I know it's a losing battle, keeping the place in some kind of tidy shape, and it's certainly not all the fault of my kids. The books, lord the books. But sometimes I am just in a GET IT ALL OUT OF HERE mood, and such is the mood that descended tonight.
I haven't had the time to read hardly anything lately, so as we picked up books and shelved them or put them in the Back to the Library bag, I got Milo (11) and Ezra (nearly 10) to talk about the books they've read.
Ezra: Battle Bunny is the result of a ten year old who just watched a whole lot of apocalypse movies making his mark on a cute little Birthday Bunny tale. It's terrifically funny - there's a picture on Battle Bunny's wall that shows a bunny mama leaning over a bunny baby and the ten-year-old added the words "Drink your poison."
You might think, if you know me from reading Pink Me, that I am a children's or teen librarian. I'm not - at my system we are all generalists. So while I love fixing kids up with great books, the fact is I also enjoy helping grownups. I spend most of my time drumming up copies of just the right David Baldacci, or helping readers find Amish romance novels and car repair manuals.
Which, um... Amish romance novels? Right. I'm going to need a finding aid for that.
I am sorry that Teddy Steinkellner was dumped in a trashcan in middle school. Truly I am. Nobody deserves to be humiliated like that, and I hope the boys who did it look back on that episode and feel gut-wrenching, ball-twisting shame. I hope they grow up and have children and experience the fear that some little pack of fourteen-year-old pricks is going to do something like that to one of their kids.
And I have to praise a book about middle school that gives us an episode of upside-down in a garbage can. The clarity of the prose, the observational exactness as the garbage juice trickles into the boy's hair - it is necessary to hear this. If it happened, and especially if it is likely to happen again, we need to know what it is like. It's a little like climbing Everest - if a person has been there, they owe it to the rest of us to tell us what it's like.
As the kids were getting ready for bed last night, my husband pulled out Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun and flipped through it.
Unbored is a pretty great book - it has about a million unexpected and funky things for a kid to do: DIY Fiction! Farting Games! Make a Cigar Box Guitar! and it sits on our shelf until somebody pulls it out and has a little fun with it and then puts it back where it'll sit for another 6 months. That book makes a great gift (although if there's a second edition, I'd recommend the illustrations to be a little less hipster/retro. If it were me, I'd get Stephen Gilpin to do 'em. And I might spring for color.).
Anyway, tonight Bob found this page of questions from the 1922 Stanford Achievement Test, and just for fun started reading them out loud. I am always pretty amazed at the random stuff my kids know, and tonight I just had to ask - how do you know that?
So here's a sample of the questions from page 202 of Unbored, and how my kids knew the answers. VERRRY interesting, and a huge validation of leisure reading.
I just finished reading The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin. This is a damn fine book, a creep-up-on-you book. It has a devil-in-the-noonday-sun quality that many have compared to Roald Dahl. Me, I didn't see the Dahl in it so much - there's little to laugh at, for one thing - and I'd compare it more to creepy-banal British village horror. Love that stuff.
The main character in this book carries a heavy emotional burden, and the book, in addition to being a great, suspenseful fairy tale retelling, goes about hip-deep into the braided stream of villainy and its causes. There's a lot of Mayor Mills in Splendid Academy's Principal Trapp.
But look at that cover. Spunky blonde and tubby sidekick - looming, slightly comic haunted-house-looking building in the background? All that alliteration in the title? Does this cover make you expect emotional redemption as a theme?
It didn't for me anyway. I assumed, judging from the cover - and don't say don't do it, we all do it - that this was a book for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. I would have handed it to any kid who goes for the new Gothic Humor genre that we're seeing so much of. And don't get me wrong, some of those kids will like it - but it is not Gothic Humor. It's not terribly funny, and it goes very dark. It's a bit reminiscent of Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, actually.
Weirdly, this is only one of many books I have read recently (and I have read about a dozen books in the past four days) (don't ask) (influenza B) (I don't recommend it) with a cover that is more than a little bit misleading.
A family of hippie hipsters - or post-hipster hippies if you want to split hairs - move from their Hampden rowhouse to a field outside of Monkton and build a house, two toddlers in tow and a bun in the oven. Does mom wear glasses? Does dad wear plaid? Is their jeep a vintage Willys, are their shoes extra-chunky? Does a cat lurk on the periphery?
Do not hold any of these things against them.
I am a lucky woman. By almost any metric, that's me, Lady Lucky. I can walk under ladders.
One of the ways in which I am lucky is that there are about five authors out there whose work is just exactly what I want to read. I can go to those authors and always always be surprised and moved. Gibson. Liz Jensen. Nick Harkaway. Charlie Higson. Ian Fleming (but that's more of a sick obsession). And by "always always" I mean - no duds. No books that make me go "ehhh." Neal Stephenson for example. Love everything he's written either side of the Baroque Trilogy, but those three books made my eyes roll back into my head, and so he doesn't make this list.
What I'm getting at - obviously - is that Adam Rex does. I don't know what is similar in our backgrounds or genetics or whatever, but his imagination travels paths that seem enticing and familiar to me - as if they are paths that I glimpsed once from a passing car and wished I had the time to detour into. His humor makes me laugh out loud on trains and in bars.
Which is why I can't review his latest book, Unlucky Charms, the second in The Cold Cereal Saga. This author speaks so clearly to me that I can't tell how he sounds to other people. I can't be objective while I'm giggling out my nose. Luckily, I have a couple of clear-eyed readers in my house who can be relied upon to give you the what when I can't. Here's Milo:
Now, I admit I read the ARC of Unlucky Charms as soon as I snagged it at ALA Midwinter, and I admit I was going to pass it to Milo as soon as I got home, and I further admit than when this hardcover came in the mail - pretty much before I got home, thank you someone at Harper! - Milo grabbed at it as if he were a magnet and it was made of paperclips, but let me tell you, Milo is not a man who will allow preconceptions to influence his appreciation of a book.
So when he tells you it is funny and brave and awesome - you better believe it. Available Feb 5.
PS: Good lord I have written yet ANOTHER review of something involving Adam Rex in which I forgot to mention the art! How do I keep doing that? Adam Rex is supernaturally talented as an artist. His illustrations are the kind that kids pore over, looking for clues, soaking up the visual realization of scenes they have already mentally assembled from the author's words.
They exhibit charm, draftsmanship, and a particular genius for realistic expression, facilitated I believe by his habit of sculpting little heads and using them as models. I like to think he mounts those heads on tiny plaques and hangs them on the wall when he's finished - a miniature hall of horrors. Maybe he talks to them, they're like a Greek chorus when he's stuck on a drawing. "Make him fatter," grunts Frankenstein. "With bigger eyebrows!" yells Grandpa Ned. "What is that sweater about?" snipes Barnett.
This art, by the way, is not something I am worried I'm biased about. I know art, and I'll borrow a technical term from art criticism here and call it GOOD. It's GOOD ART.
Buy this book, buy all his previous books. Support him so that he can keep feeding my habit, and I swear you will thank me for it.
Every year, the American Library Association honors the best in children's and teen literature with a suite of awards collectively known as the ALA Youth Media Awards. The most famous of these awards are the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, given to the "most distinguished contribution to children's literature" and the "most distinguished picture book," respectively. The Newbery is awarded to a book's author, while the Caldecott goes to the illustrator.
This year, I was there at the ALA Midwinter Convention for all of the excitement. When I came back, I went on the radio with host Tom Hall and talked a little bit about the awards - Laura Amy Schlitz called in! It was cool! But I have, as usual, MORE TO SAY...
Crash your car miles from nowhere on Nevada's Route 375, aka Extraterrestrial Highway, after a series of strange events have led to airplane crashes and highway closures, and what do you expect? Recover from life-threatening injuries only to be handed a non-disclosure agreement and be escorted home by two agents in black suits... oh yeah, this can't be good.
What happened to debate partners Reese and David in the month following inexplicable bird attacks that shut down the nation's air traffic? How have they recuperated so quickly from their crash? And what's with the strange vertigo that Reese feels whenever she touches David, or her mom, or even total strangers? Then there's the free-spirited pink-haired girl to whom Reese is irresistibly attracted. Well, ok that part is completely understandable ;)
Malinda Lo sets up an intriguing situation for her appealing, believable characters, and does a particularly nice job communicating Reese's discomfort as the unusual things she experiences and observes after she attempts to resume her normal life in San Francisco grate against everything she knows. The book loses some steam in the last third, as other characters drop away and we are back to just Reese and David, but by then it is too late for the reader - how's it going to end?
Suspenseful, girl-powered, contemporary science fiction full of realistically diverse characters making realistic contemporary use of technology. Plus hot kissing! Hard to resist.
Adapted from a review originally published in VOYA.
Well, I read a hundred new picture books yesterday. I do that sometimes, just chew through a teetering stack of new ones. There's no time - no time! to write reviews, so here are my snappety-snap judgements and random associations. Aren't you glad I'm not on the Caldecott Committee like our friend Travis? Those guys probably have to get all reasoned and articulate, instead of, like, holding up a book in front of my colleagues and going, "Look! Ha ha!"
At one point a couple weeks ago, I had 84 kidlit-related apps on my iPad, because I was a first-round judge for the Cybils Awards in the apps category. I have been involved with the Cybils for a few years now, previously serving as a judge in the graphic novels and nonfiction picture books categories, and every year I love it. The best is getting to know the other critics on the panels. Lalitha, Carisa, Cathy, and Mary Ann, it was a privilege and I learned so much!
These are the finalists that we chose (it was tough!):
Hey ho it is time for me to haul a giant tote bag of beautiful and enticing books for the kids on your gift list down to Maryland's NPR station (WYPR 88.1 FM) and let Maryland Morning's Tom Hall pick a few he'd like me to talk about! Unfortunately, that segment got lost in the scheduling shuffle this year, so I'll have to make do with a list on Pink Me. NOT a hardship - on the Internet, I have unlimited air time!
So here are the books I am sticking in my Santa sack:
I’d love to call these “holiday” gift ideas, but the fact is, Hannukah gift purchasing is all but DONE. I missed that Galilean fishing vessel. So unless you give gifts for Kwanzaa or Yule (God Jul to you Dances With Chickens!), at this point, it’s all about Christmas. So what is the fat man going to bring the kids you love?
Do you know who Dario Argento is? Was? Is, according to imdb. Ah. Live long and prosper, Dario Argento. Dario Argento is a film director specializing in psychological horror. His early work is often cited as inspiration by the likes of John Carpenter and George Romero, with whom he collaborated on Dawn of the Dead.
Argento's most famous film is probably the 1977 cult classic Suspiria. Nominally about a teenage girl at a ballet school, it is notably surreal, violent, lurid, and more interested in mood than in plot. Also, there's some marvelous wallpaper in that movie. (And good Lord! The entire movie is on YouTube!) Black Swan apparently owes a lot to Suspiria.
Don't worry, we're just getting more random from here...
If you read picture books to kids on any kind of regular basis - that is, if you are now or have ever been a parent, a teacher, or a librarian - chances are you have come across the books that you just can't sell. The words you can't wrap your tongue around, the insipid characters whose lines you just hate to hear yourself saying, the forced rhymes that refuse to bounce where you expect them to.
And then there will be that beautiful day when you crack open Your Book. The book that flows off your tongue, the book whose jokes you were born to sell. That book might be I Must Have Bobo! by the Rosenthals, or Banana! by Ed Vere. Could be you found your book long ago and it was Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino, or Jamberry by Bruce Degen.
Here are two books. Two books written for adults but featuring teenage protagonists. This happens quite a lot, and more so lately, and I suppose it is for the simple reason that teenagers lead more interesting lives than adults do. They get out more. Sometimes adult books featuring teen main characters are absolute must-reads for teens - but sometimes they are what they are: emphatically adult literature featuring young people in starring roles.
Secret agent Rip Haywire is half Mark Trail, half The Spirit, and half Bruce Campbell. His canine sidekick TNT is half Lassie, half Mr. Peabody, and half the dog from Family Guy. Ooh, this is fun! Rip's girlfriend/archenemy Cobra? Let's see... half Miss Scarlet, half Agent 99, and half Natasha Fatale. And if those character descriptions add up to 150%, well, that's just how far over-the-top Dan Thompson, creator of the globe-trotting rock-em-sock-em noir parody graphic novel Rip Haywire and the Curse of Tangaroa! plays it.
Come for the freaky pictures, stay for the entertaining text. Boy, if I could give aspiring nonfiction writers one piece of advice, it would be - try to make a book that I can recommend to kids using that sentence. Although I guess it doesn't work for like, presidential biographies. Freaky pictures of presidents are rarely appropriate for kids.
Anyway. Michael Hearst, the author of Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Some of Earth's Strangest Animals, seems to have figured that magic sentence out all by himself in this, his first nonfiction book for kids.
A new MAD Magazine anthology has been published, celebrating - errr, "celebrating" - 60 years of, as they call it, "humor, satire, stupidity and stupidity." Good old MAD. It's where we went for dumb grunting laughs before God invented Homer Simpson.
And although sometimes it's easy to forget the huge amount of satire in MAD, MAD is also kind of where we went for snarky, well-informed chuckles before God invented Jon Stewart.
AND it was our source of slightly baffled grins while we were still too young to be well-informed or snarky. In fact, MAD was making snide remarks long before "snark" was anything other than some kind of bandersnatch variant.
That's right. On a warm night in Baltimore, thanks to the offices of our warm friend Eerily Similar Paula, Adam Gidwitz joined us for dinner. Did we take advantage of our New York Times bestselling friend, the author of A Tale Dark and Grimm and In a Glass Grimmly? Hell yes we did. Ezra got him to check his homework, Zoë interviewed him on her iPad, Milo critiqued his narrative style, ESP got him to agree to an interview for our library blog, and I took a banner picture.
This I love. The Amazing Hamweenie is the tragic story of a cat whose vast ambitions for fame and stardom are viciously thwarted by his mundane surroundings.
Viciously. Thwarted. "Don't you know who I am?" he cries, in the piteous tones of a diva plucked from her glittering dressing room and plunged into a life among peasants. He is forced to endure tea parties with stuffed animals, he is transported in a doll carriage, and while he can see the exciting world out the window, all he can do is lounge on the sill, suffering.
Twenty outstanding book apps have been nominated for the Cybils Award this year so far. I'm a judge in that category, so I am very excited to get a look at all of them. BUT I WANT MORE.
The Cybils are one of the best annual awards out there, for my money. Anyone can nominate a book or app in each of 13 categories, and then the nominees go through two rounds of discussion by teams of panelists. The finalists in each category end up being very nice shortlists of the year's best in children's and teen literature.
But do not take my word for it. Have a look at the current nominees, and then nominate your favorites. You have to register, but it's almost nothing. The nomination form is really streamlined this year, thanks to the excellent work of Sheila Ruth of Wands and Worlds. Easy on the eyes too.
Sometimes when the obvious choices have been nominated, it's hard to think up other worthy titles. So let me help you out in "my" category. If you have an iPad, or if you have a Kindle Fire or the fancy Nook or whatever - I think most of the good book apps are for iPad but I am open minded - take a look at these UN NOMINATED AS OF YET apps and... what? is it complicated? Nominate one!
This is going to be a great go-to for those middle grade boys who think they like nothing but Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The MAD Magazine logo on the cover is going to help. It's formatted like a blog, including those little mood icons from - what was that? LiveJournal? I'm forgetting already. Even the word "blog" sounds dated. Even to me, who writes two.
Diary-like entries detailing Tad's aspirations and humiliations are interspersed with flat-out observational comedy: Do you think flightless birds think they're going to fly one day, and then realize that's never going to happen (paraphrase)? The comedy made me laugh out loud, and then share with the class.
Pink Me can't resist a funny man. It's true - you can show me your muscular prose, your scenes of wooing and swooning, but when a writer rips out something that makes me laugh out loud, well then, you can cancel my appointments for the next few days.
That is how, even though I have always foresworn the Blog Tour thing, I am a stop on Ellis Weiner's Blog Tour. Ellis Weiner is funny. His first book for children, The Templeton Twins Have an Idea: Book One, has made the rounds in my house (I read it, both boys have, it tops one of the stacks on our coffee table in the current banner photo, and our copy currently resides on my husband's bedside shelf alongside multiple back issues of The Economist (I assume for bedtime readalouds to the kids but after all I don't know what happens around here when I have second shift at the library)), and made each of us giggle. Why haven't I reviewed it? See about a dozen previous posts subtitled OH WOE I AM OVERCOMMITTED and GAH! LIFE!
Also, Ellis Weiner is from Baltimore, and my friend Eerily Similar Paula and I have been nagging the crap out of him to come home and visit our libraries and schools. So when I had the chance to solicit a guest post, I asked him to reminisce about growing up here.
But whatever the impetus, I am on a deification kick right now. And just for the moment, just because these are the great picture books that have crossed my path recently, these are the effigies decorating my shrine:
Here's something I would not have expected, certainly not on a night when I have a deadline looming on another project - I opened the mail after work and found a copy of this fat book, the first print product of Tavi Gevinson, aka The Style Rookie, and I opened it up and read the first couple of pages... and then I read the whole thing straight through for like five hours.
Tavi - don't you know who Tavi is? Tavi is this wonder-child. Only 16 years old now, she started blogging about style and fashion when she was like eleven and quickly became a fashion world darling. She wore her hair in a faded blue-gray bob, sometimes with a giant bow. She was, by all accounts, enthusiastic and questioning, eager to learn, a total fashion fan, but always with a point of view. I never read The Style Rookie, though. Really, I spend so much time keeping up with children's lit, all I have time for is Go Fug Yourself and sometimes Lainey.
Well, the cutest thing happened a couple weeks ago. I was in the studio at WYPR, Maryland's NPR station, preparing to record a segment about comics for kids with Tom Hall of Maryland Morning and Snow Wildsmith, librarian, blogger, and co-author of A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids' Comics: Choosing Titles Your Children Will Love. Snow's great. She knows EVERYthing about comics, and she sometimes wears tiny hats. AWESOME tiny hats.
Snow lives in North Carolina, so she couldn't come in to the studio, but she called in on the phone. The producer needed to get a level on her voice, and asked her to just sort of read whatever she randomly had on her desk. What did Snow have on her desk? Vampirina Ballerina. What was on my own desk? Vampirina Ballerina. Coincidence? Yes! A spooooky coincidence!
Here's your latest list of great graphic novels for kids, courtesy of the legwork I did prior to a recent appearance on WYPR's Maryland Morning. This time, host Tom Hall and I were joined by author and librarian Snow Wildsmith (my idea!) for a talk about which graphic novels, how graphic novels, and, most importantly, why graphic novels for kids. Snow and I get all smarty-sounding at a couple of points there, I totally encourage you to listen:
I swear these Origami Yoda books just keep getting better. The current crisis at Ralph McQuarrie Middle School is... how will everyone get by without the guidance of Origami Yoda, now that Dwight has transferred to fancy Tippett Academy? And by the way, what is going ON with Dwight? Reports are filtering in that he is no longer digging holes and sitting in them, speaks in complete sentences, and, strangest of all, has stopped bringing Origami Yoda to school!
While The Strange Case of Origami Yoda was about accepting and appreciating Dwight and his weirdness, and Darth Paper Strikes Back was about accepting - while not exactly appreciating - Harvey's oblivious jerkiness, each book also has seen the kids gradually gaining consciousness of how their actions affect other people. In other words, Tommy, Sara, Kellen, and their friends are developing - naturally, spasmodically, at different paces (the girls are quicker) - the emotional intelligence of teens. And listen, if you think teens have no emotional intelligence, try spending time with a bunch of 5th graders. Secret of the Fortune Wookie continues this progress, in a way that I can't reveal without spoiling the Fortune Wookiee's actual Secret.
All this emotional growth is delivered in a way that is subtle as hell, though, and conveyed with so much humor that no child will put down this book feeling like he has been Shown How To Be A Better Person.
BONUS: Han Foldo
THING THAT MADE ME SNORT: Mr. Good Clean Fun's puppet sidekick Soapy the Monkey
SEQUEL I CAN'T WAIT FOR: At the end of Fortune Wookiee, we get some big news about big changes afoot at McQuarrie Middle, and I am going to LOVE seeing Tommy, Kellen, Sara, Rhondella, Harvey, Quavondo, Cassie, Remi, Amy, Tater Tot, Lance, Dwight, and even stuck-up Brianna band together to take down the Evil Teaching To the Test Curriculum. I also can't wait to see the Star Wars puns Tom Angleberger will come up with for standardized testing.
I have been in a weird mood all day. I just finished reading a really cool and funny adult sci-fi novel (Year Zero by Rob Reid), plus I'm by myself in the house, my whole entire family being out of town, and I'm working the evening shift. So I feel a little unreal.
And then the first picture book I picked up at work today features a pocket-size walrus who emerges from an oversized walnut. Yeah. I should just start drinking right away, don't you think?
Let's take a dance break, library people!
The rules are simple:
Shelve the following ten songs under their proper Dewey class number. Provide a short explanation and/or example to support your classification.
Here's an example:
"Karma Chameleon," Culture Club, 1983.
Boy that's tough to watch. We have learned a thing or two about lip-synching since those days, haven't we? Anyway. Where would you put this song if you were shelving it in the library?
Class number: 294.5 (Hinduism)
Alternate class: 597.596 (Chameleons)
That's right! Although if there were a call number for 'there's individuality, and then there's looking like a large painted rock festooned with prayer flags' I would also accept that as an answer.
We're cataloging mainly the content of the song itself, so in this case a classification of 976.81, which is where you'd put a book about Mississippi River steamboats, would get you points for having sat through the video, but would not technically be correct.
Of course, nobody's keeping score, so who cares?!
You may ask why we're doing this. Part of it is me getting used to a new library. Once you've worked in a library for a while, your body remembers where, for example, schizophrenia is without your brain having to get involved. You don't have to think, "616 is diseases, 616.8 is mental disorders... oh yeah schizophrenia is somewhere in 616.85." I couldn't find pregnancy the other day - what the hell, pregnancy? How can I not walk straight to those books? So I'm quizzing myself.
And lately I have found myself singing in my head while I shelve - and it's all 80's music! I swear, I am not one of those people who only likes the music of her youth. I like Mika. I like Ben, l'oncle Soul. But when I'm shelving replacement copies of Dean Koontz, I find myself humming "Mr. Odd" by The Jazz Butcher. Shifting romance, I'm singing "I see you crying and I want to kill your friends," from "Oblivious" by Aztec Camera. And when I'm putting our copies of The Walking Dead in order, I've got Shriekback in my head. Everybody's happy when the dead come home.
So put your nerd hats on and let's enjoy some early MTV and some big big hair...
It's not all that often somebody tries to write a sequel to a classic like this. It's a really big risk - tough to avoid looking like you're just totally crassly trying to cash in on the love and affection for the original book... or else you just look like you're writing fanfic. I'm sure there are any number of "Arwen and Aragorn's Honeymoon" manuscripts languishing in the depths of your laptop's hard drive. And rightly so. Do not print that thing out. Ever.
Do you know what a lich is? If someone taunts you with, "Answer the question, Claire," who are you being compared to? (Extra points: what's the question?) What will an oscillation overthruster allow you to do? And have you ever found yourself in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike?
A stray facetious comment worked its way into a discussion about the popularity of teen fiction among adult readers a while ago. "What about YA novels that are written just for adults?" I'm paraphrasing, I don't remember the exact wording. Just an offhand jokey comment, right?
But then I read Ready Player One. Ready Player One is a virtual reality adventure with a teen protagonist, a love interest, and a wing man. Our isolated, socially awkward hero must work his way through riddles and duels to win keys, open gates, and sort of save the world; and along the way he will develop leadership skills, learn to work with others, and listen to his instincts. Classic YA plotline.
But this book is not for teens.
I am violating my own rule here. My rule is I don't review books by people I know well enough to hug.
I know Mary Hahn well enough to hug, and to kiss on the cheek. Both of which things I did last time I saw her, the day after I finished reading this book. I think you would, too.
Mary's an old friend of my parents - I think her first husband and my dad went to college together? Maybe mom was a bridesmaid? She and my mother were pregnant with their first children at the same time, and compared notes. Some time after those girls (one of them me) were born, she and my parents more or less lost touch.
Mary started working as a school librarian, and in the mid-1970's started writing novels for children. Mysteries. Ghost stories. And though most of these stories stay well within the range of "comfortably spooky" - excellent choices for middle-grade readers who crave just enough chill to keep them turning pages, but not enough to keep them up at night - that's still thirty-some years' worth of haunted houses and restless spirits, guilt, revenge, and loss.
And now we know why.
I lead a pretty prosaic life. The biggest, hairiest, most mysterious creature in my life (no cracks about library customers, please, esteemed co-workers!) is our big orange cat, Babe. Named for Babe the Blue Ox, not Babe Didrickson Zaharias or Babe the Gallant Pig. But as mystifying as Babe's behavior sometimes is, he is depressingly accessible. He's no cryptid, in other words.
And sometimes you just need a little mystery. Ergo, Bigfoot...
So Ashley Spires put out this absolutely cute picture book a couple months ago, Larf, that is all about being alone - and that's ok - and reaching out to someone - which is also ok - but being nervous about it - understandable, and also ok - but then meeting someone nice anyway. Which is way ok.
Love Larf. Love Ashley Spires! Ashley Spires, in case you didn't realize, which I didn't, is the person responsible for that farting dreamer of a housecat, Binky (Binky the Space Cat). Every one of those books is a charmer, as is Larf. Larf is, contrary to what I think are most people's expectations about Sasquatches, rather a neat person. He folds his laundry and washes his dishes after he uses them. He wears a neat red scarf. He lives alone but he's not lonely. Not super lonely anyway.
The mountain range of books on our coffee table is a constantly shifting pile of bait for my boys. I bring books home from the library every day that I work - sometimes they place requests, but more often I just snag books that I think they'll like or that I am interested in looking at for this blog. The "leave it out casually and they will pick it up" strategy has been praised by many parents, and even endorsed by Judy Blume, and I can vouch for it as well.
Not so say there haven't been some hiccups, as when I found ten-year-old Milo reading Railsea by China Miéville, which I had pretty much brought home for myself. He is also a big David Macinnis Gill fan now, thanks to this practice.
Don't call me lazy. No, man, really you can't. I have been reading nonstop - just, I have other obligations, and the books I am reading are not for Pink Me. (Except for Necromancing the Stone by Lish McBride, oh and The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, and Sons of the 613 by Mike Rubens - I've read those recently, I just don't have time to review them! Aagh! They're all great? Can I just say that for now? I promise there will be reviews later.)
Also, they all have great covers:
So, in the interest of actually performing some sort of informational service, which is all I've ever tried to do (insert pious expression and posture here), I brought out the Flip camera and asked my boys about the books on my coffee table. My boys are, after all, the target audience. And they read, oh Jesus they read like crazy!
Here's the big pile of books and an introduction to my reviewers:
Sometimes I complain that I have to read thirty books so that I can write some booklist, or fifty books because I'm on an award panel, or a hundred books for some committee... but from now on, I think I'll shut up.
Because I am pretty sure Snow Wildsmith and Scott Robins, who both write for SLJ's Good Comics for Kids blog, read 850 books in order to write this excellent compendium of, er, good comics for kids. Eight Hundred and FIFTY graphic novels, manga series, picture books, and beginning readers. Some with Smurfs in them.
Author breakfasts. Author stages. Autograph tables. Publisher pitches. There are a lot of vectors by which book information comes at you at Book Expo America (BEA), the three-day book industry droolfest that takes place at the Javits Center in NYC once a year. My little head is still spinning.
The beauty of BEA is that you are not only going to hear about the precious few books that each publisher has selected for Super Spangly Special Star Treatment, with giveaways and signings and strippers bearing cupcakes and a dedicated website and in-store displays... but you can also get your hands on the so-called "mid-list" titles, the books that are not expected to go best-seller but which will also find an audience. In the publishers' booths on the exhibition floor, they have copies of just about EVERYTHING they are putting out in the next season or even two.
So what did I see that I loved loved loved? A lot, if you go by what I came home with. I tried to be terribly disciplined and only take books that I wanted to review, or knew my boys wanted, or very much needed for our school library... and still I ended up with 57 books.
Oh my lordy swordy Boordy gourd. I feel like I have been beaten with mallets.
Book Expo America is not your average event that librarians go to. Book Expo does not feature a slate of sessions designed to develop you professionally, shape you into a storytiming literacy advocate that brings services into the community and lures teens to the library with of-the-moment hip happenings.
No, man. Book Expo is all about GREED.
Publishers bring hundreds and hundreds of review copies of the books they want to sell, they fly in their authors and hand them Sharpies, and then let us line up and be fed this fabulous swag. It's... it's a dangerous environment for book addicts.
I am too physically exhausted from walking the floor of the Javits Center tracking down the likes of Tom Angleberger (Darth Paper Strikes Back!) and Nate Wilson (The Ashtown Burials), both of whom signed books for my lucky lucky children, to write a whole lot tonight. I'm just going to describe a few really great moments and impressions, and then Friday you'll see my picks and impressions of the greater books to come.
Do you know what I get tired of? I'll tell you what I get tired of. I get tired of these over-30 (or over-40, or even over-50) actresses calling me up on the phone, complaining about the parts they're being offered. "They keep sending me MOOOMS!!" Nicole will whine. "When it's so OBVIOUS I am still Sexy Secret Agent material!" Or it'll be Kristen Wiig: "Do I look like a MOMM to you?! Why don't they get Catherine O'Hara?"
Sigh. Catherine O'Hara is 57 years old. The poor woman's been carrying the "funny mom" baton since the late '80s - time for her to move on to "funny mother-in-law." Jane Fonda and Candice Bergen can't be expected to handle all those roles by themselves.
Although - it's kind of a fact, besides the gay moms and Kevin's poor mother, mom movie roles have been a bit lame lately. Movie moms generally are participating in some kind of horror story in which they have to protect their child/get back their possessed child/never had a child to begin with; or they are present only as comic obstructions to the teenager or adult male saving the world in some way. Julie White, the mom in the Transformers movies? Totally underutilized.
Oh David Small! For decades you and your wife gave us stories that we loved, populated by characters that, for all their exaggerated features, were wonderful, recognizable real people. Your landscapes and buildings always looked effortless but terrific. Then you wrote Stitches: A Memoir, and we all cried our eyes out. Amazing graphic novel memoir. And I don't know about other people in my industry, but I figured, given the acclaim Stitches garnered, David Small would then by and large quit illustrating picture books.
So pleased to be wrong!
Grace is feeling kind of out of place at her new high school in San Francisco. Newly arrived from a small town, she is hoping to find a friend.
Tough Gretchen has no need or desire for friends.
And snooty rich girl Greer doesn't have friends so much as she has acolytes, minions, and social rivals.
What do these three have in common? Besides first names that start with G? Well, they were all adopted, for one thing... and since this is a teen novel, you might as well guess: they're long-lost triplets. Not just any triplets, either. Descendants of a mythological monster slayer, they have a duty and abilities and there's a prophecy and all of a sudden Grace's GPA is in danger and Greer's Stella McCartney top is going to get mussed.
Part Percy Jackson, part Beverly Hills 90210 - with an acknowledged debt to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Grace has moved to San Francisco from a small town called Orangevale, where she attended a two-story school with stucco-covered walls), this is good fun, marred somewhat by writing that hammers home every expressive nuance ("'What are you doing here?' she demands, clearly unhappy to see me.")
Boy characters are amusingly decorative - entering the action with portentious fanfare, all eyelashes and biceps, only to disappear for long stretches with nary a ripple, reappearing - or not - several chapters later. Although they may have some role in later books, in Sweet Venom they appear to be nothing more than gratuitous romantic interest. A not-too-serious paranormal action novel along the lines of the Maggie Quinn, Girl vs. Evil books.
Adapted from a review originally published in VOYA.
I would have liked to have met Maurice Sendak. As impatient and uncompromising as he seems to have been, he took this stuff seriously in a way that I feel like I recognize - and he knew it was all folly at the same time.
I will wager that almost every person involved with picture books has learned something from Maurice. I know I have. In the Night Kitchen taught me to look at all the stuff inside the pictures; Where the Wild Things Are, with its expanding and contracting picture area, taught me to look at the page as a whole; and his illustrations for the Little Bear books showed me that animal characters need not be cartoonish or unrealistic to be endearing.
It is a fitting coincidence, therefore - a random tribute - that this past week was a particularly good one for illustration in picture books. Here are the ones I brought home to share and savor with my sons, not a line of 'ordinariness' in any of them:
You have got to hand it to Michael Grant - the guy has CHOPS.
I started reading his stuff with the first GONE novel. "Terrific premise," I thought. "Great staging of the classic civilization-reboot-in-the-hands-of-the-children plot." And then, "Jeez that's some STRONG horror. This guy pulls no punches."
Then I read The Call, the first entry in his middle-grade series, The Magnificent 12. I described that book as "Michael Grant popping the top off his can of funny." It's like entry-level Douglas Adams: I hand The Call and The Trap to any kid who answers 'yes' to the questions, "adventure?" and "funny?"
Now for BZRK. This is sci-fi set in the real world: non-dystopian secret-agent-type sci-fi, gritty, dark, and extra-violent. Teenagers are recruited to fight battles so surreptitious that they are invisible to the naked eye.
It's the fortunate teenager who will come across this beautifully produced art book and its subject, self-taught folk artist Nicholas Herrera. Not only does Herrera describe his process, inspirations, and technique, but he speaks frankly about his wild youth, bad behavior, and the consequences thereof.