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Hello! We are Marirosa Mia Garcia and Julie Sternberg, two friends who met at the New School, where we each received an MFA in Creative Writing. We write children's books. We also read them all the time, and share them with one another, and discuss them, and sometimes argue about them. When we find great ones, we read them again and again. And starting this very moment--history in the making!--we blog about them together. The ones we love, anyway. (You'll also see some recommendations here from Julie's earlier blog--a lonelier time.)
We're lining up terrific help, too. Once a month true experts, Kathy Hartzler and Angela Ungaro, librarians at Brooklyn Friends School, will post their recommendations. We'll also have regular posts from avid kid readers and (we hope) booksellers and teachers.
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It can take a while for Mia and me to find a book we both love. This
is an obvious downside of our dialogue format for recommendations. (A huge upside, for me anyway, is that it's
far more fun to talk about a good book with a friend than to ramble on all by
my lonesome. But I digress.) To fill those quiet intervals, we
thought we might start sharing a bit of our process for identifying the books
that we think have potential. And so, here are some of my recent
I also like teacher Monica Edinger's blog, "Educating
Alice." She recently posted this rave preview of an upcoming fantasy
novel for young adults: "Even though MORTAL FIRE isn’t out till June I
want to write about it now to get the word out as it is simply
spectacular. And to encourage those fantasy fans among you
unfamiliar with Elizabeth Knox to go and read her two other also fabulous young
adult books, DREAMHUNTER and DREAMQUAKE, the latter a Printz honor book."
http://medinger.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/coming-soonish-elizabeth-knoxs-mortal-fire/ And so I'm proposing to Mia, at this very moment, that we take a look at
DREAMHUNTER. Mia, what do you think?
Finally, my younger daughter, Isabel, recently devoured the
middle-grade novel SEE YOU AT HARRY'S, by Jo Knowles. Maybe we should add
that to our middle-grade list, Mia? Also, any suggestions to add?
Wait! I've found more possibilities, before you've even had the
chance to respond! Take a look at this fabulous list from
husband-wife uber-talents Philip and Erin Stead (seriously, those
author-illustrators are jaw-droppingly good.
They’ve chosen "the books [from 2012] that meant something special
to us at this point in our lives. These are books that challenged us to be
better writers and illustrators." Here's the link: http://philipstead.com/2013/01/22/announcing-the-4th-annual-phildecott-and-steadbery-awards.
And here are some of the picture books from this list that intrigue
me: STEPHEN AND THE BEETLE, by Jorge
Lujan; A TRIP TO THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD WITH MOUSE, by Frank Viva; and BONE
DOG. Note, too, that Steve Sheinkin's BOMB (middle grade non-fiction) is
showing up everywhere as a 2012 favorite, including this list. Hmm.
And one more option! I never read Nancy Farmer's HOUSE
OF THE SCORPION, a 2004 science fiction novel for young teens, which won (get
this! how often does this happen?!) the National Book Award and the
Newbery Honor and the Printz Honor. Wow. Seems worth
reading, right? Especially because the sequel is due out in September.
That's it! I think. I make no promises.
Am I good to go? You sure? (waits a few minutes just in case) I'm all for reading HOUSE OF THE SCORPION!
I've been meaning to read it for a while. And I already have my copy of HOKEY
POKEY on the way. I'll make sure to add
DREAMHUNTER to that mix, Julie!
Let's see. On my end I’m interested in reading TO SAY
NOTHING OF THE DOG, which I looked up after a friend recommended it. The
description is quite intriguing in that it doesn't say much! "Ned Henry
shuttles between the 1940s and the 21st century while researching Coventry
Cathedral for a patron interested in rebuilding it until the time continuum is
disrupted." Time continuum disrupted? I'M THERE. Plus it feels a bit Terry
Pratchett-like, so I'm intrigued.
I just got my copy of TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME, and I can't wait to devour it
soon. A few others I'm looking forward to are OUT OF THE EASY, by Ruta Sepetys,
and PAPER VALENTINE, by Brenna Yovanoff. I'm a fan of both of these
ladies' work, so I can't wait for their latest.
J: We're so set! But, just because it’s raining children's
book reading ideas right now, let me close by noting that School Library
Journal's annual Battle of the Kids Books has begun! Here's their list;
we can check it against ours: http://battleofthebooks.slj.com. Oh,
and by the way, my copy of DREAMHUNTER has arrived! (Boy, was that fast.)
I might have to start with it, since Isabel has stolen HOKEY POKEY.
Sylvie Larsen: Did
you know Oscar Wilde wrote fairy tales? I didn’t. It’s an interesting
peek into Wilde, since most people only know DORIAN GREY or THE
IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST. There are nine “children’s” stories
published in two volumes. I put children’s in quotes since I doubt most
children know words like anodyne, even with a fancy British education.
For this article, I read a little of both volumes for the sake of comparison. From The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888), I read “The Happy Prince,” “The Nightingale and the Rose,” and “The Selfish Giant. From The House of Pomegranates
(1891), I read “The Young King” and “Birthday of the Infanta.” I found
the stories unexpectedly religious and a bit sad, but Oscar sure can
turn a phrase.
like fairy tales, and I love fairy tales that haven’t been completely
co-opted by Disney. These stories are a great addition to the canon of
fairy tales, and I think they should be read alongside Grimm and Aesop.
The power of most fairy tales lies in the their morals and characters’
actions, but the power of Wilde’s stories lies in the writing. For
instance, a character in “The Birthday of the Infanta” walks through a
castle, and it’s one of the best descriptions of walking through a
castle I’ve ever read.
stories feature all the usual components of fairy tales: There are
princes and princesses, talking flowers and birds, giants and dwarves.
But the places in the stories aren’t usual. And the tales are sadder
than our stereotype, at least, of the genre: The love stories don’t
work themselves out in the end; sacrifices are made to no effect; and
great changes are not always for the best.
true fairy tales, the stories have morals to be learned by the reader.
They focus on such aspects of life as compassion, self-sacrifice,
faith, and a message of anti-vanity mixed with the appreciation of
aesthetic and natural beauty.
don’t know why I was so surprised to find so much religion in these
stories. Jesus is a character in “The Selfish Giant,” where faith is
represented by a garden. The themes of “The Birthday of the Infanta”
and “The Nightingale and the Rose” are a bit harder to pin down. There
are issues of nature and beauty mixed with issues of class and
disappointment. I would have loved to rip both apart for a college
essay, but this blog post is the closest I’ll get.
I wouldn’t recommend these stories for a young child looking for a nice
bedtime story, I think they would be appropriate for older kids looking
for something darker to read.
Marirosa Mia: There are thousands of books published
each year, which makes me both incredibly happy and incredibly sad, because
there’s simply not enough time to read every single one of them! 2012 was
another great year for books in all genres and for all ages. Though I can say
that I probably read close to 60 books in 2012 (half of which aren’t coming out
until THIS year!), there are still many 2012 books I need to get to. Like:
LIAR & SPY – Rebecca Stead: WHEN YOU REACH ME was
the first book Julie and I reviewed on this blog and one of the reasons I
wanted to start a blog in the first place, so I can’t wait to read Stead's new
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS – John Green: Please don’t yell
at me because I haven’t read it yet. YES, I know, I know, but I guess I’m waiting
for when I want to die in a puddle of my own tears to read it, OK?
TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME – Carol Rifka Brunt:
An amazing title. Gorgeous cover. Gut-wrenching plotline: 1987.
There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June
Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and
distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he
is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young,
of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is
turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s
life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she
knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.
Julie: I also need to read LIAR & SPY, but
I've beat you to THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME. I
loved TELL THE WOVLES I'M HOME, and I'm apparently the only reader on the
planet who found THE FAULT IN OUR STARS ultimately tiresome. I suspect if
I'd loved it, then you would've read it too by now, for a possible blog review.
Sorry about that!
I recently read and enjoyed Louise Erdich's THE PLAGUE OF
DOVES (written for adults) and liked it enough to order CHICKADEE, her 2012
middle-grade novel about twin brothers who somehow become separated.
(Erdich's THE ROUND HOUSE, a sister book to THE PLAGUE OF DOVES, won the
National Book Award this year.)
And I became fascinated by Lisa O'Donnell's THE DEATH OF
BEES after hearing an interview with her on NPR this weekend. I'm
cheating a little with this one, since it's technically a 2013 release.
But it fascinates me because the synopsis of the plot is so similar to
that of THE SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS, a 2012 middle-grade novel by Sara
Pennypacker. Both books involve two girls trying to hide the death of the
grownups in their household. Pennypacker also wrote the CLEMENTINE books,
which I wholeheartedly love; but I was disappointed by THE SUMMER OF THE GYPSY
MOTHS. I have a hunch that THE DEATH OF BEES will compare favorably--and
that comparing the two will yield interesting writing tips. We'll see!
M: Those all sounds great! How about our readers out
there? Any 2012 books you haven't gotten to? What 2013 reads are you dying to
sink your teeth into? As for us, Julie, we better start reading.
Hello, everyone. For a while I've been tossing around the idea of a
new segment called "An Author You Should be Reading." But thanks to
life, the holidays, and NaNoWriMo, my first post got a bit delayed. Here
it is, FINALLY.
first author you should be reading? The one and only Robin McKinley.
Let me give a general overview of what I love about her; Julie and I
have already reviewed two of her pieces, SUNSHINE and THE HERO AND THE
CROWN, in more detail.
I first discovered McKinley when my lovely friend,
Annie, handed me a copy of SUNSHINE, confident that I would fall as
deeply in love with McKinley's writing as she had. After reading
SUNSHINE, I immediately purchased every McKinley book I could find in my
local bookstore: BEAUTY, SPINDLE'S END and DEERSKIN. Reading each
felt easy, like visiting an old friend. With just a sentence or two
McKinley builds a world. She chooses her structure carefully and guides
her readers expertly along the way. Of all her novels (I've read even
more after that bookstore run), my favorites are DEERSKIN, SUNSHINE, and
THE HERO AND THE CROWN. Like most of McKinley's work, those novels
feature a strong female character - a survivor - who plows on,
regardless of the obstacles she faces.
also admire the way McKinley handles love. It isn't flowery or ornate;
it simply is. There are no mistaken identities or accidental kissings
of the wrong person--nothing messy or scandalous. But the love
portrayed is still intense, and very real.
McKinley is a writer who will always have a home on
my bookshelf. If you get a chance, pick up one of her books, like
Newbery Honor winner THE BLUE SWORD or Newbery medalist THE HERO AND THE
CROWN. Or maybe SUNSHINE is the book for you--Neil Gaiman called it
"perfect." McKinley's many fairy tale retellings, like SPINDLE'S END or
DEERSKIN, are also well worth trying. Reading any of these, you might
find yourself a new friend.
Marirosa Mia: Once
again the lovely Sylvie Larsen joins us for another edition of
Classically Challenged, in which Sylvie dives into classic children’s
books that she’s never read before!
Sylvie: This month, I read Anne of Green Gables,
by L. M. Montgomery. I got to know the story of Anne from a
mini-series that aired on the Disney Channel in the early 90s, but I had
never read the book until now. I was not surprised by how much I
enjoyed it, as I was an overly dramatic youth. So Anne remains a
character close to my heart.
story takes place in about 1910 or so, when the book was written. Anne
Shirley is a red-headed orphan who is adopted accidentally (they
ordered a boy from the orphanage) by an elderly brother and sister, the
Cuthberts. She goes to live with them on their farm in rural Prince
Edward Island, on the east coast of Canada. The Cuthberts are pretty
run-of-the-mill folks, but Anne is a dreamer. She doesn’t really
understand the social norms of her new life because she had always lived
inside her own head. One of the sadder things about reading this book
as an adult was realizing that Anne is such a dreamer because of her
pretty terrible childhood. She moved around to several different foster
homes before ending up in the orphanage, and she describes a few of her
situations rather bleakly in the book. But once she gets to Green
Gables (which is the name of the house she lives in with the Cuthberts),
Anne proves to be a light in the lives of her elderly caretakers.
Mischief ensues and old hearts are opened to the young.
narrative moves quickly, sometimes skipping months at a time without
much mention of what occurred. Also, the chapters seem a bit like
episodes, each covering one or two of Anne’s misadventures. She’s
always finding trouble when she just wants to do good! Like any true
heroine in a children’s book, however, Anne learns from her mistakes;
and the reader watches her grow as a person by the end of the book. One
of my favorite quotes appears early in the book: “You’d find it easier
to be bad than good if you had red hair. ... People who haven’t red
hair don’t know what trouble is.” Although my hair is only auburn, I
you know any little girls who wander around the woods talking to
fairies or reciting poetry, or if you were one yourself, this is the
book for you! Plus, it’s only the first in a series of Anne books that
follow her life through adulthood, so if you love Anne as much as I do
you don’t have to leave her after only one book. Add a Comment
Julie: I have committed a cardinal sin for a children's book
writer. I have, in my lifetime, read picture books like THE GIFT OF
NOTHING and thought, So simple! So few words! How hard can it be? Several
years and one master's degree later, let me tell you: To write a truly good picture book? Very,
very hard. But Patrick McDonnell has done it. THE GIFT OF NOTHING is playful, timeless, meaningful,
linguistically interesting, and full of heart. I wish I’d written it. Mia,
did you like it as much as I did?
M: Julie, THE GIFT OF NOTHING caught
me by surprise. I was reading
along, thinking, OK, this is cute.
The humor reminds me a bit of I’M BORED in the way it handles the
tediousness of everyday life (for instance, pointing out that there's nothing
to watch on 200 channels of TV). But
then I got to the end and was tearing up. THE GIFT OF NOTHING is sweet and
simple, accomplishing so much with so little. The same could be said for the art, with its attention to the
white space on the page. The words
deepen what we see on the page. Julie?
J: Yes, the style of the art
perfectly suits the style of the text. And I love that there's humor and
depth. I splurged for the special gift edition, which comes complete with
lovely packaging. Perfect for those upcoming holidays. I might need to get another, because I have twin nephews.
M: Woohoo for getting some holiday
shopping off your plate, Julie. And off we go to find more books to recommend!
Hey Everyone! Today Julie and I are part of a Blog
Hop called “The Next Big Thing,” a way for writers to speak about their works-in-progress
and spread the word about their fellow writers. Julie and I were tagged a
couple of weeks ago by the lovely Jackie Resnick (you can read her post here) and were going to place our post up on Halloween, but Hurricane
Sandy put a bit of a damper on our blogging. But now we are BACK and ready to
Here we go:
What is the working title of your book?
Marirosa Mia: STONE GIRL is my working title at the moment, but I am TERRIBLE at
thinking up titles. I thought of doing a little poetry/song research for some
inspiration but have yet to find anything.
Julie: LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER, the sequel to my first book,
LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE, is due out in April.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Oh gosh. I started writing the piece about 3 years ago and put it away to
continue working on another novel for my thesis, then a few months ago it found
its way to me again. The idea first came to me like all my others: A scene plays in my head over and over
again like a movie. For this particular novel it was a house, decaying, and the
lost girl inside it. I simply couldn’t get her and the house out of my head.
J: My first book, LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE, tells the
story of a girl, Eleanor, whose longtime, beloved babysitter moves away. For the first time, Eleanor is left by
someone she loves. For the sequel,
I thought I’d write about Eleanor herself leaving loved ones (temporarily) for
the first time. LIKE BUG JUICE ON
A BURGER thus tells the story of Eleanor’s first experience at sleepaway camp.
What genre does your book fall under?
J: Realistic Fiction, for young middle-grade readers
Which actors would you choose to play your
characters in a movie rendition?
Ada is a strong, athletic, 20-something woman. She’s a bit like an owl,
watching patterns and behavior; she trusts few but loyal to those she loves. She’s
a bit like Jennifer Garner when she played Sidney Bristow in ALIAS. So maybe an
unknown who shares that same strength.
J: Bailee Madison might make a great Eleanor. Should I confess that I’m most familiar
with her work as a guest star on Wizards of Waverly Place? (I have daughters! Disney shows are unavoidable!)
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your
by a witch, a young girl is unable to step outside the confines of her home
without turning to stone; her relationships, her loves exists through the bars
of her confinement.
J: Nine-year-old Eleanor attends sleepaway camp for the first time
and is not a happy camper.
Will your book be self-published or
represented by an agency?
it’s finished I hope to send out query letters to agents.
J: I’m represented by Rosemary Stimola of the Stimola Literary
Studio; Abrams Books will publish BUG JUICE.
How long did it take you to write the first
draft of your manuscript?
writing it. And I just joined NaNoWriMo (friend me if you are doing it as well)
so I’m hoping it will help me finished a good full rough draft of it.
J: The first draft took about three months.
What other books would you compare this story
to within your genre?
definitely has a fairytale vibe. A bit of Robin McKinley perhaps. Clearly I’m
terrible at this.
J: IVY AND BEAN, by Annie Barrows; CLEMENTINE, by Sara
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
M: You know how it is, when characters
simply won’t leave your head until they are written down.
younger daughter suffered from intense homesickness during her first summer at sleepaway
What else about your book might pique the
M: There’s a bit of a tortured romance in there.
John who has just came back from the war (World War I) and he can’t seem to
connect with anything from his old life finds a flame of hope in Ada.
illustrator for PICKLE JUICE, Matthew Cordell, is also working on BUG JUICE and
is doing a terrific job. His
sketches make me laugh every time I flip through them.
Marirosa Mia: In a new segment I’m going to
call “Classically Challenged,” I’ve brought along my lovely librarian friend
Sylvie Larsen, who each month will talk about a classic children’s book she’s
never read—until now. This month it’s THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, by L. Frank Baum.
we get started, I asked Sylvie to write a little bio for herself so you could
get to know her a bit. Here’s what she sent me: “Sylvie
grew up running wild in the woods of New England, reading books whilst sitting
in trees. Now a New Yorker, she earned her Master's in Library and
Information Science and has yet to find the perfect climbing tree in
And now, Sylvie:
Sylvie Larsen: This
post is as good a place as any to admit that I was never all that into THE
WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ as a child. Sure, I watched the movie, but it’s not
something that was a big part of my life, as it was for some people. That
being said, you can’t really UNSEE the movie, so it is pretty impossible to
read the book without some sort of comparison to the iconic film. While
it’s interesting to see what parts they chose to put in the movie and where the
songs would go, it’s far more interesting to discover what didn’t make it into
the film. I found the book to be a better story than the movie.
First, let me put this book into some historical perspective. To say that
this was a time of great change in America is an understatement. Phones,
cars, moving pictures and early aviation were all becoming parts of regular
life. Every day, more and more immigrants were coming to America.
So, the idea that a little girl was suddenly picked up and dropped into a
new land is not too far from what some new Americans were experiencing.
It was an exciting time to be a child, and I think this book captures
The story is as fast paced as you’d expect a bedtime story to be. Dorothy leads
a dull life before she is whisked away by a tornado to the magical land of Oz.
She picks up a few travel companions on her way to ask the wise Wizard to
help her get back to Kansas. Quite a lot happens to our heroes on their
travels and some of it is pretty dark. I recently read the following
synopsis of the movie: “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills
the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”
Sure, Dorothy arrives safely in Oz, but she inadvertently murders someone upon
landing. Even though everyone tells her she’s done a great thing, Dorothy
is obviously upset about the whole thing...well, as upset as one can be and
still steal the corpse’s shoes from her feet (which are silver and not ruby,
In general, I wanted to know a little more
about what was going on in the characters’ heads. There is no backstory
or character development, just a girl and a dog right from the get-go. It
is really just like her trip down the road of yellow bricks, a succession of
things that happen. Even when things get pretty scary for Dorothy on her
travels through Oz, she keeps an impressively level head throughout...or her
emotions are not really covered in the story. The moral of the story, if there
really is one, comes from the purpose of the mission. The characters are
on their way to visit the Wizard to get what they believe they need to be
better, but while they are being placed in these impossible situations along
the way, the Cowardly Lion acts pretty darn brave, the Scarecrow comes up with
some pretty cunning plans for someone who doesn’t have a brain, and the Tin Man
is a total sweetie for someone who doesn’t have a heart. I guess they had
what they needed all along, they just needed Dorothy to come along and give
them the chance to prove themselves.
I wish I could have read this before seeing the movie. Fortunately, there
are 13 more books in the series that haven’t been turned into movies, so I can
discover more of Oz without always having to imagine Judy Garland.
Marirosa Mia: Yay, picture book time! I love it when Julie and I find a
picture book we both enjoy. This time around we have I'M BORED, written by
comedian Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Our story
starts with a little girl - a very bored little girl. There's simply
nothing for her to do except lament how boring everything is. I dread the day
my niece enters this age. Soon the little girl meets a talking potato who is
equally bored. (I really want to make some sort of potato pun here but I can't
think of any yet! It will come to me.) One would think the two would become
fast friends, bonded by their lack of entertainment. But NO, not so at all. Not
only is the potato still bored, but he also thinks children are soooo boring,
unlike flamingos, who are super-exciting. (FACT: Flamingos are actually
awesome.) Unwilling to stand for this, the little girl sets off to prove that
children aren't boring at all by showing the potato all the amazing,
imagination-filled things they can do! But is it enough to entertain one very
bored potato? I'm not going to
say, but - spoiler alert - a flamingo does make an appearance.
book cries out, "Read me to a bunch of kids! I'm perfect for it,
you'll see!" It's fun and funny and fast and clever. I'm
terrible at creating different voices when I read aloud, but even I feel
inspired to give a very dramatic reading. How often does one get to give
voice to a potato? I love the art, too. It's bold but also spare,
and colorful, and full of life and movement. What do you think about the
art, Mia? And do you have any quibbles with the book?
want a Part Two! With the flamingo and the potato. Does that count as a
quibble? I thought the art worked perfectly with the text of the book. It was
simple yet kinetic - if that makes sense. There was always a sense of movement to the art, even from the beginning. I can't wait to read it
to my niece, who's already in love with CREEPY CARROTS.
that's not exactly what I had in mind as a quibble. But it's a great
idea! As for a quibble of my own, I think a few variations on the
potato's "boring" refrain might have been fun. A
"yawn" or a "snooze," perhaps; a "been there, done
that." Having a zillion "boring"s became a little (can you
guess?) (you got it!) boring. But it's such a trivial complaint. I
still love the book. I'm tempted to gather my far-too-old children around
me now and try a little story time. Because we've all been cooped up in
this apartment for the past 48 hours. We could certainly use a potato and
Carrots by Aaron Reynolds. Illustrated by Peter Brown
Jasper Rabbit LOVES carrots. He loves them like I love Nutella, which is a lot,
people. He plucks them from Crackenhopper Field on the way to school, a game,
or back home. Then one day Jasper is sure that his favorite treat is following
him. He sees creepy carrots in his bedroom! Creepy carrots following him to
school! It's driving him mad. Is Jasper's favorite snack actually following him
around, or has he had one (something or other) too many? Written by Aaron
Reynolds and illustrated by the talented Peter Brown (author and illustrator of
THE CURIOUS GARDEN), CREEPY CARROTS is a fun tale of paranoia and a possible
Vitamin A overdose resulting in visual hallucinations. Kidding! I found
CREEPY CARROTS to be a zany trip to the twilight zone, cleverly illustrated
with a funny (and slightly morbid) twist ending. Julie?
love the combination of humor and horror in this book. The art is
simultaneously ominous--almost exclusively black and white with splashes of
orange (primarily the carrots); plenty of shadows; a Hitchcock-ian shower
scene; sinister sightings in the tool shed--and hilarious. We're
talking, after all, about carrots! With crossed eyes and occasionally severed
heads (why severed? I don't know!) and gaps in their teeth. The overall
effect is both unusual and riveting. I predict kids will love it. Do you agree,
there something you didn't love about the book? I have to confess that although
I credit the cleverness of the ending, I don't love it. I don't want to give
anything away--I'll just say that it felt very concrete and confining to me, in
a way that seems at odds with the free-wheeling imagination of the story. Does
that make any sense at all?
M: Do you
mean you saw the ending coming? I'm not sure I understand.
J: No, that's
not what I mean. I've been trying fruitlessly to think of a way to
explain that doesn't ruin the ending. So, SPOILER ALERT!!! Do Not Read Further
If You Want to Keep the Ending a Surprise! Last chance to look away. Okay, here
goes: I guess I love the notion that these wacky carrots are roaming around out
there, popping up in surprising places, making funny faces. Having them all
hemmed in at the end--even though they're happy in their confinement--brought
an abrupt halt to my carrots-on-the-loose imaginings. I frankly felt a little
M: Ah, I see.
You weren't fond of the gated community and you like your carrots free-range.
Marirosa Mia: This past weekend Julie
and I had the honor of attending KidLitCon 2012! Julie attended the
Pre-Conference on Friday, September 27th and I attended the Saturday events.
And though I grumbled through my subway ride over (waking at 8 AM on a Saturday
should not be allowed) to the New York Public Library (what a beaut!), once I
was there I was in full swing. Particularly since I couldn't attend the full
day's events due to prior commitments, I was determined to acquire all the
information I could. Strangely enough the two panels I was slotted into
discussed reader participation; what I learned most from those panels was that
comments don't always signify participation. Meaning, just because only three
people leave comments doesn't mean your readers aren't engaged. I'm afraid I'm
guilty of this: I follow dozens of blogs and don't post a single comment! But
that doesn't mean I'm not engaged by the content. What about you, Julie? What
pearls of wisdom did you glean from the Con?
Julie: I attended fabulous sessions at both Holiday
House and Penguin Young Readers Group. At Holiday House, among many other
treats, we saw spreads from picture books coming out in the spring. What
terrifically talented illustrators they've lined up!
The upcoming Holiday House picture book I'm
most excited to read is THE FRAZZLE FAMILY FINDS A WAY, by Ann Bonwill, with
illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Here are my notes (please keep in mind
that there was quite a lot of information flying at us, fast):
"Story of crazy family. Mom forgets to comb her hair; Dad
forgets to put on pants. Energetic, very fun art." A mom who
neglects to comb her hair! Can I ever relate! Fortunately, I
haven't yet forgotten to put on pants. But I do fear it's within the
realm of possibility. Anyway, I'm keeping an eye out for that book.
We also heard from the lovely Betsy and Ted Lewin about their upcoming,
beautiful and simply worded I Like to Read books.
We had a guest author at Penguin as well:
the vivacious Gayle Forman, bestselling author of the young adult hits IF
I STAY and WHERE SHE WENT. It was immensely helpful to hear her tales of
books she has written and then stored permanently away in a drawer. It's
easier to think about my drawered books, now knowing about hers. She also
has a new book on Penguin's list: JUST ONE DAY. Ruta Sepetys,
author of BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, which Mia reviewed for us, does as well:
OUT OF THE EASY. I'm excited to read both.
Penguin in fact has a slew of exciting books,
much like Holiday House. Mia, have you worked on any? Would you
like to put in a good word?
M: I'm currently working on
OUT OF THE EASY, which I hope you like, Julie! It's very different from BETWEEN
SHADES OF GRAY but still a fantastic read. Haven't read JUST ONE DAY yet, but
I'm a big Gayle Forman fan so I can't wait to read it. Now a question to our
lovely readers out there. Did any of you attend KidLitCon? What new books are
you excited to finally get your hands on?
Julie: Libba Bray, fantastically successful author of books for young adults, recently wrote this list for Publisher's Weekly of books she loves: Books I love: Libba Bray.
So worth a look! I've already ordered RATS SAW GOD and THE BOYS OF MY
YOUTH. Oh boy! It's a little odd, how excited I get by promising book
Julie: Here's one of my flaws: Sometimes, when a book
launches to a crazy good reception--a slew of starred reviews, even more raves
in the blogosphere--I refuse to read it. Why? Silly reasons, most of them unflattering. But one, at least, can be cast as
heroic. I am taking a stand for underdog
figure, this insanely popular book doesn't need me. It has enough attention. Other
books need me.
Only after much time has passed might I give the
popular book a chance. If
I see it standing alone on a shelf, for example, past its heyday. Then I'll think, I
remember that book! It's
supposed to be good! And
then I'll read it. I
don't always love it. But
I certainly loved this one: Kristin
Cashore's GRACELING, a fantasy novel I finally read this summer after resisting
for four long years. "Read"
is not really the right word: I
drank it in, then moved quickly through the other two books in the trilogy,
FIRE and BITTERBLUE. Mia,
I know you recently read GRACELING and FIRE. What do you think?
Mia: I must
agree with you on those two points, Julie. You do have a tendency to refuse to
read books that are already being lauded by others (which I totally understand,
and it's part of your adorable stubborn self). And I also loved Cashore's
Graceling Realm (which is what the trilogy is being called). GRACELING and FIRE
have sat on my shelf for over a year now, trumped by other books on our list. So
when you finally relented and read them, I rejoiced! I was even happier when I
started GRACELING and simply flew through both it and FIRE. I dove into the
world that Cashore created and can't wait to dive into BITTERBLUE! I think in
each book Cashore grows as a writer - which I just LOVE. I love it when you can
see a writer flex her muscles and continue to shine with each book. I
think Cashore is just getting started. But on to the books themselves! Julie,
what do you fancy about them?
Julie: Let me start with
it, Cashore tells the story of Katsa, who is one of the rare few in her land to
be born with a Grace (or gift). Katsa is Graced with killing, at a minimum, and is
forced by her uncle, a king, to work as his thug. Reacting against her own
brutality, and against the petty ruthlessness of several kings, Katsa helps
form a secret, rebellious Council. In the course of conducting a Council
mission, she meets Po, another royal-born Graceling who challenges her in
I have to confess that as I was reading GRACELING,
I more than once thought, Wait. Didn't something like this happen in THE HERO AND
THE CROWN (a novel by Robin McKinley that we rave about here)?
also confess that I prefer the tone of THE HERO AND THE CROWN, which is more
other-worldly and haunting, less contemporary. But I never paused for very long to consider any
of this. Because
GRACELING has a terrific combination of action and character development. Cashore does a terrific
job bringing to life a slew of characters. The book is never boring, even though Katsa is so incredibly gift that by
rights there should be little tension. In fact, until the end of the novel, most of the
tension comes not from Katsa's Coucil-related work but from the psychological
impact of her Grace and, more interestingly, Po's. I can't say more without
a spoiler, but I particularly love Cashore's willingness to grapple with all of
the emotional fallout that might result from actually having the amplified
powers that some of us dream of. Do you agree, Mia?
M: I don't think I thought of
THE HERO AND THE CROWN at all while reading GRACELING, though they may have
similarities. I agree with you that when a book does it right, popularity of
themes is often forgotten, swept away by the story you're reading. I also love
how the main struggle is all internal for both Katsa and Fire, who are both
very physical and powerful women. For example, in FIRE the main character,
Fire, is a human monster. Monsters are creatures born in
every species with extraordinary gifts. They are coveted and feared all over
the land. For Fire, who makes men and women equally love and hate her with one
glance, her "curse" is the ability to work her way into people's
mind, making her a very powerful ally or enemy.
Both Katsa and Fire come into their own throughout the novel, discovering who
they are within the confines of their gifts and who they could be outside of
them. Was there anything in particular you didn't enjoy about the books? Mine
is a bit minor and feels petty, but I thought the use of the word
"monster" was a bit generic in FIRE. Reading sentences that spoke about
a "monster mouse" and a "monster kitten" made me roll my
eyes on occasion.
thought FIRE veered a little too close to soap opera at times. It
started slowly, too, and it took a while for me to warm to (forgive the word
choice) Fire, who tries so valiantly to do nothing (and therefore cause no
harm). I also agree with you about the monster mice and
kittens. They undercut the power of the term. But
none of this stopped me from rushing to read BITTERBLUE, the next book in the
Graceling Realm. You'll have to let me know
what you think of that one as soon as you're done!
Will do! And for our lovely readers, I actually have some copies to give away!
Add your comment below for a chance to win a paperback copy of both GRACELING
and FIRE. Contest ends September 28th. So comment! Do it!!!
Our friend and classmate from our MFA days, Jackie Resnick, is giving away 3 advanced reader copies of her upcoming middle-grade novel, THE DARING ESCAPE OF THE MISFIT MENAGERIE. We're so excited for her! Click here to find out more about the giveaway: http://jacquelinewrites.com/Blog.
Marirosa Mia: I
was struck by the beauty and sadness of Karen Thompson Walker's THE AGE OF
MIRACLES the way I'm sometimes captivated by an old photograph. How it
encapsulates only a specific time and place. We can imagine what has happened
before or after, but we really don't know more than what we see in that
picture. THE AGE OF MIRACLES gives us our narrator, Julia, who looks back in
time to when the earth's rotation began to slow. The days and nights grew
longer and longer; a ball didn't travel across the field the same way it used
to; birds fell out the sky in mass; and more. The world is changing - dying -
and Julia is just eleven years old.
Her narrative is sparse and clean as she watches the world
around her change. Friendships disappear while love blossoms; her parents
marriage crumbles and rebuilds; neighbors are shunned and punished for their
choices. And it is in this time of fear that Julia grows. It is the age of
miracles, as she puts it. An age where kids shoot up in length and develop
first crushes while the world around them changes forever. Though the language
is sparse it is very, very, vivid; and the people and places stayed with me
even after I closed the book.
Walker's book is the perfect snapshot of this specific
(speculative) moment in time - but it is just a snapshot. Which is where I
think a few people might grumble, as THE AGE OF MIRACLES has no clear end. It
offers no explanation for the slowing and no glimpse of the future of Earth and
Julia. It is simply that moment in time - that memory of a beginning, left wide
open. Despite this I very much enjoyed THE AGE OF MIRACLES. Perhaps you
might think "enjoyed" is not the right word for a book that brought
me to tears, but it is. The graceful language and quiet tone wove themselves
into my heart and have yet to find their way out.
THE AGE OF MIRACLES is sad, yes. But it has a quiet beauty
Children's literature blogger extraordinaire Betsy Bird asked readers of the School Library Journal to vote for the 10 best picture books and 10 best novels for kids of all time. Points were assigned and tallied, and these 2 lists of the top 100 picture books and novels resulted. The School Library Journal did a beautiful job producing the lists, complete with useful information about each book. Whether you agree with the rankings or not, they're a helpful starting point for finding your next great read. Enjoy! (Just follow the links below to the printable pdfs.)
Julie: Four pages into Diana Wynne Jones's HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, I decided it was genius. As is so often the case with books that I love, it's the voice that got me. Jones uses the perfect matter-of-fact, wry voice to introduce her magical world. It's as if she's saying, "Come on in. Yes, it's different here, but don't worry. You'll get the hang of it quickly. And you'll like it!" I did like it in that world, and I didn't want to leave. I have to admit, though, that the story raised the kinds of questions that usually drive me crazy. I'm sure we'll get to those a little later. More importantly, the book casts enough of a spell that I'm willing to overlook those issues. That's unprecedented for me! Mia, what do you love about the book?
Marirosa Mia: This is my third time reading HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, and I'm still charmed by it! Even though I know what's coming, I can't help but smile and chuckle at Calcifer's quips and Sophie's pragmatic attitude, which I love love love. I just can't get enough of Sophie, really. I'm not fond of characters who panic and run around like chickens with their heads cut off, and Sophie is simply refreshing in her "there's far too much work to be done to panic" attitude. Love. And as you mentioned, Julie, Wynne Jones' prose/voice really swoops you right in, to the point that you see each character so clearly. Right down to Fanny's overly expressive gestures (which in my head are many). What questions did it raise for you, Julie?
J: Let me say a little about the book's plot first. Sophie happily looks after her two sisters until her father dies and her sisters become apprentices in nearby businesses. Sophie then helps out in her family's hat shop until the day the Witch of the Waste arrives in a nasty temper and turns Sophie into an old woman. After a few more surprises, Sophie seeks shelter in the moving castle of the supposedly wicked Wizard Howl. And now for some questions: Sophie and her sisters are obviously close, and the sisters express concern about Sophie both when she's at the hat shop and later, after she's disappeared. Yet they never, ever try to come see her and help her (even though one sister fears Sophie is trapped in the castle). Why? Also, it's clear from the start that Sophie is far more capable than average. But SO much time passes without her figuring out the full range of her abilities. Why? (I wish I could say more, but I have spoiler concerns.) I have the feeling I missed something. It's certainly possible! I flew through the pages because I so wanted to know what was going to happen. Do any of these questions nag at you?
M: I can see why Sophie wouldn't come to terms with her abilities. From the beginning we know that she believes her future will...well, amount to nothing. That she won't marry well or have a great fortune like her sisters, because that is the lot of being the eldest daughter. I can see why that colors everything she does. It's been so ingrained in her that she just won't amount to much and her lot is simply her lot. I suppose what I'm saying is that the power of self-doubt is very pow
Las Aventuras del Capitán Alatriste - Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Marirosa Mia: Once again the lovely Salome has joined us with another awesome recommendation. Check it out!
Salome: Spanish bestselling author Arturo Pérez-Reverte recently released El puente de los asesinos (The Assassin’s Bridge), the seventh installment of his extraordinary swashbuckling series, Las Aventuras del Capitán Alatriste (The Adventures of Captain Alatriste). So I wanted to celebrate the occasion by taking a look at the first three books in the series, all of which delight older kids and adults, as well as fiction and non-fiction readers.
The series, which the author started publishing in 1996 in reaction to what he felt was a poor Spanish history curriculum at his daughter’s school, gives us a thorough look at Spain’s Golden Age or “Siglo de Oro.”
While the books focus on Captain Alatriste’s heroics as a soldier, occasional sword-for-hire, and all-around international man of mystery starting in the 1620s, they are written from the point of view and in the voice of Iñigo Balboa, the teenage son of an old comrade of Alatriste’s, who has become his assistant and mentee.
Besides partaking in Alatriste’s dizzying adventures, Iñigo gets to brush shoulders with the intelligentsia of his times – Velázquez and Quevedo among them – in what sometimes feels like an exercise in six degrees of separation (well, more like two degrees) in 17th-century Madrid.
The first book, which lends its name to the series, introduces the reader to a dark world of cross-border intrigue and murder, as well as the peculiarities of the Spanish Royal Court. (This book was made into a Spanish movie by the same name, starring Hugo Mortensen, who is probably much better looking than Alatriste was ever meant to be.) The second book, Limpieza de sangre (Purity of Blood), delves into the harsh and tragic history of the Spanish Inquisition, focusing on the plight of a Jewish family. The third book, El sol de Breda (The Sun over Breda) finds Alatriste and Iñigo in The Netherlands, where they are fighting Dutch rebels during the long and brutal Spanish occupation.
Yes, they are not rosy topics, but Pérez-Reverte makes them entertaining and engaging, interspersing them with humor and even adolescent love. I found the first two books easier to read and more exciting than the third one, which I felt was a bit slow. But I suspect that had to do less with the book and more with my disinclination to read about wars. It is worth a read, though, given Pérez-Reverte’s background as a war correspondent, which makes him a master chronicler of military conflicts.
A note of warning: The books are better suited for native speakers or fluent readers since they are written in a rather formal Spanish from Spain, in what is probably an effort to convey a more complete flavor of the place and times. I should also warn that, while elegantly presented, there are a few off color situations here and there in the books. Well, you can’t really expect a swashbuckling swordsman to act like a saint!
Marirosa Mia: Seriously, Julie, I'm starting the think that my "to read" pile is a treasure trove of gems, because here's another one! I've been a fan of Robin McKinley since my friend Annie told me to read SUNSHINE, which led me to DEERSKIN, then SPINDLE'S END and more. Well, McKinley does it again in my opinion. THE HERO AND THE CROWN focuses on Aerin, fiery haired daughter of the King of Damar, who longs for more than her noble duties (a plot that sounds - on the surface - similar to that of Pixar's BRAVE, which isn't necessarily bad, as I have a feeling BRAVE will be just as cool as this book). Little by little Aerin explores her true calling: dragon killer. Finding her way is not without its scars. Aware that a hero doesn't need to win every battle unscathed, McKinley doesn't protect her heroine from all the dragon fire that comes her way. Julie, what did you think of THE HERO AND THE CROWN?
Julie: Do you know what arrived in the mail today? Robin McKinley's THE BLUE SWORD. Why? Because as soon as I finished THE HERO AND THE CROWN, I needed to have its sister novel. That's how much I love THE HERO AND THE CROWN. I love its peaceful tone. Much happens in the novel, but you can just sink down into the language and float along, enjoying the ride. McKinley is a master of structure and pacing, too. She tells us enough to let us know that there's an important moment coming, but then holds off a while, building the characters and their relationships and alluding to other momentous occasions, before delving into that first moment. So we're intrigued from the start, and the character building is so compelling we never feel frustrated by the delay. Were you also amazed by her weaving of storylines, Mia?
M: You beat me to it, Julie! I totally want to snag a copy of THE BLUE SWORD from my local library. And yes, I agree with everything you said below. There's something about McKinley's writing (like Diana Wynne Jones's) that even from the very beginning makes you say: Oh, this is going to be good. And you settle yourself a little deeper into your couch as you go along. As you said, she has a way of weaving her story such that you can feel it building in your bones, and you can't wait to finally get to that scene that she's created for you to find. I love Aerin. I love her perseverance. I love that a lot of her success can be attributed to her patience and intelligence in addition to her bravery. I like that her relationship with her father is a bit like two people who are constantly pleasantly surprised by each other. What about you, Julie?
J: I love Aerin too. I love how much she accomplishes through sheer courage and determination. And I love how some of the problems that loom large for her as a child are shown later from a different perspective. The book worked for me almost through and through. I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll carefully say that I wasn't particularly compelled by a battle she has toward the end of the book with a person of great power. And I don't think romantic scenes are McKinley's forte.
Marirosa Mia: The lovely mother daughter team of Julie and Isabel are back! And discussing THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK. Check our their review below.
Julie: I read Kristin Levine's THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK for one reason: My younger daughter, Isabel, told me more than once that it was really good; that I would like it; and that I would probably end up recommending it on this blog. Needless to say, she was right. It is really good; I'm delighted to have read it; and here I am, recommending it. Actually, I'm mostly going to ask Isabel about it, after I give a brief description.
THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK tells the story of a twelve-year-old white girl named Marlee who lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1958, when many whites are fighting racial integration of the schools. Painfully shy, Marlee becomes fast friends with Liz, a new girl at school who helps Marlee dramatically with her self-confidence. Then, one day, Liz vanishes from school; Marlee hears that Liz is in fact "colored" and has been passing for white. Told by adults of both races that their friendship is too dangerous to continue--and for good reason--Marlee and Liz are nonetheless unwilling to give it up.
Now I'd like to ask Isabel: What did you particularly like about THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK?
Isabel: I like that the main character tells the story the way a real person would talk, instead of the author sounding like she's trying to write a best-selling novel. I like that Marlee seems like the type of person I want to be, even though some of her decisions are a little crazy. She does things I would want to do, but those things are scary. And I think the topic is really interesting, and that it was something that probably could have happened back in that time. It felt real, but it was still exciting. The author really put me back in time, so I felt like I was there.
Julie: Would you recommend this book to someone your age? (Isabel is nine.)
Isabel: Yes. I already have.
Julie: If you could change one thing about this book, what would you change?
Isabel: Nothing. I wish the bad things in the book and in history hadn't happened, but those things in the book made me feel for the characters and want to keep reading. And reading about them in the book made me wish even more that they hadn't happened in history.
Julie: I agree with pretty much all you've said. Marlee's voice is very natural; and she takes risks that keep the book's tension very high, in a realistic way. The story never feels forced. And the book does a great job of teaching about a frightening and painful and important part of our past--really putting the reader there--without ever feeling didactic. It's such a good book. I hope many others find it and love it.
Julie: In case I'm not the only one who missed this short film, centered on books, which won the Oscar this year for best animated short--here it is. Isabel saw it in school and badgered me until I watched it. Thank heavens for Isabel!
Julie: Ever wished a child in your life would appreciate a book you love, instead of drivel? (Why can't I get either one of my girls to finish THE HOBBIT? THE HOBBIT, for Pete's sake!) Time critic Lev Grossman has written this terrific essay on the subject: "Hating Ms. Maisy: The Joy, Sorrow and Neurotic Rage of Reading to Your Children."
Its focus is picture books, and it's funny and insightful. Enjoy! Or don't, if you'd rather not. I have bigger reading battles to fight here at home. Like THE GOLDEN COMPASS. What if I can't get my girls to appreciate THE GOLDEN COMPASS? Won't I have failed them then?
Llama Llama Wakey-Wake – Llama Llama Nighty-Night by Anna Dewdney
Marirosa Mia: Inspired by Julie’s post about a child’s favorite stories versus a parent’s, I decided to write a small post about my niece and her love for Llama Llama.
First off, let me say, I’m a Llama Llama fan. I love the art; the rhymes make me laugh; and I can’t get enough of his adventures. I’m all for Miss Dewdney and her llama friend. When my niece was born I got the picture books for her, then hid them until she slowly but surely grew out of her eating-books phase.
Now that she’s out of the paper-is-yummy stage of life (she’s turning two), her books have a longer shelf life; but they still need to be sturdy. So when I found out Dewdney was coming out with Llama Llama board books, I cheered! FINALLY. A Llama Llama book that wouldn’t easily be torn to shreds by her energetic fingers. (It’s not her fault--she really loves books, you guys).
So I immediately got my niece LLAMA LLAMA WAKEY-WAKE and LLAMA LLAMA NIGHTY-NIGHT - a charming duology about this particular camelid’s daily routines. My niece wasted no time making them a part of her own nighttime ritual: WAKEY-WAKE and NIGHTY-NIGHT had to be read to her before she went to sleep. Not just one of them, but BOTH; one did not exist with out the other. As soon as I would finish NIGHTY-NIGHT, my niece would reach across to WAKEY-WAKE and say “LLAMA WAKEY-WAKE, Titi. Read, Titi.” By the end of the night I would read each book at least twice before she was satisfied.
But I didn’t mind at all! The LLAMA books are adorable and this duo is short and cute. My niece even memorized her favorite lines and repeated them after me, like I’d just told the funniest joke or said words of wisdom. So if you’re looking for some nighttime reading for the young’uns and have already breezed through GOODNIGHT MOON and others, I recommend a certain llama for you to try!