8/20/14

Kidlitcon 2014 Program peek, starring Jewell Parker Rhodes!

Author Jewell Parker Rhodes will be coming to Kidlitcon 2014!  I am so excited--I loved her magical realism/ghost story Ninth Ward lots, so much so that I enthusiastically helped shortlist it for the Cybils Awards* the year it came out (2012) (here's my review).  And her 2013 book for young readers, Sugar, is great too.

Here's a peak at her session, where she'll be joining two great bloggers:


Friday 1:30-3   Getting Beyond Diversity and Getting to the Story 

Edith Campbell Crazy Quilt Edi

Hannah Gómez  sarah HANNAH gómez

Jewell Parker Rhodes  (fangirl squee from me!)

"While gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, or ability add to who we are, they do not define who we are. And these differences do not define our stories. How do we teach, discuss, or describe diverse books without making diversity the issue? Should we? How do we respond to the perception that ʺdiverse booksʺ are only for ʺdiverse peopleʺ and deliver book reviews and essays that highlight what makes books universal for those disinclined to think diversity is for them while acknowledging readers who need and deserve to find themselves in literature? Presenters Edith Campbell, Hannah Gómez, and author Jewell Parker Rhodes will deliver an interactive session with talking points, booktalks, strategies and much honest discussion."

And that is just one of the great sessions at this year's Kidlitcon; I'm putting the final touches on the program, and should have it all done (d.v.) on Monday!  Please join us in Sacramento, CA October 10th and 11th for a really fantastic time of talking blogging and books and diversity non-stop!

*and speaking of Cybils, now is the time to sign up to be a panelist for the 2014 season!

8/19/14

Crashing the Party (Time Flyers #4), by Perdita Finn, for Timeslip Tuesday

On my largest TBR shelf there is a section of emergency time travel books--books that are very fast reads for those times when longer books just aren't going to be finished in time (because, for instance, of trying to finish an impossible number of major tasks ere summer ends).  And so, in about 25 minutes, I was able to read Crashing the Party (Time Flyers #4), by Perdita Finn (Scholastic 207, 109 pages, upper elementary/ lower Middle Grade).

This was my first Time Flyers book, but I was able to quickly pick up on the pertinent backstory.  Josh and Katie are two ordinary American middle schoolers whose family is chosen to host time travelling kids of many lands via the Time Flyers program (the parents don't know about the time travelling, because they are dolts not keen observers).   The lasted kid to arrive is a French aristocrat from 1788, and she is not really getting into the spirit of good time travelling visitor--demanding, spoiled French aristocrats are not good houseguests, and they leave white hair powder on your furniture.  Basically, she's utterly awful. 

And she becomes worse when she masters the art of cultural immersion into the circle of It Girls at Katie and Josh's school. 

And then things get even worse when she refuses to go home again....

I guess the point of the story is that middle school is even worse than it usually is when you have a bitchy French aristocrat who treats you like dirt staying with you and going to your school.   Which is certainly a reasonable plot, but its one that, in this case at least, lacks much emotional depth.  There were a few brief intimations that there might be depth to the girl's character, but they were too fleeting to have any umph. 

The story itself is not all that educational--if you had never heard of the French Revolution, that would be one thing to learn, and you would also learn that French aristocrats of that time period had a rather generous sense of entitlement.    But this particular French girl is so busy becoming American that her own time is not of interest to her, so we don't hear much about it.  There is an Educational Epilogue in which information on life in late 18th century France is shared, but it is so much easier to pick up on information that's embedded in the text that I'm not sure how useful this is.

I am not deeply tempted to look for the other books in the series, except that they are quick reads, and goodness knows there will be other Difficult Tuesdays in my future....

8/17/14

This Week's Round-up of Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy (8/17/14) w/ special announcement and discussion question!

So Google has killed blog search, and though there's a way to force it to search blogs, this returns far fewer hits.  So I might well be missing an ever growing number of posts; let me know if I missed yours!  (And if any publicists or marketers want to send me direct links to blog tour stops, review links, etc., that would be great.)

The Reviews:

The Book of Bad Things, http://msyinglingreads.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-book-of-bad-things.html

The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

Courting Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at The Book Smugglers

Ever After High, by Shannon Hale, at Nayu's Reading Corner

Evil Fairys Love Hair, at Mary G. Thompson, at The Book Monsters

The Fog of Forgetting, by G.A. Morgan, at I Read to Relax

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer Holm, at For Those About To Mock, Log Cabin Library, Emily Reviews! Random Musings of a Bibliophile, and Librarian of Snark

Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor, by Julie Anne Grasso, at The Ninja Librarian

Frostborn, by Lou Anders, at Adventures in Scifi Publishing, The Book Monsters, and Ageless Pages Reviews

Gabriel Finley and the Ravens of Doom, by George Hagen, at Log Cabin Library

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at Becky's Book Reviews and Charlotte's Library

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

The Hypnotists, and its sequel, Memory Maze, by Gordon Korman, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Inventor's Secret, by Chad Morris, at The Obsessive Bookseller (missed it last week)

The Iron Trial, by Holly Back and Cassandra Clare, at Zach's YA Reviews

Kat, Incorrigible (series review), by Stephanie Burgis, at Fantasy Fiction

Loot, by Jude Watson, at Reader Noir

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, at Fantasy Book Critic

The Magic Thief series, by Sarah Prineas, at Beyond Books

Magyk, by Angie Sage, at Rcubed's Reads and Reviews

Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie, by Jeff Norton, at Juniper's Jungle

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, by Karen Foxlee, at Sonderbooks

No Such Thing as Dragons, by Philip Reeve, at Hidden in Pages

Nuts to You, by Lynne Rae Perkins, at Librarian of Snark

The River at Green Knowe, by L.M. Boston, at Tor

Ship of Souls, by Zetta Elliott, at Reading in Color

The Time of the Fireflys, by Kimberley Griffiths Little, at Five Minutes for Books

Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life,  by P.J. Hoover, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Unwanteds, by Lisa McMann, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow and books4yourkids

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, at Michelle Isenhoff


Authors and Interviews

Mary G. Thompson (Evil Fairies Love Hair) at Cracking the Cover, The Book Monsters, and The Children's Book Review


SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

The Call for Cybils Panelists goes out tomorrow!  Once again, I'm the team leader for middle grade speculative fiction.  Throw your name into the hat to be a panelist in judging either the first round (coming up with a shortlist of 5-7 books) or the second round (picking a winner from the shortlist!). 

The reading period for the first round runs from October through December, and there will be c. 150 books nominated in MG Spec. Fic. (published from Oct. 16, 2013 through Oct. 15, 2014).

  Here's what you should ask yourself before applying to be a panelist--

--how many books have I read already?  If you have a comfortable cushion of eligible books read already, that is good.

--how easy is it for me to get hold of books?  Some books will come from publishers, but others we'll have to find ourselves at libraries.  So if it is hard for you to get a hold of books, the first round is probably not a good fit for you.

--am I a fast reader?  First round panelists don't have to read all the books, nor do they have to finish the books they count as "read."  But you do have to be able to read lots, and fast.

--are there things happening this fall that will make it hard to do lots of reading?

--do I want to be thinking about books in a rather briskly frantic way just before Christmas?

But on the plus side, you can also ask yourself:  do I want to spend this fall reading tons of books in my favorite genre and having a great time discussing them intensely with fun, interesting, fellow fans?

Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions!

Other Good Stuff

An interesting look at the structures of the Harry Potter books at Bookriot

I could fill this post with Giver related things, but am sticking to this one:  Lois Lowry and Phillip Noyce interviewed in tandem at Deadline Hollywood

And then I just found this one, which I wouldn't actually call "good"-- "The Giver Now Has Its Very Own Nailpolish" at Jezebel
Why, world, why?

Discussion Question (I don't know if this will be a regular feature or not, because I can easily imagine not having decent questions every Sunday for next several years...but we will see.  Let me know what you think!)

So over on Twitter, Anne Ursu drew my attention to this line from the (starred) Kirkus review of Sparkers, by Eleanor Glewwe-- "Social injustice is a rare theme in middle-grade fantasy..."  And as Anne said, "no," because clearly social injustices of many kinds (economic, gender-based, racial prejudice) are a dime a dozen in mg fantasy.  But maybe, I thought (and I haven't read the book yet, so I might be off-base) the author of that Kirkus line is thinking that rebellion/active efforts to subvert the dominant system by a group of people constituting the driving force of the plot is rare.   I can think of lots of books in which individuals fight/are victims of social injustice, but not so many that take it to the larger level of the oppressed taking on the system as a group.

Here's what I came up with:  
Zelpha Keatly Snyder's Below the Root trilogy (1975-1978)--a dominant group of people up in the trees, a subordinate group of rebels trapped below the roots, and the brave group of young teens who bring down the injustice of it (of course three of the main people fighting the system are from above the root, with only one from below, but there's a larger sense that a revolution is underway).

Ordinary Magic, by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway (2012) --set in a society in which those with no magic are oppressed by those who have it, and tells of the efforts underway to change this.

Janice Hardy's Healing War trilogy (2010- 2011) which features a rebellion against foreign oppressors.

What do you think?

I think that more fantasy and science fiction for kids explicitly involving fights against social injustice can only be a good thing...and speaking of fighting against social injustice, here's a guide to "Becoming a White Ally to Black People in the Aftermath of the Michael Brown Murder" at What Matters





8/16/14

Searching For Sky, by Jillian Cantor

There are some books where the bulk of my reading enjoyment comes at a distance from the text--an un-immersive reading experience of running commentary.   This is what happened to me in Life as We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, where I spent most of the book planning my own end of the world shopping trip, thinking critically about house heating, water supply issues, etc.  Perfectly enjoyable, but distant, and not all that emotionally invested.

This was what happened to me with Searching For Sky, by Jillian Cantor (Bloomsbury, May 2014, YA).

Sky and her mother, and River and his father, had left the United States for a peaceful life alone on a small island in the south Pacific, and life was good--sometimes a bit hungry, but good.  Then the two adults died when River and Sky were young teens, and River and Sky were alone...with even less to eat.   So when River sees a boat, he signals to it...and the two of them are rescued, and taken back to California.

Living with a grandmother she'd never known even existed, in a world of modern conveniences and social norms she has no clue about, Sky struggles to keep herself intact.  But worse than all those things is that she is separated from River...and it is like part of herself, her real self, is gone.  And gradually Sky learns the reasons why her mother took her to that far off island....and it is not a pretty story....And then she finds River again, and Sky at last thinks that her dream of escaping back to the island will come to pass...

So I enjoyed the story, liked Sky just fine, liked the dark secrets gradually revealed, found the ending solid, etc.   It was a fine book.

But all throughout I had Mental Commentary going full force--questioning details of island survival, and the likelihood that they wouldn't have been found sooner, questioning Sky's reactions to the modern world and the efforts of the grown-ups to instruct her (they did a pretty bad job, in my opinion.  An awful job. What they needed was an anthropologist/sociologist, not a shrink), questioning her grandmother's choices, questioning Sky's state of mind (it's told from her first person viewpoint, and I wasn't quite convinced that her voice was believable, given her up-bringing).   I had a lot to question, and this kept me from really accepting Sky's story qua story.

Of course, all this made it more interesting for me, and I enjoyed the reading of it just fine.  If you are looking for a YA mystery/suspense/romance, that isn't quite exactly any of those but is more a story of personal grown and exploration of life with more than a bit of sadness, you might well enjoy this one lots.

disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher.

8/13/14

The Bell at Sealey Head, by Patricia McKillip

So this weekend I finally read a book I was given by my husband for Christmas in 2008-- The Bell at Sealey Head, by Patricia McKillip.   Sheesh--so pathetic of me, but that is what happens when your tbr piles explodes and keeps growing--the books you know you love and really want to read get set aside (someday I'll read The Islands of Chaldea...).

But I am So Glad I have now read The Bell at Sealey Head because it is one of my most favorite of all Patricia McKillip's books and I loved it. 
 
It is a beautiful story of ordinary life twisted with magic in which nice people such as I'd like to be friends with who like books and stories and questioning the edges of reality learn about the magic and not much Happens in an action-packed sort of way and there are small things that made me laugh and beautiful pictures painted in my mind.  

So pretty much a perfect book for me, and if you at all love the same books I love do try it!

Here is a quick synopsis-

Every day, just as the sun sets, the bell at Sealy Head rings.  No one has seen the bell, no one knows its story--it is a mystery that is part of the fabric of life.   One young woman writes stories to explain it, one young man listens for it with his blind father, as their inn sits empty, one young man comes from far away (bringing lots of books) to find its story, one dying woman in her ancient manor house holds to its sound and to life, waiting....and another young woman hears it, but has moved passed it to the magic of the world that sometimes can be seen through the doors inside the manor.  And behind the doors is a third young woman, caught in an endless ritual of magic of which the bell is a part... (There are other people too, worth mentioning, but I feel I've mentioned enough).

And their lives all come together and they figure out the story (with the help of books) and untangle the chains of magic (which have a malevolent twist to them) and it is a happy ending with nice romance and it is flavored nicely with bits of comic relief from minor characters.

Yep.  Possibly even my favorite McKillip.....

If I were marketing it I would want to market it to YA readers because the main characters are in their teens, and it is very much a teens growing up story, but it is so different from what's in the YA section these days that I don't know how it would do there.....(pause while I try to think of a contemporary YA title I would describe as "beautiful magic."  Cannot think of one).

8/12/14

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove (Viking Juvenile, middle grade on up, June 2014), is perhaps the most ambitious and original time slip book I have ever read (and I have read more than three hundred).   It took me several weeks to read it, and not because it is long--487 pages, but more because the world-building is so complicated that my busy mind wanted time to digest between immersive reads of it....And this is not to be critical of the book, because I did not find that this strange-to-me way of reading detracted from my enjoyment, but it is something to keep in mind when matching the book with readers who will love it.

When Sophia's great-grandmother was a girl in Boston, back in 1799, the world fractured in time. A great disruption brought the past to some places, the future to others...and history ceased its linear progression.   And a new era of exploration and map-making began, that ended up taking Sophia's parents to a far of time and place, leaving her with her cartographer uncle in Boston.  Slowly she learns to read map of memories held in glass, maps of earth, of water....but she is not permitted to stay sheltered in New Occident.

Instead, she when her uncle is kidnapped, Sophia must follow a trail of cartographic riddles across a time-struck continent...a journey that will take her to the end of the known world, and a map that might change everything once again. It's a journey that brings new friends, adventures of all sorts, wild flights of imagination to delight the tourist heart of the fantasy reader.   And interspersed with Sophia's story we see what is happening to her uncle, the tortured prison of someone with a time shattered backstory of her own.

So the thing with this book is that there is So Much Story, and so much to learn about the world while following Sophia, that it really cannot be gulped down.  And it requires patience to learn to be in that world....many pages of patience before the twistings of fate gather enough momentum to really get the story rolling.   But it rewards the reader lots and lots with its imaginative delights and great characters.  And the premise of the shifting times is genius--and one reason that the book was slow to read for me is that it invited more daydreaming and speculation than was good for page turning. 

It really does take time to get going, though, so you have to trust that it will be worth it to try to make sense of everything.  And so, though this is a middle grade book for kids in grades 5 and up, it isn't going to be for every middle grade fantasy fan.   Give it to the kid who, like Sophia, daydreams strange worlds...the thoughtful kid, who's a fast and confident reader, who looks at reality slight slant-wise.   Or give it to grown-ups who love the way the best fantasy books for kids open new windows in the mind.

My middle grade speculative fiction comrade from last year's Cybils Awards reading, Stephanie Whalen, recommend this one in her School Library Journal Review to those who loved The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson, and found it comparable to Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy.  I don't disagree, but to me it gave an even stronger feeling of similarity to the Monster Blood Tattoo series of D.M. Cornish in the sheer splendorous details of its imagination.

I have to say, though, that I personally admire the book more than I love it with the sort of cozy fondness I feel for my favorite books--it really is almost too much of a good thing in the elaboration of its imagination for my taste. 

Despite that, I am pretty sure I want my own final copy of this one.  The copy I read was an ARC, and the final book, with its generous servings of cartography, is a lovely book qua book....

8/11/14

Parched, by Georgia Clark

Parched, by Georgia Clark, is an excellent newcomer to the field of YA dystopias, and even if you are feeling burned out by that sub-genre, give it a try!  It is a very good read, with interesting twists that add just tons of zest (especially for those who enjoy unreliable narrations).

Tess spent the first fifteen years of her life in the comfort of Eden--a closed-off community of abundant resources.  Then tragedy sent her fleeing into the Badlands outside Eden, where life is a hardscrabble struggle.   After a year of fighting for survival, she's tracked down by an Edenite, who persuades her to come back to work to topple the dictators of Eden and bring justice (and little things like water) to the people of the Badlands.  And Tess agrees...but she has her own reasons for going home again, ones her would-be revolutionary colleagues could never guess.

Back in Eden, and welcomed into her uncle's home, Tess meets his student Hunter, assigned by her uncle to help her catch up with her education.  And there is attraction between the two of them...(I found him very geekily appealing myself).

And then, to summarize briskly and without spoilers, the revolutionaries, with Tess now on board, set to work to foil the evil plans of Eden to bring death to the people of the Badlands once and for all. There's exciting confrontations involving robots and high-tech gizmos, and there are game-changing secrets of the sort that those who like unreliable narrations will enjoy tremendously (even though it's easy to see the biggest of the revels coming, it is still cool in an intellectually and emotionally diverting way). 

So--Dystopian romance with robotics, and a nice helping of social justice.  Engaging central characters, who have a most interesting relationship indeed.   Nice fast pacing, but with enough breaks in the action to satisfy those, like me, whose eyes blur when the pacing is too exciting.  The world of Eden and the Badlands isn't in itself a desperately fresh premise, but the twists at work in the story makes it interesting.   It's also pretty believable, which is depressing.

It deserves lots of teenaged readers, who will enjoy it immensly.  And that includes younger YA readers (the 12 and 13 year olds)--there is some violent torture and death, and some romance, but not of an older readership kind.  Though there is certainly space left for a sequel, it ends in a satisfying, non-cliffhangery place, which I appreciated.

(I also appreciated that the cover does not show Tess with impossibly beautiful hair looking all thin yet tough.  I like the classic sci fic vib the domed cities gives off'; it is a nice change).

I am already thinking ahead to October, and the Cybils--this is definitely a possibility for my YA Speculative Fiction nomination.

disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher

8/10/14

This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy (8/10/14)

Welcome to another week's worth of middle grade sci fi/fantasy gleanings....please let me know if I missed your post or the posts of your loved ones!

The Reviews

11 Birthdays, by Wendy Mass, at Wandering Librarians

The Ascendance Trilogy (The False Prince et seq.), by Jennifer Nielsen, at Tales of the Marvelous

Bad Magic, by Psuedonymous Bosch, at Log Cabin Library

Bravo Victor, by Jemima Pett, at The Ninja Librarians

Chase Tinker and the House of Destiny, by Malia Ann Haberman, at This Kid Reviews Books

Deep Blue, by Jennifer Donnelly, at Boarding With Books

The Forbidden Stone, by Tony Abbott, at The Hiding Spot

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer Holm, at Sharon the LibrarianTeen Librarian Toolbox, and Oh Magic Hour

Frostborn, by Lou Anders, at Mom Read It, Librarian of Snark, and Wondrous Reads

Furies of Calderon, by Jim Butcher, at The Book Sphere

The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at Icey Books

The Iron Trial, by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, at What a Nerd Girl Says and The Bibliomaniac

Loki's Wolves, by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr, at Booked Till Tuesday

The Magic Thief, by Sarah Prineas, at Hidden In Pages (audiobook review)

Memory Maze (The Hypnotists 2), by Gordon Corman, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at The Hiding Spot

The One Safe Place, by Tania Unsworth, at The Book Monsters

The Path of Names, by Ari Goelman, at Kid Lit Geek

The  Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at Geo Librarian

Storybound, by Marissa Burt, at The Cheap Reader

The Time of the Fireflies, by Kimberley Griffiths Little, at Middle Grade Mafioso

The Time of the Ghost, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Here There Be Books

Treasure of Green Knowe, by L.M. Boston, at Tor

Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Winterling, by Sarah Prineas, at My Precious

The Wrath of Siren, by Kurt Chambers, at Annie McMahon


Authors and Interviews

Mary G. Thompson (Evil Fairies Love Hair) at The Enchanted Inkpot

N.D. Wilson discusses Boy of Blur in a Sneaky Peeks Video #1 at Wild Things


Other Good Stuff

Disney takes the first steps toward making a movie of A Wrinkle In Time, via Waking Brain Cells

Rocket and Groot reimagined as Calvin and Hobbs.  Love.  (via Tor)

You know that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover with Veruca as creepy doll on it?  Travis at 100 Scope Notes took that approach to a logical conclusion of brilliance....you will never think of The Secret Garden the same way again.

Ursula Le Guin talks to  Michael Cunningham about "genres, gender, and broadening fiction" at Electric Lit

Thoughts on having to teach The Lightning Thief for a 6th grade mythology unit, at Teach the Fantastic

An article in the Applied Journal of Social Psychology suggests that reading Harry Potter can teach kids empathy (there's a lay-person friendly summary here at Science of Us

"7 Black Women Science Fiction Writers Everyone Should Know" at For Harriet, which is made more specifically MG SFF relevant  by the news that the film rights to Akata Witch have been optioned.  And indeed, it would make an awesome movie....

The Call for Cybils Judges begins August 18th!  I am returning as organizer of Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, and please all of you who love MG SF think hard about throwing your hats into the ring to be panelists!   Here's how I chose panelists:
--I check to make sure they are in fact enthusiastic about MG SF (don't send in a sample post that says "I don't read much middle grade" as has happened in the past), and check to see if there's some thought to their reviews
--I try to balance tried and true veterans with new folks, try to include teachers, parents, librarians, authors, general fans etc, so a range of background and experiences are included in the mix
--I try not to have too many of my top candidates siphoned off by other needy categories.

If you want more information or have questions, please feel free to email me (charlotteslibrary at gmail dot com)

And finally, in an effort to encourage my kids do make things this summer, I brought out the boxes of miscellaneous junk and hardware such as result from having an old house and huge barn full of stuff, and this is the robot my 11 year old made (with a bit of tool-using help, because of it being his first time).  Its eyes are holograms from expired credit cards.  (The picture was taken in an unsalubrious corner of my semi-subterranean, 250-year-old office.  My own walls aren't quite that bad).

8/8/14

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics

My Latin teacher, Mrs. Jones, made me memorize this quote from the Aeneid  when I was 15--Sunt lacrimae rerum, et mentem motilia tangunt (There are tears of things, and they touch the human heart).   It pretty much sums up the book I just finished-- Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics, edited by Chris Duffy (First Second, July 2014, YA on up)


Many of the poems of the WW I English poets that are anthologized here, illustrated by various graphic artists, were not new to me, but seeing them illustrated twisted, sharpened, and deepened my emotional reaction to them.  And my emotional reaction to the pity of it, and the horror of it, is so great that any intellectual response is dampened to the banality of "I don't like this one as much" or "Yes, that is great writing, and gee those are powerful images" (then taking a break in the reading to allow the eyes to clear).

So I can't critically review this one.

I can say, though, that I think it is a valuable book.  And that I think we need books like this, in a format that's friendly and familiar to young readers, that might shake the foundations of safe complacency.

"If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gurgling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

[Sweet and good it is to die for your country].

George Pratt's black and white illustrations, understated, matter of fact, help bring the point of Wilfred Owen's famous poem home.  

So yes, it's a good book, with the emotional heft of great poems made more so by the drawings.   And it's made education friendly by the ordering of the poems by their sequence in the war--The Call to War, In the Trenches, and Aftermath, by an introduction explaining trench warfare and poetry, bios. of the poets, and by notes about each poem and its adaptation.  You can go look at these things here at First Second

And moving on from there, more poetry comics, please, First Second!  They are such a useful and easy way to acquire cultural literacy.

Example:  On a much lighter and somewhat tangential note--Busman's Honeymoon, by Dorothy Sayers (the one in which Peter and Harriet are married) is full of quotations and references (I would like an annotated edition, please) and I finally (!), thanks to inclusion of Everyone Sang, by Siegfried Sassoon, realize where the line that comes into Harriet's head at one point "Everyone suddenly burst out singing" comes from.  It's not utterly tangential, because of course Lord Peter was himself a veteran of WW I....and this makes the peace he finds with Harriet all the more powerful.  As Sasson's poem goes on to say--

"And beauty came like the setting sun:

My heart was shaken with tears, and horror
Drifted away..."

Which Sayers doubtless knew and was thinking of, because she was smart without the help of poetry comics!

(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)

(for the first time in ages, I get to be part of Poetry Friday, hosted today at A Year of Reading!)

8/6/14

A readathon of my own! Gratefully Reading the Books Given

I have a long, long lovely weekend ahead of me (taking Friday off, and VJ Day on Monday--a perk of living in Rhode Island) and so I am challenging myself to read all the lovely books that have come my way as gifts!  I am bad at reading presents, because having them in the house almost feels like present enough.  So my tbr shelves include Christmas gifts and birthday gifts from loved ones, some unread for several years (oh the shame) and books from dear bloggers (some also unread for years sigh).   But no more!  I will read them this weekend, and then start working on my  Christmas/birthday present wishlist with an untrammeled heart. 

Would you like to join me in my Gratefully Reading the Books Given Readathon?  I realize that I might be alone in my shame, but if not, please feel free to play too!  I went and poked at Mr. Linky, but you seem to have to pay to make a widget of your own, and I don't feel like doing that.  So I'm going to do a round-up by hand-- leave a comment with your intro post to join!


Here are my own presents (and doubtless I am missing some, because the piles of books are deep and dark and precariously staked).   I will start reading them Thursday evening, and have them all read by Monday evening!

Clockwise from left:  from-- Maureen, an unknown blogger (it's been so long), and Brandy:



From my dear husband (yes, that first one is a book by a favorite author that I've had for years and haven't read):



And one more from my husband, and one from my sister:


8/5/14

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare, by MG Buehrlen

It's a great time to be a reader of YA time travel--books like The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare, the debut novel of MG Buehrlen (Strange Chemistry, February 2014), keep coming down the pike and offering new twists and turns.   (And I am willing to bet that Outlander is going to keep things hot, as it were--I don't think there any danger of YA time-travel romance petering out any time soon!) 

So the basic premise of today's book is time travel through the visiting of past lives (56 of them in the case of a teenaged girl named Alex Wayfare).  But these are not touristy past life visits, but science-fictionally masterminded ones.  And (as is so often the case) the mastermind in question has been corrupted by the power he wields over the past...and it is his motives and ploys that shape the time travelling.

And Alex, when we first meet her, has no clue.  She thinks she's just a spaz with weird visions and not friends, and so she shrinks into a cocoon of social outcastness, letting the bullying and unkindness go by unopposed while she tinkers with mechanical things and grieves for her little sister who is fighting cancer. 

But then Alex starts to move through time (with the help of a mysterious older man who shows up to be her mentor)....and on her first trip back to the past she meets a boy called Blue and feels a strong bond with him.  This is especially important to her because he is the first person outside her family she has felt kinship with for ages.  At which point, some of us are thinking "oh, time travel romance" but then the twisty speculative fiction side of things ratchets the pace up a notch.  There is a backstory to Blue that Alex could never have guessed...a story far stranger than insta romance.  

And there is danger afoot, as the aforementioned mastermind becomes aware that Alex has been born again, and is travelling once more.

And so Alex is on the way to the races of, uh, destiny  as she struggles to find Blue again (her primary motivation), and keep getting herself out of the troubles she tumbles into, and the troubles she was born, and born again, to keep on having.....

This is one I found interesting intellectually, more than warm fuzzy emotionally.  On the plus side,  I liked very much the premise on which the time travelling was based.  The time travelling expeditions were nicely detailed and vivid, especially Alex's time as a sharpshooting gang member in the wild west!  Alex inhabits the bodies of her past selves, but without their memories...but with the past persona still able to take over the action as required.  It made for a a nicely twisty sort of time travel!

It was a good premise, but Alex is a bit of a psychological mess and not the most sympathetic character.  Her prime motivation--finding in time travel bonds of affection (ie, making sure Blue cares about her)--is perhaps understandable, but it diminishes the more intriguing scaffolding of the larger worldbuilding and story.  Throughout the book Alex, instead of focusing on the bigger picture, is busier getting external validation from all the guys she was encountering--her mysterious mentor in time travel, Blue, and the guys in the past who loved her past selves, and a guy in the present who wants to be her friend despite her asocial prickliness. 

And I felt a bit put out that her little sister, with whom she had been very close, had become just her dying sister, and not a person with whom she had a convincing relationship.   And on top of that, Alex is given the gift of magical healing through time travel--no more asthma, and no more glasses.   So basically her character arc didn't do that much for me, until right toward the end of the book, when she starts showing independent agency...

At which point I started zipping through it like crazy, and the last 60 pages or so went woosh.  At which point it becomes clear that this book is essentially a set-up for larger confrontations to come--I am glad that even though the Strange Chemistry imprint is no more, MG Buehrlen is moving ahead with the sequel, The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare

So just for clarity-- I am cautiously recommending/not discouraging anyone from reading The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare, because it is an interesting read for time travel fans, and there are those who like it much more than me, and maybe you would be one of them.

If you want a second opinion, here's a good one at The Social Potato-- note that it's a four star review that's mostly negative!

8/4/14

Drift, by M.K. Hutchins

Drift, by M.K. Hutchins (Tu Books, April 2014, upper middle grade/younger YA)

Imagine a world where turtle islands swim through the ocean, each bearing on its back a great tree, each trailing the roots of its tree beneath them.   Some are large, some small, and all are home to people.   But it is not a peaceful ocean  for the turtles and the people for whom they are home.  The turtles must contend with monstrous nagas, who devour their roots and slow them down in their quests for food; the people must contend with the possibility of larger turtle communities attacking and enslaving them.

Tenjat and his sister came to their small turtle home fleeing danger on a larger island.  Tenjat is determined to become a Keeper-one who works to keep the turtle safe and fed, while being supported by the general populace.  That way he can guarantee that he and his sister will have a safe, prosperous future, without having to burden the turtle by slowing it down with the weight of offspring.  For in this world, to become a husband, farming the turtle ground and reproducing so as to have cheap labor on hand, is the most shameful fate a young man can have.

And even though his sister (for mysterious reasons that she won't tell her brother) objects strongly, Tenjat presents himself at the door to his turtle's great tree, and takes the test....

And what the reader gets next is sort of a Magic School of Turtle Keeper Training, complete with forays into the world of the monsters and the gaining of magical treasures and bullying older students and some good teachers and some bad!  (I liked this part of the book very much).

And then what readers get is Tenjat and his allies having to do some serious turtle-saving, during the course of which they up-end their island's ideas of the natural order of things (big twist here--I'm not sure it is entirely convincing, but it was big and interesting all right!).

So all in all, a good, gripping read.  Readers who make it past the rather depressing farming introduction to the great tree will be rewarded.   It's a good one for your older middle grade reader--there's relationship issues, but not of a "romance is the most important thing" kind, more the sort of still emotionally not yet mature middle-grade kind.  And middle grade readers, like me, do enjoy a good magical school-type story....with cool monsters and magical objects wrested from a mysterious non-world!

My one dissatisfaction with the book is the amount of opprobrium toward "hubs" (husbands), which the aforementioned middle grade reader might have a hard time understanding.  On the other hand, many middle grade kids think that ending up settled with a passel of kids a horrible fate, and so they might relate strongly to Tenjat's cultural prejudice against reproduction.   They might, however, be baffled by his repulsion when he starts feeling "hubish" toward the young woman, Avi, who is his trainer (and a beautiful strong, skilled, full-of-agency-and-independent story trainer at that).   In any event, I felt that I grasped the whole issue of cultural prejudice rather more efficiently than the author gave me credit for, and worried more about sustainable, genetically diverse populations than I was expected too.

I was also slightly bothered by the fact that, while women who marry and reproduce are also not respected, they are seemingly less despised, as if they have less choice, and I am one for gender-equaliaty in public shaming, if public shaming their must be...But on the other hand, I am pretty sure this unbalance comes from Tenjat (being our male POV character) desperately not wanting to become a hub himself, and so we hear more about that side of things....

Drift is inspired by Mayan cosmology, twisted and added to, which makes it a refreshing change, and its people are described as brown skinned, making this one for my list of diverse speculative fiction.   The world-building, especially the Info Dump reveal towards the end, does require that belief be gently folded and put on a top shelf, perhaps more so than most, but that makes it all the more fresh and fascinating for those who cooperate with the story-telling!

Here's  what Kirkus said, which isn't actually all that helpful....but you can read samples on line at Lee and Low, which is more so.  Drift is a Junior Library Guild selection.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

8/3/14

This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (8/2/14)

The first round-up of August!   It was a good week for the letter F.  Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

Archer's Goon, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Leaf's Reviews

Blue Moon, by James Ponti, at The Book Monsters

The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel, at Waking Brain Cells

The Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, at Charlotte's Library

The Children of Green Knowe, by L.M. Boston, at Tor

Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, at Susan the Librarian

Evil Fairies Love Hair, by Mary G. Thompson, at Smitten Over Books

The Familiars, by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson, at Bewitched Bookworms

Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, by Emma Trevayne,  at Dee's Reads

Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo, at Teach Mentor Texts

The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler, at Charlotte's Library

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm, at Book Nut and The Knight Reader

The Frankenstein Journals, by Scott Sonneborn, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

The Freedom Maze, by Delia Sherman, at books4yourkids

Frostborn, by Lou Anders, at The Bibliosanctum

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle, by George Hagen, at proseandkahn

Galexy's Most Wanted, by John Kloepfer, at The Write Path

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, by Sheila Turnage, at Plenty of Pages

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy, at Log Cabin Library

Icefall, by Matthew Kirby, at Hidden in Pages (audiobook)

The Islands of Chaldea, by Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Jones, at Parenthetical and On Starships and Dragonwings

Krabat and the Sorcerer's Mill, by Otfried Preussler (translated from the German by Anthea Bell) at Kid Lit Reviews

The Kronos Chronicles (Cabinet of Wonders, etc.) by Marie Rutkoski, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The League of Seven, by Alan Gratz, at Wandering Librarians

The Magical Mind of Mindy Munsen, by Nikki Bennett, at Mother, Daughter and Son Book Reviews

Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie, by Jeff Norton, at The Book Zone (For Boys)

Mission Unstopable: The Genius Files, by Dan Gutman, at books4yourkids (possibly not spec. fic.???)

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Geo Librarian

Oliver and the Seawigs, by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, at Manga Maniac Cafe

Return of the Padawan (Star Wars Jedi Academy) by Jeffrey Brown, at Mom Read It

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer, at mstamireads

Seven Stories Up, by Laurel Snyder, at Book-a-Day Almanac

The Sword of Kuromori, by Jason Rohan, at Blog of a Bookaholic

The Time of the Fireflys, by Kimberly Griffiths Little, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Thickety, by J.A. White, at Evelyn Ink

The Trolley to Yesterday, by John Bellairs, at Charlotte's Library

And quick looks at four middle grade fantasy books, with brief notes for teachers, at The Page Turn


Authors and Interviews

Julia Mary Gibson (Copper Magic) at Literary Rambles (giveaway)

G.A. Morgan (The Fog of Forgetting) at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Wendy Knight (Banshee at the Gate) at fourfoxesonehound


Other Good Stuff

Another great Tuesday 10-- Sci Fi Time Travel-- at Views From the Tesseract

Here are the July diversity links from Diversity in YA

Kidlitcon 2014 is shaping up to be a nice one for us readers of MG Spec Fic.-- I don't have the full program to present to you yet (because we've extended the deadline for session proposals until this Friday, August 8), but I can tease a little by saying that Mike Jung (of the truly excellent Geeks, Girls, & Secret Identities) will be there, taking part in a WeNeedMoreDiverse panel!  And my program teaser on Friday was the news that Zetta Elliott is coming--she's the author of the upper MG/YA Ship of Souls, among many other books.    

I hope all of you can come too!  (and that includes authors as well--Friday there is a nice chunk of time for author mingling and book promotion--more info. for authors and publishers here)

And another heads-up-- round-about the middle of August, the call will be going out for bloggers who want to take part in judging the Cybils Awards.   For those who haven't heard of them yet, the Cybils are awards given by bloggers to children's and YA books (and aps) in a variety of categories.  There are two rounds of judging--first round panelists read the nominated books (around 140 in MG Spec. Fic) and make a shortlist, from which second round panelists will choose a winner).  If you're a first round panelist, you don't have to read every single last one--each book has to be read by a minimum of two people. 

In any event, it is a great thing to be part of (reading books, chatting about them with your fellow panelists, passionately advocating for your favorites), so do think about throwing your name into the hat! The main criteria for panelists is demonstrated enthusiasm for reading and blogging about the category you want to be part of....so any of you whose blog regularly appears in these round-ups should think about putting your name in for MG Spec Fic (for which I am the category chair).

And finally, Guardians of the Galaxy was really good and all four of us enjoyed it very much indeed!  I laughed and cried (mostly at the beginning, when I though I was watching a trailer for A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness) but mostly I laughed.  "Nothing goes over my head," says one metaphor-challenged character.  "I am too quick for that." (paraphrased....). I was doubtful about the raccoon, but I need not have been.




8/1/14

A Kidlitcon program teaser (and also a note that the deadline for panel ideas has been extended a week)

The program for Kidlitcon 2014 is slowly taking shape.  We've extended the deadline for session proposals a week because we know there are people out there still Mulling, so you have till August 8th to send your idea my way (here's the Official Form, but you can email me on the side if you want--charlotteslibrary at gmail dot com).

Even though the program isn't finished, I can guarantee that it's going to be great.  We have our keynote speaker, Mitali Perkins!  We  have a panel of awesome authors from WeNeedDiverseBooks!  (details to come....)

And just yesterday, in breaking Kidlitcon News, author Zetta Elliott agreed to come be part of a panel--yay!  (it's a panel I'm really excited about that I think is especially important........). 

And of course we also have our own lovely blogging selves on the program, because this is our time to talk too. 


7/31/14

The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler

The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler (Penguin, April 2014, middle grade) -- a review in three acts.

Act 1:  In which we meet Alice, and the Library

Alice, who quickly becomes an orphan once she
a.  realizes she's the heroine of a middle grade fantasy
b.  loses her father to a mysterious boat accident in which a nasty insect fairy person might have had a hand

is taken in by her "kindly" uncle who has
a.  a big house
b.  a big house with really strange and creepy staff of two and no clear reason for putting Alice in a maid's room at the top of the house
c.  a Forbidden Library

and Alice of course enters the Forbidden Library and starts becoming embroiled in its secrets.

Act 2:  In which there are magical secrets revealed
Setting:  a library with lots of mysterious bookish passages, nooks, etc, as well as (more unusually) places where the ambiance and environment contained within particular books leaks out, causing physical ramifications.

In the library, Alice meets
a. a cat
b. a boy
both of whom strike up conversations with her,

And finds that
a.  it is possible to read oneself inside certain books, after inadvertently doing so and almost being killed by the cute little deadly killers trapped inside.
b.  She's really good at reading herself into books, and now has psychic control over the whole host of cute little deadly creatures (this comes in useful in Act 3)

[The book is illustrated, but the picture of these little creatures is the only one I noticed because the cuteness is just too cute.  Does anyone else read so fast you can't remember if a book was illustrated or not?]

Act 3--In which we learn that not everyone can be trusted and there were lots of things people weren't telling Alice

Turns out Alice is being used to do something magical that might have ramifications and there is Potentially Fatal Adventure involving the denizen of a very dangerous book indeed....

It's a perfectly fine fantasy adventure, with a nicely detailed and intricate plot and setting ( although I expected more actual bibliophilia).   Not a huge amount of emotional depth, but that's not a necessary prerequisite for middle grade reading enjoyment, and there was enough actual rational thought and sincere feeling on Alice's part to make her more than a place-holder.  She also gets points for pluck.

So basically, I enjoyed reading it just fine, can easily imagine lots of 11 year olds enjoying it, don't particularly want to urge it on adult readers of middle grade fantasy in a Read This Now because My God it is Brilliant way,  but wouldn't want to dissuade anyone from reading it either.   I will be reading the sequel; it ends at a good ending place but clearly there needs to be more.

Those who like The Books of Elsewhere series, by Jacqueline West (another trapped by magic story, though in paintings, not books, and another one with talking cats) might well enjoy this too. 

Here is the UK cover, which I personally prefer; the US cover makes me think of Poltergeist.



7/30/14

Waiting on Wednesday-- The Swallow: a Ghost Story, by Charis Cotter

I do not always see eye to eye with the folks reviewing middle grade fantasy books over at Kirkus, but still, when I read a Kirkus review that says "Middle-grade storytelling at its very best— extraordinary" my little eyes light up.   Although The Swallow: a Ghost Story, by Charis Cotter, sounds like one I'd have wanted to read regardless.....

 
"In 1960s Toronto, two girls retreat to their attics to escape the loneliness and isolation of their lives. Polly lives in a house bursting at the seams with people, while Rose is often left alone by her busy parents. Polly is a down-to-earth dreamer with a wild imagination and an obsession with ghosts; Rose is a quiet, ethereal waif with a sharp tongue. Despite their differences, both girls spend their days feeling invisible and seek solace in books and the cozy confines of their respective attics. But soon they discover they aren't alone--they're actually neighbors, sharing a wall. They develop an unlikely friendship, and Polly is ecstatic to learn that Rose can actually see and talk to ghosts. Maybe she will finally see one too! But is there more to Rose than it seems? Why does no one ever talk to her? And why does she look so... ghostly? When the girls find a tombstone with Rose's name on it in the cemetery and encounter an angry spirit in her house who seems intent on hurting Polly, they have to unravel the mystery of Rose and her strange family... before it's too late."

(I like a synopsis that makes good use of ellipses.)

And here's the Kirkus review.

Coming from Tundra Books, Sept. 9, 2014.

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

7/29/14

The Trolley to Yesterday, by John Bellairs, for Timeslip Tuesday

I feel that many people, knowing they will want to review a time travel book next Tuesday, will read one over the weekend.  And I wanted to...but there was the fence to put up, the sofa cushions to sew, the wood to stack, the birthday party for a child's friend to host at our house, and several etcs.  So when it became clear at c. 5pm today that I wasn't going to finish the book I'd wanted to review (The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare), I turned to a shorter book of yesteryear-- The Trolley to Yesterday, by John Bellairs (1989).   This is the sixth book in a series about Johnny Dixon and the eccentric professor who is his neighbor, but it can stand alone.

So the basic premise of the plot is that the professor has a time travelling trolley in the basement of his house, and has been using it to go back in time to watch the build up to the conquest of Constantinople in 1453.   And Johnny and his friend Fergie intrude themselves into the trolley rides to the past.

Now, I myself would be surprised to find a neighbor had a time-travelling trolley, and had used it not only to go back to 1453, but also to ancient Egypt from whence he had returned with a minor Egyptian god nicknamed Brewster but Johnny and Fergie take it in their stride.  And it is good that they are able to accept the impossible, because back in time in Constantinople they get to experience--

--a boatload of Knights Templar ghosts
--a magical device, given to them by the ghost Templars, that acts as a magical transporter
--the original inventor of the time trolley, who for some time thinks he's a Venetian admiral
--a talking statue that makes them answer Roman trivia questions; if they can't, their stuck in the city's subterranean aqueduct forever
--Brewster's magical abilities

And the more mundane efforts of the professor to save the Christians who have taken refuge in the Hagia Sophia pale by comparison to all these divertissements.

What there is, clearly, is lots of story, and a lot of tense excitement as things get worse and worse for the time travelers and they are separated from their trolley ride home to the future by more and more people who want to kill them (both Christians inquisitors and Muslim invaders).   It was kind of like a time-travelling Mad Libs story.   As I read, I didn't bother to ask "what is happening?"  because there it all was, happening away, and though impossible and rather insane, it all followed a fairly linear path.   I did, however, ask "why are they so blasé about all this magic?" but I guess that's what a time-travelling trolley will do to a person.

I also asked the rather more interesting question "how is this book different from books published today?" and the main thing that struck me (apart from the fact that it was shorter) is that there is very little tension between the characters--there's no important emotional story arc, which I feel most middle grade fantasy books of today at least aspire to.  That's not to say there's no emotion--the friendship and not always amiable interactions between the two boys were just fine, and the emotional desperation of the people inside the besieged city was believably intense.  It's just that the same things would have happened to any old kids just about, and character development wasn't the point at all.

Oddly, Booklist called this one "perfect for the pre-Stephen King set" and I am really having trouble wrapping my head around this...there is no similarity, no sense that the Templar ghosts of today will become the dark horror of tomorrow.   It is just as perfect for the pre-Hemmingway set.

Publisher's Weekly said something I found odd as well--  "Bellairs's vision of Constantinople is as spooky as it is exotic" and I do not know at all what they mean by "exotic" because we barely see the place, unless they mean "not 20th century New York" which isn't saying much, or possibly exotic as in  "having magical talking statues guarding the aqueduct" which is saying more.  It is not exotic in the sense of providing a rich, detailed description of life in a different culture.

However, not all educational opportunities are lost--at least the young reader will know that Constantinople fell, and have a confused but vivid sense of how that day in history played out.

I myself have no desire to read any more John Bellairs, but I can see how the kids of 1989 who would have loved Harry Potter and Percy Jackson would have enjoyed his books.   And I can imagine, though with a tad more effort, kids of today enjoying this book, because it really was rather fun.

(fans of Edward Gorey will have noticed that he did the cover art; here's a post about the book's art at the Goreyana blog which has just distracted me more than somewhat.)

7/28/14

Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson -- Beowulf in the Florida swamps, with football

Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson (Random House, upper middle grade/younger YA, April 2014)

Charlie has come to the Florida sugar cane country for the funeral of his step-dad's foster father, football coach and mentor of generations of boys in a small town up against swampland.   There he meets Cotton, a second step-cousin his own age, who takes him exploring off the edge of town...and what they find there is the start of a battle against darkness.  For off in the swamp a dark, twisted mother is making the town's dead into zombie children.  And Charlie and Cotton are caught in an age old struggle between good and evil that they can't outrun.  Not matter how fast they are....

To my surprise and pleasure, it turned out that I was reading a Beowulf reimagining!   Grendel is played by the zombies, Grendel's mother is of course the mother down in the swamp, and Charlie is forced into the role of the hero!   Very cool.*   I don't think you have to know Beowulf to make sense of things, but it sure added a lot to my own reading pleasure.

But it's more than just a retelling.  It's also a story about family and coming to terms with the past.  Charlie's biological father, who ended up abusing him and his mother, is out of prison, and back in this same small town (he was a football player in sugar cane country too).  And it's a story with lots of football--Charlie's step-dad made it to the big leagues, and so is a returning hero, and just about all the boys in town are football crazy (note--in general, I have no desire to read about football, but I thought it added lots to this particular story).

It's not a story about race, but is a story in which some of the characters (like Charlie's step-dad) are black and some are white, and this is the way things are, and there are tensions but this is not the point.

It's also just a flat out good story.   The sense of place is really, really strong-you can almost feel the slash of the sugar cane on your face, and smell the dark stinking mud-- and it's a place that clearly has deep (and dark) history (a history in which the Native people are a key part, though they are not here in this place at the time of the telling).   Exploring this place, and learning its story, is what sets things in motion.

And Charlie and all the other extended cast of characters are great.  Charlie's step-dad is awesome, Cotton (forced to a high level of erudition by his home-schooling mama) is awesome, and Charlie himself is a character you can root for with conviction.

And on top of that, the whole story manages to fit inside 195 tight and succinct pages, without loosing any umph.   This friendly brevity, and all the football in the book, makes it a good one to offer the kid who likes Chris Crutcher...and who might be ready for a dark supernatural twist alongside the athletics!   It might also be a good one for fans of horror for kids who are now somewhat older.  Here is my idea of a the perfect reader-- the smart seventh through ninth grade ex-Goosebumps reader who plays football and who knows who Beowulf is.

Which is of course not exactly me, but I was also a good reader for it all the same, and enjoyed it lots.  It wasn't too icky, though it was scary (don't give this to a younger kid who gets scared) and tense and a panther dies (sad). There was never once so much non-stop unbroken action that I started skimming, and I loved the Beowulf references.

*A small pedantic note:  I hope future editions change "Welcome to my heriot" on page 118 to "Welcome to my Heorot"-- the first is a death-duty, the second the great hall in Beowulf.   Or even take it out altogether, as it calls for higher level Beowulfian knowledge than most of the target audience will have. Which leads to my one issue with the book--it would have been good if there had been more introduction to that story, because if you don't know it, you might find the references to things like Grendel's arm pretty meaningless.


7/27/14

How I presented at Kidlitcon, and how you can too!

Kidlitcon, the wonderful yearly gathering of book bloggers (Sacramento, October), is seeking proposals for sessions, and I have a rather personal interest in having lots of proposals come in, because I am the Program Organizer, and need program elements to organize.

So I thought to encourage folks to submit I would share the story (not very interesting, but there it is) of how I myself bravely submitted a session idea, and what happened next.

Be the conversation you want to have!
(this is the title of the story, not just a random marketing slogan)

The wonderful thing about Kidlitcon is talking to like-minded people about subjects of keenly shared interest.   But I wanted to make certain sure that the subject I most wanted to talk about, blogging middle grade books, was going to be discussed, and the only way to do this was to propose a session myself.    I didn't want to be all alone at the head of the room, so I asked the Kidlitosphere group* if there was anyone who would join me, and lo!  Katy of BooksYALove and Melissa of Book Nut became my comrades in presenting!

The actual session was tons of fun, with lively audience participation, and we all got so enthused talking about the second topic on the list we'd prepared that we never got to the rest.  (This second topic was the issue of  "boy book/girl book" -- gendered marketing, reader/parent bias, individual readers vs gender blocks, the idea that boys don't read girl books, or don't read at all, etc etc. (This could be a session all by itself, with YA books and picture books too.)

This year there's a Theme to Kidlitcon--Blogging Diversity (and here's one of the organizers, Tanita Davis, talking about what we mean when we talk about diversity).   But!  (I will make it an even bigger BUT!!!)  This does not mean that diversity will be the only thing talked about.  On Friday there will be times where there are two sessions at the same time, and so there will be room for general bloggish sessions as well as those focusing on diversity.    I hope that lots of bloggers come who have never been to a Kidlitcon before, who haven't had a chance to talk about some of the topics that have come up in the past, and I want to be sure that there are things on the program to inspire and enthuse them (not that diversity sessions won't inspire and enthuse, but I want entry level sessions too).

Here's a sample Kidlitcon schedule (from 2011)--take a look, and think about what conversations you want at this year's conference! 

The deadline for proposals is August 1; here is the submission form.  If you think you might want to talk about something but are uncertain, do feel free to email me (charlotteslibrary at gmail dot com), and I will offer advice, encouragement, the possibility of matchmaking with others interested in the same topic, etc., to the best of my ability.

(and if you have never been before, and are on the fence about even coming, here are recap posts that some of us who went to Austin last year wrote.  None of us regretted it....)

 *a Yahoo list for children's book bloggers; more info. on how to join here

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