Thursday, December 29, 2011

A second Invisible Inkling!

Invisible Inkling: Dangerous Pumpkins
by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Harry Bliss
Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins) August 2012

Jenkins' first Inkling book perfectly melded an interesting creature, a well-meaning family, and the real-life problems of an elementary-schooler with humor and a dash of adventure. Jenkins' second book is just as strong as her first.

It's Halloween and Inkling (the invisible bandapat) is overwhelmed. Pumpkins, his favorite squash of all, are appearing everywhere- including some on the kitchen table. Unfortunately, these pumpkins belong to other people (including Hank's older sister Nadia) and as Hank learns, it's as difficult to keep Inkling from eating pumpkins as it is to get his dad to make one of his specialty icecream flavors. With no one to trick-or-treat with, no Loose Tooth icecream, and a crazed bandapat- not to mention Nadia's yearly scare- Hank is more worried about surviving Halloween than enjoying it. But where there's an invisible bandapat there's bound to be a surprise, and Hank's Halloween turns out much different than he expected.

Recommended for ages 7-10 or readers ready to move on from Flat Stanley or Junie B. Jones, or who like Sara Pennypacker's Clementine

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Annotations part 4

Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl

New York, NY: Firebird (1971).

Elana and her father's team are from a culture with interstellar travel and their job is to ensure that more primitive civilizations are allowed to develop naturally. When they end up on a medieval planet being colonized by a culture with space-travel capabilities, they assist the natives in vanquishing the colonists by posing as Enchanters who know magic. Told from the point of view of all three cultures, Engdahl breaks down fantasy and science-fiction, examining how viewpoint can turn science into magic or vice-versa, bringing readers to question their own notions of genre and convention.

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (2002).

On a futuristic Earth, most people have a constant Feed into their brain. Media, school, and relentless advertising are streamed through this Feed. When teen Titus meets Violet, he's immediately smitten, but becomes revolted and confused when her Feed starts malfunctioning, disabling her entire body and memory. Anderson has created an intriguing technological dystopian future, but his characters fail to bring the questioning of their technological existence to any conclusion.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Annotations part 3

Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush by Virginia Hamilton

New York, NY: Philomel Books (1982).

Teresa, or Tree for short, takes care of her older, mentally-challenged brother while her mother works. It's not a terrible life, but when the ghost of her uncle, Brother Rush, appears, his ability to show her the past begins to alter how she views the present. The catalyst for Tree's travels back in time is Brother Rush. However, Tree does not always travel bodily, instead viewing events in a detached manner or through the eyes of her younger self. Tree's methods of travel make this teen novel paranormal fiction rather than time-travel fantasy.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2009).

Minli and her parents live on Fruitless Mountain, where people are poor and food difficult to grow. The only hunger Minli's father can feed is her desire for stories. Determined to change her family's fortune, Minlin sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon. Along her journey, Minli is told stories by the people she meets, and these stories weave through the narrative. The inset stories in this immersive fantasy are drawn from traditional Chinese tales and Grace Lin's full-color illustrations reference Chinese folk paintings.

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

New York: Penguin (1984).

When Laura Chat's brother becomes ill, she knows doctors can't help him. The only person who can help her is Sorensen Carlisle, a witch. When it becomes apparent that the only way to save her brother is to “changeover” into a witch, Laura takes the leap. Set in contemporary Australia, this teen fantasy novel depicts witchcraft as a personal strength and sensitivity that is not at odds with a conventional lifestyle. The strength of the novel lies in Mahy's realistic rendering of relationships- both familial and those of budding romance.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Annotations part 2: Teen Novels

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (2010).

Ten years ago, the royal family of Lumatere was murdered, the throne seized, and a curse placed over the entire country. While most citizens now roam as exiles, Finnikin, his mentor, and Evanjalin, strong young novice, are intent on bringing Lumaterians back to their land. While this is a high fantasy novel, it is the realistic refugee story embedded in the fantasy that gives the novel its' strength. Disease, hunger, and brutality are all realistically portrayed but in the end, the refugees' desire to cling their customs, language, and land, not just the fantastical aid of magic and swords, is what helps them fulfill their quest.

I want to put stars all over this book; It is absolutely brilliant. Note: recommended for ages 14+ due to content.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

New York, New York: Penguin (2010).

When Sam realizes that she has died in a car crash, she suddenly wakes up on the morning of the day she died. A pretty, popular girl at a preppy Connecticut high school, Sam lives the last day of her life over and over again, each time taking a different approach. The result is the story of a mean girl coming to the realization of how her and her friends' bullying affected those around them. The only fantastical attribute of this decidedly realistic novel is Sam's ability to relive her last day. Though from a fresh point of view, Before I Fall is so full of brand references that it is unlikely to have staying power.

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

New York, NY: Del Rey (2007).

Below London lies UnLondon, a place where broken umbrellas become moving Unbrellas and smog is a living being. Deeba and her friend are pulled into UnLondon, and even after seeing the destructive power of the Smog, Deeba vows to help destroy the Smog. With the help of many a strange creature, Deeba sets out on her unprophesized quest. This fantasy of parallel worlds is wildly inventive, with overwhelming descriptions of the strange buildings and creatures of UnLondon. However, even Mieville's creative world cannot hide the thinly-veiled and heavy-handed environmental message.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Annotations part 1

I've just finished up a class on sci-fi and fantasy in children's literature. For the final, I wrote up a number of annotations. Some of these were for books I'd been planing to read, others were books I selected from a list simply because I had never read them before. There a ten books total, so I'll be dividing them up into four posts and the books will be listed in the order I read them (because why not).


Ingrid Law. New York, NY: Penguin (2008).

When Mibs turns thirteen she will discover her Savvy, or magical talent, and she's certain it will be something great. But when her poppa ends up in an accident, all Mibs wants is a Savvy to cure her father- and she'll do anything to get to the hospital where he's held. This road-trip adventure is more than a magical coming-of-age story as Mibs and her companions come to realize that even non-magical people have a Savvy-like talent. With tall-tales and mid-western flavor, Savvy is an American immersive fantasy.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making

Catherynne M. Valente. New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends (2011).

One day September is whisked away from her normal life in Omaha by the Green Wind, who takes her to Fairyland. With the help of some strange magical creatures, September must find a way to stop the bossy Marquess, who rules Fairyland with an iron fist. September's quest follows the format of a classic hero's journey. While Valente references touchstones of children's portal fantasy in her text, her world and characters are unique creations.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Disappointing Daniel Pinkwater

Mrs. Noodlekugel by Daniel Pinkwater
Candlewick, April 24, 2012

I expect quite a lot from Daniel Pinkwater's books. Humor, good writing, and a plot of one sort of another. Mrs. Noodlekugel is a fabulous title that had me expecting a humorous and contemporary Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Alas, it is not to be. Mrs. Noodlekugel's house is an architectural (but not literal) gingerbread cottage in a garden that is wedged in between skyscrapers. Nick and Maxine are tricked by their parents into finding her, only to be told that she is their new babysitter. The potential is here, as Mrs. Noodlekugel's house contains fairytalesque creatures, from four blind mice, to animated gingerbread creations, to a talking, piano-playing cat. But besides viewing these interesting characters, nothing happens, and readers are given a glance at an interesting world only to be denied an adventure in it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sci-Fi Time Travel

The Klaatu Diskos 1: The Obsidian Blade by Pete Hautman
One day Tucker's father disappears into a waver in the air, and returns a short time later with a strange girl. He won't say where he's been, or offer up a reason why he's lost his faith. Then Tunker's mother starts behaving oddly, and then, one morning, both his parents are gone.

Though the book begins slowly, I think this is due to it's place as the first book in a series, and therefore must set up characters and a world before plunging readers into the mind-bending places the Diskos leads to. Hautman uses the Diskos as portals for time-travel, portals that bring both readers and characters to question concepts of religion, progress, medicine, and history. I'm haunted by this book, continually trying to make the connections between time, space, and characters. Hautman has created an incredibly intricate world, and while only some strands of the story have come together by the end, I have no doubt that his sequels will prove he has spun a masterful web indeed.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Anthology on a Theme

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes, ed. by Kazu Kibuishi
Amulet, Abrams, March 2012

I love comics collections; you get a short yet complete story arc, the perfect read for a piece of snatched time, and you invariably discover new authors and illustrators whose work you now want to find. Explorer features a compilation of seven stories, each by a different author/illustrator, yet each featuring a mysterious (and often magical) box that serves to tie the stories together. Each story is vastly different from every other one, and set in a completely different place. From Johane Matte and Saymone Phanekham's box in an alien universe-building warehouse to Dave Roman and Raina Telemeier's magical box found in the back of an ordinary closet, Explorer holds something for readers of every genre. A gorgeous graphic compilation for the graphic novel enthusiast or a fabulous introduction for the comics novice, this book is for those who want to explore the medium.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New Teen Graphic Novel

Friends with Boys by Erin Faith Hicks
First Second,February 28, 2012

Everyone feels awkward in high school, but what if the first day of high school is also your first day of public school after being homeschooled your entire life? For Maggie, public school is a frightening prospect, especially when she notices that her three older brothers have their own friends and activities. When Maggie meets Lucy and her brother, suddenly she has friends who aren't family. But there's still the matter of the ghost that's following her and the nasty volleyball team boys. Luckily, Maggie is friends with boys- and her brothers will go to ends of the earth to help her- or at least the graveyard.

With just the first few pages of her book, author/illustrator Erin Faith Hicks welcomed me into a family where I immediately felt at home. Her characters are developed, each with their own unique feel, and Maggie's family members are all linked by some distinct feature. Maggie's emotional journey will resonate with teens from all educational backgrounds and would be wonderful book to give as a gift to graduating middle-schoolers. With dynamic panels, and a host of stellar characters, Friends with Boys is sure to appeal to readers who enjoyed Anya's Ghost. Though Maggie's relationship with her own ghost remains unresolved, I can only hope this indicates further installments to come!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Alexander McCall Smith's book for early readers

The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case
Random House, April 2012

Alexander McCall Smith's first book for children, though set in Africa, is accessible to children from around the world. Precious would like to be a detective, and soon she gets the chance to solve her first case. Someone has been stealing the cake and treats Precious' classmates bring for lunch. While no one has caught the culprit, some of Precious' classmates have accused a plump boy named Poloko of stealing the snacks. But Precious doesn't think Poloko did it, and she doesn't think anyone should be blamed without evidence. Precious develops an ingenious way to catch the thief- and it's not who everyone thought it was! Readers of all ages and backgrounds will delight at the surprising ending.

Iain McIntosh's woodcut illustrations can be found on every page, attracting and holding the attention of children listening to the story. For those reading on their own, the illustrations break up the text into manageable chunks while the sophistication of the design will be enjoyed by adults coming to the book after reading The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

Friday, November 18, 2011

William Joyce is Back in Books!

Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King by William Joyce and Laura Geringer

After a decade away from picturebooks (during which he worked on such movies as Toy Story) William Joyce is back! The Guardians of Childhood is a series that will be comprised of chapter books, picture books, and movies, all on amazing folkloric characters such as the Sandman, the Man in the Moon, Mother Goose and others. Nicholas is an outlaw and one of the greatest swordsmen ever seen. But when Pitch, the king of nightmares, starts sending bad dreams to the children of earth, what side of the battle will Nicholas choose? This epic tale has it all: magic, fights, dreams, heroes, robot-golems, and even yetis. A great read-aloud for ages 5+, and read-alone for kids ages 8-12. –Marika

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

3 New Comics...

Tina’s Mouth An Existential Comic Diary
written by Keshini Kashyap, illustrated by Mari Araki

Tina starts her diary for an English project on existentialism, but more importantly, it’s a diary of how existentialism relates to her life. From getting dumped by her best friend, to crushing on a cute skateboarder, Tina’s very real life is related to philosophy through the pages of her diary. A realistic comic of high school, friends, and family both funny and enlightening. Ages 13-18.

written by Chris Wooding, illustrated by Cassandra Diaz

When I opened my Galley box from Scholastic, the cover of this book caught my eye. The style looked familiar. I checked the illustrator. Cassandra Diaz. I knew a Cassandra Diaz. Then I turned the book over: "Cassandra Diaz is a recent graduate of the Maryland Institute, College of Art." Yes, that Cassandra Diaz! So, part of the reason I am so excited about this book is because this is the first published book to wander acr

oss my desk illustrated by someone I went to college with. While I only saw the first few pages in color, they have me anticipating the finals- Cassandra's palettes are beautiful.

Manga, demons, missing princes, magic, and epic
battles...Pandemonium has them all. Seifer’s greatest accomplishment may be his Skullball prowess, that is until he is taken to the royal palace to impersonate the missing prince. Can Seifer fool the palace staff, the prince’s family, the kingdom’s enemies, and an enormous pet cat? This face-paced and exciting graphic novel combines adventure, humor, and a spark of romance. Ages 10+.

Flight of Angels
conceived and illustrated by Rebecca Guay, written by Holly Black, Bill Willingham, Alisa, Kwitney, Louise Hawes, and Todd Mitchell

When a group of the fair folk find a mysterious angel on the ground, they decide to conduct a tribunal. What follows are a series of frame tales, each written by a different author and exploring the concepts of sin, love, and death. As with all debates of heaven and hell, there is no right answer, and readers from varied spiritual backgrounds will find the text approachable. Each author’s tale fits into place, and Rebecca Guay’s illustrations are stunning. All in all, a lavishly and lusciously illustrated graphic novel for art and fantasy lovers. Ages 14 and up.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Adult YA Crossover

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston
Ecco, HarperCollins,

This "novel in pictures" combines text with vintage photographs, advertisements, articles, and illustrations. It's a fun format, likely to appeal to those nostalgic for their own college days as well as current students at womens' colleges. Romance, fashion, and hints of more newsworthy history fill the pages of this colorful "grown-up" journal.

The year is 1920, the place New Hampshire, and Frankie Pratt is voted "Smartest Girl" of her senior class and offered a scholarship to Vassar. As a poor girl constantly observing those of money and influence, Frankie experiences her share of difficulties. However, her determination always comes through, bringing her to Greenwich Village and Paris on her journey to become an author and find love.

For those of us accustomed to selling children's books, an illustrated journal book is nothing new. However, Preston has created something for adults and teens while putting a new twist on the journal-book by collaging rather than drawing her imagery. A fun and fast read, The Scrapbook of Frankie Preston is an enjoyable romp through the flapper age.

Friday, October 7, 2011

If you like Megan Whalen Turner...

The False Prince
By Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic, April 2012

I've seen many books with blurbs comparing them to Megan Whalen Turner's Thief series, but none ever seem to come close to the mark. But finally, I have found it, a book that contains the slyness, mystery, cunning characters, and ingenious plot that makes me think of Turner's work: Jennifer A. Nielsen's The False Prince.

Sage is an orphan and a thief collected, along with three other boys, to be trained to impersonate a dead prince. Taught swordsmanship, writing, reading, history, and manners, the orphans strive to learn a decades worth of princely arts in mere weeks, all under the guidance of Connor, a nobleman intent to stop civil war. Sage has no desire to commit treason, but whichever boys do not learn to act as Prince Jaron will be killed. The other boys quickly create their own plans, each trying to best the others, and each trying to knife the others in the back. But it seems that Sage, too, has something up his sleeve, something no one has even considered. Layers of schemes, deceit, and treachery abound in this quick-paced novel of intrigue and danger. Luckily, Nielson has promised sequels, though they won't come soon enough!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Year Without Autumn

Candlewick, October 11, 2011

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and hand books to my nine year-old self. From the first chapter of A Year Without Autumn I wished I could do this. It seems that there are relatively few books these days that start with loving, supportive families. Jenni's parents are in-love and expecting their third child, and while her little brother can be annoying, Jenni loves him nevertheless. They are looking forward to being a family of five and enjoying their yearly one-week family vacation. Like every year, Jenni's best friend Autumn will be having vacation the same week, in the same time-share community as Jenni. As is often the case with best friends, Jenni and Autumn are very different. Autumn is out-going, adventurous,and daring- the daughter of artists. Jenni is sensible, intelligent, and cautious...a trait few young protagonists are applauded for.

The first day of vacation, Jenni goes to meet Autumn, taking the old elevator up to her condo when the new one doesn't arrive. But Autumn isn't in her condo, someone else is. Autumn's parents' car is gone, and things look slightly different. When Jenni returns to her parents' condo, she's met with a messy living room, a baby sister, and an overly anxious mother. These are only the beginning of the changes, the biggest of which is that Autumn's little brother is in a coma, thrown from a horse one year ago. This pivotal event has completely altered both families, and wrecked Jenni and Autumn's relationship.

Liz Kessler carefully handles the issues faced by both Jenni and Autumn in their possible future. As Jenni doesn't get mentally older when she time travels, the snippets she sees, though difficult, are entirely age appropriate. In presenting only snippets of Autumn & Jenni's future, Kessler has allowed readers to view the situations through their personal experience, meaning the extent of difficultly will reflect what they are ready to handle.

Emotionally wrenching, slightingly magical, and with a happy ending that fits perfectly, A Year Without Autumn impossible to put down. If my nine year-old self had been handed this, I would have hidden under the covers until I finished reading (despite school in the morning) and then immediately passed the book on to a friend.

A Year Without Autumn is a coming of age story that acknowledges the difficult realities and unexpected joys of growing up and assures readers that despite how things seem, they can always change.

Ages 9-12

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Stellar Team...

Extra Yarn
by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
In a cold, dark town, Annabelle discovers a box brightly colored yarn. She knits herself a sweater, but still has yarn left over. So she knits her dog a sweater, her classmates, the people of the town...but there always seems to be extra yarn! Word of the endless yarn spreads, bringing tourists and a greedy archduke to the island. Whatever is the secret of Annabelle's yarn? And when it's stolen, will she ever get it back?

Jon Klassen's stark umber and gray-scale landscapes are slowly, beautifully altered by the variegated colors of Annabelle's yarn. Savvy knitters will notice an hommage to yarn-bombing, while sharp-eyed readers will spot a familiar bear, now sporting a sweater instead of a hat. Klassen's illustrations and Barnett's text seamlessly knit themselves together in true picturebook fashion, crafting what is sure to be a new classic.

A simple new fable from a stellar team that will find a home on high-end coffee tables and toy-strewn floors alike.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

More Comics from First Second!

Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists!
First Second, October 11, 2011
Ages: 5 through Adult

Take fifty of incredible artists, give them a classic nursery rhyme, and let them run! Lucy Knisley turns the "Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe" into a Rock & Roll baby sitter whose charges form the band "The Whips." Raina Telgemeier sets "Georgie Porgie" at a birthday party- one that ends with a cupcake fight. Dave Roman depicts a surreal, sci-fi "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" that is completely different from Patrick McDonnell's sweet "Donkey." Readers will find more than a few comics to adore in this compilation and maybe even discover a new graphic artist to love.

A fabulous introduction to comics format for the young and old alike. I can't wait to see a seven year-old share this with his grandparents.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dead End in Norvelt

by Jack Gantos
MacMillian, September 13, 2011
Ages: 10-14
When Jack is grounded for the entire summer, it seems as though life is entirely ruined. His mother will only let him out of the house to help old Miss Volker, who writes the obituaries of original Norvelters and the "This Day in History" column for the local paper. This means no baseball, no rides in the plane his dad is fixing up, and no drive-in movies. But something fishy is going on in Norvelt; there's a surprising number of deaths (even for old ladies), someone is moving the houses to another town, and the Hells Angels have been spotted. History and mystery combine in this funny, sharp, narrative. Jack Gantos himself reads the audio and his Pennsylvania accent transports the listener directly to Norvelt. With it's historical content and perfect wit, Dead End in Norvelt would be a wonderful choice for classrooms and bookclubs, or a surprising and enjoyable read.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Diana Wynne Jones' Last Book

Earwig and the Witch
by Diana Wynne Jones, Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Greenwillow, Harper, February 2012
Ages 7-11

Earwig loves living at St. Morwald's Home for Children because everyone there does exactly what she wants, even her best friend Custard. So why would she ever want to be adopted and leave? Luckily, Earwig is able to deflect any attempts at adoption- that is until a strange couple comes one visiting day and adopts her. Something must be up. Sure enough, the woman is a witch and the man, well, he has horns and demons do his bidding. Most importantly, they don't do what Earwig wants them to. Well, that's fine with her. Magic can't be too difficult to learn, can it?

Earwig and the Witch has all the staples of a good fantasy- magic, orphans, & a plucky young heroine- but Jones has made something completely new and earwig does not feel just like that girl we've read about a thousand times. Zelinsky's energetic ink illustrations bring the story to life and will help keep the attention of young readers who still need visuals during storytime. Though the story ties up a bit abruptly, this is a much-needed fantasy for the Clementine crowd.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Every You Every Me

by David Levithan, photographs by Jonathan Farmer
Random House, September 13, 2011

Evan is haunted by his best friend Ariel. Ariel is gone. Her boyfriend has moved on, but Evan cannot- especially when someone begins planting photos of her. But who could have taken these photos? Is Ariel haunting Evan? Evan knew she was sick. He knew, that day in the clearing, that getting help was the right thing to do, yet he can't forgive himself for not stopping her. And he will not move on, especially when there's someone who knows things about Ariel that he doesn't.

Farmer's photos are included in the book, the reader coming across them as Evan does. They're arresting images that pull the characters into the real world, giving them more emotional power and heightening the mystery. Yet again, Levithan has created flawed yet beautiful characters who reach out from the pages and pull you in.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Why We Broke Up

By Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman

Little Brown Hachette, December 27th, 2011

Min has broken up with Ed Slaterton, and is writing him a letter chronicling their relationship and all the reasons she's breaking up with him. Min loves old films, her best friend, and coffee. According to Ed, Min was "arty" and "different." But despite Ed's role as captain of the basketball team and his popularity, Min thought she loved him. That's over now and to prove it to herself and her friends she's put together all the items, tokens, and objects she accumulated during the brief relationship. The box, and the letter, are Min's goodbye present for Ed.

Each chapter begins with an illustration of an item in the box, followed by the chapter of the relationship associated with it. A concept that could just as easily have been executed by David Levithan, Why We Broke up is a surprise from Handler. However, geeky film details and sincere teenage love- and ex-love- stories will find fans. What better way to get over your high school relationship than reading Min's story and adding your own?

Age range: 14-18 (note that there is consensual sex).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How do you choose what books to read and what books to buy?

I received an email a few weeks ago asking this question, and quickly found myself composing an answer. So, if you find yourself wishing to know, here goes.

I have cultivated people whose opinions I respect, who I think know my taste and can be relied upon to recomend books I will truly enjoy. Buying books, I've come to recognize certain publishers and imprints that have lists I feel are very strong. After buying and reading several strong lists from Candlewick, I'll read anything published by them- even a YA novel on angels (which I really enjoyed, but never would have picked up on my own). Recently, I've been picking my way through my local library's graphic novel shelf, pulling anything published by First Second. Last winter, in the course of two weeks, I read three books by First Second, looked at their author/illustrator roster, and fell in love. Publisher reps recommend and hand me more books than I can ever hope to read. Some are announced as "the big book of the season," some are by authors I love, and others are virtual unknowns, handed to me by reps, read over lunches, truly enjoyed, and eventually hand sold in the store. Talking with people at a children's literature conference recently, I emphasized the importance of recognizing the merit of a book even if I didn't enjoy it. I can recommend and sell books I don't like if I think they have literary merit and there is an audience for them. In grad school, I think this is the main difference between people who have only read children's books for enjoyment in the past and those who work closely in the field- we who work in the field can personally detest a book, but realize it's importance or it's selling power. For the others, this is something that must be cultivated.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Night Circus

by Erin Morgenstern

Released September 13th

The Night Circus arrives and departs suddenly, its white and black tents springing up at random. And it is only open at night. Inside each tent is a marvelous wonder in black an white- fortune tellers, acrobats, illusionists, gardens of ice, and rooms of cloud. The only splashes of color are those who attend the circus, for one night reveling in it’s miraculous illusions. But there is more to the circus than one might think. The circus is a challenger’s ring, the place where two students must magically battle, each trying to outdo the other, each forced to prove that their teacher is the more powerful magician. Morgenstern’s beautiful descriptions will leave you feeling as if you’ve walked through a fantastic dreamworld in this original fantasy. Also a great Teen crossover.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Witches and fairy stories

Chime by Franny Billingsley

In a town that burns witches, Briony has a secret: she’s a witch. She caused her stepmother’s death, her twin sister’s injury, and the flooding and burning of her family’s library. When a young man comes to stay with her family, he makes her desperately wish that she were an ordinary girl, an ordinary girl who can love and cry. But as Briony tells us in the first line of her story, “I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged. Now, if you please.” This dark, romantic mystery reveals the strength of belief in a tale readers of Holly Black will swallow.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

His Fair Assassin: Grave Mercy

by R.L. LaFever
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 3rd, 2012
I grew up reading Tamora Pierce, whose books had the right mix of strong heroines, fights, magic, betrayal, romance, and gods. R.L. LaFever may follow in Pierce's footsteps, but Grave Mercy holds its own special magic. Ismae is a strong, beautiful heroine, and one of Death's daughters. Acting as an assassin, or one of Death's handmaidens, she delivers vengeance upon those marked for the grave. As her work brings her closer to a young Duchess and her family, Ismae begins to learn more about herself, and the devious plotting of kings and courtiers. A romance full of intrigue, poison, and ultimately finding one's way, His Fair Assassin will be a trilogy welcome to YA shelves.

Readers who swallowed Kristen Cashore's novels will find something new to love with His Fair Assassin.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer break graphic novel

Bad Island
by Doug Tennapel
Scholastic, August 2011
Reese is forced to go on a summer vacation boating trip with his family, even though his friends' parents let them stay home alone. But a boring vacation turns into something entirely different when the family's boat is ship wreaked on a strange island. The island's only inhabitants seem to be strange creatures intent on harming the family. With no way of escaping, Reese and his family are in for one hell of a vacation- and maybe it's better that they're together.

Tennapel's artwork has a funky style and the imaginative creatures of the island are strange and unique. Reese's story is paired with flashbacks to another time and place, on a planet far from Earth. Here, large creature house smaller ones who have the ability to control them. Astute readers will draw the two stories together, piecing together the true nature of the Bad Island in this fast-paced and compelling read.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I stayed up all night reading for a very good reason

and I haven't done that in quite a while.

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
Crown, Random House, August 16th, 2011
It's the year 2044 and the real world is such a mess that people prefer to live in the OASIS, a virtual universe where almost anything is possible. Created by Halliday, the most brilliant game designer and 80s enthusiast, OASIS is the ultimate virtual existance where people exist as avatars any science-fiction or fantasy based concept is possible. When Halliday died, he left the ultimate easter egg in OASIS- his entire fortune and the rights to OASIS. Wade, like millions of others around the world, has spent the past five years searching for the easter egg, as has the IOI, a corrupt company intent on finding the egg for itself. Halliday was a man obsessed, and only one of a like mind will be able to unlock his secrets. Luckily, Wade has spent his life studying all things Halliday, and might just have a breath of a chance.

This fast-paced novel is a fun read and impossible to put down. Just as the line between real and virtual is blurred for Wade, readers will forget what is real and what constructed, falling completely into Wade's experience. Ready Player One is the complete book experience with thoughtful questions, epic battles, powerful enemies, personal journeys, and maybe even true love. Part of a complete breakfast, it's also chock-full of 80s references and trivia, sci-fi, fantasy, and video-game geekery. So grab a bag of corn chips, put on your favorite 8-track, and prepare yourself for an epic experience.

Though an adult book, I think it would be appropriate for teens ages 16 and up.

Friday, July 1, 2011

What toys do when you're not looking

Toys Come Home
by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Schwartz & Wade, Random House, September 13th, 2011
What toys do when your back is turned is an age-old question asked by children. Author Emily Jenkins invites readers to view their playthings from the toys' vantage. A companion to Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party, Toys Come Home is the beginning of StingRay's story from the day she is given as a day-of-birth gift. Her quest to find friends, save other toys, and learn why toys exist will delight young readers. Each chapter stands alone as a short story, and is accompanied by a detailed pencil illustration by Cadecott Medal-winner Paul Zelinsky. Filled with adventure and complemented by illustrations, Toys Come Home is sure to be a favorite bedtime read aloud- for both children and their toys.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Two brilliant books to make you cry

I read both A Monster Calls and Pearl Verses the World this past weekend- there was a lot of crying involved. The sort of crying where you persist in reading because the prose calls to you, yet you find it difficult to read the tear-blurred text. I feel both A Monster Calls and Pearl Verses the World are strong texts (I keep thinking about A Monster Calls, both the story and illustrations won't leave my head) but now I'm off to read something funny.

A Monster Calls
by Patrick Ness, inspired by Siobhan Dowd, illustrated by Jim Kay
Candlewick, September 27th, 2011
Jim Kay's Dark, deep, and haunting cover immediately captivated my attention and promised a dark tale. The darkness of the tale comes from Conor's current regards for the worlds. His mother has cancer and the treatments don't see
m to be working, his former best friend told everyone that his mother is sick, and his grandmother seems intent on coming round to help his mum. But the worst are the nightmares. Then, at 12:07 one night, a monster shows up. This monster is not the one from his dream, rather an ancient storyteller who wants the terrifying truth from Conor. Jim Kay's illustrations of the monster capture the dark shadows of just after midnight and the sketchy smears of a not dreaming, not waking experience. His textures, splatters, and lines make visible the emotional turmoil Conor experiences, splashing it onto the page. Though I sobbed through the hour and a half it took me to finish this novel, I persisted in reading through my tears, desperately needing to know what would unfold, and wanting to submerge myself in Patrick Ness' glorious prose.

Pearl Versus the World

by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Heather Potter
Candlewick, August 23rd, 2011
This is what you give the child who is too old for the explanatory picture books on death or would like some beautiful poetry. Told in unrhymed verse, Pearl Verses the World is the story of a young girl who is watching her grandmother slowly die. Living with her mother and her grandmother for her entire life, Pearl's household is three people, and two people will not be the same. Pearl writes because "A poem comes //when it is needed// and writes itself// in the way it needs//to get it's point across." Through her writing, Pearl learns that two will be okay, and that the world is not against her. Poems, Pearl learns, are a way to process, and they sometimes bring the sweet surprise of friends.

Sally Murphy strikes that perfect balance between what to say and what to suggest. Her expert handling of the text and Peal's emotions is reminiscent of Patricia MacLachlan's stunning work. Pearl Verses the World is a little gem that should be waiting on bookshelves for that someone who needs it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

With a "Snow Queen" twist...

by Anne Ursu
HarperCollins, September 27th, 2011

Sometimes, you need a nice, satisfying stand alone novel. Breadcrumbs is just that. The first half of the book is the story of new schools, old friends, and changes. Hazel's best friend Jack has been growing distant from her, trying to balance his time between her and his male friends from school. Hazel is trying to fit in a new school where everything is different. She's frustrated, confused, and wants things to be the way they were. Ursu is kind to all her characters, as there is a reason for everyone's choices, feelings, and desires. Her handling of the subject matter is reminiscent of Stead's When You Reach Me, and Ursu is deserving of the comparison. When Jack stops speaking to Hazel altogether and then disappears, Hazel is the only one who realizes that something is truly wrong. Hazel heads off to the snowy woods after Jack, seeking the snow queen and her best friend in a fantastical adventure inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen."

Monday, June 13, 2011

A new book from Patricia MacLachlan

Waiting for the Magic
by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Amy June Bates
Simon & Schuster, September 13th, 2011

Patricia MacLachlan uses each world carefully, never giving the reader more or less than they need, always keeping the delicate balance between what to state and what to suggest. In Waiting for the Magic, this precision allows the magic of MacLachlan's story to unfurl slowly and believably. When Willam's father leaves, his mother, seeking to fill the hole of William's father's absence, adopts four dogs and one cat. William's younger sister Elinor talks to the animals and they seem to understand one another as if by magic. But the only ones who know magic are "the young, the old, the brave, the honest, and the joyful." If William is brave enough to accept his new family, will he, too, experience the magic Elinor does? MacLachlan's heartwarming story combines a simple, realistic story with just a pinch of magic....and a pinch is all it needs.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mythology, horses, and a hint of magic

The Scorpio Races
Scholastic, October, 2011
Maggie Stiefvater's newest young adult novel, The Scorpio Races, is lyrically written and features just a hint of fantasy. Stiefvater's heroine, Puck Connolly, lives on an island where the sea is very much alive, a place where the capaill uisce,or horses of the sea, walk on land. These horses, though blood thirsty and fey, are faster than any normal horse. Each year at the Scorpio Races men ride the capaill uisce at the edge of the ocean in a reckless and bloody race. Sean, the best rider with the fastest capaill uisce, has won the race for the past handful of years, but has his own reasons for entering this year. Puck, in an attempt to keep her brother on the island and her family in their house, enters, though she has only a pony to ride. Though the two know little of one another, both are children of the island, who love the sea, the land, and the horses. Sean and Puck each hope to win more than money in the races, but while many die in the Scorpio races, there can only be one winner.
Light fantasy and romance combine in this strong coming of age novel, slightly reminiscent of Robin McKinley's Blue Sword.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A middle grade gem from Lauren Oliver

Liesl & Po
by Lauren Oliver, illustrated by Kei Acedera
HarperCollins, October, 2011
I was immediately captivated by the cover of Liesl and Po. This was a magical book, a new fairy tale, a story with both great darkness and wondrous possibility. And then I started reading...and Oliver's text was exactly what the cover promised.

The story begins in a world without sunshine. Liesl is locked in the attic by her stepmother and her father is recently deceased. Po and Bundle are dark ghosts who are attracted to Liesl's drawings and Will is an orphaned alchemist's apprentice who is attracted to her face at the attic window. When Will accidentally loses the alchemist's most powerful potion, accidentally switching it with the ashes of Liesl's deceased father, he is forced to run away. Soon after, Liesl sets out with Po and Bundle to bury the box she believes holds her father's ashes. While escaping a host of strange adults- characters who might have escaped from a Roald Dahl novel- Liesl and Will meet one another, their story threads weaving together effortlessly. But what will become of the most powerful magic in the world? And how can Liesl and Will ever escape the powerful and murderous adults following them?

Oliver takes the classic fairy tale ghosts, orphans, and evil stepmothers, and crafts a heart wrenching yet humorous tale that is completely original. Kei Acedera's drawings supplement the gorgeous text of this stunning stand-alone novel.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Around the World
by Matt Phelan
Candlewick, October 11, 2011
Many local teachers have been using graphic novelizations of classic stories in their classrooms. Phelan's Around the World, though fiction, is grounded in historical fact and quotes from primary sources, proving an exciting base for history lessons or a path to the exploration of non-fiction. Phelan's book presents three famous individuals who each circumnavigated in the world in his or own way: Thomas Steves by bicycle, Nellie Bly by ship and rail, and Joshua Slocum by sail boat. The pacing and speed of each journey are captured by the graphic novel lay-out, which serves to combine writing, image, maps, and other materials, each adding a layer to the reader's understanding of the journey. Sprightly line drawings and colorful washes capture the emotion and drive of each character, bringing a rush of thrilling speed to each adventure.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ah ha! (Or one of those fabulous picturebooks)

I Want My Hat Back
by Jon Klassen
Candlewick, September 27, 2011
Dark, sorrowful and funny. Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus flavored with a squeeze of Edward Gorey. Lemony Snicket finds a morose friend. All these tag lines ran through my head as I read I Want My Hat Back. I've been a fan of Jon Klassen's work since I first grabbed an ARC of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place for the cover. Now, it's exciting to finally see an entire book by Jon.

Bear has lost his little red hat. He ventures through the forest, inquiring if anyone may have seen it. All the animals simply say that they haven't- except a rabbit wearing a hat, who suspiciously continues to insist that he has not seen any red hats. When a deer stops to ask Bear what his hat looks like, Bear comes to the startling realization that he's seen his hat. Until now, the backgrounds have been the creamy color of the page. But at this climax, Bear is depicted against a vivid red page, his emotion clearly evident. But how will Bear retrieve his hat? All I can say is this snarky ending is not to be missed and will have both adults and children laughing. I Want My Hat Back is a wonderful read aloud- especially for those enterprising individuals who will create a distinct voice for each and every character.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

If you like aliens, try these angels

Angel Burn
L.A. Weatherly
Just between us, I'm not really interested in picking up any book that has an angel in it. But Candlewick has such a good record, that I figured I'd give Angel Burn a try-- I couldn't put it down. Weatherly's angels aren't good, sweet, or angelic. Rather, they're predatory, hungry creatures, more like aliens than classic angels, who suck life-force from humans and leave them sick, dying, and in complete awe of angelic beauty. Add one half-angel girl and an angel-killing boy for a thrilling romantic adventure, the first of a series. If you're a science-fiction or fantasy fan, pick this up.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

October 25th, 2011
Sherman Alexie, M.T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, Cory Doctorow, Jules Feiffer, Stephen King, Tabitha King, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, Walter Dean Myers, Linda Sue Park, Louis Sachar, Jon Scieszka, Lemony Snicket (introduction), and Chris Van Allsburg.

Very very rarely, I will swoon over a book. Swoon-worthy books must not just be well-written, they have to be beautifully packed, or have exquisite illustration, mostly, all three. Four stories into The Chronicles of Harris Burdick I was already swooning. Mind you, this is the ARC, too, not the gorgeous hardcover that will be the best holiday gift when it hits shelves.

What strikes me as I read- one story at a time, with space between each to savor- is the inventiveness of the writers. Van Allsburg's illustrations are surrealistically magical drawings, but they are snap shots. The ability to see the past, future, and alternative presents hinted at in these illustrations is an amazing imaginative feat.

Strangely enough, they now have my mind turning to Lev Grossman's The Magicians. There is a kinship here, I think. Both loved, enjoyed, and familiar, yet strange, surreal delights. Not matter how many times one sees a Van Allsburg drawing or reads a Lev Grossman novel, they will be strange and mysterious, even if you feel, as I do, that you somehow know them, even during the first reading.

From a darkly humorous story by Jon Scieszka to the fearful hint of magical oddness in Stephen King's, The Chroicles of Harris Burdick will leave readers spellbound. Adults who remember writing their own Harris Burdick stories and readers ages 10 and up will enjoy the strange magic of the tales. In a collection featuring such incredible authors as this, it will be difficult to choose a favorite.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Manga Man

Mangaman by Barry Lyga
I'm not a fan of Manga, though I do enjoy graphic novels. My favorite parts were the more metafictive elements- being hurt by motion lines, having thoughts actually appear over Mangaman's head, and moment between frames. While I didn't find the actual story very interesting, or feel that there was enough character development, I think the book is very strong conceptually. Teen manga lovers will enjoy the comics-geeks-only humor. With its exploration of eastern versus western storytelling techniques the book also has a place in classrooms, perhaps as a visual example of portions of Scott McCloud's
Understanding Comics.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fall Picture Books from Random House

An Annoying ABC
by Barbara Bottner
illustrated by Michael Emberley
There are so many ABC books that you have t
o do something unique and interesting if you want any attention. Bottner and Emberley have succeeded, creating an energetic and engaging alphabet. Each quirky, individual child in Miss Mabel's class, has a name beginning with a different letter of the alphabet (excepting "M" for Miss Mabel herself). All is well in Miss Mabel's class until Adelaide annoys a classmate, and havoc runs though the alphabet, each child doing something to set off the alphabetical next child. Constant movement runs through Emberley's illustrations with the next annoying act foreshadowed in each. Though Bottner's text is sweet, Emberley gives it a true story, one that will have kids gasping and giggling.

Into the Outdoors
by Susan Gal
A family departs on a camping trip, heading out on a hike once their camp site is set up. Simple text is accompanied by retro illustrations, creating a poetic journey for the family. Woodland creatures follow the family, intrigued by their adventure. Gal's lovely illustrations bring the bright patterns of the family into the soft, natural textures of the forest, capturing the hazy atmosphere of mountain views and the varying landscape elements of the forest.

by Norton Juster
illustrated by G. Brian Karas
When a boy moves to a new neighborhood he is certain that everything is going to be horrible. The worst part? No friends. When his mother tells him to go for a walk, whatever will he do? With no one to play with and no one to talk to, the boy begins calling for Neville. Soon, other kids have heard him and begin calling as well. Before you know it, the entire neighborhood is out calling for Neville- whoever Neville is. Norton Juster has done it again-- Neville is a unique text with a brilliant ending.

Ollie the Purple Elephant
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Jarrett's Lunch Lady series and Punk Farm books have established him as a humorous writer/illustrator. But Ollie the Purple Elephant breaks new ground, and proves that Jarrett is just as adept at classical drama as silly tales. Ollie is on top of the world when he is adopted by the McLaughlin family. But their cat Ginger doesn't like Ollie, and neither does Mr. Puddlebottom, who can't stand the sound of McLaughlin dance parties-- especially when there's an elephant involved. Together, Mr. Puddlebottom and Ginger conspire to get rd of Ollie, leaving the McLaughlins heartbroken . Will Ollie ever return home? With vibrant, colorful, illustrations popping off the page, Ollie is sure to become a new classic. Now, when can I order my purple elephant plush?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

From the creator of Hugo Cabret....

comes pure and utter brilliance.
by Brian Selznick
Scholastic, September 13, 2011 (Pre-order from your favorite indie. Really, these will fly.)

Selznick expertly weaves together two stories, one told in pictures, and other in words. Ben's textual story begins in 1977, in Minnesota. An orphan living with his relatives, Ben collects interesting objects in a special box and dreams of wolves. Rose lives in New Jersey in 1927. She collects articles about actress Lillian Mayhew and crafts paper buildings. Lillian is deaf and takes joy in silent films, Ben is deaf in one ear and teased by his cousin.

Right from the beginning there are connections between the two. A drawing of a lightning bolt strikes through both stories, hitting Ben's textual story and Rose's visual one. A sign proclaiming "New York" breaks in as both characters, decades apart, enter the overwhelming city, both deaf it to its sounds, but not its striking visuals and pushing people. Selznick continually draws Rose and Ben together, their lives overlapping and passing--separated only by time. And then, at the height of Ben's adventure, he breaks from the written narrative into the drawn one in a stunning portrait, and the stories finally merge.

Like Rose and Ben, readers are pulled into a purely visual world, a story created exclusively through written and drawn imagery. Selznick's detailed illustrations possess secrets, references, and odes to visual and Deaf culture. Wonderstruck is not a book that should simply be read, rather poured over, considered, discussed, and shared.

A true masterpiece that will have readers, jumping, crying, signing, cheering, and writing, in an attempt to express the wonder that has stuck them.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Summer Board Books

Hello, Friends! Puddle Jumping & Let’s Play House by Emma Quay and Anna Walker
This new four book series stars Panda, Owl, and Sheep as they go puddle jumping, play house, eat icecream, and go to sleep. The three friends are each different, but they all love one another and their sweet adventures are the perfect length for a board book.

SWING! Like a Monkey & WIGGLE! Like an Octopus
by Harriet Ziefert & Simms Taback
Learn some animals and some verbs with these brightly colored books. Simms Taback is the master of board books and his two newest will have little ones scurrying and prancing while you read.

At the Beach
by Salina Yoon
Shovels, pails, umbrellas...all sorts of objects a baby at the beach should have words for are included in this book. Each page includes a cut-out, so with a page turn a ball becomes a pail or an umbrella becomes a fish. A bright, bold, boardbook with fun, sparkly pieces on each page.