My latest post is up at Shelf Space - My Own Private Library. Some of you may have noticed that my posting here is down; without the help of Carlie and Theresa, it would be pretty sparse.
I am in the midst of a move (along with with having recently started a new job, finishing up a book, and, oh yeah, the holidays) so posting time has been sparse. Over at Shelf Space at ForeWord, I mull over why we have private libraries and how the heck to organize them.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
My latest post is up at Shelf Space - My Own Private Library. Some of you may have noticed that my posting here is down; without the help of Carlie and Theresa, it would be pretty sparse.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Sherman Alexie mentioned in a recent speech that "There isn’t a lot of poverty literature in the young-adult world." The Ya Ya Yas noted that, and mused about how class figured in (or didn't) in a recent book.
And, in true blogger fashion, that's inspired a list! There are already a few books in the comments; go and add some, if you can think of any.
Because here's the thing; while my first reaction was "oh of course there are" and my second was "well, he didn't say there wasn't any, just that there wasn't a lot", I do think poverty and economics is an area that isn't always explored in books. Please, go leave suggestions of books at the Ya Ya Ya post. And check out LW's post on books about social class.
As you think about titles, consider this.
If it's a family struggling in the past, is it really about class? Or is the message of the book, people starved back in Little House in the Prairie days, but not now? Or is the message, hardships happen with war, but once the war is over, it'll be OK?
I mention historical fiction type books, because as I began to think of titles I realized many of them were set in the past.
Why is it important for kids to read? I was speaking with a woman about Alexie's book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and she read it, and she was giving it to her teenage granddaughter to read. Why? Because it's a great book; and she also wanted her middle class granddaughter to know that being poor isn't about not having the newest iPod. If a child lives in an affluent suburb, books are one way for them to know that other people live different lives.
On the flip side, as I've mentioned in the past, I had a parent object to Because of Winn Dixie for her 10 year old because she didn't want her child to know that people lived in trailer parks. Note, please, as readers of Winn Dixie know, that it was simply a trailer park. All I can wonder is -- what will happen when this child meets someone who was raised in a trailer park? I find it troubling, especially when the same family had read all the Little House books. Poor in the past, OK. Poor now? Not OK.
Anyway, go over to the Ya Ya Ya's and share some titles!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
NAOMI AND ELY’S NO KISS LIST by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 28, 2007
Basic Plot: Naomi and Ely have been best friends since birth and nothing, not even Naomi’s father having an affair with one of Ely’s mothers can change that – or so they think. Naomi is totally straight, Ely is totally gay – Naomi is totally convinced that one day, Ely is going to marry her and their lives will be wonderful. All that changes when Ely kisses Naomi’s boyfriend, Bruce the Second. It’s not just that Ely and Bruce betray Naomi – it’s more that Naomi finally realizes that the life she planned will never be.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed this book. I say surprisingly because Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist didn’t leave me gushing and I thought (based on the title, cover and authors) that this title would sort of follow the first. Then, when I started reading, I picked up serious “Will & Grace” vibes – but I like that show, so I kept on going. What hooked me though, was Naomi’s character. Ely, I could give or take, but Naomi just felt real – like someone I used to know in college – she’s sassy, beautiful, smart, fun and utterly wrecked by the situation in which she has found herself. Probably what I most like about Naomi’s character is that she comes to terms the world around her and makes herself into a better person (takes a bit of control of her life and her mom’s, stops stringing along Bruce the First, and is just a genuinely good friend).
Posted by Theresa at 11:09 PM
THAT GIRL LUCY MOON by Amy Timberlake
Release Date: August 6, 2006
REVIEW FROM ARC
Basic Plot: Lucy Moon is the girl who always stood up for what she believed – in years past, her causes focused on more worldly events, such as the working conditions for third-world workers, but this time, her energy is centered on battling one of the most powerful people in town to reclaim the best sledding hill in the neighborhood for public use. Lucy’s campaign begins with much energy, but by the middle of winter, she loses steam. Her mother left for a photography trip in the early fall and months later has still not returned, her relationship with her dad is strained, the kids at school have ostracized her because of the trouble participating in her campaign has caused, her best friend is maturing in ways she isn’t, and the principal is giving her major grief. It’s all too much for Lucy and she slides into a depression. But Lucy Moon without a spring in her step is just too horrible for thought and she finds confidence in herself and support from places she would never have expected.
This book has “make me into a movie” all over it. It’s funny, sad and even sweet. Lucy Moon is a very likeable character, and her emotions and reactions to events are real. Timberlake doesn’t paint Lucy as the perfect child, and that makes her much more appealing. Lucy’s anger, jealousy, ego and despair somehow fit perfectly with the other aspects of her personality and you can’t help but feel that Lucy, with all her faults, would be a wonderful person to know.
Posted by Theresa at 11:06 PM
Bullyville by Francine Prose
Release date: September 18, 2007
REVIEW FROM ARC
Basic Plot: Bart Rangely’s father leaves his mother for another woman. Though he’s been gone for several months, neither Bart nor his mother tell their friends or relatives. Then, his dad is killed in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. His mother, who worked in the same office, is saved from the same fate because she called out of work that morning in order to stay home with her sick child. Hailed as a miracle worker for inadvertently saving his mother’s life, Bart becomes something of a local hero and finds himself on the receiving end of much largess from the community. Among this outpouring of generosity is a full scholarship to a private school in town. Bart is not thrilled with the prospect of enrolling in Baileywell Preparatory Academy, but it seems to be the only thing that rejuvenates his mother, so he goes. The story that follows covers his year at Baileywell, I mean Bullyville Prep.
Let me again remind you that the review that follows is based on the ARC. I have not had the chance yet to review the published version, so in the event that things were changed, please pardon me.
I liked the premise of the book. Living in Central NJ, my town and surrounding communities were hit pretty hard by the September 11 attacks. And, in with all the awfulness of the news from that week, I remember many “miracle” stories – the father who stayed home from work to bring his daughter to her first day of kindergarten, the mother who missed her regular train because of a last-minute crisis that needed to be smoothed over, the newlywed couple who left for their honeymoon the weekend before… So, the idea of Bart’s miraculous tragedy (mom saved, dad not) really hit home.
That being said, I was only ho-hum on Bullyville Prep.
The book feels like two stories: tragedy and bullying followed by freedom and forming a friendship with a sick child. Prose ties together the two threads in the final chapters by relating the loss of the father with the SPOILER death of the sick child, but it doesn’t seem like enough. Then, and I really hope this changed in the final version, at the very end, the author has Bart looking back on his time at Bullywell as a FATHER. What is the point of that?! It totally didn’t belong and it made no sense.
Posted by Theresa at 11:05 PM
In the Garage by Alma Fullerton
Publisher: Red Door Press
Release Date: October 12, 2006
Basic Plot: Barbara Jean Belanger (BJ) and Alex Fitzgerald have been best friends since elementary school; and a more mismatched pair is not known in town. Alex is talented, athletic, handsome, intelligent, and popular; BJ is talented and intelligent, overweight and has a large birthmark on her face that has caused her to be the subject of much ridicule for most of her life. Since meeting up in third grade, the two have been each other’s greatest supporters, but that changes after an incident when BJ betrays Alex’s trust by stealing his journal. After reading his journal, BJ comes to realize how much Alex needs her friendship, but then, somehow the journal goes missing and ends up in the hands of people who would destroy them both.
UGH – this book makes me want to scream from beginning to end. I should preface this by saying – I LOVED this story. Fullerton combined so many emotions into this story that I felt as if I were on a roller coaster – but it was a great ride!
BJ has had an awful childhood – her mother – what an awful woman – basically abandons her in a car. But before she walks away from her daughter, the woman leaves her with emotional scars that could rival most of the characters in Oprah’s Book Club picks. (Maybe it’s my maternal instinct kicking in, but I seriously despised BJs mom – thank God Fullerton got rid of her early on – the woman was a witch who did not deserve to have a child.) So, BJ gets taken care of by her dad and grandmother and eventually, Alex.
Now, this is not a spoiler (because it happens in the first two pages) so I can tell you that something happens to Alex. Alex is a golden boy – there is no doubt about that. He has all the qualities most parents dream of for their children and, here’s the kicker – he is a NICE person. (Have you noticed that almost all the golden boys and girls in teen lit are nasty little people?) But, nothing he does measures up in his dad’s eyes – even though he’s a top student and key athlete, his dad wants him to always do and be more. AND, his father despises the fact that Alex is in a garage band. So, here we have this NICE person who just wants to “be” and who really relies on his friend BJ to be his rock. Add to the mix two very popular girls who have an interest in Alex and are very disturbed by his lack of response to his advances. Stir in mischief when these girls somehow convince BJ to steal Alex’s very private & personal journal. THEN, throw in David, an amazing vocalist who sings in Alex’s band, is gay and is inextricably attracting Alex – in short, you have what seems to be a mess but is really a story that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go until the end when you are staring at the page in disbelief and then crying. It’s an exhausting book that was so worth the effort.
Posted by Theresa at 11:05 PM
Walking on Glass by Alma Fullerton
Publisher: Harper Tempest
Release date: January 9, 2007
Basic Plot: Unnamed teen walks in on his mother’s suicide attempt and rescues her; his mom is left alive but in a vegetative state. Through journal entries written in verse, unnamed teen shares experiences of outgrowing a best friend intent on violence & crime and meeting and falling for a girl in the school choir.
So, did I like the book? I didn’t not like it. I know that isn’t an answer, but here’s the deal…I just can’t get past the part of not knowing the main character’s name. Why – why not just throw me that bone so that I can say, “Come on Doug (or Larry or John) – life goes on and you will get through this one day at a time!” There are many things that appealed to me – the verse style worked for this story (and generally, I am not a fan of this format) and the storyline was a good one, but it was very rushed. Granted, the book is 131 pages, so it has to be a rather quick wrap up, but really, is it enough to cover working through your mother’s attempted suicide, distancing yourself from a childhood friend intent on being the new neighborhood hit-man, opening up to a new girlfriend, a yuck relationship with your dad and making a decision to euthanize your mother? I think not – I know it’s supposed to be a quick read – and that it was – and I did want to know, “What happens next!” but it all felt anticlimactic to me. That being said – are there teens who will want to read this? Yes - oh, yeah! Bring it to them – I’m just picky – picky, picky, picky. And I like to really get into the whys and whats of things, and this book cheated me a bit on that.
Posted by Theresa at 11:04 PM
Hello fellow YA fiction & nonfiction lovers – it’s my pleasure to be a guest blogger with Ms. Liz. I am a teen librarian in Central NJ and have worked specifically with teens for about 6 years. Though I love the teens who come in to my library, I confess to being pleased that my own children have many years to go before being teens themselves. I will try to not wax poetic about them – as they are so highly advanced (heeheehee) – but every so often, you may hear me refer to them as Penelope, Paul and Petunia – and my husband, Martin, may get mentioning, too (but only if he has a truly excellent thought that is pertinent to what I’m writing) – so be prepared. Thanks for reading – Theresa.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, illustrated by H.B. Lewis. copy provided by publisher, Candlewick. Gift set.
The Plot: A little boy writes to Santa, asking for a real penguin. He's learned that one must be very specific with the old guy, otherwise when you ask for a sports car you get a toy sports car. So the boy is specific, down to the penguin's name: Osbert.
The Good: As you've probably realized, I got a box of cool holiday books from the folks at Candlewick. I pulled out this book and thought, hey I know this author; it took me a second and then I was, d'uh. She wrote Stone Circle, a great time-slip story set in Wales.
Topic. "Beware what you ask for." The boy gets a real penguin, and after the initial fun, the responsibility sinks in; as does the fact that the penguin is its own being, with likes, dislikes, and needs (like cold creamed herring with seaweed jam instead of chocolate chip waffles.) So the boy learns not just about being responsible for another living thing; but, also, that a being isn't a toy.
It's funny and sweet; and the narrator is a typical kid. I loved the surreal part of the story in that the parents are never pictured; from the narration, it appears that they just accept Osbert's existence, such as when Mom actually does serve cold creamed herring. And seaweed jam.
The toy: yep, it comes with a real stuffed penguin (no fear of frostbite.) Penguins are still an "it" toy, and Osbert is very soft and cuddly. A great read aloud for younger readers; the package warns to remove all tags, etc before giving to very young children.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
OK, sometimes other buzz words are used.
But basically, some parents believe that any book ever published should be written in a way that is OK for their child to read. Whatever the age, interests, etc. of that child are
This belief is especially true when the child is reading "above grade level;" any book written "above grade level" should be appropriate for their child.
Which is where we get the angry parents of an 8 year old who cannot believe what is found in a book for a 14 year old. Because, over and over, some parents seem to equate any type of grade level of books with being only about the vocabulary; sentence structure; the page length; rather than the content. And then are shocked and appalled at the fact that an age/grade recommendation also takes into account both what the book is about and the reader's maturity.
Alex Flinn has a must-read post about this. She links to an Amazon review that is also a must read so click through; I wanted to laugh because basically, it's the mother of a 4th grader (advanced reader of course!) whose child read a book for ages 12 and up and was shocked by the content and is rather angry that now she has to closely examine the books her son reads and the author should have geared the book towards a more mature audience.
First, I think everyone agrees; the book in question wasn't right for younger readers. But I cannot get over the mindset that it should be. And that somehow, she missed that the author did indeed gear the book towards a more mature audience, to use her phrase.
Second, it's a bit sad that the people getting books for this child didn't look further at the books being bought and ask questions of knowledgeable teachers, booksellers and librarians. Because if your child is truly reading that far above grade level, yes, you either have to closely look at what books your kid reads (something that this mother finds unacceptable) or speak to people who know more about the books and already took a closer look.
Anyway, what I also liked about Alex's post is she also addresses that wonder of how all kids seem to be above grade level and about how different kids start reading at different ages so why all the pressure to be reading HP at 4?
Edited to add: Christine raises a good point. What about the situation where it is the book being read in school? Now, we're not talking book banning and the like; we're talking the teacher having the "but they are so advanced" attitude so is using book(s) that are "too old" for the students.
Edited to correct Alex Flinn's name. This is what happens when you try to move and blog at the same time.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
If, like me, you still have some things to get for Christmas, take a peek at my latest post at Foreword's Shelf Space: Liz's Tips for Giving (and Receiving) Books.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
And now, another twist on the books for boys arguments.
To begin, in my meandering way, let me say I am a bit fascinated with the idea of making something look good by comparing it to something else and saying, the first thing is bigger/taller/smarter than the second, rather than just discussing the first.
Thus, it isn't enough to say Sally is smart; one must say Sally is smarter than Jen (and pity poor Jen.) Also, it then begs the new question: not whether Sally is smart, but is Jen smart? Etc. I always feel it is insulting to all three involved; poor Jen, whose smarts have been called into question, and poor Sally, whose smarts get lost in the comparison (and, who apparently, just has value when compared to another), and the person making the comparison, who felt it necessary to drag Jen into the mix to make Sally look smarter.
Anyhow. This often is a shorthand used in book reviews.
Critical Mass's series on recommending books includes Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. And I absolutely agree it's a great book; I plan on posting on it as soon as I have the time, and adding it my personal Best Books list (see sidebar).
But, the recommendation includes this line: "At a time when good YA books for male readers are few and far between".
I'm out the door on the way to work, otherwise I'd take time to snark about whether or not it was necessary to include that line; and about how Alexie's book is great, and that snipe at YA for boys shouldn't stand in your way of picking up Alexie's book; and how much YA has the recommender read, anyway?
My real point, and I'm there now, is let's take this challenge!
Name a few"good YA books for male readers" in the comments. Are they truly few and far between? How many titles do we have to get to prove that statement false? I know we are all busy, but c'mon, readers and lurkers! Help me out.
Looking for Alaska, John Green
An Abundance of Katherines, John Green
Postcards from No-Mans Land, Aidan Chambers
Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher.
Ack. The time! Please leave some more suggestions in the comments!
Posted by Liz B at 6:59 AM
Monday, December 10, 2007
Squiggles: A Really Giant Drawing and Painting Book by Taro Gomi. 2007. Copy supplied by publisher, Chronicle Books.
It's a coloring book.
"It's a coloring book" really is not a good description. Because it's so much more than the inexpensive coloring books one usually finds, where you can color in Barbie or Dora.
Maybe I'm the only one who obsesses about how things feel? Because the pages of this book feel gorgeous; not the scratchy yellowy pages but smooth cream.
This is not a cheap coloring book. This is almost a work of art. You should buy two copies. The first one for the intended recipient, a child. But you'll take it home, and go to wrap it, and flip thru it, and you won't be able to stop yourself because you'll be thinking, "this is a coloring book for grown ups. This is a coloring book for me. Wow, I used to have so much fun with crayons..."
And after you follow a line across the page, with the invitation, "Let's play in the mountains," and you accept the invitation, and start to color -- you'll go, "uh oh. This was supposed to be for Cheetah." And you'll buy a second copy. Save yourself that extra trip to the store and just get two from the get-go.
To get a better "feel" for how this book looks and works, take a look at this excerpt, provided by the publisher.
Blog from the Windowsill review
Jen Robinson's Book Page review
in the pages review
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Dragonology: Field Guide to Dragons by Dr. Ernest Drake. By Dugald A. Steer. Candlewick. Copy supplied by publisher.
It's About: Dragons!
The Good: The latest ology book revisits Dragons.
The design of the book has a "serious" feel; open the cover, and you find a spiral bound book, the Field Guide, along with twelve envelopes. Open an envelope (they only look like they are closed with sealing wax), and there are the pieces to one of the featured dragons.
I, of course, tried to put it together without looking at the instructions. Hint: the instructions help.
Being as this is a "field guide," there is a page dedicated to each dragon (and pseudo-dragons, like the Phoenix). My favorite? The Marsupial Dragon (drago marsupialis), who lays eggs "which it incubates in a pouch on its front." Food includes koalas and wombats. Habitat: do you have to ask?
As a field guide, it also includes lists of necessary equipment, such as heat-protective clothing.
I love the "pretend its real" aspect of these books; that it invites you to be part of the fantasy, not just an observer.
I also like how, like any reference book, this can be read however the reader wants to read it. Straight thru? That works. Skip ahead to your favorite dragons? Good idea. Examine the detailed drawings? Sweet.
Cybils Picture Book Nominations. If I read the book, it's in italics.
Becka and the Big Bubble: Becka Goes to San Francisco
by Gretchen Schomel Wendel and Adam Anthony Schomer; illustrated by Damon Renthrope
Buy from Amazon Buy from BookSense (your local independent)
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Taken from the Cybils blog. If its in italics, I read it. Going thru these lists always makes me wonder, how did I not read all these great books? Do I have enough time to read them now?