Thursday, September 25, 2008

Not so into dragons

I love Robin McKinley's fairytale adaptations (as far as I'm concerned, Beauty is a must read and the Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword deserved the recognition that they got), so I was willing to read Dragonhaven, even though it did not sound like my kind of a book. I mean, a novel about dragons in a contemporary world, no thanks, but if anyone could pull it off, it would be Robin McKinley. Unfortunately, it lacked the magical sense that captivated me in McKinley's other novels. I kept waiting to get into the story, but I never did.

14 year-old Jake grows up the son of the head of a national park designed to protect two hundred of the world's remaining dragons. On his first solo hike through the park, Jake finds a dying dragon, next to the poacher who fatally wounded her and was torched to death by the dragon in return. Even more shocking, the dragon had just given birth and only one of her dragonlets was left alive. It was clear to Jake that the dragonlet wouldn't last much longer on its own so he took it into his care even though it's a felony to help save a dragon. Jake's mother died when he was twelve so he sympathizes with the dragonlet and can't bear to let it die. He struggles home and begins the dangerous process of trying to raise a dragon, which he has to keep secret from the tourists visiting the park. The death of the poacher brought an uproar from the public against the dragons and Jake knows that if he's discovered, the park would be shut down.

It sounds exciting when you read it in one paragraph, but try 342 pages and then tell me what you think. It would have been so much better if it had been edited into a shorter novel.

It seems odd that this books is classified as a children's book at all. Jake's young in the beginning, but he's 25 at the end of the book. The last third of the novel takes place much later and seems incongruent with the rest of the story. There's a lot of language and some references to sex that surprised me. Jake is clearly an adult dealing with adult issues like whether or not he should have kids, and I don't think many kids would feel any connection to his problems.

I have much higher hopes for Chalice, McKinley's new novel just released this month. It sounds more in line with The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, and is already receiving rave reviews.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Board Stiff? Not anymore!

So I reviewed some board book basics the other day, but I wanted to talk about some of the innovative things happening with board books. I spotted the newest Sandra Boynton board book today and it is a great example to begin with. It's called Fifteen Animals! and it follows a boy introducing all fifteen of his pets. Boynton fans may not be surprised to note that all but one of the pets are named Bob. It may just look like a regular board book, but not so my friends! Sandra's well-known for two things really, her board books and her kids' music, and now she's found a new way to combine them. In the front of Fifteen Animals there is a link to go online and download a free copy of the song Fifteen Animals! Now some of Sandra's other board books included a hard copy version of the music in the back, but providing a link with a free copy of the song is wonderful for non-musically talented parents like myself who cannot read notes and have been forced to make up any old tune knowing someday their child will hear the real version and feel conned. So thanks Sandra, for helping keep my son out of therapy. You can check out the song and download it for free here. Next, Charley Harper's ABC's, ok so maybe vintage illustrations are not exactly innovative, but I have noticed how board books have developed and now many are illustrated beautifully? Kid absorb art in the world around them and begin to develop artistic tastes at an early age so why are there so many cheesy cartoony illustrations out there. Babies deserve real art too so I'm in love with Charley Harper's ABC's
And I'm excited for the November 1st release of Charley Harper's 123's
Gallop by Rufus Butler Seder has taken kid lit world by storm because it's something new and different. My son loves moving the pages back and forth to see the animals move and visiting adults even have a hard time putting it down. Many toddlers love the movement that pop-ups provide, but they aren't quite ready with the gentle hands pop-ups require. Gallop provides the movement in a much sturdier format (although it's not a true board book so if they really work at it, these stiff pages can be torn)
Well, on October 15th, I'm sure fans will be pleased to see a new title by Rufus Butler Seder, Swing! It's all about children moving this time. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy to see kids jump, swim, and swing.
It's nice to see board books evolving because they certainly are getting better and better.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Local book signing

Yesterday, my son and I made it to Marc Brown and Judy Sierra's book signing at The Kings English. We arrived late because my son is one and had we arrived early, no one would have been able to hear the presentation. It was lovely meeting both of them and they were both as wonderful and warm as you'd expect them to be. The part that I found annoying is that to receive a ticket for a place in line for the signing, you had to purchase either Born to Read or Wild About Books. I had no problem with purchasing books there to be signed, I'm all about supporting my independent bookstore, but why those two and not others? Both books are good, but they are not my favorites by either author/illustrator so there were many others I would rather have purchased there. The salesclerk told me that they weren't happy about the policy either, but they had to agree to those publisher stipulations in order to book the signing.

Ok, rant over, at least I only had to buy one so I also picked up the extremely clever Mind Your Manners B.B. Wolf by Judy Sierra and had that signed for my son's book collection too.

The sad part was that my camera was missing so I ended up with blurry cell phone pictures. These pictures make me laugh because after waiting in a very long and hot line, my son doesn't look too impressed, does he?
We'll chalk it up to teething because, hello? Who wouldn't be thrilled to meet Marc Brown and Judy Sierra?

Alright, I totally admit that right now, we attended the book signing because I wanted to meet them, but I truly think that one day my son will think it's cool to see these pictures tucked into his signed copies. There was a little boy in front of us who could not believe he was meeting the man who could draw Arthur better than his mom, and it's moments like that that make book signings so fun.

Hip, hip, hooray!

I just got word that I will be on this year's picture book judging committee for the Cybils! Yippee! What are the Cybils some of you may wonder (but I hope many of you already know)? It's the award that was started three years ago when many children's and YA lit bloggers questioned the award winners: many of the ALA (Newbery, Caldecott, etc.) didn't really seem like books kids would enjoy and the Quill winners were sort of a joke, just whatever the publisher sold the most of whether it showed literary value or not. It seemed like there should be an award out there that took the middle ground for literary books that kids would love. Thus, Kelly Herold and Anne Boles Levy gathered the kidlitosphere and started their own awards, The Cybils.

Beginning October first anyone can nominate one book for each of the Cybils categories. Then once the nominations have closed, I'll be on the committee narrowing down all the fictional picture books to five finalists. We'll pass the finalists onto another judging panel to decide the winner.

I love being on the first judging panel. Two years ago I served on the panel for middle grade fiction, and it was so fun to be in on the debate over the finalists. I never envy the final judging panel that has to choose the winner because the five finalists are always so fantastic that it would be too hard for me to decide.
I am so, so excited to be judging this year with some truly amazing people! I can't wait to get start so be sure to head over to the Cybils site on October first to start nominating!

(If you picture me prancing around right now and periodically doing my best Mary Katherine Gallagher, kneeling on one knee with both arms in the air yelling, "Cybils Judge!" I'm not saying that you'd be wrong)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Do you heart Greg Heffley?

I know The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney is beloved by many, but when I read it a few months ago, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I wanted to love it because I love that it's a graphic novel/traditional novel hybrid in diary format. I think that's a new format a lot of visual readers could really get into.

My problem with the series (the first two books are out with three additional books in the works) is that I didn't like the main character, Greg Heffley. To put it bluntly, he was kind of a jerk sometimes. Greg is a middle schooler just trying to blend in, boost his popularity, and avoid bullies, but in the meantime, his own blunders and his nerdy friend Rowley hold him back. There are times in the book when Greg clearly makes the wrong decisions, which I could live with, but he is often so mean to Rowley and seems oblivious to it. It may be a realistic portrayal of a middle school boy, but does that mean that I have to like it? (I fully admit my dislike of Greg is coming from the mother in me).

I recently came across two interviews with Jeff Kinney that sort of clarified why I feel the way I do about the Greg. In "Stuck (In The) Middle" in September's Parent & Child Magazine, Kinney says, "Greg often thinks he's been redeemed when he hasn't. In the first book, [his friend] Rowley gets in trouble for something Greg does. Greg's mother tells Greg he needs to do the right thing. Greg thinks the right thing is to let Rowley take the fall this time around because it's best for both of them. He comes home and Greg's mother asks, 'Did you do the right thing?' and Greg says yes. He's rewarded with ice cream, and he's very proud of himself for having done the right thing." Not exactly a character you want your kids to look up to.

Then in an interview posted in the Wimpy Kid website, Kinney is asked if he thinks Greg is a good role model. Kinney answered, "No, not really. Greg is self-centered and can be kind of clueless. I don't think Greg is a bad kid, necessarily; but like all of us, he has his faults. Hopefully, readers will understand that Greg's imperfections are what make him funny. I think that stories with characters who always do the right thing are a little boring. I wanted to create a character who was more realistic." Now, there are a lot of books out there that I love where the main character makes huge mistakes, but later tries to make it up or take responsibility so I guess that's what really gets me; not that Greg makes mistakes, but that he doesn't regret them.

I guess it's possible to dislike the main character and still like the series, because that's the conclusion that I've come to on this one, and it makes me feel a little better to know that Kinney thinks Greg isn't role-model material. Greg's portrayal of his life is very funny and his voice reads like that of a true middle schooler without shadows of a grown-up behind it so I'm sure many a kid will treasure the series.

I've had several talks with parents who don't like certain kids books because the main characters are poor role-models. Personally, I think you have to give kids some credit that they know right from wrong and can enjoy a book like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and appreciate the humor without wanting to follow in Greg's footsteps. In fact, it's Greg's ignorance to the flaws of his moral compass that make parts of the book so funny.
The third book of the series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw is due out on January 13th.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Savvy - by Ingrid Law

Mibs Beaumont anxiously awaits her 13th birthday because in the Beaumont family, that's when your savvy strikes. Her brother fish caused a hurricane on his 13th birthday, which was why they had to move to Kansaska/Nebrasas (the border between Kansas and Nebraska) while Fish learned to "scumble" (control) his power over water and the weather and Mibs' brother Rocket learned to scumble his electric current savvy.

There are all sort of savvies; Mibs Grandpa creates land and ended up creating Idaho on his 13th birthday. Her mom's savvy was being perfect. Some people had a small savvy that they weren't even aware of so they could do things like make the best jam or never get splashed by mud. Mibs hoped her savvy would be something cool like x-ray vision or the gift of flight until her dad gets in an awful car accident and ends up in the hospital in a comma.

The morning of her birthday Mibs starts the day sure that her savvy is something that will wake her papa up and save his life, if only she could get to the hospital a few hours drive away. Unfortunately, Miss Rosemary, the preacher's wife left in charge of the Beaumont children while oldest brother Rocket and their Mother are at the hospital, has other plans. She drags Mibs to a makeshift party at the church, where all of Mibs despised classmates are forced to attend.

When Mibs spots that the pink-bible salesman's bus at the church is from the same town she's trying to get to, she decides it's fate and sneaks aboard, followed by the preacher's son, Will Junior, who supports her crazy idea; Rocket, who feels responsible for Mibs; and Will's sister Bobbi who doesn't want to miss out on any trouble caused; along with Mibs younger brother Samson who was hiding on the bus.

By the time the bus driver discovers the kids, he decides he cannot turn back and still make his deliveries, so he heads on, IN THE WRONG DIRECTION! It turns out Mibs and her travel companions are in for much more of an adventure than they bargained for.

Truthfully, the storyline about the magical savvies didn't really appeal to me much, but I picked up Savvy anyway based on others' recommendations, and Ingrid Law's writing just reeled me in. Her characters were wacky, but their relationships with each other seemed powerful and real and I worried about what would happen to each of them.

Ingrid Law said, "When I started Savvy, I wanted to create a different kind of magic—one that called to mind the feel of a modern American tall-tale. I wanted to break away from the traditional tales about magic and find roots in the soil around me. What would magic look like if it sprang up in the small towns of America? And what in the world would it be called if I didn't want to call that distinctive know-how magic?"

I wouldn't quite call Savvy a tall-tale, but I could see the Beaumont family in a tall-tale of their own. It turns out that Ingrid actually did write a tall-tale explaining how the Beaumont family got their savvy and you can read it here.

The official Savvy website also provides a link to a teacher's guide to Savvy with some great discussion questions like:

  • “Perhaps Samson’s strengthening touch was just an ordinary sort
    of human magic, the kind of magic that exists in the honest, heartfelt
    concern of one person for another.” (p. 113) Explain “ordinary human
    magic” in your own words. Give another example of “ordinary human
    magic” you find in Savvy.
  • Fish and Rocket have a terrible time scumbling their savvies. How does
    this cause a ruckus for the Beaumont clan and others who know them?
    Are there any parts of your own personality that you have a difficult time
    controlling? Is it better to tone down parts of yourself so that you fit in
    society or is it more important to be yourself completely?
  • Momma warns Mibs that, “You can’t get rid of part of what makes you you
    and be happy.” (p. 186) What makes you you? How do you let that special
    part shine through?

The movie is slated for 2011 so we're sure to be hearing more about Savvy from Walden Media.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Building a library for your child

My friends know that I have a ridiculously huge children's book collection (as in, it warrants its own room with multiple bookshelves) so it probably seems silly that it's very important to me to start a personal children's book collection for my son. Here's my reasoning: I inherited very few of the cherished books from my childhood because I have three siblings who also loved the same books and on top of that, my mom now has four grandchildren to read to. Now that I'm thinking about it, I don't think we had any copies of my parents' childhood favorites. So many memories are tied to those books, and I would love to have a little library of them. I also would like to use my collection to read to my someday grandchildren and I have this idea that someday, I'd like to leave my own collection of children's books to a women's & children's shelter as part of their library or to be divided up and sent with families to their new homes because every child should have access to great books.

I don't neccessarily want my son to have boxes and boxes of books to lug from home to home as I do, but I do want him to have a few favorites so I did two simple things to start his collection.

  1. I started a birthday tradition that every year I will give my son either a new book that I know he will love (like the new Mo Willems Pigeon book that comes out right after his first birthday) or his favorite book that we've enjoyed from the library that year (This year it was a tie between Dear Zoo and Where's Spot). He gets the book for his birthday and then we take a picture of him reading the book (this year, courtesy of my photographer sister Candice, it was a picture of him sitting on our laps while we read it to him). I glue a copy of the picture into the book along with a longer list of his favorite books from the year. It will be fun to interview him to create the list when he gets older. I think Kristi of Everything Pink buys her girls each a Christmas book every year and then writes brief synopsis of each child's year in their book so this is sort of a different twist on that.

  2. I try to attend local book signings and buy copies of books to be signed for my son even if I already own my own copy. Then I take a picture of my son with the author/illustrator and tape it into the book with the signature so my son will know when he met the author/illustrator. I love to see his collection grow and I have visions of him bringing books like his signed copy of Knuffle Bunny Too to show and tell so he can tell everyone about the time he actually met Mo Willems, etc.

Two simple ideas, but hopefully that will get you thinking about your own book collections.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Who needs to picture books when you've got a computer?

My son is only one. He doesn't know how to type, he hasn't figured out the mouse, but he loves to sit on my lap and play with the computer. We live in a digital age, so I don't want to discourage his explorations as he pokes the keys and watches the monitor, but I want to start the habit of using the computer in a positive way form an early age. That's when I remembered Looky Book, it's an website that lets you view picture books from cover to cover. It was featured here back when it was in beta form, and it's collection has grown quite a bit since I last saw it. Although I still prefer to hold a real book in my hand, this is a great place to be in my little one MUST spend time online. You can create your own saved shelf of bookshelves and when you finish a book, Looky Book will recommend other similar books. They don't have the most extensive collection, but who can resist a glimpse at Little Pea or ABC3D or First The Egg (and aren't you curious to see how they handle all the cutouts in First The Egg?)

And speaking of picture books online, have you seen Storyline Online? It's a program run by the Screen Actors Guild. They have recordings of actors reading picture books with some animation added to the illustrations. It's the next best things since Reading Rainbow (ok, it's not, but it could be if they keep it up and add more books and make it a little easier to access a list of all of the books offered). It's also very worth your time to check it out. You'll find some oldies but goodies like The Polar Express, A Bad Case of the Stripes, and William Steig's Brave Irene.

Princess Ben - by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I must confess that I'm a sucker for a princess story, but I am picky; I don't love ALL princess stories. Luckily Princess Ben is one of the better princess novels that I've read recently, and I'm happy to recommend it to you.

With a title like Princess Ben, you might expect this story to be about a tomboy sort of princess, but it's not. Ben is just short for Princess Benevolence, but Ben is highly unusual in other ways. Her parents shielded her from court life and training as a princess and allowed her to have a simple childhood (that was maybe just a little too relaxed). After eating herself sick and catching a chill at her fifteenth birthday party, Ben is forced to stay home during the ceremonial, semi-annual visit to her grandfathers grave. Her parents and her uncle, the King of Montagne, carry on without her.

That evening, she receives terrible news that her mother and uncle were murdered at the grave and her Father has gone missing. After extensive searches, her Father cannot be found and Ben is left as a charge of her Aunt Sofia, the Queen of Montagne. Sofia has never approved of Ben's upbringing and immediately puts Ben on a strict diet to counteract her chubby frame and forces her to begin new lessons on being proper royalty as Ben is now officially set to inherit the throne as soon as she is deemed worthy.

Queen Sofia is cold and makes it very clear that she thinks little of Ben and would happily marry her off. When she discovers that Ben has been sneaking food behind her back in order not starve, she forces Ben to live in a small inhospitable tower that can only be reached through the Queen's chambers. Ben is truly miserable until she discovers a magic chamber with a spell book and beings magical training. Soon she's sneaking about the castle through secret passages by night and snoozing through her lessons by day.

Ben pays little attention to the fact that her kingdom is being threatened by a neighboring kingdom Drachensbett, until she learns that her aunt hopes to create peace by marrying her off to the prince of Drachensbett. The plan quickly goes awry when the prince dislikes sulky Ben and the king of Drachensbett declares Ben will never be fit to be queen and the kingdom should be turned over to him. Ben is left desperate for a way to help save her kingdom.

The story is told first person and I enjoyed Ben's narrative voice. I did have a few problem with the book, the first being that this is another one of those books where the princess is transformed into a much thinner beauty before she is accepted by all and happy with herself. The second is that magic plays a large part of Ben's life and is completely left behind and it doesn't seem to be a sacrifice for her.

Overall, I'd still highly recommend this book. It especially appealed to me because it's a fairytale where no one is all good or bad, we see faults and strengths of all of the well-developed characters. And rare is the princess story where the Princess realizes that much of her predicament is due to her own foibles, and she has to fix them herself. Be sure to share this one with any princess lover that you know!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What The Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire

From the publisher:

A terrible storm is raging, and ten-year-old Dinah is huddled by candlelight with her brother, sister, and cousin Gage, who is telling a very unusual tale. It’s the story of What-the-Dickens, a newly hatched orphan creature who finds he has an attraction to teeth, a crush on a cat named McCavity, and a penchant for getting into trouble. One day he happens upon a feisty girl skibberee who is working as an Agent of Change — trading coins for teeth — and learns that there is a dutiful tribe of skibbereen (call them tooth fairies) to which he hopes to belong. As his tale of discovery unfolds, however, both What-the-Dickens and Dinah come to see that the world is both richer and less sure than they ever imagined.

This books has me baffled. The story-within-the story about What-The-Dickens, the rogue tooth fairy, is more or less what I would expect from Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked; an imaginative interpretation of the tooth fairy (or fairies in this case) like we've never heard before. I have a few issues with it, which you'll her more about, but overall, the tooth fairy part of the novel I can handle. The realistic fiction part of the story has me so confused. Maguire goes out of his way to make readers aware that Dinah's parents are religious fanatics. From the first page we read:

"They kept themselves apart — literally. The Ormsbys sequestered themselves in a scrappy bungalow perched at the uphill end of the canyon, where the unpaved county road petered out into ridge rubble and scrub pine.

The Ormsbys weren’t rural castaways nor survivalists — nothing like that. They were trying the experiment of living by gospel standards, and they hoped to be surer of their faith tomorrow than they’d been yesterday.

A decent task and, around here, a lonely one. The Ormsby family made its home a citadel against the alluring nearby world of the Internet, the malls, the cable networks, and other such temptations.

The Ormsby parents called these attractions slick. They sighed and worried: dangerous. They feared cunning snares and delusions. Dinah Ormsby wished she could study such matters close-up and decide for herself.

Dinah and her big brother, Zeke, were homeschooled. This, they were frequently reminded, kept them safe, made them strong, and preserved their goodness. . . From the Ormsby’s bunker, high above the threat of contamination by modern life, [Dinah] could still love the world."

The books continues to make references to their zealous behavior, but in the end, it never plays into the story or comes to any end. And if the parents sequestered their family away from society, wouldn't you expect them to have supplies stockpiled? How did the children get left with an inept babysitter with only two jars of carrot baby food and a can of tuna fish in their whole home?

And I'm not sure what to make of the major storm that seems to have destroyed much of the United States? I guess it gives Gage plenty of time to tell What-The-Dickens' story to his charges, but couldn't that have been framed some other way if the storm seemed to have no other purpose in the story and hasn't even come to an end, by the novel's close?

And as long as I'm venting, at one point our story is interrupted by police officers/rescue workers who reiterate that it is not safe for the children to be at home and force them to evacuate to a shelter and Gage condones Dinah and Zeke's sneaky way of disobeying in order to remain in their dangerous home. Why? Seriously, why? There are never any consequences for their lies and they didn't bring any news about their parents. Why didn't Maguire just leave that out? The whole family story just doesn't make any sense to me.

Now as for What-the-Dickens' story, it starts out very slow. I wasn't surprised to read many reviews that said it was dull and they wanted to quit reading as What-the-Dickens dithers around trying to figure out what he is and what he should do. The story really picks up once he meets Pepper, and the Skibbereen society was fascinating. Again I felt like the plot failed me when the many problems with the Skibbereen society are revealed and none of them are resolved or even openly objected to (for example only senior members are deemed worthy of receiving a name, everyone bluntly tells What-the-Dickens he's a worthless idiot and feel free to mock Pepper liberally, and the leader of Pepper's colony is a bully).

All in all, it was a confusing read that I think most children will struggle to get into until about mid-novel.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Signed and Dated

So I'm in a new city and I've been sulking a bit about missing my neighborhood children's book shop, Cover to Cover. They have the most knowledgeable staff and I NEVER miss their fall book review. I suppose the crisp weather this week is what keeps reminding me that I will be missing the review this year.

Friday, I decided that it's time to move on and check out the book shops around here. I was pleased to discover a wonderful independent bookstore just a few blocks away called The King's English. The best part is that they have some fantastic authors doing book signings soon. So if you're in the Salt Lake area, you might be interested in this:

Judy Sierra and Marc Brown, the team behind Wild About Books have a new book called Born to Read, which they will be signing at The King's English on Friday, September 19th at 4:00.

Jon Scieszka will be signing his new memoir Knucklehead on Monday October 6th at 3:30

And Laurie Keller will be signing her new book, the Scramble States Of America Talent Show on Tuesday, October 21st at 7:00 p.m.

Oh, I wish that I had been around last month for the Repunzel's Roundup Event featuring local authors like Shannon Hale, A.E. Cannon, James Dashner, Sara Zarr, and Mette Ivie Harrison! Wow!

I'm so happy to discover such a cool independent shop, and the part that amazes me is that a few of my neighbors, who like to read children's literature too, didn't know about any of these events. It makes me wonder how many people out there are missing out on incredible author events near them.

My husband grew up in Irvine, CA where there is a tiny children's book shop called A Whale of a Tale that holds the best signings. Every time we visit there I check ahead for any book signings so we can schedule to be there. Seriously, check out this lineup (over the next two months they have Jack Prelutsky, Tony DiTerlizzi, Graeme Base, Cornelia Funke, David Carter, T.A. Barron, Tomie DePaola, David Shannon and several others). And once again, many of my husband's friends that still live in Irvine don't even know about A Whale Of a Tale and the author events that they're missing out on. It just kills me!

I guess all this is my very long winded way of saying, check out out the events at your local bookstore because you never know who you might have the chance to meet!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Shannon Hale Teaches How To Be A Reader

There's a really interesting discussion going on over at Shannon Hale's blog (author of Goose Girl and Princess Academy). Shannon was disturbed when readers were angry with author Stephenie Meyer after they read and disliked her latest novel, Breaking Dawn. This got her thinking about whether the reader or the author is responsible when someone dislikes a book. Shannon's argument is that the reader and author are equally responsible makes a lot of sense.

You can read about the first part of her discussion on readers responsibilities here and part 2 on author's responsibilities here.

To basically sum it up, she says, " So, I write to my internal reader--you read to see if my internal reader and your internal reader are kindred spirits. If they're not, we go our separate ways."

All of this reminded me of hearing Lois Lowry speak a few years ago. She was particularly touched at a book signing when a little girl walked up to her clutching a copy of one of her books. The girl told her, "I love this book. It fits me just right." Now, I think of that story often when I hear a child say that they don't like to read. They probably would like to read if someone helps them discover books that fit them just right. Shannon Hale says that we have to be responsible for our own reading experiences and if we find a book boring, put it down and find one that you like, one that fits you just right.

I think I sat through about a million discussions in graduate school on how each reader will have a unique experience when they read a book because they bring to the story their own experiences, likes, dislikes, prejudices, etc. so everyone has a different reaction. For example, I really don't like the book The Little Prince, but I know several people who say that is their favorite book (and please don't send me hate mail because I don't like it). That said, I think we've all read a book with an interesting plot, that we couldn't enjoy because of poor writing and that's a reflection of the power an author yields, not the reader.

The whole argument is pretty important to the world of kid lit blogging and reviewing, because it brings up the question of how much of your review is based on what you brought to the book as a reader and how much of it is strictly due to the author. If your review is solely based on your "internal reader"and not specifics from the book, it might misguide readers to or away from a book that they could have a completely different reaction to. When I review a book, I try to keep in mind what parts of what I liked and disliked the author is responsible for, but a lot of it is probably due to my personal preferences and experiences (or "internal reader" as Shannon calls it). Any reaction caused by my "internal reader" I try to specifically note or leave out so I'm not passing on unfair reviews, but it's really difficult to separate the two.

Picture Book Peeks

Oh, I do love the fall! The school supplies, the crisp weather, and the flood of new books! This fall seems to be especially well-stocked with new picture books by some of my favorite illustrators/authors. Have you been to the bookstore or library recently? I think you'll be pleased with the new titles you see. While I love to discover new artists and authors, who doesn't get a little thrill when they see something new from a favorite? Here are some new picture books that I'm excited about.

Old Bear by Kevin Henkes - A new picture book for the pre-school set, the text is extremely simple, but I'm in awe of the beautiful illustrations (which remind me a lot of the illustrations in A Good Day).

Madam President by Lane Smith - With the presidential elections underway, political picture books abound, but this one will have parents giggling as they try to read it aloud. I think this would be great to use with fourth and fifth graders when discussing the elections.

Thump, Quack, Moo: A Whacky Adventure by Doreen Cronin - Now I get sick of some series of picture books that seem stuck in a rut, but Thump, Quack, Moo is no such book. I laughed out loud as I read it to myself in the bookstore. The end is predictable if you know duck, but still enjoyable.

Too Many Toys by David Shannon - I'm always happy to see something new from David Shannon. This title dragged on a bit for me as it went on and on about all the toys young Spencer owns, till it finally got to the punchline at the end, but I suspect kids will enjoy exploring page after page of illustrations full of toys.

The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers - I heart Oliver Jeffers and this book is no exception. The nameless boy in this book seems to be the same boy from Lost And Found and How To Catch A Star (you'll even be able to spot a rowboat and a penguin in the illustrations), and I'll follow him on any of his imaginative adventures.

Little Mouse's Big Book Of Fears by Emily Gravett. I've heard virtually nothing about this book except what you can gather from the cover (it's a book about a mouse who is afraid of a lot of things), but Emily Gravett is swiftly becoming on of my favorite illustrators so I can't wait to pick this book up when it's released next week.

Fanny by Holly Hobbie - I'm admittedly not a fan of the new Holly Hobbie and friends series, but I appreciate Toot & Puddle enough to be interested in her newest picture book about a girl who begs for a new doll, but doesn't get it so decides to make her own. I spotted it in a bookstore today, but I haven't had a chance to check it out yet.

Now if we only had something new from Mo Willems . . . oh wait, we will. Granted it's not a new picture book, it's part of his easy reader series about elephant and piggie, but I'm looking forward to it. Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems is scheduled to be released October 14th, and a new picture book, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, is scheduled for January so I can't complain.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

Wow, the people at Harper Teen are doing their jobs because I cannot think of a more appropriate title for this book than Wicked Lovely.

High Schooler, Aislinn, has been keeping a secret her entire life. Just like her mom and her grandmother, she can see and hear faeries; magical beings the same size as humans who roam the Earth wreaking havoc unbeknownst to us. Aislinn fears what would happen to her if the secretive faeries knew she could see them so she panics when two faeries begin following her. She soon learns that one of her stalkers is Keenan the Summer King. He's convinced that Aislinn is his queen and will stop at nothing to convince her to join him

Aislinn finds solice in her best friend Seth's home. As her fear grows, she finally decides to trust in Seth's friendship and confide in him. Together they try to find a way to save Aislinn from the faeries.

Now let's be blunt, there are way too many references to sex, drinking, and drugs for me to ever recommend this to a teenager without fearing their parents might come after me, and yet, I could not stop reading! I could not relate to Aislinn because I found nothing about tattooed, pierced, sexually active Seth sexy. I mean really, it's supposed to be a romantic gesture that he went out and got tested for STDs just in case their relationship ever lead to anything (what about all of the other girls)? I know, I'm getting preachy and that's why I don't do much YA lit these days.

I thought the faery side of the story wouldn't appeal to me, but that's exactly what pulled me in. There was something Twilightesque about the way Marr changed all the beliefs I had about the faery world and made me care so much about what happened to them. There are actually A LOT of Twilight parallels here (the mythical creatures explained in a fresh way, the way our heroine should be threatened by the mythical creatures but becomes comfortable around them, the polar opposite boys dueling for our heroine's affection, the debate whether our heroine should become one of the mythical creatures . . .).

While it was sort of a guilty pleasure for me and not the sort of book I would normally recommend, Twilight fans looking for something new will enjoy this book and beg Marr for a sequel.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Board book trends

Parents often ask me to recommend board books, and being the parent of a one-year-old, I'm quite interested in board books myself, but there is not a lot of scholarly work about board books. It's known that babies are attracted to pictures with bright colors and high contrast, and the simpler, the better. Complicated backgrounds make it hard for them to focus, which is why you'll see a lot of board books with plain white backgrounds. They also love to look at other babies so you'll find a lot of board books that are basically just photos of babies on white backgrounds. Now, there's nothing wrong with those books, in fact, you should be sure to have some around because they will probably be the first books that appeal to your baby. Luckily, my son moved on to books that are a little more artful and interesting. Here's the rundown of some of our favorites in different categories.

The Classics

Yes, I know Board books only began to appear in the 80's but there are some classic out there, and just as you'd expect, they are some of my son's favorite books.

First off, I consider just about any board book by Sandra Boynton a classic. She is a master of board books. There are very few authors out there known for creating board books so she's tried and true. Our favorite has been Oh my, Oh My, Oh Dinosaur with Moo, Baa, La La La as a close second.
I cannot even begin to tell you how many time I've read Where's Spot? by Eric Hill. It just celebrated its 25th anniversary and it is well loved by many, as you will see if you check it out from the library because the flaps are much lighter material then the pages and many of them will be ripped off. Because of the less than sturdy nature, I'd recommend waiting on this one until your baby is used to the idea of being gentle with books.

Dear Zoo also just celebrated its 25th anniversary. It's another lift the flap book, much like Where's Spot, so again, be careful with the flaps or they will quickly be torn off.

Activity (lift-the-flap & touch-and-feel)

As previously mentioned, Dear Zoo and Where's Spot? are our favorite lift-the-flap books, but my son will be happy to read just about any lift-the-flap or touch-and-feel book. We especially love Matthew Van Fleet's touch-and-feel books Tails, and Alphabet. They are kind of in between regular books and board books because the pages are made of cardstock that is bendable, but difficult to destroy.

The reasoning behind wordless picture books seem sound, a child who can't read can pick up the book and enjoy it on their own, right? Well, my child still expects us to tell him a story as we turn the pages and he is unhappy if there is no commentary. That said, Trucks by Donald Crews is definitely a favorite around here.

Picture books converted to board books
In the last few years it seems there are a lot more picture books being printed in board book format. It's important to remember that board books are much shorter than picture books so the stories are adapted to the shorter length. I know a few children who have been surprised when they picked up the picture book version of their favorite board book and it had a lot more text and illustrations. When my son was really little, he tended not to be interested in these board books even though they were the board books I was most excited about. I think that's fairly normal since these books have a little more meat to them than books like "Baby's Feelings" with photos of babies and one word of text per page. Now, at 17 months, he prefers to listen to stories. Some of our favorite picture books turned board books are Olivia by Ian Falconer

The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Board books that are part of popular picture book series

These are not to be confused with picture books converted to board books. These books have the same characters are some popular picture books, but they are written and formatted with the original intent to be published as a board book. Both of the last two categories are especially great to help toddlers transition from board books to picture books because they graduate to longer books about characters they are already attached to. My son is currently transitioning. In most cases he will not sit through reading a picture book, even if the text is brief, unless it's about one of the characters from his favorite board books. He loves The Pigeon Loves Things That Go by Mo Willems and will happily sit through any of the pigeon picture books now. Clever way for publishers to snag readers when they are young, eh?

Now I will admit that not all of these books have been successes. We have how Do Dinosaurs Learn Their Colors and How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten and my son has never showed interest in either of them. In fact, they have been flung across the room during storytime more times than I care to admit. And I wonder if publishers are pushing their favorite authors/illustrators to churn out board books too. It seems like they are a becoming a bit formulaic. I know my son needs to learn colors and counting and opposites, but but come on, why can't we get a simple story now and then? Those formats just seems like an easy way to churn something out. Concept board books about counting and colors could be a whole category of their own, but I don't have much to say about them except that they abound. Admittedly, a few of them are irresistibly cute.
I guess I should just be grateful to be raising a baby when there are so many options for board books and they are some truly cute, original stories out there. I mean, who can resist Gossie by Olivier Dunrea?

Cha, cha, cha, changes!

I know, I know, where have I been? Thanks to all of the loyal readers who've sent me kind words wondering what's up.

The answer is: I moved! My husband finished his residency program at The Ohio State University and we've move to Utah so he can do a fellowship at the University of Utah (he likes to say he's trying to put off making any money as long as possible). The saddest part of the news is that I've lost my book club! I feel lost without them!

Not to worry though, a few of the other original members of the Ohio chapter of the children's literature book club also live in Utah now, and we're doing our best to put together a new Utah chapter of the book club. It looks as though the Ohio chapter will be following along. I can't wait to get things going this month and I've been saving several book reviews to help celebrate so look for lost of new posts throughout the month!