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A Visit to the World of The Upside of Unrequited April 9, 2017

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In celebration of Becky Albertalli’s newest YA book, The Upside of Unrequited, my friend Nico Piro and I wanted to take you on a little tour of the main character Molly’s world. Molly lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, close to Washington DC so we took a walk around town to take some pictures of places mentioned in the book. We will try to keep this post spoiler-free, but characters and events will be referenced, so be aware. For many of these, we are just guessing–we have no idea if any of these places are what Becky Albertalli really intended, but of course the fun is in the speculation!

p. 1: The book begins in the bathroom at the 9:30 club, a legendary DC music venue. Neither of us have been to a show there in awhile, but here is the outside of the building. IMG_5200

p.22: Molly talks about the brightly painted houses in Takoma Park and walking up Tulip Avenue.

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p.24: Molly describes Bissel, the gift store where she works, as looking like “Zooey Deschanel exploded into five thousand tablecloths and painted plates and letterpress notecards.” There are a few stores in Takoma Park that fit that description, but we decided that Tabletop was most likely the real-life Bissel. Here it is, with a few displays Molly might have created.

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p. 50: Molly asks her co-worker Reid about his favorite thing for sale at Bissel. Nico and I had fun choosing our own favorites–a gnome mug and a cacti pencil box.

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But because Reid loves a certain card, we also paid close attention to the cards. This was our favorite:


p.150: Molly watches the Fourth of July parade from a lawn near Dance Exchange. Here is Dance Exchange and we just picked a random house near it as the one Molly might have been at.

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p.156: The cheesecake bakery! Otherwise known as Capital City Cheesecake, one of the most delicious spots in town. Here, take a look at our mini quiches and cheesecakes!

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p.204: Reid invites Molly to go to Medieval Madness with him and a friend, but she already has plans. Medieval Madness has unfortunately closed, but there is still John Strongbow’s Tavern in it’s place on King St. Alexandria, where we have never been, but it looks cheesy and fun!


p.221: Molly is out near the farmer’s market when she runs into someone special. It wasn’t Sunday when we were up there, but here’s the space where it’s held with a bench Molly might have sat on.


p.251: The gazebo. An important scene takes place here and that’s all I will say about that.


p.274: It doesn’t have a porch swing (at least that we could see), but otherwise we think this is probably Molly’s house.


We hope you enjoyed this tour of Takoma Park through the eyes of Molly Peskin-Suso! Buy The Upside of Unrequited at your local indie bookstore, or request it at your local library. We hope you have fun reading!

ONE MORE! On p.287, Molly walks past the purple house on her way to work. But WHICH PURPLE HOUSE? We thought this would be easy, but there are so many purple houses in Takoma Park! Becky Albertalli, will you solve the mystery for us?

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ALAYMA Wishes January 11, 2016

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The winners of the ALA Youth Media Awards will be announced tomorrow and as always, I plan to watch the webcast and comment extensively via Twitter. I didn’t read quite as many award blogs or predictions this year and only managed to get through two of the Morris finalists (I did better with the YALSA Non-fiction finalists). As a result, I am not going to make firm predictions this year. However, I am going to list a few titles I hope end up with shiny stickers come Monday.

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Bear Took Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh


November Favorite: The Memory of Light December 15, 2015

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lightThis was the first book I read in November and it remains my favorite. I was in Munich, taking a six hour train to Prague and I was trying very hard to ration the three books I had brought with me for the two week trip. I told myself I would read a few chapters, then work on some drawing and note-taking and save the rest for later.

As you may imagine, that didn’t happen. As soon as I began reading about Vicky, her friends and allies, her family and challenges, there was no way I was putting this book down. There are other YA books about suicide attempts, but I don’t think I’ve read one that is so thoroughly clear-eyed, but ultimately hopeful about the process of healing and facing the struggles of living with depression.

Francisco Stork creates a cast of unforgettable teens in this book, all of whom defy stereotypes. Vicky herself is a painfully authentic teen and all readers will feel for her as she works to take control of her life and health. This book will provide a lifeline to teens struggling with similar  issues and it gives a window to the rest on the challenges of dealing with a mental illness.

I love that Stork can tackle tough subjects while still including moments of humor. I also like how even more than in Marcelo in the Real World, he touches on the prejudice that often exists between Latinos of different generations and classes. The relationship between Vicky and her sister is so important to this story and so wonderful to see evolve. Whether or not you or someone you know has experience with mental illness, this is a captivating read. I highly recommend it for everyone.

Battle (Almost) Ready March 9, 2015

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The SLJ Battle of the Kid’s Books starts tomorrow!!

I haven’t been quite as on top of things as in some years, and there are still two books I have yet to read. Neither one sounded terribly appealing to me, but perhaps the comments from the judges will change my mind! Before things kick off, here are my thoughts about the books in this year’s list.

Brown Girl Dreaming vs. Children of the King

Brown Girl Dreaming made me cry multiple times, every single time I read and re-read it. I like Sonya Hartnett, but did not find Children of the King terribly impressive. The protagonist seemed way younger than her stated age and in general, I wasn’t terribly invested in the characters.

The Crossover vs. Egg and Spoon

Ahhh, I loved both these books! The precision and poignancy of sibling battles and the sweep and drama of epic magical journeys! How can I choose? Will The Crossover finally break the Newbery curse? Maybe…

El Deafo vs. The Family Romanov

No contest here whatsoever. I enjoyed The Family Romanov, but it didn’t stick with me and El Deafo captured my heart in a way few books have. It has my vote in the Undead poll as well.

Grasshopper Jungle vs. The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza

I have not read Joey Pigza. In general I find it hard to get into Jack Gantos’ writing for some reason, though I usually like it once I get going. I enjoyed Grasshopper Jungle, but got annoyed at the cardboard cutouts that were the female characters after awhile.

The Madman of Piney Woods vs. Poisoned Apples

I also haven’t read Madman of Piney Woods. I read Poisoned Apples in ARC form a very long time ago and liked it, but can’t point to any poem or image in particular that has stuck with me.

The Port Chicago 50 vs. The Story of Owen

Two books that I probably liked about the same. I wasn’t blown away by Port Chicago 50 in the same way that I was by Bomb, but I’m glad I now know about this piece of history. Likewise, The Story of Owen didn’t overwhelm me with greatness, but it was a super fun read and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

This One Summer vs. A Volcano Beneath the Snow

Ugh, I really don’t envy Nathan Hale. Talk about two ENTIRELY different books–genre, format, structure…what a thankless job. I loved This One Summer and admired Volcano. That’s about all I have to say.

We Were Liars vs. West of the Moon

Two more that I read quite awhile ago and haven’t felt the urge to go back to. I’m looking forward to hearing what Kelly Barnhill has to say about them.

Let the Battle begin!

Dulce Dolmum September 11, 2013

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pic1We are back home again–Ana in Charlottesville to start her junior year of college and me in DC to start rehearsals for my next project. We had an absolutely wonderful summer and I’ll be posting lots of pictures and thoughts in the next few weeks. In the meantime, here is a picture by Binette Schroeder, a German author whose work I discovered while we were in Munich.

Postcard from France June 29, 2013

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A quick note to say that there won’t be much more from me this summer—I’m traveling overseas with only three books in my bag! Ana and I are off adventuring in Europe in search of family time, art, theatre and of course books. I’m sure we will find lots of used bookstores, new authors and writer-affiliated locations, especially once we get to the UK. I look forward to writing about it all in the fall. But for now, have fun reading! See you in a few months.

A (short) Pause January 7, 2013

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I’m going to be taking a short break from this blog for about a month. I wouldn’t bother announcing it like this (I don’t have such delusions of grandeur as to think that dozens of people read this blog regularly) but the post title will remind me, if I click on the page, that I have promised myself to step away for a bit. Take a breath. Enjoy the quiet. And then hopefully I’ll return around the time that ALA finally satisfies me (or not) with their choices for all the Youth Media Awards.

In the meantime here is an interview I really enjoyed, with William Alexander, the author of the National Book Award-winning Goblin Secrets. I admit that I was pulling for Bomb to win this award, but Alexander did impress me with his world-building as well as his use of theater and mask tradition. After hearing more of his thoughts and ideas in this interview, I’m looking forward to whatever he writes next.

*I also love the interview questions–as I was reading, I got the sense that this wasn’t your usual SLJ question list and about the time I got to the question featuring an A.E. Housman quote, I was thinking “Who is this interviewer?”….and then at the end I realized that it’s Gary Schmidt. OF COURSE. The man even writes brilliant interview questions! Life just isn’t fair.

Board Books for Very Big Babies July 20, 2012

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Board books, while I think they are wonderful, are not my area of expertise. At Imagination Station, it was understood that my friend Melissa was the person to talk to about recommendations for anyone younger than 4 and I always leaned on her knowledge. Some board books are adapted picture books (this doesn’t always work well, it depends on the story) while others are only intended for the tiny babies for whom reading means chewing. However, since starting work at Hooray for Books! I have found a third category–board books that are really intended for adults.

The company BabyLit has created a series of counting board books by Jennifer Adams, all based on famous literature. The titles Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice include the subtitles “Little Miss Austen” and “Little Miss Bronte.”  Each book contains a list of items related to the classic such as ‘6 horses’ or ‘2 trunks.’ Many pages will appeal much more to the adult reader–I’m not sure babies will really understand ‘1 governess’ or ‘4 marriage proposals.’  The art, by Alison Oliver, is simple and pretty, with simple line drawings and cutouts of dresses, houses and faces. These are fun for those friends who you know will try to indoctrinate their children in Great Literature before they can event talk.

For adults who are obsessed with food, there is Foodie Babies Wear Bibs. Again, the language is a bit sophisticated for your average one year old, but the pictures of the baby reading cookbooks, eating outside and frequenting farmer’s markets are very cute. It doesn’t say where this baby lives, but I have a suspicion it is Portland.

To provide an opportunity to look at famous art outside a museum, there is the MiniMasters series from from Chronicle Books. Each board book is based around the work of Picasso, Matisse or another well-known artist. The rhyming text describes what happens in each picture, with lines such as “a serious boy steers a donkey around.” It’s a little hard to imagine a child reaching for these on his or her own, but adults will appreciate the reproductions of the art and the text that doesn’t require making animal sounds.

My favorite, however, has to be The Wonderland Alphabet by Alethea Kontis and illustrated beautifully by Janet K. Lee. I don’t know why this was published as a board book. I think  that very few people who understand children would actually read it to a child of board book age. It would make more sense to have published it as a small gift book, but I will take this clever text and these gorgeous pictures any way I can.  Kontis weaves her way through Alice’s adventures with puns, rhymes and pitch perfect lines such as “No one says ‘No’ to the Queen of Hearts.” Yes, as the back of the book warns, the pages contain ‘minimal violence’ (I’m not kidding. It actually says that.) but it also has hidden references to Shakespeare and Ogden Nash, which is much more important. The pictures match the text, with their whimsy and delicate line. The characters and objects appear (or disappear) on each page as suddenly as the Cheshire Cat’s grin. Each letter is illuminated with beautiful botanical details and silhouette skylines or doily borders ground each page. Yes, I am an adult. But adults can be big babies and enjoy board books too.

In Memoriam: Leo Dillon June 9, 2012

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Maurice Sendak now has company in the corner of the Elysian Fields reserved for Caldecott artists. Leo Dillon, part of famed illustration team the Dillons, passed away early last week.

Leo and his wife Diane met while they were students at the Parsons School of Design in 1953. From 1957 on they worked together on book jackets, record covers and eventually children’s illustrations. They are probably best known for their Caldecott Medal winning Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears and Ashanti to Zulu from the 1970’s, as well as the iconic covers of many books, including A Wrinkle in Time and collections by Virginia Hamilton. I was lucky
enough to find a secondhand copy of a book devoted to their early work, The Art of Leo and Diane Dillon, edited by Byron Preiss. While it doesn’t include their later work, it does have some great commentary, from such luminaries as Harlan Ellison (who writes “The Dillons and their work personify perfection.”) and the artists themselves, who go into detail about their inspiration and technique for different pieces.

The Dillons are probably best known for their use of luminous color and the sheer variety of techniques they have used over the long course of their career. They began using a woodcut style for album covers and eventually turned to various methods to make the work go faster, including simulating the style with pen and ink or scraping a coating off a sheet of acetate. The Dillons experimented with crewel work, painting on plastic and marbleized paper to find the desired look for each piece. Their method has always been to find the style which suits the subject, or in the case of some books like To Everything Thing is a Season, the several styles. In that one book alone, the Dillons cover ink, watercolor, acrylic, gouache and pastels on various backgrounds such as bark paper, bristol board and scratchboard to simulate art techniques from sixteen different cultures and time periods. Each style complements the line of text with which it is paired. As Ellison said back in 1981, perfection. 

Thank you, Peter Sirueta June 1, 2012

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I was very sad to learn earlier this week that one of my favorite bloggers, Peter Sirueta, passed away unexpectedly last weekend. When I first started paying close attention to the blogs on School Library Journal, it was exciting to realize that many of the same people were commenting on all the different sites. I could always count on Peter to get a heated discussion going on Heavy Medal–he was so honest and always had an interesting take on the book being discussed.

Peter’s blog, Collecting Children’s Books, soon became one of my Sunday habits, a page I would always check, no matter what else was going on. I loved hearing about the rare books he scored from bookseller friends, and his April Fools jokes were the best on the internet. Whenever I knew the old book he was referencing, like the Tucker family series, I felt inordinately proud of myself.

Thank you Peter, for writing such witty, insightful comments and posts, and for making me love this literature even more. You will be greatly missed.