Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Another Great Blog

Ok, I had to share this new children’s literature blog: A Year Of Reading

It’s created by two teachers who have set a goal to try to read next year’s Newbery winner before it’s announced, which means they are reading all the great new children’s books they can get there hands on. I’ve frequented this blog and today I noticed that not only do they have a link to this blog (insert excited blush here), but they must be from Columbus because they talk about having breakfast with Sally Oddi, the owner of Cover to Cover Children’s Bookstore (the best bookstore that I have ever been to). I’m so jealous that they know Sally well enough to be breakfasting with her. I like to dream that some day Sally will call me to say, “Stephanie Ford please come work in my store, where I will pay you to be surrounded by children’s literature.” (Granted, that will never happen because I when I visit Cover to Cover I barely have the courage to talk to Sally let alone ask her if she’s hiring, but still, it’s a nice dream isn’t it?)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Stormbreaker - by Anthony Horowitz

I have a confession to make; until this week, I have never read any of the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz. I hadn’t even heard of the Alex Rider series until about a year ago (I know, for shame!) I finally picked the first novel in the series up and read it.

Stormbreaker begins with fourteen-year-old Alex Rider learning from a police officer that his Uncle Ian (who happens to also be his guardian) has been killed in a car accident because he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. This strikes Alex as odd because his Uncle was a careful banker who always insisted that he wear his seatbelt. After some lucky investigation, Alex discovers his uncle’s car in a junkyard riddled with bullet holes and he knows his uncle was murdered. His Uncle’s coworker asks Alex to meet him and his office downtown to discuss his financial situation. When he leaves Alex alone in his office, Alex can’t resist temptation and jumps out of the 15-story-high window onto a flagpole and then into his Uncle’s old office. There he discovers Ian Rider was really a spy working for a secret government agency called MI6. Alex had been setup to see if he was spy material. The folks at MI6 want him on the same case that his uncle was working on when he was killed. Alex tells them he’s not interested, but they insist stating that they are his new guardians and they have control over his finances so he has no choice. Alex reluctantly agrees and is thrown into training.

This series is being called the James Bond for teenagers, and I agree with that description. Alex has cool gadgets that don’t exist in real life and he escapes all sorts of impossible situations. The plot is preposterous, but it’s interesting and fast-paced and kids love it. I’m sure many will be waiting in line for the Stormbreaker movie being released this fall. Here’s the movie poster.

The graphic novel version of Stormbreaker will be released in October.

Overall, I thought Alex was a bit of a flat character. He does struggle with not wanting to murder anyone (although there’s still plenty of murder in the book), but he doesn’t struggle with the fact that he’s been orphaned. Perhaps that’s for later books in the series.

Heat - by Mike Lupica

I've read several books that I haven't had a chance to review yet so let's start with Heat by Mike Lupica.

Michael Arroyo is the star of his Little League team; in fact, he's such a good pitcher that as his South Bronx All-stars team advances toward the playoffs to qualify for the Little League World Finals in Williamsport, Virginia, some of the coaches file a protest stating that they do not believe Michael is only twelve-years-old. Michemigratedated from Cuba with his father and older brother and they don't have his birth certificate. Michael truly is twelve-years-old, but he's keeping another secret that makes it difficult to defend himself. Meanwhile, a mysterious girl keeps showing up to watch him play and the more he sees her, the more he wants to know about her.

As you all know, I'm not much of a sports fan. One of the sports that I find particularly boring is baseball, but I was riveted by the baseball scenes in this book because characters were so well created that I really cared about what happened. All the dialogue between Michael and his friends seems realistic and added depth to the story.

This is a great book to share with all the current debates about immigration into the U.S. I love that Michael is a fairly regular kid (besides his incredible talent on the field) that readers will relate to because there are plenty of kids out there who were born and raised in the U.S. that don't understand how similar they are to kids who didn't grow up in the U.S.

I also really appreciate that this is a story of a totally normal kid whose family has never been involved in anything bad and ends up involved with social services and could possibly end up in foster care. There is such a negative stimga about families who need social services and kids who end up in foster care, and we need more books like this so kids like Michael have a chance to see someone like themselves in literature and other kids can learn to overcome some negative assumptions they might otherwise make.

I'm sure baseball fans will adore this book, but even the non-baseball fans will really enjoy it.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Peter and the Shadow Thieves - by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson

Ok, let me get this straight, this novel is a sequel to Peter and the Starcatchers, both novels are prequels to Peter Pan, and this is the second in a series of five novels that Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have planned.

Now what is this book that I just saw on Amazon, Escape from Carnivale, a Never Land Book also by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson? Amazon says it's scheduled to be released in September and it's told from the perspective of Little Scallop, the princess of the natives on the island where Peter lives. I guess this is becoming quite the franchise. With a title like The Never Land Books I’m guessing it’s a series. I wonder if each book will follow a different character.

I finished Peter and the Shadow Thieves late Sunday night, but it wasn’t one of those books that I keep reading because I had to know what would happen, it was one of those books that I had to push through just to finish. The book was so long!

The book begins just where Peter and the Starcatchers left off; Peter and his friends are marooned on Mullosk Island under the protection of the Mollusk natives, while Captain Hook and his pirates scheme over how to capture the boys from their fort on the other side of the island. The arrival of a new ship of pirates marks the return of Slank led by a mysterious being called Lord Ombra; they are sorely disappointed to discover that the starstuff that transformed Peter into a flying boy who never ages is gone and they set off to find Lord Aster in London to use his daughter Molly as bait to find out where the starstuff is. Of course Peter wants to help Molly so he trails the pirates to London in hopes of finding Molly before the pirates and Lord Ombra do.

I was a bit surprised to find that parts of this novel seemed more like the work of Dickens. In fact, when Peter is lost and desperate in London an older boy finds him and brings him to his master, an old man who shelters orphans and expects them to beg for him in return and won’t let any of the children escape him (suddenly I thought I was reading Oliver Twist)

I was pleased with the addition of a few new characters like George Darling and my favorite, J.M. Barrie. The plot is fast paced and I suspect that those who enjoyed Peter and the Starcatchers will enjoy the sequel too.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

New Moon - by Stephenie Meyer

For those of you obsessed with Stephenie Meyer's book Twlight like me, you can find the first chapter of the Sequel, New Moon, here!

Charlie Bone and the Hidden King - by Jenny Nimmo

Ok, all of you Harry Potter elitists out there who refuse to pick up the Charlie Bone series because you think it's just another Harry Potter rip-off, get over it and pick up these books because they are good! I know this series has a lot of similarities to Harry Potter (an outcast boy with black hair suddenly discovers he has magical powers and is whisked away to a private school for children with special abilities), but is that really such a bad thing? Back in my days of working in the children's section at Borders I can't tell you how many parents came up to me and told me their child really liked Harry Potter, but wasn't interested in reading anything else so they had nothing to read until the next Harry Potter came out, and the parent wondered if there was a book that I could recommend that their child might enjoy. There should have been a button that I could push that would turn on a spotlight shining on the Charlie Bone books while a chorus of angels played in the background.

As the story goes, long ago lived the magical Red King who had ten children who each inherited a magical power. After the death of his wife, he lost control of his children and they battled against each other. The Red King disappeared and ever since his ancestors have been locked in a fight of good verses evil. Charlie learns he is one of these descendants. He has the power to step into pictures and interact with them. Once he learns of his powers he is sent to Bloors Academy where other ancestors of the Red King can keep an eye on him.

Charlie Bone and the Hidden King is the fifth book in the series. The plot maintains just as much excitement at the first book in the series. At the beginning of this novel Charlie receives a message that something bad has been set free and he must keep watch. Charlie is further perplexed when he discovers that all of the animals have fled the city. Meanwhile his mother starts acting strange, and he's still searching for information about his missing father.

Fans will be delighted to know that I huge secret is revealed in this book. I'm going to have a tough time waiting for the next book in the series. Hurry Jenny Nimmo, we need more!

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Sister's Grimm: The Unusual Suspect - Michael Buckley

I love it when the second book in a series turns out to be even better than the first, and that is just the case with this book.

Sisters Daphne and Sabrina Grimm continue their escapades as detectives in Ferryport Landing, a town where fairytale characters live among humans. Their grandmother forces them to take time off from their search for their parents to begin school. Daphne is happy to discover her teacher is Snow White, but Sabrina immediately doesn't get along with her teacher or her classmates. Sabrina becomes even more miserable when her teacher is murdered and Puck is assigned to pose as a student and keep an eye on her at school. The sisters become determined to discover what's really going on at their school.

Many series get stuck in a rut following the same formulaic pattern for each book so I was pleasantly surprised that this novel was so different than the first. The first novel feels like a complete story on it's own, but the second ends with a mega cliff-hanger. A glimmer of romance that wasn't in the first book also begins in the second novel.

The book did continue a few things that I like though, it slips in definitions of difficult words that the younger sisters doesn't understand and asks about. It also continues to introduce new characters that readers will love identifying from fairy-tales. I really like that in both novels, Daphne and Sabrina are not perfect detectives. They are real kids who make mistakes and do their best to recover from them. Readers of the first book will absolutely enjoy the second!

August - Peter Pan Prequels

We're meeting at my house this August to discuss Peter Pan Prequels.

Please read:

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley PearsonCapt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorius Youth by J.V. Hart

They're both rather long so that's all that's required, but if you have time, here are a few more titles:

Wendy by Karen Wallace

Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg by Gail Carson Levine

Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Surviving the Applewhites

Meet the cast for the Columbus Children's Theater reading of the stage adaptation of Stephanie Tolan's novel Surviving the Applewhites.

I was able to attend the reading before I went on vacation. The play isn't finalized so the purpose of the reading was to get the reaction and advice of local people from the theater world. Katherine Paterson and Stephanie Tolan are working on the script. Can you spot them in the photo with the cast?

I was curious to see how they would handle certain aspects of the book, most notably how they would handle swearing. One of the main characters, Jake, is a juvenile delinquent with colorful language, but the novel never actually uses any swear words it just says that Jake swears or uses parrots words (the parrot in novel also swears). In the stage adaptation Jake never uses actual swear words either, he just says "bleep!" in a high pitch. I think kids will think it's funny, but it got a bit distracting after awhile.

I wondered how true to the novel the play would be since the novel's author was writing the script. The beginning was different; the characters are supposed to walk out of a large copy of the book on stage and then they argue about who the main character of the book really is and begin the story (a clever way for Tolan to remind the audience that if they like the play it's based on a book and they should go buy it). From there on most of the dialogue is straight out of the novel until the end when the actors summarize a lot of what happens instead of adding a lot of characters and staging the play that takes place within the play.

It was an interesting process to watch and I wanted to ask why Tolan chose to leave certain things out like the Guru and one of the uncles, but not a single person raised their hand during the questions and answer period, and I wasn't brave enough to start.

Afterwards I got to meet Stephanie Tolan and Katherine Paterson, and they were both as nice as I imagined them. I meant to ask Katherine Paterson about the movie adaptation of Bridge to Terebithia, but I was too star-struck to do anything but try to keep my mouth from hanging open.

There was another author sitting with Stephanie Tolan and Katherine Paterson on the first row, one of the professors who was present at my thesis defense, Janet Hickman. I have to admit that the most embarrassing moment of the evening was when she asked me what great things I've accomplished since graduation. After graduate school I planned to work as an editor in children's publishing, but then I was surprised when my husband was assigned to do his residency after medical schoool here in Columbus so I'm still working in commercial real estate as a Marketing Manger. At my thesis defense Dr. Hickman and Dr. Keifer told me that they would be happy to help me set up interviews in New York for publishing positions, but they thought I should be a writer. Now here I am, a year later I run into Dr. Hickman and what great things have I accomplished? Uh . . . I joined SCBWI, I still lead the children's literature book club, and I'm in the middle of two horrid rough drafts that seem to be going nowhere, and I'm still working in commercial real estate. Of course Dr. Hickman was totally nice about it and said she understood that everyone has to pay their bills, but I'm sure I left with burning cheeks.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

I’m not sure if I fell in love with this book because of the storyline or the author’s writing style or because it was narrated by death, which is such a unique perspective (I know, something narrated by death sounds dreadfully morbid, but it’s not).

I didn’t read this book quickly, I slowly let it soak in, and I actually finished it a week and a half ago, but I wanted to let it ruminate in my brain for awhile before I reviewed it (plus I was on vacation for a week and a half so I haven’t been blogging).

This novel begins with Death telling the story of Liesel Meminger growing up in Munich, Germany during World War II. Liesel is sent to a foster family in Munich because her mother has been associated with the Communist Party. Her foster father, Hans Hubermann, helps Liesel in her struggle to learn to read. Soon words surround Liesel and she becomes the Book Thief.

As you might imagine, this books is filled with the tragic events of the Holocaust, but it’s also full of the details of Liesel’s everyday life. I love the reminder that even while life is full of horrors, it has moments of comedy too.

I really wish that I purchased this book instead of checking it out from the library because there were so many beautiful sections that I was dying to highlight. Zusak has such an original way of describing things. Here are a few that delighted me:

  • “Frau Diller smiled. Her teeth elbowed each other for room in her mouth (pg 155)”
  • “When Max heard the news, his body felt like it was being screwed up into a ball, like a page littered with mistakes. Like Garbage.
    Yet each day, he managed to unravel and straighten himself, disgusted and thankful. Wrecked, but somehow not torn to pieces. (pg 194)”

I think part of the reason I was able to focus on the beautiful writing was the way it was narrated. Since Death was telling the story, the narrator already knew how everything would end and spoiled the ending ahead of time. Normally I would have hated the spoilers, but instead of rushing forward because I had to know what was going to happen, the narration allowed me to just enjoy each passage as I went along. Death even comments of this method of telling the story:

Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book,
but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance,
because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It
chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel
us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me (pg 243).

Even though Death was only the narrator, his character intrigued me. Death was not happy about WWII, he thought it was awful. There’s a point in the story where even Death gets emotional about what happens to Liesel and after his description of the events he says, “You see? Even death has a heart (pg 242).” Death sees moments in shades of color and as he describes events he often tells the reader what color the events were. It was so intriguing to me.
All of the characters were original and I know they will each stay with me for quite awhile. I recommend that you go straight to the store or the library and pick up this book. You will be greatly rewarded!

I can’t wait to watch Zusak’s interview with School Library Journal for their Under Cover series.