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26. Monday Review: OBSIDIAN MIRROR and THE SLANTED WORLDS by Catherine Fisher

You wouldn't necessarily think time travel, alternate worlds, mad science, and faeries would go together so well. But when it comes to Catherine Fisher, they really do. I loved her books Incarceron and the sequel Sapphique for their unique... Read the rest of this post

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27. Review: Where She Went

Where She Went by Gayle Forman. Dutton Books, 2011. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Sequel to If I Stay.

So, um, spoilers for If I Stay.

Three years ago, Adam's girlfriend, Mia, was in a terrible accident.

And now? It's been years since they've seen each other. Mia left for college, and moved on with her life. Adam eventually did the same. Now, they are both successes, he a rock star with an actress girlfriend while Mia is a rising cellist. They haven't spoken to each other in years.

And then they meet. Almost strangers.

The Good: If I Stay was told from Mia's point of view, in a place between life and death, as she struggled with the question of whether or not to stay with the living, despite the tremendous loss of her family in a car accident.

I loved If I Stay: I cried, cried about how perfect and flawed Mia's family was, cried at the decision she had to make, cried at her choice to go on, alone. I picked up Where She Went expecting it to pick up Mia's story and to find out about what happened when she woke up.

Where She Went was not what I thought it would be, but instead was what I needed it to be.

It is Adam's story, after three years have passed. To my shock, Adam and Mia have broken up. And as I read and found out more, it clicked, what Where She Went was about:

Grief. And living with loss. And rebuilding. And those things, those are terrible, horrible, the world has ended moments. Just because Mia chose to go on, didn't mean that she woke up and was the same person. It didn't mean that it was somehow easy to know how to navigate having no mother, no father, no brother. And just because Adam and Mia were everything to each other, it didn't mean that they were, at that moment, the best thing for each other.

So Mia walked away from Adam, because her grief and loss were hers. And if I had to place a bet onto why this is three years later, and why it's not by Mia, my bet would be that what Mia went through was too raw and awful and confusing. Where She Went is a punch in the stomach, and had it not been told when and how it was, it would have been even more overwhelming. Instead of being hard to read, it would have been impossible to read.

With Where She Went being Adam's story, the reader can also see and experience and appreciate Adam's own loss. No, it's not the same as Mia's, but it is a loss. He loved her family, he loved Mia, and then he was left without that and without knowing who he was without her.

Sometimes people are meant to be together, but that does not mean they are meant to be together always. Or forever. And I'm glad that not only does Where She Went explore that, but it also gives two people a second chance. They needed to be apart. But can they come together, again?

In many ways, I liked this book better than If I Stay. So, yes, a Favorite Book Read in 2014.


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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28. Review of the Day – Issun Bôshi: The One-Inch Boy by Icinori

IssunBoshi1 265x300 Review of the Day   Issun Bôshi: The One Inch Boy by IcinoriIssun Bôshi: The One-Inch Boy
By Icinori
Little Gestalten
ISBN: 978-3-89955-718-3
$19.95
Ages 4-8
On shelves now

In the past, determining a bias in the publication of folk and fairytales was a fairly straightforward business. Too many European maids of hair as fair as the silk of corn on your shelves? Bias. But now we’re in the thick of a downturn in the publication of folk and fairytales. We not only need diverse fairy and folktales but we need more fairy and folktales at all! If you can find more than twenty published in a given year, that’s considered a good year. But desperation can lead to poor choices. A librarian might clutch at straws and snap up any such story, just so long as it fulfills a need. In the case of the latest adaptation of the story of Issun Bôshi to the picture book format, however, put your mind at rest. You rarely find such a meticulous combination of stunning art and melodic text as located here. Adapted from a Japanese folktale, Issun Bôshi by Icinori is a stunner. Regardless of whether or not you collect fairy and folktales, you need this on your shelf. Stat.

IssunBoshi4 300x208 Review of the Day   Issun Bôshi: The One Inch Boy by Icinori“We’d like a little boy, any size at all. / We’d like him little, we’d like him small. / We’d love him tiniest of all.” Be careful what you wish for? Not really. When a childless peasant and his wife sing this song on their walk to and from the fields where they toil they are nothing but delighted when the wife gives birth to a kid that would give Stuart Little a run for his money. A clever fellow, Issun Bôshi (for so he is named) grows up and when the time comes he sets off to seek his fortune with just a needle and a rice bowl to his name. Along his travels he is waylaid by a fowl and tricky ogre. Issun Bôshi leaves him and continues further, but when a nobleman’s daughter is taken by that same sneaky demon, it is Issun Bôshi and his incredible size that saves the day once and for all.

Think of all the great fairytales and folktales that involve little people. You’ve your straight fairytales like Thumbelina and Tom Thumb. Your tall tales like Hewitt Anderson s Great Big Life and folktales like Pea Boy. That’s not even mentioning all the tales of elves and dwarfs and what have you. It hardly matters what culture you’re in. Little people, ridiculously little people, are a storytelling staple. I suppose tiny people make for instantaneous identification. Haven’t we all felt insignificant in the face of our great big world at some point in our lives? Wouldn’t we love it if we could overcome our shortcomings (ha ha) and triumph in the end? One of the interesting things about Issun Bôshi is that by the end of the tale he does attain tall status but only as a last resort. When offered height earlier in the tale he shows no interest whatsoever. Sure, he’d like to prove to the nobleman’s daughter that he’s more than a living doll, but as the ending of the book notes, “People say that Issun Bôshi sometimes misses being small.” Read into it whatever you want (missing childhood, missing the simple life when you’ve become “big” in the world, etc.).

IssunBoshi2 300x208 Review of the Day   Issun Bôshi: The One Inch Boy by IcinoriThe art of the picture book translation is such that as an American who essentially speaks just one language, I am in awe. I’ve also read enough stilted, awkwardly translated books for kids to know when a book is particularly well done. All we know about the translation of Issun Bôshi is that the publication page says “Translation of French by Nicholas Grindell & Co. (Berlin & Ryde)”. So who knows whom the genius was who worked on this book! Whoever it was, it was someone who knew that this folktale would have to be read aloud many times, often to large groups. Heck, the very last line of the book is so beautiful and subtle that I’ve gone back to it several times. It reads, “People say that the nobleman’s daughter has taken a different view of Issun Bôshi and that their story is not yet over.” I vastly prefer that to a romantic ending or even the old standard “and they lived happily ever after.” This ending suggests that there could be more adventures to come and that their fate is not as fixed as your standard folktale would assign. Heck, we don’t even know for certain that they become romantically involved.

IssunBoshi3 300x208 Review of the Day   Issun Bôshi: The One Inch Boy by IcinoriText text text. What about the art? Because it seems to me that in this world you’re often only as good as the pictures that accompany your tale. The author/illustrator of this book is listed only as the mysterious one-namer “Icinori”. Naturally I had to learn more and so in the course of my research (research = looking up information about the publisher) I discovered that Icinori actually two artists. On the one hand you have Mayumi Otero, a French illustrator. On the other you have Raphaël Urwiller, a graphic designer and illustrator. No word on who precisely was responsible for the wordplay here. All we really know is that for this book the art appears to consist of beautiful prints. The Japanese artistic influence is clear, though Icinori has come up with a very distinctive look of their own overall. The primary colors in the palette consist of blue, orange, and yellow. Best of all, there’s time for two-page silent spreads of pure unadulterated beauty. For example, once Issun Bôshi has set out to see the world the story slows down enough for you to witness a gorgeous river landscape, the water and sky a pure white while all around vegetation and animals vie for your eye. I love too how Icinori isn’t afraid to shift scenes between a busy city street scene and the tri-colored drama of Issun Bôshi being dropped down an ogre’s gullet.

There is a sense of relief that one feels when a book turns out to sound as good as it looks. Covers can be misleading. A title that looks like a gem on the outside can yield particularly dull or overdone results inside. Issun Bôshi, I am happy to say, never disappoints. It skips, it hops, it dives, it sings. It entertains fully and leaves the reader wanting more. It does not, therefore, ever come across as anything but one of the finest folktale adaptations you’ve ever seen. High praise. Great book. Must buy.

On shelves now.

Source: Sent to library for purchase.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews:

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29. Call for Submissions: Muzzle Magazine

Muzzle Magazine publishes poetry, visual art, interviews, book reviews, and performance reviews. We are currently open to submissions in all categories. Please use our online submissions form.

Deadlines:
Issue Deadline
Non-Themed Fall 2014 August 15, 2014 (extension)


Mental Health Issue November 1, 2014
(Guest Edited by Rachel McKibbens)

Only previously unpublished work will be considered for publication. Simultaneous submissions are fine, but please let us know immediately if your work is accepted elsewhere. Please include a 50-100 word bio in the "Cover Letter / Biography" field of the online submissions form.

For questions about submissions, please email:

muzzlemagazineATgmailDOTcom (Change AT to @ and DOT to . )

(Note: Submissions sent via email will no longer be considered as of 1/16/2011; submissions must be sent via our online submissions form).

Poetry Submissions: Please send 3-5 poems at a time. Include all poems in one DOC or PDF file.

Additionally, please make sure your name does not appear anywhere in the document or submission title; our editors like to view submissions blindly.

Upon acceptance of poetry submissions, poets will be invited to send audio recordings of their work.

Visual Art Submissions: All art submissions must be attached as JPEG files. Please send no more than 5 pieces in one submission. In the file name for each piece, please include the title of the piece (ex: Alight.jpeg).

Interviews: Interviews should be less than 2000 words. Each interview must be attached as a PDF or DOC file.

Reviews: Reviews should be less than 1500 words. Book Reviews should be of poetry books published within the past 2 years. Performance Reviews should be of poetry performances that occurred within the past 6 months. Each review must be attached as a PDF or DOC file.
Want a Muzzle Editor to Review Your Poetry Book? If you would like Muzzle to consider reviewing your book, please send a hard copy to:

Muzzle Magazine
ICO Stevie Edwards
312 N. Geneva Street, #5
Ithaca, NY 14850

PDF's for pre-release books may also be sent via email to:

muzzlemagazineATgmailDOTcom (Change AT to @ and DOT to . )

Please note that sending your manuscript does not guarantee it will be reviewed.     

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30. How Not to Write a Review, Unless You Want to Sound Like an Insufferable Prig


I know it's been all Snowpiercer all the time here lately, but this time it's not so much about that particular film as about how one reviewer has chosen to write about it, since his choices are ones that I detest in reviews, despite (or perhaps because of) how common those choices are.

I am, in other words, simply here to register a complaint.

There is a good argument to be made that we should not expend any time or attention on bad writing. Life is short, and there's plenty of great writing out there to read. But I am ignoring that argument for the moment, despite all it has to recommend it. Because sometimes something is just such a perfect model of What Not To Do that I can't help but want to scream against it.

The item in question is a review at The Los Angeles Review of Books by Len Gutkin. It is a negative review, but that's not the problem. I'm glad there are negative reviews of Snowpiercer, even though I loved the film, because I am suspicious of anything that seems to garner universal acclaim.

It would be nice, though, if the negative reviews could be something more than, "Waaaaa! I don't like this movie and other people do! I'm right, they're wrong! Waaaaaa! Pay attention to me!"

You think I exaggerate? Let me do something the review does not, and offer a bit of evidence...



The first paragraph is mostly summary, but the term "critical darling" is obviously there to let us know that this will not be an altogether positive review. Critical darlings are one step above warm piles of wombat dung, after all. Not only are they darlings (which we all know must be killed, not loved), but they're also the darlings of that most disgusting of creatures, the critic. (Critics who proclaim their distaste for all those other critics are the best, of course, because they're on Our Side. They're One of Us. We the people.)

The second paragraph begins with an overview of director Bong Joon-Ho's career, with The Host praised for its satire and wit, but the review quickly plunges into invective. "Snowpiercer, too, has moments of satirical wit, but it is mostly an incoherent slog, a tendentious allegory punctuated by overproduced fight scenes meant to be virtuosic but that are, in fact, merely busy — glossy object lessons in the asininity of action-movie convention."

Here's where we begin to see the problem with this review. The reviewer wants to universalize his own taste, prejudices, inclinations, ignorance, etc. He wants to become Us. He could not write, "I found Snowpiercer to have some moments of satirical wit, but mostly it seemed to me to be an incoherent slog..." No, it must be stated more categorically: It is this.

Of course, you might argue that since this is a review written by one person, the fact that it is one person's opinion is obviously implied, and saying, "It seems to me..." or "I found it to be..." over and over is annoying. That may be true, but writers find ways around it without declaring themselves God Of All Truth. And yes, certainly the omniscient pose is, we all know, just a pose. It's the choice to take such a pose that I object to, because it leads to an astounding arrogance of tone, a tone of absolute faith, utter certainty, pure infallibility.

Perhaps I so bristle at it because I've fallen into such a tone myself at times. It's hard to avoid, I know. But worth the effort. The pieces of writing that I most regret having published are reviews composed with such a tone.

I could complain about the inaccuracy of Gutkin's adjectives, or the factual inaccuracy of his "in fact" ("merely busy" — no, that is, in fact, wrong), or the blithely dismissive phrase "the asininity of action-movie convention" — but let's instead look to how he justifies his opinions. After such assertions, there must be evidence, no? "The entire movie looks, somehow, both very expensive and frustratingly cheap." Another assertion. Followed by a comparison to a video game and another assertion: "which would have been impressive 17 years ago." Oooh, snap! But not evidence. (How does it look like that? Point to specific elements. Describe.)

"Snowpiercer is about class revolt, a theme whose timeliness has tricked critics into admiring it." More assertions and more arrogance: All those other people have been tricked! Our reviewer is the only one who can see the truth! This sentence is followed by a snide contradiction of David Denby's review: "'Is revolution being hatched in the commercial cinema?' The New Yorker’s David Denby was moved to ask. No, David, it’s not." This is a contradiction, not an argument. Also, it's puerile. (Why not just call him Dave? You're at Yale, Lee, you could, you know, jump on MetroNorth and hang out with Dave in NYC. I'm sure he'd love to chat with you. He might even offer you his job, because obviously you're so much smarter than he is!)

This is followed by some more snide summary in which the writer works hard to declare himself superior to the work he is reviewing.

(Have we found evidence for Gutkin's assertions yet? I'm not seeing much. But let's continue...)

There's commentary on Chris Evans's performance as Curtis. "Has there ever been a well-known actor so pitifully without any of the requisite gifts as Evans?" Yes, I'm sure there has been. But maybe he meant the question as hyperbole. No matter. It completely misses the idea that perhaps the performance is exactly what was needed, because perhaps there is a critique of heroic action movies built into this movie. I don't require a reviewer to agree with such an idea, but it's always worth considering that perhaps the item under review is doing what it is doing on purpose, and perhaps your job as a reviewer is to look for that purpose, and, before you reject the item as simply "bad", to consider this possible purpose and adjust your critique accordingly. But no, as any blowhard can tell you, it's much easier and more fun to hurl insults.

The review continues: "To be fair, he’s given some pretty hopeless material. Recounting to Namgoong the traumatic early days of life on the train, Curtis fights back tears (I think that’s what he’s doing) and asks, 'You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like.' After several seconds of grimacing: 'I know that babies taste best.' I laughed so hard I thought I’d be asked to leave the theater." Again, skipping over the snotty tone, maybe that's the point.

(But let's not entirely skip over that snotty tone. Gutkin presents himself as one of those people who likes to stay above it all, distantly judging anyone who might find the scene actually moving. I can see him at the theatre, laughing away while some poor schlub next to him wipes away a tear, and Gutkin turns to said schlub and whispers, "What a little crybaby you are. You probably watch the Hallmark Channel, don't you?")

He moves on to Tilda Swinton. To Gutkin's credit, he recognizes that Tilda Swinton is a god. He then references Coriolanus, to show what a real writer can do with similar themes, and Joan Didion, who long ago sneered down her sneery nose at Dr. Strangelove — and so Gutkin decides that because he, too, likes to sneer, he has rights to Didion's nose, and he uses it to sneer down at Snowpiercer, which is, in fact, worse than Strangelove. (Imagine that! The horror!) But Swinton's good: "Only when she’s onscreen does Snowpiercer completely hold one’s attention."

The above sentence is yet another example of the arrogance that oozes from this review. What if somebody said, "There actually are other moments that completely held my attention." How would Gutkin respond? He has left himself only two choices. He could say, "In that case, I am wrong," or he could say, "You may think your attention was completely held, but you are a victim of false consciousness, and I, a Ph.D. candidate at Yale University, know more than you, and therefore I pronounce you wrong. Return to the hole out of which you crawled, worm!"

The next paragraph is, surprisingly, all praise for various actors, ending with, "And as Wilford, Ed Harris is as good as you’d expect him to be."

Just as we're beginning to think that Gutkin is maybe not the total creep he seemed to be, he doubles down: "But not good enough." Ohhh, feel the burn!

The final paragraph continues: "Snowpiercer wouldn’t, really, be worth writing about at all, except that a number of prominent critics — and not just David Denby — seem inexplicably convinced of its virtues." If the egomaniacal shallowness of this sentence isn't obvious to you, just look at that inexplicably there. According to this sentence, none of the critics who have praised Snowpiercer have explained their praise. None of them. Instead, they've just written thousands and thousands of versions of, "Snowpiercer, Snowpiercer, rah rah rah! Yadda yadda yadda! It's great, great, great" Meanwhile, Gutkin has offered the devasting and incontroverible evidence of, "No, David, it’s not."

We're not quite done yet, so maybe there's some evidence in the final sentences. Gutkin actually quotes two reviewers, Dana Stevens and Andrew O’Hehir, but he doesn't quote their reasoning, he just contradicts their opinions, and quotes O'Hehir on Harvey Weinstein's initial desire to cut the film's length, which then leads to the final sentence: "Weinstein should have been allowed his cuts — the thing would at least have been shorter." (The thing. It's not even a movie, it's just a thing, something easily dismissed. Get this thing out from under my Didion nose! Such things are not allowed at the Yale Club! Go away, thing!)

This made me wonder if the reviews he quotes are as vapid as his own.

Here's a paragraph from Stevens (and not an entirely positive one, at that, despite Gutkin's accusation that Stevens gushes):
Unless you have a huge appetite for gnarly fight sequences, this seizing-control-of-the-train section gets a bit long and structure-less, though I will say this for Bong: His action scenes never build or resolve according to familiar Hollywood formulas. Any character, no matter how narratively important or beloved, can get the ax (often literally) at any time, which gives the battle scenes a palpable sense of emotional as well as physical suspense.
The qualifier at the beginning of that first sentence is an interesting contrast to Gutkin's arrogance. As someone who does, in fact, have a pretty good appetite for "gnarly fight sequences" (an accurate description of some of the central scenes in the film), I appreciate Stevens's caveat. Indeed, I can see how somebody less interested in cinematic mayhem than I might get bored during a lot of Snowpiercer, just as I could see they might get bored with any action movie, no matter how accomplished. If you don't like that sort of thing, you don't like that sort of thing, and you'll have a hard time telling the good stuff from the mediocre or even bad. (It's like me trying to tell you if a football player is any good. Amateur football games look just like professional ones to my eyes. But I'm not writing reviews of football games.) Further, Stevens makes an assertion about those action scenes (they "never build or resolve according to familiar Hollywood formulas") and then follows that assertion with reasoning.

The O'Hehir review is more descriptive and also full of assertions without evidence, and, truthfully, doesn't do a very good job of explaining its praise.

It's easy to write negative reviews. It's fun, in a nasty, trivial sort of way. It lets you blow off the steam that built up from being subjected to an experience you didn't enjoy. I've done it. I get it. But a negative review needs to offer something more than just its negativity.

I've come to expect, perhaps foolishly, a little bit more of the L.A. Review of Books. Shouldn't an editor say, "Hey, you've clearly had fun writing this, but you should know that you come off sounding like an ass, and it might help to put a little bit more explanation in there to give some evidence for your criticism. You disguise the lack of substance with a tone of omniscience, as if the obviousness of your complaints isn't worth the effort of explanation. I mean, have you ever considered that maybe the problem isn't the movie? Maybe, really, the problem is ... you?"

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31. Ilene Cooper: How A Book Gets Reviewed - And Why It Doesn't

The author of over 30 books for young people, Ilene Cooper is a senior editor at Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association. And she just received a starred review by Kirkus for her most recent book, A Woman in the House (and Senate).



She starts by saying that

"Being a reviewer who is also a writer makes me a better reviewer."

The audience is full of mostly published authors, listening and taking copious notes.

Booklist is a recommended-only journal of reviews, where every book reviewed is something they recommend for librarians to buy.

Booklist gets 8,000 children's and teen books every year (they don't discriminate between trade and self-published books - what matters to them is if it looks professional.) They have a staff of four editors, an editorial assistant and 30 outside reviewers. All together, their team does 2,500 reviews a year. That means 5,500 books don't get reviewed.

The challenge: They have to figure out which books they're going to send out to possibly get one of those review.

We're here to understand the why behind that decision process.

As they unpack the books, they decide what goes out right away. (When they look at books, they can tell how it fits into the world of the genre. They're seeing everything.)

First, they pick out the books that are high demand. Like the new John Green book. Because there is a lot of buzz around those books, and they want to be the first, if possible, to review them.

Second, they start setting up book trucks. Every two weeks they're going to send out whatever's on that truck to their reviewers. What gets on the truck? The next level - authors they've heard of, popular series, a lot of nonfiction, and if there are certain genres they don't get a lot of (like MG mysteries.)

And Third, the books they think will be hot (or the publisher thinks will be hot.) Some galleys have a marketing plan on the back - which shows them the publisher is investing in generating buzz. Or a personal letter from the publisher - that's pretty unique and they really pay attention to it.

What makes her want to put a book on the truck?

Ilene walks us through what she considers for each category that makes her want to put a book on the truck. For Picture Books, Nonfiction, and Novels - MG and YA. She even explains how stars work!

The session ends with questions and answers...

It's invaluable information.

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32. Harry Potter read-alikes

These titles — all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine — offer a mix of magic, adventure, humor, and suspense that will enchant Harry Potter fans.

duane so you want to be a wizard Harry Potter read alikesSo You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane [Young Wizards series] (Delacorte, 1983; reissued by Harcourt, 2003)
A splendid, unusual fantasy tells of the efforts of two young wizards, Nita and Kit, to keep the world from being overcome by the Prince of Darkness. This twentieth-anniversary edition of the first book in the series contains a new afterword and a short story about Nita and Kit, originally published in Jane Yolen’s anthology Dragons and Dreams.

jones charmed life Harry Potter read alikesCharmed Life, The Magicians of Caprona, Witch Week, The Lives of Christopher Chant, Mixed Magics: Four Tales of Chrestomanci, Conrad’s Fate, and The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones [The Chrestomanci Chronicles] (reissued by Greenwillow, 2001)
This series is linked by the character Chrestomanci, a magician with nine lives, whose charge is to maintain the balance of magic among parallel universes.

jones merlin conspiracy Harry Potter read alikesThe Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow, 2003)
The story is narrated in alternating chapters by Roddy (a girl) and Nick. Roddy and a friend summon Nick, an unknown helper, when they discover that the Merlin (in charge of magic) has been murdered. Writing on an epic scale, the author deftly creates a fully realized fantasy universe with a series of worlds that resemble one another and our own but with distinct differences. This is a vastly absorbing story of good battling evil.

nix sabriel Harry Potter read alikesSabriel by Garth Nix (HarperCollins, 1995)
A compelling fantasy has for a heroine Sabriel, the daughter of the necromancer whose duty it is to protect the Old Kingdom: unlike other mages, he has the power to bind the dead as well as bring the dead back to life. The story is remarkable for the level of originality of the fantastic elements and for the subtle presentation, which leaves readers to explore for themselves the complex structure and significance of the magical elements. The story continues in sequels Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr and Abhorsen; a prequel, Clariel, will be published in October 2014.

prineas magic thief Harry Potter read alikesThe Magic Thief written by Sarah Prineas; illus. by Antonio Javier Caparo (HarperCollins, 2008)
Precocious pickpocket Conn becomes an apprentice to Nevery Flinglas, a wizard trying to stem the loss of magic from the city. Readers will find the familiar character types and straightforward plotting of this amiable tale (akin to that of another well-known boy wizard) easy to grasp, while the evolving conflicts and distinctive setting will draw them on.

rutkoski cabinet of wonders Harry Potter read alikesThe Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski [Kronos Chronicles series] (Farrar, 2008)
Petra Kronos’s father has magical abilities to construct creatures out of tin and to make a wondrous weather-controlling clock. When the prince of Bohemia blinds Kronos, cutting out his eyes and magicking them for his own use, Petra resolves to steal them back from the prince’s Cabinet of Wonders. Rutkoski’s bucolic old-world atmosphere keeps her workmanlike plotting feeling fresh and fortuitous. The story continues in sequels The Celestial Globe and The Jewel of the Kalderash.

stephens emerald atlas Harry Potter read alikesThe Emerald Atlas by John Stephens [Books of Beginning series] (Knopf, 2011)
Siblings Kate, Michael, and Emma discover a book that transports them back fifteen years in time. Thus begins their adventure with the Atlas, one of three Books of Beginning–powerful magical volumes whose secrets brought the universe to life. This imaginative and enjoyable series starter explores the bonds of family and magic while setting up an inevitable good-versus-evil showdown. The story continues in The Fire Chronicles.

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33. The Scarecrows' Wedding: Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

Book: The Scarecrows' Wedding
Author: Julia Donaldson
Illustrator: Axel Scheffler
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

The Scarecrows' Wedding is the latest picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axle Scheffler, the team that created the beloved book The Gruffalo. The Gruffalo is one of my husband's favorite books to read aloud to our four-year-old daughter. They like the rhythm of the text, combined with the every-so-slight scariness of "the deep dark woods." The Scarecrows' Wedding has a similar rhythmic feel. It is a book that begs to be read aloud. The subject matter is a bit lighter, though there is a risk of death near the end of the book.

In The Scarecrows' Wedding, scarecrows Betty O'Barley and Harry O'Hay decide to get married. Betty draws up a short list of her expectations for the wedding. Their farmyard friends help with some of these, but Harry ends up gong off on a quest to find "lots of pink flowers." While he's gone, a slick new scarecrow attempts to make time with Betty. But, of course, it all works out in the end. 

Here's an example of Donaldson's bouncy text:

"They hadn't gone far when some cows gathered round,
And the bells round their necks made a wonderful sound.
Ring-a-ding ding! Ring-a-ding ding!
"Oh, cows, will you please come and make your bells ring
For our wonderful wedding, the best wedding yet,
The wedding that no one will ever forget?"

That last bit, about the wonderful wedding that no one will ever forget, is repeated at intervals throughout the book, giving young readers a chance to chime in. There's subtle humor for adult readers, too, like the fact that the scarecrow who intervenes is called "Reginald Rake." He looks like a rake, too. 

Scheffler's illustrations are kid-friendly, with wide-eyed people and animals. The affection between the two scarecrows is conveyed via their companionable proximity and pink-cheeked smiles. The scarecrows move about as awkwardly as you would expect scarecrows to move, and there are tons of different types of animals to name and count sprinkled throughout the book. 

I believe that The Scarecrows' Wedding is going to make an immediate entry into my family's go-to bedtime reading list. It is a sure-fire hit, and must-purchase for libraries. This will be a great title to read to kids, alone or in groups, come fall. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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34. Review of the Day: S is for Sea Glass by Richard Michelson

SforSeaGlass1 300x246 Review of the Day: S is for Sea Glass by Richard MichelsonS is for Sea Glass
By Richard Michelson
Illustrated by Doris Ettlinger
Sleeping Bear Press
ISBN: 978-1585368624
$15.95
Ages 3-8
On shelves now

Every small publisher needs a staple. Something to keep them going through hard times. Years ago Sleeping Bear Press hit on the notion of writing books with the [letter] is for [word] format and they’ve kept up this abecedarian staple ever since. These are books that are fairly easy to dismiss, sight unseen. You assume you know what to expect. Never mind that they’ve a range of different subjects, authors, and illustrators. For the picture book snob, one glance at the title and you’re immediately dismissive. You think you know what to expect. And of course by “you” I really mean “me”. It was the fact that S is for Sea Glass was written by Richard Michelson that gave me pause. No fly-by-night poet he, I sat down with the book and was happy to find that my expectations weren’t just met but greatly exceeded. Chalk that up to my own personal prejudices then. In this book Michelson and artist Doris Ettlinger gracefully sit back and present to us a most thoughtful, meditative picture book on summer and sea and the relationship between the two. Absolutely lovely and original, this is a summer book of poetry worth remembering and revisiting year after year after year.

“A is for Angel” begins the book. Open it and here you’ll see a girl on her back in the sand. She swings her arms and legs up and down “Like I’m opening and closing a fairy-tale gate” creating sand angels behind her. Welcome to summer. To beaches and tides and those elements of the season a kid can’t wait to experience. Through poetry, Richard Michelson brings to life the little details that make a summer come alive. From doomed sand castles to morally superior seagulls to the child that dreams of someday living in a lighthouse so they’d never have to leave, Michelson places a good, firm finger on the pulse of the warmer months. Artist Doris Ettlinger accompanies him and brings to life not just the obvious moments of summertime but some of the softer more esoteric feelings conjured up by Michelson’s words. The result is a book that will almost smell to you of brine and surf, even in the coldest, frozen depths of the winter.

SforSeaGlass2 300x121 Review of the Day: S is for Sea Glass by Richard MichelsonWhat is the moment when a book flips that switch in your brain from “like” to “love”? It’s different for everyone. For some it might be a word or a phrase. For others a haunting image or illustration that conjures up a personal memory. In the case of S is for Sea Glass it was the poem “H is for Horizon”. It’s not out-and-out saying you need to contemplate the nature of infinity but it might well be suggesting it. After all, is there any point on the beach so wrought with possibility and promise? As Michelson writes, “If I travel the world or stay here on this beach, / The horizon will always be just beyond reach. / But it’s real as my dreams and it’s always nearby – / That magical line where the sea meets the sky.” Inculcating a kid in poetry that’s fun because the language is fun is as easy as the next Shel Silverstein poem. Inculcating a kid in poetry that’s fun because it expands your horizons (pun intended) and lets your mind wander free is much harder. Michelson manages it here.

The nice thing about the poems is that they aren’t the usual beach fare. Sure you’ll find the standard “O is for Ocean” or “W is for Wave” but Michelson has an impish quality to his selections. “E is for Empty Shells” isn’t just about the shells you find on the beach but also the fact that their innards have been consumed by YOU much of the time. “I is for Ice” isn’t about the cubes in a glass on a hot day but rather the strange and startling beauty of a beach in the blustery depths of winter. Some of the poems will take some practice to read aloud, so parents be ready. “B is for Boardwalk” for example eschews the regular ABAB rhyme scheme for something a little more visually exciting. “D is for Dog” in contrast contains both hard and soft rhymes. There are poems with AABB rhymes and even haikus like the one in “P is for Pail”. Michelson doesn’t distinguish or label the different types of poetry found here, so in terms of curricular ties that feels like a lost opportunity.

It’s always interesting to watch what a kid latches onto in a book like this. My 3-year-old has recently been on a beach books kick. We’d already exhausted Splash, Anna Hibiscus, Ladybug Girl at the Beach, Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach and many others when we came across S is for Sea Glass. My daughter enjoyed the poems, treating each one with equal interest, but the poem she kept going back to and appeared to be haunted by was “Q is for Quiet”. I suspect this may have a lot to do with the image in that book which also appears on the back cover. In it, a girl sleeps, half her hair dark, the other silver white in the moonlight. As she dreams a shoal of fish swim about her across the star strewn sky. Many’s the time we’ve read the book and just come to a dead stop at Q. No need to go further. She gets everything she needs out of this poem alone.

SforSeaGlass3 300x130 Review of the Day: S is for Sea Glass by Richard MichelsonCredit where credit is due to artist Doris Ettlinger then. I was aware of Ms. Ettlinger’s work thanks to books like The Orange Shoes (it tends to come up when patrons want picture books on class distinctions) and other books in the Sleeping Bear Press series. The sea appears to be particularly inspirational to Ms. Ettlinger, though. A strictly representational illustrator most of the time, here her watercolors find much to enjoy in the roaring pounding surf, the ice choked chill of a wintertime beach jaunt, the infinity of the deepest ocean, and that gray/brown gloomy beauty of a rained out beach. The “R is for Rain” sequence in particular is one of her loveliest. Credit too to “Y is for Year-Rounders” where seaside locals celebrate a town empty of tourists in the fall. In her version, Ettlinger conjures up a small town beach resort street at the end of the day, four family members and their dog just tiny black silhouettes against the blazing yellow of a setting sun.

When the weather warms and the leaves reappear on the trees, then it will be the time for families to pluck S is for Sea Glass from the topmost shelves of their bookcases for multiple reads by the seashore. We all do that, right? Keep our seasonal books apart from one another so that when the right time of year appears we’ve books ah-plenty to refer to? Well, if you haven’t before I recommend you start now with this one. Parents buy summery beach titles for their kids regardless of the quality. All the more reason the care and attention paid to “S is for Sea Glass” impresses. There are books a parent does not wish to read 100 times over to their offspring and there are books they wish they could read even more. This book falls into the latter category. A treat for eye and ear alike.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy given by author for review.

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Misc: A discussion with Michelson about the book on MassLive.

Videos: A peek inside.

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35. The Way to the Zoo: John Burningham

Book: The Way to the Zoo
Author: John Burningham
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

The Way to the Zoo by John Burningham is a picture book about a little girl named Sylvie who discovers a secret doorway in her bedroom that leads to a zoo. The animals are friendly, and sometimes Sylvie brings some of them back into her house. The small bear is cozy to sleep with, but the penguins make a splashy mess in the bathroom. And when Sylvie forgets to close the door to the zoo one day, chaos ensues. 

The Way to the Zoo reminded me a bit of Barbara Lehman's Rainstorm, and a bit of Philip and Erin Stead's A Sick Day for Amos McGee. All three books feature implausible events related in a completely matter-of-fact manner. My four year old daughter thought that The Way to the Zoo was hilarious, and asked immediately that I read it again. 

Burningham takes his time with the story. Instead of jumping in to where the girl finds and opens the door, she first glimpses the door from her bed, decides to wait to check it out in the morning, and then forgets, and doesn't look inside until after school the next day. He uses a relatively basic vocabulary, and explains what's happening in detail. I think that The Way to the Zoo could function as an early reader for some kids. Here's an example (all on one page spread):

"It was getting late. Sylvie had to get back 
to her room and go to sleep because she
had school again in the morning.

Sylvie asked a little bear to come back
with her. He did and slept in her bed

She made sure the bear was back in the
zoo and the door in the wall was closed
before she left for school."

This passage is, of course, also good for teaching young readers about foreshadowing. 

Burningham's illustrations are in pen, pencil pastel, and watercolor. The are minimalist, with only the faintest suggestion of backgrounds, lots of white space, and the details left to the reader's imagination. This isn't my personal favorite style of illustration - I couldn't always tell what kind of animal was being represented, for instance. But the pictures made my daughter laugh, particularly one involving birds in the living room, and another in which a rhino lies on the floor covered up in towels for the night. 

The Way to the Zoo has a timeless feel, support in particular by the apparent freedom that Sylvie has from parental oversight. It would make a nice school or library read-aloud for K-2nd graders. Recommended for home or library use! 

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick) 
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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36. The Empathy Exams

What a marvelous book is The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. A collection of essays published by the local Graywolf Press, it actually spent time a little time on the bestseller lists. Now having read it I understand why. It is a beautiful and thoughtful book that examines empathy from a variety of angles and in some surprising places.

The first essay, “The Empathy Exams,” sets the tone. Jamison is working as an actor, playing patient for medical students who are being scored on not only how well they diagnose and treat a problem but on how well they treat the patient. Do they show empathy?

empathy isn’t just measured by checklist item 31 — voiced empathy for my situation/problem — but by every item that gauges how thoroughly me experience has been imagined. Empathy isn’t just remembering to say that must really be hard — it’s figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see.

Between her experience as an actor for med student exams, Jamison weaves a story of her own medical problems, when she had an abortion and then heart surgery not long after. She has difficulty getting what she needs, getting any sense of empathy or caring from her own doctors; they don’t want to deal with her guilt or her tears and are dismissive of her fear. As a result, she demands so much from her boyfriend that he can’t deliver what she wants either:

I needed something from the world I didn’t know how to ask for. I needed people — Dave, a doctor, anyone — to deliver my feelings back to me in a form that was legible. Which is a superlative kind of empathy to seek, or to supply: an empathy that rearticulates more clearly what it is shown.

In the essay “Devil’s Bait” she attends a Morgellons Disease conference in Austin, Texas. People with this disease, seventy percent of whom are women, believe they have crawling, biting things under their skin as well as fibers growing through their skin. They end up picking at the “fibers” and scratching and itching themselves so much they cause very real sores that are sometimes so bad they become disfiguring. It is a delusional disease currently not recognized my the medical community. When treatment is given, it is generally an antipsychotic drug which many of the patients end up not taking because they reject their doctor’s diagnosis of delusional parasitosis. The question then becomes, one of “what kinds of reality are considered prerequisites for compassion”? Jamison wonders

is it wrong to call it empathy when you trust the fact of suffering but not the source? How do I inhabit someone’s pain without inhabiting their particular understanding of that pain?

She finds herself wishing she could

invent a verb tense full of open spaces — a tense that didn’t pretend to understand the precise mechanisms of which it spoke; a tense that could admit its own limits.

Jamison’s wide-ranging essays take us from a writer’s conference in Tijuana, Mexico, to Nicaragua when she was teaching kids and got punched in the face while walking down the street. The man took her wallet and broke her nose. We visit the silver mines of Potosí in Bolivia where the miners are doomed to be dead by the age of forty either from a mine accident or silicosis. It is big business for tourists to go to the mines and go down into them to see the miners are work. You are to bring gifts for the miners: sodas, sticks of dynamite, small bags of cocoa leaves. The gifts help you feel better when you get to leave and breathe fresh air again, knowing the men you just met will be underground for another five hours or more.

She goes on a guided tour of South Central Los Angeles and Watts. Run by former gang members the tour fee goes to help pay for the conflict mediation work they are also doing. As they drive around on an air conditioned bus, protected from the outside and being regaled with stories of gang violence, one of the guides talks of Rodney King and his beating by police. Jamison was only nine at the time and she remembers thinking that the police only would have hit him if he had done something wrong. The truth is far more difficult than that of course. So what good is taking such a tour?

The great shame of your privilege is a hot blush the whole time. The truth of this place is infinite and irreducible, and self-reflexive anguish might feel like the only thing you can offer in return. It might be hard to hear anything above the clattering machinery of your guilt. Try to listen anyway.

There is a wonderful essay on sentimentality and melodrama that tries to pinpoint just why we despise it so much yet desire it at the same time. And another in which she writes about three men who were wrongfully convicted as teens for murder and spent eighteen years in jail.

The book’s concluding essay, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” made me want to cry and cheer at the same time. Cry because a 2001 study revealed that women are less likely than men to be given pain medication. Instead, women are given sedatives. The essay discusses through literature and culture and personal experience the ways in which female pain is fetishized or dismissed. These days women are “post-wounded.” Instead of becoming an angel in our suffering we are supposed to pretend we aren’t suffering at all. But, Jamison asks,

How do we represent female pain without producing a culture in which this pain has been fetishized to the point of fantasy or imperative? Fetishize: to be excessively or irrationally devoted to. Here is the danger of our wounded womanhood: that its invocation will corroborate a pain cult that keeps legitimating, almost legislating, more of itself.

Jamison doesn’t come to any definite conclusion on how female pain might be represented, but she is certain that is should never be dismissed even at the risk of its being fetishized:

The wounded woman gets called a stereotype and sometimes she is. But sometimes she’s just true. I think the possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it. Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliché and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it.

Empathy of course is the solution. An open heart allows one to be empathetic to the suffering of others whether their pain comes from a delusional disease or a source that cannot be pinned down, or from getting punched in the nose. As she says in an early essay in the book, empathy isn’t just something that happens to us it is also something we choose:

to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, the dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I am deep in my own

A beautiful book guaranteed to make you think. I highly recommend it.


Filed under: Books, Essays, Nonfiction, Reviews

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37. Nonfiction Detectives

Two librarians review the best nonfiction books for children. 

http://www.nonfictiondetectives.com/

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38. Review of the Day: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

MadmanPineyWoods Review of the Day: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul CurtisThe Madman of Piney Woods
By Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic
ISBN: 978-0-545-63376-5
$16.99
Ages 9-12
On shelves September 30th

No author hits it out of the park every time. No matter how talented or clever a writer might be, if their heart isn’t in a project it shows. In the case of Christopher Paul Curtis, when he loves what he’s writing the sheets of paper on which he types practically set on fire. When he doesn’t? It’s like reading mold. There’s life there, but no energy. Now in the case of his Newbery Honor book Elijah of Buxton, Curtis was doing gangbuster work. His blend of history and humor is unparalleled and you need only look to Elijah to see Curtis at his best. With that in mind I approached the companion novel to Elijah titled The Madman of Piney Woods with some trepidation. A good companion book will add to the magic of the original. A poor one, detract. I needn’t have worried. While I wouldn’t quite put Madman on the same level as Elijah, what Curtis does here, with his theme of fear and what it can do to a human soul, is as profound and thought provoking as anything he’s written in the past. There is ample fodder here for young brains. The fact that it’s a hoot to read as well is just the icing on the cake.

Two boys. Two lives. It’s 1901, forty years after the events in Elijah of Buxton and Benji Alston has only one dream: To be the world’s greatest reporter. He even gets an apprenticeship on a real paper, though he finds there’s more to writing stories than he initially thought. Meanwhile Alvin Stockard, nicknamed Red, is determined to be a scientist. That is, when he’s not dodging the blows of his bitter Irish granny, Mother O’Toole. When the two boys meet they have a lot in common, in spite of the fact that Benji’s black and Red’s Irish. They’ve also had separate encounters with the legendary Madman of Piney Woods. Is the man an ex-slave or a convict or part lion? The truth is more complicated than that, and when the Madman is in trouble these two boys come to his aid and learn what it truly means to face fear.

Let’s be plainspoken about what this book really is. Curtis has mastered the art of the Tom Sawyerish novel. Sometimes it feels like books containing mischievous boys have fallen out of favor. Thank goodness for Christopher Paul Curtis then. What we have here is a good old-fashioned 1901 buddy comedy. Two boys getting into and out of scrapes. Wreaking havoc. Revenging themselves on their enemies / siblings (or at least Benji does). It’s downright Mark Twainish (if that’s a term). Much of the charm comes from the fact that Curtis knows from funny. Benji’s a wry-hearted bigheaded, egotistical, lovable imp. He can be canny and completely wrong-headed within the space of just a few sentences. Red, in contrast, is book smart with a more regulation-sized ego but as gullible as they come. Put Red and Benji together and it’s little wonder they’re friends. They compliment one another’s faults. With Elijah of Buxton I felt no need to know more about Elijah and Cooter’s adventures. With Madman I wouldn’t mind following Benji and Red’s exploits for a little bit longer.

One of the characteristics of Curtis’s writing that sets him apart from the historical fiction pack is his humor. Making the past funny is a trick. Pranks help. An egotistical character getting their comeuppance helps too. In fact, at one point Curtis perfectly defines the miracle of funny writing. Benji is pondering words and wordplay and the magic of certain letter combinations. Says he, “How is it possible that one person can use only words to make another person laugh?” How indeed. The remarkable thing isn’t that Curtis is funny, though. Rather, it’s the fact that he knows how to balance tone so well. The book will garner honest belly laughs on one page, then manage to wrench real emotion out of you the next. The best funny authors are adept at this switch. The worst leave you feeling queasy. And Curtis never, not ever, gives a reader a queasy feeling.

Normally I have a problem with books where characters act out-of-step with the times without any outside influence. For example, I once read a Civil War middle grade novel that shall remain nameless where a girl, without anyone in her life offering her any guidance, independently came up with the idea that “corsets restrict the mind”. Ugh. Anachronisms make me itch. With that in mind, I watched Red very carefully in this book. Here you have a boy effectively raised by a racist grandmother who is almost wholly without so much as a racist thought in his little ginger noggin. How do we account for this? Thankfully, Red’s father gives us an “out”, as it were. A good man who struggles with the amount of influence his mother-in-law may or may not have over her redheaded grandchild, Mr. Stockard is the just force in his son’s life that guides his good nature.

The preferred writing style of Christopher Paul Curtis that can be found in most of his novels is also found here. It initially appears deceptively simple. There will be a series of seemingly unrelated stories with familiar characters. Little interstitial moments will resonate with larger themes, but the book won’t feel like it’s going anywhere. Then, in the third act, BLAMMO! Curtis will hit you with everything he’s got. Murder, desperation, the works. He’s done it so often you can set your watch by it, but it still works, man. Now to be fair, when Curtis wrote Elijah of Buxton he sort of peaked. It’s hard to compete with the desperation that filled Elijah’s encounter with an enslaved family near the end. In Madman Curtis doesn’t even attempt to top it. In fact, he comes to his book’s climax from another angle entirely. There is some desperation (and not a little blood) but even so this is a more thoughtful third act. If Elijah asked the reader to feel, Madman asks the reader to think. Nothing wrong with that. It just doesn’t sock you in the gut quite as hard.

For me, it all comes down to the quotable sentences. And fortunately, in this book the writing is just chock full of wonderful lines. Things like, “An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and the same can be said of many an argument.” Or later, when talking about Red’s nickname, “It would be hard for even as good a debater as Spencer or the Holmely boy to disprove that a cardinal and a beet hadn’t been married and given birth to this boy. Then baptized him in a tub of red ink.” And I may have to conjure up this line in terms of discipline and kids: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, but you can sure make him stand there looking at the water for a long time.” Finally, on funerals: “Maybe it’s just me, but I always found it a little hard to celebrate when one of the folks in the room is dead.”

He also creates little moments that stay with you. Kissing a reflection only to have your lips stick to it. A girl’s teeth so rotted that her father has to turn his head when she kisses him to avoid the stench (kisses are treacherous things in Curtis novels). In this book I’ll probably long remember the boy who purposefully gets into fights to give himself a reason for the injuries wrought by his drunken father. And there’s even a moment near the end when the Madman’s identity is clarified that is a great example of Curtis playing with his audience. Before he gives anything away he makes it clear that the Madman could be one of two beloved characters from Elijah of Buxton. It’s agony waiting for him to clarify who exactly is who.

Character is king in the world of Mr. Curtis. A writer who manages to construct fully three-dimensional people out of mere words is one to watch. In this book, Curtis has the difficult task of making complete and whole a character through the eyes of two different-year-old boys. And when you consider that they’re working from the starting point of thinking that the guy’s insane, it’s going to be a tough slog to convince the reader otherwise. That said, once you get into the head of the “Madman” you get a profound sense not of his insanity but of his gentleness. His very existence reminded me of similar loners in literature like Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson or The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton, but unlike the men in those books this guy had a heart and a mind and a very distinctive past. And fears. Terrible, awful fears.

It’s that fear that gives Madman its true purpose. Red’s grandmother, Mother O’Toole, shares with the Madman a horrific past. They’re very different horrors (one based in sheer mind-blowing violence and the other in death, betrayal, and disgust) but the effects are the same. Out of these moments both people are suffering a kind of PTSD. This makes them two sides of the same coin. Equally wracked by horrible memories, they chose to handle those memories in different ways. The Madman gives up society but retains his soul. Mother O’Toole, in contrast, retains her sanity but gives up her soul. Yet by the end of the book the supposed Madman has returned to society and reconnected with his friends while the Irishwoman is last seen with her hair down (a classic madwoman trope as old as Shakespeare himself) scrubbing dishes until she bleeds to rid them of any trace of the race she hates so much. They have effectively switched places.

Much of what The Madman of Piney Woods does is ask what fear does to people. The Madman speaks eloquently of all too human monsters and what they can do to a man. Meanwhile Grandmother has suffered as well but it’s made her bitter and angry. When Red asks, “Doesn’t it seem only logical that if a person has been through all of the grief she has, they’d have nothing but compassion for anyone else who’s been through the same?” His father responds that “given enough time, fear is the great killer of the human spirit.” In her case it has taken her spirit and “has so horribly scarred it, condensing and strengthening and dishing out the same hatred that it has experienced.” But for some the opposite is true, hence the Madman. Two humans who have seen the worst of humanity. Two different reactions. And as with Elijah, where Curtis tackled slavery not through a slave but through a slave’s freeborn child, we hear about these things through kids who are “close enough to hear the echoes of the screams in [the adults’] nightmarish memories.” Certainly it rubs off onto the younger characters in different ways. In one chapter Benji wonders why the original settlers of Buxton, all ex-slaves, can’t just relax. Fear has shaped them so distinctly that he figures a town of “nervous old people” has raised him. Adversity can either build or destroy character, Curtis says. This book is the story of precisely that.

Don’t be surprised if, after finishing this book, you find yourself reaching for your copy of Elijah of Buxton so as to remember some of these characters when they were young. Reaching deep, Curtis puts soul into the pages of its companion novel. In my more dreamy-eyed moments I fantasize about Curtis continuing the stories of Buxton every 40 years until he gets to the present day. It could be his equivalent of Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House chronicles. Imagine if we shot forward another 40 years to 1941 and encountered a grown Benji and Red with their own families and fears. I doubt Curtis is planning on going that route, but whether or not this is the end of Buxton’s tales or just the beginning, The Madman of Piney Woods will leave child readers questioning what true trauma can do to a soul, and what they would do if it happened to them. Heady stuff. Funny stuff. Smart stuff. Good stuff. Better get your hands on this stuff.

On shelves September 30th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

First Sentence: “The old soldiers say you never hear the bullet that kills you.”

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Notes on the Cover:  As many of us are aware, in the past historical novels starring African-American boys have often consisted of silhouettes or dull brown sepia-toned tomes.  Christopher Paul Curtis’s books tend to be the exception to the rule, and this is clearly the most lively of his covers so far.  Two boys running in period clothing through the titular “piney woods”?  That kind of thing is rare as a peacock these days.  It’s still a little brown, but maybe I can sell it on the authors name and the fact that the books look like they’re running to/from trouble.  All in all, I like it.

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39. Friday Feature: Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick


16059938
Sometimes danger is hard to see... until it’s too late. 

Britt Pfeiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn't prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants—but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage. 

In exchange for her life, Britt agrees to guide the men off the mountain. As they set off, Britt knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there... and in uncovering this, she may become the killer’s next target. 

But nothing is as it seems in the mountains, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally? 

My thoughts:
It's no secret that I love the Hush, Hush series. Becca Fitzpatrick is one of my favorite authors, so when I found out this book was going to be given out at BEA, I had to have it. (Special thanks to Dan Cohen for making sure I got a copy since I missed the actual book drop.) This book is very different from the Hush, Hush series, but I was still sucked in.

Britt is an interesting character. At times she comes across as being very dependent on the men in her life. I didn't like this part of her personality. But there are other times when she's extremely strong and the men in her life depend heavily on her. Showing both sides helped the reader to see how Britt grows as a person throughout the book. I was really glad to see her moments of strength because without them, I would have had a hard time rooting for her.

I did love how Britt put totally set herself up for trouble, first agreeing on a trip with her ex-boyfriend, who happens to be her best friend's older brother, and then by claiming a total stranger is her new boyfriend just to save face and having her ex confirm her story. Luckily that stranger goes along with Britt's lie, and isn't she surprised when her truck gets stranded in a snow storm and she winds up on that very same stranger's doorstep. ;)

From there, trouble begins and Britt isn't sure who to trust, especially since there is a murderer on the loose. I admit, I figured out who the murderer was early on. *Sigh* I'm really cursed when it comes to figuring out plots before I'm supposed to. But anyway, I still really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.

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40. Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature: Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, Peter Sieruta

Book: Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature
Authors: Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta
Pages: 288
Age Range: Adult Nonfiction

Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature is an insider's guide to the world of children's books and their creators, written by three well-known children's book bloggers. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I have known Betsy Bird and Julie Danielson since my earliest days of blogging. While we've only met face to face a few times, I've read their blogs for years, and been on shared mailing lists and the like. I also read the late Peter Sieruta's blog, though I don't believe I ever had any direct contact with him. So you should consider my discussion of Wild Things! more along the lines of a recommendation than a critical review. I very much enjoyed the book. 

Wild Things! reveals the authors' deep affection for and knowledge of the field of children's literature. They discuss everything from the history of subversive children's literature to book banning to the ways that the Harry Potter books have affected the industry. This is the first book I've seen that openly discusses gay and lesbian authors of children's books, and how the outsider status of some of these authors may have affected their work. Like this:

"Unique perspectives yield unique books. It is difficult to be gay and not see the world in a way that is slightly different from that of your straight peers." (Page 54, ARC)

I especially enjoyed chapters on "scandalous mysteries and mysterious scandals" and "some hidden delights of children's literature." There's also an interesting discussion of the books critics love vs. the books that kids love. 

Despite covering a lot of ground, Wild Things! is a quick, engaging read. Though there are extensive end-notes citing sources, and it's clear that much research has been done, the book itself reads like a series of chatty essays written by friends. Wild Things! is full of interesting tidbits, like the extra pupil shown on one page of Madeline, and a rather disturbing claim by Laura that Pa Ingalls may have once encountered a serial killer. There are some resources that may help those new to thinking about children's books, such as a list of publications that review children's books. But for the most part, Wild Things! is a book that's going to appeal most to people who already have a reasonably solid grasp of the industry, and at least a passing familiarity with the key players. 

Wild Things! is not, however, insider-y in terms of the book blogging world. Because I've read so many posts by Betsy and Jules, there were certainly places where I could hear their distinct voices coming through. There are some fun sidebars in which all three authors briefly take on some question or author. But there is scant mention in the book of the authors' blogs themselves. The authors do muse a bit in the final chapter about the impact of cozy relationships between bloggers and authors, but for the most part they keep their emphasis on books and authors, and other people who have been instrumental in the evolution of the larger children's book world (like Ursula Nordstrom). They do include snippets of interviews with many authors and publishers, frequently backing up their own opinions with remarks from leaders in the field. 

Wild Things! is strong on the defense of the importance of children's literature (and fairly strong against message-driven celebrity books). Like this:

"And with every doctor, librarian, and early childhood educator telling us that childhood's importance is without parallel, it is baffling to see their literature condescended to, romanticized, and generally misunderstood." (Page 5 of the ARC)

"Childhood is not a phase to be disregarded; the same should be said of the books children read. They deserve well-crafted tales from the people who have the talent to write and illustrate them and who take their craft seriously. Do they need heavy-handed sermons from the latest celebrity "It" girl's newest children's book? Not so much." (Page 6)

I also loved this quote from A. A. Milne:

"Whatever fears one has, one need not fear that one is writing too well for a child, any more than one need fear that one is becoming almost too lovable." (Page 192)

Wild Things! is a book about the joy and quirkiness that is the field of children's literature. It is a celebration of books and their authors, and a defense of the importance of putting the very best possible books into children's hands. Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta accomplish all of this by sharing stories and opinions, theirs and those of others, with the reader. Fans of children's books, be they authors, bloggers, teachers, librarians, parents, or just people who appreciate a good book, are sure to enjoy Wild Things! Recommended for adults and older teens (there is definitely content that is not for kids), and a must-purchase for libraries. Wild Things! is a keeper!

Publisher: Candlewick 
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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41. Review of Like No Other

lamarche like no other Review of Like No OtherLike No Other
by Una LaMarche
Middle School, High School    Razorbill/Penguin    347 pp.
7/14    978-1-59514-674-8    $17.99    g

How’s this for a meet cute? New York teens Devorah and Jaxon get stuck in a hospital elevator during a hurricane. Though their encounter is a fairly brief one, it’s also intense, and both come away with that love-at-first-sight feeling. Here’s where things get complicated. Devorah is a Hasidic Jew, and a frum one at that (“basically the Yiddish equivalent of ‘hopeless goody two-shoes’”). Jaxon is black. They live in present-day Crown Heights; and although, as Jaxon says, “the neighborhood has become so gentrified that I’m more likely to get hit by an artisanal gluten-free scone than a bullet, let’s be real,” tensions can still run high, especially within Devorah’s ultra-conservative family. Even though Devorah’s menacing brother-in-law, a member of the Shomrim (Orthodox neighborhood watch), is on to them, she still can’t resist accidentally-on-purpose bumping into Jax at his work and accepting the cell phone he sneaks (in a grand romantic gesture) into her yard. The story is told from the teens’ alternating perspectives. While Jax is a little too good to be true, Devorah, whether agonizing over her love life or sharing informative details about Hasidic daily life and religious philosophy, is believable and engaging. Her struggle between tradition and modernity, filial duty and personal fulfillment, is complicated and realistic; just because she doesn’t want an arranged marriage doesn’t mean she’s ready to turn her back on her family and her culture. This leads to a conclusion that, while bittersweet, is still hopeful.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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42. The Gardener of Versailles

The Gardener of Versailles by Alain Baraton is a delightful book whether you are interested in gardening or Versailles. Baraton has been the Gardener in Chief at Versailles since 1982. Don’t you just love that title? He was the youngest ever installed in the position. He began working at Versailles in the 1970s with no intent on becoming a gardener. As a teen all he wanted was to have enough money to afford his scooter and the hobby of photography he decided to take up. He mowed lawns and weeded for cash. He had no real aspirations for anything so his parents enrolled him in horticulture school. Afterwards, he got a job at Versailles selling tickets at the gate and after a little while there was an opening for a novice gardener and he was given the job which he only took because the chief gardener at the time told him he would be able to live free in the gardens in one of the employee apartments.

As a young man who didn’t believe himself to be very attractive to women, he found that being a gardener at Versailles and living on the grounds had its perks. He was able to provide private tours to willing young women who suddenly found him very attractive. Heh. Years later he met his wife at Versailles. She was visiting the gardens alone and got caught in a downpour and he invited her into his house to dry off and warm up.

The Gardener of Versailles is an enjoyable mix of memoir, history, and personal opinion from an experienced gardener. I fell in love with Baraton at the start when he talks about the trees of Versailles:

I’m not an overly sentimental or nostalgic person; I don’t wring my hands in pity over a broken vase, and I don’t play Mozart for my hydrangeas. But a tree is a living thing. After living alongside my trees for more than thirty years, I’ve acquired more than simple know-how. I feel something like botanical sympathy; I can tell whether a tree needs attention, whether it is suffering or flourishing.

There was a severe and devastating storm that hit Versailles in 1999. The garden lost more than 18,000 trees that were either uprooted by the storm or were so damaged they had to be cut down. Baraton was heartbroken over the losses and it still haunts him all these years later. Throughout the book he keeps returning to the storm again and again; there was the garden before and the garden after and the garden after is just not the same.

Of course with any top position one finds that one no longer gets to spend as much time doing the things one loves most. Baraton discovered that as Gardener in Chief he spends most of his time worrying about budgets and filling out paperwork. Nonetheless, he still makes it out into the gardens and does he ever have some good stories!

You might think his greatest enemy would be drought or flood or pests but it turns out it is busloads of senior citizens. The elderly women are, more often than not, plant thieves, sometimes uprooting entire plants and stashing them in bags to take home!

On the other end of the spectrum are the young couples who think they will have an exciting and romantic time having sex in a secluded part of the garden. Only many times they only think they are out of the way and have been discovered by tour groups, almost run over by a lawn mower or suffered other indignities. Baraton feels for them though and offers some helpful suggestions for would-be lovers:

dress appropriately. Versailles is infested with mosquitoes, and I’ve seen more than one romantic idyll ruined by the impromptu arrival of a swarm of hostile insects. The destination should be the broad, green allées in the depths of the domain — the air is purer and the landscape will lend a charming country atmosphere to your lovemaking. There are also fewer passersby, and with luck, you might even see some wild animals…Above all else these distant destinations allow you the occasion for a long walk — the distance will allow you to get to know one another better, and as the case may be, fan the flames of your companion’s desires or reassure your companions of your good intentions.

Versailles is used to people making love. The various Louiss (Louis’s? Louisies? Louises?), especially the XIVth, had mistresses galore. The statues even tell tales. Louis XIV had a statue of himself as Eloquence made for the garden. His statue was placed so it looked directly at a statue of the nude huntress Diana, made in the likeness of his favorite mistress. When the statues were revealed the affair was made public. Louis’s wife was incensed and had a couple of yews planted to keep the two statues from looking at each other.

And mixed in with all of that is a dose of gardening advice:

But a good gardener should never lose sight of the fact that gardening is a perpetual balancing act of pleasure and necessity. The healthiest plants are obtained by those who know and respect the laws of nature.

And:

What makes a good gardener? The essential ingredient can be reduced to a single word: joy. Our work may be tiring but it is also extremely gratifying.

Baraton may not have started out wanting to be a gardener but he has grown to love the work and the garden he works in. His love for both shines throughout the book making me want to visit Versailles just to meet him and maybe if I am lucky he would show me some of his favorite trees and tell me their stories.


Filed under: Books, gardening, History, Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction, Reviews

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43. In the After: Demitria Lunetta

Book: In the After
Author: Demitria Lunetta
Pages: 464
Age Range: 13 and up

In the After is the first of a two-book series by Demitria Lunetta (the second book was just released, though I haven't read it yet). In the After is set in the wake of a world-wide apocalypse caused by an invasion of predatory, man-eating creatures. 17-year-old Amy has lived for three years in hiding, alone except for the company of Baby, a young girl she rescued from a grocery store. Amy and Baby live in silence, for fear of drawing Them. They use sign language to speak, and have never even heard one another's voices.

They actually have things pretty good, all things considered. Amy's mother held an important government position, and their house is surrounded by an electric fence that keeps the monsters out. Her dad was an environmentalist who kept their home as off the grid as possible. Amy and Baby have electricity and water. But they do have to venture out among the creatures to scavenge for food. An encounter with other survivors on one of their trips starts a process that changes Amy and Baby's lives forever. 

In the After is a compelling read, one that will keep the reader guessing. The first part of the book takes place in and around Amy and Baby's home in Chicago. Without giving too much away, I'll say that the second part of the book takes place elsewhere, among other people. This is where Lunetta's storytelling really starts making the reader think. In brief, italicized scenes, Amy is in a mental ward. The rest of the story is told in intermittent flashbacks, as a mentally foggy Amy tries to pieces together how she got there. Because of Amy's fragile state, the reader isn't always sure how to interpret the flashbacks, which makes the story even more thought-provoking. 

The characters apart from Amy are distinct, though not always highly nuanced. Basically, we get to know Amy very well, and the other characters not so well. But Amy is great. Here are a few snippets, to give you a feel for her voice:

"I only go out at night.

I walk along the empty street and pause, my muscles tense and ready. The breeze rustles the overgrown grass and I tilt my head slightly. I'm listening for them." (Page 1)

"So much of who I used to be was about being good in school and having friends who were also good in school. We were, to put it simply, arrogant little know-it-alls. But I miss that." (Page 78)

"The arts were probably pointless now that everyone was focused on survival. I thought back to all my time alone, reading, as the world crumbled around me. It was the only thing that gave me solace and hope." (Page 191)

In addition to keeping the reader wondering about plot points, Lunetta is good at creating atmosphere. She makes the reader feel the creepiness of walking down a dark street where silent monsters might be a only few feet, and the helplessness of being trapped in a mental ward. 

In the After grabs the reader from the first page, and doesn't let go. Recommend for fans of YA dystopias, particularly of the alien invasion variety. Particularly recommended for those who enjoyed Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave. Readers who have read many dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories will notice certain universal themes, but I don't think this takes away enjoyment of the story. I think that In the After is a book that will especially appeal to adult readers, actually, though I would expect teens to enjoy it, too. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: HarperTeen (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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44. Flashback June 2012

A look back at what I reviewed in June 2012



The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos. From my review: "Houston, 1968. Two stories are intertwined; the story of a white family and a black family. Jack Long is the race reporter for the evening news. Larry Thompson is a local activist and college professor. They reach out and develop a friendship, based in part because both realize that “men of conscience have got to get together . . . , or nothing is going to change."

Gilt by Katherine Longshore. From my review: "England, 1539. Kitty Tylney and Cat Howard are two teenage girls, living at the home of Cat’s grandmother, the Duchess of Norfolk. The Duchess may be rich and powerful, but she is also old and absorbed in her own affairs. Kitty, Cat, and the other girls who live crowded together in the maiden’s chamber are there because they have no where else to go. No one is really interested in them. . . . . Young, pretty, bored. Dreaming of life at court, with dances and pretty clothes and handsome men. In the meanwhile, making their own fun, in ways not quite proper. Late night festivities that include dancing and drinking and boys. Kitty, abandoned by her family, values Cat and her friendship more than anything, because it’s the only thing Kitty has. She’ll do anything for Cat, follow her anywhere, help her with anything. All of Cat’s dreams come true when she captures the eye of the King, and she brings her friends along for the good fortune. Dreams sometimes turn to nightmares; how far will Kitty go to help her friend?"

My Sister's Stalker by Nancy Springer.From my review: "When sixteen-year-old Rig’s parent’s divorced, he went to live with his mother while his sister, Karma, stayed with their father. The two haven’t really kept in touch in the four years since, especially since she left for college. One day, Rig, missing her, searches the Internet for her rather distinct name. What he finds chills him: a website by someone obsessed with his sister. Photographs that could only be taken by someone watching his sister. Will Rig be able to convince his parents that his sister is in danger? Will he be able to save his sister?"

New Girl by Paige Harbison. From my review: "A re-imagining of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. When a space opens up in the prestigious Manderley Academy, the “new girl” from Florida finds herself in a complex situation. The reason for the opening? The disappearance of Rebecca Normandy the previous spring. Becca had herself been the “new girl” the year before; despite being at school just one year, Becca made an impact and impression on all she met: her grieving roommate, Dana, who resents being given a new roommate; Max Holloway, Becca’s boyfriend; Johnny, Max’s former best friend."

Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I (His Fair Assassin Trilogy) by Robin LaFevers. From my review: "You know, “nun assassins” is enough, isn’t it? (Or is it assassin nuns?)"

Summer and the City: A Carrie Diaries Novel by Candace Bushnell. From my review: "Seventeen year old Carrie Bradshaw is in New York City for a summer writing program. She’s just been mugged and has called the only number she has, a cousin of a semi-friend. Carrie goes with Samantha Jones to a party, and thus begins Carrie’s introduction to New York City in the 1980s."


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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45. I Didn't Do My Homework Because... Davide Cali

Book: I Didn't Do My Homework Because ...
Authors: Davide Cali & Benjamin Chaud 
Pages: 44
Age Range: 6-9

I Didn't Do My Homework Because ... is a celebration of the ingenuity of childhood. On the first page, a teacher asks a child: "So why didn't you do your homework?" On subsequent pages, he shares a host of creative excuses, like:

"An airplane full of monkeys landed in our yard"; and

"Some escaped convicts from the local jail hid in my bedroom and wouldn't come out." 

Each excuse is accompanied by a humorous illustration. In the prior example, we see the boy surrounded by much larger prisoners in yellow-striped outfits. The boy is brining them pink lemonade, and they are looking at his books. Because why not? 

This is a small format book, about the size of an early reader. It's more like a picture book in format otherwise, though the target age range is probably solidly in elementary school. Preschoolers don't generally have much homework, after all. Nor are they likely to know what "carnivorous plants" are. There's a humorous ending in which the teacher doesn't believe the boy, because she has the same book. For me, this was just enough to make it feel a bit like a story, rather than solely a collection of excuses. The illustrations are full of detail, and include boy-friendly tidbits like giant lizards. 

Instructions on the back of the book read:

"WHEN TO USE THIS BOOK:
Whenever you haven't finished your homework.

CAUTION:
Each excuse may only be used once."

Like the excuses, I'm not sure how well this book will hold up to multiple reads. But it's definitely fun, and sure to make elementary school kids laugh. Recommended for classroom libraries, or any seven-year-old with an overactive imagination.  

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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46. Call for Submissions: Your Impossible Voice

Your Impossible Voice is now accepting submissions for issues five and six. We publish fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and more. We don't charge any reading fees and do pay our contributors.  

Contributors to our first four issues include: Arisa White, Jessica Hagedorn, Horacio Castellanos Moya, Gillian Conoley, Lewis Buzbee, Arielle Greenberg, Mary Burger, R. Zamora Linmark, Karen An-hwei Lee, David Bajo, and more.

To learn more about us and to submit, please visit our website.

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47. Call for Submissions: Saw Palm

Online submission deadline: October 1, 2014

Saw Palm is seeking submissions of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for Issue 9. We are an annual print magazine out of the University of South Florida. Our mission is to be the premier cultural barometer of Florida—to collect, publish, and review the best works of one of the most populous and diverse states in the U.S. We welcome writers and artists from across the globe as long as the work is somehow connected to Florida (via images, people, themes, etc.). 


We also welcome creative works from Floridians and former Floridians that are not obviously about someplace else.

Please visit our website for more details.

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48. Call for Submissions: cahoodaloodaling: The Animal Becomes Us

The Animal Becomes Us

Email submission deadline: September 30, 2014

Issue #14 of cahoodaloodaling—The Animal Becomes Us—is open for submissions. We’re leaving this wide open to interpretation. Consider this your open invitation to send anything from light verse about your animal companion to speculative were-animal stories. 


Submissions due 9/30/14. Guest editor TBA. Issue live 10/31/14. See more information on submitting and read past issues here.

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49. Review of Pom and Pim

landstrom pom and pim Review of Pom and Pimstar2 Review of Pom and PimPom and Pim
by Lena Landström; illus. by 
Olof Landström; trans. from 
the Swedish by Julia Marshall
Preschool    Gecko    32 pp.
3/14    978-1-877579-66-0    $16.95

Pom is a small child with sparse orange curls, clad in a long purple sweater; Pim is Pom’s inanimate sidekick of indeterminate species: a dirty pink, with two eyes and four floppy appendages, the better to be dragged around by. “Pom and Pim are going out. It’s warm. The sun is shining. What luck!” But ahead, lying in wait, are a rock and a piece of paper. Pom trips over the rock (“Ouch! Bad luck”) and does a face-plant on the paper — which turns out to be “Money! What luck!” Small adventures ensue, alternating good and bad luck. Eating a huge ice-cream cone leads to a tummy ache — but lying down to recover leads to spying a pink balloon above the bed; taking the balloon outside for a walk (“The balloon bounces beautifully”) leads to it popping on a thorn bush. Pom is downcast but then, indomitable, comes up with the ideal use for the limp leftovers: “A raincoat for Pim!” And what luck: it’s now raining. In matching pink coats the two friends splash through a spare but joyful double-page spread of raindrops and puddles. The brief text and droll ink and watercolor illustrations keep the focus tightly on Pom and Pim, working together brilliantly to bring out the considerable situational humor; Pom’s facial expressions telegraph every fluctuating emotion. The good luck/bad luck progression will let readers predict events — and then allow them to (perhaps) be happily surprised by the closing twist. Quirkier and much smaller in scope than classics such as Remy Charlip’s Fortunately and Margery Cuyler’s That’s Good! That’s Bad! — but just as entrancing.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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50. Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider

PrincessSparkleHeart Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh SchneiderPrincess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover
By Josh Schneider
Clarion (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-544-14228-2
Ages 3-7
On shelves now

Sometimes I’ll just sit back and think about how the advent of the internet has affected literary culture. I don’t mean book promotion or reviews or any of that. I’m talking about the very content of books themselves. On the one hand, it accounts for the rise in Steampunk (a desire for tactile, hands-on technology, gears and all). On the other, it has led to a rise in books where characters make things. So why, you may be asking yourself, am I saying all this when ostensibly I’m supposed to be reviewing a picture book with the title Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover? Because, best beloved, Josh Schneider has created a picture book that provides solutions. If something terrible happens to something you love, do you sit on the floor and cry and bemoan your fate? NO! You go out and find the solution, even if it means getting your hands a little dirty. We’re seeing a nice uptick in books where kids make things and fix things on their own. Add in a jealous doggy and a twist ending that NO ONE will see coming and you have a book that could easily have been written in the past but contains a distinctly 21st century flavor through and through.

Amelia just couldn’t be happier. When she gets her new doll, Princess Sparkle-Heart, the two bond instantly. They do tea parties, royal weddings, share secrets, the works. Never mind that Amelia’s pet dog eyes their happiness with an envious glare. The minute the two are separated, it acts. One minute Princess Sparkle-Heart is reading a book to herself. The next, she’s a pile of well-chewed bits and pieces on the floor. At first Amelia is distraught, but when her mother proposes putting the doll back together Amelia provides direction and ideas. This is the all-new Princess Sparkle-Heart, ladies and gentlemen. One that is NOT going to be taken advantage of again.

PrincessSparkle2 300x191 Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh SchneiderI’ll be the first to admit to you that I like a little weird with my children’s literature. The only question is whether or not kids like the same kind of weird that I like. There’s no question that some of them do have a taste for the unusual, after all. It’s adult selectors that grow disturbed by some of this author/illustrator’s choices. In the case of Princess Sparkle-Heart (can I tell you how much I love that her last name is hyphenated?) I’ve already seen a schism between some adults and others. Some adults find this book freakin’ hilarious. They love the odd way in which Schneider chooses to empower his heroine. Others aren’t amused in the least. For my part, I found it a wonderful new girl/doll story. I was particularly fond of the spread where Amelia looks at a wall of fashion magazines and zeroes in on the sole solitary superhero comic found there instead. So if Schneider is telling readers something, he’s being subtle about it.

I’ve also been noticing a rather nice trend recently in books starring young girls. There’s a real movement in the country right now to give girls the impetus to make and create and build. Books like The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires where the heroine not only builds but deals repeatedly with disappointment are really quite fabulous. In Princess Sparkle-Heart Amelia’s unseen mother is the one doing the construction of a new princess, but it’s Amelia who provides the number of parts and the specifications. If the new princess is completely different from her prior incarnation, that’s thanks to Amelia’s contributions. Meanwhile the Frankenstein connection that some have noted (and that I entirely missed the first time around) is clearly intentional. How else to explain the two screws that appear in the “M” of the front cover’s “Makeover”? No doubt Princess Sparkle-Heart’s conversion will strike some as monstrous. For others, it’ll be like your average everyday superhero origin story. Nothing wrong with that!

PrincessSparkle3 300x194 Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh SchneiderI’ve been oddly amused by dog books this year. I am not a dog person. I can take ‘em or leave ‘em. But in 2014 we’ve seen some really spectacular canine picture books. Things like Shoe Dog by Megan McDonald, and I’m My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein, and now this. The dog in this particular book is awfully similar to the one in Bears by Ruth Krauss as re-illustrated by Maurice Sendak, with its jealousy of a beloved toy. Cleverly Schneider has positioned the dog’s growls to serve as a running commentary behind the action. A low-key “GRRRRRRRRRR” runs both on and off the page, bleeding into the folds, falling off the sides. Schneider’s humans never have pupils (and combined with her red hair this gives Amelia a distant L’il Orphan Annie connection) but the dogs and stuffed animals do. As a result, the dog ends up oddly sympathetic in spite of its naughty ways (and indeed there is a happy ending for all characters at the story’s close).

Occasionally folks will ask me for “Princess Book” recommendations. Admittedly I’m far more partial to subversive princess tales (The Paperbag Princess, The Princess and the Pig, etc.) than those that adhere to the norm. Keeping that in mind, this is definitely going into my princess book bag of tricks. With its twist ending, strong female character, and princess that looks like she could take down twenty monsters without a blink, I’m a fan. I wouldn’t necessarily hand it to the kid looking for fluff and fairies and oogly goo, but for children with a wry sense of humor (and they do exist) this book is going to pack a wallop. Funny and surprising and a great read through and through. You ain’t never seen a makeover quite like THIS before.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

  • Dahlia by Barbara McClintock
  • Bears by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Other Blog Reviews: Sal’s Fiction Addiction,

Professional Reviews: A star from Publishers Weekly, A star from Kirkus,

Misc: There is a TON of stuff related to the book on the publisher’s website.  Everything from sewing patterns to a Q&A to early sketches to more more more!

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