Friday, April 29, 2005

Author Booktalks

KidsLit always has great content. Today it features a website called Meet the Author. The site features UK authors giving booktalks about their work. Lots of childrens authors are featured. I loved hearing Eoin Colfer talk about Artemis Fowl. Michelle Paver describes Wolf Brother and Chris d'Lacey made me want to read his book, The Fire Within.

The real treat for me was not a children's author but learning that one of my BBC America GroundForce favorites, Alan Titchmarsh, is a novelist. Titchmarsh's erudite commentary while gardening always made me laugh. Hearing him talk about his books is great fun.

Kids SciFi Zone

Science News for Kids has a special Kids SciFiZone devoted to science fiction. Julie Czerneda oversees the site and has great book recommendations, discussions and story ideas for young writers and readers.

Science News for Kids is a terrific resource for science teachers and students. This site has very high interest and well written articles.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Dear Abby letter

A letter from a librarian was printed in Dear Abby's column today. The letter is a plea for common civility and politeness.

Our Tree Named Steve

Our Tree Named Steve
by Alan Zweibel, David Catrow, illustrator, 2005

The emotional punch that 32 pages of illustrations and text can deliver never ceases to amaze me.

"Our Tree Named Steve" is so funny and so touching that upon finishing it for the first time I immediately reopened the book and read it again and then again to savor the humor and the beautiful story.

Steve is the name a family gives to a special tree in their yard. Over the years it holds swings and hammocks, turns jump ropes, acts as third base, appears in family photos and shelters their home. The tree watches over the family as the children grow and change. Steve's "last trick" will make you gasp in dismay. There is solace for the family (and us) as Steve's spirit lives on.

David Catrow was exactly the right person to design this book. His illustrations are a perfect balance of humor and pathos. I love the dog. Alan Zweibel is a gifted television comedy writer but this is his first children's book. He must be congratulated. He has crafted something quite wondrous and fine.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Jimmy Coates

Just received my copy of Jimmy Coates: Assassin ( Jimmy Coates: Killer in the UK) by Joe Craig . Thank you to the nice people at HarperCollins.

Great fun so far. Boys are going to love this book.
To learn more about it check out the website for Jimmy Coates: Killer.

Author: Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot, known for her books, The Princess Diaries and many others, has a blog/diary and it is really really PINK.

It is also very very funny.

UPDATE: Her latest entry about her dinner at Outback Steakhouse is hilarious. She also mentions that she will be chatting with fans at the Meg Cabot Book Club, Thursday, April 28, 2005 at 7:00pm about Princess Diaries 6. She is hinting about a spoiler for Princess Diary 7.

Looking aroung the Book Club site I have found very cool desktop wall paper, screensavers and buddy icons in the Freebies section.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Illustrator: Jerry Pinkney

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a tribute to Jerry Pinkney today. He will be speaking at the "Black, White and Read All Over" series sponsored by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures.

Pinkney's inviting illustrations captivate and charm readers of his books. I love his work.

In the past four decades, Pinkney, 65, has published more than 80 children's books.

"Not only has he perfected working in an unyielding medium (watercolors don't allow for mistakes like oils), he continues to create fresh perspectives, making familiar themes new," said Maria Salvadore, who teaches children's literature at the University of Maryland.

"I admire him and think that his work is often underrated because he makes it look easy, does beautiful work consistently, and is so well-loved by audiences."

"Watercolor suits me very well," Pinkney said. "It's magical to me because I don't know exactly how it will come out."

Blood Red Horse

Blood Red Horse by K. M. Grant, 2005
Current events and the movie Kingdom of Heaven have increased interest in the Crusades which makes this book very timely.

Gavin, Will and Ellie, their father's ward, have been raised together on the DeGranville estate. Gavin is the oldest and loutish in his treatment of his younger brother. Ellie is very close to Will and sides with him against Gavin even though she senses a streak of kindness in the older brother.

Will has a gift with horses so when it is time for him to choose a Great Horse he forgoes a large destrier and selects the smaller "blood red" horse named Hosanna. The horse emanates a sense of well being to everyone it encounters.

The landscape shifts to the Holy Land when Gavin, Will and their father answer King Richard's call for a crusade. Will and his horse lift the morale of an army that is suffering from terrible battle loses and hardships.

Meanwhile, Kamil, the ward of the Muslim leader Saladin is seeking revenge for the death of his father at the hands of a Crusader. Saladin counsels him to abandon his hatred and follow his faith. Will and Kamil's paths inevitably cross and Hosanna is captured by Kamil. Hosanna presence works its magic on Kamil and Saladin's army too.

War changes everyone and everything. Gavin, Will, Ellie and Kamil must learn to live with loss and survive.

Christianity and Islam are represented very respectfully. A faithful Muslim, Saladin's generosity to King Richard's army is heart-felt and based on fact. The Crusaders' pilgrimage to Jerusalem to see the True Cross is very moving and underscores the religious fervor behind the Crusades.

The horse Hosanna is presented more as a mystical talisman instead of a full fledged character (my standard for horse books now is Seabiscuit) but this story is about young people coming of age and the human characters are very well developed.

The army's trip to the Middle East by ship and the reality of battle are accurately depicted. The descriptions are grim but not grisly, PG-13 not R.

This is Book I of a trilogy. I will anxiously await the next book. I want to know how these kids are doing.

Monday, April 25, 2005


BBC reports a new study that warns of "infomania" and damage to IQ.

The study, carried out at the Institute of Psychiatry, found excessive use of technology reduced workers' intelligence.

Those distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ - more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking marijuana, said researchers.

More than half of the 1,100 respondents said they always responded to an email "immediately" or as soon as possible, with 21% admitting they would interrupt a meeting to do so.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Ruby in the Smoke

The Ruby in the Smoke
by Phillip Pullman, 1987
Anton Lesser, Narrator
Listening Library (Audio); Unabridged edition (June 8, 2004)

I am a fan Pullman's His Dark Materials books but have never read any of his other books. Trolling through the audio books at the library I came upon the first book in his Sally Lockhart series. I remembered how much my oldest daughter enjoyed the series so I picked it up. Now that I have finished it I will just say that I could listen to Anton Lesser, the narrator, read the phone book. His performance is outstanding.

The story set in Victorian England, is full of atmosphere and mystery. Sally Lockhart has learned that her father has perished on a sea voyage. Arriving at his business to get some answers, she asks the company lawyer about a cryptic message she has received, "Beware the seven blessings." He drops dead on the spot. In the days that follow, Sally realizes her own life is in danger and she must go into hiding.

Mysterious messages, the opium trade, a priceless ruby and the grimy backstreets of London are part of a puzzle that Sally must unravel. Through her efforts she also unlocks a memory and a door to her own past.

Narrators of audio books vary in their ability to connect with the material and readers. Sometimes a reader's forced characterizations and mannered accents get in the way of the story or put me off the book altogether.

Anton Lesser's reading of this story was dead on perfect. He is an accomplished actor and his reading of this story was so engaging. The various characters were voiced perfectly. I want to "read" the two sequels to this book but I plan to seek out the audio versions which Lesser also narrated.

According to the IMDB I've seen Lesser in several shows, Foyle's War, Waking the Dead, The Moonstone and others. He is one of those wonderful British actors who disappears into his roles. I will be watching for him in the future.

I highly recommend this audio book.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

More Shakespeare

Some more of my favorite Shakespeare books:


Gary Blackwood's Shakespeare Stealer series is great fun. I enjoyed the first two, but haven't read the third one yet. The first story is a study in early copyright law as Widge learns a form of shorthand to transcribe the early performances of Will Shakespeare's plays so a lesser talent can perform the plays in other parts of England and pass them off as his own. Not only does Widge have to deal with his conscience but he gets caught up in the wonderful stories he is supposed to be transcribing.

"King of Shadows" is Susan Cooper's tribute to her husband, Hume Cronyn. The dedication of the book is to him, 'For my actor'.

Nat Field has arrived in England with his acting troupe to perform at the "new" Globe Theatre in London. Upon his arrival he falls very ill with bubonic plague and when he awakes from a fevered sleep he is no longer in the present but back in time in Elizabethan England. He is an actor in this lifetime too and he meets and works with the real William Shakespeare. Through their relationship, Nat finds help in the 16th century with his life in the present. This is a title that boys who read fantasy enjoy although this new cover art puts guys off this title. Susan Cooper has written for the theater and collaborated closely with actors. She honors the traditions of the theater with this book.


Shakespeare : His Work and His World
by Michael Rosen, 2001

William Shakespeare & the Globe
by Aliki, 1999

Tales from Shakespeare
and More Tales from Shakespeare by Marcia Williams, 1998
Stories in comic strip format.

Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare by Diane Stanley, 1992

William Shakespeare's birthday

On April 23, 1564, William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon. I despair when I hear high school students groaning about having to study his plays and it frustrates me when they start their learning experience by reading the plays instead of seeing them performed. They usually only see the play at the end of the unit as a culminating experience. That may work in a novel study but these are plays and they were written to be experienced as a performance!

Enjoyment and study of Shakespeare's works are a lifelong project.

Author Bruce Coville is doing his part by publishing beautiful picture book editions of the plays. Junior high and high school libraries would do well to include these gorgeous books in their collections. Romeo and Juliet has a gorgeous and romantic illustration that folds out vertically and shows the balcony scene. Juliet is at the top of the page and Romeo is looking up at her.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Blood Red Horse

Blood Red Horse
by K. M. Grant.
I picked up the ARC for this book at TLA.
Oh my goodness, so far this book is WONDERFUL!
-- Horse story/history/Crusades/love and friendship --
I don't know how many YAs are going to be able to see the movie Kingdom of Heaven since it is now rated "R" but I suspect the movie will generate a great deal of interest in the Crusades.

I have to go read now.

Author: Lynne Cherry

News release:
The Newton Marasco Foundation (NMF), a national voice advocating stewardship of our environment, is proud to announce that The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle, written and illustrated by Lynne Cherry, is the winner of the 2005 Green Earth Book

Lynne Cherry's books are a lovely way to enjoy Earth Day. She has a great website.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Point Blank

Point Blanc
by Anthony Horowitz, 2002

Alex Rider is back in the second novel in the series. He is battling drug pushers and being manipulated by MI6. Alex is sent to a boarding school on top of a mountain in Switzerland to uncover the truth behind a series of mysterious deaths. As soon as Alex sees the abandoned ski jump, the reader knows a high speed downhill race is not far off. Alex has cool tools to help him on his mission but no one will let him have a gun. There are plenty of bad guys with guns in the story but Alex has to rely on his intelligence and wits to get himself out of trouble.

The fast pace and story action will keep readers turning the pages as quickly as they can. This series should greatly appeal to guys who like action movies and things that go boom.

Room with a view: Tolkein's study

JRR Tolkein's biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, recorded a session of Room with a View with Allan Beswick for BBC4, from the small study in the Oxford house where Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The recording was made in January 2005 before Carpenter's death.

Readings from Tolkein's letters and descriptions of the home make this a very interesting interview.
The character of Frodo started out as "Bingo."
Thanks to

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Joy! Rapture!

The Houston Museum of Natural Science

The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy – The Exhibition

Opening June 4 at 12:01 a.m.
This exhibition provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes exploration of the Oscar-winning film’s groundbreaking technology, special effects, costumes, jewelry and armor. Appearing at only three U.S. venues, the exhibit immerses visitors in Middle-earth through film props, cast, crew and director interviews, and special effects.

They are opening the exhibit at 12:01 a.m.-- How funny.
Knowing my family, we will be there.

Vaguely related:
Since I have students who still ask me for ALA Read Orlando Bloom bookmarks, I will share that Orlando has launched his "Official Orlando Bloom Website."