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: 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 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!