Thursday, October 13, 2011

Literary Pumpkins

We recently moved to a new city, and I always like to head the our local library as soon as possible to sign up for a new library card.  It's just part of settling in.  I don't feel at home until I have that card in hand and a stack of new library books waiting to be read.

This particular library has several display cases as you walk into the children's section.  My four year-old loves to see what the latest is.  Today I fell in love with this display of pumpkins turned into some of my favorite characters!
 Seriously, who can resist Olivia or Origami Yoda the pumpkin?
Now I can wait to attempt my own literary pumpkin!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

ALA 2010 Winners!

oh yes, I'm a day late with this news, but for anyone who missed it, The American Library Association has announced their award winners for 2010. I am SOOOOOOO happy because my favorite middle grade fiction novel from this last year actually won! That never happens! Here's a brief rundown:

Newbery Medal

"When You Reach Me," written by Rebecca Stead, published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books

Newbery Honor Books

"Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice" written by Phillip Hoose, published by Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group

"The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" written by Jacqueline Kelly, published by Henry Holt and Company

"Where the Mountain Meets the Moon" written by Grace Lin, published by Little Brown and Company Books for Young Readers

"The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg" written by Rodman Philbrick, published by The Blue Sky Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.

Caldecott Medal

"The Lion and the Mouse" illustrated and written by Jerry Pinkney, published by Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers

Caldecott Honor Books

"All the World" illustrated by Marla Frazee, written by Liz Garton Scanlon, published by Beach Lane Books

"Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors" illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Joyce Sidman, puslished by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

2011 Arbuthnot Honor Lecture

Lois Lowry

Batchelder Award

"A Faraway Island" written by Annika Thor, translated by Linda Schenck, published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books

Batchelder Honor Books

"Big Wolf and Little Wolf" written by Nadine Brun-Cosme, illustrated by Olivier Tallee, translated by Claudia Bedrick, published by Enchanted Lion Books

"Eidi" written by Bodil Bredsdorff, translated by Kathryn Mahaffy, published by Farrar Straus Giroux

"Moritito II: Guardian of the Darkness" Written by Nahoko Uehashi, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, translated by Cathy Hirano, published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.

Belpre (Illustrator) Award

"Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El día de los niños/El día de los libros" illustrated by Rafael López, written by Pat Mora, published by Rayo, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Belpre (Illustrator) Honor Books

"Diego: Bigger Than Life" illustrated by David Diaz, written by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, published by Marshall Cavendish Children

"My Abuelita" illustrated by Yuyi Morales, written by Tony Johnston, published by Harcourt Children's Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

"Gracia Thanks" illustrated by John Parra, written Pat Mora, published by Lee and Low Books Inc.

Belpre (Author) Award

"Return to Sender" written by Julie Alvarez, published by Alfred A. Knopf

Belpre (Author) Honor Books

"Diego: Bigger Than Life" written by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by David Diaz, published by Marshall Cavendish Children

"Federico García Lorca" written by Georgina Lázaro, illustrated by Enrique S. Moreiro, published by Lectorum Publications Inc.

Carnegie Award

"Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!" produced by Paul R. Gagne, Weston Woods Studios, and Mo Willems

Geisel Award

"Benny and Penny in the Big No-No!" written and illustrated by Geoffrey Hayes, published by ToON BOOKS, a division of RAW Junior, LLC

Geisel Honor Books

"I Spy Fly Guy!" written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold, published by Scholastic Inc.

"Little Mouse Gets Ready" written and illustrated by Jeff Smith, published by published by ToON BOOKS, a division of RAW Junior, LLC

"Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends" written and illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee, published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

"Pearl and Wagner: One Funny Day" written by Kate McMullan, illustrated by R.W. Alley, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group

Odyssey Award

"Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken" produced by Live Oak Media

Odyssey Honor Audio Books

"In the Belly of the Bloodhound: Being an Account of a Particularly Peculiar Adventure in the Life of Jacky Faber" produced by Listen & Live Audio, Inc.

"Peace, Locomotion" produced by Brilliance Audio

"We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball" produced by Brilliance Audio

Sibert Medal

"Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream" written by Tanya Lee Stone, published by Candlewick Press

Sibert Honor Books

"The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors" written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani, published by Charlesbridge

"Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11" written and illustrated by Brian Floca, published by Richard Jackson/Atheneum Books for Young Readers

"Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice" written by Phillip Hoose, published by Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group

Congratulations to all of the winners! I need to get reading because I have yet to read quite a few of them.

Monday, January 04, 2010

January -Favorites From Our Youth

WE're reading favorite books from our youth at January's meeting and everyone is welcome to bring along other old favorites to chat about.
The Westing Game - Ellen Raskin
The Mixed Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler - E.L. Konigsburg
Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Louis Sachar
Summer of the Monkeys - Wilson Rawls

Friday, December 04, 2009

December - Holiday meeting

For our December meeting, we decided to keep simple and just read one book, Richard Peck's A Season of Gifts. You can find a free printable discussion guide here.

Instead of our tradition book swap, we collected children's books to donate to Eliza's Library.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

November - Novels in Verse

We focused on Novels in Verse at our November meeting, and I was happy to hear how many members loved the books, even when they thought they might not. Here are the books that we discussed.
*SOLD by Patricia McCormick (SL county library has two entries for this. Lots of copies available under 2nd)
Both the above YA books deal with sexual abuse although Natasha doesn't consider them graphic. Just a fair warning.
*WHERE I LIVE by Eileen Spinelli (short, younger crowd) (Oh, I wish I could draw like Matt Phelan!)

*LOCOMOTION by Jacqueline Woodson (beautiful book)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

October 2009 - Mysteries

I decided to make one book mandatory for discussion and I recommend reading the rest if you have time. The book I most wanted to discuss was When you Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Then we also discuss the first book in the 39 Clues series: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan
and Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman (we all thought the way this book is integrated with videoclips online was really interesting, but we were all mad about the abrupt ending!)
Then if you want to read more mysteries I added two bonus books: Masterpiece by Elise Broach
And Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (This one has A LOT of bad language, but it will suck you in!)

Friday, September 04, 2009

September 2009 - Beehive Book Award Nominees

For September Book Club picks, Sharon decided to choose one book from each of the five categories from the Beehive Nominees. (Optional: Feel free to read any of the other nominees!)
Picture Book:
The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin illustrated by Rosana Faria
Chapter Book:
Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf
Poetry:Frankenstein Takes the Cake by Adam Rex
Young Adult Fiction
Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
Sisters & Brothers: Sibling relationships in the animal World by Steven Jenkins & Robin Page

Saturday, July 04, 2009

July 2009 - Science Fiction

Here's the reading list from Whitney and Scott:The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsElsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin (I LOVED the audio version, but you might need to edit a bit if you have little kids around)Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves
and maybe My Teacher is an Alien by Bruce Coville (this was Whitney's favorite book in elementary school)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Terrible Yellow Eyes

Am I the last one to hear of the blog Terrible Yellow Eyes?  Illustrator Cory Godbey says Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak has always been tremendously important to him.  He decided to contact many of his favorite artist in hopes to curate a collection of paintings as a tribute to the book and he displays them all on the blog

All I can say is, "Wow!"  You have to go straight to the blog to see it for yourself.  I want a copy of each and everyone.  And many more are still coming!  Here are a few of my favorites to prove to you that you need to go straight to the site. Godbey says it's like a visual love letter to the book and I have to agree.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

June 2009 - A.E. Cannon author study

Before you read this post, be warned that no matter how many times I change it, Blogger keeps doing crazy things to the text size and spacing in the post.  Sorry!

We're trying something new this June we will be meeting with local author Ann Cannon to discuss some of her books! I first heard Ann speak years ago when I was in college and she was just toying with the idea to write a book about a boy working in a video shop with wearing an old employees exotic name tag.  I never imagined that years later I would be hosting a book club to discuss that very book (The Loser's guide to Love and Life: A Novel). I'm excited and also a little bit nervous about how to run things (any advice?)

For our selection of Ann's books, I chose:
Charlotte's Rose
The Loser's Guide to Life and Love: A Novel
The Pirate Pete and Pirate Joe easy-to-read series
Ann's other books are really great, but they are a little bit difficult to get your hands on because most are sadly out of print and our local library doesn't have many copies so I couldn't choose them.  Hopefully each book clubber will come with a question or two for Ann.  You can get to know more about A.E. Cannon on her website and on her blog or you can read her column in the Deseret News.  Let me know if you have any questions you'd like me to ask her.

May 2009 - Historical Fiction, WWII

Natasha Maw hosted our meeting in May to discuss historical fiction.  This year we focused on WWII and Natasha selected books to cover different parts of WWII.

World War II:  On the Homefront
Jimmy's Stars by Mary Ann Rodman (middle grade)
On the Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck (middle grade)
World War II:  Japanese Internment Camps
Journey to Topaz by Yoshicko Uchidac (middle grade)
Baseball Saved Us by Dom Lee (picture book)
*Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata (young adult)
World War II:  Nazi Germany
T4 by Ann Clare Le Zotte (free verse novel)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (young adult)
*The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (based on a true story - LDS in Germany)
*Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (non-fiction)
*The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (young adult)
*World War II:  Japan
*Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine (non-fiction)

The starred books are options for further reading, but highly recommended.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

I remember being enchanted by the Land of Chewandswallow when I was little.  I'm a little sad the movie preview looks so different than the original illustrations by Ron Barrett, but I'm still curious to see the movie this fall.

Monday, April 27, 2009

April 2009 - Fairy Tales

We had so much fun reading fairy tales in April.  We didn't have a lot of time to read so we kept the list short and sweet and asked each book club member to bring along another Fairy Tale that they would recommend to the rest of the group.

The Sisters Grimm: The Fairytale Detectives, Book one by Michael Buckley
The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison
The Palace of Mirrors by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Other recommended reads if you make it through our selections and want more

Princess Ben by Catherine Murdock
Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst
Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Happy Reading!

Friday, March 27, 2009

March 2009 - 2009 Newbery & Caldecott Winners

For our meeting in March we read the newest Newbery and Caldecott award winners.  Here's the reading list:

2009 Newbery Medal Winner
The 2009 Newbery Medal winner is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean, and published by HarperCollins Children's Books.
A delicious mix of murder, fantasy, humor and human longing, the tale of Nobody Owens is told in magical, haunting prose. A child marked for death by an ancient league of assassins escapes into an abandoned graveyard, where he is reared and protected by its spirit denizens.
 "A child named Nobody, an assassin, a graveyard and the dead are the perfect combination in this deliciously creepy tale, which is sometimes humorous, sometimes haunting and sometimes surprising," said Newbery Committee Chair Rose V. Treviño.

2009 Honor Books
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing)
Underneath the canopy of the loblolly pines, amid the pulsating sounds of the swamp, there lies a tale. Intertwining stories of an embittered man, a loyal hound, an abandoned cat and a vengeful lamia sing of love, loss, loneliness and hope. Appelt's lyrical storytelling heightens the distinguished characteristics of this work.
Savvy by Ingrid Law (Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group in partnership with Walden Media, LLC
This rich first-person narrative draws readers into a wild bus ride, winding through the countryside on a journey of self-discovery for Mibs Beaumont and her companions. Newcomer Law weaves a magical tall tale, using vivid language and lively personalities, all bouncing  their way to a warm, satisfying conclusion.
2009 Caldecott Medal Winner
The 2009 Caldecott Medal winner is The House in the Night, illustrated by Beth Krommes, written by Susan Marie Swanson (Houghton Mifflin Company)
Richly detailed black-and-white scratchboard illustrations expand this timeless bedtime verse, offering reassurance to young children that there is always light in the darkness. Krommes' elegant line, illuminated with touches of golden watercolor, evoke the warmth and comfort of home and family, as well as the joys of exploring the wider world.

2009 Honor Books

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee (Harcourt, Inc.)

In lively, detailed, subtly retro cartoons, Frazee gently pokes fun at adult expectations and captures the unbounded joy of two friends experiencing a parent-free summer adventure. 
How I Learned Geography, written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Recounting memories of his family's flight from the Warsaw Blitz and his years as a refugee during World War II, Shulevitz employs watercolor and ink to depict a boy liberated from his dreary existence through flights of fancy inspired by the map his father buys in the village market.
A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)
Sweet's mixed-media collage and primitive watercolors flow seamlessly with Bryant's prose to reveal the important bits and pieces of Williams' ordinary, yet extraordinary, life as a doctor and poet.
Thank you!!

That means we're leaving off a few of the Newbery honor books, The Surrender Tree: Poem's of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle and After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson, so the reading list won't be too long, but if you have a chance to read them, we'd love to hear your opinion on them.

Friday, February 27, 2009

February 2009 - Cybils Award Finalists

In February we discussed Cybils award finalists  To narrow things down (because as much as we'd like too, we couldn't discuss ALL the Cybil's finalists in one night), we decided to stick with books with illustrations so we selected the finalists for fiction picture books, non-fiction picture books, and graphic novels for early/middle grade readers. 

Here's the complete list:

Fiction Picture Book
Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall Thin Tale by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by John Hendrix
Big Bad Bunny by Franny Billingsley, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Chester's Beck by Melanie Watt
How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob GRaham
Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman
The Sea Serpent and Me by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Catia Chien
A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady Denton
Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young

Non-Fiction Picture Book
A River of Words: The story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Astronaut Handbook by Meghan McCarthy
Duel! Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words by Dennis Brindell Fradin, illustrated by Larry Day
Fabulous Fishes by Susan Stockdale
Nic Bishop Frogs by Nic Bishop
Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Loved to Draw by Deborah Kogan Ray
Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter

Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels
Chiggers by Hope Larson
Into the Volcano by Don Wood
Jellaby, Vol. 1 by Kean Soo
Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Illustrated by Nathan Hale
The Savage by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean
There's a Wolf at the Door: Five Classic Tales by Zoe Alley, illustrated by R.W. Alley

Don't be too overwhelmed, they are all quick reads.

We were surprised by some of the actual winners.  Were you?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

Oh Underneath, people have such nice things to say about you, and yet, I can't seem to finish you!  On first attempt I only lasted a few pages, but months later, after all the buzz from Mock Newbery contests, I made a second attempt.  I HAD to quit halfway through because you were so dark and depressing and you bored me to tears!

Oh yes, just as everyone says, your language is beautiful and lyrical, but you are about abused animals and a mean man without even an ounce of good in him.  I just could not take anymore.

And thus we must part ways.  It's not you, it's me.  I mean, you are beloved by many; do I have bad taste?

Dear readers, have there been any books beloved by many that you just can't stand?  Please tell me I'm not the only one!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I want Jarrett Krosoczka to be my best friend

Jarrett Krosoczka, the author/illustrator of awesome books like Punk Farm, recently put together a video for a SCBWI presentation in NY.  If you love children's literature, you HAVE to watch it because you're sure to see a couple of your favorite author/illustrtors costarring and it will make you laugh.
You can watch other funny videos by Jarrett here.  

Yep, now you pretty much want to be Jarrett's best friend too, don't you?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Taylor Markam was ditched at a gas station at the age of eleven.  Hannah, the woman who found her was a volunteer at Jellicoe School and that's how Taylor found herself gearing up to lead the annual territory war with the military cadets and Townies during her senior year. She wasn't elected unanimously by her fellow students so she's determined to do her job well and keep her power until Hannah disappears without a word.  Hannah was the only adult Taylor relied on and she can't get over her sense of abandonment enough to concentrate of the games.  It doesn't help that the leader of the cadets, Jonah Griggs, is the very same boy who turned her in when they ran away together years ago.   The other students fear him because he's rumored to have killed his own father, but Taylor hates him for his betrayal.

As Hannah's disappearance continues, Taylor begins to suspect that the story she learned from Hannah of five kids who started the territory wars eighteen years ago, is actually true.  She knows she must find Hannah and she must know the whole truth about what happened to those five students and how they are connected to her.

It reminded me of a modern-day Australian Dead Poets' Society, where a group of school kids are having secret meetings and learning the harsh realities of life at a tragic young age.  The comparison doesn't quite do it justice though because Jellicoe Road is more complex and multi-layered (but Dead Poets Society definitely got the better title).

I'm not sure that I would have picked this book up based on the blurb alone, because it seems a little too I'm-trying-to-be edgy-and-shock-teenagers (and the boring cover wouldn't tempt me either), but I picked it up after it was announced as a Cybils Young Adult finalist along with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks (possibly my favorite book of the year), and what higher recommendation could it get?

If someone told me that Melina Marchetta wrote this book for adults and then was directed by an agent or publisher to publish it in the young adult field, I wouldn't have been surprised because the only thing about it that makes it seem young adult it Taylor's age (although I must note that Marchetta always intended it for young adults).  I don't mean that as an insult.  This books is extremely complex and full of poetic moments, and I think it would succeed just as well with an adult audience.

Then there is the issue with language.  Many parents will object to this novel based on its frequent use of the F word.  Normally it would bother me so much that I wouldn't have finished the book, but this plot had me and I tried to keep in mind that the F word is not seen as the ultimate swear word in Australia as it is here.

OK, now some of that may have put you off the book, but I must admit that I picked this book up in bed, judging by it's cover that it would quickly put me to sleep and found myself frantic to finish at 5:30 a.m. when my husband's alarm went off.  It's intriguing and you will not be able to put it down.  And when you finish it, it will haunt you. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

ALA winners!

This morning the American Library Association announced the award winners for 2009.  You can see the whole list here (and I highly recommend checking it out because they are other really amazing awards), but for those dying to know who won the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz, here they are:

Caldecott winner:

The House in the Night illustrated by Beth Krommes, written by Susan Marie Swanson

Caldecott Honor Books:

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever written and illustrated by Marla Frazee 

How I Learned Geography written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz 

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant 

Newbery Winner:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Newbery Honor Books:

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle

Savvy by Ingrid Law 

After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

Printz Winner:

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Printz Honor Books:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Nation by Terry Pratchett

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Many seem surprised by Jellicoe Road's win, but I read it after it was announced as a Cybils YA finalist and it's riveting (as long as lots of F-words don't disturb you and that's never seemed to bother the Printz committee).  The only book I might have wanted to win more was poor Frankie Landau Banks, but at least it got the honor.

As for the Newbery, this was the first year that I couldn't think of a book published this year that I was dying to see win.  I'm glad to see Savvy with an honor, and sadly I have to admit that I have yet to read The Graveyard Book so I better rush out and pick it up before it's impossible to find.

Last week I was flipping through my copy of BYU Magazine and saw an article featuring one of the Newbery judges, Michael Tunnell, a BYU Professor.  When asked what he was looking for in a Newbery winner, Tunnell said, "You've got to have a good strong plot on which to hang character development, on which to hang your beautiful language.  It's the tree on which you hang the other ornaments.  And I think we're not getting that as consistently and we used to."  He also said his favorites from 2008 include Masterpiece by Elise Broach, Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman, When the Sergeant Came Marching Home by Don Lemna, and The Willowbys by Lois Lowry.

I've never known a Newbery judge to name some of their favorites from the year before the official announcement is made, have you?  In fact, I remember the year Betsy Bird served on the Newbery committee, she was asked to remove her reviews of eligible books from her blog so I thought it was kind of forbidden, but maybe I'm wrong.

So were you happy with the ALA award results?  What were you rooting for?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Twilight has been deemed the Vampire book for people who don't like Vampire books, and Stephenie Meyer said that The Host was a science fiction book for people who don't like science fiction books, but it wasn't.  No, the book I would hand that title to is The Hunger Games.  I wasn't going to review it here because what could I say that hadn't already been said, but I've recently run into a few child lit lovers who haven't picked up, and I couldn't let that happen, could I?

Here's the blurb from the publisher:
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before-and survived.

After I described the book to a friend she said it sounded too gory and depressing for her, and I insisted that it wasn't.  She countered with, "How could a book not be gory and disturbing if the main character has to kill 23 other teenagers in order to survive to the end of the book?"  I know it sounds crazy, but Collins does just that.  This is partially due to the fact that Katniss doesn't have to kill all 23 other kids to win, they can attack each other and the reader doesn't necessarily have to know what happened, Katniss just has to try to be the last one left standing.  The reader gets to know Katniss and the goodness of her heart so well that no matter what she ends up doing, they will still love her in the end.

That said, yes, this is a book where kids kill each other, and I wonder how that effects its Newbery chances.  I probably wouldn't recommend this book to kids twelve and under (because the end has some especially upsetting scenes that would scare the heck out of most younger kids), but that still leaves it within the age range of the Newbery award; however, I wouldn't be surprised if it was pushed into the Printz category.  I just hope that it doesn't get lost between them.

I can think of several books set in futuristic societies where the government has gone awry and readers discover some atrocity committed against the youth (think The Giver, The Shadow Children Series, Uglies, Ender's Game etc.), but The Hunger Games still seems so original.  

Teachers everywhere will love it because it will probably interest boys and girls equally.  The main character is female and studies show that while many girls will pick up books with male main characters, most boys will not pick up books with female main characters; however, a male protagonist emerges within the story.  The story is about a gruesome battle, which will entertain guys but it has a little romance and even fashion mixed in that will be just enough to pull in readers who do not like war stories.

What I think you must know before picking up this book, is that the last line is, "End of Book One" which I promise will make you groan if you had no warning.  There are so many things I still wanted to know about so I'm eagerly awaiting book two.  The good news is, according to Publishers Weekly, Book Two, titled Catching Fire is due out September 8th so you won't have to wait too long.  The final book in the trilogy is tentatively scheduled for 2010.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sammy Keyes and the Cold Hard Cash by Wendelin Van Draanen

Hi, I'm Stephanie Ford, I'm an adult, and I'm addicted to Sammy Keyes mysteries.  There, I said it.  There are so many middle grade fiction series unraveling out there, but this is the one I'm most addicted too.  Sure, I'm always in a hurry to find out how things with Percy Jackson will wrap up, and I NEED to know what happens to Charlie Bone next, oh, and who isn't looking forward to checking on the Goose Girl's characters in Shannon Hale's upcoming Forest Born? But I must say I most look forward to the release of each Sammy Keyes book.

For those of you who may not be familiar (gasp!), Sammy Keyes is a junior high school age sleuth that could kick Nancy Drew's butt (although I enjoy Nancy too, of course).  Sammy's mom dumped her with her grandmother (grams) and whisked off to seek her stardom in Hollywood.  Meanwhile Sammy is forced to sneak out of her Grams' senior high rise, where kids are only allowed to visit, and she sleeps on the couch and hides in the closet when unexpected visitors stop by.  It doesn't sound like the life of luxury, yet Sammy never seems down about it.  Unlike Nancy, Sammy has been known to get her hands dirty as she struggles to keep her quick fists and tongue in cheque.

In Cold Hard Cash, Sammy runs into an elderly man on the fire escape and she's sneaking into Grams and causes him to have a heart attack.  He shocks wads of money into Sammy's hands and he last words are a plea to her to get rid of it.  For the first time in Sammy's life, her curiosity isn't peaked.  She doesn't want to know anything about the money, she wants to keep it, but she can't get rid of the bad feelings surrounding the money and ultimate can't resist solving the mystery.

Some of the Sammy Keyes books seem like they could be after school specials when you read the summaries about issues like drugs, the environment, homelessness etc., but the books never come off that way.  Sammy is funny, and although her mom isn't much of a mom and her dad is out of the picture, she's surrounded by a community of people that care about her.  She's anything but perfect, but I promise, you'll learn to love her.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

For those of you who don't know, the official title of my MA is a Master of Arts in Language, Literacy, and Culture with an emphasis in Children's literature; which basically comes down to the fact that along with all my classes on children's literature and Literacy, I took a lot of classes about culture and race in the classroom and multicultural literature.  I am by no means an expert, but I have been trained to examine the ways different cultures are portrayed in literature and to question what the portrayal teaches children. I really had trouble with this novel.  I wanted to love it, but I did not.  

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian follows the Freshman year of Arnold Spirit AKA Junior, a Spokane Indian living on a reservation in Wellpinit, WA.  After a teacher begs Arnold leave behind life on the reservation before he loses hope like everyone else there, Arnold transfers to an all-white high school 22 miles from his home on the reservation. His parents support his decision, but he's shunned by many on the reservation including his best friend, for his betrayal.

Arnold's wry sense of humor and entertaining cartoons keep the novel going and have caused a few critics to call this book Diary of a Wimpy Kid for the young adult set.

If I could get past all the language and all of Arnold's talk of spending hours in the bathroom pleasing himself (which is hard to do because Arnold likes to talk about it a lot, and I can't ignore because I've heard a lot of sites mention how this book is being used in classrooms and I'd like to know what teacher could get away with that in his/her classroom?  No teacher I know would attempt it.), anyway, if I could get past that, I still couldn't get past the way American Indians are portrayed in this book.  I mean, talk about feeding right into stereotypes, almost every American Indian adult in the novel is described as a drunk, some are nice, some are abusive, but they are all drunks.  Many a book has drawn criticism among American Indians for perpetuating that stereotype.

I hate the way Alexie seems to support the idea that for Arnold to be successful or happy, he has to leave his culture and the reservation behind and go to a white school or he will be doomed to live a life as a poor alcoholic.  It also bothers me that Arnold tries to duke it out with white kids at his new school because that's how he says all American Indians deal with their problems.  They are not SAVAGES incapable of talking things out, and many a white kid still would have fought back when a kid much smaller than him punches him in the face, but Alexie portrays them as civilized and unwilling to result to physical violence, completely shocked at Arnold's behavior.  

Now, I know the book is loosely based on Alexie's youth, but that doesn't make it right, does it?  I searched some reviews by American Indians to see what they thought, and I was surprised to find his book has received very little criticism.  In fact, it's recommended by Oyate, an organization that works to establish literature that teaches respect for Native peoples.  On Her blog American Indians in Children's literature, Debbie Reese did say that on first impression she, "wished the depiction of Native life wasn't so bleak. It feeds stereotypical notions of the tragic victim. For that reason, many will keep reading, because it feels familiar to them, and in that save-the-Indian way some adopt, it nourishes that impulse." But in later posts she applauds the book and says she often gifts it to others.

Now I'm not saying this book belongs on Oyate's list of books to avoid, it does in fact dispel the stereotype that all American Indians are rich from Casinos on reservations, but it was such a hopeless portrayal of American Indians that still perpetuated many other hurtful stereotypes.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

January - Books being turned into movies

At least once a year our book club reads current books being turned into movies.  Here are the picks for this month:

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
Not enough reading for you?  Or maybe you're curious about other movies in the works? Here's a list with links for more info that club member Scott Knopf helped me put togther:

39 Clues got picked up by Dreamworks, Steven Spielberg is rumored to direct!  Should be out in 2011.
Chocky by John Wyndham (Spielberg acquired film rights in September)  Should be out in 2010.
Eloise in Paris by Kay Thompson
The Giver by Lois Lowry (A lot of you might have already read this one but it's a classic) (Should be out in 2011)
Magic Kingdom for Sale/SOLD by Terry Brooks
Ollie the Otter by Kelly Alan Williamson
Pattington Bear by Michael Bond
Punk Farm by Jarrett J Krosoczka
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett