Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Belly Book by Joe Harris (Beginner Books, 2008)

Cindy: While many readers are making their New Year's resolutions and thinking about how much they overate during the holidays, we thought it was the perfect time to share this delightful beginner reader book. There are a few thin bellies in the book, but most are useful as shelves or shelter because of their large size. One belly is so grand it doesn't even fit on the double page spread. And, the text cautions, "...bellies aren't great / when you can't read your weight." The book ends with wise counsel to attempt to eat more healthily...but first I have to finish the incredible chocolate gifts sent by friends! I resolve to do better...tomorrow.
Lynn: “High belly, low belly…stinker belly, Tinkerbelly.” Harris’ funny book about the many kinds and uses of bellies will have beginning readers laughing out loud. Well-chosen vocabulary and bouncy rhymes team up with colorful funny pictures to make this a book kids will want to read over and over. There is a message at the end about what we should be putting in our bellies but it is easy to swallow. I have only one complaint – Harris forgot the most important use of a belly – to hold up a book!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi (TOR 2008)

Lynn: I have strong feelings about the science fiction written for teens. I won’t go into that now but someday soon I will rant at length. I am feeling quite mellow right now because I just read an outstanding book that is guaranteed to win over even the most dubious. It does everything good science fiction should do. It is smart and extremely entertaining, pursuing thought-provoking themes that in this case are quintessentially adolescent AND universal. While providing lots of action and suspense, a great strength of this book is the richly developed characterizations. Terrific dialog and awesome aliens round out a book that is perfect to hand to anyone 12 and up, boys and girls, science fiction fans and newbies. Meet seventeen-year-old Zoë, smart, sassy, obsessed with her new boyfriend and rarely separated from her sarcastic best friend, Gretchen. She is also rarely separated from her two alien bodyguards who record her every experience for their home planet. Zoë’s foster parents are leaders of a new colony on the planet Roanoke. The colonists are struggling to establish farms and homes when they discover they are pawns in a gigantic galactic chess game. Zoë’s Tale is the fourth book in Scalzi’s outstanding Old Man’s War series and it is a parallel novel to The Lost Colony. Don’t panic! Zoë’s Tale stands alone quite nicely with ample background information seamlessly provided. I guarantee that most readers will immediately search out the first three books so be prepared to provide those too. In an author’s note, Scalzi says, “I despaired how I would ever actually get a writing tone approximating that of an actual teenage girl…” Well, he did and Zoë is a memorable character. This is one of those gateway books we librarians are always looking for that will open doors to new genres for readers. Buy this book for your teen collections NOW!
Cindy: I'm on deadline for some reviews and can't read this right now, but Lynn has me hooked. Most of the sf I've read has been the stuff she has sent my way and this sounds like a winner.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Cindy: Lynn and I found ourselves sitting on Santa's lap this afternoon while taking her grandsons and my teen daughters for a visit. We asked him to bring us lots of good new books to keep our blog full for you in 2009. We also got an early gift: an invitation from Booklist Online to host our Bookends Blog. We can't wait to join their great line up of bloggers. Watch for news here soon of our move. Happy Holidays to all of our Bookends readers!
Lynn: Happy holidays from my end of the bookshelf too! It is dark and quiet as I write this but crazy excitement will soon reign when the five-year-olds hit the house. Before that happens, I want to send my best wishes to everyone and to say thank you. When we began Bookends it was mostly to amuse ourselves. We have been astonished and so grateful for its reception. It is truly an amazing world when two ordinary librarians can have such fun and get such wonderful feedback. Thank you for reading and responding! I am grateful beyond words for the fellowship of the book world. May your holidays bring you joy and strength for the New Year! Don't forget to check on us at Bookends. Cindy and I are already scheming for the coming year.
Cindy: It just dawned on me...we are Santa Bookends too! :)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sandy's Circus: A Story about Alexander Calder by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrations by Boris Kulilov (Penguin/Viking, 2008)

Lynn: This exuberant picture book biography focuses on Calder’s early years and perfectly captures the love of life reflected in his art. Playful illustrations convey a sense of whimsy and delight as well as Calder’s attention to intricate detail. Especially effective are pages that show huge hands working with the tiny pieces of wire, bringing his delightful circus to life, and the pages showing a giant Calder carrying his suitcases striding over the cities. This wonderful book is sure to ignite the imaginations of budding artists and engineers of all ages! Anyone who reads this book will come away smiling. Check out this clip of Calder in his later years demonstrating the circus.
Cindy: I really, really, love this book. Ok, I know we don't let our BBYA teens get away with such lameness, so I'll expand, but first, did I tell you that I really LOVE this book? This is a picture book that older teens and adults will enjoy as much as young children, maybe more. Stone's solid storytelling is perfectly accompanied by colorful illustrations that exemplify Calder's palate. I was familiar with Calder's mobiles, but didn't know that he had INVENTED the form. And, I'd love for Santa to leave a miniature circus animal in my stocking! There's a great story here, too, about how our childhood experiences influence who we become, and in the importance of following our dreams and interests. I just bought this book for my daughter who is planning to study math and statistics in college next year but really wants to major in art. I think this would be a great gift for many graduates as they close their suitcases, click, click, click, and head off to pursue their dreams. I really LOVE this book.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Gran, You've Got Mail by Jo Hoestlandt (Delacorte, 2008)

Cindy: "Dear Gran, Hooray! Vacation! Just in time too, because I was fed up with school." (How many of us can relate to that line today?) Annabelle is typing and printing out letters to mail to her great grandmother to meet her father's demands to improve her keyboarding skills and, most days, Gran is happy to write back.There's honesty in the letter writing that these two share--neither of the age to worry much about offending. Annabelle dates one letter, "I don't know what day it is and I really don't care." In another letter Gran responds to her granddaughter's incredulous inquiry that she doesn't have a dishwasher: "I don't have a dishwasher simply because I like to dip my hands in water."

I exchanged letters for years with a post-office working, retired English teacher grandmother, who was a master at the art. This book made me long to open the mailbox to one of her letters with its new supply of commemorative stamps to keep my letters coming in return. Both grand and granddaughter have challenges they are dealing with (Annabelle a fight with her best friend and Gran a fight for her health) but the tender friendship that builds between them as they shore each other up is the real story.
Lynn: This is a sweet story, simple and direct, and the translation works well. I was surprised when I read that the movie Annabelle and her friends were seeing was Titanic as the book doesn’t have a dated feel. The growing relationship between the two builds nicely and the affection between them is touching and genuine without getting sappy. The title misleads a bit – kids may expect email – but once they start reading they might be inspired to try snail mail themselves. I didn’t love this as much as Cindy did but even a curmudgeon like me will find it a pleasant and worthwhile read.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson (Scholastic Point, 2008)

Cindy: Given the choice, I would read Maureen Johnson (or books like hers) every week. This one could be a musical, with Auntie Mame come to town in the form of drama diva Amy Amberson. Following family tradition, Scarlett's 15th birthday gift is the key to a suite in their struggling Manhattan hotel with the charge to keep it clean. They rarely have guests anymore, but lucky her, Mrs. Amberson has landed on their doorstep, and in Scarlett's suite, and things get interesting. The aging actress spends as much time orchestrating Scarlett's life and problems as she does directing Scarlett as her chambermaid and personal assistant. Like any good musical there's a romance with communication problems, a Show-That-Must-Go-On (this one her brother's Hamlet production originally staged in a parking garage before it finds a new home) and other plot points, but just spending time with Scarlett and Mrs. Amberson in the quirky hotel kept me entertained. Here's hoping there's a sequel: Encore!
Lynn: Maureen Johnson rocks! Scarlett is looking at a summer of changing sheets and convincing the temperamental toilets to run in the family hotel. Then the alarming Mrs. Amberson, an aging and wealthy actress books for the whole summer and drafts Scarlett as her assistant. Mrs. Amberson is an unstoppable force and when you add a parking garage production of Hamlet, a gorgeous actor in the company whose kisses weaken Scarlett's knees, sibling career crises and a 30-year-old feud, you have a recipe for chaos that is laugh-out-loud funny. Johnson is really on her game here with a cast of quirky memorable characters, terrific dialog and intriguing relationships. I especially admire the nuanced portrayal of Marlene, Scarlett’s little sister who has survived cancer. I want to stay in this hotel - aging plumbing and all.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dodgeball Chronicles by Frank Cammuso (Scholastic, 2008)

Cindy: Cammuso takes the classic middle school nightmare (what if I can’t open my locker?) and gives it a heroic spin. Arte King is the new kid at Camelot Middle School and after a rocky start becomes the first kid able to open a special locker that has been sealed for years. Book one of the graphic novel series Knights of the Lunch Table features lots of fun stabs at the King Arthur legend while staying focused on the real fears and challenges that face middle school boys. Merlin is a young, bald African American science teacher with a goatee and pierced ear, the three lunch ladies recite the school menu in rhyme around a cauldron to predict the future, and Gwen saves the day in the big dodgeball tournament. I hope we see much more of her in the sequels. Cammuso’s brilliant illustrations and his cheeky storytelling make a magical combination.
Lynn: This engaging book is perfectly designed to attract middle school readers with its big panels and bright colors. It will also hold their attention with story elements such as tarantulas, besting bullies, and being the new kid in school. The clever riffs on the Arthur legend are the icing on the cake. Kids familiar with the story will pick out funny and affectionate details yet kids who don't know the story won't be lost. Boys and girls will find this a royal read.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tadpole Rex by Kurt Cyrus (Harcourt, 2008)

Lynn: Deep in the goop of a long-ago swamp
A whopping big dinosaur went for a stomp.

In the footprint puddle, Tadpole Rex swims and grows, accompanied by the floops and fleeps of emerging arms and legs. Tadpole Rex’s inner tyrannosaur grows biggest of all though and he challenges the world with a roar of “ribbet” - much to the delight of the five-year-old reviewers in my house. I think this is their favorite picture book of the year - and it may be mine too. We love the vivid pallet of browns, greens and yellows of the bloopy swamp, the frog-eye level perspectives and the inventive page design. The text is delightful and perfect for reading aloud – which we do over and over again. Nicely incorporated science information rounds out a book ideal for the tadpoles in your life.
Cindy: This book makes me miss my public library days as it just NEEDS to be presented in a story hour setting to fully appreciate the illustrations from a distance as well as from a lap--and the rhyming, bouncing, text is perfect for read-alouds. I'm thankful for publishers who include art detail information. Some of the illustrations look like woodcuts (a favorite form of mine) but the end matter says this was created on scratchboard and then digitally colored. We originally planned to focus this blog on middle and teen readers, but we're addicted to picture books, too, so books for all ages will be included. I think we all have an inner tyrannosaur--just one more reason to ROAR about this brilliant book.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones (HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 2008)

Lynn: Full disclosure! Not only would I read ANYTHING Diana Wynne Jones writes but I would read it multiple times. This wonderful new book has all the things I most love about Jones’ writing: eccentric characters, charming humor, magical chaos and that warm sense that we are all in on the fun. Sophie, Howl and Calcifer return for an encore appearance when Sophie is asked to assist in the search for a missing Elfgift and Howl can’t resist crashing the party disguised as a lisping little boy. You’d think other characters wouldn't stand a chance with that trio but Charmain, a spoiled bored teen, holds her own very nicely. Charmain has been raised to be respectable which means that she has no practical skills at all. When she is whisked away by her disapproving aunt to take care of her ill great-uncle’s house, Charmain is horrified to discover that there is no time to read her books! Add the mystifying peculiarities of the wizard’s house, an inept apprentice, an annoying dog, a royal mystery and a really shivery villain and you have Diana Wynne Jones at her best. Charmain wants nothing more than to be left along to read when life gets bothersome and I admit to sharing that yearning. So go ahead and ignore those holiday chores - House of Many Ways is the perfect antidote to seasonal craziness!
Cindy: Howl's Moving Castle is one of my favorite DWJ titles, but readers can start here just fine and go back to the companion novels Howl and Castle in the Air later. I read this title early last spring but still remember the piles of dishes that Charmain faced, the mysteries of the magical house, the organization of her uncle's library, and all the madcap energy of a signature Jones title. I FELT her frustration as she kept getting sidelined from the books she wanted to read. Who has time for household chores when there are good books to be read? Indeed! I was a little let down by Howl's appearance. I had hoped for more antics with young wizard Howl--his toddler transformation was a missed opportunity although I enjoyed the scenes we did get. After you've read these books, check out the Howl's Moving Castle anime film by Hayao Miyazaki. I hope Jones is not finished with this world. I know I'm not!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon & Nathan Hale, illus. by Dean Hale (Bloomsbury, 2008)

Cindy: This is my kind of graphic novel...super heroes in the guise of folktale heroines! "Punzie" and sidekick Jack are a great team with snarky reparte, a humorous flair, and friendship that hints of a budding romance. The western influence reminded me of another favorite graphic novel, Daisy Kutter: The Last Train. Glad to hear the authors are teaming up for a sequel. This Rapunzel escapes Gothel, uses her long braids as lassos to dispense with the bad guys, and returns to try to improve life of the citizens affected by Gothel's heavy taxes and detrimental spells. I need some other graphic novel reading suggestions. If you have a favorite, leave us a comment!
Lynn: No quarrel here, partner! I loved everything about this book: the fairy tale set in the Old West, the perfect palette, the humor, the spunky characters, and the sassy dialog. I can’t resist lines like Jack admitting, “I have a serious problem with some giants.” What I like most about this terrific book is the way the text and illustrations work together to create the story. The Hales (all of them) smartly allow the illustrations to carry the action, often using vivid colors to heighten the tension. This is a perfect blend and I can’t wait to see more from this talented team. Oh - and the goose was a great character!
Cindy: I just read Jen Hubert's Reading Rants post about this book--I want to be Jen when I grow up! The woman can write and she has fabulous hair!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion, 2008)

Lynn: "Henry Smith's father told him that if you build your house far enough away from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you." Trouble does come of course, even to Henry’s privileged New England family, when a truck driven by a young Cambodian immigrant critically injures Henry’s older brother. Schmidt’s signature fluid prose beautifully captures two distinctly different communities, exploring issues of racial prejudice, class, perception and family loyalty. Henry’s friend Sanborn and Black Dog (a terrific addition to literature dogs!) add humor to a leisurely-paced thoughtful coming of age story. There are some problems here including a few exceptionally convenient plot devices and some one-dimensional secondary characters but I didn’t care. Those concerns were swept away for me by the strength of the portrayal of Henry’s journey from childhood to adolescence, the vividly evoked sense of place and the masterfully crafted language. We recently heard Gary Schmidt speak at a conference about his fascination with what event or experience initiates the change from childhood to adolescence. That theme stands out so much for me in this book. Henry’s awakening is written with such subtlety and grace that I am willing to forgive any quibbles I might have.
Cindy: There's no question that Schmidt is a master wordsmith. I've admired his writing since first reading The Sin Eater and I've read everything of his except Anson's Way. I agree with most of Lynn's praise for this book. The setting is fabulous, his descriptions are lush and the physical and psychological journeys mesh well. That said, I felt like I was being beaten over the head with the Trouble metaphor, especially the refrain about building your house far from trouble. I listened to this on audio, so perhaps that repetition annoyed me more than it would have if I'd read it in print like Lynn. I don't know, I like this book a lot and will booktalk it with teens but I'd have liked a little more subtlety. Listening to Gary tell stories at our conference was wonderful. He is a storyteller in every sense of the word. You just want to spend an evening by a fire and listen to him spin tales. Black dog is a keeper for sure. I'd like a whole book about his escapades. His effect on the house mimics that of my teenage daughters who leave a similar trail of destruction behind.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Giant Golden Book of Elves and Fairies by Jane Werner (Random House, 1951/2008)

Lynn: My name is Lynn and I am addicted to books. It started out slowly - a picture book here, a fairy tale there but before I knew it I owned the entire collection of Sue Barton and every Oz book ever written. I hoped I would change. But the cravings grew stronger than ever. My family guessed. The clues were everywhere: my constant requests for bookshelves, the towering stacks of books hidden around the house, the fact that all the bookstore clerks knew me by name. But even I did not realize how deeply I was hooked until the day I sat at the coffee shop idly reading review magazines and then it happened. I saw an article talking about the reissue of The Giant Golden Book of Fairies and Elves. “OMG,” I shrieked, reverting to abbreviations in my excitement. I leaped to my feet, knocking over my butter rum latte and my chair. I HAD to have it! My old copy was battered from years of reading. "The Lost Merbaby," "Singeli’s Silver Slippers," the wonderful Garth Williams illustrations, "The Cannery Bear!" Every eye in the coffee shop was on me. This is a Calvinist town and we don’t shout about books here. It was then that I knew I needed help. Heed this cautionary tale! RUN to your nearest bookstore and order this fabulous book for everyone you know. Then locate the nearest 12-step program. I’ll be there, with this childhood treasure clutched to my heart.
Cindy: I don't even know where to start to respond to that. Fortunately, we often take turns with bad moods and unbridled enthusiasm so we can help each other through the good and bad. Teasing aside, I can relate to Lynn's delight in Random House's reissue of favorite Golden Books. These books, purchased in the grocery store, and reread endlessly, imprinted on our DNA. My childhood favorite was Tommy Visits the Doctor with the delightful Richard Scarry illustrations of the boy and rabbit simultaneously visiting their doctors. True fans will have already read 2007's Golden Legacy by Leonard S. Marcus. But back to elves and fairies. This book is charming and Garth Williams' drawings add just the right touch. A personal favorite of mine is the poem, "The Second-Hand Shop," by Rowena Bennett that explains what happens to all the household items I lose that the Borrowers don't abscond with...a fairy is selling them!

Happy Holidays!

Cindy: We have big glass display cases in both of my middle schools and the art department uses them a lot, but one of them has sat empty for quite a while. Tired of looking at it, my awesome secretary, Val, surprised me this morning with a gift wrapped case. I added a bow and a gift tag that reads: For: Mac Bay Readers -- From: Santa. Sometimes the easiest displays get the most attention. This one is already attracting the students and staff and everyone wants to know what is in the gift! We can't help you with your shopping, but our gift to you is the fast display idea. Happy Holidays from Bookends!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George (Bloomsbury 2008)

Lynn: One of the great pleasures of snowy days is nestling in with a wonderful book. Here is one that is picture perfect for wintry days. The baby born to a bitter and disappointed mother doesn't even have a name. Called Lass by her family, the little girl grows up quiet and self-sufficient with a secret talent that enables her to communicate with animals. During one especially hungry winter, a huge polar bear arrives at the house and offers wealth to the family in exchange for Lass spending a year and a day with him in his castle. Lass does her best to curb her curiosity and endure the year. But what girl can resist trying to solve the mystery of the beautiful young man who slips into her bed each night? George blends an enchanting retelling of a Norwegian tale with exciting new elements, creating a completely satisfying read. I especially loved the trolls! So grab a quilt, make a cup of cocoa and enjoy!
Cindy: 398.2 is this storyteller's favorite section of the library. I also love fictional folktale retellings. Robin McKinley's Beauty was the first to really capture my heart by fully fleshing out a familiar tale into something very new. George's retelling of "East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon" is sure to please fans of Edith Pattou's East that looks at the same tale. Lass's ability to talk to animals makes her relationship with her pet wolf very entertaining, and it's a magical element that is also important to the plot. Three cheers for a book in which the beloved "dog" doesn't die! This story enchanted me the whole way, but I have to admit that I prefer the Beauty and the Beast storyline to East of the Sun. I mean, doesn't it creep you out a little that the girl is forced to sleep next to a man she doesn't know for a year? Sure, he is a gentleman, but I prefer Beauty's more distanced contact with her beast, thank you very much. That said, I can see how both girls fall in love with the gentle beasts they are imprisoned with. And Lynn's right, the trolls are fabulous--so too the salamander chefs, the faun, and other fey creatures. If I weren't in danger of being imprisoned myself by towering stacks of unread books, I'd be tempted to curl up with this one again.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd (Random House/David Fickling 2008)

Cindy: From the haunting cover, readers are warned that this will be a novel of sacrifices. Fergus finds a body buried in the peat he is digging in Northern Ireland. It turns out to be from 80 AD, another body preserved in the bog. He begins to dream about the mysterious past of the girl, who apparently was murdered. Woven into this story is the 1980s politics of the Troubles, and the hunger strike by the political prisoners at Long Kesh, including Fergus's older brother. A romance with the archaeologist's daughter and Fergus's involvement in delivering secret packages that may contain bomb-making ingredients complicate his life. This is very different from the author's A London Eye Mystery, which I also loved. Fans of David Almond's books are going to admire this one for its magical realism bits, religious themes, and superb use of dialect. Even if readers have to scramble to research more about the Troubles, they'll have no trouble relating to Fergus's response to his first kisses: “Why wasn’t the whole world doing this all the time, why?”
Cindy has been after me to read this book for weeks and something always bumped it down the stack. Don't let this happen to you! I was prepared from the blurbs for this to be grim and while there are definitely dark and grim elements here, the overall tone is one of optimism and hope - despite all of man's idiocies, life is full of promise and with joy to be found in the most unexpected of places. Dowd weaves multiple plot threads effortlessly and the pace never falters. I was equally enthralled by the various stories, never impatient with any of them, and captivated by the beautifully developed characters. The cast is large from Welsh border guard to grieving mother to Iron Age girl and all spoke with convincing authenticity. The several mysteries are nicely resolved and the astute reader has all the clues needed. This is a beautifully crafted book that satisfies on multiple levels and deserves to win attention and awards. It completely won my heart and I am saddened again at the loss of this gifted writer.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic, 1990)

Cindy: This post should have been up yesterday, but if I hadn't cleaned the kitchen instead we'd never have been able to get to the counters to stuff our own turkey this morning. Our plan was to each share a favorite Thanksgiving picture book, but Lynn was traveling over the river and through the woods to Lafayette, IN to bring her parents home for Thanksgiving, so I am flying solo this year. We'll plan ahead next year. Yeah, right.

'Twas the day before Thanksgiving
And all through the trees,
The fall leaves were spinning
Aloft in the breeze.

Eight school children take a field trip with their peace sign earring-wearing teacher to a turkey farm where Farmer Mack Nuggett calls his turkeys by name: "Now Ollie, now Stanley, now Larry and Moe, on Wally, on Beaver, on Shemp and Groucho!" The kids befriend the turkeys and come up with a plan to spare them from their Thanksgiving fate. Signature Pilkey humor, great comic illustrations that pay tribute to some famous paintings, and a message of peace. Great holiday fare. If you're not familiar with this 1990 Scholastic/Orchard publication, add it to next year's holiday traditions!

Now, football is also a part of many families' Thanksgiving weekend traditions, so I have another reading recommendation for those fans. It's The Sports Kid Blog written by my cousin, Jack, a 6th grader. Even if you are not a Miami Dolphin or football fanatic like he is, check out his great writing style and voice. We just recently discovered each other's blogs and I was very impressed with his and have added it to my reader feed. He asked how I read so many books. I said, "I don't clean my house, can't you tell?" He looked around and completely deadpan said, "Yes." Consider this a fitting coda to this post's opening statement!

Happy Thanksgiving from Bookends!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Swim the Fly by Don Calame (Candlewick, 4/2009)

Lynn: I know it’s not nice to tease but we are going to talk about this laugh-out loud funny book even though it won’t publish till April. I think it is extremely hard to write humor but this first novel makes it look easy. Fifteen-year-old Matt and his two buddies have a tradition of setting a summer goal. This year’s is to see a real-live naked girl. Add barbell disasters, laxative and fart jokes, a nudist colony and three bumbling buddies who steal your heart and you have a book tailor made for teen-age boys. There is lots of crude snort-worthy humor here but there is also a sweetness to this story that will win over the most hard-hearted reader. It is definitely worth waiting for! My thanks to the generous folks at Candlewick for letting us have an early peek.
Cindy: Matt's efforts to get in shape enough to just finish the 100 yard butterfly for his team will have your sides hurting as much as his--but yours will be from laughing. And I just love Gramps. Truly. Every boy needs a gramps like him. Not only did we get an early peek at this hilarious title, but the arc features Lynn's and my first book blurbs, along with friend, Ed Spicer ( Two of our teen readers also have their comments in the arc. Here's what they had to say:

Nick A., age 16: "The book is incredibly funny, but I can still relate to those awkward moments....Had it not been for school and food, I would have read it straight through."

Leah M., age 14: "The main characters'...appalling cluelessness when it comes to girls will be sure to elicit a sympathetic cringe from the male population and a raucous laugh from everyone else. This book sped by with all the ease and grace of a truly amazing read, and considerably faster than most manage to swim the fly."

Finally, our teens were able to join us in providing feedback about the cover art. We love the final look--represents the contents very well and should be eye catching on the bookstore and library shelves for its target audience.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (Simon Pulse, 2008)

Lynn: Scott's masterfully crafted book has to be the most emotionally challenging book I read this year with a storyline that troubled my sleep for many nights. Kidnapped at age ten, "Alice" has been sexually and emotionally abused for the past five years. With her body maturing despite near starvation, Alice knows that Ray will kill her soon but first he wants her to lure and train her replacement. This is definitely a book for only our most mature teens. So why blog about this wrenching book? First, this blog is about noteworthy books and the writing is extraordinary. The spare, matter-of-fact prose, while not graphic, somehow magnifies the horrifying impact. Skillfully sketched scenes reveal volumes about the characters. I can still feel Alice's paralyzing sense of hopelessness and helplessness. Secondly, there is an underlying reminder of how important it is to really see the people around us. Alice's extreme situation is fortunately rare but sexual and emotional abuse is far more common than most of us would like to believe. Living Dead Girl is a wake-up call for all of us .
Cindy: I agree with Lynn wholeheartedly about this book. She's been waiting for me to finish it for weeks, but as Chris Crutcher says on the jacket, it's a book you HAVE to put down but are drawn back to. Every few chapters I had to walk away from it. The writing in this powerful story is exquisite, despite the very grim nature. It's quite clear what Alice has been forced to endure for years without the descriptions descending into the gratuitous or salacious for shock value. Every word seems to be carefully chosen, and the story is spare in its eloquence. For me, it wasn't the sexual abuse that was so horrifying (as awful as that was) it was how broken and, as Alice says, how "wrong" she has become. It is impossible to imagine her ever recovering from the persistent psychological abuse she has endured. "I want to run but I can't. I can't. I tried and it didn't work, it never works, every day I am an open sore, a walking scream, and it doesn't matter. No one sees me. I want to run, but I know there is nowhere I can go."

When I was four, my mother left me locked in the car alone, in a K-Mart parking lot in Elkhart, Indiana while she went inside to pick up a few things. I had the window cracked to get some air and was startled when a man walked up to the car and started to talk to me through the crack. He wanted me to unlock the door, he asked other things of me, and even though I didn't know really what he was talking about, I knew it was wrong and I rolled the window the rest of the way up and kept the door locked. He fled when someone approached the area and my mother soon returned. She never left me in a car again, but I've often thought of that incident over the years, when I read a book like this, and am certain if I had unlocked the door that some harm would have come to me.

Lynn and I often talk about how differently adults read these types of books from the way teens read them. I loved horror movies as a teen, not so much as an adult after reading too many horrific news headlines. I read a book like this and think of my two teenage daughters and worry. Teens will read this book and perhaps take some caution from its story, but mostly they will read it for the horror of the story, just like they devour the Child Called It memoirs by Dave Pelzer. In some cases, I think it is a comfort as a teen to read about someone's life that is worse than your own. "I've got it bad, but not this bad." In other cases, there is comfort in knowing that you are not alone. This book is not for our middle school students, but one of our goals is to highlight the best books of the year, and this is one of them.

Next up will be a funny book--we need it after this one.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Likely Story by David Van Etten (Random House/Knopf, 2008)

Cindy: Written by YA author/editor David Levithan, playwright David Ozanich, and One Life to Live writer, Chris Van Etten, under the name "David Van Etten," the story is about a girl born (literally) and raised on a soap opera set, the daughter of a TV daytime diva who has never won the daytime Emmy. She blogs about how soap operas are so unrealistic and that there needs to be a show that is a likely story showing the drama of everyday teen life. Before you can say "Erica Kane," Mallory is pitching, writing, and casting her own tv drama and her life gets as complicated as the shows she mocks. Pure fun for this recovering All My Children addict. Our 7th and 8th grade girls can't get enough of this series and have kept me from the advance copy sequel, All That Glitters, while they pass it around. Book #3 is set to pub June 2009 so the fun will continue in Red Carpet Riot. Can't wait--a perfect start-of-summer read to anticipate.
Lynn: I can’t help it – mention soap operas to me and my eyes roll involuntarily. It is a direct result of overexposure to As The World Turns and their ilk in my formative years so I wasn’t exactly eager to read this despite Cindy’s enthusiasm. When our book club teens loved it I decided I needed to curb my skepticism and give it a try. What a treat! Mallory is a heroine after my own heart and this very affectionate spoof of the soaps is smart and charming. There’s enough satire to keep us curmudgeons smiling but it is never mean-spirited. And just like the soaps, this is addictive. I’m going to send my clairvoyant secret twin out to retrieve the sequel right away!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

National Book Award Youth Winner

Cindy: The Winner of the Young People's Literature National Book Award was announced last night....drum roll please....Congratulations go to Judy Blundell for her novel What I Saw and How I Lied. For more information about the award and the complete shortlist, head to the NBA website. You can check out our opinion of Blundell's book in our Nov. 12th post. I have to add a shout out to her editor, David Levithan! Congratulations all around to Scholastic.

Judges for the Young People's division this year were: Daniel Handler (chair--and the guy who claims to represent Lemony Snickett), Holly Black, Angela Johnson, Carolyn Mackler, Cynthia Voigt. Our teen readers would do well to spend some time in the company of these authors' books. Voigt's Tillerman series, starting with Homecoming, remains one of my favorite series of all time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Today's BBYA Meeting Madness--ARC Giveaway Day!

Cindy: Santa came early to our BBYA teens today--it was ARC-giveaway day! More popular than the snacks, is the opportunity to snag a few free books that are being purged from our temporary BBYA collection. Earlier this week we showed one of our teens reading the advanced reader copy of Gone by Grant and an astute blog reader with much better eyesight than I have remaining sent a question about seeing a barcode and spine label on the book. Lynn sent her an explanation for our process, which we feel falls within the guidelines the publishers allow:
Lynn: It is a good question and I hope I can reassure you! We assign a temporary bar code and place all our arcs in a temporary collection called BBYA that is accessible to our book club members as well as all our students for just one year. We have already pulled out the books that didn't make BBYA nominations for this year and will give them away this week. In January after Midwinter, we will pull all the 2008 BBYA nominated arcs and give them away to our students. We have over 5,000 students so we needed to be able to identify and locate the arcs during the discussion season.

This bookclub came into being when Cindy and I were serving on BBYA. The kids loved it so much that we have kept it going. We do NOT put arcs in our permanent collections. We do buy lots of copies of the titles that the teens report as favorites during and after the BBYA year. We have one galley of Hunger Games, for instance, but Cindy purchased ten copies for the two middle schools and will probably need more after booktalking it on the weekly video announcements this week.
Cindy: As you can see, we have some enthusiastic readers in our after school club--who don't mind mugging for the camera, either. :) They helped restore order after the photo shoot and then helped themselves to more books. We also gave away some publisher book-related bling that we had picked up at conferences. The sturdy Penguin and HarperCollins book bags with book covers on them were a big hit. The Twilight canvas bag was used as a major prize LONG AGO and makes a daily appearance in the high school halls. We do have a fair number of boys in the club but they left before the final photo shoot but not before they snagged a few rounds of free books. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to the generous publishers for making these galleys available to teens and their librarians in addition to the bookstore buyers! We all enjoy the early peek at what you're up to next!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness-redux

Cindy: We learned today that Ness won The 2008 Booktrust Teenage Prize for The Knife of Never Letting Go. As luck would have it, I finished the book very early this morning. I don't know how Todd managed to stay awake on the run for weeks with no sleep, I was paying for my late reading night all day. I updated our earlier post to add my opinion to Lynn's. Check it out and tell us what you think of this one when you get to it. No post is too tardy!

Monday, November 17, 2008

That's Not a Cookbook!

Cindy: My secretary's daughter, Jenny, one of our avid BBYA teen members, has set a goal of reading all of the BBYA 2009 nominations (224) this year. She's still chipping away at them and apparently found another way to use the cookbook stand while she was on dinner duty Friday night. Doesn't she look like a good BBYA member? When I served on the committee I turned all cooking over to my husband and daughters and am happy to let them continue whenever they want. I haven't read Gone by Michael Grant yet...have you? I'm closing in on the end of The Knife of Never Letting Go and can't turn the pages fast enough.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

Lynn: A young girl disguising herself as a boy to escape desperate poverty, dragons with elemental powers, a kingdom in crisis – these plot elements make Eon sound like any other ho hum fantasy. Not so! I think this is one of the year’s best. Sadly it is not being released until the end of December so put this on your not-to-be-missed list. Goodman sets the story in a richly described Asian-style country in the midst of a power struggle. Vivid characters fill the complex plot and their struggles propel a pulse-quickening pace. Goodman takes standard elements and weaves straw into gold in this mesmerizing tale with plenty of thematic heft. I can’t say it enough: don’t miss this!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rod Serling's Twilight Zone graphic novels adapted by Mark Kneece (Walker, 2008)

Cindy: I grew up watching Creature Feature and Twilight Zone...and checking out LPs from the public library so I could listen to Bill Cosby try to scare me to death with his "Chicken Heart" story. It's not cool enough that CBS and let us watch the many of the original Rod Serling Twilight Zone episodes, but now Walker & Company is publishing graphic novel adaptations of eight of the classic shows! The first two are out and The After Hours is definitely the creepier one. A young woman shops for a gift for her mother in a department store but when she tries to return the damaged item the floor she visited doesn't exist, and that isn't the only strange thing about the store. This one brings to mind the vintage Richard Peck YA novel, Secrets of the Shopping Mall. The art is great and reflects the mood--and the story is faithful to the original television script. The introduction, notes from the author, and credits for the television episode add to the package. I want this episode adapted next: Time Enough at Last: "A bookworm yearns for more time to read - then a nuclear holocaust leaves him alone in the world with lots of time, plenty to read and one ironic twist!" Yours from another dimension...
Lynn: Start the theme music running in your head, open Walking Distance and settle in for a quintessential Twilight Zone experience. An over-stressed businessman has car trouble just a mile and a half from the hometown he hasn’t visited in twenty years. Nostalgic for a simpler time, he walks to town only to discover that he has walked back in time. Large, easy-to-read panels make this visually appealing and the introduction provides plenty of information for the newbie. I’m eager to hear what our teens think but I'm betting these will be popular.

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (Scholastic, 2008)

Cindy: What a year for first novels it has been! I don't envy the YALSA Morris First Novel Committee in making their choice this year of the award. We've already blogged about a few strong contenders and here's another that is already shortlisted for the National Book Award. Blundell has crafted an atmospheric, sensual, coming-of-age, historical mystery that grabs the reader and doesn't let go. The opening scene (filled with perfume and cigarette smoke and feigned recognition about what her mother and Evie are really doing) sets the stage perfectly for the events that lead to Evie's parents being tried for murder by novel's end. As Evie reflects that she saw much more than she realized while it was happening, the reader is warned to play close attention to the subtle clues as they unfold. Besides the mystery, the post-WWII setting with the lingering prejudice against Jews and Evie's smouldering infatuation with an older man keep the blood pumping and the pages turning. Can't wait to see what this author does next.
Lynn: I was starting to feel a little smug about keeping up with the reading this year until the NBA shortlist revealed my feet of clay. I dug this book out of a life-threatening stack and was hooked right from the first cinematic scene. The sense of time and place is so vivid that I could close my eyes and hear the rustle of full skirts and smell a hint of perfume and smoke. Blundell skillfully both tantalizes and reveals providing the reader with a sense of intimate involvement enhanced by the pitch-perfect narrative voice. Hats off to Scholastic for a fabulous cover too that is not only eye-catching but perfectly reflects the book.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

MAME Conference 2008

Cindy: We just returned from our state school library conference where we presented our favorites from 2007 and 2008 (email one of us if you want the handout). It was fun to hear from all of the MAME members who are reading our blog--be sure to post a comment on a book you've read--or tell us about one we missed in our presentation! I have to relate the first event of the trip, and then will leave the rest for Lynn to share. The bell hop who brought our luggage to our room said he loves it when library conferences come to town. "I've never met a librarian I didn't like. You have to be a real piece of work to not get along with a librarian." Now, that's the way to start off a conference! The Dearborn Michigan Hyatt knows how to hire 'em!
Lynn: It's always so much fun to booktalk to other book fanatics - you can't get a better audience! We also attended some wonderful sessions including two presentations by the amazing Gary Schmidt. Gary is a marvelous presenter, entertaining, inspiring and always thoughtful. What a terrific storyteller too! He talked about a question that drives his writing: what begins the change from childhood to adulthood. I'm eager to go back and reread some of my favorite Schmidt books with this theme in mind. My favorite Schmidt book has to be The Wednesday Wars. What is yours?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Antsy Does Time by Neal Shusterman

Lynn: Antsy Bonano is back in another wonderfully wacky adventure. When a friend confides that he has only six months to live, Antsy impulsively offers Gunnar a month of his life. Antsy creates a contract and, like so many things in Antsy's life, the whole thing takes on a life of its own. Subplots and complications pop up like dandelions while a terrific cast of secondary characters almost steal the show. Antsy's wise-cracking voice provides plenty of laugh-out-loud moments but keep a tissue handy. Shusterman skillfully gives us a touchingly real boy whose genuine, if fraught with disaster, attempts to help will touch your heart.

Monday, November 3, 2008

President's Daughter Series by Ellen Emerson White

Cindy: Senator Hillary Clinton and Governor Sarah Palin have both made this presidential election year very memorable, but Author Ellen Emerson White wrote about a woman in control of the White House back in 1984. The series, about Meg Powers, the daughter of the first female President of the United States, has been revised for currency and re-released with the newest book in the series, Long May She Reign. I had somehow missed these the first time around, but discovered them when I was assigned this fourth book to review for Booklist. While the story earns its title, "Loooooong..." with a slow moving plot, the intricate details about life in the White House and having Secret Service men escorting Meg to college are fascinating. The emotional recovery from the stress of having been held captive by terrorists in book three and coming to terms with her mother's choice to refuse to negotiate for her release are events that would require a slow healing process, so the narrative pace is warranted. I still haven't read the rest of the series, but maybe I should take one home to read while I watch the election results roll in...I hope you elect to read these, too.
Lynn: Since the moment she read Long May She Reign, Cindy has been nagging me to start this series. I am hopelessly compulsive when it comes to reading books in order, so I ignored her and waited till this summer when the new editions came out and, darn, she was right again. I loved the first one and can hardly wait to read the rest. Yes, the political detail was fascinating but it was Meg's voice that really won me over. She sounded like a real teen to me: smart, sarcastic and a little self-absorbed, but very real. Meg's conflicted feelings toward her mother are so well portrayed that I found myself talking back to the book. Whatever your politics, this series is a winner.
Cindy: Lynn, You know I am ALWAYS right. :)


We've talked for a year about doing this blog but we suspected we might be our only audience. It has turned out to be soooo much fun to do and we are really excited by the wonderful feedback we are getting. Thank you VERY much to everyone for the kind comments, the humbling support and all your help spreading the word about our new adventure. We know booklovers are never short of opinions so post your thoughts and suggestions.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies

Lynn: A librarian leaves a window open and the word spreads fast - it's Bat Night at the library! Older bats, who obviously know their Dewey, fly right to their favorite shelves. Young bats play with the photocopier and make shadows on the wall with the overhead until the real fun begins. It's story time and a series of delightful images follow with bat-versions of our classic tales like Make Way for Ducklings and Winnie the Pooh that keep bats and readers alike spellbound until the sun begins to rise. Beautiful illustrations draw the readers into the joyous visit and the charmingly drawn bats may convince all of us to leave a window open now and then. A visual treat!
Cindy: This delightful book was a birthday gift from a friend (thanks, Deb!) and it just might be my personal favorite of the year. I collect books about books and libraries (making me a real nerd to my teen daughters) and this one is so much fun. I've enjoyed watching Lynn's twin grandsons eat up books and if they grew wings, they would be in the middle of all the bat fun. Happy Halloween from Bookends! I just ordered Bats at the Beach for my treat!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Cindy: One of my favorite books of the year for its techno-savvy and its in-your-face themes dealing with privacy, safety, and public policy. W1n5T0n is in the wrong place at the wrong time during a terrorist attack on San Francisco and is detained by the Dept. of Homeland Security when he refuses to give up his passwords. When he is released days later he decides to fight back against the folks who want to take away his privacy for the sake of national security. Teens who love technology will eat up this thriller. I got a new license plate after reading it, realizing I could finally get my READ plate (it hasn't been available in my state) by becoming a "hacker librarian."
Lynn: This was a real page-turner for me with an electrifying plot full of twists and turns. There is a lot of very geeky technology that was completely fascinating - and SCARY – but a reader can skip over much of that if so inclined. Doctorow clearly has something to say but he never let it get in the way of his thrilling story or his very well written characters.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mystery of the Fool and the Vanisher by David and Ruth Ellwand

Cindy: I love authors and publishers who take a risk on books and this quirky gem delighted me when I first read it last spring. This one falls into the read-it-again-and-again category because you need multiple reads to figure out what is going on...and even then you aren't sure. The discovery of a chest of artifacts left by a photographer who worked on an archeological dig and claimed to photograph a fairy is the centerpiece of several mysteries and disappearances. What do you think happened? Even if you can't decide, the photographs and collage illustrations will delight, just as the author's 2002 book, Fairie-ality, (also published by Candlewick) did.
Lynn: OK - I get that the pictures are cool and the book design is cooler and we're supposed to feel tantalized and eerily puzzled. Instead I finished the book feeling irritated. It was just not enough for me. It was like getting one lick of my favorite flavor ice cream, finding one shoe in the closet, restoring two sentences of a stunningly written review I forgot to save. I like my fantasies at least 300 pages long and packed with detail! This was just a beautiful tease.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Cindy: From its striking cover to its compelling heroine, readers will root for ex-slave Isabel to one day find her promised freedom. Set in New York City during the summer of 1776, Manhattan as a battleground is vividly realized as Isabel becomes a spy. Her sex and ethnicity help her efforts as she is invisible to the powerful white men around her. Author M.T. Anderson, who explores similar themes of freedom and liberty in his Revolutionary War novels about Octavian Nothing, jokes that some folks think he and Laurie are siblings and that their parents must have influenced these books. There's no genetic relation between them, but the two authors have made admirable contributions to the study of our national family's foundation and philosophy.
Lynn: Cindy and I agree on this wonderful book. For me it is Isabel's strong voice that is the highlight. This is the kind of book that makes history sing out with a voice that brings the time and place to life for young readers. Anderson does a terrific job of weaving the necessary historical information into the story also, never letting that slow the pace. I especially appreciate the accurate portrayal of the very ambivalent feelings most people had about the revolution. Everyday survival was center stage and siding with the eventual winner meant more to most ordinary people than championing a cause, a fact that seldom appears in books for teens. I was captured completely by Isabel and was loathe to end the story. I need a sequel, please! While we have recommended this book for grades 7-10, I think it is perfect to give to younger strong readers.

Traction Man Meets Turbodog by Mini Grey

Cindy: I was so excited to get my hands on this sequel to a favorite picture book. This is one that parents and grandparents will not mind rereading and that I found my 17-yr-old daughter sneaking a look at yesterday. Anyone who has lost a trusty friend or a security item, or who has had to dig through a trash bin, will find empathy with poor Traction Man who finds Turbodog a poor substition for his trusty pet, Scrubbing Brush who has gone missing. Evil parents who are more concerned with hygiene than loyalty learn an important lesson here.
Lynn: Anyone who spends more than 5 minutes with me hears about my 5-year-old twin grandsons who spend part of every day with me. They love books and I have loved diving back into the fabulous world of picture books with them. The boys have strong opinions about what we read - hmmm, wonder where THAT comes from - and we all love this new adventure with Traction Man and Scrubbing Brush. The bin creatures are wonderfully weird and we all laughed about Turbodog's watery fate. This gets our Read-It-Again-and-Again stamp of approval. Don't miss Traction Man, always appropriately garbed, in his latest adventure!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Our friend, Walter Mayes, is in Publishers Weekly this week. This is a great article about how teens enjoy getting their hands on advance reader copies, like we provide in our BBYA (Best Books for Young Adults) collection for our students and our BBYA book club.

School Librarians Connect Kids with Galleys

And, our Holland and Grand Haven teens were featured in Publishers Weekly October 16th, for the release of John Green's new book, Paper Towns. They met him and narrator Dan John Miller in July when they came to town for the audio recording of the book, at Grand Haven's Brilliance Audio.

All Ears on 'Paper Towns'

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pretty Monsters: Stories by Kelly Link

Lynn: This wonderful book gathers 9 of Kelly Link’s stories in her first collection published for teens. Most of the stories have appeared in other books but old fans will welcome having them together and those unfamiliar with Link’s work will surely join the ranks of admirers. Her work is truly unique and blends horror, fantasy, and science fiction. While being extremely funny in a dead pan, sneak-up-on-you way, Link has a very sharp eye for human foibles. Whether she is writing about a handbag that holds another world or a mysterious television series called the Library that appears at random, Link’s stories are always captivating, macabre, quirky and often extremely scary. This collection is a rare treat.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nation by Terry Pratchett

Lynn: The premise is simple - a devastating tidal wave brings two young people of widely disparate cultures together on a tropical island. The resulting story is anything but simple; packed with vast and universal themes, mixed with humor and peopled with vivid characters. This has to be one of Pratchett’s best. Like all his stories, the humor and the inventive quirkiness makes for a delightful read yet this is a story that also thoughtfully explores an array of fascinating themes ranging from faith, free will, gender, science, class structure, justice, duty and the nature of the universe.

I completely fell in love with the characters and I also think that one of the most appealing features of this book is the underlying sweetness of it that moved me tremendously. Besides, who can resist the tree climbing octopi and the grandfather birds?

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Lynn: For those who don't know me, let me say upfront that I a major fan of science fiction and fantasy and I might be a trifle outspoken about those genres now and again. It's been a great year for speculative fiction and this exciting book is one of my favorites.

Set on a world settled by colonists seeking a simpler, closer to God life, the story follows a young boy just days from his thirteenth birthday, about to become officially a man in his settlement of Prentisstown. The town has no women, a virus having killed them all when Todd was just an infant. The virus left the Noise, the ability of every man to hear the constant stream of thoughts of all those men around him. When Todd "hears" a strange area of silence, it triggers his foster fathers to send him fleeing the settlement but the other men of the town ride out to track him down.

The idea of the Noise is an integral and fascinating part of this story and Ness raises intriguing issues based on the idea, including the wonderful depiction of how animals sound. While this is a tense dystopian novel, it is also a startling and unique coming of age story asking what does it mean to be a man. Heart-pounding unrelenting suspense kept me flying through this book. This is the first of a series and the cliff-hanger ending left me hanging by my fingernails! Note: There is a lot of horrifying violence in the story and some very upsetting deaths.
Cindy: I stayed up WAAAAAYY too late last night finishing this un-put-downable title and am paying for it tonight. The voice in this novel may be the strongest element in a very fine story that has many strengths. Interesting that it is voice that stands out in a novel that creates chaos and lack of privacy by having too many voices being heard. And, the voice of the dog added humor in a novel that needed that to get us through the rest of the events.

The ending was as much a cliffhanger as Lynn promised, and I can't STAND waiting for sequels when the ending leaves you hanging as badly as this one does. I mean, really, what am I supposed to do between now and the Fall of 2009 while characters' fates hang in the balance? If anything happens to the girl in this book, maybe Todd can hook up with the girl in Graceling by Cashore--they have the same incredible survival endurance, whereas I'd be dead by page 43. More than hating to wait for sequels, I can't stand to not read exciting books that people are talking about. Count me a fan of this one and recommend it to readers who liked The Hunger Games by Collins.

Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka

Lynn: My house is overflowing with Y chromosomes but this laugh-out-loud book is for anyone who is a guy or knows a guy! Jon Scieszka's tales of the 6 little boy Scieszka's growing up in Flint, Michigan is guaranteed to to make the crankiest grump feel better. I prescribe reading one of these short chapters after work/school every day to induce instant laughter. Caution - readers exposed to only a few pages may experience an overwhelming impulse to read the stories aloud to companions or even perfect strangers! I'm not sure what is funniest but it may be a tie between the chapter about 4 little boys all "crossing swords" or the chapter with the car trip, a Stuckey's pecan log and a barfing cat! I do know I laughed so hard that I got the hiccups!
Cindy: OMG. I am married to a knucklehead! He came from a family of six children, attended parochial school, and tried most of these stunts, I'm sure. The only saving grace for him (and me) is that four of his siblings were girls. I'm buying copies of this for all of them, and his mother and brother, for Christmas. Our family photo albums look just like Jon's photos. This is a guaranteed hit for reading aloud and would be a great stepping off point for journal entries or writing and storytelling assignments. The book design from the comic book format of the cover to the silhouettes of little green army guys scattered throughout is fabulous. I hope that little boys are still spending their summers being "wild explorers of the land" and are not parked in front of video games all summer--their stories just won't be as much fun when they are older otherwise. My husband is going to read this next, but I've already read half of it aloud to him. It won't matter, it'll be just as funny the second time around.

Delicious: The Life & Art of Wayne Thiebaud by Susan Goldman Rubin

Cindy: How can you not love an artist who focuses on desserts? Rubin's artist biographies are always a delight and this one is no exception. It celebrates an artist who had a happy childhood and wants to create joyful art. That's a rare combo with artists! I've always loved Thiebaud's food paintings, but I now am fascinated by his farm geometric landscapes and would like to see more of his work. And, I'd love to see him draw Popeye with both hands simultaneously like Rubin reports he can do.
Lynn: Rubin does her usual outstanding job of bringing her subject to life for young readers. It was cool that she got to actually interview Thiebaud.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Keeping the Night Watch by Hope Anita Smith, illus. by E. B. Lewis

Cindy: I missed the prequel to this, The Way a Door Closes, when it first published, but hunted it down and read it, too, after reading this new sequel. 13-yr.-old C. J. struggles with a full range of emotions when his father returns to the household after a long absence. The poetry is very fine, the illustrations exquisite, and the story will touch the hearts of all who have had someone reinsert themselves in their lives. One of my favorite spreads is the one where the dad and son know that the house is no longer big enough for both of them. The illustration shows who is winning that fight. Caldecott committee, are you keeping the night watch?
Lynn: We're conjoined souls on this fabulous book! The evocative poetry goes right to the heart and the wonderful illustrations extend and enrich the poetry for a powerful combination. This is a poetry book that will make converts out of people who think they don't like poetry. I love how this book speaks to the issue of changing family roles. So many of us have experienced that whether it is a traveling spouse, shift changes, divorce, stepfamilies etc. and this captures the complexity of emotions that lies beneath the question of who locks the door at night. Now I'd never tell an award committee what to do but....:-)

Paper Towns by John Green

Cindy: Which cover art do you like best? The sunny smiley yellow one or the somber blue cover? Margo Roth Spiegelman, like many of us, has many sides to her personality, but which one is the real Margo? Quentin has known her for years but doesn't really know her. After a night of pranks that involve the daddy-sized Vaseline, dead fish, and The Club (steering wheel lock) among other implements of destruction, Margo disappears. Quentin follows the clues she left that lead him on a path to Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and on a hilarious road trip with his friends. Just as funny and smart as his first two Printz winners, this one has teens raving already. John Green fans may want to check out his vlog created in tandem with his brother Hank at Hank's song, "Accio Deathly Hallows," is worth checking out.

And for what it's worth. I like the yellow cover best. The model has a very mischievious glint in her eye that intrigues me.
Lynn: I find the yellow cover more eye-catching but I think the blue cover reflects the atmosphere of the book better, which had a slightly melancholy undertone for me. I love books about road trips and smart practical jokes so this started out dynamite for me. It kept on being dynamite but the mood shifted so much after Margo leaves and felt like a much different and more serious book. Exceptionally well done was the portrayal of that sense of passage that many teens feel so strongly as they graduate high school and look to begin their adult lives. I again found myself really enjoying the secondary characters - in fact I think I liked them better than I liked Q - and the dialog between the friends was dead on! I'd really like to reread this and take more time with the themes and imagery which was so intriguing. I do have the audio and can't wait to listen. I think Green's writing is getting better with each book and this one is his best yet.