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.
It's a bittersweet day here on the Pink Me couch... I am upping stakes and switching libraries.
I have always refrained from specifying where I work when I write these reviews, just out of general vague worry about my employer at some point taking issue with something I've written, or a reader mistaking my views with that of the system. But there are plenty of Pink Me readers whom I also help at the library, and I'd like to let them know that I will no longer be... um, at that place where you often see me... and instead I will be... at the similar place that is located in Dundalk.
It's also my habit, when library customers thank me for my help (as polite people do, regardless of whether I've been much help), to reply, "My pleasure." And I mean it every time. The kids and parents that I've helped at... the place where I often am... are a consistent source of challenge and delight, and I'd love to see you guys... at this other place that is further East. (Ask at the desk, they'll give you a map.)
Same system, new job. FULL TIME, BABY. So you might not be seeing as much of me on Pink Me. On the other hand, I bet I will be doing more storytimes! Heads, shoulders, knees, and WIGGLE THAT BUTT, LITTLE KIDS!
I'd like to take just a moment to thank the women - it's been mostly women (except for you, Token Boy and John) - who have taught me my job. A few of them are in the picture above. Here's a fun fact - when I started at the public library 8 years ago, I had never handed a book to a child. Hell, I had never handed a book to a grownup - I was a museum metadata expert, and before that a photo archivist! Children? Fiction? These were total blank spaces for me.
And you know - I went to library school and all, I have the degree, but without a doubt it's been the dedication and expertise of my co-workers that has taught me how to do what we do, and eight years later, I can't see me doing anything else.
I've worked a lot of places, and in a lot of professions, but I have never seen such consistent professionalism and passion as I've seen among public librarians. They read, they talk, they are principaled, and they are generally funny as hell. These are my people! And I'll miss the ones I work with now, but I am very happy and excited to be working with a whole new batch.
In the new picture book Chloe and the Lion, a little girl blows a jarfull of change on the merry-go-round, gets dizzy, loses her way in the woods, and meets a hungry lion. Then she ends up standing on a street corner wearing a tube top in order to lure more unsuspecting children into the lion's clutches.
Wait. No. That's not what happens at all! That's me, the reviewer, hijacking the story. Which I am completely not supposed to do. Bad reviewer! Fired!
Hey and you know who else is not supposed to hijack the story of a picture book? The illustrator. Yup. The illustrator is not supposed to draw a purple dragon instead of a hungry lion (even if a dragon is way cooler), because if he does, the author is going to step in with a WAITAMINIT, VARLET - YOU DRAWS WHAT I TELLS YA TO DRAW, and then maybe the illustrator will retaliate by drawing the author in a variety of interesting and humiliating outfits, and then the illustrator will find himself FIRED. And eaten.
Like it? Me too!
Once, very briefly, I worked in publishing. I learned a lot in that short time, and I learned things that have come in handy in most of my subsequent jobs. (I have also briefly worked in museums, in software, in ice cream, and in men's pants, and the knowledge that I gained in each of those venues has had unexpected applications later in life. For example, I can still estimate a man's inseam at 25 paces.)
In my capacity as an Editorial Assistant, I had occasion to sit in on those production meetings that were really budget meetings, during which line items like color, paper, coatings, die-cuts, and binding options were discussed with a sometimes brutal disregard for the needs of the content. Those meetings would make a grown man weak in the knees.
Cover your ears, gentle souls, because it is about to get LOUD in here. And there will be swearing.
I socked in to Beneath a Meth Moon last night after the kids went to bed, and stayed up late reading it in one go. And from page one I was struck - again - by how singular, how passionate, how direct... how enormously fucking talented Jacqueline Woodson is.
Liam is a little pig who insists that he is a bunny. His family assures him they love him just the way he is; his sister tells him to get over it. He is still insistent: "Hello, my name is Liam and I'll be your Easter Bunny." The neighbors are skeptical but his parents continue to love and support him.
And I say, "Love it."
Ah, spring! My neighborhood is foaming over with dogwood and azalea, sketched pink scribbles of redbud branches and nodding lilac. Driving the kids to school is like a trip through some wretched YA fairy forest. Except it's also roadkill season, so the smashed rats and opossums on the side of the road give it a little gory, edgy aspect. Again, much like a lot of recent YA. Sigh.
I am totally, happily mired in reading for the YALSA committee I'm on, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (go nominate your favorite! do it now! I'll wait!), and I can't in all conscience post reviews of books we're considering for the list - but I can take a break from teenage immigrants and rock stars from time to time in order to cleanse my palate with a new book.
Here are some I have waiting in the wings for me:
Finley is the only white kid on his basketball team. He's not the tallest, or the most talented, but he is the hardest-working player, and that has earned him his position as starting point guard. That hard work might just one day propel him out of his crime-infested ruin of a hometown.
So is Boy21 a sports novel? Not exactly.
Finley has played and trained - obsessively, single-mindedly - since he was ten years old, when something bad happened to his family and he found that shooting 500 free throws in a row allowed him to not think about it.
Is Boy21 a coming-to-grips-with-crisis novel? Not exactly that either.
Finley has time for only one thing in his life besides ball, and that's his girlfriend, best friend, and only friend, Erin. She is beautiful and the star of the girls' team and has a lot of patience. She gets along with Finley's drunk grandfather, his sorrowful father, and she loves Finley, even though he speaks rarely and breaks up with her every basketball season.
So it's a young love novel? Ok I know I'm getting annoying with this - I'll stop.
Unruly. We can start with that. There's something rough and challenging about the word. It calls to mind glamorous rogues who are always getting in bar fights. Elizabeth Taylor in Taming of the Shrew. Wouldn't you like to be thought of as 'unruly' from time to time? Slightly unsafe? Unpredictable, like the high-heeled little spitfire on the cover of this new picture book?
Let's open her up and see.
On the title page we see a uniformed maid, an old lady with a big bottom, high heels and garters, down on her knees with a bucket scrubbing marker off the striped wallpaper. On the next we meet our evil little regent, rollerskating down the hall in a pink tutu and bow, marking the wall with a thick china marker. Her eyes are cast back at the maid and she is smiling a tiny, rotten smile.
I think I'm going to like this. I love characters that actually shock children.
Do you love Marcia Williams? I love Marcia Williams. Marcia Williams is a British illustrator and author. She writes large-format, intensively-illustrated adaptations of classical literature for kids.
Let me tell you how great this is: lots of little kids get into tales of adventure, and then their parents think to themselves, "Oh, I'll bet he would love Robin Hood!" Or King Arthur, or the story of Troy, etc. And then they ask the librarian - "I want him to read King Arthur." Whereupon the librarian is like, "Errr... you know that adultery and patricide play a big part in that story, right? Is he ready for The Sword in the Stone?"
FIFTY ARTISTS FIFTY! It's like a Ziegfeld chorus line up in this fine large-format comic anthology, except hairier. And less able to walk and sing at the same time. Probably really bad at doing anything in unison.
Fifty of your favorite comics artists have taken on 50 old-fashioned nursery rhymes, resulting in an anthology that is funny, strange, sweet, and surprising. Some of the artists, like Nick Bruel (Bad Kitty) and Marc Rosenthal (Phooey!), are familiar names in children’s publishing; others, like the talented Mo Oh (Lily Renee, Escape Artist, which is not a good example of her sweet and funny style) and Jen Wang (Koko Be Good), are relative newcomers.
The Rowan Tree Inn has sat placidly under its thatched roof at the center of a picturesque forest village for centuries. "Has sat." That hits me wrong. I don't think there's anything incorrect about it, but... I know I don't like it. "Has satten" sounds better, but "satten" is not even a word. All right, I'm going to leave it. This book's not worth fussing over.
When fourteen-year-old Maya moves into the Inn with her parents and older brother, she experiences that same kind of unease. Disturbing visions, eviscerated foxes, and sinister townspeople seem to conspire with scary nighttime noises to keep her thoroughly freaked out. Is she psychic? Is she imagining things?
Art and history intertwine in the story of Claribel and Etta Cone, two sisters from Baltimore whose intellectual openness and love of art–not to mention tidy personal fortunes–brought them into contact with many pioneering minds of the early 20th century. More than mere art patrons, the sisters forged decades-long friendships with Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo, Pablo Picasso, and especially Henri Matisse.
The collection of art that they amassed, which includes many masterpieces of Postimpressionism as well as works from Asia and Africa (now at the Baltimore Museum of Art), liberally illustrates the gracefully designed pages of this book. So too do the author’s colorful Matisse-inspired illustrations, most of which are based on archival photographs. The book is a pleasure not only to behold but to hold, too - prestige paper and meticulous attention to color honor the author, her subjects, and the art.
Painting by Susan Fillion based on a famous photo from 1903.
An art educator in Baltimore, Susan Fillion has obviously spent untold hours with the Cone Collection and with the voluminous correspondence and other papers of the sisters. She frequently describes a scene or situation from Claribel’s or Etta’s perspective, an effective and engaging device. In the hands of a writer less intimate with the sisters, this might feel false or presumptive, but Fillion keeps it simple and convincing. A beautiful and accessible gateway to a study of Postimpressionism, and a moving portrait of two extraordinary women.
Adapted from a review that originally appeared in School Library Journal.
Today's Nonfiction Monday Round-up is at Emu's Debuts.
The Ramayana is the ancient epic story of the exiled prince Rama and his beautiful wife, Sita. When Sita is kidnapped by a love-struck demon king, her husband’s efforts to rescue her result in a war that eventually involves not only demons and mortals, but also gods, monsters, and even animals. This story has been told and retold, painted, performed and translated in every medium imaginable.
And that's it! With Life: An Exploded Diagram, I have officially read all of the contenders in School Library Journal's Battle of the Books. I am ready to go public with my brackets, and, perhaps more importantly, with my predictions for how the BoB cocktail party that SLJ is going to throw for all the characters in the contender books is going to shake down.
(I made up this cocktail party, in case you were looking for your invite. Since it's imaginary, everyone is invited!)
I am not taking into account my thoughts about the inclinations of the individual judges, as Liz Burns has in her prediction post at A Chair A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy - that's just too much to get my tiny brain around. So I'm just plunging in. DEEEEP BREATH. Remember that I am crap at this.
Clem was born premature, when his pregnant mother was startled by a heartbroken Nazi pilot shooting her chimney to pieces at the end of World War II in rural Norfolk, England.
Using this birth as a pivot point, Mal Peet tells us the story of Clem's family from the time his grandmother was a girl to nearly the present day. We see the twentieth century work its changes on this family, as wars take men away and bring them back, social movements carry Clem's family out of their indentured hovel and into estate housing and allow Clem to attend an exclusive school, and romantic love finds a foothold.
Why does a kid read a biography?
A couple of reasons. The most common reason is the old "I have to write a book report on George Washington Carver." Boy do you want to find a peppy, well-illustrated biography of George Washington Carver for that kid. A decent book, written by someone who actually cares about and is interested in George Washington Carver, as opposed to a generic series biography written by someone who got the assignment in an email, will make all the difference for that kid.
The Groundbreaking, Chance-Taking Life of George Washington Carver and Science and Invention in America by Cheryl Harness. National Geographic Children's Books.
These Cheryl Harness biographies are just the right length for older elementary school students. Heavily illustrated by the author and loaded with extras like timelines and maps, they are interestingleisure reads but work for writing reports as well.
Some kids will read biographies by choice: either they're interested in the subject, and they're inhaling everything they can find about, say, Jimi Hendrix in every medium available; or they're that kid who only likes true stories. That kid deserves a subscription to the National Geographic Photobiographies series.
Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. Clarion Books. This impressionistic book about Jimi is notable for its wild mixed-media illustrations and for an afterword that addresses his use of drugs and alcohol without being judgemental or whitewashing the facts.
When I asked my friend Tracy, who teaches 3rd grade, if any recent biographies jump out at her as being particularly noteworthy, she shrugged. "The Harry Houdini book," she said, "but mostly I just enjoy reading the biographies that the kids write."
Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman. Greenwillow Books. Fleischman has also written a long-form kids' biography of Mark Twain, called The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West.
Tracy's response, though, is a great reason to encourage kids to read biographies. Barbara Kerley's The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According To Susy) is a lively portrait of the writer as an eccentric family man, and includes portions of the biography written by his (ultimately tragically ill-fated) daughter Susy. Ms. Kerley also includes a page of entertaining instructions for writing a biography yourself.
I've been asking around, and it seems to me a lot of people can remember maybe one biography that they read as a kid that made a big impression on them. For my husband, it was a book about an ice hockey player called Roger Crozier, Daredevil Goalie.
Crozier was a "daredevil" because for many years he didn't wear a facemask. I would say maybe he should have.
For me, it was Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft, the story of six men crossing the Pacific on a handmade raft. Like-minded readers today might try Into Thin Air, The Perfect Storm, or a biography of an Arctic explorer.
Onward: A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson (Photobiographies)by Dolores Johnson. National Geographic Children's Books.
You never know who is going to inspire a young person. It's worth asking what they're interested in, what they want to be when they grow up, what fiction books they read.
A kid who likes funny fiction will love the nonfiction stories that children's author Jon Scieszka tells about growing up with his five brothers. I would like to note that I finally found a name that stumped Maryland Morning host Tom Hall - luckily, Mr. Scieszka's website gives us a handy pronunciation guide!
Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka, by Jon Scieszka. Viking Juvenile.
People who like princessy books will love the light, wonderfully stylish drawings of Audrey Hepburn in the picture book Just Being Audrey. Her mother was a baroness! How come I never knew that?
Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo, illustrated by Julia Denos. Balzer + Bray.
Kid is thinking about law? Why not think big!
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La juez que crecio en el Bronx by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Bonus for being bilingual!
By the way, Jonah Winter is a name to look for when choosing biographies for children. He's written picture book bios of all kinds of people, from Frida Kahlo to Hildegard von Bingen to Sandy Koufax. He comes by his interest honestly - his mother Jeanette Winter, with whom he collaborated on the Hildegard book and a book about Diego Rivera, also writes picture book bios to watch for. She has done Jane Goodall, Georgia O'Keeffe, Bach, Emily Dickinson and more.
Another terrific author who has something of a specialty in biographies for kids is Kathleen Krull. Wilma Rudolph, Jim Henson, Cesar Chavez and L. Frank Baum have each caught her attention. She also has written a series of lively collected biographies - books about musicians, presidents, athletes, pirates, writers taken in context. Look for books with "(and What the Neighbors Thought)" in the title.
Lives of the Athletes: Thrills, Spills (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt. Harcourt.
Emily Arnold McCully, who is probably best known for Mirette on the High Wire, for which she won the Caldecott Medal, also writes and illustrates terrific nonfiction. Manjiro: The Boy Who Risked His Life for Two Countries (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) tells about a Japanese boy who helped open up relations between Japan and the U.S. in the 1800's.
Which brings us to another important point about biographies written for children. What I just wrote about Manjiro makes it sound boring as dirt - but in the hands of a talented writer like Emily Arnold McCully, his story sings with pathos and adventure. The pictures glow and the characters come alive.
Biographies are written for children of all ages and reading abilities. Dan Yaccarino's book on the ocean environmentalist Jacques Cousteau has no more than two sentences per page, with bright, graphic illustrations.
The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino. Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Second and third graders can handle a little more text: I love Keep Your Eye on the Kid: The Early Years of Buster Keaton by Catherine Brighton, about Buster Keaton's early years. The way this book breaks down Keaton's pratfalls and early movie-making process, it's hard not to want to try some of his tricks out for yourself.
I'm going to leave off with a book about a woman whose tricks you should maybe not try at home. Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart is probably the best of many Amelia Earhart books written for kids. The story of Amelia's life is told in strong, well-paced chapters, but between each chapter we get the hour-by-hour account of her fatal flight and the subsequent rescue efforts. Author Candace Fleming has pieced together a great deal of research, and without speculating on the fate of Amelia and her navigator, allows us to imagine her voice desperately calling out over the radio in the empty Pacific.
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming. Schwartz & Wade.
And be sure to listen to my conversation with host Tom Hall on this Friday's Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast on Maryland's NPR station, WYPR 88.1 FM. If you're out of the listening area, audio of the segment will be online by the end of the day on Maryland Morning's website.
Providing reader advisory services to movie and TV stars may sound like it's all glamor and glitz - private screenings at Matt Damon's place, long walks with Taylor Kitsch, tequila shots with Cameron Diaz - but in reality, it's hard work. It's a year-round, always-on-call job that requires constant monitoring of tons of information sources. You should see my office - a dozen laptops and giant flatscreens feeding me 24-hour updates from Cynopsis Kids, Early Word, Rama's Screen, and the Hollywood Reporter.
But that's what it takes. What would happen if, out of the blue, Hailee Steinfeld chased you down in a hallway at NBC panting, "I have to read a science fiction novel for English but I hate science fiction!" It wouldn't do to flail around until you lamely suggest she reads Virus on Orbis 1. Nooo. That kid, she needs more action. Not so much character development. Black Hole Sun is the book for her. She'd be perfect as the voice of the AI that is the main character's advisor, conscience and best friend. Or she could be the kick-ass love interest Vienne.
Tune in to my wave as I provide book advice to the attendees of the 84th Annual Academy Awards from my perch by the bar at the Governor's Ball...
We are well shut of the twentieth century, I think. That was the first thing that crossed my mind as I closed Between Shades of Gray at about 1:30 in the morning last night. Good god. This is historical fiction that grabs you by the throat.
Where are we? We are in Lithuania in June of 1941. Stalin has annexed the country and part of his strategy for integrating it seamlessly into the Soviet Union is to round up anyone who might object and send them to Siberia.
Who are we? Fifteen-year-old Lina, upper middle class, a gifted artist, with a ten-year-old brother and a beautiful mother. Papa, a university administrator, has already disappeared when soldiers pound on the door and throw Lina's family into a truck.
What is happening to 17-year-old Briony Larkin and the miserable fenside village of Swampsea? Briony is beautiful and intelligent, neglected by her father after the death of her beloved stepmother. Possessed of a supernatural gift that allows her to see and converse with the nature spirits that surround her village, before she died, her stepmother commanded Briony to avoid the swamp where these spirits live lest something terrible happen.
To make an already joyless life considerably worse, Briony is responsible for her difficult twin sister Rose, who, due to a blow to the head when the girls were seven, exhibits symptoms and behaviors similar to those associated with autism spectrum disorder.
Then a handsome boy comes to the village, and with him progress: the swamp is to be drained and Swampsea to become the terminus of a London rail line. As Swampsea struggles to - belately - join the twentieth century, Briony struggles with new roles that she both fears and desires. I'm always looking for neat coming-of-age metaphors, and the advent of the modern age is a good one. Will Briony allow herself to fall in love? Will she learn to control her power? Will she figure out the deceptions that have been perpetrated upon her, leaving her full of frustrated, self-abasing rage?
Louise at thirteen is friendless and flat-chested. Bad luck and worse decisions have torn apart the cozy canyon life she shared with her parents, B-movie director Charlie Bat and starlet-turned-homemaker Brandy-Lynn, and now she lives in a courtyard condo down below the smog line. Instead of her tiny, hippie elementary school, she's attending a big public junior high where everything seems like a competition. And then, after one too many drunken arguments with Brandy-Lynn, her dad leaves.
Pink Smog: Becoming Weetzie Bat is the prequel to Francesca Lia Block's popular Weetzie Bat stories - this is Weetzie before she becomes fully Weetzified: not yet blonde, only partially sparkly, showing barely a hint of the wistful siren to come. With some of the glitter swept away, the emphasis is on Louise's feelings and encounters, which have always been well-written, but can be overshadowed by the feathered, flowing, Mod Podge fabric of Weetzie's later life. Heartbroken, teased, neglected, and possibly hexed, Louise begins to learn about risks that are worth taking and people who are worth cherishing. She is a peaceful child who, when faced with cruelty and loss, develops into a young woman who is pliant but not wimpy, strong but not aggressive.
A fresh gem for Weetzie's fans, Pink Smog stands comfortably alone as well. It would serve as a Gateway to Francesca Lia Block (which is an arch a lot of us are happy to have passed through - Jezebel once called Weetzie Bat ""The Book for Girls Who Ended Up Taking a Gay Dude to Prom" - I myself took my best friend's much-older brother), and although marketed to grades 9 and up, this book could be wise comfort to a reader as young as 5th grade whose family has undergone sudden change.
A version of this review appeared in VOYA a few months ago.
I feel like Tony Shalhoub's character in Galaxy Quest: "Heh heh," he chuckles, mentally adding up the squad of enemy alien soldiers guarding the [whatever], the rock monster the crew had encountered on a recent visit to a desolate planet, and the ship's transporter mechanism. "I just had this really interesting idea."
I've just done a little idle internal arithmetic myself. I read a lot, right? Mostly kids' and YA books. It's ridiculous. And it's gotten to be I kind of feel like I'm cheating when I take time out for the essentials: Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue, September Vogue, and Go Fug Yourself. Your essentials may not be my essentials. There's room for all of us here.
But my consumption of gossipy fashiony stuff means that I do kind of keep an eye on the traffic at the intersection of these two interests of mine - namely, when YA (and sometimes kids') novels are made into movies. Like... Ooh there goes Oscar nominee Viola Davis again - she's going to be in the movie they're finally going to make of Ender's Game. Hm. I wonder just exactly where Viola Davis fits into Ender's Game. Ugh here's another mouth-breathing Hemsworth: which YA heartthrob part is he going to be panting all over this time? You know. Everybody does that.
And you can't help wondering, you know, if you somehow found yourself sharing a First Class row with say Brad Pitt (I could get bumped up, it could happen!), what would you end up talking about?
Do you follow the SLJ Battle of the Books? It's the kidliterati version of March Madness, pitting fiction against nonfiction, dystopic sci-fi against humor, graphic novels against verse. It's win or go home as a few elite judges (Lauren Myracle, Matt Phelan, Maggie Stiefvater, and Jonathan Stroud, among others! Wow!) debate the merits of 16 of the most highly-decorated and fulsomely-praised children's and young adult books of this year.
One of the things that I like most about the BoB brackets (besides the fact that you can call them BoB) is that the books are seeded in alphabetical order. This leads to some amusingly disjunct head-to-head beat-downs: the gritty Okay for Now versus the magic-tinged Wonderstruck, for example. It might also be the only place you'll see the sincere, informative Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans go up against the heartfelt-but-in-a-very-different-way Inside Out and Back Again.
For the first time this year, I am in prime position to follow along, having read more nine and a half of the sixteen contenders. I discussed many of the books in this year's battle in my Newbery Preview post - but the Big N has historically not conferred any advantage during Battle of the Books, past Newbery winners having gone down in early rounds. Here's the list, and it's on Goodreads too.
Here's a rare thing: a review of a bona fide adult book on Pink Me. Suitable for teenagers? You decide. (There's a breakdown at the bottom of this review.)
I wish I could write the review this book deserves, as Nick Harkaway (not his real name) wrote the review that Neal Stephenson's Reamde deserved - the one I was in the process of writing in my head. Stephenson's book was an action novel taken to absurd lengths, a nonstop global car/boat/bike chase firefight populated by real characters, most of whom you had to fall in love with. Ergo, I think it's no coincidence that Harkaway (still not his real name) felt he had some solid ground upon which to stand while surveying the fatness of Reamde.
Angelmaker is leaner, sprawls less, but is similarly packed with spies and murderers and gangsters who run and drive and use weapons, and they're all real people. Well. Some of them are not. A few of them are... but no, I'm not going to say.
Rules are for sissies. Yes, yes they are. Especially, I would say, in Young Adult fiction. All this hoo-ha and malarkey about people debating What is Young Adult lately - with so many grownups reading adventure fiction like The Hunger Games, why is one novel with a teen protagonist (let's just say Going Bovine) marketed to teens and why is another (call it Huge) marketed to adults - and as far as I'm concerned the fastest, funniest, most wrenching, most challenging stuff is YA and all the rest is non-age-specific genre fiction.
Mad at me yet? Read more!
I have in the recent past poked (gentle) (I hope) fun at Jon Klassen's illustration style, saying that in the future, people will be able to pull a book illustrated by him off the shelf and say, "Oh yeah... 2011! Remember that, with the slightly spattery browny-gray inks and deadpan expressions? I Want My Hat Back! I loved that!"
Totally. I have worn that rich but drab palette for the past five years. I've wanted a skirt with his blocky animal figures on it ever since Cats' Night Out. His cover for The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place almost made me want to read that book.
But now, reading Extra Yarn, we learn about his color, too. It's good color.