Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sadness: Philip Jose Farmer

Hugo award winning author, Philip Jose Farmer died Wednesday. He was 91.

Nice tribute at

I did not discover science fiction until I was a grown-up. His RiverWorld books were some of the first science fiction I ever read.

Teen Reads

Both of these books offer readers a way to ponder important themes and ideas from the safe distance of another world or time.

Lurlene McDaniel and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor "Alice" style "problem" fiction never called to my own entlings. They preferred fantasy and were drawn to the other worldliness of imaginary landscapes and characters with special powers. Still, good fantasy literature engages in important issues, ideas and emotions which is why it continues to be such a popular genre. Carla Jablonski's and Dia Calhoun's novels are thought provoking and memorable.

Silent Echoes by Carla Jablonski, Razorbill, 2007

Lucy Phillips and her father are scamming the gentry of 1880's New York City. Posing as a medium, Lucy pretends to contact their dear-departed during séances. Her conscience pricks her as she offers false hope to grief stricken family members but her empty stomach bothers her more so she endures and aids her father's swindles. To her utter shock, one night in the middle of a séance she hears a real voice in her head begging, " Help me!"

The voice she hears is a present day teen named Lindsey who is hiding in her bedroom closet to escape the alcoholic rages of her mother and step-father.

Both Lucy and Lindsey are shocked by the contact. Lucy thinks she has really made contact with a ghost, while Lindsey suspects she may be spiraling into mental illness.

I am a sucker for time shift-time travel books and I was drawn in to each girl's story. Lindsey is struggling to succeed in school and life while dealing with her mother's drinking problems. Lucy is trying escape grueling poverty. How the girls use this connection through time to help each other is the gist of this tale.

Avielle of Rhia by Dia Calhoun, (a founding Diva of Readergirlz) Marshall Cavendish, 2006

Avielle is the only survivor of a terrorist attack on her royal family. Because of the color of her skin and her resemblance to an evil ancestor, she has always been distrusted and held at arms length by her family and the people of her country. Avielle, herself, worries that the evil magic of her great-great grandmother will surface in her even though she seems to lack any of the magical abilities of her family.

Still in danger from the fanatics, she leaves behind her real identity and finds refuge with a kindly weaver who introduces Avielle to a community of artisans. The weaver teaches her to weave. Not only does she find acceptance here but through her weaving she begins to discover her magical talent and the truth about her great-great grandmother.

This is a fantasy world but the disasters recall the Holocaust and 9-11. Calhoun examines prejudice, terrorism and hate that allows evil to triumph. Avielle can become a true leader when she lets go of her own self-hatred and bitterness and accepts the love and responsibilities of her birthright.

Monday, February 23, 2009

NonFiction Monday: Are You Afraid Yet?

Dewey: 001.994

Are You Afraid Yet?: The Science behind Scary Stuff written by Stephen James O'Meara, illustrated by Jeremy Kaposy, Kids Can Press, 2008

I have to issue a disclaimer right off the bat, I do not really do "horror-scary" stories very often. I'm not opposed to them, I just don't enjoy them. I have never read a Stephen King novel. I do know that the number one most frequently searched term in my school library OPAC was "scary." So, anticipating how much this book might thrill young readers I eagerly opened it.

Then I shrieked!

Yes, this book made me scream.

The author's introduction to the physiology of fear, "Have a SAFE Fright" was reassuring, almost comforting knowing my amygdala was on alert! I looked through the parts on mummies, UFOs, vampires, and mad scientists with interest. Then I read "Keeping you Head" concerning the guillotine, followed by "The Staring Eyes" and I shrieked, screamed, hollered, dropped the book and shuddered.

Good job, Stephen James O'Meara. Mission accomplished.

O'Meara entwines stories from history along with scientific "Freaky Facts" which leave the reader to ponder the nature of skeletons, oxygen deprivation, werewolves and maggots.

Jeremy Kaposy's artwork evokes the old Marvel Comics Strange Tales. Although, the black and white drawings offer some distance from some of the grisley subjects, that image of "the staring eyes" which is also the cover art, has [shivers] stayed with me.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Author: Tanita Davis

YA author, Tanita Davis has a shiny, beautiful, new website, Tanita S. Davis :: {fiction, instead of lies}

Tanita is an outstanding citizen of the KidLitosphere. She is a generous commenter and blog booster.

Do read her interviews at The Brown Bookshelf and Seven Imp and Chicken Spaghetti! Aside: How do those people come up with such intelligent interview questions?

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Dance Recital

My Dance Recital by Maryann Cooca-Leffler, Robin Corey Books; Pop edition, 2009

As we coast into the spring semester, the end of the year dance recitals are not far off.

The costumes, the make-up, new dance tights, the hustle to the auditorium, scraping the hair up into a bun...the screams of pain as you drive the hairpins into their tender little skulls.
Ah yes, I remember it well.

This little pop-up book follows boys and girls through their preparations for a dance recital. Flaps lift, to reveal a costume in a hanging bag, a snack in the mother's purse. The face of a little ballerina changes as the reader dials through the various stages of make up and hair fixing. Levers move and the dancers kick, spin leap and bow. This is a nice preview for very young dancers of what a recital is and what is going to happen.

Alas, I note that there is NO MENTION of the paper engineer who designed the book. Did Maryann Cooca-Leffler do the engineering??? I call on publishers to credit the paper engineer 's talent in these books. Bringing an illustrator's vision into three dimensions is no small feat.

And now a word to the audience members:

Last weekend, this entfamily enjoyed an evening at the opera. Even at a venue where people have paid major $$ for their seats, the absence of any audience ettiquette was appalling. It is not enough that they get so little out of the singers artistry but their rudeness almost ruined it for the rest of us.

Therefore, I will take the opportunity of this book review to request a few behavior modifications to all people who will be "watching" their children's performances this Spring.

1. I know that every member of your family has their camcorder, Flip video, iPhone pointed towards the stage to capture little Hortense's Big Moment. Other parents' children are up there too. Please do NOT block their view of the stage as you "Cecil B. DeMille" this moment for posterity.

2. Talking during any performance is completely unacceptable. If you sit in front of me and decide to have a conversation to the person next to you while the performers are on stage, I am going to lean forward, between you both, and join in. If you are behind me I will turn around and ask to be included.

In fairness, I must warn you that I am ranked and certified as a ninth degree 'shusher." As a professional librarian (this secret knowledge is passed along in library school) I have many weapons at my disposal. The Nancy Pearl action figure was NOT just an homage to a beloved personality, it was accurate representation of a special library ops maneuver, hence the term "action figure."

Generally, I start with a general tightening of my lips but that can quickly escalate to the "eyes-of-death, narrowed" with "emphatic finger-to-pursed-lips" technique which is almost always successful when eye contact with the offender is possible. If not, I have skills that allow for a gentle shushing murmer to reach ears from a fair distance. If necessary I can aim, with frightening accuracy, a neutron bomb of a hush. You will be stunned by the concussion while your surroundings remain intact. I have rarely had to deploy to this level but I have the ability and if necessary, I will use it.

3. Don't whisper nasty, catty, unkind things about the other performers.
I can hear you and I will tell people what you said. If you have to share something, save it for during the applause. I will still hear what you said but if you don't ruin the show for me, I might not tell anyone. Then again...

4. Turn off your phones. No, really, turn them OFF. Do not just turn down the volume of the ringer. The phones really do mess up the microphones, plus, we don't need to know what your ringtone is.

5. Do not check your email or text message during a performance.

I know that you cannot wait to read the Fw: Fw: Fw: of that hi-larious email with the photos of cats from your mother-in-law but really, save that treat for after the show.

Plus, you just complained about the wireless microphones cutting out during the performance. Well, YOUR phone did it. An auditorium full of people texting will interfere with the equipment and ruin it for all of us.

6. Sitting in the dark and enjoying dance, or a band performance, or the musical gifts of a choir is a magical experience. If the GLOW from your Blackberry/iPhone ruins this moment for me I will, loudly, tell you to TURN IT OFF and embarrass you as much as possible. In your heart you will KNOW that I am right to do so.

...And in any event, how can you, I repeat, how CAN you be so rude and uncaring and disinterested in these young people's moments on stage? They have worked so hard. Can't you just marvel in their progress? Are you really so shallow? Even if YOUR child has finished their performance, other people around you are still waiting to see their kids. If it is THAT boring for you, please leave.

7. Finally, the end of the school is an emotional time for parents. It is a time of "what could have beens" and "if onlys..." Do you really want to be the spark that lights the fuse of a parent on the edge? Have nice manners and model proper audience ettiquette for your children.

By the way, I'm starting a website called "People Who Interrupt Fine Arts Performances" (WIP) and I cannot wait to feature your photo there.

Seriously, I've had it and I'm taking names.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Author: Kimberly Willis Holt

Kimberly Willis Holt is blogging at A Pen and a Nest. The blog looks beautiful.
All of our blogs change over time but for now she is reflecting on:
A Writer's Relationship with Home--How a sixty's ranch-style house provides comfort and inspiration for one writer's work.

Under the Jolly Roger

Oh, joy, joy, joy!

My public library just added the 3rd Jacky Faber book, Under the Jolly Roger: Being an Account of the Further Nautical Adventures of Jacky Faber, to its audiobook downloads collection!!

And I didn't have to put it on hold!

I just checked it out!

It is on my mp3 player!!


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Texas Bluebonnet Award

And the winner is...

One Potato, Two Potato

by Cynthia DeFelice; illustrated by Andrea U'Ren

I love, love, love reading this book aloud. Cynthia DeFelice is an incomparable story teller!!

Mr. and Mrs. O'Grady are poor. Then Mr. O'Grady finds a magic pot that duplicates whatever lands in it. Once the premise is established the kids immediately "tumble" to the predicament when Mrs. O'Grady falls into the pot by accident.

Andrea U'Ren's comic illustrations perfectly complement this folktale. The image of Mrs. O'Grady's legs sticking out of the pot is the "money" page. I just let the kids savor the picture then wait for the "oh NOs" to start through the audience.

I can't believe I get paid to have fun like that!!

No Mush Today

No Mush Today by Sally Derby, illustrated Nicole Tadgell, Lee & Low, 2008

I have to say, in the intrest of full disclosure, that I love cornmeal mush. It was always a treat as a child to have fried mush on a Saturday morning. Yumm...dipped in honey...

With a new baby crying in her mother's arms, a little girls announces "Not gonna eat my mush, Not gonna eat it." She runs next door to her Grandma's and announces she is going to live with her.

Her patient grandma takes her to church and then to the church family picnic where she lets her daddy take her on a boat ride and push her in the swings. They watch a family of ducks and he reminds her that "Ducklings stay with their families."

Every child imagines running away from home. This little girl only has to run next door to her grandmother's and the illustration shows her daddy leaning out of the window, watching her the whole time.

The adults wisely, give her some room and time to vent her feelings, always reinforcing their love for her. In the end they even let her have the last word, as she asks her mother to promise that there will be no mush for breakfast the next day.

Illustrator Nicole Tadgell lets the love glow on their faces and adds an extra element to the pictures as the little girl keeps a toy duckling with her at all times.

What a loving and reassuring message to parents and children in this little book.

Further ponders about the illustrations:

The family is always pictured with the little girl. She is never alone in a picture even though she is trying to put herself apart from family. What a reassuring visual message, your family is always with you.
I also loved the toy duck that she always has with her in every picture, "ducklings stick with their families."
Tadgell brought the story to life from the detail of the child's cable knit sweater to the joy on her face as she sails high in the swing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How the artist does it

Loved this video from FIRST SECOND "Drawing with Water."

See how Emmanuel Guibert created the art for his graphic novel ALAN'S WAR.

Monday, February 09, 2009

NonFiction Monday: The Lincolns

Dewey: 973.7092

The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary
by Candace Fleming, Schwartz & Wade, 2008

Candace Fleming has a gift for finding those stories in history that would be lost to children if she did not tell them.

A Big Cheese for the White House: The True Tale of a Tremendous Cheddar and Boxes for Katje are two of my favorite Fleming books.

Here, Fleming focuses on the Lincoln's personal life, telling the story in a scrapbook format.
My own family has a scrapbook that was kept by my great-grandmother while living on the Wyoming frontier in the late 19th century. The look of this book bears a strong resemblance to that family heirloom with clippings from magazines and newspapers papers that give a feel for the time. The book design and even the typeface, Old Times American, brings the 1800's to life.

Fleming has included material from letters and archives that paint a picture of Lincoln family life. Her notes and picture credits at the end of the book testify to her research. Period photographs, cartoons, and illustrations carry the reader through their story, from start to finish but also invite browsing for an odd fact or two.

My original plan to skim through the book was, thankfully, defeated by Fleming's clear and engaging writing which sent me scurrying back to the beginning to read the whole thing.

The outlines of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln's lives are generally known. "The rest of the story" that is presented here makes for fascinating reading.

I did NOT know:
  • that Abe's relationship with his father was so poor that he did not attend his father's funeral

  • that he devised and patented a devise to lift boats over sandbars and shallows but never developed or tested the idea commercially

  • that his law practice, before entering politics, was highly successful and very profitable (makes sense but the image of Henry Fonda in Young Mr. Lincoln, riding that mule is strong)

  • that he returned all campaign donations, except for $.75, to his political supporters, thanking them and explaining that he had not need the extra money.
    Oh, if ONLY that were true today, a model for us all!

Personally, I have always believed that Mary Lincoln's image and memory were misunderstood and abused by her contemporaries and by history. The reader will feel deep empathy for this woman who lost her children to typhoid and pleurisy and saw her husband murdered, before her eyes.

  • The image of her recipe for white cake, "from the kitchen of Mrs. Lincoln and pages from Godey Lady's Book give the reader an feel for what her daily life was like.

  • Fleming presents the reader with the Lincoln's wedding certificate and, later, the headlines about the trial that resulted in her commitment to an insane asylum by her son, Robert.

  • There is no doubt Mary Lincoln was unconventional and difficult. I cheered though, at the story of her emerging from her deep grief following the assassination, to thwart the self aggrandizing plans of the Springfield community leaders who were ignoring her and the President's wishes for his final resting place.

  • Mary's desperation to escape her incarceration in the asylum drove her to cannily contact a leading woman lawyer who took up her cause and helped free her.

Fleming has documented her sources and includes a note about her research. That part of the book is worth sharing with students who are embarking on their own research papers. This is a moving and engaging look into our sixteenth president's family life which is pitched perfectly for middle grade and older readers.

I recommend using this as a nonfiction class read-aloud. Educators who are worried about standardized tests need to model nonfiction reading for students.

Candace Fleming, what an outstanding achievement!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Dragon in the Sock Drawer

The Dragon in the Sock Drawer by Kate Klimo, Random House, 2008.

Klimo's story, is the first in a series. This is a lighthearted, middle grade fantasy. The design is nicely formatted with one inch margins and a readable typeface. Illustrator John Shroades has decorated the first page of each chapter with an illustrated preview in a dragon scale frame. The cover art of the bright green baby dragon was one of the first things that drew me to this book (that and the dragon subject matter.)

The story follows the tradition of boy-finds-rock-that-turns-out-to-be-a-dragon-egg and the-egg-hatches. A bad guy named Dr. St. George is after the dragon so the two children, Jesse and Daisy must hide and protect the baby.

I applaud Klimo for the ending of the story. Ponder most children's book where a young person has care of a wild or fantasy creature. The bird with the damaged wing is set free to return to its flock, the baby mermaid goes home to its mother, THE DOG DIES...
As the sun sets on these tales, the children are left older and wiser, having learned a life lesson from their experience.

Here, Klimo has given Jesse and Daisy a happy ending, helpful to a sequel, no doubt.

Still, SALUTE!

I was very happy with the allusion to St. George. Hopefully this will send the young'un to Margaret Hodges and Trina Schart Hyman's elegant, award-winning Saint George and the Dragon.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Author: Grace Lin

Oh, oh, oh, look at Grace Lin's Small Graces painting for the month of February.

Grace is sponsoring the Foundation of Children's Books, through a monthly auction of her original artwork.

Kidlitosphere Central

Yippee Ki Yay!

MotherReader announces the new Kidlitosphere Central.

The need for a centralized point for all things "kidlitosphere" was initially discussed at the first Kidlitosphere conference in Chicago and now it is a reality!

Thank you to Mother Reader and these other hardworking kidlitospherians for this site:

Pamela W. Coughlan, Director, MotherReader
Elizabeth Burns,
A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy
Kelly Herold,
Big A, little a
Anne Boles Levy,
Jen Robinson,
Jen Robinson’s Book Page

The site looks wonderful! Love the color scheme and design!

Brava! Brava!

What started as individuals blogging independently about children's and young adult books became a collective of like-minded people. While maintaining our own sites and unique perspectives, shared activities made us a thriving community. Now — with weekly celebrations of poetry and nonfiction, an online literary journal, a shared database of book reviews, discussion groups, contests, social networks, an annual conference, and our own book awards — we've become a society.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Comics: Zits


Check out today's (Feb. 1, 2009) Zits comic strip.