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Results 1 - 25 of 185
1. The Environmental Book Club

No, I am not going to claim that The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is an environmental book. Though, I suppose I could. When I'm looking for environmental books, I look for experienceThe Snowy Day is all about a child's experience of winter, of a snowy day. Peter is immersed in a winter environment.

What I'm going to do, instead, is argue that environmental children's books need a The Snowy Day.

Back in 1962, The Snowy Day broke the color barrier in mainstream children's publishing. Little Peter is African-Amercan. But nowhere in this book is there anything that says, "Oh, this is an important story I'm telling here. Here is a lesson for us all--we're all alike when it snows!" Deborah Pope of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation said in a NPR interview that Peter's ethnic background "...wasn't important. It wasn't the point." She said that Keats "wasn't necessarily trying to make a statement about race when he created Peter." He was a white illustrator who had never used a child of color in his work and decided he would. The Snowy Day is the story of a kid having a good time in the snow. He just happens to be black.

So many children's environmental books are heavy with lesson. The mini-lectures undermine whatever story is there and destroy the experience of being immersed in some natural element. I'd love to see an environmental equivalent of The Snowy Day, in which child characters simply go about their business recycling or composting or living in a solar house or living as a part of some ecosystem or another without hammering readers about the significance of what they're doing.

Maybe for the time being I'll settle for The Snowy Day as an environmental book and read and watch little Peter  surround himself with winter.

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2. Another Series That Ends Well

I got the last Skulduggery Pleasant book, The Dying of the Light by Derek Landy, in from England a few months ago. I didn't rush to read it, because I'd found the last few Skulduggeries a little slow and long. Not this one. This one moved along, I kept wanting to find more time to read it, and I would have been happy to have read still another book about the bony one.

The last few books, including this one, jumped around with points of view. With the other books, I felt that slowed everything. With this one, not so much. I began to feel with this book that when you're using multiple points of view in a book, the book may not be one person's story as much as it is the story of some kind of event in which many people have a point. That was a bit of what was going on here. Instead of being just Valkyrie Cain's story (these books have never really been about Skulduggery Pleasant), The Dying of the Light is the story of how a group of magical folk battle the seemingly unbeatable Darquesse. Valkyrie is a significant part of that, but it's not just her, which is why the point of view switches seemed workable.

Two particularly interesting bits:
  • Every now and then, the scene in Dying of the Light switches to what appears to be a totally different story involving an unnamed Irish woman in the U.S., a mortal, and a couple of evil types we know from an earlier book. Oh, and a dog. We're not even sure who the woman is until the end. This is the kind of thing that I would usually become very impatient with. I loved it. Who is she? What's going on here? And when?
  • Unlike many fantasy authors, Landy addresses the issue of Christianity. As in, if there is a magical world with gods, as there is in the Skulduggery Pleasant universe (most are insane and Valkyrie has punched one), what about the Judeo-Christian concept of God? I've wondered about that with, say, the Percy Jackson books. If the Greek gods are real, does that mean Baby Jesus isn't? In The Dying of the Light that issue is discussed. "Is there a God?" Valkyrie's mother asks Skulduggery. And her uncle says, "My wife and I go to mass every Sunday...Don't you sit there and tell me there's no God." And Skulduggery doesn't. He just can't tell him that there is.
So, great stuff in this book, which I'll be passing on to my niece. Sigh. We've finished our series. What's next for us?

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3. Environmental Book Club

The picture book Winston of Churchill: One Bear's Battle Against Global Warming by Jean Davies Okimoto with illustrations by Jeremiah Trammell teeters between being preachy and instructive and clever and witty.

Winston is a polar bear near a town named Churchill in Manitoba, Canada. He wears glasses and is always holding a lit cigar, much like another Winston named Churchill. Bear Winston is in a position of polar bear leadership, much like British Prime Minster Winston was in a position of human leadership. The polar bears are facing the melting of ice in Hudson Bay due to human pollution, much like the Brits were facing invasion by the Na...No, that's kind of a stretch. But when Bear Winston rallies his bears, he does sound a lot like British PM Winston rallying his people.  '"We will for fight ice," boomed Winston. "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender."'

That's what makes this book clever and witty, the whole whole bear-doing-Churchill thing. Because a polar bear isn't Winston Churchill, and the incongruity is funny.

But then you get to the lesson stuff. '"Ice is melting because it's getting too warm around here and people are doing it with their cars and smoke stacks. And cutting down trees."' I'm not saying that's not true, but instruction is awkward, to say the very least, in fiction. Winston of Churchill even includes a page from a book Winston of Churchill wrote on global warming to make sure to get the educational stuff across. Though I'm going to take a wild guess that I'm not the only person who skipped it.

But here's the clever and witty thing about that book written by Winston of Churchill--Winston Churchill wrote books, too!

The illustrations in this book are marvelous and very engaging, and I think kids will be attracted to the bears and some of the humor. Some will be left recalling that human actions are wrecking ice for those neat bears. It will probably be adults with some knowledge of a World War II historical figure who will enjoy this book the most.

Winston of Churchill won the Green Earth Book Award for Children's Fiction in 2008.


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4. The End Of My Cybil Season Reading

I finished the last book I'd taken from the Cybils lists last night, and not a moment too soon. The finalists for the Cybils Award will be announced tomorrow.

I love the premise for The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods. Violet Diamond is an eleven-year-old biracial child whose black father died before she was born. She has never met his family because his mother originally objected to her son marrying a white woman and later, we learn, was so devastated by her only child's sudden death in an accident that she couldn't deal with the family he created with his wife. Once she'd recovered, staying away from them had become a habit.

I find that believable, by the way.

Violet's loving maternal family is extremely white,  and she lives in a very white, upper-middle class world. Her mother is a neonatologist, and her late father was a medical doctor as well. Her white grandmother runs some kind of on-line business and her white grandfather is enjoying retirement, cooking and playing golf. Violet wants for nothing, materially or emotionally. Except that half her identity is missing. Just not there.

She is aware that her black grandmother is a well-known artist, and when she finds out that grandmother will be in a neighboring city for an exhibit, she gets her mother to take her to the opening. Violet and grandmother meet, and Violet ends up being exposed to the half of her family history she's never known.

As I said, I love the concept and love the artist grandmother. I felt as if the story of Violet's exposure to her family took a while to get started, though.

For another take on biracial children meeting an unknown grandparent, check out Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything In It (Hmm, similar title.) by Sundee Frazier.

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade fiction category.

After a couple of months of Cybilizing, I feel more up-to-date on recent children's lit than I have in quite some time.

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5. And Now For Something Totally Different

I just finished three fantasy books in a row, mainly because I needed to get them back to the library in a certain order. You'd think fantasy would be different, wouldn't you? As in, it's not real world stuff, so it should be different. But when you read so much of it, there's a certain sameness. And then real world YA is often very similar in its own real world way.

Which is why The Tyrant's Daughter by J. C. Carleson is so exciting. It's real world, but very different YA real world.

Laila is a princess, daughter of the murdered king of an unnamed, presumably Middle Eastern country. Except after she has resettled with her mother and brother in a seriously modest two-bedroom apartment outside Washington, DC she realizes that no, she's not a princess at all. Mainly because her father was never a king. He was a third-generation strongman tyrant and when he wasn't being Dad at the palace, he was behaving in a typical tyrannical way.

Laila has a terrific voice, slightly reserved and stiff as she describes, for instance, her appreciation of her new American friend's kindness even though she can't help noticing that she dresses like a prostitute. She's a kind person, herself, recognizing that a classmate is suffering because her parents are divorcing and becoming attracted to that nice guy who works for the school paper. But  those traditional YA experiences pale compared to those of a fifteen-year-old whose father was gunned down in his home on her uncle's command, who saw her mother covered in her father's blood, whose life was saved by a CIA operative. The Tyrant's Daughter isn't about the world of teens. It's about a teen in the world.

What's missing from this novel is cliched nasty teenagers. There are no mean girls. There are no bullies. There are no jocks trying to force themselves on girls. Adults might find the CIA operative familiar, as well as the brilliant, manipulative widowed tyrant wife. But I don't think they appear often in YA.

So that's just the basic set-up to this thing. As the truth about Laila's family is slowly revealed to her, the fact that this book is a political thriller is slowly revealed to readers. Why is that CIA op hanging around? What's he paying Laila's mother (but not very much) to do? With whom? Why is her mother talking to Laila's uncle, the tyrant who had her tyrant father killed?

And what will Laila's involvement in all this be? She is a tyrant's daughter, after all.

This is a marvelous book, extremely well written. But it's undercut a bit by the essay on women in the Middle East that follows. Even though the essayist ties it to The Tyrant's Daughter by questioning what will become of Laila after the end of the action of the novel, I think most readers are going to wonder why it's there and feel that this great reading experience is being turned into some kind of lesson.

The Tyrant's Daughter is a Cybils nominee in the YA Fiction category.


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6. Wouldn't This Make A Neat Little Sitcom?

When I picked up The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy from the library, I told the librarian that I'd heard the book was like The Penderwicks but with boys and two gay dads. She said, "Ah, bringing the story into the present." I think that is the case. I liked The Penderwicks very much and found it contemporary, probably compared to/contrasted with Little Women, which it is a spin on. But I also thought "This book, simply by being a throw-back to Little Women and, perhaps, other pre-nineteen-fifties stories, is different." It had a retro thing going for it, it was "a story about sisters who worry about the family's honor and don't even mention a TV."

The Fletcher boys may be viewed as a little innocent and other-worldly not because they're retro in any way but because their stories and lives are very rooted in traditional child issues. This in spite of the fact that they are not genetically related, they are not even all the same ethnic background, and they are all the children of two men who are living and raising a family together. Each boy has his own storyline with his own issue:

  • Boy One is a popular athlete who is considering trying something different 
  • Boy Two is dealing with growing apart from a friend and moving on, as well as trying to interview the crotchety old guy next door for a school project
  • Boy Three is highly intelligent and has begged Dad and Papa to let him go to a school for the gifted
  • Boy Four has the "stereotypical" imaginary friend. Or does he?
You know the one problem none of these kids have? Those gay dads. The men are just there, doing any kind of dad stuff. There's nothing didactic or instructive here about accepting families with nontraditional parents. These guys have had children in the school system for a number of years now. People know they're there. Halloween parties are held. Ice rinks are made. Holidays are celebrated. Life goes on.

This is not to say that no one ever raises an eyebrow over the gay family. When they are attending an open house at a new school, oldest brother Sam feels compelled to address questions. "We were all adopted as babies. Our dads have been together for ages. They got married two years ago"..."Do you have any other questions? Want to know our birthdays? Height and weight?"

That was a neat way to handle back story, by the way. The newspaper article written by an eighth grade student about the Fletchers and their annual Halloween party is also a clever way to get the back story on how the Fletcher kids became brothers.

As I was reading this book, I thought this premise would make a charming sitcom. The various chapters here could be the first season's episodes. Then the story could expand with episodes about the gay dads dealing with their boys going to camp, getting babysitting jobs, heading to high school, getting jobs, dating girls. 

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is a Cybils nominee in the Middle Grade Fiction Category.

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7. The Environmental Book Club

Not every page of Earth-friendly Buildings, Bridges and More by Etta Kaner with illustrations by Stephen MacEachern contains Earth-friendly content. Nonetheless, this is quite a marvelous book about the work that goes into building a variety of structures and how many of them are being built greener.

Though this is a nonfiction work, the basic premise is that an imaginary girl has been traveling with her engineer parents, and we are reading her scrapbook. She is one enthusiastic kid. Among the things I liked about Earth-friendly B, B and M:

  • While there is certainly content related to large buildings being made more green, there's also material about designing buildings to withstand earthquakes and storms. It's as if technology is working with Earth, not against it.
  • It gives readers a good idea of the number of people, the variety of engineers, for instance, necessary just for the planning of a big construction project. This is important because it helps to explain why building takes so long and is so expensive.
  • Technology has had a bad rap for many years now. The 1950's were filled with movies about science gone amock. I've read that The China Syndrome was a turning point in how science was perceived by the public in the '70s, that technology would lead to very bad things. First some guy is messing around with creating life, and the next thing you know, dinosaurs are coming back and eating people. But in Earth-friendly Buildings, Bridges and More, technology is portrayed as a good thing. Mom, Dad, an uncle, and a cousin are all engineers, all involved in creating or fixing things. Even if you're not a fan of tech, this is different.
The stereotype about environmental living involves natural fibers, whole grains, and funny light bulbs. But it takes technology to make real environmental progress, to find ways to heat and cool enormous buildings, for instance. Earth-friendly Buildings, Bridges and More can help young people recognize that.


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8. Going Out On A High

I have liked some of M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales/Pals in Peril books better than others. (I know I'm nitpicking on this, but the name of the series changed for some reason.) I had to be won over by the first book, Whales on Stilts, but the second one, The Clue of of the Linoleum Lederhosen, was a hit. The third one I read (there are supposed to be six; I seem to have missed a couple), Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware wasn't a favorite. But the final book in the series, He Laughed with His Other Mouths, is an absolute gem.

The basic premise for all these books: A Tom Swift-type character named Jaspar Dash and a spunky girl (younger and spunkier than the 1930's era Nancy Drew) existed in their own book worlds that reflected the eras that created them, the 1920s/30s and the 1980s/90s. And yet, at the same time, they are existing in our own twenty-first century where Jaspar, in particular, is both having adventures but out of place.

In He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Jaspar is now that classic/stereotypical character, the young male in search of his father. Jaspar will go to the ends of the universe in search of dear old dad. He will accept some pretty outlandish behavior from his father figure. However, Jaspar is a young hero, and he recognizes evil when he sees it. Maybe he doesn't recognize it right away and maybe he needs a little push from his spunky girl companions, but he does recognize and behave as a hero should.

All of the books that I've read in this series operate on more than one level. You have the basic contemporary adventure. You have characters from an older book world trying to function in a contemporary one. You have the knowledge that children who are now old, if not dead, read the older books back when they were new and shiny.

With He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Anderson does something quite marvelous with footnotes. Using footnotes for witty asides has become a cliche since Terry Pratchett perfected doing that back in the day. But Anderson uses his clever footnotes not to be witty but to tell another story entirely, this one about a kid during World War II who was a Jaspar Dash fan. This is a complete story, a piece of serious historical fiction embedded in a fantasy satire/comedy.

As with all these books that I've read, I wonder how much of this wonderful stuff child readers will understand. Assuming they enjoy the layer with the contemporary adventure, will they get the jokes that are part of it? Will they get the nostalgic elements?

Kid readers aside, for those of us who do get He Laughed with His Other Mouths, it's pretty damn brilliant.

He Laughed with His Other Mouths is a Cybils nominee in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category.


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9. There's Always Time For The Library

You know how I've been whining about the time suck that is Christmas? Yes, I have.  Well, on Saturday, the Saturday before Christmas, I was doing the run-around thing. I got less done in the morning than I'd hoped, which is always the case, and then I had a particularly draining weekly elder visit. I had to stop at the library on the way home because I'd received one of those e-mail "It's over lady! You didn't even start that book, and it's too late now" messages. I had plans for when I got home. (I can't even remember what they were now.) So I was going to just run into the library with my books, shove them in the slot, and get the hell out of there.

Really, I was.

Then I'm in the parking lot, and I think, Bring your wallet, Gail. Bring your library card. Because you know what you need? You need some new library books. You'll feel so much better, so good, after just five minutes wandering around in this building. Maybe ten.

And I was right. A library is so incredibly calming. Oh, my gosh. It's like soaking in a hot bath. Maybe because I soak in hot baths with a book.

I only picked up a few things, because I'm not greedy, one being The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara. This is a sharp looking picture book with a distinctive style. Plus it's a quick, charming story about a little girl librarian working at night to make everything right for her patrons.

Is that not the perfect library book for someone who has just had a calming experience at the library?


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10. How Will We Live Our Afterlives?

Here's the basic set-up for The Devil's Intern by Donna Hosie: Hell and "Up There" are just places people go to after they die. While there are definitely evil folk in Hell who suffer horribly, some people, like our teenage protagonist Mitchell, seem to end up there for random reasons. For them, Hell is pretty much a really boring, overcrowded place. They hold jobs and can change. Mitchell's good friend, a Viking prince who died in battle at sixteen, has learned to read in Hell.

Mitchell is an intern in the accounting department and through his boss is able to get his hands on a device that will allow him to time travel. His plan is to go back in time with his three best (dead) friends to relive and change their deaths. Mitchell, in particular, wants to get to live the life he missed out on because he was hit by a bus.

There's much that's entertaining and intriguing in this book. There's plenty of narrative drive once the group finally gets on the road. But I had a hard time with the "paradox" business that Mitchell kept talking about. If these dead kids changed their deaths, what does that do to their afterlives where they were best friends and even two couples? The things that happen at each of their deaths that only happen because of something else that happened and could that be changed? Well, I was watching an episode of Dr. Who this afternoon that I couldn't follow, either. The where-are-we-in-time thing is difficult for me.

While I was reading The Devil's Intern, I wondered if it was really YA or was it an adult book with teen characters? One of the big factors in determining YA is supposed to be theme. YA themes often involve young people working out how they're going to live their lives. At first, I thought the characters in The Devil's Intern were coming to terms with how they had lived their lives, which would be adult. However, you could argue that they are working out how they're going to live their afterlives, bringing us around to YA territory again.

Hellbent by Anthony McGowan is another YA book set in Hell. Interesting how totally different they are.

The Devil's Intern is a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category.

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11. Characters. It's All About The Characters.

A clever, spunky girl who keeps a journal and is dealing with a parent's tragic illness. Doesn't that sound like a stereotypical children's book, the kind adult gatekeeper's just love?

That was my first impression of The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern. In fact, I considered giving up on this one early on. Before long, I was very glad I didn't.

Twelve-year-old Maggie Mayfield is brilliant, knows it, and loves everything that goes along with being smart. She is given a journal in which she begins writing a memoir while sitting in a hospital room with her obviously critically ill father. This is all in the prologue. You can see why I wasn't immediately entranced.

But Maggie has a truly marvelous voice. She reminded me very much of Flavia de Luce, a child character of about the same age in an adult mystery series, not just in her intelligence and enjoyment of same, but in her relationship with her two hot, older sisters. There is antagonism there, but the older sisters also keep an eye out for Maggie, which she may not always recognize. Maggie also sets out at one point to cure her father of multiple sclerosis, just as Flavia sets out to do something miraculous and impossible for a parent in one of her books.

Maggie's memoir deals with the year between her eleventh and twelfth birthdays, the year when her father's illness took a turn for the worse, something her family couldn't protect her from, try as they would. Hmm. My college knowledge of memoir is that it's a recollection of an event the significance of which is not clear until after it happens. That pretty much fits the situation here.

One thing I found odd with this book was it's 1980s setting. Why? I kept wondering. So that dad could be the aging hippy he is here? So that the author can talk about decades old music? So that Maggie wouldn't have the Internet available to her, because the Internet would have made it a lot harder to keep knowledge of her father's illness from her? No, in an author's note at the end of the book we find out that The Meaning of Maggie is autobiographical. I can't believe I've never read an autobiographical children's book before. If so, was it this good?

The Meaning of Maggie is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade fiction category.

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12. I Stumbled Upon A Couple Of Charmers

I think these are the only two picture books I read off the Cybils list. (I've read myself into a mild coma, so I can't be sure.) They are both particularly engaging.

I read Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Christian Robinson first and was delighted. Gaston does not exactly fit with his teapot poodle siblings, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La. Does his mother care?  Not a bit.

One day this family is out at the park where they meet another family of dogs with a member, Antoinette, who doesn't fit in with her siblings, Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno. Quelle horreur! Has a terrible mistake been made?

Gaston is all about feeling right as well as looking right. It's amusing and quick and kind of deep. I did wonder if some kids reading this will learn about the possibility of being switched at birth and be a little shaken. But, hey, literature is dangerous.

Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle is one of those books in which the pictures tell the tale. There are no words. I can't recall when I've seen a book in which facial expressions and body language--even on the part of the penguin--did such a terrific job of conveying emotion and action.

Gaston and Flora and the Penguin are both Cybils nominees in the fiction picture book category.


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13. More On Susan Juby


I liked Alice, I Think by Susan Juby very much, but I'm not sure what the story is here. This may be one of those books you have to be zenny about and just experience.

Alice is the offspring of crunchy parents who homeschooled her because on her first day of traditional first grade (she didn't attend kindergarten), she showed up dressed as a character from The Hobbit. Things didn't go well for her. One could say that learning to read early leads to no good.

I was never a hundred percent sure why Alice was seeing a therapist, unless it had something to do with poor socialization because she was homeschooled. It was probably one of her parents' ideas. Alice heads out to regular school at fifteen, inspired by her younger brother who has always attended school. He may have been too bright for their parents and had some instinctual knowledge that you just don't dress up in costumes for school. Alice says outright that she has no problem with playing favorites. She definitely prefers her brother to her mother and father.

Oh, and Alice aspires to be a cultural critic.That is a fantastic aspect of the book.

Juby describes Alice, I Think as a Teen/Adult book, and I think that's very apt. There are aspects of this book that adults are going to find more entertaining than I think teens will. The section on the people holding some kind of memorial to the late, lamented Princess of Wales, for instance, is probably far more meaningful to adults than the younger than seventeen-year-olds who don't remember the world-wide mourning at her death. As much as I liked the cultural critic business, that might be for your more sophisticated teen readers, too.

Some of you may remember that my first Juby book was Home to Woefield, definitely an adult novel published in 2010. Next I read her teen book Getting the Girl, published in 2008.  I thought the main character was wonderful, "like a younger, less raunchy, undamaged Seth from Home to Woefield." Alice, I Think was published in 2003, and I think the young girl in the 2010 Woefield might be a variation on her.

Interesting to read so much of an author's work and see her world.

Alice, I Think has a sequel. In addition, a one-season TV series was made in Canada. Yes, I may try to get hold of it. If I watch it, you can be sure I'll let you know.


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14. Because I Loved Historical Fiction

I picked up A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller as a sort of return to my teen reading when I was into historical fiction. Mad, Wicked Folly was a bit of a roller coaster experience in which I went "I'm loving this," "No, it's a torn-between lovers scenario," "Wait, something different is going on here," "Yes, I love the art stuff."

Vicky is the child of upper middle class parents in 19 ought England. These are rigid folks who have specific expectations of their daughters. Vicky, however, has a talent for art and a willingness to study it. I loved the art aspect of this book. I don't have any desire to create art, myself, my interest is in its historical and cultural aspects. I loved all that in this book. I knew nothing about the pre-Raphaelites. Now I'm beginning to know something about them.

Vicky also becomes involved with the suffragist movement in England. Loved that, too. Waller uses the term "suffragette" instead of "suffragist," which always annoys me because I learned that the "ette"ending is derogatory. However, in her end notes she explains the suffragist/suffragette issue, definitely to my satisfaction.

The torn-between-two-lovers thing, which was a little predictable to this experienced reader, was far more palatable to me because of the great art and feminist world that it existed in.The teenage Gail who read historical romances would have been far more appreciative.

Reading this book made me realize that there is a way to get me to read romance. Have some really good content of another nature in the book.

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15. Vacation Reading

I blew through the two most recent issues of The Horn Book while riding in the car off and on for more than two weeks last month.

The July/August issue was also the annual awards issue. This is never one of my favorites, but this year it ran an article by Elissa Gershowitz called Newbery 2014 that was essentially about books that didn't make the cut. It has just a little bit of the tone I saw this past year in articles about why the hell Tatiana Maslany didn't get an Emmy nomination for every clone she plays on Orphan Black. Usually the awards coverage in The Horn Book is incredibly respectful and, um, maybe just a little bit warm and fuzzy? I liked this change of pace.

Reviews I found interesting:

A Girl Called Fearless by Catherine Linka. I was reading the review and thought, Gee, this sounds like The Handmaid's Tale. The reviewer thought so, too. That's not a bad thing.

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang. Because it's by Gene Luen Yang.

Hi, Koo! by Jon J. Muth. I liked the panda.

The September/October Horn Book carried a story on Robert McCloskey by Leonard Marcus and Folklore vs. Fakelore by Jane Yolen.

Reviews:

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy. Maybe The Penderwicks for guys?

Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy, illustrations by Sue Heap.  A toddler Red Riding Hood. Hahahahahah.

Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh, illustrations by Wendell Minor. I like art books. I saw a couple of Hoppers at the Carnegie Museum of Art, though, and I was kind of disappointed. Does Minor do him better?

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16. Environmental Book Club

I've said before that my idea of an environmental book is one that immerses readers in some kind of natural experience. I'm not sure that Lifetime, by Lola M. Schaefer with illustrations by Christopher Silas Neal,  really does that. As the Kirkus reviewer said of it, "Is this book about the natural world? Counting? Statistics? Solving math word problems?" But the natural world is in there.

I can't say I know a lot about math. But what seems to be going on in Lifetime is an introduction to the concept of counting as well as the recognition that counting things is part of life. This isn't a traditional counting book, as in "1 papery egg sac," "2 caribou," "3 alpacas." It's just about counting. You can count the number of antlers a caribou will grow and shed in a lifetime. (10) You can count the number of beads a rattlesnake will add to its rattle. (40)

There are all kinds of animals out there, and you can count things related to them.

Hmm. Maybe there is an immersive experience here, one in which we take a human created activity and apply it to the natural world that animals live in.

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17. Environmental Book Club

How does a cookbook fit in with my interest in environmental books that provide an immersion in some kind of natural  experience? Pam McElroy, one of the editors of The Green Teen Cookbook, Recipes for all Seasons Written by Teens, for Teens, (Laurane Marchive is the other) writes that "When it comes to food, going green" is, in great part, about shopping seasonally and buying locally. That's a lifestyle, a daily experience. McElroy also says, "Our eating habits form such an important part of our daily lives that questions of what we eat are transformed into questions of who we are. We don't say, 'I eat a vegetarian diet.' We say, 'I am a vegetarian.'"

This cookbook actually includes essays. In my experience, you have to be a bit of a foodie to read essays on cooking, and I don't know how many teenagers have that much of a commitment yet. But I very much like that editors McElroy and Marchive respect their potential readers enough to include them. They also do some neat things with taking the same recipe and changing it according to the seasons and the availability of fresh ingredients.

The recipes here include basics like French toast and tuna salad, swing into your more veggie type things (fried tofu with peanut dipping sauce), and take a shot at what some of us think of as more demanding fare (risotto with arugula pesto). The Green Teen Cookbook is a classy work that takes its subject seriously while also recognizing that people need to know how to cook regular food.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

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18. Was "Cress" Worth Paying A Fine For?

It most definitely was.

Cress is the third in The Lunar Chronicles, which began with Cinder, a book I definitely enjoyed. Scarlet I wasn't quite so taken with. I'm back on board with Cress, though.

What Cress does really well is get readers into the story without leaving them mystified because this is part three of a serial and who remembers what happened in part two? Book One was a clear and clever Cyber Cinderella story. Book Two was an intriguing take on Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, but connecting it to Cinder's story a little awkwardly. The awkwardness is gone in Book Three.

Cress is a techie Rapunzel figure, trapped on a satellite for years doing the evil queens bidding. She is also an inexperienced romantic who believes the space cowboy she ends up leaving the satellite with is the hero of her dreams. It makes sense that she gets pulled into Cinder's scooby gang, which is plotting to save a Prince Charming from having to marry an evil Moon Queen who is planning to...

That's enough.

There's some romance going on in these books. It's pretty clear to me that all kinds of couples are going to come out of these Chronicles. I don't usually care for romance. But there are clever things going on with these people. Cress, for instance, is such an over-the-top sucker for romance and the object of her affections is so bad-boy questionable that there is almost a little parody going on there.

This is a serial, and I do wish I'd been able to read them in a binge instead of over a few years. That's pretty much my only complaint at this point.

Cress is a Cybils nominee in the YA Speculative Fiction category.


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19. I Did Some Reading For Halloween

I'm not big on reading holiday books these days. I'll often think that it would be nice to read something related to Christmas during December, but my mind runs to things like Hogfather and I never get around to reading even those. I ended up reading Zeke Meeks vs the Horrendous Halloween by D.L. Green with illustrations by Josh Alves because I heard on Facebook yesterday that the eBook edition was on sale for 99 cents. I love an eBook sale and Zeke Meeks is a series for young readers, something I was interested in a few years ago.

And thus I read a Halloween book.

ZM vs the Horrendous Halloween is a book for kids in the early grades. It involves a realistic story about one thing after another going wrong for Zeke on his big day, Halloween. Nothing is random here. Everything that's brought up about a character is used at some point. There is a dry, sly humor that works and good use of recurring material. I'm thinking, for instance, of the Princess Sing-Along lyrics, which I liked from the very beginning. "Don't feel that you have to change. It's okay to act real strange." 

Zeke Meeks vs. the Horrendous Halloween was quite a nice Halloween surprise because it's different from so many of the other books for this age group I've seen, books that didn't involve any kind of intelligible story because of the random action, characters, and so-called humor. If The Horrendous Halloween is representative of the rest of the series, other Zeke Meeks are worth giving a try.

Regarding the eBook edition: Some eBooks with illustrations don't translate terrifically to the eBook format. This one was just fine. The 99 cent sale is supposed to be continuing this week, though I don't know when the week ends. 


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20. A Mystery With Romance

I definitely liked All The Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry, which I'm going to describe as a literary mystery. (Though, wait, it's also a romance.) I liked it enough that I tried to find time during the day to sneak in some reading. I liked it even though there were some odd little quirks that would normally bother me.

  • It took me a few pages to grasp the book's episodic nature, even though the episodes, often quite short, were clearly defined by Roman numerals. The episodes were usually in the main character, Judith's, present, when she is living in a socially rigid village where she has returned after having been kidnapped around the same time that one of her friends was murdered. But sometimes the episodes were in her past when she was kept captive by a dangerous man who released her after maiming her so she couldn't speak.
  • I was a little put off by the lack of definition as far as the setting was concerned. It seemed to be a Puritan world to me, but the text never makes that clear and an attack from the homeland is not consistent with the Puritan era, at least to my knowledge.
  • On a superficial level, Judith seems to be like Belle in the Twilight series. Men are mysteriously attracted to her. However, though the author doesn't clearly state it, I was able to see the logic of what was happening. In one case, Judith was not actually an object of desire, she was merely available. In another she is being pursued by someone hoping to take advantage of her. Only with the third man is there a real relationship. I can believe one.
Among the many things I liked about this book:
  • It doesn't scream "I'm a mystery!" Though the book is supposed to have received a lot of attention last year when it was published, I didn't know anything about it. The fact that this is a mystery was sort of slowly revealed as I was reading it.
  • There's a big battle scene early in the book. It was what would have been THE big climactic scene for many writers, but it came early. I definitely was wondering what was going to follow that.
  • A secondary young woman character could have been a stereotypical twenty-first century teen bitch placed in a Puritan village. But she's not.
  • Judith's slow understanding of what happened to friend Lottie, as well as of things she saw while a captive, and her slow reveal of what she knows, make sense.
I think an argument could be made that some scenes border on melodrama, what with one character throwing herself upon her injured beloved, another throwing himself off a cliff, and still another stripping naked to ford a water in river. Evidently I like a little melodrama.

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21. Environmental Book Club

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French is one of the first pieces of fiction with an environmental setting/theme that I think I've read for this project. It deals with a boy from the city who learns of an endangered old growth forest of redwoods and gets involved with a child-directed initiative to save it. It's very much a city-people-with-money-bad, rural-farm-people-good story. That kind of stereotype is not a big drawback in children's publishing because child readers have not had time to become widely read. Old scenarios are new to them. In fact, Operation Redwood won the Green Earth Book Award in the children's fiction category in 2010. For this adult reader, the most interesting part of the book was the Author's Note in which French, an environmental lawyer, describes the history of redwood preservation, which also gave some idea of the inspiration for some of the events and characters in the book. The novel includes a lot of information and could easily be a reading list staple for school environmental units.

Reading this book raised lots of questions for me about environmental fiction. For one thing, what exactly is an environmental theme? In the case of Operation Redwood, I would say that it's that humans have a responsibility to act as caretaker for the Earth. But what would other themes be? Are there other themes? Is there any way for a writer to use the humans-as-caretakers theme without making it instructional instead of thematic?

And what about my desire to see environmental books that include an immersion in some kind of natural experience? Can you get that particular type of sense of place while working a plot?

How does Saving the Planet & Stuff fit in with all this? Thematically, that book is about having to decide how we'll live our lives. There's an environmental setting. There are environmentalist characters. If there's any kind of environmental theme, I'd say that it's the difficulty of living an environmental life.

Wait! Wait! Go back three paras at which point I asked for other environmental themes! I just came up with one!

Well, I look forward to reading more environmental fiction and obsessing on this further.




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22. Facts Here, Facts There, Facts Everywhere

I was very taken with Peter Sis's book The Wall back in 2008, so when I heard he'd written and illustrated another book, this one about Antoine St. Exupery, for whom I'm a groupy, I was enthusiastic. I've never really understood The Little Prince, and I don't really get Sis's The Pilot and the Little Prince, either. It's beautiful (and very well reviewed), but I'm embarrassed to say that I find the layering of information difficult to manage. There's narrative, sometimes there's little facts in circles in a straight line above the narrative, and sometimes there are facts sprinkled above that. An older child who is into nonfiction and just plain loves facts might eagerly suck this stuff up. This older reader is stuck in her ways and needs a more linear reading experience.

 A New York Times reviewer said, " Sis suggests in his new title that the Pilot of “The Little Prince” is Saint-Exupéry and the Little Prince his child self." I totally missed that. I'm not saying it's not there, just that I didn't get it.

However, I did pick up on the fact that Guerlain named the perfume Vol de Nuit for one of St. Exupery's books. That's the kind of thing a St. Exupery groupy wants to know.

The Pilot and the Little Prince is a Cybils nominee in the picture book category.

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23. You Don't Have To Love Mockingbird To Like This Book

I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora is about a group of teenagers who set out to increase To Kill a Mockingbird's popularity by making it appear to be disappearing and thus unavailable. Everyone wants what they can't have, right? Part of their plan is to take their project viral. Some readers might think that they were unrealistically successful with that. All the characters, teen and adult, are amusing and clever, though some readers might find that they sound a lot alike.

Yes, yes, "some readers" is me.

Okay, let's talk about the intriguing things in I Kill the Mockingbird:

  • This book really is about literate teens. These kids aren't just spokespeople spouting the party line on classics. They can actually discuss a book. They know why not everyone loves To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance. No, no, I am not one of the dislikers. But, nonetheless, I understand why not everyone embraces it and appreciate that mindset being expressed.
  • This book is about religious observance. I do not mean it is about dogma or doctrine. It is about kids who go to religious services and religious school. There are hundreds of thousands of young people who attend the services related to whatever faith their families follow. I don't see a lot of that reflected in children's books.
  • This book does have some of the "this-is-an-important-book-about-death" thing going on. Though it's more an-important-book-about-not-dying-and-having-to-get-over-it thing. And, yes, that's different.
  • I liked the father's reason for thanking God--it's always good to be polite. And the mother's argument that we are only able to enjoy living because we're able to pretend we're not going to die. And the discussion of "Ordinary Time," a season in the Christian church calendar? The main character gives a meaningful explanation of its significance. Though I was a Catholic child, I didn't learn about the church calendar until I was a Sunday school teacher in a Congregational church. I thought Ordinary Time was just that period of the year when nothing else was happening.
I liked I Kill the Mockingbird for all the odd little things I found in it. It's getting all kinds of loving  from people who probably liked it for other reasons.

I Kill the Mockingbird is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade category.


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24. Come On. No One Else Gets A "Jane Eyre" Vibe Here?

When I was a teenager, I was a big fan of historical romance. In college, I would read Georgette Heyer during exam weeks to relax. As an adolescent, I really liked that "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, Well, maybe you're not so bad" storyline in a historical setting. So I picked Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge off the Cybils Young Adult Speculative Fiction nomination list for one reason and one reason only: The main character has been raised to marry and murder a demon who has had control of her country since before she was born but falls for him before she can complete her task. Okay, it was paranormal and not historical, but I was dealing with a speculative fiction list, after all.

Now, though I seem to read a lot of fantasy, it's mainly because a lot of children's and YA books are fantasy. It's not because I'm so fond of it. I don't get excited about fantasy elements, as a general rule.  I'm not crazy about houses that are always changing, for instance, as the one in Cruel Beauty does. I was kind of mystified about who the Kindly Ones were in this book, especially since there seems to be an alternative Greek mythology thing going on here and where do the Kindly Ones fit in? But that didn't matter because the demon was very witty and clever and our protagonist wasn't a particularly nice person, which I like in a heroine.

Yes, Teen Gail would have loved this thing. Cruel Beauty should be on a list of teen vacation reading that is totally inappropriate for school papers. 

But If You Want To Write A School Paper On It, Try Talking About Jane Eyre


However, if someone really wants to sell this as a subject for a high school paper, I think they might be able to do a Jane Eyre comparison. Cruel Beauty is being marketed as a Beauty and the Beast meets Greek mythology tale, but I kept thinking of Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre was not assigned reading for me when I was a teenager. I read it on my own, as I read a great many things back then. I did not find it particularly memorable, except for the scene where poor Jane sits on the sidelines during an evening event at Mr. Rochester's house. That probably speaks volumes about my adolescence. I didn't become a fan of Jane's until I re-read it in 2003 after reading The Eyre Affair. The Good Reading Fairy had hit it, and I've become a bit of a Jane Eyre groupy, looking for and reading retellings. Cruel Beauty may not be an intentional retelling, but I still think an enterprising student could make a case that would convince a teacher to at least accept a Beauty/Jane Eyre paper.

Jane Eyre is about a prickly young woman who doesn't inspire affection in traditional relationships, such as the one with her aunt. In the course of acquiring what is by the standards of her time a good education, she is not treated very well. She enters a wealthy (wealth is power) man's home as a governess. Said wealthy man is unhappy and bitter over the life he has been forced to live. These two damaged, unromantic people find something in each other.

Cruel Beauty is about a bitter, angry young woman, her father's least favorite child, the one he bartered away to a demon. He provides her with what is by the standards of her world a good education so she can kill the demon he's marrying her off to. The plan will mean her death as well, explaining her bitterness and anger. She enters a powerful male's home as his wife. Said powerful male is amusing and attractive but resigned to a fate he brought upon himself, one we're not aware of for a while. These two damaged, I can't say unromantic because I'm sure we're supposed to think they are, people recognize something in each other.

In Jane Eyre, there's a madwoman in the attic. In Cruel Beauty, there's a little something in one of the house's many rooms.   

Jane and Mr. Rochester's story in Jane Eyre is framed with a beginning piece about Jane's rough youth with her family and boarding school and an ending bit about her suffering after she leaves Rochester. Nyx and Ignifex's story in Cruel Beauty is framed with a beginning piece about Nyx's rough youth with her family and an ending bit about her suffering after she and Ignifex are separated. Some have argued that Mr. Rochester's blindness is a punishment for what he planned for himself and Jane, a punishment that was alleviated when Jane returned to him. A clever high school student could argue that Ignifex was punished for all he had done, a punishment that was alleviated when Jane returned to him.
 
There you've got it, folks, the beginning of a Cruel Beauty/Jane Eyre English paper.

Wait! There's more! It's kind of a stretch, but if enterprising students wanted to, they could claim there's a bit of a torn-between-two-lovers thing going on in Jane Eyre what with Jane being proposed to by both Mr. Rochester and that creepy minister named St. John. The author of Cruel Beauty does something interesting with the torn-between-two-lovers cliche.

Okay, lads and lasses. You're welcome to this material, but put it into your own words.

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25. A Lot Further Down The Romance Road

Back in 2012, I found Daughter of Smoke and Bone to be both romance and fantasy, two genres I'm not fond of in and of themselves. I need something more in those genres, such as a strong character, or, in the case of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a mystery. Who was the main character, Karou? Why was the guy with the wings always hanging around her? There was a journey thing going on, as Karou discovered who and what she was. I can't find a post on Days of Blood and Starlight, the second book in the trilogy, but I recall feeling it was a connector, which second books in trilogies often are.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters, the last book in the trilogy, is more clearly a romance. There's various other things going on, but the real significant storyline here is all about Karou and Akiva. Their eyes meet across a crowd. There are many paragraphs about kissing. Lots of relationship stuff. There are teases for the reader, too. Will they kiss? Someone shows up at the cave opening and No! The kiss is off! Will they get together for some real hot and heavy stuff? Oh, they're getting closer...closer...No! Akiva has disappeared!

You can probably tell I'm not that keen on Karou and Akiva anymore. No, Liraz was my big interest in this book. I won't tell you who she gets together with because that's the best surprise.

The Significance Of Romance And Marketing "Gods And Monsters"

 

I happened to read A Billion-dollar Affair in the Oct. 24 issue of Entertainment Weekly while I was reading Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Sales of romance are huge, there's an enormous market. At the same time, though, author Karen Valby says the "long-ridiculed" genre is "dismissed by the critical mass." As a result, I started wondering how Dreams of Gods and Monsters is being marketed. Is it being promoted as a fantasy or paranormal romance, which could bring it to a large and appreciative audience? Or is it being marketed as something else, perhaps to avoid the romance label?

In a USA Today interview, Taylor talks about working on a short story for a romance anthology, so she thinks of romance as a genre she works within, at least some of the time
. I think there is a romance thing going on in the publisher's marketing of the book, but it's subtle. The publisher's copy at its website includes the line "They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love." There's also talk of various beings fighting, striving, loving, and dying.

Wait. I just realized. My romance reading is limited to historical mysteries with couple characters. I don't read advertising copy for romance novels. "They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love" may be exactly how a romance novel is marketed.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters is a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category.
From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera, and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy. - See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/laini-taylor/dreams-of-gods-monsters/9780316134071/#desc
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/laini-taylor/dreams-of-gods-monsters/9780316134071/#desc
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/laini-taylor/dreams-of-gods-monsters/9780316134071/#desc
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/laini-taylor/dreams-of-gods-monsters/9780316134071/#desc
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/laini-taylor/dreams-of-gods-monsters/9780316134071/#desc
They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love. - See more at: http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/laini-taylor/dreams-of-gods-monsters/9780316134071/#desc

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