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1. Review of the Day: The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow

MightyOddsThe Mighty Odds
By Amy Ignatow
Amulet Books (an imprint of Abrams)
$15.95
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1271-5
Ages 10 and up
On shelves September 13th

If you could have one weird superpower, what would it be? Not a normal one, mind you. We’re not doing a flight vs. invisibility discussion here. The power would have to be extraordinary and odd. If it’s completely useless, all the better. Me? I think I’d like my voice to be same as the voice you hear in your head when you’re reading something. You know that voice? That would be my superpower. A good author can crank this concept up to eleven if they want to. Enter, Amy Ignatow. She is one of the rare authors capable of making me laugh out loud at the back covers of her books. For years she’s penned The Popularity Papers to great success and acclaim. Now that very realistic school focus is getting a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy kick in the pants. In The Mighty Odds, Ignatow takes the old misfits-join-together-to-save-the-world concept and throws in a lot of complex discussions of race, middle school politics, bullying, and good old-fashioned invisible men. The end result is a 21st century superhero story for kids that’s keeps you guessing every step of the way.

A school bus crashes in a field. No! Don’t worry! No one is killed (that we can tell). And the bus was just full of a bunch of disparate kids without any particular connection to one another. There was the substitute teacher and the bus driver (who has disappeared). And there was mean girl Cookie (the only black girl in school and one of the most popular), Farshad (nicknamed “Terror Boy” long ago by Cookie), Nick (nerdy and sweet), and Martina (the girl no one notices, though she’s always drawing in her sketchbook). After the accident everything should have just gotten back to normal. Trouble is, it didn’t. Each person who was on or near the bus when the accident occurred is a little bit different. It might be a small thing, like the fact that Martina’s eyes keep changing color. It might be a weird thing, like how Cookie can read people’s minds when they’re thinking of directions. It might be a powerful thing, like Farad’s super strength in his thumbs. Or it might be a potentially powerful, currently weird thing like Nick’s sudden ability to teleport four inches to his left. And that’s before they discover that someone is after them. Someone who means them harm.

Superhero misfits are necessarily new. Remember Mystery Men? This book reminded me a lot of that old comic book series / feature film. In both cases superpowers are less a metaphor and more a vehicle for hilarity. I read a lot of books for kids but only once in a while do I find one enjoyable enough to sneak additional reads of on the sly. This book hooked me fairly early on, and I credit its sense of humor for that. Here’s a good example of it. Early in the book Cookie and a friend are caught leaving the field trip for their own little side adventure. The kids in their class speculate what they got up to and one says that clearly they got drunk. Farshad’s dry wit then says, “… because two twelve-year-olds finding a bar in Philadelphia that would serve them at eleven A.M. was completely plausible.” Add in the fact that they go to “Deborah Read Middle School” (you’ll have to look it up) and I’m good to go.

Like I’ve said, the book could have just been another fun, bloodless superhero misfit storyline. But Ignatow likes challenges. When she wrote the Popularity Papers books she gave one of her two heroines two dads and then filled the pages with cursive handwriting. Here, her heroes are a variety of different races and backgrounds, but this isn’t a Benetton ad. People don’t get along. Cookie’s the only black kid in her school and she’s been very careful to cement herself as popular from the start. When her mom moved them to Muellersville, Cookie had to be careful to find a way to become “the most popular and powerful person in school.” Martina suggests at one point that she likes being angry, and indeed when the world starts to go crazy on her the thing that grounds her, if only for a moment, is anger. And why shouldn’t she be angry? Her mom moved her away from her extended family to a town where she knew no one, and then her mother married a guy with two kids fairly fast. Cookie herself speculates about the fact that she probably has more in common with Farshad than she’d admit. “He was the Arab Kid, just like Cookie was the Black Girl and Harshita Singh was the Indian Girl and Danny Valdez was the Hispanic Guy and Emma Lee was the Asian Chick. They should have all formed a posse long ago and walked around Muellersville together, just to freak people out.” Cookie realizes that she and Farshad need to have one another’s backs. “It was one thing to be a brown person in Muellersville and another to be a brown person in Muellersville with superpowers.” At this point in time Ignatow doesn’t dig any deeper into this, but Cookie’s history, intentions, and growth give her a depth you won’t find in the usual popular girl narrative.

For the record, I have a real appreciation for contemporary books that feature characters that get almost zero representation in books. For example, one of the many things I love about Tom Angleberger’s The Qwikpick Papers series is that one of the three heroes is Jehovah’s Witness. In this book, one of the kids that comes to join our heroes is Amish. Amish kids are out there. They exist. And they almost never EVER get heroic roles in stories about a group of friends. And Abe doesn’t have a large role in this book, it’s true, but it’s coming.

Having just one African-American in the school means that you’re going to have ignorant other characters. Cookie has done a good job at getting the popular kids in line, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is suddenly enlightened. Anyone can be tone deaf. Even one of our heroes, which in this case means Nick’s best friend, the somewhat ADD, always chipper Jay. Now I’ve an odd bit of affection for Jay, and not just because in his endless optimism he honestly thinks he’ll get permission to show his class Evil Dead Two on the field trip bus (this may also mark the first time an Evil Dead film has been name dropped in a middle grade novel, by the way). The trouble comes when he talks about Cookie. He has a tendency to not just be tone deaf but veering into really racially questionable territory when he praises her. Imagine a somewhat racist Pepe Le Pew. That’s Jay. He’s a small town kid who’s only known a single solitary black person his entire life and he’s enamored with her. Still, that’s no excuse for calling her “my gorgeous Nubian queen” or saying someday they’ll “make coffee-colored babies.” I expected a little more a comeuppance for Jay and his comments, but I suppose that’ll have to wait for a future book in the series. At the very least, his words are sure to raise more than few eyebrows from readers.

Funny is good. Great even. But funny doesn’t lift a middle grade book out of the morass of other middle grade books that are clogging up the bookstores and libraries of the world. To hit home you need to work just a smidgen of heart in there. A dose of reality. Farad’s plight as the victim of anti-Muslim sentiment is very real, but it’s also Nick’s experiences with his dying/dead father that do some heavy lifting. As you get to know Nick, Ignatow sprinkles hints about his life throughout the text in a seamless manner. Like when Nick is thinking about weird days in his life and flashes back to the day after his dad’s funeral. He and his mom had “spent the entire day flopped on the couch, watching an impromptu movie marathon of random films (The Lord of the Rings, They Live, Some Like It Hot, Ghostbusters, and Babe) and eating fancy stuff from the gift baskets that people had sent, before finally getting up to order pizza.” There’s a strong smack of reality in that bit, and there are more like it in the book. A funny book that sucker punches your heart from time to time makes for good reading.

MightyOdds2Lest we forget, this is an illustrated novel. Ignatow makes the somewhat gutsy choice of not explaining the art for a long time. Long before we even get to know Martina, we see her in various panels and spreads as an alien. In time, we learn that the art in this book is all her art, and that she draws herself as a Martian because that’s what her sister calls her. Not that you’ll know any of this for about 125 pages. The author makes you work to get at that little nugget of knowledge. By the way, as a character, Martina the artist is fascinating. She’s sort of the Luna Lovegood of the story. Or, as Nick puts it, “She had a sort of almost absentminded way of saying things that shouldn’t have been true but probably were.” There is one tiny flub in the art when Martina draws all the kids as superheroes and highlights Farshad’s thumbs, though at that point in the storyline Martina wouldn’t know that those are his secret weapons. Other than that, it’s pretty perfect.

It’s also pretty clearly middle school fare, if based on language alone. You’ve got kids leaving messages on cinderblocks that read “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” or “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” That may be the most realistic middle school detail I’ve read in a book in a long time. The bullying is systematic, realistic, and destructive (though that’s never clear to the people doing the bullying). A little more hard core than what an elementary school book might discuss. And Cookie is a superb bully. She’s honestly baffled when Farad confronts her about what she’s done to him with her rumors.

A word of warning to the wise: This is clearly the first book in a longer series. When you end this tale you will know the characters and know their powers but you still won’t know who the bad guys are exactly, why the kids got their powers (though the bus driver does drop one clue), or where the series is going next. For a story where not a lot of time passes, it really works the plotting and strong characterizations in there. I like middle grade books that dream big and shoot for the moon. “The Mighty Odds” does precisely that and also works in some other issues along the way. Just to show that it can. Great, fun, silly, fantastical fantasy work. A little smarter and a little weirder than most of the books out there today.

On shelves September 13th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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0 Comments on Review of the Day: The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow as of 7/22/2016 2:25:00 AM
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2. Best Selling Kids Series | April 2016

This month’s best selling kids series from The Children’s Book Review’s affiliate store Captain No Beard, by award-winning author Carole P. Roman, is an imaginative picture book series loved by all.

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3. Best New Kids Stories | November 2015

Hot New Releases & Popular Kids Stories It's important to keep up on the hot new releases and popular kids' books as we enter the gift giving season!

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4. Best Selling Kids Series | November 2015

This month's best selling kids series from The Children's Book Review's affiliate store, Superhero Classics: I Can Read Level 2, is a great series to hook young readers that show an interest in classic superheros.

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5. Best Selling Kids Series | December 2015

This month's best selling kids series from The Children's Book Review's affiliate store, First 100, is a great series for babies and toddlers ready to absorb information about the world around them.

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6. Best Selling Kids Series | February 2016

This month's our list of hand-selected series from the nationwide best selling Children's Series list, as noted by The New York Times, features James Dashner's Maze Runner series and Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series.

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7. Best Selling Kids Series | February 2015

Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is this month's best selling kids series from The Children's Book Review's affiliate store.

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8. Five Family Favorites with Todd Tarpley, Author of My Grandma’s a Ninja!

My sweet little boys somehow grew into teenagers, so we have to take a trip back in time to talk about the five books that are special to my family ... Read the rest of this post

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9. Best Selling Middle Grade Books | April 2015

This month, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Book 1, by Jeff Kinney, is The Children's Book Review's best selling middle grade book.

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10. Best Selling Kids Series | April 2015

This month's best selling kids series from The Children's Book Review's affiliate store is the wonderfully educational series The Adventures of Riley.

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11. Best Selling Kids Series | May 2015

This month's best selling kids series from The Children's Book Review's affiliate store remains the same, it's the wonderfully educational series The Adventures of Riley.

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12. Best Selling Kids Series | August 2015

This month's best selling kids series from The Children's Book Review's affiliate store is perfect for getting ready to go back to school, it's the new popular series Star Wars Workbooks.

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13. Best Selling Kids Series | September 2015

This month's best selling kids series from The Children's Book Review's affiliate store is great for highlighting a glass-half-full outlook.

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14. Best Selling Kids Series | October 2015

This month's best selling kids series from The Children's Book Review's affiliate store, Pete the Cat, is great for highlighting a glass-half-full outlook.

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15. School Days: AFTER THE BOOK DEAL – Guest Post by Jonathan Auxier

After the Book Deal Banner

The Internet is full of great advice about how to sell a book, but what about after the sale? When my first book came out, I found it was surprisingly hard to find answers to some basic questions. Like most authors, I learned most of the answers through trial and error. And so in anticipation of the launch of my new novel,The Night Gardener, I’ve decided to write down everything I learned so I don’t make the same mistakes twice!

AFTER THE BOOK DEAL is a month-long blog series detailing the twenty things I wish someone had told me before entering the exciting world of children’s publishing. Each weekday from now until MAY 20, I will be posting an article on a different blog. Follow along and please spread the word!

***

School Days: Crafting an Effective School Program

Yesterday I talked about how to do Skype visits with classrooms, now I want to move on to school assemblies! When my first book came out, I did almost nonstop school events for seven months—it was exhausting but extremely rewarding. I picked up a few things along the way that might be worth sharing …

 

NightGardener Cover

Be a Storyteller, not an Author

In the vast majority of cases, you will be coming to these kids as a complete stranger. Most kids will not have read (or even heard of) your books. This is important to remember as you’re crafting your presentation: don’t assume they will be impressed by the fact that you’re a published author. Your only job is to convince them that your story is something they want to read. The best way to do this is by BEING A STORYTELLER. Don’t just read an excerpt and give a summary—instead invite them into the world of your story, put them in the shoes of your hero, make the book come alive right there on the stage.

 

Play to Your Strengths

Take careful inventory of personal skills that you can bring to the table. Some authors draw on giant notepads. Others perform music. Others juggle or teach dance routines or fold origami. I exploited my past career as a professional yo-yo demonstrator by incorporating a yo-yo into my routine. It is hands-down the most popular part of every presentation! Chances are, you’ve got some silly talent that can be turned into a memorable moment in your presentations—make the most of it! Here’s a video of my yo-yo presentation, for the curious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbmSYeyVDtI

 

Crowd Control

There’s no question that wrangling a crowd of kids can be tricky. I have a loud voice, but with groups over 100, I always require that schools provide a microphone. Even with a mic, however, a hall full of squirming kids can get pretty loud. I always request that the teacher/librarian who introduces me gives the kids a special reminder about appropriate assembly behavior. And when the classes are streaming into the room, I go to every one of the teachers and introduce myself, thank them for coming, and ask them where their students are sitting—this is a subtle way of encouraging the teachers to be more proactive with crowd control. My final crowd control trick is to start every presentation by showing the Peter Nimble book trailer. Not only does this give kids something to visualize the story, but it creates a baseline of actual silence from the crowd. I’ve found that when I don’t show the trailer, I’m never able to eliminate the dull roar of whispers and fidgeting that passes for “quiet” in other circumstances.

 

Build a Flexible Program

Every school runs on a different schedule. Generally speaking, assemblies will run between 40-60 minutes. It’s important that you have a program that can expand or contract to fit these requirements. Your goal should be to have discrete “bits” that you can add and remove at will depending on the needs of your audience. If I’m talking to a restless crowd, for example, I can trade out a more serious literary discussion for an extra game. Flexibility goes beyond time-management. When I started touring, I carried around two vintage suitcases full of props. The suitcases looked cool, but they were a serious pain in the neck. I’ve since learned to pare down my props—fitting everything I need into a single shoulder bag. Likewise, when showing my book trailer, I used to haul my laptop computer (school computers were just too unreliable). Recently, however, I’ve ditched the laptop for a small VGA adaptor that plugs directly into my iPhone … so much easier!

Selling Books

You always want to be working with a local bookseller that can handle sales—you don’t have time to deal with that stuff yourself. If the school doesn’t have a store they regularly work with, then offer to connect them to someone. In most cases, a store will give 10-20% of all proceeds back to the school … which you should encourage them to do. Every store has a different way of handling book sales. I’ve found the best method is to send out pre-order forms in advance of the event as well as a “last chance” order form that kids take home the day that you visit—then once all orders are collected, you can sign books at the store, which will deliver them to the school later in the week.

 

That’s it for AFTER THE BOOK DEALTomorrow we’ll be talking about how how and when to charge for appearances. In the meantime, you can catch up on previous posts (listed below), and please-oh-please spread the word!

AFTER THE BOOK DEAL – Stops So Far

WEEK ONE: Before Your Book Comes Out
4/21 – Finding Your Tribe: entering the publishing community
4/22 – Do I Really Need a Headshot?: crafting your public persona
4/23 – I Hate Networking: surviving social media
4/24 – A Night at the Movies: the ins and outs of book trailers
4/25 –  Giveaways! … are they worth it?

 

WEEK TWO: Your Book Launch
4/28 - Can I have Your Autograph?: 5 things to do before your first signing
4/29 –  Cinderella at the Ball: planning a successful book launch
5/1 – Being Heard in the Crowd: conferences and festivals
5/2 - The Loneliest Writer in the World: surviving no-show events

 

WEEK THREE: The Business of Being an Author
5/5 – Handling Reviews … the Good and the Bad!
5/6 – Back to the Grindstone: writing your next book
5/7 – The Root of All Evil: some thoughts on money
5/8 – The Green-Eyed Monster: some thoughts on professional jealousy

 

WEEK FOUR: Ongoing Promotion
5/12 – Death by 1000 Cuts: Keeping ahead of busywork
5/13 – Can You Hear Me Now? Tips for Skype visits

Jonthan Auxier Headshot - web square

***
JONATHAN AUXIER writes strange stories for strange children. His new novel, The Night Gardener, hits bookstores on May 20—why not come to his book launch party? You can visit him online at www.TheScop.com where he blogs about children’s books old and new.

Find The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s Books | Indiebound | Book Depository | Goodreads | ISBN-10/ISBN-13: 141971144X / 9781419711442

Thank you so much to Jonathan for stopping by today! Connect with Jonathan on Twitter and on Facebook!
Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post will provide us a modest commission through our various affiliate relationships.

Original article: School Days: AFTER THE BOOK DEAL – Guest Post by Jonathan Auxier

©2014 There's A Book. All Rights Reserved.

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16. My First Re-Review: The Qwikpick Papers – Poop Fountain by Tom Angleberger

Here’s something I’ve never done before.  For years I’ve been waiting for the moment when a book I loved and reviewed dipped out of print only to come back again.  Since I’ve only been doing this gig since 2006 I wasn’t sure what that first book would be.  Then, this year, I got my answer.  Back in October of 2007 I reviewed a book by a newcomer going by the moniker of Sam Riddleberger.  The book?  The Qwikpick Adventure Society.  I absolutely adored it, floored by some of the new things it was doing.  Years passed and no one paid the book the appropriate amount of attention it deserved.  Then Mr. Riddleberger decided to publish under his real name, Tom Angleberger, and next thing you know he’s written a little book by the name of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and the world was never the same.  What with his earlier efforts out of print and his name so incredibly bankable, I had high hopes that this might not be the last we’d seen of Mr. Riddleberger/Angleberger.  Then this year, behold!  Do mine eyes deceive me?  No!  It’s back!  New cover, new title, old book.

So for today’s Flashback Wednesday we’re going to reprint that old review I did of the book . . . slightly modified.  There are a couple mentions in the original review of things published “this year” that had to be updated.  I’m going to keep the parts about the rarity of trailer park kids that aren’t abused, though in the comments of my original review Genevieve mentioned that The Higher Power of Lucky could be considered another alternative.  Fair enough.

Enjoy!

Qwikpick 200x300 My First Re Review: The Qwikpick Papers   Poop Fountain by Tom AnglebergerAs a children’s book reviewer there is one fact that you must keep at the forefront of your mind at all times: You are not a kid. Not usually anyway. And because you are not a kid, you are not going to read a book the way a kid does. I keep talking in my reviews about how your own personal prejudices affect your interpretation of the book in front of you, and it’s bloody true. I mean, take scatological humor in all its myriad forms. When I read How to Eat Fried Worms as an adult, I didn’t actually expect the hero to eat worms (let alone 30+ of them). And when I read Out of Patience by Brian Meehl I really enjoyed it until the moment when the local fertilizer plant became… well, you’d have to read the book to grasp the full horror of the situation. Actually, Out of Patience was the title I kept thinking of as I got deeper and deeper into The Qwikpick Papers. Both books are funny and smart and both involve gross quantities of waste to an extent you might never expect. I am an adult. I have a hard time with poop. Poop aside (and that’s saying something) there’s a lot of great stuff going on in this book. It’s definitely a keeper, though it may need to win over its primary purchasing audience, adults.

Lyle Hertzog is going to level with you right from the start. In this story he and his friends, “didn’t stop a smuggling ring or get mixed up with the mob or stop an ancient evil from rising up and spreading black terror across Crickenburg.” Nope. This is the story of Lyle, Dave, and Marilla and their club’s first adventure. The kids say that they’re The Qwikpick Adventure Society because they meet regularly in the break room of the local Qwikpick convenience store where Lyle’s parents work. When it occurs to the three that they’ll all be available to hang out on Christmas Day, they decide to do something extraordinary. Something unprecedented. And when Marilla discovers that the local “antiquated sludge fountain” at the Crickenburg sewer plant is about to be replaced, they know exactly what to do. They must see the poop fountain before it is gone. The result is a small adventure that is exciting, frightening, and very very pungent.

Someone once told me that this book reminded them of Stand By Me, “except no dead bodies and no Wil Wheaton.” They may be on to something there. Author Tom Angleberger works the relationships between the kids nicely. It’s a little hard to get into the heads of all the characters considering that we’re seeing everything through Lyle’s point of view, but the author does what he can. As for the “sludge fountain” itself, kids looking for gross moments will not be disappointed. You might be able to sell it to their parents with the argument that it’s actually rather informative and factual on this point (though I suggest that you play up the relationship aspect instead).

There are few kid-appropriate taboo topics out there, but if I was going to suggest one I might say it was the issue of class. Oh, you’ll get plenty of books where a kid lives a miserable life in a trailer park and gets teased by the rich/middle class kids in their class about it, sure. Now name all the books you can think of where the main characters live in a trailer park and that’s just their life. Or have parents that work in a convenience store and there isn’t any alcohol abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, etc. I swear, a kid who actually lived in a trailer park these days who tried to find a book containing kids like themselves would have to assume that abuse was the norm rather than the exception. So when I saw that both Lyle and Marilla lived in a trailer park and it wasn’t a big deal, that was huge for me. Also, sometimes a book with kids of different religions or ethnicities will make a big deal about the fact. Here, Lyle’s Christian, Dave’s Jewish, and Marilla’s a Jehovah’s Witness and not white but not identified as anything in particular. Quick! Name all the Jehovah’s Witnesses you’ve encountered in children’s books where the story wasn’t ALL about being a Jehovah’s Witness! Riddleburger is making people just people. What a concept.

I’ve been talking a lot this year about books that don’t slot neatly into categories. The kinds of books that mix genres and styles. The Qwikpick Papers will be classed as fiction, no question about it, but its prolific use of photographs certainly separates it from the pack. For example, there’s a moment when the kids are trying to figure out what to do for Christmas. One of them suggests opening a fifty-gallon drum of banana puree that’s been sitting behind an empty Kroger store and there, lo and behold, is an actual honest-to-goodness photograph of a rusty, decaying, very real banana puree barrel. I don’t know whether to hope that Mr. Angleberger took the picture years ago and was just itching for a chance to get to use it, or that he created the barrel himself for the sole purpose of including a photo of it in his book. I also enjoyed the hand-drawn portions. The comic strip All-Zombie Marching Band deserves mention in and of itself (though technically William Nicholson’s The Wind Singer did it too).

I say that the poop, the sheer amount of it, will turn off a lot of adults. At the same time though there are plenty of moments that will lure the grown-ups back in again. Particularly librarians. Particularly librarians that have ever attempted an origami craft with a bunch of kids. For these brave men and women Lyle’s line about the process of doing an unfamiliar animal will ring true. “You follow the instructions through like thirty-four steps and all of a sudden there’s this funky zigzag arrow and on the next page it has turned from a lump of paper into a horse with wings.” YES! Exactly! Thank you!

All in all, I’m a fan. The characters ring true, the dialogue is snappy, the unique format will lure in reluctant readers, and talk about a title custom made for booktalking! There’s not a kid alive today who wouldn’t want to read the book when confronted with the plot. It has ups. It has downs. It has a great sense of place and a whole lot of poop. Take all angles into consideration when considering this book. On my part, I like it and that is that.

On shelves now.

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Professional Reviews of the Original: Kirkus

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17. Best Selling Kids Series | June 2014

Best Selling Books for Kids This month, DK Readers: Star Wars are on top of The Children’s Book Review’s best selling kids series list.

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18. Best Selling Kids Series | July 2014

Thanks to World Cup Soccer, the new Magic Tree House book, Soccer on Sunday, has the series on top of The Children’s Book Review’s best selling kids series list.

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19. El Deafo, by Cece Bell

After an illness at age 4, Cece loses her hearing.  She is soon equipped with a hearing aid that involves wearing a pouch around her neck attached to some "ear globs".  Cece is happy to hear again, but now has to learn how to understand once more.  To top things off, Cece now has to go to a new school.

A good thing about the new school is the other kids are wearing hearing aids too, and Cece is learning some useful skills like lip reading and using visual, context and gestural clues to help in understanding.  Cece is just finding her way, when her family decides to leave the city and head to the country, where she will be going to a regular school.

Cece gets a brand-new-BIG-for-school-only-around-the-neck hearing aid (The Phonic Ear) that comes with a microphone for her teacher to wear and is superpowerful.  What nobody expects is that it comes with the added feature of having a super long range, allowing Cece to hear not only her teacher teaching, but whatever her teacher is doing when she is out of the room as well (yes...even *that*!).

Cece has to negotiate the things that all kids go through at school - including navigating a friend who is not-so-nice, and getting her first crush.  Things unique to her situation include dealing with friends who TALK TOO LOUD AND TOO SLOW, and those who refer to her as their "deaf friend".

This is more than a graphic memoir - it is a school and family story for all kids.  Cece is an imaginative and emotional kid with whom readers will identify.  There is an accessibility to Bell's art that immediate draws you in and you can't help but cheer with her successes and cringe with her tears.  Fans of Telgemeier and Varon will readily scoop this up off of the shelves, and it *will* be passed hand to hand.  I am certain I will see many doodles of Cece and her friends in the margins of writer's notebooks this coming school year.  Do yourself a favor...get more than one!

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20. Best Selling Kids Series | August 2014

This month we have a blast from the past on top of The Children’s Book Review’s best selling kids series list. Who remembers the Mr. Men and Little Miss books?

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21. Interview With Award Winning Author Joanne Rocklin.

I first “met” Joanne Rocklin when she graciously read my manuscript for WHEELS OF CHANGE and provided a lovely blurb. As soon as I read one of her stories, I was hooked.  I couldn’t get enough of her heart-warming and delightful books. Her titles, THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK, and ONE DAY AND ONE AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET, capture the joys and sorrows of childhood with wonderful, unique characters and prose that wedges itself into your heart and takes hold. Her new book – FLEABRAIN LOVES FRANNY – (FLF) debuts this month, so I thought it would be great to feature her on this blog. First, here’s a description of FLF:

A story about a special girl, an inspiring book, and a brilliant (though unintentionally funny) flea.

From the publisher: This gem of a novel takes place in Pittsburgh in 1952. Franny Katzenback, while recovering from polio, reads and falls in love with the brand-new book Charlotte’s Web. Bored and lonely and yearning for a Charlotte of her own, Franny starts up a correspondence with an eloquent flea named Fleabrain who lives on her dog’s tail. While Franny struggles with physical therapy and feeling left out of her formerly active neighborhood life, Fleabrain is there to take her on adventures based on his extensive reading. It’s a touching, funny story set in the recent past, told with Rocklin’s signature wit and thoughtfulness.
Release Date: August, 2014
Amulet Books/Abrams ISBN 978-1-4197-1068-1    fleabrain cover

 
FIVE THINGS LEARNED WHILE WRITING MY MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL FLEABRAIN LOVES FRANNY
My novel takes place in the 1950’s in Pittsburgh, during the worst polio epidemics of that era. Franny, my main character contracts the disease and can no longer walk. During her hospital stay she is introduced to the recently published Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and falls in love with the book, and, especially, the spider, Charlotte. She longs for a Charlotte of her own. Her wish is granted in the form of the brilliant Fleabrain, her dog’s flea.

1.
Much of what I learned while writing FLEABRAIN LOVES FRANNY were writing concepts I had to learn yet again, concepts that are integral to my own personal writing process. I usually begin with a phrase which arrives out of the blue. The phrase feels promising but doesn’t reveal much about the book I’m going to write. The phrase for this book was “you can stop seeking messages in spider webs.” This was Fleabrain’s first message to Franny, although I didn’t know it yet. I had to remember to just go with the phrase and wildly thrash about while I figure out what it means. I had to learn yet again, that for me, the rough draft is messy and chaotic but eventually leads to the story.

2.
Fleabrain provided Franny a necessary escape while she healed, as well as exciting adventures, affection, companionship and joy. He also taught her when it was time to face the real world. Fleabrain taught me, yet again, that humor will always be present in my books, no matter the seriousness of the subject matter, and that’s a good thing.

3.
Research is an ongoing process. I began reading about this particular era and began to get ideas about my character and her dilemma. I realized I had to set it in Pittsburgh because that’s where Dr. Jonas Salk did his important research on the polio vaccine, and I wanted to include a scientist in the story. But I was already deep into my story when I realized I would have to visit Pittsburgh and interview Pittsburghers who remembered that time. My research kept giving me ideas for scenes and themes for subsequent drafts.

4.
A surprising thing I learned while researching and writing this book was that many, many people knew very little about the polio epidemics. Some had never heard of an iron lung, or any of the treatment methods and medical advances associated with polio. Many were surprised to learn about the isolation and prejudice experienced by those stricken, and that most of the young people were required to attend special schools for “crippled” children. In addition, I myself learned that polio survivors were at the very forefront of the disability movement, agitating for many of the things we take for granted today (curb cuts, handicapped-accessible public places, etc.).

5.
And so, I learned yet again that the theme of my story will only become clear to me during the writing of the book itself, not before, and sometimes at the very end of the process. One of the important things that Franny learned is that it is not she who needs to be repaired by learning to walk again, but society itself, in accepting her.New picture book:

Joanne’s picture book:  I SAY SHEHECHYANU  will be out in January, 2015

Visit Joanne at: http://www.joannerocklin.com

 


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22. Review of the Day: El Deafo by Cece Bell

ElDeafo1 198x300 Review of the Day: El Deafo by Cece BellEl Deafo
By Cece Bell
Amulet (an imprint of Abrams)
$21.95
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1020-9
Ages 9-12
On shelves September 2nd

We appear to exist in a golden age of children’s graphic novel memoirs. Which is to say, there are three of them out this year (El Deafo, Sisters, and The Dumbest Idea Ever). How to account for the sudden tiny boom? If I were to harbor a guess I’d say it has something to do with publishers realizing that the genre can prove a profitable one (hat tip then to Smile). We’re beginning to enter into an era where the bulk of the gatekeepers out there, be they parents or teachers or librarians, are viewing comics not as a corrupting influence but rather as a new literary form with which to teach. Memoirs are particularly interesting and have proven to be a wonderful way to slowly ease kids into the big beautiful world of nonfiction. That said, not everyone’s youth is worthy of a retelling. To tell a memoir well you need to have a narrative arc of some sort. One that doesn’t feel forced. For CeCe Bell, her first foray into graphic novels is also telling the story of her youth. The result, El Deafo, is a remarkable look at a great grand question (What to do when you can no longer hear and feel different from everyone you know?) alongside a smaller one that every kid will relate to (How do you find a good friend?). Bell takes the personal and makes it universal, an act that truly requires superhero skills.

Until the age of four CeCe was pretty much indistinguishable from any other kid. She liked her older siblings. She liked to sing to herself. But a sudden bout with meningitis and something changed for CeCe. All at once her hearing was gone. After some experimentation she was fitted with a Sonic Ear (a device that enabled her to hear her teacher’s voice) and started attending classes with other kids like herself. A family trip to a smaller town, however, meant going to a new school and trying to make new friends. When faced with problems she reverts to her pretend superhero self, El Deafo. With subtlety Bell weaves in knowledge of everything from reading lips and sign language to the difficulties of watching un-captioned television. At the same time the book’s heart lies with a single quest: That of finding the absolute perfect friend.

ElDeafo2 327x500 Review of the Day: El Deafo by Cece BellThe rise of the graphic novel memoir of a cartoonist’s youth with a child audience in mind really hit its stride when Raina Telgemeier wrote, Smile. That dire accounting of her at times horrific dental history paved the way for other books in the same vein. So where did my library choose to catalog that graceful memoir? In the biography section? No. In the graphic novel section? Not initially, no. For the first year of its existence it was shelved in nonfiction under the Dewey Decimal number 617.645 T. That’s right. We put it in the dental section. So it was with great trepidation that I looked to see where El Deafo would end up. Would it be in the section on the hearing impaired or would the catalog understand that this book is about so much more than the Sonic Ear? As it happens, the book appears to be primarily cataloged as a memoir more than anything else. Sure the information in there about the deaf community and other aspects of living as someone hearing impaired are nonfiction, but the focus of the story is always squarely on CeCe herself.

The real reason I found the book as compelling as I did was due in large part to the way in which Bell tackles the illogical logic of childhood friendships. So many kids are friends thanks to geographical convenience. You’re my age and live within a certain radius of my home? We’re besties! And Bell’s hearing impaired state is just a part of why she is or is not friends with one person or another. Really, the true arc of the story isn’t necessarily CeCe coming to terms with the Sonic Ear, but rather how she comes to terms with herself and, in doing so, gets the best possible friend. It’s like reading a real life Goldilocks story. This friend is too bossy. This friend is too fixated on Cece’s hearing. But this friend? She’s juuuuuust right.

ElDeafo3 329x500 Review of the Day: El Deafo by Cece BellSo why bunnies? Bell could easily have told her story with human beings. And though the characters in this book appear to be anthropomorphized rabbits (reminding me of nothing so much as when guest stars would appear on the children’s television program Arthur) there is no particular reason for this. They never mention a particular love of carrots or restrict their movements to hop hop hopping. They are, however, very easy on the eyes and very enticing. This book was sitting on my To Be Reviewed shelf when my three-year-old waltzed over and plucked it for her own perusal. The bunnies are accessible. In fact, you completely forget that they even are bunnies in the course of reading the book. You also fail to notice after a while how beautifully Bell has laid out her comic panels too. The sequential storytelling is expertly rendered, never losing the reader or throwing you out of the story. One librarian I spoke to also mentioned how nice it was to see that the dream sequences with El Deafo are always clearly delineated as just that. Dream sequences. Fantasy and reality are easily distinguishable in this novel. No mean feat when everyone has a twitchy little nose.

Maybe we’ve peaked. Maybe we’re seeing as many graphic memoirs for kids as we’ll ever see in a given year. But that can’t be, can it? We all have stories to tell, no matter what our upbringing looked like. There’s always some element in our past that’s relatable to a wide audience. It’s the clever author that knows how to spin that element into a storyline worthy of a younger audience. There isn’t a jot of doubt in my mind that CeCe Bell’s book is going to be vastly beloved by nearly every child that picks it up. Engaging and beautifully drawn, to say nothing of its strength and out-and-out facts, El Deafo is going to help set the standard for what a memoir for kids should be. Infinitely clever. Undeniably fun. Don’t miss it.

On shelves September 2nd.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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23. Best Selling Kids Series | October 2014

The Lets-Read-and-Find-Out Science series is our best selling kids series this month and offers wonderful selections for seasonal science and beyond.

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24. Best Selling Kids Series | November 2014

Once again, The Lets-Read-and-Find-Out Science series is our best selling kids series this month and offers wonderful selections for seasonal science and beyond.

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25. Best Selling Kids Series | December 2014

Best Selling Books for Kids: This month, our best selling kids series is The Marvel Heroes of Reading line of early readers.

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