Friday, December 31, 2010

Books I Read in 2010 (Kathleen)

Apparently a lot of people make these lists, and like to see other people's lists. I'm not sure mine is totally accurate. This is based on a combination of my Goodreads list, my e-book history on my phone, and my reading history at the library (my library system will save your check-out history online if you allow it). It only includes books read for the first time in 2010. It may or may not be missing a few books. They are in no order at all, but I did put a star in front of those titles I rated five stars on Goodreads.

Blogger doesn't want to show you the line numbers, so I'll just tell you that there are 102 books on the list.
  1. Creepers, Joanne Dahme
  2. Tombstone Tea, Joanne Dahme
  3. Lompoc: Padres to Pinot, John McReynolds
  4. Rock What You've Got: Secrets to Loving Your Inner and Outer Beauty from Someone Who Has Been There and Back, Katherine Schwarzenegger
  5. Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker, #1), Paolo Bacigalupi
  6. *Lockdown, Walter Dean Myers
  7. Dark Water, Laura McNeal
  8. Breathless, Jessica Warman
  9. A Blue So Dark, Holly Schindler
  10. Red Glass, Laura Resau
  11. Cookie, Jacqueline Wilson
  12. On The Wings of Heroes, Richard Peck
  13. The Canning Season, Polly Horvath
  14. Bread and Roses, Too, Katherine Paterson
  15. The White Darkness, Geraldine McCaughrean
  16. The Slave Dancer, Paula Fox
  17. Peak, Roland Smith
  18. A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, Rebecca Solnit
  19. One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia
  20. As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth, Lynne Rae Perkins
  21. Louisa May Alcott, Susan Cheever
  22. Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream, William Powers
  23. Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy
  24. Colors of God, Dave Phillips
  25. Makers, Cory Doctorow
  26. Peter and the Starcatchers (Peter and the Starcatchers, #1), Dave Barry
  27. On the Hill, Lisa Jahn-Clough
  28. The Beatles: The Biography, Bob Spitz
  29. Starter Vegetable Gardens, Barbara Pleasant
  30. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, Molly Wizenberg
  31. Ash, Malinda Lo
  32. *Frindle, Andrew Clements
  33. Gimme Refuge: The Education of a Caretaker, Matt Love
  34. Illyria, Elizabeth Hand
  35. Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, Shannon Hayes
  36. The Clearing, Heather Davis
  37. Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated, Alison Arngrim
  38. The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963, Christopher Paul Curtis
  39. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green
  40. Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson
  41. *Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver
  42. Unwind (Unwind, #1), Neal Shusterman
  43. Forget-Her-Nots, Amy Brecount White
  44. The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Ranch Wife, Ree Drummond
  45. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1), Rick Riordan
  46. *Cabin Fever: Notes from a Part-Time Pioneer, William L. Sullivan
  47. Anastasia Krupnik, Lois Lowry
  48. Quaking, Kathryn Erskine
  49. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Kelly O. McNees
  50. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman
  51. The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food, Ben Hewitt
  52. *Mockingbird, Kathryn Erskine
  53. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith
  54. Shadow Tag, Louise Erdrich
  55. Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, Bill Buford
  56. Love is the Higher Law, David Levithan
  57. House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest, Craig Childs
  58. Heat, Mike Lupica
  59. For The Win, Cory Doctorow
  60. Red Inferno: 1945: A Novel, Robert Conroy
  61. Bamboo People, Mitali Perkins
  62. Anything But Typical, Nora Raleigh Baskin
  63. Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, Harriet Reisen
  64. Cracked Up to Be, Courtney Summers
  65. The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking, #2), Patrick Ness
  66. The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1), Patrick Ness
  67. The Drifters, James A. Michener
  68. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly
  69. Thy Kingdom Connected: What the Church Can Learn from Facebook, the Internet, and Other Networks, Dwight J. Friesen
  70. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Katherine Howe
  71. Alcott in Her Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of Her Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates, Daniel Shealy
  72. Live Sent: you are a letter, Jason C Dukes
  73. Genius of Common Sense, Glenna Lang
  74. Jenny Kimura, Betty Cavanna
  75. How to Hook a Hottie, Tina Ferraro
  76. *Crush It!: Why Now Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion, Gary Vaynerchuk
  77. The Dead-Tossed Waves (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, #2), Carrie Ryan
  78. Restoring Harmony, Joelle Anthony
  79. Elske (Kingdom, #4), Cynthia Voigt
  80. What I Saw And How I Lied, Judy Blundell
  81. *When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead
  82. One True Thing, Anna Quindlen
  83. The Glory Cloak: A Novel of Louisa May Alcott and Clara Barton, Patricia O'Brien
  84. Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, Francine Prose
  85. Hungry City, Carolyn Steel
  86. Lips Touch: Three Times, Laini Taylor
  87. The Sixty-Eight Rooms, Marianne Malone
  88. Bicycle Diaries, David Byrne
  89. Crunch, Leslie Connor
  90. Tin Lizzie, Allan Drummond
  91. I Am the Ice Worm, Maryann Easley
  92. Sweet Treats & Secret Crushes, Lisa Greenwald
  93. Zombies vs. Unicorns, Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier
  94. *The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, Carol Deppe
  95. White Sands, Red Menace, Ellen Klages
  96. Edges, Léna Roy
  97. The House of Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne
  98. Agnes Grey, Anna Brontë
  99. The Abbot's Ghost, Louisa May Alcott
  100. The Sleeper Awakes, H.G. Wells
  101. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë
  102. Origin, J.A. Konrath

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mock Newbery in Oregon

I just came across this in my local newspaper -- a group of kids at Boones Ferry Primary in Wilsonville, OR (near Portland), have chosen Out of My Mind as their Mock Newbery winner. There's also a nice picture in which they're all holding up books (presumably their individual favorites?).

I haven't read Out of My Mind. What say you?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reflections on the 2010 National Book Awards (YPL)

I've finally finished reviewing all five of the 2010 National Book Award finalists in Young People's Literature. Yes, I did read them all before the award ceremony! But I didn't get my review of Ship Breaker posted until yesterday.

Naturally, I'm thrilled that Mockingbird won. Of the five books, the two I rated most highly were Mockingbird and Lockdown (both got five of five stars on Goodreads). I gave four stars to both One Crazy Summer and Ship Breaker, and three stars to Dark Water.

Mockingbird is still my favorite, mainly because I think Kathy Erskine nailed the voice of Caitlin, an eleven-year-old with Asperger's Syndrome, as well as the reactions of the people around her.

One Crazy Summer and Mockingbird are both being discussed as Newbery contenders on Heavy Medal. However, the guidelines and criteria for the National Book Award are very different from those for the Newbery Medal. The NBA is awarded by a panel of authors, who are allowed to make up their own criteria, while the Newbery Medal is decided by a committee of librarians, who are given very strict criteria. So winning the NBA doesn't make Mockingbird a favorite for the Newbery; in fact, One Crazy Summer seems to be holding that position.

So what's next? I may read a few other Newbery contenders, but as we're heading into the holiday season, I have no formal plans.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

This is the fifth and final installment of Kathleen's reviews of the 2010 National Book Award finalists in Young People's Literature.

Ship Breaker is a dystopian novel, set in a post-oil future. Oil is scarce, and the earth is showing the effects of climate change (New Orleans is all or mostly underwater). The rich have developed alternative travel technology in the form of fast-moving clipper ships, but naturally these are only available to the rich.

The poor, like Nailer, live in squats, camps and shacks, and earn a bare living doing salvage work or working in shipyards. And the workers aren't much better off than slaves. Nailer's job is to scavenge copper wire from wrecked and abandoned oil tankers in the Gulf of Mexico. But a "city-killer" hurricane leads him to a clipper ship, a girl, and adventure.

The book is fast-moving and cinematic. Bacigalupi's descriptions of Nailer's adventures would fit right into an action movie. It's also suspenseful and kept me reading.

Bacigalupi has a sequel on the way, titled The Drowned Cities. It's due out in 2011.

Friday, October 29, 2010

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

This is the fourth of Kathleen's reviews of the 2010 National Book Award finalists in Young People's Literature.

As you may have heard, One Crazy Summer is the story of three sisters who are sent to spend a month with their mother, in Oakland, California, in 1968. Their mother doesn't seem to particularly want them there, so she has them spend their days at a Black Panther day camp. In day camp, the children learn "Power to the people"-style slogans, make "Free Huey" posters, and post flyers for a big Black Panther rally, which is the climax of the book.

The story is told through the older sister, Delphine, who is the only one old enough to remember their mother at all (she was four or five when her mother left them). She's eleven in the book.

It was a quick read for me; I think it's well-paced for middle grade children. The period details are good, but not overwhelming -- the focus is really on the story, and the mother and children finally coming to terms with each other. Delphine's voice is well done; she's an eleven-year-old who's had to grow up too quickly and help take care of her sisters, but she still has the emotional maturity of an eleven-year-old.

I also thought the development of Cecile/Nzila was well done. She's totally off-putting at first. I wondered what in the world their father was thinking, sending them out there. And she doesn't change that much during the book. But there are little things along the way. She starts accommodating the children in small ways: giving them a radio, letting Fern into the kitchen to cook, and getting a stool for Fern to sit on in the kitchen. And more. It's subtle, and gradual, and she's not a completely different person at the end of the book. But she has made a little bit of room for the children in her heart, and (one hopes) in her life.

I've noticed elsewhere that people have nitpicked on the geographical details. I've lived in Oakland, and felt like the atmosphere described in the book fit. The geographical details are fairly vague (or renamed, or made up; I'm not sure), and this was well before I lived there, so I never placed the story in any particular location in my head.

Overall: excellent story and writing. I can see why it's in the award-watch category.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sweet dreams

Last night I went in my daughter's room to tuck her in and turn out the light. She had started a new book.

"The animals can talk, in Narnia," she said thoughtfully. "The beavers can. And going through the wardrobe is cool."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

This is the third of Kathleen's reviews of the 2010 National Book Award finalists in Young People's Literature.

I had never read anything by Walter Dean Myers before, despite his award-winning status, so I really had no idea what to expect from Lockdown.

This book took me into another world, but not a fantasy, sci-fi, or dystopian post-apocalyptic world. It's the world of a juvenile detention center, and a world where violence, drug use and drug-dealing are common. And yes, it is also a world of mostly non-white people.

The blurb says "Lockdown explores an unlikely friendship between fourteen-year-old Progress inmate Reese and a man he meets through his work program at a local senior citizens’ home. " However, this is only part of the story. Myers shows us the violence inside the detention center, the cluelessness, cynicism, and cruelty of several adults there, and the cycle that keeps so many detainees coming back into the prison system.

Reese matures in this book, but at a reasonable pace. He starts figuring out what he needs to do to stay straight on the outside, but he doesn't have it all together by the end of the book. And he makes plenty of mistakes throughout.

Interestingly, the adults in the book grow, too. Mr. Hooft at the senior citizens' home at first fears Reese, because he is African American and an inmate, but learns to accept him and perhaps call him friend. Mr. Pugh, a guard, is a bully at first, but becomes friendlier later. And other adults who seem to think there's no hope for Reese begin to come around, too. I think this adds a lot to the book.

Lockdown is rich with detail and action. When I finished reading it, I actually went straight back to the beginning and read the first few chapters over again, because I felt like I hadn't gotten everything out of them the first time. If I didn't have several more books to read, I might have read it straight through again!

I think this book might be a keeper -- I'd like to read it again and get to know it better. Definitely award-worthy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dark Water by Laura McNeal

This is the second of Kathleen's reviews of the 2010 National Book Award finalists in Young People's Literature.

Fifteen-year-old Pearl is the child of recently divorced parents, pretty much abandoned by her father. She and her mother are economically destitute, living in a cottage on her uncle's avocado ranch in southern California while her mom earns money as a substitute teacher.

Pearl falls in luuuuuuv with an undocumented immigrant ranch worker and starts making all the wrong choices, one of which leads to someone's death.

The book is well-written, and there are some gems, like this:

I've always been suspicious of those who say, Things happen for a reason and What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. things happen all the time for no reason at all, and what doesn't kill you scares you witless.

But Pearl drove me nuts a lot of the time. She's selfish and petulant. Like a teenager, which she is. But her realisticness was annoying rather than endearing. Maybe a teenager reading this would see it differently?

I can see that Dark Water is well done. I just didn't enjoy it enough to say "Yes, this is one of the best books of the year."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

National Book Award Finalists, 2010

Back in March, I reviewed a new book called Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine. I loved it, and my 10-year-old daughter loved it, and I said

I'm predicting that MOCKINGBIRD will be one of the best middle-grade/YA novels of the year.

So I'm very excited to share that Mockingbird is now a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People's Literature!

The other finalists include:

I haven't read any of the others. I've heard a lot of buzz about One Crazy Summer, and I do have it on my to-read list. I think I'll add the others, read 'em, and report back. The National Book Awards Dinner and Ceremony is on November 17, so I've got a month!

Has anyone else read any of these books? Do you have a favorite in this race?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Uncle Hobart will never be the same

Since I am now 34 and not nine years old, and since I just went to see Ramona and Beezus, I've been pondering the question below. Please vote, and feel free to comment with casting suggestions. As I looked over my bookshelves I thought, "Hmm... Uncle Pin, as played by Sean Connery?"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Killer Cows, by D.M. Anderson

Killer Cows is the first novel from D.M. Anderson, a middle school language arts teacher in Portland, Oregon. It’s published by Echelon Press, a smaller publisher, and currently available as an e-book. The paperback version is scheduled to be out in August 2010.

Randy Meyer and his mother have recently moved to fictional Satus Creek, Oregon from Portland. They’ve moved around a lot because of difficult financial circumstances, and Randy hates being the new kid.

But then a meteor crashes on a nearby farm, and a mysterious cow starts trying to run down the town bully…and then the world. And only Randy and his friends can stop them!

Killer Cows was really fun to read, despite my not being an adolescent boy. Yes, there is fart-joke humor, but it’s not the focus of the book. It’s just a fast-moving, fun story that young people will enjoy.

Now. If you’re nit-picky like me, you’ll notice that this book could have used more careful editing. I’m figuring this has something to do with the small publisher. It’s worth overlooking the errors.

I think this book will be most enjoyable for ages 9 and up, but like I said, it was fun for me to read, too. I look forward to reading more books from Mr. Anderson.

Killer Cows is available now for Kindle and in other e-book formats, and it's only $2.99!

Read my interview with author D.M. Anderson at

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Book Challenge Update: The Sixty-Eight Rooms and Wrap-Up

Technically I have another hour left in my 48, but I'm going to close my 48-hour Book Challenge after this post.

But first, The Sixty-Eight Rooms. Ruthie and Jack discover a magical key that allows them to shrink down to five inches tall and explore the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. I haven't seen the real thing, but this is a real exhibit -- sixty-eight perfectly detailed, miniature rooms representing various countries and historical periods.

Of course, there are similar books already out there -- From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Night at the Museum both come to mind, as well as The Diamond in the Window, which has kids both shrinking to dollhouse size and entering other time periods. But it's still a well-told and engaging story.

Now for the statistics.

Since last post: Time spent reading, 2 hours, 15 minutes. Time spent blogging: 10 minutes.

Total accumulated time: 15 hours, 35 minutes.

Number of books read: 4 entire novels. 1/3 of Unwind, which I had started reading before. One chapter of a non-fiction book. One poem and several speeches/scenes from Shakespeare.

I love to read, but I have to admit that this was pushing it a bit for me. Maybe if I'd spread it out a little more, it would have helped. It's weird, because most weekends I'm wishing I could just sit around and read. I guess all I really want is a few solid hours, and maybe I can make room for that.

Book Challenge Update: Wintergirls

I've just emerged from another world, and feel as though I'm still waking up.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson takes you inside the mind of an anorexic 18-year-old, and it's a frightening trip. Definitely well done, although the frequent use of strikeout-text annoyed me (it annoys me on the internet, too).

I'm afraid I stopped to nap after an hour of reading this. But after the nap, my 10-year-old asked about the quotation "something wicked this way comes" which she saw used in Harry Potter movie preview. I pulled out our complete Shakespeare, and we read the "double, double, toil and trouble" scene from Macbeth, as well as several other famous scenes and speeches from Shakespeare. And we read the poem "The Phoenix and the Turtle" to see what that was about (we're still not sure).

And then I finished Wintergirls. Wow.

Since last post: Time spent reading Wintergirls, 3 hours. Time spent reading Shakespeare: 20 minutes. Time spent blogging: 10 minutes.

Total accumulated time: 13 hours, 10 minutes.

Book Challenge Update: Calpurnia Tate

I'd seen a few discussions of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate prior to reading this book. It's slightly controversial because of its use of the terms quadroon and octoroon.

I do agree with Laurie that seeing quadroon on the second page of the book was surprising, and it didn't seem necessary there. The words are presumably used to provide cultural context for 1899 Texas. Octoroon seems more in context in the following passage, and quadroon might have fit in better here. Viola, by the way, is the family's cook.
Viola's skin was no darker than mine at the end of summer, although she was careful to stay out of the sun, while I didn't care. She was only one fourth Negro, but that made her the same as full- blooded. I guess she could have "passed" in Austin, but that was a terribly risky business. If the passer was unmasked, it could result in a beating or jail or even worse. An octoroon woman in Bastrop had passed and married a white farmer. Three years later, he discovered her birth certificate in a trunk and pitch-forked her to death. He only served ten months in the county jail.
Was either term necessary? Maybe not. But it does help paint a picture of the time Calpurnia lived in, which placed limits on people of color as well as on girls and women. And Calpurnia's story is about how she deals with those limits. Calpurnia is interested in (and talented in) Science, not in the housewifely arts she is expected to learn. And she doesn't really come to any resolution about this -- at the end of the story, we're still left with her parents expecting her to be like other girls, and Calpurnia not liking this. But Calpurnia's grandfather encourages her and teaches her, so perhaps there is hope for her. I'd like to see a sequel.

Since last post: Reading time, 2 hours, 45 minutes. Blogging time: 15 minutes.

Total accumulated time: 9 hours, 40 minutes.

Book Challenge Update: The Dead-Tossed Waves

The Dead-Tossed Waves (by Carrie Ryan) has been on my Goodreads list for a long time, so of course I have no idea how it got there. And it turns out that it's a sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth, although I think it held up well by itself.

In this story, humans have learned to live in and protect themselves from a world infested with zombies. But Gabry finds herself repeatedly leaving the protection of her walled town, eventually leaving for good, and having a couple of romances along the way.

I put in 3 hours, fifteen minutes on The Dead-Tossed Waves, and now I've moved on the The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, which has also been on my Goodreads list forever. Apparently this book is somewhat controversial. I'm actually enjoying it. I read it for an hour last night and I'm going to pick it up again now.

Since last post: Reading time: 4 hours, 15 minutes. Blogging/networking time: 10 minutes.

Total accumulated time: 6 hours, 40 minutes

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Book Challenge Update: Time for New Material

So I've been reading this book I'm supposed to review for a different blog, which has a rather long and interesting title:

Who Really Goes to Hell?


What a Protestant Bible written by Jews says about
God’s work through Christ

(A book for those in the church and those offended by it)

However, it took me nearly an hour to read nineteen pages plus a foreword. It's interesting and makes sense, but it's also dense and more difficult to read. And it's a PDF on my computer, which is also harder for me to read. So I think I'm gonna switch it up and read some of my library books instead.

I also have few remaining responsibilities for the evening, so I can devote myself to books.

Time reading since last post: 50 minutes. Time blogging: 15 minutes (2 entries). Total accumulated time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

Book Challenge Update: Unwind

Just so you know, I'm not taking this super-seriously. I just looked at someone else's posts which detailed their hours spent reading and then writing about the books, and I'm just not going to go into that much detail. I'm also not going to spend every waking hour on this. But I will be reading!

Unwind was a really good story. It's about a future in which people can send unwanted teenagers to be harvested for body parts, and in which there is a huge market for such parts. Basically, people just replace broken body parts instead of attempting to heal them. If you break an arm, you can just get a new one instead of having a cast put on. Bald? No problem. Get a new scalp.

The story follows three characters: Connor, whose parents are sending him to be "unwound" for being unruly, Risa, who is a ward of the state and is being unwound to save money, and Lev, who is being "tithed" by his super-religious family.

At first it seems rather ludicrous -- after all, what kind of parent would really give up their teenager, no matter how unruly, to be unwound? But there is an explanation for how all of this came about. And I'm not going to tell you what that is, because that's part of the book -- things get revealed.

Reading time last night: 1 hour. No, it didn't take me an hour to read -- I was already 2/3 through it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

48 Hour Book Challenge

Okay! I'm gonna do this. I'm gonna read as much as I can for 48 hours (like I don't do that anyway). Check it out over on MotherReader. Heck, you can probably still sign up yourself!

I'll be working around a softball game and other normal family activities, but I'll keep you updated on the books I'm reading. Tonight I'm reading Unwind by Neal Shusterman.

Official starting time: Friday, June 4 at 11:24 p.m.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Clearing by Heather Davis

Amy has recently ended an abusive relationship, and is being sent away from her hometown, Seattle, to live with her aunt in a small, rural town in Washington state. She’s not too sure about the other kids in town, but just before school starts, she meets a boy she does like, out in the back of her aunt’s farm somewhere.

And it turns out that Henry really isn’t like those other kids. He doesn’t show up in school, because he’s actually stuck in a little pocket of 1944 that’s hiding on Aunt Mae's land.

But Amy doesn’t spend all her time with Henry. She’s also re-learning how to interact with kids her own age, especially boys, with whom she is naturally skittish.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it was satisfying. I really liked this book and stayed up late to finish reading it. Definitely recommend!

Find out more about author Heather Davis at her website.
This review is part of an ARC tour through Around the World Tours.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Forget-Her-Nots by Amy Brecount White

The blurb:
When someone leaves three mystery flowers outside her dorm door,Laurel thinks that maybe the Avondale School isn’t so awful after all — until her own body starts to freak out. In the middle of her English presentation on the Victorian Language of Flowers, strange words pop into her head, and her body seems to tingle and hum. Impulsively, Laurel gives the love bouquet she made to demonstrate the language to her spinster English teacher. When that teacher unexpectedly and immediately finds romance, Laurel suspects that something — something magical — is up. With her new friend, Kate, she sets out to discover the origins and breadth of her powers by experimenting on herself and others. But she can’t seem to find any living experts in the field of flower powers to guide her. And her bouquets don’t always do her bidding, especially when it comes to her own crush, Justin. Rumors about Laurel and her flowers fly across campus, and she’s soon besieged by requests from girls — both friends and enemies — who want their lives magically transformed — just in time for prom.

Another blurb on the cover of Forget-Her-Nots says something about Laurel discovering that she's part of a "secret society" of people who know the language of flowers. My daughter read that and immediately asked "How can someone be part of a society without even knowing it?" I promptly replied "Harry Potter, hello?"
And there are similarities -- Laurel's attending boarding school, and learning her own brand of magic. But instead of attending a school for magical people, she's learning her magic in the midst of the Muggles.

Laurel's a freshman in this book, but boys and girls from all years of high school (as well as adults) are part of the story. It will probably appeal most to girls ages 12 and up.

I enjoyed reading the story, as well as learning a bit more about the Victorian language of flowers, which was actually used in the 19th century to convey messages to friends and romantic interests. You might recall the words Ophelia used in Hamlet: "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies. that's for thoughts." Shakespeare wrote that long before the Victorian era, but the meanings remained and are included in Forget-Her-Nots. And in Louisa May Alcott's Jo's Boys, she has Demi propose to Alice using roses, and Alice gives her response accordingly. So the idea of using flowers to convey feelings and messages was both familiar and charming.

Amy Brecount White lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband, three kids and Jessie the Wonder Dog. Forget-Her-Nots is her first novel.

This review is part of an ARC tour through Around the World Tours.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Restoring Harmony by Joëlle Anthony

Heading off on her own to a big American city might have been a fun adventure for sixteen-year-old Molly McClure in the good old days before the Collapse, when nearly all the oil ran out; but in 2041, when family calamities strike all at once and Molly must leave her isolated farming island in Canada for the very first time, the world she meets is anything but fun.

Hey! Peak oil is one of my, er, favorite subjects. Not that I want us to run out of oil, just that I think it’s a real possibility. So of course, a fictional treatment of the situation intrigued me. Author Joëlle Anthony is also a former schoolmate; we attended the same high school in Portland, Oregon.

Restoring Harmony follows Molly from her home in Canada to the Portland area; her grandparents live in Gresham, just outside Portland. Molly has to travel alone to Portland because her grandmother has been ill, but due to spotty telecommunications, they don’t know whether she’s still alive or whether her grandparents need help. And Molly’s mother is nearing the end of a high-risk pregnancy and the local doctor has died, so they want her grandfather, also a doctor, to move to the island to help out.

This novel is full of action, as Molly moves from one crisis to the next. Sometimes it feels like the crises are resolved too quickly and easily; I would have been happy to delve further into the problems of a post-oil world, although the pacing may work just fine for young adult readers.

Anthony’s detail and description are very good; her descriptions of Portland are spot-on. In fact, a day after reading this novel, I rode MAX (the local light rail system) into downtown, and seeing all of the graffiti and damaged or abandoned buildings along the rail line, it wasn’t hard to imagine Portland descending into disrepair pretty quickly, something like this:

From the wide windows I could see an old highway on one side, rutted with potholes and so overgrown that saplings had struggled through the cracks. A few people walked along it, and I saw a couple of carts and horses, and more cyclists than we have on our entire island.

Another thing I appreciated about this novel is that it doesn’t involve teenage sexual activity, which seems to be a feature of so many contemporary young adult novels. There is a romance, but the focus of the story is on the action – getting to Portland, getting food and money, getting back to Canada.

Restoring Harmony is a good first novel. Again, I’d like to see Anthony go a little deeper into the crises, and not resolve things so easily (one technology solution in particular made me uneasy; as a sci-fi reader it didn’t seem plausible to me). But it’s an enjoyable read, and I would recommend it especially to young adults who like reading about dystopian futures.

Restoring Harmony will be released May 13, 2010, and is currently available for pre-order. This review is part of an ARC tour through Around the World Tours.

Friday, April 2, 2010


This week I've been visiting my sister Wendy (we live far apart) so we had the pleasure of discussing the Fuse #8 Top 100 Children's Novels countdown each morning. (Before I got to Wendy's, I was in Portland, where I spent an afternoon exploring Beverly Cleary's neighborhood with my mom, sister Kathleen, and eldest niece. My family is pretty great.) Last night we came up with what we are absolutely certain will be 1-7 (though we are not certain about the order). Anything else we will consider a major upset.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (#5)
The Giver (which was indeed #7 this morning)
A Wrinkle in Time (#2)
Holes (#6)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (#3)
Charlotte's Web (#1)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (#4)

I have read and liked all of these books (two of them, Mixed-up Files and Wrinkle, were on the top ten list I submitted), so I'm OK with this list. But Wendy and I were feeling melancholy over the books that are not on the Top 100 list at all, such as Anastasia Krupnik (which is, at least, referred to in the post about The Giver) and Wendy's beloved The Diamond in the Window.

Here's the updated complete list of what's in the Top 100 so far.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

MOCKINGBIRD is due out April 15, 2010, and is currently available for pre-order. This review is part of an ARC tour from Around the World Tours.

Caitlin is a ten-year-old girl with Asperger’s syndrome. She’s recently lost her older brother, and she lives with only her father (her mother also died, of cancer, several years previously). Devon's room, all of his things, and his unfinished Eagle Scout project are still in the house, and Caitlin and her father are still haunted by The Day Our Life Fell Apart. This book is about Caitlin’s search for Closure for herself and for her father.

Author Kathryn Erskine does a beautiful job of immersing the reader in what it is like to be Caitlin. You’ve heard that an author should show, not tell? This book is a perfect example; rather than telling us what it’s like to have Asperger’s syndrome, Erskine puts the reader squarely inside Caitlin, while also showing us the reactions of people around her.

I also like that neither Caitlin nor the other characters are perfect. They are flawed human beings that the reader can relate to. While understanding Caitlin’s point of view did make me sympathetic toward her, there were also times when I could sympathize more with the other characters’ frustrations with her! But those other characters, especially the adults, also have flaws. They don’t always Get It when Caitlin is trying to communicate. Caitlin’s father sometimes behaves selfishly in his own grief.

My ten-year-old daughter also read MOCKINGBIRD and enjoyed it. While she couldn’t tell me anything in particular that she liked, I can tell you that she read it in one sitting and complained when I interrupted her reading for dinner.

I'm predicting that MOCKINGBIRD will be one of the best middle-grade/YA novels of the year. It’s already been nominated for the ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults list. I think it’s really a middle-grade novel (the publisher has it marked for ages 10 and up), although young adults will enjoy it, too.

According to Erskine, this book was inspired both by her daughter, who has Asperger’s syndrome, and by her own reaction to the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech.

“In the aftermath of this tragedy, Kathryn was driven to understand how community and family – particularly families with special needs children – dealt with this violent event, and how our lives might be different if we understood each other better.”

Ms. Erskine was kind enough to answer a few questions for me by email; here is the interview.

You really immerse us in how Caitlin, a girl with Asperger's syndrome, sees, hears, and feels the world. I know you have a daughter with Asperger's, but did you do anything else to help you get inside that point of view?

Yes, I read LOTS of books on Asperger's, researched, observed, took workshops, etc. I do that in all my writing. I have two dozen books and maps of Medieval England and Scotland on my desk right now for one novel, and all kinds of details of my own town's recent history, including first-person accounts, scattered around my feet for another novel. It's important to me to be able to tell a story as authentically as possible.

My ten-year-old daughter also read MOCKINGBIRD. She would like to know why the dialogue is written in italics, instead of with quotation marks.

I did that because my own daughter had no use for conventions like punctuation, spelling, or capitalization norms. I wanted to mirror the way she described her world as well as how she saw her world. In fact, I started writing the manuscript with random capital letters in the middle of sentences and lower case letters at the beginning of sentences but it really was too confusing for most of us to be able to follow! I compromised by using no quotations and no punctuation except periods (and commas only to introduce dialog). I felt that making it a little bit difficult or odd for the reader would help bring home the point that people with Asperger's experience differences in every aspect of their lives.

Which is your favorite scene in the book?

That's a tough one, but I think it's the scene in the cafeteria when Caitlin is trying to make friends. It shows how awkwardly she comes across but how difficult it is for her to communicate the way kids generally do.

You were a lawyer before you were an author. When and how did you know you wanted to switch?

My mother died when she was right around retirement age. She'd always wanted to write and she wrote beautifully. I'd always thought I'd wait until retirement to write seriously. I realized that if you really want to do something, you should do it right away -- like today.

What are you working on now?

I just finished the edits on my next book, THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE, which comes out in the summer of 2011. I'm working on several projects: a middle grade novel dealing with endemic racism, a middle grade adventure set in the Middle Ages, and a contemporary novel about a girl and neighborhood adjusting to tough economic times--as well as a picture book and a novel for adults. There's so much to write about and I have at least a half dozen more partially written novels--I just haven't figured out how to squeeze more hours in the day!

Kathryn Erskine is also the author of Quaking. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband, two children, and dog Maxine.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Top 100 Children's Novels from Fuse #8

NYPL children's librarian Betsy Bird is counting down the Top 100 Children's Novels on her blog, Fuse #8. I really wanted to see a simple list all in one place; figuring others would like the same, I typed it in here. Comments are turned off on this post, as it is for information only. To discuss, please visit Fuse #8.

1. Charlotte's Web
2. A Wrinkle in Time
3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
6. Holes
7. The Giver
8. The Secret Garden
9. Anne of Green Gables
10. The Phantom Tollbooth
11. The Westing Game
12. The Hobbit
13. Bridge to Terabithia
14. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
15. Because of Winn-Dixie
16. Harriet the Spy
17. Maniac Magee
18. Matilda
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
20. Tuck Everlasting
21. The Lightning Thief
22. The Tale of Despereaux
23. Little House in the Big Woods
24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
25. Little Women
26. Hatchet
27. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
28. A Little Princess
29. The Dark Is Rising
30. Winnie-the-Pooh
31. Half Magic
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
33. James and the Giant Peach
34. The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963
35. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
36. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
38. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
39. When You Reach Me
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond
42. Little House on the Prairie
43. Ramona the Pest
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
45. The Golden Compass
46. Where the Red Fern Grows
47. Bud, Not Buddy
48. The Penderwicks
49. Frindle
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins
51. The Saturdays
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret
53. The Wind in the Willows
54. The BFG
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins
56. Number the Stars
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
59. Inkheart
60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
61. Stargirl
62. The Secret of the Old Clock
63. Gone-Away Lake
64. A Long Way from Chicago
65. Ballet Shoes
66. Henry Huggins
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher
68. Walk Two Moons
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society
70. Betsy-Tacy
71. The Bad Beginning
72. My Father's Dragon
73. My Side of the Mountain
74. The Borrowers
75. Love That Dog
76. Out of the Dust
77. The City of Ember
78. Johnny Tremain
79. All-of-a-Kind Family
80. The Graveyard Book
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
82. The Book of Three
83. The Thief
84. The Little White Horse
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
87. The View from Saturday
88. The High King
89. Ramona and Her Father
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall
91. Sideways Stories from the Wayside School
92. Ella Enchanted
93. Caddie Woodlawn
94. Swallows and Amazons
95. Pippi Longstocking
96. The Witches
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
98. Children of Green Knowe
99. The Indian in the Cupboard
100. The Egypt Game

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Frog Scientist by Pamela S. Turner

Back in January, as Wendy was in the throes of Cybils judging, she emailed me, "You should read The Frog Scientist. You will really dig the protagonist."

I was delighted to hear that The Frog Scientist won the Cybils Award for Middle Grade/Young Adult nonfiction, even though I hadn't read it yet; I had faith in my sister's good judgment. I read The Frog Scientist, written by Pamela S. Turner, photographed by Andy Comins, this past week and oh, I loved it!

Part of the Scientists in the Field series from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, The Frog Scientist gives a close-up (very froggy) view into the life of biologist Tyrone Hayes. Hayes and his students at Berkeley move between pond and lab as they study the effects of atrazine (a pesticide commonly used in the U.S.) on frogs.

"Watch out, they kill some frogs," my daughter solemnly warned her father when he picked up this book. While readers don't actually see the dissection, Turner describes in fascinating detail how the experiments are set up and conducted, including the removal of tiny, tiny kidneys and testes from young frogs in the lab.

Science teachers will rejoice in the clear, concise explanations of how a hypothesis, manipulated variable, responding variable, and control group are used in the real world.

Students will be fascinated by the photographs and descriptions of unusual, sometimes endangered or extinct, amphibians.

And everyone who loves books, like me, will thrill to the sight of Tyrone Hayes reading his children the book that started it all, a gift from his own mother when he was a little boy.

Thanks, Cybils panelists and judges, for sharing The Frog Scientist with all of us.

Cybils finalists for Non-Fiction Middle Grade & Young Adult Books

Complete list of Cybils winners

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A New Kind of Book Order

In the homework folder today: “Dear Families: Our school has the amazing opportunity to pilot a new book order through Dark Horse Comics. The books are all comic books and graphic novels. They range in price from $5 to $7. There is an order form on the back of this flyer.”

And from the order form: “At Picture Literacy, we know that comics make readers! Increasingly, educators worldwide are recognizing the graphic novel as a great way to reach at-risk and reluctant readers at a young age.”

My children are neither at-risk nor reluctant, but they do enjoy reading comics. Their father/my husband is a comic book aficionado, so he encourages it. Reading and discussing comics is a good bonding activity for them. And they don’t only read comics; they also read books far beyond their grade levels, so it doesn’t worry me at all.

I’m interested in this book order because Dark Horse is local to Portland, and because it’s something new and different (i.e., not Scholastic). I do like the idea of supporting a local company as well as the school.

The front of the order form features two children's series I haven't seen before: Johnny Boo and Korgi. Inside are more familiar titles: Star Wars, Bugs Bunny, Powerpuff Girls, Scooby Doo, Justice League, Teen Titans. Most of these aren't actually Dark Horse titles, so I suspect that Picture Literacy is some separate program that Dark Horse is working with (I can't find any information about it online).

The choices are limited. There are only twenty titles in all to choose from. I think we’d be more likely to buy in the future if we had more options, especially books for older and more advanced readers (or, you know, if we could buy Serenity books). We’ll probably order at least one or two books this time, to support the school and to see what the books are like.

What do you think about this type of book order? Would you support it at your school?


Photo credit: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Celebrate with Confetti Girl

"It's exactly like Spanish class," I emailed my brother a little over a year ago from Oaxaca, Mexico, where I was spending Christmas. "I mean, people are literally running around hitting each other over the head with eggs full of confetti."

"REALLY?" he responded. We were surprised, and delighted.

Four of the six Burton siblings studied Spanish in high school. We succeeded in learning very little Spanish, but boy, did we learn a lot about La Llorona and pinatas and El Dia de los Muertos and... cascarones, the aforementioned eggs full of confetti, which feature prominently in the delightful Confetti Girl.

I enjoyed so many things about Confetti Girl that I've tried to write this review five times already today, because I couldn't figure out what to focus on. Like Kate Messner's The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, Confetti Girl stars a protagonist who is a smart-but-not-bookish girl. I don't think we could ever have enough of those in fiction aimed at middle school students.

In one of my favorite scenes, protagonist Lina and her friend Vanessa sell cascarones at the school fair, which results in--naturally--confetti everywhere. It's a scene that's joyous and authentic, and it didn't surprise me when I found out that author Diana Lopez teaches middle school. But for all its joie-de-vivre, Confetti Girl never descends to High School Musical-level hokiness.

Or to Lurlene McDaniel maudlinness. Because, you see, it could have--Lina's mother died unexpectedly not long ago, and Lina's father shows signs of clinical depression, and Lina is in charge of cooking dinner every night, and she has to get help with buying "girl stuff" from her best friend's mother--do you feel like you read this book in middle school twenty years ago? It isn't like that, I promise.

In another parallel with Gianna Z, there's a lot going on in this book. The loss of a parent, single parenthood, early romance, middle school friendships, environmental science, sports, poor grades; but it is all woven together beautifully by Lopez, and infused in every part with Latino culture in a way that is neither forced nor didactic. It will not feel confusing to girls of other cultures, nor, I think, tiresome to the most culturally aware Latina girls.

You have kids waiting for Confetti Girl in your homes and your schools. It'd be an excellent choice for these mother-daughter book clubs I keep hearing about. And from the depths of my inexperience, I'm going to guess that it'd be a successful hand-sell.

Oh, how I wish this book had gotten some Pura Belpre recognition. It is full of life and pure joy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Banning Knowledge

You've all heard about this thing where a school has pulled the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary from its shelves, pending review, right?

This is ridiculous on so many counts, and I'm glad the school board members are speaking up and wondering where their voice is in this, but in a way this is hitting me more personally than some of the other book challenges and removals that have been publicized lately.

I DEPENDED on the dictionary when I was a kid. I grew up in a very modest kind of family where even the mildest of "bad" words were never heard and children didn't watch R-rated movies--usually even PG-13. To be honest, I liked it that way. My home seemed peaceful compared to many other homes I visited, and I wasn't forced to have embarrassing conversations with my parents.

But I did hear about things sometimes, in books, on TV, in school. Sometimes kids would be amused if I didn't know what something meant. Then it would turn out they didn't REALLY know, either.

I remember reading a children's book about the Salem witch trials; it mentioned that Abigail Williams grew up to be a prostitute. I could tell from context clues that this was something shocking, but I had no idea what it was. It sounded kind of like a lawyer (I knew the word "prosecute"). Maybe it was something that was considered a man's job in those times, like being a lawyer was. I remember innocently asking Laurie "What's a prostitute?".

Dead silence from the bottom bunk. "I think the dictionary could explain it better than I could," she said. And she reached for our paperback dictionary and read the definition aloud. I got the picture, although I had never heard of such a thing. We both continued reading. Embarrassing conversation smartly averted.

After that, I remember turning to the dictionary again whenever I needed to. My friend's sister called her a "lesbian". Those two were always having shouting matches and namecalling was a daily occurrence, but neither of us knew what this meant. Over the telephone, when my friend asked me if I knew, I looked it up in the dictionary. "A female homosexual," I said. Then I looked up "homosexual". We both thought this was a strange word to use as an insult against a ten-year-old girl, but at least we knew what it meant.

I looked up "condom" when I heard it used on the show Head of the Class (the first dictionary I checked, a children's dictionary, had only "condominium"; this was very confusing). And I looked up "oral sex" when I heard kids making jokes about it on the bus.

Why, why, why would people want to keep kids away from information? I can't understand it for a second. Usually I can at least see a smidgen of the other side's view. But it isn't like kids are going to be looking up "oral sex" if they haven't already heard of it. It isn't like the dictionary says something controversial. If a parent's relationship with a kid is such that they think the kid would (and should) come to them with a question about what oral sex is, that conversation isn't going to be derailed by the dictionary definition (for the record: "oral stimulation of the genitals").

"It's hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we'll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature," Cadmus [a district spokesperson] said.

Anyone else have "saved by dictionary" tales?

The 100 Best Kids' Books EVAR

Blogger Betsy Bird is running a poll: What are the top 100 middle grade novels of all time?

Readers are invited to submit their top ten, ranked. There are some limitations and suggestions for determining age level; read the post, vote.

I've been working on my list all month. Well, not really. On the first day I brainstormed titles; on the second day I ranked and revised. I haven't looked at my list in weeks, and am amused to see how my list that I thought was totally objective was influenced by what I was reading and what people were talking about on Goodreads. I made some last minute changes.

My biggest problem was in sorting out what was young adult and what was middle grade. My standards for this are stricter than Betsy's, but I'm going to go by them, anyway. I went back and forth on The Witch of Blackbird Pond--then glanced at the comments just now and saw that others have the same question. Ultimately, I decided it was a young adult book and didn't include it. I disagree with a commenter who says it's not YA just because the characters are older and it really has a middle grade treatment; that's probably the kind of person who thinks there wasn't any YA until the 1970s. Or the 1990s.

I'm not going to tell you my list, but I'll tell you the following things:

1. One author is male, and nine are female.
2. All of the authors are white, which is sad, but reflects my childhood reading (that will come in a new post soon)
3. Two of the authors are Jewish; the rest are Protestants.
4. Bizarrely, eight of the ten are part of a series. I wonder what this says about me and my reading? I selected the books individually, not as "I love this series and I'm going to pick a book to represent it".
5. The oldest book was published in 1940. (Actually, two of them were.)
6. The newest book was published in 1978. Despite all the great books published during my lifetime, I believe in this list and would like to think nostalgia is only a small part of it. That was a Golden Age.
7. Three of the books won the Newbery Medal.
8. Eight of them should have. (Two of my choices I acknowledge as being not quite right for the Newbery.)
9. One of the books won a Newbery Honor.
10. The one book that is possibly, POSSIBLY a pure nostalgia pick is All-of-a-Kind Family.

Now, submit your own lists! Or just tell me in the comments what a couple of your choices would have been. Or both. Or speculate on what my list includes. (I think the clues above could make it pretty easy to figure out at least six, if you were dedicated.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Reactions As They Happen

6:43 Ignoring everyone on twitter except @ALAYMA for the mo--don’t want to miss anything, plus don’t want to affect my own thoughts.
6:45 Alex--have heard of more of these books this year; I wonder why?
6:47 Everyone cheers because they know what’s COMING…
6:50 Schneider, no surprises there… I read one person who detested the way Marcelo “portrayed the disability experience”, but only one. Congrats, Cheryl Klein!
6:54 CSK! I’m going to read all of these this year.
6:58 Curious how many illustrator awards have been for photography.
7:00 Isn’t that a surprise for the author award? Can’t remember hearing about that. Sounds interesting, though.
7:01 Sigh. Laurie sleeping through the YALSA awards. It’s 5:01 in Seattle AND it’s a holiday, why aren’t you AWAAAAKE?
7:02 Ooh, nonfiction author for Margaret Edwards, that should please a lot of people (I like his books too)
7:05 Flash Burnout, the one that takes place in Portland, right? Will definitely be reading.
7:08 Charles and Emma! Fascinating. Not on my Cybils shortlist. Enjoyed very much.
7:09 Printzy printzy printzy!
7:10 Charles and Emma again! A surprise, for me…
7:11 YEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAH! I was fairly crazy about Going Bovine. Already mourning Lips Touch and surprised about Marcelo, BUT.
7:12 (Laurie awake, yay)
7:15 Pura Belpre--will be reading all of these, too… Return to Sender, maybe? Though I didn’t like it much.
7:16 am a big Yuyi Morales fan, but who isn’t?
7:20 Two Diego books, nice (for me, I mean)
7:20 Return to Sender, yup yup
7:26 Um, Laurie says the publisher of the Newbery book just tweeted it. What up with that?
7:26 I have A Faraway Island in my TBR…
7:27 stupid social media, ruining everything.
7:28 Moonshot, one of my favorite books of the year!
7:28 if Claudette Colvin got an honor, then…
7:34 Knowing that Laurie knows who won the Newbery is SPOILING EVERYTHING. How many people in the audience are following twitter and already know?
7:35 Last year I had read more than three picture books. But I’ve heard of some…
7:36 at least one thing isn’t a surprise… clearly a VERY popular choice! Think that was the biggest cheer of the evening.
7:39 Hmm. Have read everything but Homer P. Figg. How is it I did better this year than last year? Last year I’d read, like, 40+ possibilities… maybe everyone did better at predicting this year.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Demand Diversity at Midwinter

"Hi, I'm a middle school librarian, and I'm especially looking for fiction with multi-ethnic characters to share with my students."

Really, it wasn't a trick question. I wasn't a plant. Actually I was thrilled, beyond measure, to be at ALA Annual for the first time. I was over the moon as I walked around the exhibit floor, brushing past famous authors at every turn (Sarah Dessen! Sherman Alexie! Jacqueline Woodson! Laurie Halse Anderson! For a book lover, it was like being at the Academy Awards). And I wanted to bring something back to the 1000+ students in my diverse urban public school, so when I stopped at publisher booths I asked, "Could you please show me some books with multi-ethnic characters to share with my students?"

My request was greeted with polite puzzlement. Mildly frantic hunting around the booth. Offers of good middle-school titles about white main characters. The answer I remember most clearly came from the Penguin employee who thought hard for a moment, then said brightly, "What about NONfiction!" and presented me with an advance copy of Marching for Freedom.

I was pleased to have an ARC for Marching for Freedom. I purchased Marching for Freedom for my school library. But oh, what a disappointing response to my question.

Colleen Mondor's post Demand Diversity in Publishing is very timely, as ALA Midwinter begins this weekend. I hope ALA members and visitors will read my post, and hers, and start conversations on the exhibit floor. Every publisher will have at least one book to offer. Ask for more.

Look for some of the new books like Eighth-Grade Superzero (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic) and One Crazy Summer (Amistad/HarperCollins). Then demand MORE.

At ALA Annual I went to a YALSA session called Strengthen Your YA Collection with Small Press/Diverse Publishers. I also looked for diverse publishers on the exhibit floor. Since Annual I've gotten some great book recommendations and resources from the e-newsletters, websites, and Twitter posts of these publishers. Take a look.

Pinata Books/Arte Publico Press (@artepublico)
Brown Barn Books
Cinco Puntos Press
Curbstone Press
Just Us Books
Lee & Low Books (@leeandlow)
Rolling Hills Press

Harlequin is not a small publisher, but I want to mention that they highlighted diverse books for teens at Annual with the Kimani TRU imprint.

Updating to add more publishers:
Charlesbridge Publishing
Groundwood Books
First Second Books (guess they're not a small publisher, but a photo on Fuse #8 from Midwinter reminded me how great they are and that they publish ethnically diverse graphic novels)
Tu Publishing (new, first books coming in 2010)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bookstore Birthday

University Book Store is where I learned to work in the world of children's books. As a parttime children's bookseller twelve years ago I learned, under the tutelage of professionals like Tonyia Vining and Duane Wilkins, about the world of books beyond just What I Like to Read--the world I live in now, as a middle school librarian.

University Book Store is where I buy my books. It's where I buy birthday presents, wedding presents, and new-baby gifts (wonderful board books, like Peek-a-Who by Nina Laden and Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn).

University Book Store, which was already my favorite bookstore in Seattle, won my heart with its booksellers' devotion to recommending my husband's first book, Hungry Monkey, when it was published in 2009.

University Book Store is celebrating its 110th birthday. If you're in Seattle, the party is Sunday, January 10 (that's today, as I type) during store hours (12-5).

To celebrate UBS has published 110 stories, each 110 words long, by 110 local authors. A lot of great young adult and children's authors--Peg Kehret, Lensey Namioka, Deb Caletti, Chris Crutcher, Karen Cushman, Carl Deuker, and Justina Chen--contributed stories.When you buy a book by one of these authors (in store or online), you will receive your own copy of 110/110. Take a look online, or get your own copy of this unique collection. It's part of 110 years of encouraging, celebrating, and selling books by local authors and illustrators.

Great post from Bookstore People about University Book Store

Friday, January 8, 2010

HalfPintIngalls for a Shorty!

It's no secret that we at Six Boxes of Books love @HalfPintIngalls from Twitter. Wendy has already interviewed Half Pint (and the interview was even linked on the Christian Science Monitor). And I've been plugging her over on Twitter itself ever since I discovered her. After all, who can resist gems like these?

"You really should follow @clothesline if you don't want to get lost out on the prairie in this blizzard. #FollowFriday"
"Just walked 160 acres for this stupid piece of candy. 160 acres until the next one. HATE trick-or-treating on the prairie."

And don't miss her Christmas wishing-list from Mr. Amazon's Mercantile.

Anyway, if you like @HalfPintIngalls too, here's something you can do: help nominate her for a Shorty Award!

No, it's not an award for short people (although our Half Pint would certainly qualify). The Shorty Awards honor "the best producers of short, real-time content" on Twitter. There are 27 official categories, such as Celebrity, Customer Service, Education, Food, Government, etc.

@HalfPintIngalls has been nominated for the Humor category, but she needs more nominations! This is how it works: Twitter users send nominations via Twitter. Sometime in February, the Shorty Awards people will determine the top five nomination-getters in each category, and these will be the finalists. The winners will then be chosen by a combination of popular vote and the choices of the Real-Time Academy of Short Form Arts and Sciences. Yes, there is such an academy. I did not make that up.

So, if you are a Twitter user and would like to nominate @HalfPintIngalls, just visit her Shorty Awards page. You can either tweet your nomination directly from that page, or copy and paste the text to your own Twitter client or web page. Be sure to include a reason after the "because..."; otherwise, your nomination won't count.

The competition is stiff, but as Half Pint herself said, "Out of all the folks up for 'Shorty Awards,' only ONE is as small as a half-pint of cider half-drunk up. I'M JUST SAYING."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Buzz Begets Buzz

We were talking on Heavy Medal about which books might be getting overshadowed in the award discussions for one reason or another. Nina mentioned The Book of the Maidservant, which she hadn't heard talk about much of anywhere.

I first heard about this book in July at ALA, at the wonderful Random House presentation of books coming for fall. I seized a review copy eagerly afterward; I couldn't wait to read it. But it's been sitting in my to-be-read pile ever since. Why?

I'm sorry to say, folks, it's in large part because I put a lot of effort toward reading the books everyone else is talking about (or the books I think everyone might be talking about soon). I want to join in the conversation. And when I review a buzzed-about book, people respond more here. There's nothing wrong with that, in theory. But I think most bloggers do it... and what happens then? Books with buzz get more buzz. Books without buzz get left on the to-be-read pile. Even when I read a book that isn't getting a whole lot of attention--even if I LIKE it--sometimes I don't bother reviewing it, especially here (I review some books on Goodreads and not here).

What if I put that effort in another direction? There's still a dearth of books being published by and about people of color, and even more of a dearth of buzz about those books. As things stand, I'm missing a lot of those books.

It's going to be a struggle, but I'm going to try to do something different this year. Instead of making it my priority to read the books I hear about the most, I'm going to put the same amount of effort into reading books by authors who are people of color. I know I won't actually make a change in my reading unless I sacrifice something else for the sake of these books; I know it's unrealistic to think I'm going to read more and can just add those books to what I'm already reading. It wouldn't happen. So what you're going to see is a conscious effort (I hope and plan) to rechannel my energy into "books I really want to read, and books by authors of color"--instead of the current "books I really want to read, and the books everyone else is talking about" focus.

I've been debating for a while having a post-tag that links to my/our posts reviewing or discussing books with protagonists or authors who are people of color, but I've never done it because I wasn't sure how it would appear to others--I thought it might seem insensitive, or white-guilt induced. And I couldn't think of the right tag. But I think it will be necessary for this plan to have maximum effect. Should it just be "authors-of-color"? or "POC", and then include books I might read by white authors about people of color? Suggestions/comments needed.

I hope those of you who read our posts and then go put the books we review on hold, or on to-read on Goodreads (you've no idea how exciting it is to see that happen!), will be just as open to the books I review in the future. Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, and I'm looking forward to this new year.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Cybils Shortlists: I Am Grumpy

I can't help it, I'm grumpy about the number of my favorite books that didn't make the Cybils shortlists. I'm anticipatorily grumpy about the favorites that won't make the Newbery and Printz lists. It makes me want to make up my own thing where I choose my favorite books in each genre and tell you why they're so good...

...oh, right. That's my blog.

So while I'm very excited about starting the process of Cybils judging (I'm a judge for middle-grade/YA non-fiction, which is why you won't hear a word about that category here), I'm going to go ahead and write one-sentence reviews for the nominated books that I really, really wish had been in some of the categories.

Middle Grade Science Fiction/Fantasy
When You Reach Me, a time-travel-involving novel set beautifully in the New York of 1978-1979 that is probably one of the best books I've read in years.

Any Which Wall, a delightfully playful book about old-fashioned magic--what do YOU picture when I say someone is "the worst pirate in the world"?

The Magician's Elephant, a slight and fascinating dream-like novel that made me feel like I was back in Paris; "I intended only lilies" is one of my favorite lines of the year.

Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy
Shadowed Summer, which I would not have called SF/F at all because I pretty much believe in ghosts, and is a must-read for people who know middle-schoolers.

Fiction Picture Books
I don't really know the field that well this year, but I'm saddened by the absence of

Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated), which is an impeccably written and illustrated funny fairy tale, even if it isn't quite right for either Newbery or Caldecott.

Middle-Grade Fiction
The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, a satisfyingly rich school story.

Young Adult Fiction
Going Bovine: trying to make sense of this entertaining road-trip story made me feel smarter than I am.

What I Saw and How I Lied: this absolutely splendid noir coming-of-age book was one of my favorites of "last" year, and I would recommend it unhesitatingly to everyone from my mom to my hipster friends.

I really, really pared that list down, and didn't include books that I thought were really good if I could maybe see how they didn't quite make the cut. And especially in the YA Fiction category, there were many books that I'm pretty sure I would have included in this list if I'd actually, you know, gotten around to reading them yet.

I never know quite what I want the Cybils books to be. I mean, on the one hand, I look to them to maybe recognize some books that aren't going to win the Newbery for one reason or another but "what they do, they do perfectly". On the other hand, if they DON'T include what is clearly... to me... the best book of the year, even if it probably WILL get other recognition--well, I wonder.

Now, I don't mean to criticize the first-round Cybils judges, even when I don't quite understand, but in the spirit of We Love Books, let's recognize the ones that aren't there. What books were you hoping to see on the list? What is, perhaps, a surprise omission--even if it isn't your favorite?