Based on a TOTALLY scientific survey of current middle grade fiction, i.e., attending the back-to-back National Book Festival (grueling) and the Baltimore Book Festival (delightful!), talking to a jillion kids and their parents, a few booksellers, and a dozen or so authors, I have updated my To Read list in the following ways, and for the following specific reasons:
The year that two books named Boneshaker arrived on the shelves, I read the other one. Luck of the draw. I liked it! Betsy Bird (Fuse #8) read The Boneshaker, the one with the awesome cover, and LOOOVED it. I met the author this weekend, and immediately realized I should have read both. Kate Milford is a spectacular example of the creator who is also a fan - and a critic. She is a bookseller, and is passionate about writing. She is also a Trekkie.
This is why, by the way, if you ever attend a book festival or conference, you should sit in on the children's literature panel discussions. These people are (almost) devoid of ego, and they read each other's work, think about the form, and analyze the trends. They are also honest about motivations. Apparently, Bob Shea's answer to "Why Dinosaur vs. Santa?" is "My kids need to go to college one day."
I mean, I don't know what goes on when Jodi Picoult runs into Fern Michaels at the maître d' stand at the Four Seasons, but I will bet it's not as intense a discussion as when Kate Milford talks fantasy with Shannon Hale.
(I totally boofed it on Saturday - Nathan Hale was standing next to a gorgeous woman at the back of the Children's Tent at the Baltimore Book Fest, and I came up and said hi to him and did not introduce myself to the pretty lady, who of course turned out to be Shannon Hale. She was so pretty, I assumed she was a publicist!)
I must read C. Alexander London's Accidental Adventures, because he got the idea to write stories about two kids who led very exciting lives - but were just so OVER it - while he was fleeing the Saffron Rebellion in Burma (Myanmar, but I did not correct him, as I have never been to Burma, and HE HAS. He has FLED it. He could call Myanmar "Oompa-Loompa Land" if he wanted to, and he has earned the right).Note: I brought home We Are Not Eaten by Yaks today, and in fact, I may not get to read this book. Boy #1 snatched it right away and started giggling, and Boy #2 is casting covetous glances.
- Jo Ann Fruchtman, owner of The Children's Bookstore here in Baltimore, insisted I do so, using the words, "Southern! So funny!" Those are magic words to me.
- People - people I respect, people who love children's literature and write children's literature and sell it and breathe it - used the N-word in reference to it (the good N-word, not the awful one), and I have not been following the medal races this year, after my triumph last year of calling the Newbery Medal in MAY. So I need to get on that.
- Sheila Turnage has excellent taste in shoes.
The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford is now on my list because it turns out to be set in my small hometown! Where Natalie also grew up! Roaming the same creeks and scrub behind the back yards as I did. And where her dad, one of the pediatricians in the practice that my family went to, once burned planter's warts off my foot with acid! Dr. Standiford was the coolest - he said, "Yell as loud as you want... just - don't - move."
And in fact, I had read Lisa Von Drasek's thoughtful and complimentary review of The Secret Tree in the New York Times, and I had concluded that Lisa's word was good enough for me. As it should be for you. I can't read everything. But of course now it's a whole different story.
But the hometown connection is not the reason why I also added Natalie's earlier book, How To Say Goodbye In Robot to my To Read list. I need to read that book because when it came out I thought I needed to read it, but I was trepidatious, because how many books can live up to a title that is that good? Now that I've heard her speak, and admired her booties, and now that I know she plays bass in a band that also includes Libba Bray... I think she could probably write a book that could live up to that excellent title.
I need to read Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz because EVERY SINGLE PERSON I have met in the past two weeks has gasped and sighed and given me the big eyes and said, "Oh you HAVE to read it. It's WONDERFUL." Which frankly makes me want to hate it. So now I have to read it because I no longer have neutral feelings toward it, and that's not fair at all.
Luckily, I am easily swayed by writing, so if it's great, I'll join the throng breathily pressing Splendors and Glooms into the hands of susceptible children.
Which brings me to the last of the books that I have added to my To Read list thanks to this weekend. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes was written by a guy named Jonathan Auxier. Jonathan also cranks an eyebrow at things and people who seem to receive an excess of praise (although he is WRONG about Joss - Joss Whedon CAN DO NO WRONG la la la Alien Resurrection I can't hear you), so I expect a degree self-aware detachment amid the fantasy of a blind boy who has magical sight. Or maybe not. Maybe Jonathan is secretly a big old softy, and his book will be sentimental as hell!
We will have to read the book and see.
And Oh for crap's sake. I almost forgot In a Glass Grimmly, which I also brought home from the library yesterday - the first day it arrived! - and which I also expect to not be able to get my hands on until both children have read it. Lucky for me, the one reads fast and the other one supposedly has to finish The Pushcart War first.
Many of the kids in our area were required to read two books from the Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Books Nominees list as their school-assigned summer reading this year. What a RELIEF that A Tale Dark and Grimm was on that list. And what a treat for us librarians to say to a pouty, toe-scuffing boy, "Did you like Tale Dark and Grimm? There's another one, you know." Kid perks right up at the thought of MOAR DECAPITATIONS YES PLZ.
Author Adam Gidwitz, a teacher as well as a writer, reports that sometimes when he does readings, he'll notice parents visibly becoming more and more agitated, presumably at the violence in these stories. You know, I think parents are the new "mixed company." They have taken the place of women as the fragile flowers whom we must protect from strong themes and coarse language. I bet Adam Gidwitz's parent-teacher conferences are A Lot of Fun.
NOW. Many other talented authors were at these two festivals, and their work is fantastic, wonderful, excellent. I can vouch for those books because I have actually read them. So in no particular order:
Nathan Hale, whose Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales are about to GO VERY WIDE. I am right about this. I have seen it in my living room, at work, and in the tents: children - boys especially - who, once they open the first book, become completely immersed, and in fact have to be guided around obstacles lest they clonk right into a vinyl tent wall. We had to kind of pry the copies out of the boys' hands so that Nathan could sign them. Our man Travis, at 100 Scope Notes, loved One Dead Spy almost as much as Ezra did.
Mac Barnett & Adam Rex, Chloe and the Lion. Love this book so much I interviewed these guys, which I never do because it makes me tragically self-conscious. In person, Adam and Mac are thoughtful, funny, very well-read, and agree with my reviews, erg0 MY HOMIES.
Laura Resau, whose books about young women in far-flung locales are emotionally gripping and atmospherically precise. I've read The Queen of Water for YALSA's Popular Paperbacks list this year and enjoyed it so much I read it ON MY PHONE when I had to go somewhere and didn't have my paper copy with me.
Michael Buckley. The Sisters Grimm books; the N.E.R.D.S. books; Kel Gilligan's Daredevil Stunt Show. Everything this guy touches is comedy magic. There was a kid in line to get his copy of Kel Gilligan signed who looked JUST LIKE Kel.
Laurel Snyder, whose next book, a novel of historical fiction set in Baltimore, I am eagerly awaiting. Her most recent book is Bigger than a Bread Box, reviewed on Pink Me by my Psychic Friend Paula and her daughter.
Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall, and you don't need me to tell you to that Ivy & Bean are the best thing to happen to 2nd grade girls since Nike started making soccer equipment in pink. I helped wrangle their signing line, and it was a long line, and there are a lot of Ivy & Bean books, and these creators never lost their smiles or their patience, and their hands never cramped up. If you get a chance to see them present together, move heaven and earth to get to that, because they put on a darling, energetic show!
ED YOUNG. LIVING LEGEND ED YOUNG. His presentation of The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China caused that book to sell out in the festival tent. It is just so marvelous. Difficult cover though. I also spotted him strolling the festival by himself after his duties were finished, looking at things, taking it in. Dare I say - walking the path.
Ben Hatke, who is probably absolutely tired of hearing about how good-looking he is, so I will say, "Ben Hatke, what a bowser. Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, hubba hubba!" Go out and get it. You know your kids will read it twenty times. Jules recently did a wonderful interview with Ben on 7-Imp.
The Children's Bookstore Stage programs closed out with Marc Tyler Nobleman (Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman), Hudson Talbott (River of Dreams: The Story of the Hudson River! so gorgeous!), Karen Leggett Abouraya (Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books, reviewed by me for School Library Journal) whose presentation was inspiring, and Baltimore's own kidlit court jester, Kevin O'Malley.
Kevin entertained the crowd with spurious magic and tales of his misspent youth, and we all went away laughing.