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Hello! We are Marirosa Mia Garcia and Julie Sternberg, two friends who met at the New School, where we each received an MFA in Creative Writing. We write children's books. We also read them all the time, and share them with one another, and discuss them, and sometimes argue about them. When we find great ones, we read them again and again. And starting this very moment--history in the making!--we blog about them together. The ones we love, anyway. (You'll also see some recommendations here from Julie's earlier blog--a lonelier time.) We're lining up terrific help, too. Once a month true experts, Kathy Hartzler and Angela Ungaro, librarians at Brooklyn Friends School, will post their recommendations. We'll also have regular posts from avid kid readers and (we hope) booksellers and teachers.
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1. So long, and thanks for all the fish!

After several wonderful years of recommending books to you all, we regret to inform you that we will be shutting down Please Don't Read This Book. In the last year, due to family responsibilities and increased workloads, it's become harder and harder for Julie and me to put together these blog posts.
So rather than leave this page up dormant for weeks/months we will be closing up shop.
Once again THANK YOU for joining us over these last years, and you can continue to follow us via our personal websites and blogs. 
You can follow Julie and all her publishing glory via JulieSternberg.com.
And you can follow Mia and all her Gif addictions via ThatsNotWhatIHeard.tumblr.com
Keep reading, 
M and J

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2. Mia's Adventures at Comic-Con!

Mia’s Adventures at Comic-Con International

(in which Mia talks about Comic-Con in a weird stream of consciousness sort of way that possibly makes no sense, but go with it, OK? OK.)

As stated in my previous “Adventures at BEA” post, I love Comic-Con. I do. I love it as an exhibitor and as a … non-exhibitor (regular Joe?) And I also hate it. If you’ve been to Comic-Con (any Comic Convention really), you know what I mean. There’s just a little bit of hate in all that love. Either you hate the lines (lines to the bathroom, lines to get in a panel room, line to get stuff signed, lines to line up), the bumping up on sweaty people because there’s barely any room to move (imagine walking through Time Square on a daily basis with half the people there wearing costumes), the getting wacked in the face at least ten times a day by some dude’s poster tube (not a euphemism), the pain in your legs from standing all day… you get the idea.

 It’s perfectly normal to feel completely fatigued after just one day at Comic-Con. Yet, with all that, we love it don’t we? We wouldn’t put up with it if we didn’t.

Once again this year I attended Comic-Con as an exhibitor with Penguin books. What does it take to exhibit (and yes, being an exhibitor is VERY different than just attending) at the Con? Well, you definitely have to be a geek. No, really, planning Comic-Con is a very, VERY, long process. I start thinking about what authors/books/promotional material to bring at least 7-8 months before Comic-Con starts (while also planning New York Comic Con, because of course schedules overlap). Then there are the panel pitching, author wrangling, creating of promotional materials, finding hotel rooms, booking travel, training staff, handling schedules, freaking out about those things, catching typos in promotional materials, freaking out about that, working with publicity, labeling and shipping over 350 boxes of materials to the convention center… etc.

Then after I’m done with all the exhibitor stuff (which is never, really) I can finally look through the event guide and see what panels I’d like to attend! (Which is any panel not in Hall H or Ballroom 20, because who are we kidding, you aren’t getting in there unless you camp out days before.)

I think the only thing that kept me sane through all of it was, honestly, my love of the Con. My geekiness, if you will. It’s what got me the job in the first place and what’s gotten me through the craziness that is planning SDCC and NYCC (and soon C2E2) as well.

For example, my geekiness is what helps me get through 12-13 hour day at the booth (from set-up to take-down), standing on my feet, talking to person after person (rude and nice) about our books. About how much I love them, and how much they’ll love them, too. Which is amazing! Getting to talk to fellow geeks about the stuff that you love!

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My geekiness is what convinces me that after these brutal shifts I should totally go Con after shows like W00stock (a geek music/comedy festival that goes to midnight), the Nerdist live podcast (where I saw Matt Smith) and a Nerd HQ panel with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk. Because who needs sleep with all the geek stuff happening all around you? No one, that’s who. Certainly not me, I’ll sleep later.  And by later I mean after New York Comic Con (in October, and then it’s back to planning for C2E2 and Comic-Con International 2014!!)

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Now we’ve gotten to the part of this blog post where I’m not sure what I’ve been talking about or where I’m going (has any of this made sense?) My fingers pause over the keys and my brain scurries to figure out what to write next. I can try to explain what it feels like to attend Comic-Con: the crowds, the pushing, the purchasing of anything  and everything (I totally needed those three issues of the Dark Phoenix saga – no, really, I did.), but I think I’ll fall short.

It’s awesome and intense and I’m quite happy it only happens once a year because you’ll need the rest of it to recuperate (and attend other Cons, of course). I will say this. You have to be a geek to enjoy it. You just do.

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3. The Dreamhunter series

9780312535711   Dreamquake-book-two-dreamhunter-duet-elizabeth-knox-paperback-cover-art

Dreamhunter & Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox 

Julie:  I shouldn't be starting our conversation about Elizabeth Knox's DREAMHUNTER and DREAMQUAKE (together, the DREAMHUNTER duet) right now, because I don't have the books nearby.  I'm usually obsessive about flipping through the books we're recommending when I write my parts of our reviews, making sure I have facts right and doing my best to convey the tone and other qualities of the books.  But in a way it's perfect that I don't have DREAMHUNTER and DREAMQUAKE at hand.  Because what I love most about them is how powerfully their story has stayed with me in the weeks since I finished the books.  I remember these two books far better than most, even though their pacing is slower than many of the fantasies I've loved, and even though they lack the kind of distinctive voice that I'm typically drawn to.  Mia, did DREAMHUNTER and DREAMQUAKE cast the same lasting spell for you?      

Marirosa Mia: DREAMHUNTER did and didn't, Julie. Let me explain. I enjoyed reading it. The language was lush and descriptive. It had a certain leisurely tone that I quite enjoyed, and I could see the thought behind it. The plot chugged along, and it wasn't until I finished that I realized that I was missing something. But what? It wasn't until I read DREAMQUAKE that it all came together for me, that it felt like that big moment - that crescendo if you will - when everything works. A lot happens in DREAMHUNTER, but at the same time not a lot does. It really does need DREAMQUAKE to feel fully formed and have impact. Am I making sense, Julie? 

Julie: I agree wholeheartedly.  DREAMHUNTER sets the stage for the far more compelling action and satisfying resolution of DREAMQUAKE.  I was intrigued by DREAMHUNTER--its ideas, tone, characters, and world--but the book is a prelude.  The foundation built in DREAMHUNTER allows DREAMQUAKE to excel.  DREAMQUAKE is a Printz Honor book; DREAMHUNTER is not; and that is fitting.  

But we haven't even summarized the story yet!  Let me give that a shot:  Laura and Rose Hame are cousins and friends who live in a world much like ours, except for its proximity to the Place, a land wherein a select few can "catch" dreams.  These dream hunters can then share those dreams with the rest of the community.  At the start of DREAMHUNTER, Laura and Rose are eligible to determine whether either qualifies as a dream hunter.  Their relationship becomes strained when one of them qualifies and the other does not.  At the same time, Laura's father--like Rose's mother, an acclaimed dream hunter--disappears under circumstances suggesting dark forces at play in the Place.  The girls' efforts, and those of their family, to set right what has gone very wrong continue in DREAMQUAKE.

I'm not sure I just did the story justice, but it's not easy to sum up a new world and its rules.  How'd I do, Mia?  

M: Very well, considering my reaction to the book's back copy was, "I'm sorry, but what?" Ha! But back to the books and particularly Rose and Laura, whom I cared for dearly. I was first very attached to Rose and her fiery nature, but by the end of the first book I was with Laura all the way (not to say that I started to dislike Rose, but just that my concern for Laura increased exponentially). By the end I wanted Laura to succeed in all her endeavors and become the greatest heroine in the WORLD...or at least pretty darn good. What about you, Julie?

J:  I also care deeply for both Rose and Laura--and their parents.  All of these characters are flawed, but all of them (whether gifted with dream-hunter powers or not) are heroic.  Knox does a terrific job of bringing them to life and making us sympathize with them and root for them.  (Though I did find Rose's ultimate treatment by her parents a bit mysterious.  Do you know what I mean?)  I also like that the book made me think in a different way about dreams and their effects.  I suppose it would be quite powerful to be able to inflict nightmares--or dreams of contentment--night after night, on a significant percentage of the population.  Though I'm not sure it would be as powerful as Knox contends.  What do you think?    

M: Well, as a person who often suffers from incredibly vivid nightmares after which I can't go back to sleep until the sun is up...I might be with Knox on this one, Julie! And I suppose there's something to be said for the lack of sleep accumulation!

J:  So true!  (Just remembering my nasty, sleep-deprived self when my girls were infants...yeesh.)  But what about the effects of contented dreams?  

M:  I think I might be just the person to ask these questions since I'm always affected by my dreams (as they tend to be very vivid and also have giant back stories). I always have a bit of a hop in my step after a really lovely dream. So in my case I can see what Knox is getting at. I should probably be in some sort of sleep study program...

J:  Huh.  Turns out I'm a wimpy dreamer.  How sad.

M: Depends on the dream I suppose. Not sure you’d ever want to experience one of my nightmares!

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4. Classically Challenged: Wind in the Willows


Wind In the Willows by Kennith Greene

Sylvie Larsen: Nothing made me more desperate for summer than reading THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS.  Kennith Greene’s pastoral novel about anthropomorphic animals “messing about in boats” and running around in the woods made me long for that idea of summer, friendships and adventure.  It also made me long to see an otter consulting a pocket watch, but I just don’t live in Greene’s world; and I have to come to terms with that.

Rather than one cohesive story the book is composed of several snippets from the lives of some of the creatures who live in this forest/river area.  Mostly we follow Mole, Water Rat, and Toad as they go through their cute little days doing cute little things. They have picnics and spring cleaning days; they go off to visit friends and have adventures.  One such adventure leads them to discover the god Pan hanging out on an island, and it blows their tiny little minds.  Pan knows this, of course (he’s a god), and so erases it from their memories.  The book is filled with these, “Wait...what?” moments, such as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, which while the inspiration for a fun ride at Disney, leads to a rather bleak jail sentence for the guy.  

I will say that there were moments where I was a bit confused about the rules of this little forest world, such as how anyone makes money or how a frog can borrow clothes from a human (are they the same size?), but of course, when reading a book like this it is best to suspend one’s disbelief and just go with it.  For example, while Mole, Rat and Toad are venturing out for a picnic, Mole chooses to walk with the horse, as the horse had complained of feeling “frightfully left out,” but later on another horse isn’t able to speak at all!  

Aside from those little issues with “rules,” THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS would make an excellent bedtime book as the chapters are mostly self-contained stories. I will say it might be a bit tough for a young reader, as there are lots of British-isms and long words that may need to be clarified, but that is not always a bad thing!

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5. Mia goes to BEA...for like a bit.

A (half) day at BEA (Book Expo America)

Marirosa Mia:  I’m going to be honest. I’m not a huge BEA fan. This doesn’t mean I dislike it; it just doesn’t cause the same happy thoughts that Comic-Con International and New York Comic Con cause. It’s probably because I’m not very involved in the planning of BEA, unlike SDCC and NYCC. Usually I pop in at BEA for an hour and I pop out, which you can’t really do at NYCC because of the dangerous number of people.

So this year I was happy to tag along with my good friend Colleen and see what BEA had to offer to those of us who didn’t wait in line at 9 am and instead sauntered in around, say, 1-ish.

First off, how fantastic is the Penguin-branded book mobile and cart?

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I love how they don’t actually say “Penguin” anywhere, but the brand speaks for itself! So adorable and classic. Gah. Love it.  Colleen and I mused about driving it all the way down to Chicago Comic Con and taking pictures with the world’s biggest ball of twine, but I doubt they’ll let us steal it!

Then I was walking down some aisles and saw this little guy!!!! (Please note that I just got back from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so I’m freshly obsessed with HP.)

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I think it was a display copy and not for sale, which is sad because what a great addition it would make to any library!

And of course it wouldn’t be BEA without people signing books. Got to see Paula Deen signing new copies of her next cookbook and the lovely Anna Jarzab signing ARCs of Tandem, her book coming out in October of this year!

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And I used my super secret ‘work in publishing’ super powers to score some ARCs from my publisher friends! Super excited to read the new Nancy Farmer and Holly Black’s new book, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. And my friend at S&S assured me that Ghost Hawk was a great read, so I can’t wait to dive in. 

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And possibly the best present for the expectant geek in your life: Superhero board books!!!!!! How perfect are these?

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So while it hasn’t wedged itself into my heart like the Cons, BEA was pleasantly civilized and a lovely way to spend the afternoon! Plus there was air conditioning, and they were giving out cupcakes!

What about you guys? Anyone go to BEA? What did you think? What did you snag? 

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6. Author You Should be Reading: DIANA WYNNE JONES

Diana Wynne Jones

Now this edition of Author You Should Be Reading is as much for myself as it is for you, dear reader. This is because, though I’ve read and re-read and re-read HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE (read our review here), THE GAME, and FIRE AND HEMLOCK, I have yet to delve into her other books! Of which there are 40! So may this edition of AYSBR serve as a reminder to all of us to get our butts in gear!

First, a bit on Diana Wynne Jones, plucked from her website: Diana Wynne Jones was born in London, where she had a chaotic and unsettled childhood against the background of World War II. As children, Diana and her two sisters were deprived of a good, steady supply of books by her father, ‘who could beat Scrooge in a meanness contest’. So, armed with a vivid imagination and an insatiable quest for good books to read, she decided that she would have to write them herself.

Over the course of her life she wrote over 40 works of art (including picture books, short stories and novels) and won both the Mythopoeic Award (1999) and the Karl Edward Wagner award (1999).

So we have much to catch up on, yes? Yes.

Diana’s work is singular. Her prose is simple yet rich in texture and tone. Within a sentence or two you are there (there being wherever she chooses to take you!). There is a Diana Wynne Jones book for any reader, really. Do you like adventure? There’s a book for you. Fantasy? There’s a book for you. Witty writing and unforgettable characters? Spoiler alert, there’s a book for you!


Though, as confessed, I’ve only read a small smattering of her work, I continue to go back to it over and over again. If that isn’t one of the marks of a great piece of work, then I don’t know what is. I can pick up HOWL’S or FIRE AND HEMLOCK and both remember why I loved it and discover something new to love.

 Darn! Now I want to re-read them again.

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7. Classically Challenged: MATILDA!

Matilda - Roald Dahl

Marirosa Mia: Once again please welcome the lovely Sylvie Larsen in another edition of Classically Challenged!

Sylvie: MATILDA, by Roald Dahl is a book for bookish children.  An ode to the bookworm.  It’s a treat for those of us who love to read and see that as something that sets us apart from the rest of the herd.  The story is about a small girl who love, love, loves to read.  Her family, unfortunately, loves to do droll things like watch TV, swindle people and play bingo.  They hate reading; they don’t particularly like Matilda either.  And as dumb as her family is, so Matilda is prodigiously smart.  She is tackling Dickens, Faulkner, and Wells and she’s not even 5 years old.  Already, there is a hint of magic in that.  In addition to her terrible family, Matilda has to compete with her school’s demonic headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, who is, frankly, psychotic.  It’s not a surprise that Matilda lashes out at authority; whenever they do something rotten to her, she does something even more rotten to them. Her punishments are all fun and games until Matilda discovers she’s kinda telekinetic.  

Matilda is not the contrary, outcast character you would expect from this kind of story.  Sure, she’s brilliant and cunning, but she’s also just a little girl.  As soon as she gets to school, she makes friends with the other students.  They are her allies in the battle between headmistress and students.  Their teacher, Miss Honey, also sees the injustice of the headmistress and acts as the caring mother-figure Matilda has always wanted.  

I loved this book.  The story is whimsical and pretty darn heartwarming.  Reading it as an adult has been a treat; I wish I had read it as a bookish child.  The illustrations by Quentin Blake are adorable.  I really like his cute little Matilda line drawings; she makes a great companion throughout the story. I hope that she inspires young readers to keep challenging their minds.  

Since its 25 years out in the world, MATILDA has inspired a movie, a radio play, and now a musical on Broadway! With all these new ways to experience MATILDA I hope the message of challenging oneself will reach a wider audience.

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8. House of the Scorpion


The House of the Scorpion Nancy Farmer

Marirosa Mia: I confess I had never heard of Nancy Farmer’s THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION until about a year ago, when a fellow publishing person called it her favorite science fiction novel. I grew up in Puerto Rico, where most of the English language novels I read were either for school or part of the HARRY POTTER series. My education in English language science fiction didn't come until much later, and frankly I'm still not as fluent as I'd like to be! So I was quite happy to discover that Julie also wanted to read THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION and I should add it to my list.

First, a plot summary:  Matteo Alacran is special. He is a clone. A clone of one of a feared and hated drug lord, "El Patron."  Matteo lives in luxury because of El Patron's support, but is hated by the rest of El Patron's family.  Like most of their society, those family members consider clones no better than livestock. Matt is cared for by Celia (who loves him like her own), Tam Lin (who teaches him quite a few lessons for survival), and Maria (who gives Matt friendship, and with whom he falls in love) as he journeys to discover who he is as an individual and within society.

Julie, what did you think of THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION? 

Julie:  Oh, I love this book.  It's easy to see why it won a trifecta of children's book awards when it came out in 2003 (the National Book Award, a Printz Honor, and a Newbery Honor).  I feel rotten that I waited so long to read it!  I've owned it since 2003 (hiding my head in shame now), and I remember reading the first couple of pages.  But those pages have a far more technical feel--a far more "you are reading science fiction!" feel--than the rest of the book.  I didn't love them, and I set the book aside.  What a mistake!  This book has riveting action and tension; it raises and compellingly addresses interesting moral questions; and it brings to life multidimensional characters whose relationships I cared about.  After the first ten pages or so, I did not want to put the book down.  I loved watching Matteo grow older surrounded by people who sometimes surprised me and sometimes did not--always in satisfying ways--and understanding more about his world with him.  Did you feel the same, Mia?    

M: Couldn't agree with you more. One of my main issues with science fiction is that often I have a hard time finding the humanity through all the technical speak and high concept ideas. All the shiny ships and guns in the world won't save a book if there isn't a beating heart at the middle of all of it. At least, not with me. And THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION's beating heart is Matteo and his journey to discover who he is and what that says about those around him (and us as readers); it's Celia and her love for Matteo and defiance of El Patron; it's Tam Lin and his tragic redemption at the end of the novel; and it's Maria and her continuous affection for Matteo. And the ending, oh lord, the ending. I think you and I disagree on the ending, Julie--I thought it was so poetic and tragic.  But let me turn it back to you. Any more thoughts on the novel? The ending?

J:  I like the very end of the book.  But there are several chapters before that--I don't want to say too much!  I hate spoilers--that I found frustrating.  In those chapters, Matteo is away from the other characters who've brought the story to life.  And I missed that setting and all of its energy and tension.   Does that make sense?

M: Totally. Not sure I'm there with you, but I see what you mean. I'll be interested to see where we pick up in the sequel!

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9. Oh, the possibilities!


Julie:  It can take a while for Mia and me to find a book we both love.  This is an obvious downside of our dialogue format for recommendations.  (A huge upside, for me anyway, is that it's far more fun to talk about a good book with a friend than to ramble on all by my lonesome.  But I digress.)  To fill those quiet intervals, we thought we might start sharing a bit of our process for identifying the books that we think have potential.  And so, here are some of my recent thoughts.  

I suggested HOKEY POKEY, by Jerry Spinelli, after reading this review by celebrity librarian Betsy Bird:  http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2013/01/14/review-of-the-day-hokey-pokey-by-jerry-spinelli/.  Bird admits that Spinelli's prior books have left her cold, then says that HOKEY POKEY is "one of the strongest works of children’s fiction I have ever had the sheer joy to encounter."  Surely that's worth a read!  So it's now on our list.

I also like teacher Monica Edinger's blog, "Educating Alice."  She recently posted this rave preview of an upcoming fantasy novel for young adults: "Even though MORTAL FIRE isn’t out till June I want to write about it now to get the word out as it is simply spectacular.  And to encourage those fantasy fans among you unfamiliar with Elizabeth Knox to go and read her two other also fabulous young adult books, DREAMHUNTER and DREAMQUAKE, the latter a Printz honor book."  http://medinger.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/coming-soonish-elizabeth-knoxs-mortal-fire/  And so I'm proposing to Mia, at this very moment, that we take a look at DREAMHUNTER.  Mia, what do you think?  

Finally, my younger daughter, Isabel, recently devoured the middle-grade novel SEE YOU AT HARRY'S, by Jo Knowles.  Maybe we should add that to our middle-grade list, Mia? Also, any suggestions to add?

Julie again:  Wait!  I've found more possibilities, before you've even had the chance to respond!  Take a look at this fabulous list from husband-wife uber-talents Philip and Erin Stead (seriously, those author-illustrators are jaw-droppingly good.  They’ve chosen "the books [from 2012] that meant something special to us at this point in our lives. These are books that challenged us to be better writers and illustrators."  Here's the link:  http://philipstead.com/2013/01/22/announcing-the-4th-annual-phildecott-and-steadbery-awards.   And here are some of the picture books from this list that intrigue me:  STEPHEN AND THE BEETLE, by Jorge Lujan; A TRIP TO THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD WITH MOUSE, by Frank Viva; and BONE DOG.  Note, too, that Steve Sheinkin's BOMB (middle grade non-fiction) is showing up everywhere as a 2012 favorite, including this list.  Hmm.

And one more option!  I never read Nancy Farmer's HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, a 2004 science fiction novel for young teens, which won (get this!  how often does this happen?!) the National Book Award and the Newbery Honor and the Printz Honor.  Wow.  Seems worth reading, right?  Especially because the sequel is due out in September.  

That's it!  I think.  I make no promises.   

Marirosa Mia: Am I good to go? You sure? (waits a few minutes just in case)  I'm all for reading HOUSE OF THE SCORPION! I've been meaning to read it for a while. And I already have my copy of HOKEY POKEY on the way.  I'll make sure to add DREAMHUNTER to that mix, Julie!

Let's see. On my end I’m interested in reading TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG, which I looked up after a friend recommended it. The description is quite intriguing in that it doesn't say much! "Ned Henry shuttles between the 1940s and the 21st century while researching Coventry Cathedral for a patron interested in rebuilding it until the time continuum is disrupted." Time continuum disrupted? I'M THERE. Plus it feels a bit Terry Pratchett-like, so I'm intrigued.

I just got my copy of TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME, and I can't wait to devour it soon. A few others I'm looking forward to are OUT OF THE EASY, by Ruta Sepetys, and PAPER VALENTINE, by Brenna Yovanoff.  I'm a fan of both of these ladies' work, so I can't wait for their latest.

J:  We're so set!  But, just because it’s raining children's book reading ideas right now, let me close by noting that School Library Journal's annual Battle of the Kids Books has begun!  Here's their list; we can check it against ours:  http://battleofthebooks.slj.com.  Oh, and by the way, my copy of DREAMHUNTER has arrived!  (Boy, was that fast.)  I might have to start with it, since Isabel has stolen HOKEY POKEY. 

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10. Classically Challenged: Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde

Sylvie Larsen: Did you know Oscar Wilde wrote fairy tales? I didn’t.  It’s an interesting peek into Wilde, since most people only know DORIAN GREY or THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST.  There are nine “children’s” stories published in two volumes.  I put children’s in quotes since I doubt most children know words like anodyne, even with a fancy British education.  

For this article, I read a little of both volumes for the sake of comparison. From The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888), I read “The Happy Prince,” “The Nightingale and the Rose,” and “The Selfish Giant.  From The House of Pomegranates (1891), I read “The Young King” and “Birthday of the Infanta.”  I found the stories unexpectedly religious and a bit sad, but Oscar sure can turn a phrase.  

I like fairy tales, and I love fairy tales that haven’t been completely co-opted by Disney.  These stories are a great addition to the canon of fairy tales, and I think they should be read alongside Grimm and Aesop.  The power of most fairy tales lies in the their morals and characters’ actions, but the power of Wilde’s stories lies in the writing.  For instance, a character in “The Birthday of the Infanta” walks through a castle, and it’s one of the best descriptions of walking through a castle I’ve ever read.  

These stories feature all the usual components of fairy tales:  There are princes and princesses, talking flowers and birds, giants and dwarves.  But the places in the stories aren’t usual.  And the tales are sadder than our stereotype, at least, of the genre:  The love stories don’t work themselves out in the end; sacrifices are made to no effect; and great changes are not always for the best.  

Like true fairy tales, the stories have morals to be learned by the reader.  They focus on such aspects of life as compassion, self-sacrifice, faith, and a message of anti-vanity mixed with the appreciation of aesthetic and natural beauty.  

I don’t know why I was so surprised to find so much religion in these stories.  Jesus is a character in “The Selfish Giant,” where faith is represented by a garden.  The themes of “The Birthday of the Infanta” and “The Nightingale and the Rose” are a bit harder to pin down.  There are issues of nature and beauty mixed with issues of class and disappointment.  I would have loved to rip both apart for a college essay, but this blog post is the closest I’ll get.  

While I wouldn’t recommend these stories for a young child looking for a nice bedtime story, I think they would be appropriate for older kids looking for something darker to read.

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11. So many books, so little time!

Marirosa Mia: There are thousands of books published each year, which makes me both incredibly happy and incredibly sad, because there’s simply not enough time to read every single one of them! 2012 was another great year for books in all genres and for all ages. Though I can say that I probably read close to 60 books in 2012 (half of which aren’t coming out until THIS year!), there are still many 2012 books I need to get to. Like:

LIAR & SPY – Rebecca Stead:  WHEN YOU REACH ME was the first book Julie and I reviewed on this blog and one of the reasons I wanted to start a blog in the first place, so I can’t wait to read Stead's new novel!

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS – John Green:  Please don’t yell at me because I haven’t read it yet. YES, I know, I know, but I guess I’m waiting for when I want to die in a puddle of my own tears to read it, OK?

TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME – Carol Rifka Brunt:  An amazing title. Gorgeous cover. Gut-wrenching plotline: 1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

Julie:  I also need to read LIAR & SPY, but I've beat you to THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME.  I loved TELL THE WOVLES I'M HOME, and I'm apparently the only reader on the planet who found THE FAULT IN OUR STARS ultimately tiresome.  I suspect if I'd loved it, then you would've read it too by now, for a possible blog review.  Sorry about that!

I'm intrigued by BUILDING STORIES, by Chris Ware, in which stories are presented in a host of different formats.  I've never seen a better reviewed book. Check out these review excerpts: http://www.amazon.com/Building-Stories-Chris-Ware/dp/product-description/0375424334/ref=dp_proddesc_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books.   It's certainly not a book for younger kids, though. Maybe young adults. 

I recently read and enjoyed Louise Erdich's THE PLAGUE OF DOVES (written for adults) and liked it enough to order CHICKADEE, her 2012 middle-grade novel about twin brothers who somehow become separated.  (Erdich's THE ROUND HOUSE, a sister book to THE PLAGUE OF DOVES, won the National Book Award this year.)

And I became fascinated by Lisa O'Donnell's THE DEATH OF BEES after hearing an interview with her on NPR this weekend.  I'm cheating a little with this one, since it's technically a 2013 release.  But it fascinates me because the synopsis of the plot is so similar to that of THE SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS, a 2012 middle-grade novel by Sara Pennypacker.  Both books involve two girls trying to hide the death of the grownups in their household.  Pennypacker also wrote the CLEMENTINE books, which I wholeheartedly love; but I was disappointed by THE SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS.  I have a hunch that THE DEATH OF BEES will compare favorably--and that comparing the two will yield interesting writing tips.  We'll see!    

M: Those all sounds great! How about our readers out there? Any 2012 books you haven't gotten to? What 2013 reads are you dying to sink your teeth into? As for us, Julie, we better start reading.

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12. Author You Should be Reading: ROBIN MCKINLEY

Robyn1Marirosa Mia: Hello, everyone.  For a while I've been tossing around the idea of a new segment called "An Author You Should be Reading."  But thanks to life, the holidays, and NaNoWriMo, my first post got a bit delayed. Here it is, FINALLY. 
My first author you should be reading?  The one and only Robin McKinley.  Let me give a general overview of what I love about her; Julie and I have already reviewed two of her pieces, SUNSHINE and THE HERO AND THE CROWN, in more detail. 
I first discovered McKinley when my lovely friend, Annie, handed me a copy of SUNSHINE, confident that I would fall as deeply in love with McKinley's writing as she had. After reading SUNSHINE, I immediately purchased every McKinley book I could find in my local bookstore:  BEAUTY, SPINDLE'S END and DEERSKIN.  Reading each felt easy, like visiting an old friend. With just a sentence or two McKinley builds a world. She chooses her structure carefully and guides her readers expertly along the way. Of all her novels (I've read even more after that bookstore run), my favorites are DEERSKIN, SUNSHINE, and THE HERO AND THE CROWN. Like most of McKinley's work, those novels feature a strong female character - a survivor - who plows on, regardless of the obstacles she faces. 
Robyn2I also admire the way McKinley handles love. It isn't flowery or ornate; it simply is.  There are no mistaken identities or accidental kissings of the wrong person--nothing messy or scandalous.  But the love portrayed is still intense, and very real.
McKinley is a writer who will always have a home on my bookshelf. If you get a chance, pick up one of her books, like Newbery Honor winner THE BLUE SWORD or Newbery medalist THE HERO AND THE CROWN. Or maybe SUNSHINE is the book for you--Neil Gaiman called it "perfect." McKinley's many fairy tale retellings, like SPINDLE'S END or DEERSKIN, are also well worth trying.  Reading any of these, you might find yourself a new friend.

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13. Classically Challenged: Anne of Green Gables


Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Marirosa Mia: Once again the lovely Sylvie Larsen joins us for another edition of Classically Challenged, in which Sylvie dives into classic children’s books that she’s never read before!

Sylvie: This month, I read Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery.  I got to know the story of Anne from a mini-series that aired on the Disney Channel in the early 90s, but I had never read the book until now.  I was not surprised by how much I enjoyed it, as I was an overly dramatic youth.  So Anne remains a character close to my heart.   

The story takes place in about 1910 or so, when the book was written.  Anne Shirley is a red-headed orphan who is adopted accidentally (they ordered a boy from the orphanage) by an elderly brother and sister, the Cuthberts.  She goes to live with them on their farm in rural Prince Edward Island, on the east coast of Canada.  The Cuthberts are pretty run-of-the-mill folks, but Anne is a dreamer.  She doesn’t really understand the social norms of her new life because she had always lived inside her own head.  One of the sadder things about reading this book as an adult was realizing that Anne is such a dreamer because of her pretty terrible childhood.  She moved around to several different foster homes before ending up in the orphanage, and she describes a few of her situations rather bleakly in the book.  But once she gets to Green Gables (which is the name of the house she lives in with the Cuthberts), Anne proves to be a light in the lives of her elderly caretakers.  Mischief ensues and old hearts are opened to the young.  

The narrative moves quickly, sometimes skipping months at a time without much mention of what occurred.  Also, the chapters seem a bit like episodes, each covering one or two of Anne’s misadventures.  She’s always finding trouble when she just wants to do good!  Like any true heroine in a children’s book, however, Anne learns from her mistakes; and the reader watches her grow as a person by the end of the book.  One of my favorite quotes appears early in the book:  “You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair. ... People who haven’t red hair don’t know what trouble is.”  Although my hair is only auburn, I concur.  
If you know any little girls who wander around the woods talking to fairies or reciting poetry, or if you were one yourself, this is the book for you!  Plus, it’s only the first in a series of Anne books that follow her life through adulthood, so if you love Anne as much as I do you don’t have to leave her after only one book.

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14. The Gift of Nothing


The Gift of Nothing – Patrick McDonell

 Julie:  I have committed a cardinal sin for a children's book writer.  I have, in my lifetime, read picture books like THE GIFT OF NOTHING and thought, So simple!  So few words!  How hard can it be?  Several years and one master's degree later, let me tell you:  To write a truly good picture book?  Very, very hard.  But Patrick McDonnell has done it.  THE GIFT OF NOTHING is playful, timeless, meaningful, linguistically interesting, and full of heart.  I wish I’d written it.  Mia, did you like it as much as I did?

M: Julie, THE GIFT OF NOTHING caught me by surprise.  I was reading along, thinking, OK, this is cute.  The humor reminds me a bit of I’M BORED in the way it handles the tediousness of everyday life (for instance, pointing out that there's nothing to watch on 200 channels of TV).  But then I got to the end and was tearing up. THE GIFT OF NOTHING is sweet and simple, accomplishing so much with so little.  The same could be said for the art, with its attention to the white space on the page.  The words deepen what we see on the page.  Julie?  

J:  Yes, the style of the art perfectly suits the style of the text. And I love that there's humor and depth. I splurged for the special gift edition, which comes complete with lovely packaging.  Perfect for those upcoming holidays.  I might need to get another, because I have twin nephews. 

M: Woohoo for getting some holiday shopping off your plate, Julie. And off we go to find more books to recommend!

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15. Blog Hop!

Hey Everyone! Today Julie and I are part of a Blog Hop called “The Next Big Thing,” a way for writers to speak about their works-in-progress and spread the word about their fellow writers. Julie and I were tagged a couple of weeks ago by the lovely Jackie Resnick (you can read her post here) and were going to place our post up on Halloween, but Hurricane Sandy put a bit of a damper on our blogging. But now we are BACK and ready to answer questions.

Here we go:

What is the working title of your book?

Marirosa Mia: STONE GIRL is my working title at the moment, but I am TERRIBLE at thinking up titles. I thought of doing a little poetry/song research for some inspiration but have yet to find anything.

Julie:  LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER, the sequel to my first book, LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE, is due out in April. 

Where did the idea come from for the book?

 M: Oh gosh. I started writing the piece about 3 years ago and put it away to continue working on another novel for my thesis, then a few months ago it found its way to me again. The idea first came to me like all my others:  A scene plays in my head over and over again like a movie. For this particular novel it was a house, decaying, and the lost girl inside it. I simply couldn’t get her and the house out of my head. 

J:  My first book, LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE, tells the story of a girl, Eleanor, whose longtime, beloved babysitter moves away.  For the first time, Eleanor is left by someone she loves.  For the sequel, I thought I’d write about Eleanor herself leaving loved ones (temporarily) for the first time.  LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER thus tells the story of Eleanor’s first experience at sleepaway camp.

PickleJuice_cover-a     9781419701900

What genre does your book fall under?

M: Fantasy

J:  Realistic Fiction, for young middle-grade readers

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

 M: Uh. Ada is a strong, athletic, 20-something woman. She’s a bit like an owl, watching patterns and behavior; she trusts few but loyal to those she loves. She’s a bit like Jennifer Garner when she played Sidney Bristow in ALIAS. So maybe an unknown who shares that same strength.

J:  Bailee Madison might make a great Eleanor.  Should I confess that I’m most familiar with her work as a guest star on Wizards of Waverly Place?  (I have daughters!  Disney shows are unavoidable!)

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

 M: Cursed by a witch, a young girl is unable to step outside the confines of her home without turning to stone; her relationships, her loves exists through the bars of her confinement.

J:  Nine-year-old Eleanor attends sleepaway camp for the first time and is not a happy camper.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

 M: Once it’s finished I hope to send out query letters to agents.

J:  I’m represented by Rosemary Stimola of the Stimola Literary Studio; Abrams Books will publish BUG JUICE.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

 M: Still writing it. And I just joined NaNoWriMo (friend me if you are doing it as well) so I’m hoping it will help me finished a good full rough draft of it.

J:  The first draft took about three months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

 M: It definitely has a fairytale vibe. A bit of Robin McKinley perhaps. Clearly I’m terrible at this.

J: IVY AND BEAN, by Annie Barrows; CLEMENTINE, by Sara Pennypacker

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

 M: You know how it is, when characters simply won’t leave your head until they are written down.

J:  My younger daughter suffered from intense homesickness during her first summer at sleepaway camp.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

M: There’s a bit of a tortured romance in there. John who has just came back from the war (World War I) and he can’t seem to connect with anything from his old life finds a flame of hope in Ada.

J:  The illustrator for PICKLE JUICE, Matthew Cordell, is also working on BUG JUICE and is doing a terrific job.  His sketches make me laugh every time I flip through them. 


Thank you so much for reading about our work! 


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16. Classically Challenged: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Marirosa Mia: In a new segment I’m going to call “Classically Challenged,” I’ve brought along my lovely librarian friend Sylvie Larsen, who each month will talk about a classic children’s book she’s never read—until now. This month it’s THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, by L. Frank Baum.

But before we get started, I asked Sylvie to write a little bio for herself so you could get to know her a bit. Here’s what she sent me: “Sylvie grew up running wild in the woods of New England, reading books whilst sitting in trees.  Now a New Yorker, she earned her Master's in Library and Information Science and has yet to find the perfect climbing tree in the city.”

And now, Sylvie:

Sylvie Larsen: This post is as good a place as any to admit that I was never all that into THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ as a child. Sure, I watched the movie, but it’s not something that was a big part of my life, as it was for some people.  That being said, you can’t really UNSEE the movie, so it is pretty impossible to read the book without some sort of comparison to the iconic film.  While it’s interesting to see what parts they chose to put in the movie and where the songs would go, it’s far more interesting to discover what didn’t make it into the film.  I found the book to be a better story than the movie.     

First, let me put this book into some historical perspective.  To say that this was a time of great change in America is an understatement.  Phones, cars, moving pictures and early aviation were all becoming parts of regular life.  Every day, more and more immigrants were coming to America.  So, the idea that a little girl was suddenly picked up and dropped into a new land is not too far from what some new Americans were experiencing.  It was an exciting time to be a child, and I think this book captures that well.

The story is as fast paced as you’d expect a bedtime story to be. Dorothy leads a dull life before she is whisked away by a tornado to the magical land of Oz.  She picks up a few travel companions on her way to ask the wise Wizard to help her get back to Kansas.  Quite a lot happens to our heroes on their travels and some of it is pretty dark.  I recently read the following synopsis of the movie: “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.” Sure, Dorothy arrives safely in Oz, but she inadvertently murders someone upon landing.  Even though everyone tells her she’s done a great thing, Dorothy is obviously upset about the whole thing...well, as upset as one can be and still steal the corpse’s shoes from her feet (which are silver and not ruby, interestingly enough).  

In general, I wanted to know a little more about what was going on in the characters’ heads.  There is no backstory or character development, just a girl and a dog right from the get-go.  It is really just like her trip down the road of yellow bricks, a succession of things that happen.  Even when things get pretty scary for Dorothy on her travels through Oz, she keeps an impressively level head throughout...or her emotions are not really covered in the story. The moral of the story, if there really is one, comes from the purpose of the mission.  The characters are on their way to visit the Wizard to get what they believe they need to be better, but while they are being placed in these impossible situations along the way, the Cowardly Lion acts pretty darn brave, the Scarecrow comes up with some pretty cunning plans for someone who doesn’t have a brain, and the Tin Man is a total sweetie for someone who doesn’t have a heart.  I guess they had what they needed all along, they just needed Dorothy to come along and give them the chance to prove themselves.

I wish I could have read this before seeing the movie.  Fortunately, there are 13 more books in the series that haven’t been turned into movies, so I can discover more of Oz without always having to imagine Judy Garland.  


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17. I'm bored


I'm bored.

 Written by Michael Ian Black and Illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Marirosa Mia: Yay, picture book time! I love it when Julie and I find a picture book we both enjoy. This time around we have I'M BORED, written by comedian Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Our story starts with a little girl - a very bored little girl.  There's simply nothing for her to do except lament how boring everything is. I dread the day my niece enters this age. Soon the little girl meets a talking potato who is equally bored. (I really want to make some sort of potato pun here but I can't think of any yet! It will come to me.) One would think the two would become fast friends, bonded by their lack of entertainment. But NO, not so at all. Not only is the potato still bored, but he also thinks children are soooo boring, unlike flamingos, who are super-exciting. (FACT: Flamingos are actually awesome.) Unwilling to stand for this, the little girl sets off to prove that children aren't boring at all by showing the potato all the amazing, imagination-filled things they can do! But is it enough to entertain one very bored potato?  I'm not going to say, but - spoiler alert - a flamingo does make an appearance. 

J:  This book cries out, "Read me to a bunch of kids!  I'm perfect for it, you'll see!"  It's fun and funny and fast and clever.  I'm terrible at creating different voices when I read aloud, but even I feel inspired to give a very dramatic reading.  How often does one get to give voice to a potato?  I love the art, too.  It's bold but also spare, and colorful, and full of life and movement.  What do you think about the art, Mia?  And do you have any quibbles with the book?   

M: I want a Part Two! With the flamingo and the potato. Does that count as a quibble? I thought the art worked perfectly with the text of the book. It was simple yet kinetic - if that makes sense. There was always a sense of movement to the art, even from the beginning. I can't wait to read it to my niece, who's already in love with CREEPY CARROTS. 

J:  Um, that's not exactly what I had in mind as a quibble.  But it's a great idea!  As for a quibble of my own, I think a few variations on the potato's "boring" refrain might have been fun.  A "yawn" or a "snooze," perhaps; a "been there, done that."  Having a zillion "boring"s became a little (can you guess?) (you got it!) boring.  But it's such a trivial complaint.  I still love the book.  I'm tempted to gather my far-too-old children around me now and try a little story time.  Because we've all been cooped up in this apartment for the past 48 hours.  We could certainly use a potato and a flamingo. 


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18. Creepy Carrots


Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds. Illustrated by Peter Brown

Marirosa Mia: Jasper Rabbit LOVES carrots. He loves them like I love Nutella, which is a lot, people. He plucks them from Crackenhopper Field on the way to school, a game, or back home. Then one day Jasper is sure that his favorite treat is following him. He sees creepy carrots in his bedroom! Creepy carrots following him to school! It's driving him mad. Is Jasper's favorite snack actually following him around, or has he had one (something or other) too many? Written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by the talented Peter Brown (author and illustrator of THE CURIOUS GARDEN), CREEPY CARROTS is a fun tale of paranoia and a possible Vitamin A overdose resulting in visual hallucinations. Kidding! I found CREEPY CARROTS to be a zany trip to the twilight zone, cleverly illustrated with a funny (and slightly morbid) twist ending. Julie?

Julie:  I love the combination of humor and horror in this book. The art is simultaneously ominous--almost exclusively black and white with splashes of orange (primarily the carrots); plenty of shadows; a Hitchcock-ian shower scene; sinister sightings in the tool shed--and hilarious. We're talking, after all, about carrots! With crossed eyes and occasionally severed heads (why severed?  I don't know!) and gaps in their teeth. The overall effect is both unusual and riveting. I predict kids will love it. Do you agree, Mia?

M: Yes! Huge fan of the art. I think this was a great pairing of minds, and the nod to Hitchcock and that era is spot on. I can't wait to read it to my niece, who loves carrots (by which I mean she eats them without complaint). Our readers should also check out this lovely video of Peter Brown talking about why he chose this particular style for CREEPY CARROTS.


J:  Is there something you didn't love about the book? I have to confess that although I credit the cleverness of the ending, I don't love it. I don't want to give anything away--I'll just say that it felt very concrete and confining to me, in a way that seems at odds with the free-wheeling imagination of the story. Does that make any sense at all?

M: Do you mean you saw the ending coming? I'm not sure I understand.

J:  No, that's not what I mean.  I've been trying fruitlessly to think of a way to explain that doesn't ruin the ending. So, SPOILER ALERT!!! Do Not Read Further If You Want to Keep the Ending a Surprise! Last chance to look away. Okay, here goes: I guess I love the notion that these wacky carrots are roaming around out there, popping up in surprising places, making funny faces. Having them all hemmed in at the end--even though they're happy in their confinement--brought an abrupt halt to my carrots-on-the-loose imaginings. I frankly felt a little irritated!  

M: Ah, I see. You weren't fond of the gated community and you like your carrots free-range.

J:  Exactly!  Is that so wrong?

M: Not at all, Julie, not at all.

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19. SLJ's TOP 100!

Top 100 Picture Books and Novels for Kids

Children's literature blogger extraordinaire Betsy Bird asked readers of the School Library Journal to vote for the 10 best picture books and 10 best novels for kids of all time. Points were assigned and tallied, and these 2 lists of the top 100 picture books and novels resulted. The School Library Journal did a beautiful job producing the lists, complete with useful information about each book. Whether you agree with the rankings or not, they're a helpful starting point for finding your next great read. Enjoy! (Just follow the links below to the printable pdfs.)

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20. The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Marirosa Mia: I was struck by the beauty and sadness of Karen Thompson Walker's THE AGE OF MIRACLES the way I'm sometimes captivated by an old photograph. How it encapsulates only a specific time and place. We can imagine what has happened before or after, but we really don't know more than what we see in that picture. THE AGE OF MIRACLES gives us our narrator, Julia, who looks back in time to when the earth's rotation began to slow. The days and nights grew longer and longer; a ball didn't travel across the field the same way it used to; birds fell out the sky in mass; and more. The world is changing - dying - and Julia is just eleven years old. 

Her narrative is sparse and clean as she watches the world around her change.  Friendships disappear while love blossoms; her parents marriage crumbles and rebuilds; neighbors are shunned and punished for their choices. And it is in this time of fear that Julia grows. It is the age of miracles, as she puts it. An age where kids shoot up in length and develop first crushes while the world around them changes forever. Though the language is sparse it is very, very, vivid; and the people and places stayed with me even after I closed the book. 

Walker's book is the perfect snapshot of this specific (speculative) moment in time - but it is just a snapshot. Which is where I think a few people might grumble, as THE AGE OF MIRACLES has no clear end. It offers no explanation for the slowing and no glimpse of the future of Earth and Julia. It is simply that moment in time - that memory of a beginning, left wide open. Despite this I very much enjoyed THE AGE OF MIRACLES.  Perhaps you might think "enjoyed" is not the right word for a book that brought me to tears, but it is. The graceful language and quiet tone wove themselves into my heart and have yet to find their way out. 

THE AGE OF MIRACLES is sad, yes. But it has a quiet beauty that lingers.


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21. ARC Giveaway



Our friend and classmate from our MFA days, Jackie Resnick, is giving away 3 advanced reader copies of her upcoming middle-grade novel, THE DARING ESCAPE OF THE MISFIT MENAGERIE.  We're so excited for her!  Click here to find out more about the giveaway: http://jacquelinewrites.com/Blog.

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22. GIVEAWAY: Graceling & Fire by Kristin Cashore!!


Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore

Julie:  Here's one of my flaws:  Sometimes, when a book launches to a crazy good reception--a slew of starred reviews, even more raves in the blogosphere--I refuse to read it.  Why?  Silly reasons, most of them unflattering.  But one, at least, can be cast as heroic.  I am taking a stand for underdog books.  I figure, this insanely popular book doesn't need me.  It has enough attention.  Other books need me.  

Only after much time has passed might I give the popular book a chance.  If I see it standing alone on a shelf, for example, past its heyday.  Then I'll think, I remember that book!  It's supposed to be good!  And then I'll read it.  I don't always love it.  But I certainly loved this one:  Kristin Cashore's GRACELING, a fantasy novel I finally read this summer after resisting for four long years.  "Read" is not really the right word:  I drank it in, then moved quickly through the other two books in the trilogy, FIRE and BITTERBLUE.  Mia, I know you recently read GRACELING and FIRE.  What do you think?  

Marirosa Mia: I must agree with you on those two points, Julie. You do have a tendency to refuse to read books that are already being lauded by others (which I totally understand, and it's part of your adorable stubborn self).  And I also loved Cashore's Graceling Realm (which is what the trilogy is being called). GRACELING and FIRE have sat on my shelf for over a year now, trumped by other books on our list.  So when you finally relented and read them, I rejoiced! I was even happier when I started GRACELING and simply flew through both it and FIRE. I dove into the world that Cashore created and can't wait to dive into BITTERBLUE! I think in each book Cashore grows as a writer - which I just LOVE. I love it when you can see a writer flex her muscles and continue to shine with each book.  I think Cashore is just getting started. But on to the books themselves! Julie, what do you fancy about them?

Julie:  Let me start with GRACELING.  In it, Cashore tells the story of Katsa, who is one of the rare few in her land to be born with a Grace (or gift).  Katsa is Graced with killing, at a minimum, and is forced by her uncle, a king, to work as his thug.  Reacting against her own brutality, and against the petty ruthlessness of several kings, Katsa helps form a secret, rebellious Council. In the course of conducting a Council mission, she meets Po, another royal-born Graceling who challenges her in unexpected ways.  

I have to confess that as I was reading GRACELING, I more than once thought, Wait.  Didn't something like this happen in THE HERO AND THE CROWN (a novel by Robin McKinley that we rave about here)?  I also confess that I prefer the tone of THE HERO AND THE CROWN, which is more other-worldly and haunting, less contemporary.  But I never paused for very long to consider any of this.  Because GRACELING has a terrific combination of action and character development.  Cashore does a terrific job bringing to life a slew of characters.  The book is never boring, even though Katsa is so incredibly gift that by rights there should be little tension.  In fact, until the end of the novel, most of the tension comes not from Katsa's Coucil-related work but from the psychological impact of her Grace and, more interestingly, Po's.  I can't say more without a spoiler, but I particularly love Cashore's willingness to grapple with all of the emotional fallout that might result from actually having the amplified powers that some of us dream of.  Do you agree, Mia?

M: I don't think I thought of THE HERO AND THE CROWN at all while reading GRACELING, though they may have similarities. I agree with you that when a book does it right, popularity of themes is often forgotten, swept away by the story you're reading. I also love how the main struggle is all internal for both Katsa and Fire, who are both very physical and powerful women. For example, in FIRE the main character, Fire, is a human monster.  Monsters are creatures born in every species with extraordinary gifts. They are coveted and feared all over the land. For Fire, who makes men and women equally love and hate her with one glance, her "curse" is the ability to work her way into people's mind, making her a very powerful ally or enemy.

Both Katsa and Fire come into their own throughout the novel, discovering who they are within the confines of their gifts and who they could be outside of them. Was there anything in particular you didn't enjoy about the books? Mine is a bit minor and feels petty, but I thought the use of the word "monster" was a bit generic in FIRE. Reading sentences that spoke about a "monster mouse" and a "monster kitten" made me roll my eyes on occasion.

 J:  I thought FIRE veered a little too close to soap opera at times.  It started slowly, too, and it took a while for me to warm to (forgive the word choice) Fire, who tries so valiantly to do nothing (and therefore cause no harm).  I also agree with you about the monster mice and kittens.  They undercut the power of the term.  But none of this stopped me from rushing to read BITTERBLUE, the next book in the Graceling Realm.  You'll have to let me know what you think of that one as soon as you're done!  

M: Will do! And for our lovely readers, I actually have some copies to give away! Add your comment below for a chance to win a paperback copy of both GRACELING and FIRE. Contest ends September 28th. So comment! Do it!!!

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23. Libba Bray recommends!

Julie:  Libba Bray, fantastically successful author of books for young adults, recently wrote this list for Publisher's Weekly of books she loves:  Books I love: Libba Bray.  So worth a look!  I've already ordered RATS SAW GOD and THE BOYS OF MY YOUTH.  Oh boy!  It's a little odd, how excited I get by promising book recommendations.  

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24. Congrats! Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Laura Hartness who won a copy of FIRE and GRACELING by Kristin Cashore. Laura we will be emailing you soon to get your address!

Thanks to everyone who entered and look out for more reviews and giveaways.

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25. Kid Lit Con 2012

Marirosa Mia: This past weekend Julie and I had the honor of attending KidLitCon 2012! Julie attended the Pre-Conference on Friday, September 27th and I attended the Saturday events. And though I grumbled through my subway ride over (waking at 8 AM on a Saturday should not be allowed) to the New York Public Library (what a beaut!), once I was there I was in full swing. Particularly since I couldn't attend the full day's events due to prior commitments, I was determined to acquire all the information I could. Strangely enough the two panels I was slotted into discussed reader participation; what I learned most from those panels was that comments don't always signify participation. Meaning, just because only three people leave comments doesn't mean your readers aren't engaged. I'm afraid I'm guilty of this: I follow dozens of blogs and don't post a single comment! But that doesn't mean I'm not engaged by the content. What about you, Julie? What pearls of wisdom did you glean from the Con?

Julie:  I attended fabulous sessions at both Holiday House and Penguin Young Readers Group.  At Holiday House, among many other treats, we saw spreads from picture books coming out in the spring.  What terrifically talented illustrators they've lined up!  

The upcoming Holiday House picture book I'm most excited to read is THE FRAZZLE FAMILY FINDS A WAY, by Ann Bonwill, with illustrations by Stephen Gammell.  Here are my notes (please keep in mind that there was quite a lot of information flying at us, fast):  "Story of crazy family.  Mom forgets to comb her hair; Dad forgets to put on pants.  Energetic, very fun art."  A mom who neglects to comb her hair!  Can I ever relate!  Fortunately, I haven't yet forgotten to put on pants.  But I do fear it's within the realm of possibility.  Anyway, I'm keeping an eye out for that book.  We also heard from the lovely Betsy and Ted Lewin about their upcoming, beautiful and simply worded I Like to Read books. 

We had a guest author at Penguin as well:  the vivacious Gayle Forman, bestselling author of the young adult hits IF I STAY and WHERE SHE WENT.  It was immensely helpful to hear her tales of books she has written and then stored permanently away in a drawer.  It's easier to think about my drawered books, now knowing about hers.  She also has a new book on Penguin's list:  JUST ONE DAY.  Ruta Sepetys, author of BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, which Mia reviewed for us, does as well:  OUT OF THE EASY.  I'm excited to read both.  

Penguin in fact has a slew of exciting books, much like Holiday House.  Mia, have you worked on any?  Would you like to put in a good word?  

M: I'm currently working on OUT OF THE EASY, which I hope you like, Julie! It's very different from BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY but still a fantastic read. Haven't read JUST ONE DAY yet, but I'm a big Gayle Forman fan so I can't wait to read it. Now a question to our lovely readers out there. Did any of you attend KidLitCon? What new books are you excited to finally get your hands on? 

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