Saturday Links

  • Operation Teen Book Drop 2009 is coming up fast!  This is a great opportunity to do some outreach in your community.  Read all about this wonderful program at Readergirlz.
  • I always love to hear about programs designed to bring more male reading role models into the lives of children.  This sounds like a great one – hat tip to Confessions of a Bibliovore. And Jen Robinson’s book blog points to another one here that specifically encourages fathers to read with their kids.  Love it!
  • Anne Ursu’s Cronus Chronicles series is super-fun – and a great suggestion for your Percy Jackson fans.  Now the first book in the series is a play!  This really makes me wish I was up in Minnesota.  (Hat tip to Kurtis Scaletta – whose new book is high on my to-read list!)
  • I’m always really curious about the decision-making processes that other librarians use when doing collection development.  Jennifer at Jean Little Library has some thoughts up about why she purchases certain materials over others.  It’s fun to hear what’s popular in other libraries, too!
  • Jennifer Brown, one of 2009′s YA Debutantes, has started a fun new feature at her blog.  She’ll be posting “lunches” with the main characters from some upcoming YA books.  The first two are up already, and they’re a riot.
  • Oz and Ends has a couple of great posts this week about graphic novels in libraries – the tough question of how libraries shelve them and how publisher choices make shelving tough.  I’ve recently started the process of trying to shelve our graphic novels by series instead of by author/call number, so this was a timely set of articles for me.  Maybe they’ll inspire me to actually get going on this project.
  • A book of lesson plans about social change that are based on hip-hop fiction?  Awesome!
  • Pinot and Prose notes an upcoming movie based on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  This has serious potential for some very cool special effects.  And seriously, check out this cast list.  Mr. T?  Color me intrigued!
  • At Wild Rose Reader, a great round-up of booklists, resources, and suggested books for Women’s History Month.
  • The Book Aunt wrote my very favorite post of the last week – a thoughtful and joyful celebration of anarchy and imagination in children’s books.  This one is a must-read.
  • A great new event in the Kidlitblogosphere – Share a Story – Shape a Future.  Starting on the 9th, a group of bloggers will be sharing practical suggestions for encouraging reading.  This looks like one to keep an eye on.
  • At I.N.K., a great post to share with parents about nurturing young authors in the home.
  • I love this list of the best creepy houses in children’s literature at The Spectacle Blog.  Anybody got more to add to the list?
  • Just more proof that Philip Pullman is smarter than the rest of us: he’s quite the art critic!  I listened to this talk just out of curiosity about Pullman giving a talk on fine art, but I was drawn in pretty quickly.

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

How to Ditch Your FairyI have an ulterior motive for reviewing How to Ditch Your Fairy: writing a review gives me a good excuse to post the book’s amazing paperback cover.  Go ahead and take a minute – get a real good look at that sucker.  Take that, Tinkerbell!  Now, we all know what they say about books and covers.  But we’re going to ignore that for the moment – I’m giving you permission to judge this one.  Because this book is very funny, a little bit subversive, and just sweet enough for some bright purple cursive script.

If you live in New Avalon and you’re unexpectedly good at something, you’ve probably got a fairy.  It could be something amazing, like Rochelle’s clothes-shopping fairy.  It could be something mostly useless, like a loose-change-finding fairy.  Or it could be something that gets you unceremoniously stuffed into the back of a massive hockey player’s car every afternoon, like Charlie’s parking fairy.  Charlie doesn’t have a car.  Charlie doesn’t even LIKE cars, and she sure is sick of the smell of gasoline that seems to follow her around.  When Charlie finds out that her arch-enemy Fiorenze is trying to get rid of her all-boys-like-you fairy, they hatch a plan to make a switch.

New Avalon is just different enough to make things interesting in Larbalestier’s world – and Steffi, the love interest, is conveniently new to town.  His presence both provides a way to add some exposition about the many quirks of New Avalon, and also gives a voice to the readers’ questions and frustrations about the local customs. Steffi makes a great voice of reason when everyone around him goes on about the Ours – New Avalon’s local celebrities – or when the rules and restrictions at Charlie’s school seem way over the top.  He’s also helpful for translating the slang, which I found sometimes clever and sometimes just distracting.

Charlie attends the local sports high school, where calorie counts are mandatory for all students, discipline is tight, and getting too many demerits means missing game time.  And Charlie absolutely thrives on all of this.  It was one thing that made her feel very different from characters in many YA novels, where creativity and a quirkiness are the traits that are glorified much of the time.   Some people prefer having rules to follow and high standards to strive for – and it’s nice to see one of those people show up in a book every once in a while.

The novel initially raised a lot of wonderful questions about the fairies.  For one thing, not everyone in New Avalon believes that they exist, and no one really knows what they are, where they come from, or why some people have them.  There seems to be some religious aspect to the fairies – people who don’t believe in them are not likely to have one, and are sometimes called “agnostics.”  Fiorenze’s mother is a fairy expert, and Charlie and Fiorenze are guided by her extensive research.  But Tamsin’s research is not just practical – it is ethical as well.  She brings up some questions about the possible consequences of switching fairies.  I was intrigued by a lot of these questions, and I wish they had been explored a little bit more – they mostly fall by the wayside as the story’s action takes off.

In the end, this was a good light read that I thought had the potential to be something more.  But don’t let that take away from the fun of the story.  It’s well worth reading for the luge scene alone!

Justine Larbalestier on the web.

Justine Larbalestier’s wonderful blog.

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress

alex-and-the-ironic-gentlemanAlex and the Ironic Gentleman is not about a little boy named Alex.  Nor is it about a gentleman who uses irony.  It is about Alex Morningside – who is a girl, thank you very much – and her quest to rescue her sixth grade teacher from some very nasty pirates.  Along the way, Alex has one surreal adventure after the next -  from a mysterious train ride where one person disappears after every meal, to a chaotic movie set where Alex must cajole the  star giant octopus into acting his part, to a massive and wonderful hotel with no guests.

Alex is a delightful heroine.  She’s always an active participant – this is a girl who knows how to make things happen, instead of waiting for things to happen to her.  And her complete indifference when people assume she is a boy is refreshing.  As the narrator puts it, “it wasn’t that she wanted to be a boy or anything, it was simply that she didn’t see much difference in being treated as a girl or boy. Because, after all, everyone is just people.”

Adrienne Kress has a way with words.  Her delightfully droll asides can only be described as Lemony Snicket-esque.  And like in Mr. Snicket’s books, the narrator of Alex and the Ironic Gentleman is directly addressing the reader with witty wordplay and little bits of additional information.  It’s a narrative device that is charming in the beginning of the story, and really serves to draw the reader in.  I was delighted to find that as the tone got a little bit grating, the author backed off.  When the action really gets going, the narrative asides and bits of backstory come further apart and get out of the way of the story.

This is a book with a funny sense of time and place – while it reads like a historical adventure novel, little bits of the modern world find their way into the text.  The laptops and automated refrigerators felt like an anomaly in the world of the story.  But in this strange book, throwing the reader for a loop is the norm – as the little old ladies of the innocent-seeming Daughters of the Founding Fathers’ Preservation Society will attest.

For readers who can’t get enough of Alex’s adventures, the next book in the series, Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate, was recently released.

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman on the web.

Adrienne Kress on the web.

Adrienne Kress’ blog.

Saturday Links

  • Tons of good information and resources about graphic novels at the new site Get Graphic from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.  Great site design, too.  And Graphic Novel Reporter caught up with a few librarians about how graphic novels are used in their collections. (Hat tip Fuse #8.  And please click through there to see MT Anderson playing Twister.  Mesmerizing!)
  • Where to shelve the street lit?  Seems like someone’s asking this question at least once a month.  Which is a good thing – there’s no easy answer, and it depends on your community and collection.  Most of ours is in the adult section, but as the money allows I’ve been adding some to YA.  Our teens are certainly reading it!
  • Cool!  At first I thought that this was like the crank radios used in Africa, which can be used without a power source of any kind, but it looks like it does need batteries.  But still, opportunities for more access are always welcome.  Check out the blog of Literacy Bridge, the nonprofit group that created these talking books.
  • Jennifer Echols gives us a look into the evolution of an author web page.
  • Ms. Yingling talks about her ordering process, and how she keeps a particular reader in mind for every book she buys.
  • At Interesting Nonfiction for Kids, a great roundup of astronomy resources and books for celebrating the International Year of Astronomy.   Our summer reading program this year is space-themed, so I’ll definitely be coming back to this!
  • With the Rihanna and Chris Brown story in the news lately, we’re hearing more about teenage attitudes towards domestic violence.  And a lot of it is very disheartening.  YPulse shares some thoughts about how the hip hop community can work to prevent domestic violence, and includes a couple of great resources to share with teens.
  • This nifty site will provide an rss feed of new library materials coming into your local public library. Looks like it only supports a limited number of libraries right now – the Boston Public Library is not currently supported – but this may be one to keep an eye on. (Hat tip Lifehacker)
  • I recently enjoyed Don Wood’s graphic novel Into the Volcano.  On his website the author has posted some storyboards to let the reader inside his writing process.  (Hat tip Gail Gauthier)
  • The Harvard Book Store is providing green delivery by bicycle!  Looks like they won’t deliver to Dorchester – no big surprise – but still a very cool idea.  (Hat tip Oz and Ends)

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe RoadI love Kathleen Edwards.  Now, that might seem like a non sequitur at the beginning of a post about Melina Marchetta’s newest YA novel, but here’s my story: last night I was on my way to a Kathleen Edwards concert at The Paradise Lounge.  I stopped down the street to grab some Thai food before the show, and put this book on the table next to my (delicious) Tofu Drunken Noodle.  I was about halfway through, and absolutely loving it.  By the time I finished my dinner it was about time for the opening act to start.  And I like Last Town Chorus, I really do, but gosh it was tough to put this book down.  So I slipped into a coffee shop, figuring I could read for another forty-five minutes or so and still have plenty of time to catch the second set.  By the time the barista tapped me on the shoulder to tell me that they were closing in five minutes, it was pretty clear that my evening was not going as planned.  I spent the rest of the evening getting funny looks from other riders on the red and green lines while I wept openly over the last few chapters of Jellicoe Road.   There are not many books that I would skip a Kathleen Edwards concert for, but this one is definitely on that short list.

Jellicoe Road is certainly a stylistic departure from Melina Marchetta’s other wonderful books, Saving Francesca and Looking for Alibrandi.  But when you get down to it, they are about many of the same things – the family you are born into and the family that you create, a search for identity, breaking down the walls between people.  Taylor Markham is feeling lost in her life, as she has since her mother left her alone on the Jellicoe Road when she was eleven years old.  But her schoolmates are expecting her to lead their turf war with the Townies and the Cadets, all while she is negotiating a tumultuous relationship with the leader of the Cadets.  Taylor’s recurring dreams and a confusing story found in her guardian’s house provide a key to Taylor’s past, as well as to the story of the conflict.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that the first half of this book was a struggle for them, and I didn’t have that experience at all.  While I absolutely agree that the second half of Marchetta’s book is where the novel finds its heart and soul, I really enjoyed trying to decipher the two threads of the narrative and imagining what the connections between the past and present could be.  A careful and curious reader will find clues that point to many of the eventual connections, and when the stories finally do come together, it is absolutely revelatory.  So much more than I could ever have imagined.  And well worth missing what was probably a great concert.

Melina Marchetta on the web.

Jellicoe Road on the web.

More D.J. Schwenk!

D.J. Schwenk is one of my very favorite characters in YA literature, and I thought we were never going to see her again after Dairy Queen and The Off Season.  But no!  According to Kristin Cashore, there’s going to be a third D.J. Schwenk book!  It’s coming out this fall, and it’s called Front and Center.  How is this the first I’ve heard of it?  There’s sneak preview available on Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s website.  I’m unbelievably excited about this.

Links!

  • Thinking about character development?  Love the Muppets?  Siobhan Vivian shares an awesome article about the development of some of the most famous Muppets.  Gonzo’s original name was Snarl the Cigar Box Frackle.  And while I don’t know what that means, I do know that it’s awesome.
  • This article on the demise of the suburbs made me think of Paper Towns.  The author’s solution to the declining suburban population is creating walkable communities – and local branch libraries should be a big part of that.  Shared community spaces and resources like libraries should be at the center of any plan that addresses this problem.
  • Trisha at the YAYAYAs wants to know where all the YA literature in translation is hiding.
  • Lois Lowry wants all the writers out there to please please please leave the message out of their children’s books.
  • Another plea to authors, this one from Kidliterate: when you link to your books, don’t forget the indie bookstores.  I think this is good for bloggers to keep in mind, too.
  • Maggie Stiefvater, author of Lament, has posted a very funny run-down of the many kinds of evil characters in books and movies.  The caption on Gaston made me giggle.
  • And of course, the Cybils winners were announced this weekend.  Congratulations to the winning authors!

On This Special Day…

…We celebrate something beautiful that happens between two people. Who are standing sixty feet six inches apart.

Happy Pitchers and Catchers Report Day!

I may be in chilly New England today, but I can practically hear the smack of balls hitting gloves all across Florida and Arizona. Spring is coming, and baseball is coming with it. In celebration of the most deliciously anticipatory day of the year, here’s a rundown of a few great baseball books for kids and teens.

summerlandSummerland by Michael Chabon

This might be my favorite book.  A perfect mix of magic and myth, adventure and folktale.  Michael Chabon takes one reluctant Little League player and sends him on an adventure through the landscape of a unique American mythology that has baseball at its heart.  And my apologies for making it sound like some kind of academic treatise there – this is a rollicking good adventure story.  Ethan Feld, the least heroic kid and worst ballplayer in the history of Clam Island, is sent on a quest.  And if Ethan can’t become a hero, both on the diamond and off, the world will come to an end.  Chabon lays it on thick in this novel, and that absolutely works – this is a chance to sit back and watch a truly great storyteller spin a whopper of a yarn.

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My Most Excellent YearMy Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park by Steve Kluger

One of the most warm-hearted books for teens published last year, My Most Excellent Year follows three friends, T.C., Augie, and Alejandra, through their freshmen year of high school in the Boston suburb of Brookline.  This is a novel of teens discovering and shaping their own identities, and baseball is central to T.C.’s identity.  My favorite thing about My Most Excellent Year is that these teens have agency.  They are taking things into their own hands – both in their owns lives and in the world around them.  A great choice for teens who like books told through letters, emails, and other documents – and for kids who don’t mind a little romance mixed in with their baseball.

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We Are The ShipWe Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson

We all knew that Kadir Nelson had some serious chops when it came to art, and We Are the Ship is certainly no exception – in fact, I think it’s his most stunning children’s book art so far.  But it turns out that his research and writing are spot-on as well.  Some people are just more talented than the rest of us.  The story of the Negro Leagues is told here, with engaging biographical information and some of the truly great stories from that era.  Hand this to kids who love baseball and watch eyes get wide.  Parents too!

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

WintergirlsLia is recovering from anorexia.  At least, that is what the people around her think.  Without seeing the weights she has sewn into the bathrobe she wears for her weekly weighing, or the hours she spends on the stair-stepper after everyone is asleep, or the calorie numbers that flash in front of her eyes every time she sees food, Lia’s family can believe that she is getting better.  But really, she’s still a wintergirl, trapped inside her own cold and intensely controlled world.  When Lia’s former best friend dies as a result of her bulimia – suddenly, gruesomely, and completely alone – the accusatory voice of Cassie’s ghost is added to the already-deafening chorus of voices in Lia’s head telling her to eat less, to lose five more pounds, to waste away and join Cassie forever.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s writing is lyrical and economical.  The amount of meaning and backstory she can convey with a few crossed-out words or a short aside is nothing short of astonishing.  After we learn that Lia ignored 33 phone calls from Cassie on the night that she died, the numbers one through thirty-three stretch across the page every time Lia thinks of Cassie’s death.  With no other comment, that long line of numbers batters against you.  It’s crushing.  And this is just one example from a novel that is so tightly constructed and full of intense images and emotions.  This high meaning-to-word-count ratio gives the writing a feeling of claustrophobia, especially when Lia’s stream-of-consciousness narrative takes over from the action of the story.

This is not an easy book to read – nor should it be.  Laurie Halse Anderson places the reader deep into the psyche of a girl whose demons are threatening to overwhelm her.  It’s not an easy book to turn away from, either.

Wintergirls on the web.

Laurie Halse Anderson on the web.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog.

Happy Birthday, Charles!

Now THIS is a man who knows how to grow a beard.200 years ago today, Charles Darwin was born.  And whether you’re excited about his theory of evolution or just his really wicked facial hair, Charles is worth celebrating.

  • Want to follow the evolution of the theory of Evolution?  Charles’ Darwin’s complete works are available for free online.  From the notebooks he wrote while on board the Beagle, to the letters where he struggled with his new theory, to the final published version of The Origin of Species, it’s all right there.  Scans of his original manuscripts and other primary source materials about Darwin are also included.  This is an amazing resource!
  • Send your own birthday wishes to Charles right here.
  • Chasing Ray has a roundup of books that will appeal to the teenage Darwin enthusiast.
  • Find an event celebrating Darwin’s bicentennial at Darwin200.
  • So you’re really just here for the luscious facial hair?  Well you’re in luck.  Hair from his beard is on display at the National History Museum in London.  No, seriously.

I had hoped that I would have reviews of Charles and Emma and The True Adventures of Charley Darwin ready for you all.  Since I haven’t actually read the books yet, that’s going to have to wait.  They’re sitting on my TBR shelf, so be on the lookout.