Weekend Links on Wednesday

  • I know that there’s something intrinsically wrong about it, but that doesn’t change my compulsive love for book art. And oh man, these are some beauties.  My eyes got really big when I got to the Alice in Wonderland one. Thanks to Fuse #8 for the fabulous find.
  • Laurie Halse Anderson wants to know what an author should do when a review gets the facts very wrong.  I agree with many of the commenters – a brief correction note coming from the publisher seems like the wise course of action.
  • Lisa Chellman reminds us that good and bad reviews aren’t everything – in the end, it’s each reader’s own response that matters.
  • Oh boy oh boy oh boy this is going to be gorgeous.
  • A look at the word appropriate, and the ways that the word is sometimes used to keep materials out of YA collections.
  • Over at YPulse they’ve put together a list of hip hop and rap organizations that are doing good in the community.  Anybody who puts the words hip hop in a sentence with the words education or activism has immediately got my attention.  These groups  are doing some great work.  And how can you not love Hip Hop Chess Tournaments?
  • Kids ♥ Authors Day is coming!  Pretty soon I’m going to have to actually make a decision on which event I should go to.
  • I don’t know how I’ve never seen Judging the Books before – this is right in my wheelhouse!  The 1980s, YA books, and making fun of book covers?  I’m there!
  • Jody Gehrman, author of the very sweet Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty, blogs about how she hates it when writers use replacement words like crap or frigging instead of using curse words.  I am in agreement with her up to a point – if the character would use curse words in that situation, then they should be there.  I don’t agree that words like crap and frigging don’t have any place in fiction – real people use those words, so why shouldn’t fictional people?  Just keep it true to the character and I’ll be happy.
  • Speaking of cursing – I know you all saw Neil Gaiman’s twitter reaction to winning the Newbery, right?  Made me laugh out loud at my work desk.  Delightfully vulgar!
  • Something that is not especially kidlit related – if you’ve never read John Updike’s essay on Ted Williams’ final at-bat, please indulge me by giving it a look.  This is the piece that I will remember him by.  Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu
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The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas

the-possibilities-of-sainthoodAntonia Lucia Labella only wants one thing in this world: to be the first living Patron Saint.  Ok, so maybe that’s not exactly the ONLY thing she wants.  She would also be pretty happy to get her first kiss, preferably from smolderingly handsome Andy Rotellini.    And she’d like it if her mother would get off her back about her clothes, and maybe let her go out on a date once in a while.  And…  ok, so there are a lot of things that Antonia wants.  But being a saint is first among the many.

While the YA heroine with a quirky obsession is an enormously overused trope in YA literature, Antonia felt very real.  I think this is partly because her infatuation with sainthood is woven into all facets of her life.  You can see the roots of her interest in the saints in her interactions with her mother and grandmother, in her stories about her father, and in her own strong faith.

Catholicism is so central to her life that it is not surprising that she would look for ways to make it a more active force in her life.  She does this through her regular petitions to the saints for intercession in her day-to-day life, but also through her letters to the Vatican in hopes of becoming a living saint.  Through her petitions for sainthood, Antonia tries to make herself an active participant in her religion.  Antonia’s letters to the Vatican are very funny and very heartfelt:

I am writing to inform you of a grave oversight in the area of patron saint specialization, to replace my earlier letter this month about a Patron Saint of People Who Make Pasta…  But there are even more pressing matters at hand than pasta.  dire even!  Like the fact that, as yet, there is no Patron Saint of the Kiss, and, to be more specific, the First Kiss!  I ask you: How is this possible?  Young Catholic girls and boys everywhere are in DANGER, not only because of the Vatican’s general need of a reality check in all matters teen-related (I mean, can you be more out of touch about us?  Please!), but specifically with regard to your total lack of foresight in the area of kissing. Let me tell you what happens when there is no Patron Saint of Kissing, especially for us kissing virgins.  I mean, not that I am one or anything – I’ve kissed plenty of boys in my day.  Though, not to say that I overdo it either – I don’t want you to think I’m unchaste or something – but anyway.  As a result of this deficiency, teenagers, who shall remain nameless to protect their identity, might possibly be praying to saints whose specialization is not kissing, and sources tell me that when this happens, it’s like intercessions gone haywire!  (pages 175-176)

Her letters are completely charming, and they make me hope that there’s someone opening letters at the Vatican who really appreciates them.

I loved that the book, like Antonia, was genuinely open to the possibility that miracles happen in life.  Antonia’s petitions to the saints are regularly granted – although not always in the way that she would like.  And there is a very small subplot that leads the reader to believe that Antonia herself is capable of miracles – could she really be on her way to sainthood?

For Antonia, the Saints are “a virtual Rolodex of thousands of men and women to call upon for help in very specific situations, and not just Jesus, who I see as an abyss of possibilities.  With Jesus, you never know what you are going to get, if he was busy or just not interested in your little dilemma and ignoring you.  But with the Saints!  At least with them you have everything narrowed down.  Like, if I thought I might be coming down with strep, a little word to St. Ethelrelda, , Patron Saint Against Throat Diseases, and I’d be good to go” (pg. 36).  In case any of you are in need of intercession, I thought I would share a few potentially useful Saints.

Saint Jerome, Patron Saint of libraries and librarians

Saint John of God, Patron Saint of book sellers and publishers

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Patron Saint of teenagers

I highly suggest taking a peek through this massive directory of Patron Saint Specializations – and if you don’t find the Saint you need, maybe you should recommend Antonia for the job.

Donna Freitas’ on the web

The Possibilities of Sainthood on the web

Have Your Cake

If I were making a list of things that make me happy, childrens and YA books would rank pretty high. And so, of course, would cake. Who doesn’t like cake?  And thanks to the magic of people who make astonishingly detailed cakes and post pictures of them on Flickr, I’m able to bring these two things together today.  I hope you’re not hungry!

thegrinchIf we’re talking about children’s book authors who have inspired bakers to greatness, the conversation begins with one man: Dr. Seuss.  His books have been the jumping off point for some awe-inducing cakes, like this terrifyingly life-like Grinch.  Many of the man’s greatest hits have been celebrated in cake form, from The Lorax to a very tasty plate of Green Eggs and Ham.  But when it comes to Seuss cakes, one book dominates them all.  With striped hats, angry fish, and piles of chaotic red-and-white, there is no shortage of gorgeous cakes based on The Cat in the Hat.

MAndrake Cake, CC Licensed by Flickr user SantosFor fans of everyone’s favorite boy wizard, I’m pretty sure that Hogwarts and everything in it has now been made into at least one cake. Hop on the train at Platform 9 3/4 – don’t forget Hedwig and your spell books!  Grab a treat on the train, and wait for your first view of the castle.  Once you make it to Hogwarts, the sorting hat will put you into a houseGrab a broom and head out to the Quidditch pitch – maybe you’ll be the first the catch the golden snitch.  While you’re at Hogwarts, watch out for basilisks and dementors, books that bite, and giant killer chess sets.  And don’t forget to read the books!  For you, readers, I tried.  But sadly, there are no Voldemort cakes on Flickr.  This is a grievous omission in the world of Potter cakes, and somebody out there needs to get baking!

I have to say, the cake creativity for YA phenomenons pales next to the kidlit cakes.  But I can hardly ignore the Twilight books (looks like New Moon got passed over by the cake bakers).

Comic books and manga are well-represented in the world of amazing cakes.  If you’re looking for traditional comic book heroes, you’ll find them all: Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, the Hulk, Batman, and my personal favorite, this hysterical Wolverine from the X-Men.  For you manga fans, cakes range from Dragon Ball Z and Shin Chan to Fruits Basket and Death Note.  Yes, that is a cake of L from Death Note, and yes, it will make you giggle.  Look at those angry, delicious eyes!

Winnie the Pooh CC licensed by Flickr user SchmishIt’s easy to find beautiful cakes from deep in the Hundred Acre Woods, but almost all of them are of the Disney-fied Pooh.  Kudos to Guernseybabycakes, the maker of this sweet classic Pooh cake.  Of course, before we move on from AA Milne, it wouldn’t be right to leave out Eeyore.

Cakes from the once upon a time world of folk and fairy tales also tend to be Disney-fied – although the books make it into some of them.

Mr. Milne isn’t the only classic children’s author to have a cult cake following.  Beatrix Potter cakes are going strong, with Peter Rabbit leading the way.  But if you look closely, you can find a few daring bakers who have gone beyond Peter’s popularity.

Other popular picture books have their own cakes, too.  Curious George is an especially big choice with the picture book cake-making crowd.  Eric Hill’s Spot and the Rainbow Fish each make an appearance.  And my personal favorite picture book cake is from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.  (Another note for bakers –  where are the In the Night Kitchen Cakes? Come on – “Milk in the batter!  Milk in the batter!  We bake cakes and nothing’s the matter!”  It’s calling out for a cake representation.  I might do this one myself!)

Paddington Cake CC licensed by Flickr user SchmishAmong the chapter books, the winner out of the gate is Alice in Wonderland,  with the Narnia series coming up close behind.  Beloved characters like Paddington Bear and Pippi Longstockings have some pretty impressive cakes, too.  This Roald Dahl cake, featuring many of his characters climbing out of a tall stack of books, is an absolute beauty.

Hope that’s enough cakes for you.  As for me, I’m going to go find something sweet to eat.  If you have a favorite book-related cake, I’d love to see a picture!  Especially if anyone finds some YA book cakes.  They must be out there somewhere.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

knifeofneverlettinggo

This review contains spoilers.

Being able to hear everyone else’s thoughts sounds like it could be a pretty good deal. You’d hear the answer to every question your teacher asked, and you’d know exactly what to buy your mother for her birthday. The downside is that everybody else can hear your thoughts, but even that has its positives. You would never have to get up the guts to tell your boss that you deserved a raise, and your mom would already know how much you wanted a pony for Christmas.

A virus has been released in Prentisstown that makes men’s thoughts audible. And since every resident of Prentisstown is a man, everyone knows what every other resident thinks. It is called the Noise, and it is definitely not a good thing.

“There ain’t nothing but Noise in this world, nothing but the constant thoughts of men and things coming at you and at you and at you, ever since the Spacks released the Noise germ during the war, the germ that killed half the men and every single woman, my ma not excepted, the germ that drove the rest of the men mad, the germ that spelled the end for all Spackle once men’s madness picked up a gun.” (page 13)

Todd Hewitt goes through his life hearing the nastiest, most salacious thoughts of his neighbors. Todd is the last boy in the town, and as he approaches his manhood it becomes clear that the men have been keeping a secret from him. While Todd hunts for apples in the swamp outside of town, he discovers something that shouldn’t exist: a patch of silence in the Noise. The silence leads him to a girl – something else that doesn’t exist in Prentisstown. And the girl leads him to constant revelations. The things he had believed to be true in his life are unraveled one by one. After his discovery of Viola in the swamp, Todd’s world “keeps getting bigger” (page 100) as he runs from the lies of Prentisstown and from the violent and controlling men who perpetuate those lies.

This book was excellent enough for me to overlook the fact that it features no less than three of my personal literature pet-peeves: phonetic spelling, a cliffhanger ending that doesn’t complete the story arc, and the death of a beloved pet. That’s right, this is a book where the dog dies. Despite that, the story’s constant action make it difficult to put this book down. The reader makes every new discovery about Prentisstown’s past along with Todd, and each new piece of information adds to the urgency of Todd’s escape.  For me, this was a major part of the reason that Todd is so easy to relate to, which in turn makes the scenes of violence feel so immediate and terrifying.

The language of Noise in The Knife of Never Letting Go are worth an in-depth look – both Todd’s voice and the constant overwhelming voices of the Noise surrounding him. The way Ness illustrates the Noise, with fonts and text sizes changing and overlapping, paints a vivid picture of the chaos of words that has surrounded Todd his whole life. It is easy to accept other people’s noise as the truth, but as Todd learns over the course of the book, the truth can be covered up and twisted even in men’s Noise. Todd notes that Noise is not truth, but “what men want to be true, and there’s a difference twixt those things so big that it could ruddy well kill you if you don’t watch out” (page 23). Voices of animals are used creatively and often humorously, and even some plants get in on the action. The most effective use of the animals voices is Todd’s dog, Manchee. At first Manchee’s voice is comic relief – as Todd notes in the book’s wonderful opening sentence, “the first thing you find out when your dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say” (page 1). But both Todd and the reader change their opinion of the dog, and he becomes a moral center for the book. While Todd’s connection to Manchee grows stronger because of his Noise, the connection between Todd and Viola is made difficult because of her lack of noise – Todd feels cut off from her because she is not constantly telegraphing her thoughts and emotions. At first he doubts that she can be thinking or feeling at all. The effect of the Noise, even on those who do not have it, is profound.

I was delighted to see Lisa Chellman’s recent post on the relationship between Ben and Cillian, Todd’s adopted family.  I also read them as a gay couple, although there is no explicit discussion of their relationship in the story.  I highly suggest reading Lisa’s thoughts on how they are portrayed in the book, and how their portrayal should be celebrated.

Though stylistically they are very different, this might be a good recommendation for readers who loved The Hunger Games. Both feature young characters growing close while trying to escape a violent dystopian society, and both have constant action that keeps readers engaged.

An earlier version of this review is cross-posted at The Well-Read Child.

Patrick Ness on the web

The Knife of Never Letting Go on the web


Weekend Links

  • Self-censorship in book purchasing is something we all need to think about as often as possible.  Thanks to David Levithan for his moving reminder of why.  (Hat tip to Persnickety Snark)
  • Over at YPulse they’ve summarized an interesting report on the possibilities of using mobile devices for classroom learning.
  • The Gray Lady on the Wimpy Kid Phenomenon.  Did everybody love the new book?  I haven’t read it yet – it was snatched out of my hand by an eager patron.
  • Once again, Shannon Hale has a really well thought out post up on literacy and reading.  I think I’m going to start printing these out and handing them to parents who insist on pulling their kids out of the Graphic Novels section. Along with a copy of Rapunzel’s Revenge.
  • Ever wonder what goes in to making a book?  The Digital Marketing Team at MacMillan have an informative (and tongue-firmly-in-cheek) video for you! (Hat tip to Big Bad Book Blog)
  • Jennifer Lynn Barnes has calculated the number of hours that have been spent on Twilight.  And that’s her low-ball estimate.  Unbelievable.
  • Did you all see that Paramount is making a movie based on Jake Wizner’s hysterical Spanking Shakespeare?  I’m intrigued.  (Hat tip Fuse #8)
  • Is it wrong that I’ve added every single book from this roundup to my to-read list?
  • Katsa’s stubborn ability to remain true to herself in the face of society and even love is one of the many reasons that Graceling is a great book. Some people believe that Katsa’s choices make Graceling anti-marriage. Kristin Cashore talks about those assumptions on her blog.
  • And finally, to all those people who told little-kid-Laura that I read too many books and should go make some real friends: Ha! Reading was teaching me social skills and increasing my empathy all along!  I feel so vindicated.

The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson

explosionist

Let’s make this very clear from the start: I LOVE alternate histories.  So if you say to me, “Check it out – this is a detailed look at how the world might have changed if Napoleon had defeated Wellington at Waterloo,” I will be on page 15 before you’ve finished your sentence.  And if you follow that up with “And it’s got this awesome plot with political intrigue and ghosts and murder,” I will have run off with your book in my hand.  (I’ll give it back after I’ve finished.  Maybe.)

The Explosionist delivers a rip-roaring story, with all of the above elements in spades.  Sophie is a schoolgirl in Scotland, which has fully split from England since Napoleon’s victory and is now part of the Hanseatic League.  It is a turbulent time in Sophie’s Scotland, with terrorist bombings on the rise, and the country seems to be slowly gearing up for war with Europe.  In Sophie’s own life, she is not only negotiating the everyday trials of being a teenager – her roommates’ constant teasing about Sophie’s crush on her science teacher, for instance – but she has also been drawn into investigation of a dangerous plot.  While looking for further information from a medium who delivered a strange message to Sophie during one of her Great-aunt’s seances, Sophie and Mikael stumble onto a murder.  Not knowing who they can trust, the two friends conduct their own investigation.  What they find has implications for the entire world, and puts Sophie in immediate danger.

Davidson’s world-building is extraordinarily well done.  It is clear that the history, science, and culture of The Explosionist has been given serious thought, and the world that has been created is both interesting and plausible.  The implications of a single change in history ripple through all aspects of the story, from the current political situation to the worldview of teenage girls in Scotland.  I was especially curious about two choices that Davidson made, one of which is integral to the story and one of which was mentioned only in passing.

Multiple times in the story, Davidson alludes to great cultural and scientific achievements such as “the theology of Count Tolstoy, the novels of Richard Wagner, the verse of Albert Einstein, or the operas of James Joyce” (page 62).  There were just enough of these asides to be distracting, and to make me feel like Davidson was trying to make some point beyond showcasing the subtle differences between this world and ours.  Whether her point was that genius will come forward in whatever form is cultivated, or that great achievements like “the Wittenberg Uncertainty Principle” would eventually come to light even without their original creators, I’m not sure.  Perhaps this is something that Davidson will address in a sequel.

Much more central to the plot is the genuine spiritualism that is found in Sophie’s world.  The spiritualists in the world of The Explosionist have much in common with the spiritualist movement that was popular in certain American and European social circles in the late 1800s and early 1900s, where societies of wealthy women would gather for seances and other communications with the spirit world.  There is one major difference – in Davidson’s book, spiritualism is not only widely believed, but is genuine and commonplace, to the point where it can be difficult to tune a radio without interference from spirit voices.  In fact, the mysterious plot that Sophie and Mikael investigate cannot be unraveled without significant guidance from spirits, or without Sophie’s unwanted talents as a spirit medium.  It is not clear whether this advance in spirit communication also stems somehow from Wellington’s defeat at Waterloo, or whether this is a difference that has always existed in the world of The Explosionist.

Davidson created not only a complete world for her novel, but also a web of well-rounded and complex characters.  With one key exception, even characters who are doing wrong believe that they are acting for the good of the country.  Sophie’s Great-Aunt Tabitha is especially compelling.  Her own faith in the IRYLNS program, a training program for perfect secretaries that she created and still champions, is thrown up against her increasing desire to keep Sophie out of the program.  Ultimately, we see a woman who truly believes that people would be better off without any emotions thrown for a loop by her love for her ward.  The choices made by Great-aunt Tabitha are the most chilling part of the novel.

While I did not see anything on the author’s website, it sure feels like there will be a sequel coming.  I hope to enjoy Sophie’s further adventures, and to learn more about Jenny Davidson’s imaginative version of history.

Edited to add:  The author has shared some thoughts on the spiritualism in the book over on her blog, in response to a review by the wonderful Jo Walton.

Jenny Davidson on the web

The Explosionist on the web

The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees

voorhees_brotherstorres
Frankie Towers is a good kid. He helps out at the family restaurant, he’s a loyal friend to his buddy Zach, and he idolizes his big brother Steve. But lately Frankie’s had to cover up for his brother more and more – Steve’s been staying out all night and coming home with black eyes and bruises. Steve’s street cred may be rising, but Frankie’s getting concerned about his brothers’ choices. Frankie’s romantic life is getting complicated, too. He’s been pining over Rebecca for years now – and just when she seems to notice him, the most popular senior in the school is suddenly hanging all over her.

Frankie’s problems are as realistic as the spot-on teen voice used in Coert Voorhees’ novel. Steve’s increasing desire for the “respect” of the local gang, Frankie’s growing relationship with Rebecca, and his need to stand up for himself and his friends are all a catalyst for Frankie’s growth over the course of the story. The small-town New Mexico setting is vibrant, and lends the novel its own language. The realistic language includes frequent casual swearing, but that it is absolutely a contributing factor in the success of the novel’s voice.

Voorhees’ characterization is the strongest aspect of this novel, which one exception. While most of the characters are very well-rounded and show both strengths and weaknesses, the novel’s “bad guy” is almost a caricature of the YA mean jock. Not only does he graphically beat up Frankie and go after his girl, but his very rich family is trying to buy up and homogenize the entire town. He is the one character who is not given a well-rounded personality, and it makes him stand out in the world of the novel.

Great cover art and a story with high teen appeal will make this an easy sell.  Engaging characters, an honest voice, and a classic coming of age story will make teens stick with the novel.

Coert Voorhees on the web

The Brothers Torres on the web