Friday, April 22, 2011

Artistic Envelopes

You MUST go see the envelopes at this link! Click through the gallery to see all of them.
I wonder if the US Post Office would deliver them?
From the GuardianUK

A publisher's postbag – in pictures

During his 30-year career as a children's book publisher, Klaus Flugge received almost 100 beautifully illustrated envelopes by artists including Posy Simmonds, Tony Ross and Axel Scheffler. Here he introduces some of his favourites

Earth Day

How to Clean Your Room in 10 Easy Steps In honor of Earth Day, I am looking at books that address an area of the world where children can actually have an impact on the environment: 
Their Room. 

How to Clean Your Room in 10 Easy Steps by Jennifer LaRue Huget, illustrations by Edward Koren. Schwartz&Wade, 2010  (review copy provided by the publisher)

Edward Koren is the perfect choice to illustrate this 'how-to' book.  His sketchy, disheveled style fits the untidy girl in this story. She carefully enumerates the 10 steps "guaranteed to (pretty much) please Mom."  The first step  is to always wait until your mother uses all three of your names before starting to work.  The second step is to pull everything out of the closet and drawers and off the shelves.  She continues through the steps, unloading some of the mess on her little sister, dealing with dust bunnies, and stowing left-over pizza and moldy cups of milk. Huget's book will make parents shudder and children nod, knowingly. Grownups will recall the evasion techniques from their own childhood but sympathize with the screaming mother. Excellent.

Why Do I Have to Make My Bed?Why Do I Have to Make My Bed?: or, A History of Messy Rooms by Wade Bradford, illustrations by Johanna van der Sterre, Tricycle, 2011 (review copy provided by the publisher)

The age old question, "why do I have to make my bed? is addressed by one smart mother the same way the question has been answered since pre-historic times.  In answering her son's question, his mother reviews the kinds of chores assigned to previous generations of children.  A summary of the kinds of chores performed by kids,  by era and century, is included. In the end, there is just one reason for doing what parents ask.  Bradford delivers the line nicely.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Final Mission: Scorpia Rising

Scorpia Rising: An Alex Rider Misson (An Alex Rider Novel)Scorpia Rising by Anthony Horowitz. Philomel, 2011
(Review copy provided by publisher)

Saying goodbye to a much loved book character is such a bittersweet experience.  I find myself thinking of Harry, Hermione and Ron sometimes and wondering how they are and what they are doing.  Alex Rider is another character who has grown dear to my heart over the course of his adventures.  The series has gained strength with each book.  It was book #3-Skeleton Key, where Horowitz raised the stakes for the young spy and took the story to a new level.  I have been an unstinting fan ever since.
After the Percy Jackson series, these are the books that I end up in discussions with guys about, most often, at the different schools I visit.

When Alex was recruited by MI-6 for a unique mission, in the wake of his Uncle Ian's death, (#1-Stormbreaker) he could not have imagined what the next year would bring.  Single-handedly responsible for thwarting the plans of the horrific Scorpia crime syndicate, Alex believes he is finally free of MI-6 and the world of spies and danger. He is living in London with his guardian, Jack, and enjoying a return to normal life as a teenager. Jack herself is contemplating a change, hoping to return to her own family in the USA.  Still, Alex cannot ignore his instincts and training which detect the presence of a sniper, pointing a gun into his school classroom. He pursues the man and in doing so, joins the game again. 

Ingenious gadgets and disguises are part of the mix here again. His assignment takes Jack and Alex to Alexandria, Egypt. What he does not know is that this time, Alex himself is the target and old enemies have joined forces against him.  This is by far the darkest of the novels.  Alex has been through too much emotionally and physically.  There are things that occur that may give the reader pause but Horowitz has put a great deal of thought into this finale. He offers Alex a sort of expository reflection to explain his actions at one point.  It will be up to the reader to decide if the ending is wholly satisfying.  There is a part of Alex that loves the spy business.  I think Horowitz wanted to resolve his future once and for all.  Of course, once these characters arrive in the reader's imagination, they take on a life of their own.  I, for one, will continue to think about Alex and wonder what he is doing.

It has been a grand ride.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Amelia Lost

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming, Schwartz and Wade, 2011 (review copy provided by the publisher)

When Candace Fleming writes a new book I have to read it.  When I saw it was about Amelia Earhart my first reaction was, really?  A quick (and by no means exhaustive) search of indicates there are 134 children's books about the famed aviator.  Comparatively, Clara Barton only rates 65, Eleanor Roosevelt clocks in at 108, Dolly Madison -- 15, Abigail Adams -- 68, Marian Anderson --20, Susan B. Anthony -- 49, Helen Keller -- 119 (I really thought Keller might surpass her), Rosa Parks -- 122, and Sally Ride -- 34.

Clearly, Amelia Earhart trumps other female icons of American history in publishing.  Fleming's book is unique though and is a rich addition to the Earhart bookshelf as 2012, will mark the 75th anniversary of the mystery of her disappearance over the Pacific Ocean.

Fleming shares this story in a unique way by planting the reader right there, on board the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, in the early morning hours of July 2, 1937,  where the crew is listening and watching for Earhart's plane.  The skillful storytelling pulls the reader right into the mystery of Amelia's disappearance.  Even though we know the outcome, the reader feels caught up in the search and hopes that the story might have a different outcome this time. Hope flares for her recovery. 

The book design invites the reader to dip in anywhere or read the story straight through. Images are captioned, and interesting facts and related events are highlighted in text boxes throughout.  Some of the most fascinating aspects of the story to me were the pages featuring shortwave radio listeners in Wyoming and  Florida who may have picked up some of the last broadcasts from the doomed plane. The story of that fateful day when Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan disappeared is told separately on gray shaded pages which can be read as they appear, interspersed throughout the book or easily located and read as a separate narrative.

Fleming provides an extensive bibliography which she has enhanced with subheadings explaining the role certain archives and references played in her research.  She also includes a list of authoritative websites which is of immense value given the number of "speculative" sites that must be out there.  Each chapter is documented with source notes and picture credits.  I would share these pages with students to demonstrate the importance and value of documenting sources in research.

Rachel Cole's book design is lovely.  The color scheme of white and soft gray echoes the hues of  black and white photographs. The time period is further evoked by lettered titles and headings, by Jessica Hische, that were inspired by Art Deco posters of the time.  The white space on the pages is balanced by a truly inspired choice of typeface called Electra.  Earhart's plane was a Lockheed Model 10 Electra.

This is nonfiction storytelling at its very best.  Candace Fleming engages us and invites us back in time. She keeps us turning the pages until hope is lost.  She ends the book with Amelia Earhart's last written words which sum up why she is the focus of so many books today.
"Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others."

I have been HiStoryTelling and booktalking "this book to classes this week.  The lesson has caused run on the Earhart biographies.  Not ONE left on the shelf now.   So many kids have asked to check the book out, that I am now planning to donate my review copy to the school. 

Loved a moment during the lesson (when I was describing how Earhart blew off opportunities to really learn how to operate her radio which then led to her inability to communicate with the coast guard ship that had been sent to guide her in to Howard Island) when one of the boys in the class, put his face in his hands and shaking his head said, "Oh, man. Major Fail!"

Friday, April 15, 2011

Texas Library Association 2011--Highlights

My highlights, anyway.
  • Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith -- I could not have planned this.The second day of TLA is the day when student groups attend the conference.  Publishers hand out stacks and stacks of ARCs to them.  There is NOTHING more satisfying than watching a group of teens wandering the hall with bags, bulging with books and posters.

    I ended up in a lovely, extended conversation with two teens (a guy and a girl) both AVID readers, in a publisher's booth,. They are both high school seniors, English AP students, with college plans in place.  When our conversation turned to vampire books, (because it seems like it always does) I started to talk about Cynthia Leitich Smith's series as I am reading Blessed right now.  At that VERY moment, Cynthia and Greg walked RIGHT BY THE BOOTH!  I called them over and introduced them. Cynthia told them about her series and told them how to contact her.  Then the Teen Girl asked Cynthia to inscribe her favorite quote in a memory notebook she has kept since junior high and that she happened to have with her.  Teen Guy noted that he had read Smith's books but not the new Tantalize: Kieren's Story graphic novel. After Cynthia left both kids expressed their "agog-ness" at meeting her.
  • Heard some of the best discussions on writing at the Lonestar and TAYSHAS author panels
  • Just happened to choose to walk out of a door from the exhibit hall where Teresa Schauer was sitting.  I've been a cyber-friend of hers for several years and thought I  recognized her enough to have the courage to say, "Is your name Teresa ?" So, we  finally met. Schauer is the powerhouse and make-it-happen energy behind Book Trailers For All
    Of all the exit doors I could have chosen....

This is the kind of serendipitous magic that is the TLA Conference.

  • Archivist extraordinaire, aka Entling no. 2, called from the exhibit hall today to report almost being obliterated at the HarperCollins booth by stampeding librarians in search of half price or free books. She said they almost capsized the booth, knocking over shelves at the booth behind it.  That brought back memories of the melĂ© at the Little Brown booth the year Inside the Titanic (A giant Cutaway Book) was on display.  I know budgets are tight but really?

Always an adventure at TLA!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lost souls?

Tantalize By Cynthia Leitich Smith.
Tantalize, Candlewick, 2007
Eternal, Candlewick, 2009
Blessed, Candlewick, 2011


Quincie is a senior in high school and struggling to keep her family's restaurant in business.   Following the violent death of her close friend and head chef,  she falls under the influence of the mysterious new chef who arrives to work at the restaurant.  The story is set in Austin, TX but in a different reality where shape shifters and other paranormal entities exist and fluorish.  Kieren, her best friend and would-be love intereset is discovering his inner-werewolf and is keeping his distance from her. Quincie is captured by the dark and transformed into a nightmare.

EternalEternal is set in this same universe (different city) but focuses on a guardian angel named Zachary who, unwisely, intervenes to save his seventeen year old charge, Miranda when she and a friend are attacked by vampires.  Zachary's interference causes Miranda to be bitten and kidnapped by the vampires who elevate her to vampire royalty. Zachary  is an all-knowing angel who sees the big picture but is fallible. Literally, "dis-graced," he is still intent on saving Miranda from her grotesque, eternal existence

Quincie and Miranda are lost souls but both girls retain enough of their humanity to despair of what they have become.  Is that enough to save them?
  For the record, I generally avoid stories about vampires et al.  I only, just managed Twilight but abandoned the sequels.  I  read the original Dracula by Bram Stoker in college and was so horrified by the image of Dracula scuttling down the wall of his castle, that the memory of that scene is still burned into my brain. Eternal also has some gruesome and grisley moments that made me go a bit wobbley.

Cynthia Leitich Smith has intriqued me though and has made me want to read the next book, Blessed. Quincie and Miranda did not choose their condition but they are monsters, nevertheless.  Can their souls be redeemed?   Smith does not focus on any individual religion or faith here but the story reflects a belief that we all possess a spirit that can be imperiled. For teen readers, that is not a bad thing to ponder.
I want to know the rest of the story.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Ultimate Guide to Bastketball

Ultimate Guide to Basketball: Facts, STATS, Stars, and Stuff
 In honor of the Final Four which is here in town:

Ultimate Guide to Basketball: Facts, Stats, Stars and Stuff by James Buckley, Jr. Beach Ball Books, 2010 (review copy provided by the publisher)

In the style of Guinness Book of World Records and other "record" books this is a fun, start-anywhere-book of facts and information about basketball.  This is not a book with every conceivable stat and fact but at 160 pages, it does give  nice brief, overviews of the sport.  The focus is on professional basketball, the history of the game and the NBA. Lots of short, interesting (to me) descriptions of court positions and player roles, facts on steals, blocks, and assists are included.
So THAT is what a "pick and roll" is.

Legends of the game, including  Wilt Chamberlin, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, and some of their stats are detailed.  Information about each NBA division and franchise is also included along with some "funky facts" about each team.  I did not know Mavericks guard Jason Terry wears 5 pairs of socks because it is "more comfortable" when he plays.

Two color printing with insets and fact boxes and balloons make this an accessible and entertaining overview of the game.
The Nonfiction Monday Roundup is at L.L. Owens!


Spring air conditioning tune-up time!

If you come to my house to check my AC unit and remark on the decor (LOTR) and mention that your eleven year old son loves Lord of the Rings and loves to read and loves fantasy, you will leave with a bag of books for him.