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?