Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Just a Bit

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and received all the gift books your hearts desired. While I was traveling over the holiday, I took a break from "new" books and read some older ones that were sitting in my pile, like A Northern Light, a wonderful historical mystery by Jennifer Donnelly.

Last night I finished Seven Paths to Death, the sixth volume in the always fascinating Japanese mystery series by the Hooblers. This last installment was not my favorite and had a weak conclusion, but it doesn't diminish the rest of the series. If you haven't read this series yet, start with The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn. The third volume, In Darkness, Death, won an Edgar award.

I promised that if I found the other Newbery article I had read I would post it. Here is a link to the December 16th article from the Washington Post.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Arguing the Merit of the Newbery

It seems like this year the voices of the children's literature world have really spoken up against, and in defense of, the Newbery Award. The Newbery is an award given each year by the American Library Association's Association of Library Services to Children to the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published in English in the United States during the preceding year." For more on the criteria click here. The committee that awards the medal changes each year and is made up of librarians, booksellers, publishers, and sometimes other authors.

Suddenly, there is a really vocal outcry about the recent winners of the medal and whether they "appeal" to the audience who usually is assigned to read them - generally 5th graders handed a list by their teacher and told to pick a Newbery. Or by parents who want their child to read something "good." My former professor, the children's literature expert Anita Silvey, formerly editor of The Horn Book, wrote the first incendiary article this fall that sparked conversation and controversy all across children's bookdom. Here is a link to her article in School Library Journal from October. One of my colleagues was passing around another article this week (which I have since misplaced...I will post it when I see her tomorrow) that expressed displeasure at the seemingly esoteric recent choices. Finally, in defense of the Newbery, children's author Erica S. Perl rebutted on Slate.com yesterday.

I am torn by the whole issue. I advocated for both Criss Cross and Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! at Newbery time in 2006 and 2008 and was pleased when those books won. Both of those titles are attacked by librarians. On the other hand, I agree with the disappointment in The Higher Power of Lucky and Kira-Kira of 2007 and 2005. Honestly, the disagreement here seems to me like any other award from the Oscar to the Pillsbury Bake-Off--it's all a matter of taste.

The argument that makes me feel more passionate is this: now that the ALA has the Printz Award that recognizes contributions to the field of literature for teens, could the ALSC not change the upper age level considered by the Newbery committee for its prize? I think for some of the recent titles that would assuage some of the concerns felt by librarians and teachers. Now, when we have our mock Newbery discussions we're always leery. Last year it was this: "Does The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian fit the Newbery criteria? Because we think it's too old." Both Kira-Kira and Criss Cross walk that age line, as do recent honor books The Wednesday Wars and The House of the Scorpion.

Whatever happens this year and no matter what side of the issue you might take, I'm glad the issue has been re-visited. If nothing else, it's an exercise in critical thinking that I have enjoyed. Read the articles for yourself and let me know what you think.

In January, I will revisit the whole topic after our library's mock Newbery discussion.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mock Caldecott

I swear this is the last "list" post for another month! Yesterday, we held our annual mock Caldecott discussion and these are the books that we thought had the most oustanding illustrations by an American this year. I'm going to give you the whole list that we considered and then our collective vote at the end, so scroll down to the bottom of the post if you can't stand the suspense! These are alphabetical by title...

Cat & Mouse, by Ian Schoenherr

The House in the Night, illustrated by Beth Krommes

How I Learned Geography, by Uri Shulevitz

In a Blue Room, illustrated by Tricia Tusa

Little Yellow Leaf, by Carin Berger

The Moon Over Star, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

My Friend the Starfinder, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Old Bear, by Kevin Henkes

Trainstop, by Barbara Lehman

Twenty Heartbeats, illustrated by Ed Young

The Umbrella Queen, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

The Vanities, by Terence Lawlor

Wabi Sabi, illustrated by Ed Young

We Are the Ship, by Kadir Nelson

After taking a vote from the dozen librarians in attendance, our award this year went to We Are the Ship with honors for Wabi Sabi and Old Bear.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I'm not very far at all into Nancy Werlin's Impossible and I am already loving it so much that I just had to tell you. That's it!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Best New Fiction for Kids

It's getting late for me to post my last best-of list of the year - hopefully you're not quite finished choosing marvelous books to purchase for the kids in your life, or for yourself! These are the novels that I loved best this year.

Hummingbird by Kimberly Greene Angle

The Calder Game by Blue Balliett

Cicada Summer by Andrea Beaty

Masterpiece by Elise Broach

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo

Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff

Swindle by Gordon Korman

My Chocolate Year by Charlotte Herman

The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

Escape the Mask by David Ward

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Best New Picture Books

There are always so many wonderful picture books published, it's hard to keep up with them all and very hard to choose favorites. My favorites are a mix of gorgeous illustrations, fabulous writing, or sheer readabilty with kids - you're lucky if one book is all three. That said, here are my personal picks for the best of the year and the ones I would give as gifts to the kids in my life.

Hush, Little Dragon by Boni Ashburn

M is for Mischief: An A to Z of Naughty Children by Linda Ashman

In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck

Sally and the Purple Socks by Lisze Behtold

The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger

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

Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett

Old Bear by Kevein Henkes

Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman

Trainstop by Barbara Lehman

Santa Duck by David Milgrim

Penguins by Liz Pichon

The City Kid & the Suburb Kid by Deb Pilutti

A Kitten Tale – Eric Rohmann

Timothy and the Strong Pajamas by Viviane Schwarz

The Foggy Foggy Forest by Nick Sharratt

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz

To Be Like the Sun by Susan Marie Swanson

Blue Goose by Nancy Tafuri

The 3 Bears and Goldilocks by Margaret Willey

The Animals Came Two by Two by Christopher Wormell

Wabi Sabi by Ed Young

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Brand New Board Book Blog

Today a colleague sent me a link to a brand new board books blog, readertotz , which looks like it's going to be fantastic! A couple of picturebook authors/illustrators are the bloggers, so it already has a leg up. Check it out - I'm adding it to my blogroll.

Friday, November 28, 2008

So Many Pop-Ups

It seems to me that pop-up books are getting more and more popular and so we are getting more and more of them published each year. It makes me wonder how Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda have time to eat or sleep. A lot of times, I'm not thrilled with the sheer amount of text mixed in with the marvelous paper engineering and it makes me wonder if anyone actually reads them. However, there were two this year that I absolutely loved and felt were just right. These are Brava, Strega Nona! by Tomie DePaola with pop-ups by Sabuda and Reinhart and ABC 3-D by Marion Bataille, a name that was new to me. These two celebrate the craft of fabulous paper ingenuity without too much text, making them only a pleasure with no guilt.

Brava, Strega Nona! is an absolute delight. It celebrates the joys of family, food, and community life; all with references to Tomie DePaola's much loved heroine and the exploits of her friends. The first page is a huge, pop-up family tree with all of Strega Nona's relatives. On a page with a village scene there are little windows to open and lots to see - it's very detailed. My favorite page features a pop-out flood of spaghetti with poor Big Anthony getting swept away!

ABC 3-D has a wonderful website with a book trailer included so you can see for yourself what the book looks like as a pair of hands turns the pages and demonstrates the variety of creative movements that the book can make. I love this book because it is sheer paper engineering, without a story. Each letter has a unique design and some of them are extremely clever.

Both of these titles would make wonderful gift books for children, book lovers, or artists in your life.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Best Books from SLJ

Today School Library Journal issued their list of the 67 best books of the year for kids. It's ahead of their printed version, so here's a sneak peek of some wonderful choices: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6617203.html. Enjoy!

Friday, November 21, 2008

What I Saw and How I Lied

Hurray! The National Book Award Committee has done it again - What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell is an absolutely fantastic read and worthy winner of the prize.

I actually just finished reading the novel a few minutes ago and so I'm ready for a fresh rave. The plotting and pacing are impeccable. The characters are a winning mix of despicable and sympathetic. The humid Florida setting is so realistic I felt like I had to swim back to reality each time I took a break. And best of all, the ending is NOT tied up in a tidy bow. It's a noir-ish mystery, bildungsroman, and historical fiction.

This is the story of Evie, a 16-year-old girl living in Queens just after WWII. Her stepfather has just returned from the war and everything is going to be perfect. But Joe is not the same as he was before the war. He isn't as care free. When he proposes a trip to Palm Beach, Florida, Evie thinks it will be the break the family needs to get back to normal. Evie is also anxious to grow up and to be allowed to wear lipstick and more womanly clothes and to date. She longs to be a knock-out like her gorgeous mother, but knows that she is plain and young-looking.

In Florida, the family forms relationships with the sophisticated Graysons and the suave and mysterious Peter, with whom Evie falls in love. Joe begins to wheel and deal with Mr. Grayson, a hotelier, and leaves Evie and her mother to their own plans, which increasingly include Peter. Is Peter in love with Evie too? Maybe, but her mother is constantly with them, and Evie can't help but feel jealous of the attention Peter gives her dishy mom.

When the shiny veneer begins to wear off their idyllic getaway, and a mystery unfolds, Evie must come to terms with her parents as individuals with their own flaws and learn what kind of person she would like to become.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Best New Non-Fiction for Kids

Last week I shared my favorite teen books of the year. This week I'll gradually build my list of favorite kids books (again, that I've read so far), starting with non-fiction. These are the ones for those sometimes reluctant readers who are really intrigued with facts and amazing nature photos. These are the ones with inspiring stories or sneaky messages.

Nic Bishop Frogs by Nic Bishop

The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin

Imaginary Menagerie by Julie Larios

What the World Eats by Peter Menzel & Faith D'Aluisio

Trout are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre

10 Things I Can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Best Books for Teens 2008

Today our team of librarians did our annual book talk for the best and brightest teen books that we've read this year (this is our favorites session, not so much our critical acclaim session). Sadly, it being only November, not all of the best stuff has made it into our hands yet. So, as of today, these are my favorites:

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

The Fortunes of Indigo Skye by Deb Caletti

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost

by E. Lockhart

Trouble by Gary Schmidt
Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wonderful Escape

Now that I'm up, it's time to add my two cents to all the other wonderful reviews and agreement about the two best teen novels of the year, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Graceling by Kristin Cashore. It's unusual, but not unheard of, for the most highly acclaimed titles of the year to both be fantasy. So pick them up and lose yourself in an alternate world.

I read the ARC for Hunger Games this summer and was instantly sucked in to this bleak vision of a North American future where the population is divided into camps that are forced send their youth to an annual battle to the death. The Hunger Games are an annual televised "reality show" to the extreme in which a boy and girl from each of the 12 Districts must fight and kill each other until only one is left to reap rewards and the accolades of the the rest of the population.

Catniss, the fatherless and rebellious heroine, is so plucky, and hides her tenderness so well, you can't help but root for her in the brutal game of survival. She seems made to play the game. She knows how to hunt, how to create camouflage; she's lean and athletic and fierce and has few loyalties, even back home. Her balance in the game is the unexpectedly competetive Peeta, the baker's son from her own district. Peeta has always wanted to be friends with Katniss and she has always seen him as someone who pities her and she can't unbend. The two must balance their uneasy relationship with survival - and ultimately one of them must go.

What makes this negative Utopia more compelling than similar stories that have been told in the past is the depth of characterization. Even minor characters live and breathe and you have to root for them while knowing that their doom is imminent. There is a political element that is fascinating too - the players all have stylists and managers to help them appear more likable to the TV audience, even in this brutal battle. It's an interesting twist. The politics will probably be the focus of the projected sequel - one can only hope the sequel is as wonderful as this volume.

Collins was inspired by the myth of Theseus, which opens with the youth of Athens being sent to Crete to battle the Minotaur. If her name sounds familiar, she is the author of the wonderful Gregor the Overlander series for younger kids.

And now to Graceling...which I read earlier this fall. The story is set in a land with seven kingdoms, ruled by seven kings. Some of them are bad, some are good, some united, some isolated, but in all the seven kingdoms there are people with Graces. Those who are Graced are extremely skilled in one area, be it baking, swimming, climbing, or fighting, all of which manifest themselves when children are about ten years old. In most of the kingdoms, those with a Grace are feared, and they can be picked out because their eyes are two different colors.

Katsa (similar name, I know) is Graced with killing - she's King Randa's niece and he is a brutal leader, so he uses her as his strong-arm and assassin. As she grows older, Katsa becomes more and more reluctant both to kill and to be forced to do the king's bidding against her will. As the novel opens, we learn that Katsa is also part of an underground organization that works for the greater good and cooperation throughout the seven kingdoms.

And honestly, I can't go a lot further without giving away all the wonderful plot twists and turns. Seriously! There's a fascinating plot, vivid characters, action, fast-paced fight scenes, and a bit of romance. I thought The Hunger Games was going to be my favorite book of the year until I read Graceling. It is honestly one of the most fantastic novels I have read in years. It completely sucked me in and I could not read again for a while until I could disengage myself from the vivid world Cashore has created.

Kristin Cashore is a first-time author who plans to write a prequel and sequel to Graceling and one can only hope that she handles the new volumes with the finesse and skill she exhibited in Graceling.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Feeling Desperate about Despereaux

Today I had a couple of hours of ranting and raving and disappointment. We received our brand, spanking new The Tale of Despereaux: The Junior Novelization movie tie-in book. (An animated movie version of the Newbery Award winning novel opens in theaters December 19.)

Um....where to begin.

1. I can understand (maybe) that when an author sells movie rights she may lose control of movie tie-in junk. I hope that's what happened here. This thing is "by" Jamie Michalak AND Kate DiCamillo.

2. Candlewick? Hello? This is the very first disappointing thing Candlewick has ever done (that I've noticed) and I just can't figure out the motivation here. They're not even a publicly traded company! There should be more integrity. If it was Harper Collins doing a repackaging, I would understand, but Candlewick? Come on!

3. Since when is a movie tie-in junior novelization 219 pages? 90 pages and I would cut them all a lot of slack, but for 219 pages of drivel, why would you not just read 267 pages of marvelous, award-winning genius?

4. This is just my library beef, but because this is the newest holding we have for this title at the library, it's the one that's going to show up at the top of the page when a patron does a title search for The Tale of Despereaux. If you don't really know what you're looking for, this is the one you are going to check out or place on hold. Not the real deal. THIS.


And we begin again...

Hello Readers. Apparently, I have readers. The other day a new author, Catherine Urdahl, came into my library to tell us about her new book and while she was visiting she asked about the (formerly anonymous) author of this blog. She asked me...so I fessed up. And it made me realize that more people than my mother may stumble across this space and want to read more. If I had known that, I wouldn't have let things lapse so very badly! Sorry, y'all.

I figure that Catherine Urdahl deserves a shout-out for bringing this to my attention. Her picture book, Emma's Question, is about a little girl whose grandma is in the hospital and deals with questions of life, death, and illness. The book will be released by Charlesbridge Press in February. I haven't seen a copy yet, but it seems promising and the author is lovely.

In the meantime, I've done some minor re-designing of the site and I've added my GoodReads books, which should at least be fun to look at if I keep lapsing in my posts - which I promise (again) not to do!

So, if you've forgiven me for abandoning you, welcome back and see you soon!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Poetry Corner

National Poetry Month is April, just around the corner, so we at the library are busy preparing our Poetry Safari (a kind of poetry scavenger hunt) and receiving lots of new poetry books. The publishers know when to get those new ones out so we can use them while we're still excited about them.

First, I want to mention an oldie by goodie that I finally sat down and looked at today for the first time, Pocket Poems by Bobbi Katz. Teachers I know have raved about this little gem of a poetry book for a long time, but I just picked it up today (finally!). The concept centers around the titular poem by Bobbi Katz that begins,

With a poem in your pocket
a pocket in your pants
you can rock with new rhythms.
You can skip.
You can dance.

Each of the poems in this anthology is short enough to carry in your pocket on a small piece of paper. This is a perfect introduction to poetry and would be fun to use with kids in a classroom. Some schools have been embracing Poem in Your Pocket Day, so this is an obvious choice for that as well. Another example from the book, the limerick "Maggies Dog", on page 23, comes from an anonymous poet:

There was a young girl called Maggy.
Whose dog was enormous and shaggy.
The front end of him
Looked vicious and grim,
But the tail end was friendly and waggy.

My favorite poetry collection from 2007 was Here's a Little Poem, edited by Jane Yolen. This one received raves all around the kid lit community and is a perfect first poetry book for toddlers and other little ones. This one makes a perfect baby gift too! Illustrated by Polly Dunbar in her happy, colorful style, and with text in a variety of fonts and colors, poems are not at all intimidating.

Jack Prelutsky, our poet laureate, has a new collection of funny, silly poems, My Dog May Be a Genius. My co-workers and I had a riot reading them aloud to each other. This is definitely a worthy addition to his canon. How does this genius keep coming up with all this good stuff? I especially love his poem "I Have a Lamb" from page 115:
I have a lamb
that loves to dance,
it dances every day,
and every time
it has a chance,
it practices baaaaa-let.

Hee hee! How can you not get the giggles?

A really cool and different poetry book that is new this year is called A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry by Marjorie Maddox. This one is for an older audience and uses a variety of poetic styles to introduce packs on animals. Poems address such groups as a tower of giraffes, a murder of crows, a leap of leopards, and a charm of butterflies. The author's note at the end explains to readers the origins of these fun and descriptive terms and assures us that they are very real.

Enjoy some old or new poetry books today or wait until April, if you must.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sci-Fi Overload

This month I have read more sci-fi than in the last 10 years combined...and really it's only been the two books, mainly, so you can see how little sci-fi I read otherwise. These two kids books are worth a mention and a look.

Hungry by Althea Eason.
What would you do if your parents wanted you to eat the boy you're beginning to crush on, who also happens to be your best friend? If you were an alien family living undercover on planet Earth, this scenario would sound more plausible, right? That is just what is happening to poor Deborah, I mean Dbkrrrsh. She and her parents have been staking out Earth in order to help when it's time for the upcoming Invasion. While Deborah has always been able to feed on anonymous humans before, her parents want her to prove how loyal she is to the home planet by eating a human who is her friend. What's an alien girl to do?

While its one of the few (okay, only) hilarious sci-fi novels I've enjoyed in years, this is a refreshing coming-of-age story too. While there are lots of plot twists and complications, the story never stalls and is full of surprises. I recommend it - and it's always great to have a true juvenile sci-fi to recommend. Also, Deborah is not too girly, so this novel should appeal to readers of both sexes. And aliens too.

There's Nothing to do on Mars by Chris Gall
Davey Martin's family moved to Mars. There's nothing to do on Mars - Davey is sure of it. In the illustrations, the reader sees all the great things Davey could be doing, but he just thinks everything is boring. He zooms around on a space scooter with his robot dog, exploring the whole planet, finding all kinds stuff that adults will recognize (is that the Mars Rover buried in the sand? Davey calls it "an old toy"). Finally, Davey finds something fun to do that will change Mars forever. The retro kitchsy illustrations are great and compliment the 60's Space Race nostalgia of the text. The story can be read on an adult humorous level while the kids enjoy all there is to see. Warning: You may want to smack Davey for not appreciating all the awesome stuff on Mars. He's the epitome of the spoiled, whiney kid.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Princess and the Hound

The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison
In recent times, animal magic has been outlawed from Prince George's kingdom and other surrounding kingdoms. Those with animal magic are persecuted and sometimes killed. Unbeknownst to his kingdom, Prince George and his mother, the queen, both have animal magic and must fight to keep it hidden and in check in front of their subjects. Denying the animal magic can make them sick, so life is a constant balancing act.

When George is betrothed to Princess Beatrice of a rival kingdom, he fears what marriage might bring and the discovery of his secret. His fears are assuaged when he meets the princess and her hound companion. While it is obvious that she cannot speak to her hound, the two have an incredible bond. George finds himself obsessed with the connection between the princess and her hound and comes to better understand his own magic because of them.

Incredibly well-written and original, this fantasy love story is full of twists and surprises.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Hello Again

It's kind of appalling that I've been AWOL from my blog during the two biggest book months of the year. Appalling but understandable, I guess. I had started making you gift-buying lists, best of the year lists, mock awards lists; I've read tons of phenominal books and yet, nothing on the blog. It's been sooooo busy and I've been sooooo burnt out. So, my apologies for leaving you high and dry.

I was really happy with the American Library Association's awards choices this year. Only the Printz list was unfamiliar to me. (Okay, I was going to link you there, but it seems that ALA is having a lag to post its awards on the normal pages.)Otherwise, everything seemed pretty deserving and had been discussed by my fellow librarians in our own mock discussions. (Really! I'm not just saying that because I can.) Here's a link to Denver Public Library's website with the award winners.

Here is a list of great children's books (besides those that won awards) I read recently:
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller by Sarah Miller
Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis
When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullen
Underground by Jean Ferris
Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells
Hush: An Irish Princess Tale by Donna Jo Napoli
Peak by Roland Smith