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.