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From the Fabulous Books of Mrs. E.L. Konigsburg May 1, 2013

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A tribute to one of our greatest authors in the form of  the wise words that she slipped into so many of her books.  As a kid, I probably couldn’t have quoted you any of these lines, but I definitely read them and over many years, their ideas and philosophy have sunk into my brain. While most people point to authors such as Elise Broach and Blue Balliett when looking for Konigsburg comparisons, I actually see her as having a more profound influence on Rebecca Stead and Holly Goldberg Sloan. In order of publication, some thoughts to consider from a writing master. Enjoy!

“Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around.”

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

“Festival, he explained to Salai, is like lightning. It has no history and it has no future. It lights up everything for a brief second. It passes. It leaves nothing of itself save its effect. The lightning itself is never there to be pawed over by future generations. A pageant, dear Salai, gives an artist a chance to zigzag through time like lightning, like a wild irresponsible thing.”

The Second Mrs. Giaconda

“Well, darling, a true scientist is not an algorithm. He is an artist, not a mechanic. Both are seekers of truth. The truth may be poetic in one case and factual in another but if you are going to be merely logical and merely mechanical, you will never be a star. Just as an actress has to think as well as feel, a scientist must feel as well as think.”

Up from Jericho Tel

“She thought that maybe–just maybe–Western Civilization was in a decline because people did not take time to take tea at four o’clock.”

The View from Saturday

“Friendship depends on interlocking time, place, and state of mind.”

Silent to the Bone

“They are telling me a story. A story full of sense and nonsense. They are saying that if life has a structure, a staff, a sensible scaffold, we hang our nonsense on it. And they are saying that broken parts add color and music to the staff of life. And they also say that when you know that your framework has been built right and strong, it’s all right to add color to it, too. The towers are saying, there is no why–only a why not. That’s what the towers say to me.”

“Uncle Alex had said that you can’t stop history from happening because the entire past tense is history. But the future is choices. And the choices of a single person can change future history even if that person is underage and does not have a driver’s license or credit card.”

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place

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Animals, Mysteries & Romance…BOB Matches 3 & 4 March 18, 2013

Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line, Quotes.
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At the end of the first four matches, I have three predictions right and one wrong. Not a bad start!

“It feels like I’ve trued something that needed truing.” –Kathi Appelt, on Endangered by Eliot Schrefer.

I so called this one! I enjoyed both of these books, but neither completely blew me away. As Appelt points out, Mo in Three Times Lucky joins a long line of spunky, small-town heroines of middle grade fiction. She’s adorable, but she’s also someone I’ve met before and there’s a distinction between a book that is an excellent example of a genre and a book that makes that genre feel entirely fresh and new. Endangered, like our wonderful Newbery winner of the year, was a book that made me think about the relationship between animals and people in a way that I hadn’t before. I’m not really an animal person (never had pets growing up, etc.) and I don’t often like animal books, so I was surprised that this one stuck with me so long. I’m excited it gets to move on in the competition.

“You want to stroke the pages (I admit it. I stroked).” –Deb Caletti, on Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery.

No, I don’t think I stroked the pages. But I did love this biography of an amazing scientist and humanitarian. I’m sorry that I never got to read this aloud to my students, because I think they would have had some great reactions and it would have been eye-opening for many of them. As someone who has taught several students on various parts of the autism spectrum, this book both helped me understand them better and made me hopeful and excited for their futures. I’m sorry that it won’t continue on in the battle. As a side note, I have to say that after reading Caletti’s slightly breathless listing of John Green’s accomplishments, I was thinking “Oh man, I can’t wait to hear what Roger has to say about this…” and sure enough, Appelt won the judges battle for this round. Caletti had great things to say about The Fault in Our Stars, making me even more annoyed that I haven’t been able to get my copy back from a friend in order to re-read it. As an analysis though, I think I was more impressed with these commenters, from The Morning News Tournament of Books and what they had to say about the book and its reflection of the ‘millenial’ generation.

Bullies, Shipwrecks & Spies…BOB Matches 1& 2 March 16, 2013

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Now that I no longer have a definitive lunch break (a drawback/perk of being a freelance artist), it has been harder to find time to respond to each day of the SLJ Battle of the Kid’s Books. Not that I don’t still wake up early and immediately check the site, but writing about it has been more challenging. Nevertheless, here are my thoughts on week one:

“…I find that real stories almost invariably contain incidents more amazing and outlandish than the ones I could invent”

–Kenneth Oppel, on Bomb by Steve Sheinkin.

So true. Elizabeth Wein says something similar in her afterword to Code Name Verity. Oppel also correctly put his finger on my one issue with Wonder, that the tone is just a little too optimistic. Guidance-counselor fiction, as it has been dubbed in the comments. For which is there is undoubtedly a time and a place. However, I fully agree with Oppel that Bomb is the greater achievement of these two. I’ve already read Sheinkin’s latest, about a plot to steal Lincoln’s body and I can’t wait to see what he discovers to write about next.

“This is not a simple case of comparing apples and oranges; it’s apple pie against whipped cream. I want both!”

–Margarita Engle, on Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein vs. Titanic by Deborah Hopkinson

So do I, Ms. Engle, so do I. Luckily, this is one of the good things about being a reader. There are SO MANY different kinds of books to choose from! And no one chastises you (at least, not usually) for a surfeit of historical fiction so much as for eating a surfeit of pie and whipped cream.  I did end up reading Titanic, and while I agree that it is a great book (for all the reasons Engle mentioned), it didn’t come close to matching my love for  Code Name Verity. I remembered, as I was reading the entry, that the last solid YA book to advance far in the Battle was Life: an exploded diagram by Mal Peet, which joined Code Name Verity on the list of Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Awards this year. I am crossing my fingers that the upcoming judges are just as kind to YA this year as they were last year.

A Review Experiment November 26, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews, Quotes.
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Problem: I just finished a new YA book by Sarah Rees Brennan, which I quite liked but I don’t really have time to review it. 

Solution: Pull a bunch of quotes I liked and have that be the outline of the review. We’ll see how well it works. 

Unspoken, by Sarah Rees Brennan is the first in a series about the Lynburn family, who have just returned to the small English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Everyone seems to be afraid of them, and Kami Glass, an aspiring reporter is determined to figure out why. Kami and her best friend Angela have conversations consisting of a lot of banter. 

“So you were basically interrogating poor Mrs. Thompson, who is probably a hundred and twenty years old?” (said Angela) “I was acquiring information” Kami said calmly. “Also licorice.” “You are shameless,” Angela said. “I hope you feel good about your life choices.” Kami looked out at the valley again. There were stories to be found here, and she was going to discover them all.

Kami uses her school newspaper as a way to account for her snooping around the Lynburns. 

“People took home copies for their parents,” Kami announced and did a victory dance in the privacy of her headquarters. “The photocopy machine overheated and broke down. I think I can still hear the sound of it sobbing and wanting to talk about it’s childhood.”

And sometimes she goes a little beyond the bounds of legality in getting her information.

Victory! Kami announced, leaving up and running into the office with her arms spread wide like an airplane. If I wasn’t going to be a world-famous journalist and if I didn’t have such respect for truth and justice, I could be an amazing master criminal.

My favorite part of this book was Kami’s no-nonsense attitude–she talks straight, doesn’t get all choked up and nervous in awkward moments and can take care of herself without a boy. 

“Oh, I want to meet him,” Kami said instantly. “Not in a loopy ‘I want to meet your parents, I want your babies’ way. For the interview! Let’s go.”

“You look so sweet when you sleep, ” Kami said. “Like an emo ten-year-old’s first Vampire Bride Barbie. Pull the string on the back and she says cruel things to her hardworking friends.”

“Don’t feel bad, Angela.” Kami said. “You know guys, they only want one thing. Repartee. I can’t count how many times men have admired my well-turned phrases. The shallow jerks.”

The plot got a little too convoluted and dramatic for my taste, but to be fair, Brennan is playing with gothic conventions, so the drama is to be expected. I look forward to seeing where the series goes next. 

“When You Ban a Book, You Ban a Kid” October 3, 2012

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It is once again Banned Books Week and looking at the list of most frequently challenged books for 2011, I feel like I’m slipping a little. How is it that I still haven’t read anything by Lauren Myracle? Some books on the list, such as the guide to pregnancy, I have just had no reason to read. Many of my favorite authors who have been on the list in the past, such as J.K. Rowling or Philip Pullman, don’t seem to be challenged as frequently anymore. And some books, such as Twilight or Gossip Girl, I probably still won’t read, even to make a point.

The title of this post is a quote from Chris Crutcher that has been floating around. Crutcher, probably more than any author I have read, does a brilliant job in his stories of illustrating the horrific things that can happen when adults try to keep teens away from issues or people ‘for their own good.’ When you ban a book in an attempt to ‘protect’ the reader, you are sending the message that anyone who identifies with the experience of that book–be it pregnancy or homosexuality–is not worth a story and is not worth a place in the library or classroom. But those people are out there. Those teens are out there, in those libraries and in those classrooms. And just like everyone else, they deserve to be able to see themselves in literature. Huge thanks to those librarians who fight censorship and politely explain to people that they cannot take away a person’s freedom to read. Huge thanks to all the parents (including my own) who trust their kids to put books down if they feel uncomfortable, rather than trying to pre-emptively keep them from selected topics. Go here to see videos made by readers in all 50 states and go here to see the lists of frequently challenged books from ALA.

Quotes: Recent Reading November 23, 2011

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Just a few quotes from some books I have been reading or re-reading lately:

“Making a mess of things is an occupation at which even the most unskilled can excel. But mending is an art that requires years of practice. In short, breaking a thing is easy (even a child can do it); fixing that selfsame thing may be harder (sometimes even adult persons cannot manage it).”

The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright

I just finished reading this delightful homage to Dickens out loud to my class and this was one of my favorite omniscient narrator passages. Review of the whole book is coming soon!

“Above all, if there’s one word for what Jack always did, it is empowerment. He treated each of us as a collaborator. And he was so effective with audiences because he had this conviction that everyone not only could sing, but wanted to sing and even needed to sing, even if they didn’t know it. So of course they did.”

-George Emlen, quoted in The Magic Maker by Susan Cooper.

I was fascinated by this biography of John Langstaff, the founder of the Christmas Revels. I have never been to a Revels performance, but for a couple of different reasons, I’ve been learning a lot about them this year. I love this quote because it is exactly what I try to do as a teacher: convince every kid I teach that they not only can learn, but they want to learn.

“I think back to the last time I told Dad about Nader and what he said.

“Son, there will always be bullies in your life. Some people just don’t know how to act.”

Always? I know this sounds totally stupid but sometimes I really can’t see the point in living if I will always have to deal with this crap. I know I will have better times in my life and I might even make myself into someone important, but if the whole time I have to deal with assholes, then what’s the point?”

Everyone Sees the Ants by A.S. King

So this one is a little more depressing, but I really enjoyed King’s story of an ordinary teenager dealing with bullies and family stress. Not exactly unusual themes for a YA book, but King’s characters were extremely compelling, and the surreal imaginings in the main character’s head made sense even though they were disturbing. There were many moments, such as the one quoted above, where I thought “I know exactly how that feels!”

“Zuzana arched an eyebrow. She was a master of the eyebrow arch and Karou envied her for it. Her own eyebrows did not function independently of each other, which handicapped her expressions of suspicion and disdain.”

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

The book I read most recently where a. I wished the characters were real and could be my friends and b. I felt like the author gave the protagonist every skill/physical attribute/odd quirk that she wanted for herself. Fortunately, Taylor and I share many of the same wishes (colored hair, ability to speak all languages) so I was happy to read about Karou and her puppeteer friend Zuzana.

“I’m crying, tears rolling down my cheeks. I’m crying because I thought that the Oak King was good and the Holly King bad, but it’s not that simple. Because if you want the summer, the winter must die and if you want the winter, the summer must die too–because Persephone must go down under the green earth–because the world must turn–because the Holly King and the Oak King must fight and one must defeat the other.”

Season of Secrets by Sally Nicholls

Ok, so I actually read this book back in the spring. But I just bought my own copy and I’ve been re-reading it, so I figured it should be included. One of the books this year that just blew me away, I love the strong connections to nature, ancient ritual in this story of a girl who witnesses the Hunt and learns to understand her own family’s grieving and renewal.

First Lines July 17, 2011

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We all know that the first line of a book can be extremely important. Yes, there are books where it takes thirty pages to get into the story, but more often, if the sentence you read first is compelling, chances are it will be a good book. There are exceptions, obviously, but here are some of our favorite First Lines.

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” –Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” –Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice. 

“My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.” –Melina Marchetta, On the Jellicoe Road. 

There was a hand in the dark, and it held a knife.” –Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book. 

“The match snapped, then sizzled, and I woke up fast.” –Judy Blundell, What I Saw and How I Lied. 

And our favorite of all time…

“When I was nine years old, I hid under a table and heard my sister kill a king.” –Frances Hendry, Quest for a Maid. 

We just noticed that half of these are about death. Hmmm…..can anyone think of a bad first line about death? What other great first lines would you add?

Dedications July 13, 2011

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I was flipping through some books this weekend and came across the first of these dedications, which made me think of other dedications in children’s books that I especially like. For those of you who also like these small details, here they are.

For Wayfarers still journeying, for wanderers at rest” –Lloyd Alexander, Taran Wanderer

Lovely poetic dedication from the author of The Chronicles of Prydain. 

“You know how it is. You pick up a book, flip to the dedication and find that, once again, the author has dedicated a book to someone else and not to you. Not this time. Because we haven’t yet met/have only a glancing acquaintance/are just crazy about each other/haven’t seen each other in much too long/are in some way related/will never meet, but will, I trust, despite that, always think fondly of each other…this one’s for you. With you know what and you probably know why” –Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys

Ok, ok, this isn’t a children’s book…but it’s so nice to see the reader getting some love with a dedication!

“To Beatrice–darling, dearest, dead” –Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning

The first of the wonderful Beatrice dedications in the Series of Unfortunate Events books. Beatrice later got her own book, The Beatrice Letters, and it was explained that she was the mother of the unfortunate Baudelaire children.

“To my actor” –Susan Cooper, King of Shadows

I like this dedication because Cooper was married to actor Hume Cronyn until his death in 2003 and the book is about Shakespeare and the art of acting.

“The dedication of this book is split seven ways: To Neil, to Jessica, to David, to Kenzie, to Di, to Anne and to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end” –J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Way to go, J.K. Rowling, for referencing a plot point (Horcruxes) in the dedication. And again, nice to acknowledge the fans.