When I reivewed ND Wilson's 100 Cupboards back in May of 2009, a reader mentioned Wilson's first book, Leepike Ridge. I added it to my list of books to read and finally got around to it a couple of months ago. It was FANTASTIC! It was so great that I knew I needed to pick up Dandelion Fire again and finish reading it even though I don't usually review sequels here. I'm glad I did. Book Three in the trilogy (the trilogy is the new series, you heard it here first! Seven + book series for the YA crowd are a thing of the past...) And I am so glad I did. In addition to it being a great book, it is entirely worthy of its own review. In no way is Dandelion Fire typical of your usual Book Two in a trilogy - it does much more than serve as a bridge between books one and two. Also, reading Dandelion Fire was a necessity knowing that The Chestnut King was due out in January 2010.
Which leads me to my very exciting announcement... I am honored and thrilled to announce that ND Wilson will be writing an original piece of fiction especially for books4yourkids.com! On February 9, ND Wilson will reveal the contents of one of the unexplored cupboards in his trilogy and maybe even answer a couple of questions about the books. This is part of a blog tour and, as soon as I can, I will let know know the other blogs Wilson will be visiting and writing for.
Until then, I'll be featuring reviews of Leepike Ridgeand Dandelion Fire next week and my review of The Chestnut King and the visit from ND Wilson the following week. If he had written more than four books, I'd just go ahead and make February ND Wilson month!
I am proud to announce that a bit of my mom/bookseller/story time reader/blogger wisdom has made it to the pages of a national magazine! At the end of Parents magazine there is always a section titled "As They Grow" which offers helpful tidbits of advice and creative parenting ideas for every age. This month, the section for 2 - 3 year olds features an article by Amy Debra Feldman titled, "Storytime Fun" on page 120. Amy came across the piece I wrote in November of 2008, How To Read a Book Without Words (Out Loud) and wanted a quote from me for her article, which is about the benefits and joys of making up stories for and with your children.
Thanks to Amy Debra Feldman and Parents magazine for giving my little blog some attention!
Bolt City is the name of the home to Copper and his dog Fred and it is also the name of the very talented Kazu Kibuishi's website. Kibuishi is also the creator of the Amuletseries of graphic novels (look for book 3 sometime this spring) and contributor to and editor of the Flight series for adults. There is also Flight Explorer for kids, featuringJake Parker's Missile Mouse, now star of his own book (scroll to the bottom for a cool picture...) Kibuishi also is responsible for the Daisy Kutter and the 14 chapter webcomic Clive Cabbage.
Even though I am an art school drop out with an ongoing love of art, it has taken me a long time to fully understand and totally appreciate graphic novels. When I read a graphic novel, I sometimes either feel that there is not enough text to go along with the story being told by the illustrations or that the illustrations are not creating a complete enough world to draw me in and hold me. I am kind of an impatient reader and I often read for plot. If you do this with a good graphic novel, you can miss so much of the story. The format of Copper is not that of a graphic novel per se, but a comic strip and when I gave it my first read through I felt like a light bulb went on!
42 of the 45 comics in Copper are one page stories that can have as many as 17 panels arranged on that one page. I think because I didn't feel like there was one long story I needed to be following I was able to let myself go and dive in to the world of Bolt City. And what an amazing world it is! There is no way that a traditional novel could have created this elegant, fantastic world with words alone. Pictures MUST be part of this story, which tracks the exploits of the optimistic Copper and his more pragmatic dog Fred.
The images and geography of the book stayed with me long after I had finished reading, as did the always forward thinking personality of Copper. And Fred, despite the fact that he can be a bit of a worry wort, brings a sort of voice of reason to the story.
I think that Copper is a great first graphic novel for a young reader to pick up and definitely something that will stick with you long after the last page, which is actually a fabulous 10 page "Behind the Scenes" spread that takes you inside Kibuishi's studio for a step-by-step look at how Copper is created, from the pencil sketches, to the hand inking and the final digital coloring, this deepened my appreciation for the art of the comic book tremendously. It may even inspire some young artists and writers to try their creating their own comic books!
I had to add this photo I found on the Bolt City website... I am a bookseller and co-head of the children's department at the Barnes & Noble where I work. I am an organizer at heart and putting things in order is a part of my job I really love (although I do get a bit tired of putting the same things back in their places over and over again - I still rue the day bookstores became toy stores...) So, I was especially tickled when I saw this picture, which was taken in a Barnes & Noble. On a good day, that's how myComics & Manga section looks!!!
This year the big winners were not a surprise to me and, happily I have read and loved both of them. There were also a couple I hadn't read and two I had never heard of.
Winner of the 2010 Caldecott Award for the Artist of the Most Distinguished Picture Book for Children
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
HONOR WINNERS for 2010
Red Sings from the Treetops: A Year in Colors
Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
Written by Liz Scanlon
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Winner of the 2010 Newbery Award for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
NEWBERY HONOR BOOKS
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose which also won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2009
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
So, as I sat for the second year in a row watching the live webcast of the American LIbrary Association Awards I paid a bit more attention to the other awards given and what they are given for than I did last year. There are some interesting categories and spectacular books that took home awards that I wanted to share with you. The name of each award is a link to the ALA website where you can read the criteria for the awards and view descriptions of the winners and the honorees.
Given to 10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 - 18. Since I started as mother-daughter book group with my sixteen year old recently, these books are of interest.
Soulless - Gail Carriger
The Kids Are All Right - Diana Welch (memoir)
Bride's Farewell - Meg Rosoff
Stitches: A Memoir - David Small
The Magicians - Lev Grossman
Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heligman
Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Flash Burnout by LK Madigan
Betsy Bird over at FUSE#8 is compiling the mother of all lists - The Top 100 Fictional Children's Chapter Books - with the help of her readers. She asks that you vote for your top 10 favorite middle grade books of ALL TIME and submit your list (IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE) to her at Fusenumber8@gmail.com. and submit by 11:59 am on January 31. If you are unsure if a book is a middle grade reader, she suggests you check out the website for the most amazing bookstore in America and one of the best parts of my college years, Powell's City of Books.
This got me to thinking about my list and what makes a book really, truly, memorably GREAT for me. Here is my criteria:
1) The author creates a world that, when I am reading and for a good time after, I inhabit, most happily. I can visualize the geography, if not always the characters (a personal flaw of mine, not the authors', which is probably why I am such a slavish fan of illustrations), of a fabulous book.
2) The author creates at least one character that I fall in love with, meaning I either want to BE the character or have him/her/it as a best friend. Now that I am an adult and parent, I also find myself experiencing maternal love and concern for characters from time to time.
3) The book leaves the reader with a feeling of hope, a new view of all possibilities, a new appreciation for human kind (or animal kind and alien kind) and perhaps even inspiration or encouragement to try something new or return to something old.
With that in mind, here are my TOP TEN in the order by which they meet my criteria -
Harry Potter - JK Rowling created a complete world that I want to live in. I'm sorry, I know that almost every other book on this list, for one reason or another, is better written, but this series was my first experience with something epic and all encompassing and was made all the more meaningful because my daughter, who is now 16, was along for the ride right from the start. It was an amazing first time experience as a parent to be swept up by a book that my child was reading and swept up by also. Rowling really broke through a literary barrier with these books.
The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman created a complex, complete world that MADE ME THINK about my world in new and different ways. I often reflect on scenes and characters from these books. (I will review these books soon. I want to do them justice, so I have to read them all again...)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. By some amazing feat, Gaiman manages to make the story of a boy raised by ghosts and pursued by demons completely, emotionally compelling, human and ultimately uplifting.
The Time Travelers - Linda Buckley-Archer - The characters in this book are so well drawn, from the children to the adults, historical and present, that I felt like I had lived another life after reading. Their thoughts, hopes and actions were so compelling to me. Great historical writing, as well.
The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame's world is magical, and all the more so because it exists. The lives Ratty, Mole, Toad & Badger help the reader to see things in a new way, hopefully.
Fly By Night - Frances Hardinge creates a complete world, and alternative history where the ability to read is punishable. Her characters and names for them, as well as for the geography of the book, are truly inspired and unforgettable, as are their machinations.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler - EL Konigsberg - As a child reading this book, I wanted to BE Claudia and follow in her footsteps. As an adult, I empathize with her and marvel at the human connections Konigsburg renders so brilliantly.
The Giver - Lois Lowry - So many reasons why this book is a masterpiece - Lowry shakes up the puzzle pieces of our existence and lays them out in new and different ways that make you see your life and life choices differently. A book that MAKES YOU THINK.)
The Westing Game - Ellen Raskin - As a child reading this book (30 years ago), I was so amazed by the characters. I didn't know it was ok show adults as selfish, mean people who made bad decisions. The kids are alright!
The True Meaning of Smekday - Adam Rex - Funny, sardonic, ironic, parodical and great social commentary. And a really great heroes all kids can look up to in both Tip and J.Lo. A lot like The Giver,in terms of a dystopian society, but SOOOOO different.
Books I wish I could squeeze in there somewhere...
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. A huge part of my childhood literary experience, my entre into the world of science fiction and the possibility that girls in books weren't always pretty or smart but could still be likable and brave.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. An incredible combination of things with a brilliant link to A Wrinkle in Time. Read my review if you haven't already.
Inkheart - Cornelia Funke creates a dark and magical world that feels like a fairy tale gone a bit wrong. A brilliant, haunting book with complex, flawed characters
Thanks to Robin at The Booknosher for tuning me in to Betsy Bird's poll.
And, since I'm in a reflective mood, here is my list of the best middle grade fiction I read in 2009 that was published that same year:
It's that time of year again! Feeling hopeful since I actually READ last year's Newbery Winner before it was announced... However, I had never seen or hear of the Caldecott winner. If you need a reminder of what won last year, click here for my post from last year. To watch the awards being announced live on Monday morning beginning at 7:45 am (Pacific time) check out the webcast. If you want to see some pretty good predictions, check out Betsy Bird's predictions from way back in October of 2009 over at FUSE#8. For a very in depth, fascinating look at the process, check out Heavy Medal, a blog dialogue between two librarians who have served on the selection committees for these awards. Here are some of the titles being bandied about:
I am very excited (and not the least bit surprised) to see Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me at the top of list. I am THRILLED and very hopeful to see Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon on the list!
Other books mentioned on the list are The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly and Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose which won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2009.
Possible Caldecott winners include one of my favorites from last year as well as a book in which the text and pictures work beautifully together, The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman, pictures by David Roberts. The Lion and the Mouse, a wordless retelling of the fable by the always amazing Jerry Pinkney, Robot Zot by Jon Scieszka and David Shannon, Moonshot by Brian Floca and 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy, Wilson Kimeli Naiymah with illustrations by Thomas González.
It's not possible to write a review of Wendy Mass' bouyant new book 11 Birthdays without comparing it to the 1993 movie Groundhog Day. Like Bill Murray, Amanda Ellerby is forced to repeat the day of her eleventh birthday, Friday, June 5th, over and over again until she gets it right. That is where the similarities end, however. Mass takes the idea of having to repeat the same day over and over, puts it in the hands of her characters and lets them run with it.
Each named for a great-great grandparent, Amanda Ellerby and Leo Fitzgerald are born on the same in the same birthing center. Unbeknownst to them, their great-great-grandfathers carried on a legendary feud that turned town upside down until they ended it, instantly and mysteriously, and were friends for the rest of their lives. Also unbeknownst to Leo and Amanda is the presence at their births of Angelina D'Angelo, the woman who, with a little bit of magic, brought about the end of the Fitzgerald and Ellerby feud. However, these details aren't revealed until almost the end of the book. And, while they are interesting, the bulk of the plot, which has Amanda, the narrator, reliving the same day over and over again - eleven times in all - until she gets it right, is so much more compelling and entertaining that I didn't even need the magic to make sense of the glitch in time.
Amanda and Leo have always celebrated their birthdays with a joint party. At the start of their tenth birthday parts, Amanda overhears Leo telling a group of boys that he doesn't like having his party with Amanda. Amanda is so hurt by this that she runs out of the party and doesn't speak to Leo again for a year. Aside from losing her best friend, Amanda's grudge also means that there will now be two different parties competing for guests on the same night. Without Leo, Amanda has clung to Stephanie, who sided with Amanda after the fight. Stephanie is a gymnast who wants to make the team and be friends with the popular girls. Amanda is willing to practice her back handspring and try out for the team, but she knows that she's not as good as the other girls and, being a drummer, would rather be trying out for the marching band. Repeating her birthday over and over gives Amanda the chance to work through these tough situations. And, after she and Leo figure out that they are both repeating their birthday, they team up, first to take advantage of the fact that they can do whatever they want and when they wake up in the morning it will all have been erased, and eventually to get to the bottom of the situation and whatever it is that is keeping them stuck.
In case you have never read a Wendy Mass book before, she is a sneaky philosopher. She is a teacher of important life lessons - behind your back. I am sure that as an adult reader I see this more readily in her works than an eleven year old would. Even so, I have no doubt that Amanda's insecurities and refusal to forgive her friend Leo for his hurtful words will resonate with young readers. Just as she did with Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, Mass comes up with a creatively clever device that serves as a teaching tool for the main characters of her books. For Jeremy, a box with four different locks that is inscribed with the words, "THE MEANING OF LIFE: FOR JEREMY FINK TO OPEN ON HIS 13th BIRTHDAY," sends him and his best friend Lizzy on a scavenger hunt around New York City that reveals more answers to the question, "What is the meaning of life?" than there are locks on the box. For Amanda, the opportunity, which to her seems like a curse, to repeat a day over and over, fixing her mistakes as well as doing some good deeds - at first to try to keep the day from repeating, but eventually just because it feels good - ultimately leads her to discover truths about herself and ways to find a balance between her interests and her desire to be a good friend.
Before I started reviewing books for my blog I mostly read works from the fantasy genre for kids. Rarely would I read books set in reality because it didn't seem as interesting and the characters always seemed a little too quirky or a little to precocious for the page. However, I am glad that I am starting to find out what I have been missing. Wendy Mass has done a phenomenal job filling a gap in the shelves at the bookstore and the library by writing books with realistic, but intriguing characters who face the traditional hurdles of growing up in unique and thought-provoking ways. Along with Ingrid Law author of Savvy, from whom more great books are sure to come, and Polly Horvath, author of My One Hundred Adventures, among others, Wendy Mass is in my top three of favorite writers of realistic (or maybe, at this point "magical realism" is a better term) fiction for young adults.
Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson, is yet another National Book Award finalist from this excellent author. Not as well known or as old as the Newbery Award, which is given by the American Library Association, the National Book Award is given to writers, by writers. This year's judges for young people's literature are Cynthia Voigt, a Newbery Award Winner, Angela Johnson, winner of three Coretta Scott King Awards, Holly Black, author of the Spiderwick series with Tony DiTerlizzi and Carolyn Mackler, a new author of teen fiction. The panel of judges is chaired by Daniel Handler, who goes by the pen name of Lemony Snicket. This may be the biggest award for children's literature you have never heard of, short of the Smarties, awarded in the UK, and also known as the Nestle Children's Book Prize. And, Chains was also named the 2009 winner of the Scott O'Dell Award For Historical Fiction.
Laurie Halse Anderson is a diverse writer. She has authored non-fiction picture books, like Independent Dames, the Vet Volunteer Series for young readers, several teen novels, including the impressive Speak, which won the National Book Award silver medal in 1999, and the exceptional Fever 1793, a historical novel for mid-level readers about the yellow fever epidemic that gripped the colonies. With Chains, Anderson revisits this genre, this time to explore the complex issues of slavery, freedom, revolution, loyalty and the maturation of the self - self-worth, self-interest and a personal sense of morality. While most historical fiction that has slavery as part of the plot is set during the Civil War era, Anderson chooses to begin her story on Monday, May 27, 1776. Interestingly enough, the winner of the 2006 National Book Award for young people's literature was The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson, no relation, which also examines slavery in the pre-Revolutionary colonies but in a much darker, more academic and esoteric manner. For an excellent review of Volume 2: The Kingdom on the Waves, see Jerry Griswold's article in the New York Times Book Review of November 7, 2008.
The heroine of Chains is thirteen-year old Isabel and her story begins in Rhode Island on the day of the funeral of her owner, Miss Mary Finch, who had strange notions. She taught her slaves to read and write and she amended her will to include the freedom of her slaves upon her death. Unfortunately, Miss Finch's unscrupulous nephew has inherited her estate and sells Isabel and her five-year old sister Ruth the same day as the funeral. Isabel and Ruth are bought by wealthy Loyalists, the Locktons, an taken to New York City. Isabel has her first notion that she should take her life into her own hands when she and Ruth are standing in the tavern waiting to be sold. But, Jenny, an Irish indentured servant now free and friend of her mother's, warns Isabel against running. Isabel follows her advice, but lives to regret it.
Once in the Lockton's home, their mistress proves to be a cruel, vengeful, vain woman who takes her miseries out on Isabel. And she does have miseries. In addition to anxiety over the coming war and the safety of herself and her husband, their marriage is a violent one, both verbally and physically. The glimpses into their relationship are well written and subtle and they provide not so much an understanding of the nature of Mrs Lockton - we will never truly understand how or why one person can be so brutal to another - but an added layer to her character that illuminates social norms of the time. Mrs Lockton also has a wealthier, better connected aunt by marriage, Lady Seymour, who is another thorn in her side. Lady Seymour is among a handful of characters who display ambivalent kindnesses to Isabel and her sister from time to time. In addition to these ambivalent kindnesses, Isabel is shown what amounts to indifferent kindnesses by servants, working wives of British soldiers, and Patriots alike. What struck me most about this book was the way in which Isabel was both invisible to all as a person and highly visible to all as a piece of property. Anderson does a superlative job of conveying this in every sentence she writes.
She also does a remarkable job of crafting the character of Isabel herself. Her voice is one that stays in your head, as do the words she uses to describe her experiences. After an especially barbarous act of violent punishment, Isabel says that, "Melancholy held me hostage, and the bees built a hive of sadness in my soul." This painfully beautiful image is among many that Isabel paints as she tells her story. When this nerve of sadness is touched from then on, she speaks of the bees buzzing in her brainpan. The language of the novel is quasi-historical. There are words and phrases unique to the time period, but Isabel never speaks or thinks in a way that sounds uneducated or ignorant. After all, this is a book for young adults, not a novel by Toni Morrison. Nevertheless, this book feels and sounds authentic from the beginning to the end. Anderson includes quotes from historical documents at the start of each chapter to ensure this. Some are from newspapers, articles and advertisements, official handbills, and letters. Excerpts from the missives of George Washington, John Adams, Abigail Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are also included, as well as quotes from Thomas Paine's Common Sense, which plays a key role in the book. Isabel's sense of self and understanding of her place in the world is bolstered by her reading of this incendiary, at the time, writing and it causes her to make a crucial decision that could cost her her life, but one that also allows her to give herself a name.
As I read Chains, the question on my mind every time Isabel had an encounter with a Patriot was, how could the rebels be fighting for freedom, declaring the right to freedom so passionately, and fail to acknowledge and address the slavery, the submission of another human being, that they were participating in? This is a fascinating question that Anderson begins to address. And, while the hardships that Isabel and Ruth are subjected to are almost too much to bear, I was elated to reach the last page of the book and see that there will be a sequel. The detail and depth that Anderson brings to her writing makes this time period so vividly intense that I felt like I could smell the fetid, infested prison and feel the bitter winter cold biting at my toes. And, while Isabel and Ruth are likable characters, it is hard to say that of any other characters in the book, save possibly Cruzon. The colonists she encounters, even those who sympathize with her plight, cannot do much to help or sustain her. Cruzon is a slave to a rebel official who suggests that Isabel spy on Mr Lockton is turned down by her almost immediately. However, when she begins to think that spying for the army could help her efforts to obtain her rightful freedom, she is disappointed and ignored at every turn, despite the information she provides and it seems as even Cruzon, who enticed her to spy, has abandoned her, but again, as a slave, what can he do?
The violence in the book can be intense and disturbing at times. When jacket flap mentioned an unthinkable act that befalls five-year old Ruth, I was prepared for something savage and deeply upsetting. What happens to Ruth is perhaps the least disturbing act in the book. The punishments that Isabel receives, at the hand of Mrs Lockton and the law, are shocking, but appropriately and accurately so. The few descriptions of the battlefield and the devastation of human life are the same. This is a very important period in American history, and the existence of slavery in America is a far-reaching subject that we will be dissecting for years to come. I think that it is vital that children, young adults, are made aware of this, and made aware of it in an immediate way, such as in a novel, as opposed to the sometimes dry textbooks they are given in school. I can think of no better way for a young reader to experience the inhumanity of slavery, yet maintain (or develop) a sense of compassion and hopefulness, than to spend 300 pages with Isabel as she struggles to be free along with the Patriots fighting for emancipation from the tyranny of the British Crown.
Lastly, Anderson includes an appendix at the end of the book that provides some very interesting historical facts, numbers and dates that went into shaping the story and the history of the United States.