a new comparison cliche!

“With vivid, wrenching scenes of warfare and massacre, Yang makes readers face up to how savage we human beings can be.” –Tonya Bolden

Much as I love The Animal Book, I would have been really upset had Boxers & Saints not won this round. I think it’s the most impressive graphic novel I’ve read this year, of any genre or age level. The writing and visuals are both gorgeous and there are no easy answers, which is probably my favorite thing about it. If I had to pick a contender right now that I’m rooting for to win the whole battle, it would probably be Boxers & Saints. 

“Too often, omni POVs serve as protection against critical crucifixion while they ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’ or insert the author’s voice at the expense of Story.” –Rae Carson.

On the one hand, I’m glad that Carson didn’t pick Eleanor & Park because it has definitely been the most talked about title this year, similar to TFIOS last year. And I love it, I really do. One thing that has been really interesting is to hear what other adult fiction writers had to say about it over at the Morning News Tournament of Books. I was bemused to read several of them complaining that the lack of sex wasn’t believable, and I wonder how much they know about general parental and teacher objections to young adult material.  Far Far Away was intriguing but I didn’t run out to tell everyone I know that they had to read it RIGHT NOW. I’m interested to see what the next judge has to say about this reinvented fairy tale.

“Both books are about growing up. Both stories are rooted in dreams.” –Joseph Bruchac.

This was a lovely appraisal of both Hokey Pokey and P.S. Eleven. I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Bruchac several years ago and this thoughtfulness and consideration really come through in this decision. I love that he pointed out the literary references in P. S. Be Eleven, something that I hadn’t really thought about but that is definitely a big part of Delphine and her life. I’m glad that I finally read Hokey Pokey (now I just have to figure out who I can sell it to) and I’m glad that P.S. Be Eleven is getting more discussion here than it did on some of the Newbery blogs.

“But a slightly older reader can appreciate a more complex carbohydrate, which brings us to wheat.” –Katherine Marsh.

Katherine Marsh is possibly the author I was most excited to read as a judge (and not just because she responded to my comment on her introduction post). Her book The Night Tourist is one of my favorite explorations of Greek mythology in a middle grade novel and Jepp, who defied the stars gave me a new interest in astronomy and European history. Marsh just hit this one out of the park. I’m using ‘gut punch’ now on to describe novels that stick with me and I think it absolutely applies to The Thing About Luck. I’m looking forward to reading whatever Marsh writes next.