Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The Surrogatesby Robert Venditti

I had high hopes and maybe it was my fault hoping for a really gripping read accompanied by high-level artwork. It turned out to be something of a dud. There is definitely the seed of a great story but it never quite blossomed and the hastily presented resolution is dissatisfying to say the least. The crude artwork is without raw energy often associated with such style and the Surries, perfect and sleek and are such an improvement of "vanilla" humans, do not to be so. I believe the stale look of the panels is largely due to a fairly-uniformed Photoshopping process. Too bad.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tales from Outer Suburbia

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

This book reminds of a third grade project that my daughter did: to write a short story that accompanies one picture from Chris Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. In fact, on Van Allsburg's site, there is an entire section dedicated to stories from "readers" of the book inspired by the images in the book.

Outer Suburbia has that same absurdity, the same eeriness and outlandish qualities that constantly surprise and delight the reader, even when we feel slightly uncomfortable with what we read and see. It is at times unsettling and other times deeply moving.

I am not sure that this is a book just for children or teens. It seems to me that it is very much a book made to just express the artist's imagination and to satisfy his own storytelling needs -- which, ultimately, benefits the readers who would appreciate this kind of short vignettes. My favorite stories/images are: Eric, No Other Country, Alert But Not Alarmed, Make Your Own Pet, and strangely my top choice: The Nameless Holiday.

The entire book design is so amazing as well. I remember the sense of thrill and awe when I first discovered the Griffin and Sabine trilogy by Nick Bantock. This one comes close.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Islands of the Blessed

The Islands of the Blessedby Nancy Farmer

The pacing isn't fast, but it is just right. The actions aren't created to merely thrill the readers, but they are thrilling and serve as bench marks of the characters' growth -- everything moves their understanding of the world along. I so appreciate Farmer's ability to create highly imaginative and imaginable (for a not very visual reader) landscapes. It is wonderful to encounter fresh new details of your staple fantasy elements, such as the power of the bell Fair Lamenting and how it is truly magical due to the artistic achievement of the maker of the clapper and how Mermaids crave good combs because barnacles find their hair the best place to grow and without combs, they will be weighed down by the barnacles on their heads and can never swim.

So much sympathy is given to all the characters, including the villains - lots of gray and never strictly black and white. And the last page made me happy, too -- what a nice way to end a popular trilogy.

View all my goodreads reviews >>

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Time Machine

The Time Machineby H.G. Wells

This is the first time I actually read this classic science fiction. As a forerunner of this genre, it does not feel stale or naive. It does not attempt to dazzle the reader with gadgets or worldbuilding, but simply tells a solid and thoughtful tale. And it is such a short and quick read, too.

View all my goodreads reviews >>

Friday, August 28, 2009

Creature of the Night

Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson

The story definitely gripped me from the get go, and the voice of Bobby is raw and oh-so-real. I only wish that it had not been so "realistic," that the creature of the night (which turns out to be Bobby in a sense when he realized how dark his life has been) - the Little Woman/Badger - features more prominently and the slightly creepy, surreal mood is maintained throughout the book. The long stretches Bobby's work habits and his finding his way into PJ Dooley's life are essential to the character development but it definitely slows down the momentum and almost feels like too much light and too light in a dark and heavy story.

Eventually, this is a realistic fiction, a coming-of-age story, a hopeful tale (with its feel-good epilogue,) and an intimate look at a troubled teen's life. It shows a boy who battles with his inner demon, like a boxing match -- He's Down, the Demon's Down, oh, no, He's Down again.. he gets up... and the Demon strikes back... ... ... and yet.. we never got that really satisfying FINAL *POW* PUNCH. It is so real-life that it does not have enough dramatic force toward the end.

I might have been happy to NOT have that Epilogue -- to keep myself guessing and thinking hard about his potential future(s).

View all my goodreads reviews >>

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In Cold Blood

In Cold Bloodby Truman Capote

Finally got a chance to read this. Excellent beyond belief. No wonder it is such a famous book. Capote is not only a great sentence crafter, he is also so skilled in putting together the whole picture bit by bit with just the right amount of tension as each chapter progresses and as each section of the book falls into place. There is the "cold blood" chilling-ness permeating the book, of course, but there is also so much that is entirely human about each person's tale. We wonder about these murderers and what went wrong in their lives and in their brains and in their hearts. I feel both a deep sorrow and a real emotional detachment - two highly opposite sensations and yet they co-exist the entire time as I read the book. I'd credit the author for giving a most unusual reading experience.

View all my goodreads reviews

Sunday, August 23, 2009

THe Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga

So much of the book works for me -- the painfully honest and self-deprecating tone of Fanboy who tells his own "adventure," the unexpected plot surprises, and tension, the pacing, moving briskly and breathlessly from one chapter to the next, and the discussion of excellent graphic novels throughout the tale. And yet, some thing is not quite gelling at the end. I'm not as bothered by the non-conclusive ending as by the "revelation" that all adults are just like the bullies in the school: you just have to bully and fool them back and your life will be peachy. Hmm... is that what this amazingly big adventure all about? Very much puzzled.

View all my goodreads reviews

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Couldn't finish Goodkind's Stone of Tears. His prose style (or the lack of) really grated on my nerves. Specific examples will be posted when I get back home and have better internet access.

Since we ran out of books to read during our travels, last night David and I paid the B&N in Seattle a visit. He got Frankenstein and I got The Time Machine. Both old titles new to our reading eyes.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lily is reading Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay. She finds it engrossing and funny.

Roxanne is reading and liking The Stone of Tears by Terry Goodkind. 2nd book in the Sword of Truth series. Tor. 1995. 979 pages. I am on page 110 now.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When the Whistle Blows

When the Whistle Blows When the Whistle Blows by Fran Slayton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Judging by the somewhat muted and sleepy cover, I thought I was going to read a "pensive, quiet" coming-of-age, historical fiction. It turned out that the story is NOT all that quiet: every episode falls on an All Hallow's Eve from early-40s to late-40s. You get the thrill of the secret Society's weird, slightly off and scary way to honor a recently deceased member; you get the Halloween prank gone awry; you get the blood-pumping, almost heart-stopping football game actions; and you get the death and danger working on the steam-engined trains. But then, you also get so much HEART between the main character and his father. It is an entirely "male" book, glaringly so -- you hardly see a female character and they hardly have even a speaking turn. It's all... very, macho, but oddly also very tender. And so much humor and humorous wisdom. I am not ashamed to say that I cried hard at the end of the tale... mourning the passing of a man and of an era so lovingly and convincingly portrayed by the author.

View all my goodreads reviews >>

Friday, July 10, 2009

Al Capone Shines My Shoes

Al Capone Shines My ShoesAuthor: Gennifer Choldenko
Reading Level: 4th to 7th Grade

Publisher: Dial
Edition: Hardcover, 2009 (galley)

I am completely delighted by this book. I really enjoyed the first one and this one holds up, well and strong, and I think it works even better. Maybe because I thought, "What can she come up with that can top the first book?" before starting to read this one.. and Choldenko absolutely pulled it off. There is humor and tension all throughout the book, not to mention some hard-to-sort-out moral dilemmas. Over the years, my students have loved the first book -- from really strong readers to really reluctant ones - and both girls and boys do, too. I can see this one achieves the same effects: not a book that gets everyone super-excited, but one that gets talked up by young peers and gets passed around without making too big a wave. Its "beloved-ness" will last quite a while, I believe.

I also really appreciate the author's notes. This will make for a good historical-fiction writing assignment starter book. (I can see a whole class reading the book, discussing the facts and fiction aspects of the story, and doing some sort of historical research and writing a short story. <-- with my librarian's hat on, of course.)

View all my goodreads reviews.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Battle Royale

Battle RoyaleAuthor: Koushun Takami
Reading Level: Young Adult/Adult

Pages: 624
Publisher: VIZ
Edition:2003, Paperback

Finally. Read and finished this one. Ever since I heard about it (and watched the movie on youtube ;p) I had the book set aside to read but so many other things came along the way... it was WORTH my own wait and I wish that I had read it earlier in the school year so I could have recommended it to more readers.

It's an interesting way to tell a story -- there is an over arching plot, a simple one, an explosive one, a thoughtful one, but there are basically a series of character sketches as well. You meet some of the minor characters along the path, you know something about them, and they you see them being killed (mostly brutally, with graphic details -- not for the faint of heart!) It's an examination of human nature - the good, the bad, and the in between; the kind, the evil, and the confused. I actually shed tears at 4 different points -- some for characters I learned to love; some for "throw-away" characters whose stories happen to touch my heart.

It seems to be a long book, but it's such a fast and easy read. The alternative history aspect and the social criticism aspect are slightly didactic, but still work well with the narrative flow. Lots of action and "fun" -- if one can define reading about 15-year-olds forced into killing each other as a fun experience.

My last words of wisdom? DO NOT WATCH THE MOVIE before reading the book; after reading the book, you will be disappointed by the movie. So, if you plan on reading the book, basically, just let the notion of watching the movie go!

View all my goodreads reviews.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Feminist or Anti-such?

I, along with my students and thousands of fans, have fallen in love with recent books by Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore. (Terrier, Bloodhound, Graceling, and Fire.) These fantasy books all feature incredibly attractive and strong teen females. They fight crimes, they battle monsters, they fall in love but seem to be totally in control of their relationships! They, not the male partners, are the ones who are empowered to choose and make their destinies.

So, when you have these young women, each (Beka, Katsa, and Fire) is taking one or multiple partners to bed, some details have to be attached. Beka got a charm, Katsa and Fire both used an herb -- these supposedly will prevent pregnancy -- the messy aftermath of their amorous acts.

On the one hand, I am happy that they are "getting it" and having a great time with it. On the other hand, my 21st century, teacher of teens and mother of a pre-teen daughter, mind keeps wondering: What are the BOYS/MEN doing to prevent the communication of the "other" kind of mess? The mess that hangs over millions of modern men, women, and children. Yes, these are Fantasy stories -- but since the idea of birth-control are included, what's to prevent our wonderful writers to also come up with some clever ways so that at least the young people in the stories (and the young people reading the stories) are careful about diseases. (In both Beka Cooper and Fire's cases, they are sleeping with men who have multitudes of partners before and after themselves.)

Just wondering... Why in these quite feminist slanted stories, men and boys are still not held "accountable" for their actions?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tiny Tyrant: Vol. 1 - The Ethelbertosaurus

Tiny Tyrant: Volume One: The EthelbertosaurusAuthor: Lewis Trondheim; illus. by Fabrice Parme
Reading Level: 3rd to 5th grade

Pages: 62
Publisher: Frist Second
Edition:Paperback, 2009

Most excellent and fun short skit-like tales. This volume contains six stories. King Ethelbert is extremely spoiled and self-centered and yet one simply can't help but adoring him (probably because more often than not, he gets his just-desserts: a spanking, or being blown out of the palace window!) A French import.

View all my good reads reviews.

The Burning Bridge

The Burning Bridge (Ranger's Apprentice, Book 2)Author: Flanagan, John
Reading Level: 4th to 7th

Pages: 262
Publisher: Philomel
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

A solid follow-up to the really fun first Ranger's Apprentice title. Although the world is quite fantastic with monsters and some magical elements, most of the plot evolves around military tactics and your basic adventures (sword fights, archery, etc.) The main characters do not possess magical abilities. The pacing is tight and there are some surprises that will keep even a seasoned fantasy reader focused.

View all my goodreads reviews.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Last Olympian

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5)Author: Rick Riordan
Reading Level: 3rd to 7th

Pages: 381
Publisher: Hyperion
Edition:Hardcover, 2009

Pure adrenaline inducing 381 pages of fun. I'm so glad that the level of action and humor is maintained throughout the entire series -- that the last book did not suddenly become some deep philosophical revelation. (I definitely did not get into these books for their messages or meanings.) It's been quite a craze here at the school and the waiting list of eager readers is mighty long, deservingly so.

View all my good reads reviews.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


ScatAuthor: Carl Hiaasen
Reading Level:

Pages: 304
Publisher: Knopf (Random House)
Edition: Hardcover, 2009

This is definitely a fun book and many of my young readers already told me that they enjoyed reading the third offering from Hiaasen. Everything does hang together nicely and the punishment of the evil doers satisfying. Hiaasen did not shy away from super contemporary things: facebook, CNN/Anderson Cooper, and of course, the father who is injured in Iraq. This makes the volume a "timely" book for current readers and only time will tell if in a decade or two, young readers still will appreciate the story, despite the references to matters that can easily date the book.

Scat, however, does not offer much more than either Hoot, or Flush -- much of the same thing to young readers who like mysteries, who like to read stories about older kids (High School students as protagonists) but who do not necessarily wish to decipher complex sentence structures or figures of speech and who still enjoy jokes on fairly basic/bodily function levels.

View all my goodreads reviews.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bloodhound: Beka Cooper II

Bloodhound (Beka Cooper, Book 2)Author: Tamora Pierce
Reading Level: 6th grade and up

Publisher: Random House
Edition: Galley, 2009

I really liked the first one and have been waiting for the second installment for a long long time. The second book still works. My initial quibble of not believing Beka able to write all of the stuff down in her journal still stands -- even with the explanation of ciphers and reports and how events are chopped down into several installments. Still seems a bit far-fetched. However, I guess if one believes in ghost-carrying pigeons and a young woman talking to street dust winds, one has to somewhat allow her to be able to write dialogs and descriptions in such minute details when recording her own exploits.

That's another thing: the pacing is a bit draggy at moments because it seems a bit too much of JUST Beka -- just her thoughts, just her experiences, and just her achievements. All the secondary characters (POUNCE, for example, who is absent for most of the story) take a real Secondary position here. Achoo the hound, although very important to the plot, is not satisfying as a strong supporting character because she is too much of a hound, no human traits at all. I love her, but she cannot replace Pounce whose wry humor adds so much to the flavor of the story.

Dale, as a secondary character at the beginning of the story, never got his chance to even remain in that position. By mid-book, he's already just a bit of thoughts in Beka's mind. This shows Beka's dedication to her work and how incredibly sensible she is, but I feel slightly let down by Dale's demotion. He definitely could have played a larger part in the story (either helping or hindering Beka's tasks) because he was positioned to do so from the get go (but peters out...)

Having Hanse explain all the rhymes and reasons seems a bit of an easy and very basic mystery device (for that is what this series is... Law and Order meets Tortall Fantasy.) I was hoping for huge surprises and unexpected villains and deeper plots.

Oh, I sound too critical, I do believe. Going to end by saying that I definitely enjoyed following Beka through the streets, watching her eat sea food, seeing her fight various villains -- above ground and underground. It's great to be back in the land of such cool magic. Am I now again eagerly waiting for the next book? You betcha!

View all my reviews.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan

Author: John Flannagan
Reading Level: 4th to 6th grade

Pages: 249
Publisher: HarperCollins
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice, Book 1) I finally got around to read this first book in the ever-more popular series that my students have loved for the last few years. I know now why they like the stories and characters so much. The world is easy to understand -- since in this first book, the young people are "in schools." They are being trained in their various trades with cool skills like tracking, archery, sword play, and cooking. One of the main characters gets bullied and eventually those bullies get their just deserts! I can hear the cheering from the young readers! I will from now on describe the book (or the series) as Fantasy Spy Story, a blend of Alex Rider and Lord of the Rings. (Prob. a bit exaggerated but I think that will help interest the next reader!)

View all my goodreads reviews.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Bartimaeus Trilogy

Author: Jonathan Stroud

Reading Level: 6th grade and up

This is a guest blogger post. Josh is 16 years old and just finished the trilogy. (I feel remiss here -- since I neglected to recommend this series to him when he was in middle school!) He sent me a long email with his reviews of the three books and we subsequently exchanged a couple more emails, especially about the endings of this trilogy and the His Dark Materials trilogy. There are plot spoilers.

ABOUT The Amulet of Samarkand

Bartimaeus is hilarious. I simply love the djinn. Nathaniel is interesting to follow as well, a fun character with a couple flaws. There really isn't much to speak of in this book other than plot: it's fun, but Bartimaeus is the real winner of this one.

ABOUT The Golem's Eye

Here we see Nathaniel turn into the pompous, arrogant named John Mandrake. He falls into the very trap Bartimaeus told him to avoid: letting the corrupting influence of magicians twist him into something horrible. The things he does and says are unbelievable, and the effect is doubled by how he behaved in the 1st book. We get introduced to Kitty, who's a good person at heart, and then gets caught up in the whole Honorius affair. Mandrake shows his bastardness with his perpetual breaking of vows, many only hours or less after having made them. Bartimaeus is fun as ever: was sad about Queezle, that she got introduced and then snuffed out, but oh well. So goes the storyline.

ABOUT Ptolemy's Gate

By far the most interesting, most powerful, most moving, most climactic of the three (well, for that last one I suppose there's a reason, being the end and all). We see Mandrake turn from arrogant into the marginally better (or worse, depending on your POV) "top magician". Bartimaeus evokes a lot of sympathy with his sorry state, and Kitty becomes my favorite character for the majority of the book.

And then Mandrake slowly crumbles, leaving a mature Nathaniel. He still has flaws, but then, so does everyone but Bartimaeus. As Kitty and Nathaniel work together, with each other (and slowly begin to admire each other: my guess is given a couple years, they'd end up as very good friends or more, provided Nathaniel doesn't relapse, which I don't think he would), it's my favorite part. To see Kitty put the same trust in Bartimaeus that Ptolemy did, showing greater understanding of him than perhaps even the Egyptian boy (though Ptolemy did not have someone's notes or previous history as guides, admittedly).

And then, when Nathaniel accepts Bartimaeus into his own body...this is where N/B takes over as my favorite character(s). The fact that, working together, they manage to destroy far more powerful spirits than they. The fact that, working together, they are the culmination of Ptolemy's hopes and dreams, the ultimate climax of Nathaniel and Bartimaeus' relationship, the fulfilling of the purpose of Kitty's visit to the Other Place...once they become both two souls and one, a single 2-part mind in a single body, I could not put it down even for work. I was breathless as they turned the staff on Nouda...

AM. Nathaniel hit by the Detonation. Coming from Barti's POV, it is even more effective. And then when Nathaniel realizes the seriousness of the wound, his acceptance of his fate and determination to do selfless good is such strong writing. The last meeting with Kitty, where N/B both know what has to be done, and the whole concealing it from K thing...I really felt it. Comparable, at least for me in my after-reading-state, to when Lyra and Will realize they must separate in Amber Spyglass.

True to form, he breaks his final promise, having finally made one beyond his power to keep. This was where I was sad that the "item" could never happen (Kitty's picking through the wreckage at the end made me think she was feeling the loss of a possible future, one containing more happiness, or at least more possibility, than her current one, a future with a united djinn/human in it).

I thought that writing N and B's end at the very end was the best move of the whole trilogy. We already know what happens: we know that the great evil is destroyed by the heroic death of N/B. Now we get to see the heart of darkness, the center of the inferno, as N/B march to their death. The connection between them in this scene is so powerful I thought they might actually survive. This isn't the usual master-servant relationship; this isn't even Ptolemy's relationship. Ptolemy was a trusting, kind, benevolent, freedom-giving master, yes, but he was a master, as evidenced by his final dismissal of Barti. N and B banter as friends, they speak as equals, as 2 halves of the whole. Nathaniel's character at the end here practically radiates goodness off the page. And then, the way he dismisses Bartimaeus, I feel, is from an equal to an equal. The delivery of the dismissal is not that of a master dismissing a slave, but of a friend releasing a friend.

My throat was seized up the whole final scene, but it was the 2nd-to-last paragraph, where the Staff breaks, that the tears almost fell (almost, because I usually manage to keep them in while reading, though I failed during Amber Spyglass several years ago). The simplicity of the writing there - "Nouda did this. Nathaniel finished the Dismissal. I went. The Staff broke." had so much raw POWER in the way it was written. Stroud simply couldn't have written that end any better (except maybe Nathaniel surviving: just as he turns good, he turns so good that he must make up for the magicians' sins and evildoing. He dies for a better world, and I do rather prefer when they get to actually see that world).

I'd discuss the last paragraph but I need breakfast. Barti's final words in the trilogy, starting with "typical master", given that Nathaniel was anything but, either give the paragraph a tone of affection or a tone of disgust. Choice of the reader, so I chose affection :)

*** (Another email discussing the endings of Amber Spyglass and Ptolemy's Gate is omitted.) ***

Amber Spyglass had a Tough ending...but I think that, for me, Ptolemy's Gate takes the cake. To see what Nathaniel becomes by the end of the book 1 he was bumbling but likable, in book 2 I nearly burned the pages with him, in book 3 first couple parts I was a little put out with him (especially given his treatment of Barti), in last 150ish pages I thought, "This is what he should have become from book 1." The opposition of him + Barti and him from the previous books was so pronounced, and the tentative friendship springing up between him and all made his death doubly sad and twice as noble.

Still tugs at the hearstrings, reading it. It's his Redemption, and yet he goes so much farther than he "needed" to, to redeem himself. For once, a magician of the old generation does what people of such power are supposed to do (at least in our society): use it for the people, sacrifice himself for the commoners.


I cannot really honestly say which one affected me more at the moment of reading -- but I do think that Lyra and Will's final parting has a much stronger lingering effect. I read that scene, what, 8 - 9 years ago and I can still feel the sorrow now; whereas I do recall Nathaniel's final sacrifice (and you described it so well below) and how much I sobbed over it, it does not give my heart a blow whenever I think of it.


It's something about the way the two are written, I think. Something about them makes Bartimaeus stronger than HDM for me. I can't place first guess would be that in Barti, the whole experience comes from 1st person, and their unity is such a 180 from everything before it, but I'm not sure if that's it.

Maybe it's the fact that N/B was 4 days ago, and L/W was 4 years ago...but there's no way to either prove or disprove that.


Given the time difference between reading the two (not too much for an adult, but for me it's my entire emotional maturation to date), I don't think I can honestly say either one. L/W affected me more, but I hadn't read many books before then in which the heroes either die or must sacrifice something HUGE to win. I'm more used to it by now, and being a fan of happy endings, anything with such sacrifice will .

Monday, March 16, 2009


WatchmenAuthor: Alan Moore, illus. by Dave Gibbons
Reading Level: YA, Adult

Publisher: DC Comic
Paperback, 1987

It took me a long time to finish this seemingly slim volume. I took in every word, every image, and every reference as slowly as I could manage. Not that the story is too complex, but its form does demand some attention and appreciation: the interwoven stories of the masked vigilantes and the embedded graphic novel of the Black Freighter (or the Pirate story as my students refer to it) and the various texts of the story-within-the story by one of the side characters and all the other para-"documents."

I enjoyed all the double-descriptors: words and phrases that convey the meaning for one scene but also aptly describe the situations of another scene. Moore employed this technique through out the novel -- it did not get tired for me, just amusing.

The final two "chapters," however, seem to rely too much on Adrian's explanation of his whole back story and his reasons behind all the plans and schemes, slowing down the momentum and diminishing the thrilling mystery part of the whole tale. I wish Moore had figured out a more active and exciting way for the exposing of Adrian and his plot.

I also must say that I think the filmmakers did a fantastic job translating the novel into the movie. The only real gripe I have is in the odd casting of Adrian's role -- instead of an athletic superhero, the actor seems fragile and without the kind of commanding presence that this role demands. The movie ends differently from the book -- having gotten rid of the entire side story of the vanishing artists, novelists, and scientists with their creation of the "alien being" that devastates half of New York City -- but by putting the blame on Dr. Manhattan, the film has added another layer of emotional burden onto a major character and I have to applaud that particular line of changes. And, may I say that I absolutely ADORE Rorschach in the movie -- his scenes are most memorable and the actor's skillful portrayal of this tragic hero is impeccable!

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Graveyard Book, again

Just want to clarify my own post: Just because The Graveyard Book might have NOT had been widely read by children around the country/world, does not mean that it is not a wonderful Children's Book. It is. It will take mind, heart, and soul of each child reader to truly appreciate this book, though.

I'm thinking of the three kinds of fiction reading that we do as readers (and maybe especially young readers?). (I just made these up, so bear with me.) (And I realize that they can also be the three kinds of writings/books -- so not just dependent on the readers, but the authors as well.)

The first kind is the visceral reading: that we read quickly, just gobbling down the words very easily, like wolfing down a thick slice of chocolate cake. We pay little attention to the word choices, to the deliberate rhythm of each sentence, or other "literary details" but what's going to happen next to the one or two main characters we care about. Some books/stories are created to elicit purely such visceral reactions. And many many readers, young or old, take great pleasure in reading such books, without having to stop and contemplate.

The second is the cerebral reading: that we read closely, conscious of all the craftsmanship mastered by the author -- the voice, the tone, the vocabulary, the ways characters are constructed, the beat of each sentence, etc. etc., to the point that we analyze and marvel as we read without emotionally affected by the work. This kind of reading is often found when people feel the need or responsibility when they "KNEW" before they started reading a book that it is supposed to be a very well written piece of literature, and they want to make sure that they have such and such title under their belt for discussion with others.

The third is the soulful reading: that we are greatly involved with the emotions, the settings, the plot and the world of the story, while at the same time, our souls take flight with the artistic achievements of such skillful telling! Our experiences as humans are enriched with such a reading.

I see The Graveyard Book as belonging to the 3rd kind of writing -- it has the potential to both delight and enrich any reader's life. I see Pullman's His Dark Materials and White's Charlotte's Web as two other prime examples.

Graveyard Book and the Newbery

Ok. I am SUPERBLY excited about The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, won the Newbery. But, I'd have to point out to all those who have been writing/thinking along the line of, "finally, a Newbery winner that has been very popular with kids -- see it's been on the New York Times Bestselling List for children, like, forever" that if you REALLY look into who have been reading The Graveyard Book (and see who the 15,865 Neil twitter followers, who attend his Graveyard Book reading events and bought the book then, and who have written to him on his blog about this book,) you can EASILY find that the book has been a lot more popular with his adult fans. The New York City Graveyard Book reading event that I attended had about 500 people in the audience and only about 10 (or fewer) of them were children.

My husband read the book aloud, and loved every moment of it, to our 10-year-old daughter who really enjoyed listening to this intriguing and beautifully crafted story. And some of my students have read it and thoroughly enjoyed it as well. But, that is not to say that The Graveyard Book has been extremely popular with children (at least, not like the trendy but not as delicately crafted Twilight Saga, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Warriors series, Princess Diaries, or Cirque du Freak series - and dozens of others)

The Graveyard Book won the Newbery because it contains linguistic nuances, humor, dramatic tension, vivid and memorable characters, and unique world building -- and because these qualities are recognized and awarded by the 2009 Newbery Committee members.

It seems to me insulting all around to imply that 1. the Newbery Committee members did not examine the work for its literary and artistic achievements, but simply went with a "bestseller" and 2. Neil Gaiman did not win the award for his fine literary craftsmanship but for being a popular kid author -- which, he has really not been and we don't know what the future brings.

Like I said, being a HUGE fan of Gaiman's and The Graveyard Book, I am tickled all colors of the rainbow to see that the book got the recognition it deserves, but, please, folks, do not jump to conclusions!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Moribito, House in the Night, Graveyard Book, Oh My... in the BEST POSSIBLE SENSE!!!!

(a very small portion of the people waiting in line to get into the ballroom)

This is the step-by-step report from Denver Convention Center, at the Midwinter Conference of the American Library Association. We got here around 7:15 in the morning. The door opened around 7:30. There were about 800 people or 1000 waiting to storm in. We were a civilized crowd though, so we "strolled" in and only slightly rushed to the seats.

The Press Conference started by showing a celebration video for 40 years of Coretta Scott King Awards. Short video, very touching.

I'm so glad that this is not dubbed "The Academy Awards" of youth media any more. Just the "premiere" awards event.

We watched the slideshow of ALEX Awards. 10 titles of adult books for teens.

Schneider Awards were announced then. I'm really pleased that Waiting for Normal and Piano Starts Here both received the awards. (Although I think the dyslexia does not quite feature prominently in Waiting for Normal.) Lily is reading it right now.

Coretta Scott King Award

Kadir Nelson's illustration We Are the the Ship only received an Honor award for illustration. We were slightly surprised but I am very happy that Floyd Cooper's illustrations for The Blacker the Berry won the Award for illustrations!!! It is SO great.

But Nelson's writing for We Are the Ship, that is SOOO excellent, won him the CSK's author award! This one is amazing. Read it. Really READ IT!

I'm so happy for Hope Anita Smith's CSK honor of Keeping the Night Watch! And can't wait to read her new poetry collection featuring her own artwork, Mother (I think that is the title.)

Of course, all the others are wonderful titles as well.

The CSK committee did a splendid job!!!


Odyssey -- FIVE honor recepients! The winner is: Absolutey True Diary of an American Indian. Narrated by Sherman Alexie himself. It must be a superb recording. I can't wait to listen to it.

Edwards Award for Life Time Achievement in YA Literature goes to Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak and many other excellent titles.

The William C. Morris Award -- a new one for new voice in YA Lit.
This one has a short list of five, published widely a while ago.
The winner is A Curse Dark as Gold. I can't wait to read this and the other three I have not read. (Already read Graceling)

Printz Award

4 Honor Books

The winner is Jellicoe Road -- I have not even heard of this. An Australian import. Nina Lindsay totally endorsed this one. So, another to-read for me.


Pura Belpre Award

... was announced bilingually.
Three honor books for illustration.
The winner is desrvingly Yuyi Morales for Just in Case.

Three honor books for author
The winner is The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom" by Margarita Engle. Another one that I missed this year. I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS!!!

Arbuthnot Lecture Award is given to KT Horning!!!! My long time friend and mentor who taught me everything about serving on the ALSC Award Committees. I am so excited and thrilled and so inspired.


Honors go to Garmann's Summer and Tiger Moon. I absolutely adore Garmann's Summer. Need to read, Tiger Moon.

The Winner is MORIBITO!!!!! Yeah Arthur and Cheryl for their introducing this outstanding book and series to the American children!!

Sibert Award

Two Sibert Honors

Bodies from the Ice and What to Do About Alice. Two excellent books.

We Are the Ship by Nelson got this one, too!!! My friend Carol Philips chaired the committee.

Wilder goes to Ashley Bryan!!! And he's coming to Dalton for a pre-planned celebration of his new book next Tuesday. WOW.

Carnegie Medal goes to the video "March On! the Day My Brother Martin Changed The World".

Geisel Award

4 Honors: Chicken Said Cluck, One Boy, Stinky, Wolfsnail
Winner is: Are Your Ready to Play Outside by Mo Willems (An Elephant and Piggy book) OF COURSE!

Caldecott Award

Three honors: A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, How I Learned Geography, A River of Words. I FEEL SO vindicated! I LOVE ALL THREE.

Winner goes to The House in the Night -- I ABSOLUTELY ADORE THIS ONE, as well. So glad that they all will make the Notables List without my having to spend votes on them.

Newbery Award

4 Honors: The Underneath, The Surrender Tree, Savvy, After Tupac and D Foster

And the winner is Neil Gaiman for THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.

I am hyperventilating..... OMG!! This has been my hope for the this award all year long and I am SOOO grateful, yes, grateful, to the Newbery Committee for choosing this title. OMG OMG again.

This has been the most amazing year and Press Conference (after my own year on the Newbery, of course) with most wonderful selections.

Monday, January 12, 2009


GracelingAuthor: Kristin Cashore
Reading Level: 7th, 8th, and older

Pages: 471
Publisher: Harcourt
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

I absolutely loved this book -- against my initial somewhat negative reaction to the very plain and sometimes clumsy prose and exposition. (The "listing" of kingdoms/names and their relationships definitely, or starting two consecutive sentences with the word And, or slightly muddled sentences like this, "... as if he'd done nothing wrong, nothing completely and absolutely wrong." -- none of this held much promise.) And of course, since I was reading it with the Notable Children's books in mind, the one sort of heavy sex scene stood out as not entirely necessary at the time. (Although, a lovely scene.)

And then, something changed: the characters became real and vivid and completely compelling and the plot took some unexpected turns that caught even me, a veteran fantasy reader, by surprise. I could not put it down and rushed to find out what happened next. Here are some of my thoughts as I read it:

1. In some ways, this one reminds me of Twilight: with its two main young protagonists completely absorbed with each other, against all odds and other people's views over their "talents." But, it is somehow "anti-Twilight" in that these two made a choice to have a physical relationship without conforming to the socially acceptable norm.

2. In some ways, this one reminds me of Jane Austen -- I know it is a far cry -- in that the two characters are initially at odds against each other emotionally, even though they are completely attracted to each other. It also is much like many many Harlequin Romance novels in this aspect -- except, except that they reconcile their differences early on, not dragging or making that sexual/emotional tension into the entire focus of the story (THANK GOODNESS!)

3. In some ways, this one alleviated a little bit of my need to read something akin to George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series: there are several very surprising plot twists that made me go, "WHAT?" and almost drop the book! (Of course, SoIF is so much so much more complex and so much grander in so many ways...)

View all my goodreads reviews.