Sunday, March 29, 2009
The CLC of SC is composed of librarians, teachers, authors and illustrators, parents, and in fact anyone who has a passion for children’s literature. However, I’d say most audience members at yesterday’s workshop were librarians, and the program focused on how Megan uses the Whole Book Approach during storytimes at the Museum and in classrooms.
This approach does not involve the usual storytime approach of reading a picture all the way through. It doesn’t even mean stopping throughout the story to talk about the illustrations and text with the kids. No, it’s much more radical than that – imagine taking one hour to go through Bill Martin’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear with a group of 5-year-olds!
In a nutshell, the Whole Book Approach draws inspiration from Dialogic Reading methods, the Reggio Emilia philosophy, and Visual Thinking Strategies. The adult sharing the picture book acts as a guide to the book, but allows the children to make their own observations, find their own meaning, draw their own conclusions. It’s a learner-centered method that is also a great way for kids to have a shared literature experience.
As Megan explained to us, she uses three main open-ended questions to draw out children’s responses to the art in picture books:
What’s going on in this picture?
What do you see that makes you say that?
What more can we find?
Facilitators draw children’s attention to certain aspects of the picture book, such as the jacket, gutter, endpapers, and so on, paraphrase children’s responses in order to sneak in some good art and literature terms, and point to parts of the illustrations that children are commenting on, but essentially the discussion is child-initiated and child-directed.
In order to encourage kids to really take the time to observe closely and make responses, Megan says that slowing down is essential. The reason it can take an hour to get through a “reading” of Brown Bear, Brown Bear is that she can take 5 to 10 minutes on a page, talking about the illustrations, design elements, and how the pictures work with the text. Megan gave us many examples of insights about books that she gained from kids, who come to the books with fresh and curious eyes.
I think most of us in the audience were fascinated and intrigued by this method, but when we broke out into smaller groups to practice this method for ourselves, we ran into problems (that's a fuzzy photo of my group, with Megan in the center with bangs, trying to figure it all out). First of all, it quickly became clear that a lengthy perusal of a book is essential in order to figure out how to “make meaning out of the artistic and design choices present in each element.” Also, not every picture book lends itself to this method. We felt that we would need a LOT more training in order to present the Whole Book Approach and really make it work.
We librarians in the group also wondered how the method would work in a public library storytime setting. None of us could imagine spending an entire storytime on one or two books, although I think this might be really exciting to try with a class. Teachers and even picture book authors in our group commented that they’ve used variations of this technique many times, which bolsters my feeling that this method is sort of “teachy,” to use the technical term.
This does seem to be a great way to get kids thinking and learning about picture books and in particular the art of picture books. However, I’m not convinced of the automatic link between the Whole Book Approach and the title of this workshop, the subtitle of which was “Inspiring Emergent Readers.” Yes, visual and even kinesthetic learners would get a lot out of approaching picture books this way – and it might give everyone a new appreciation and way of looking at picture books. But does it actually inspire readers?
Megan commented that sometimes kids, especially girls who are good at sitting still, will sigh in exasperation and say “Can’t you just READ the book?” Megan says she responds to this by saying, “We are reading the book. We’re reading the pictures.” Fair enough, but I think there are a lot of kids who, although they might enjoy delving into the meaning and complexities of the illustrations, would be likelier to gain a love of stories by hearing them all the way through, by being transported by the story. As a German Literature major, I took numerous lit courses in college. Although often I enjoyed dissecting the books we were studying, my keenest pleasure came from just plunging into the story and reading it without having to dwell on this or that element. It’s important to be able to examine and discuss a book – for students of any age – but perhaps simple pleasure in a story ought to come first.
The Whole Book Approach is obviously useful and valuable – Megan’s many anecdotes and experiences all point to this – and I would love to see it demonstrated with a group of kids so that I can understand better how it works. I would also love a longer, more hands-on workshop so that I gain some experience and comfort with the method. However, judging from the conversations I had with fellow participants after the workshop, our wheels are all turning and we will be looking at ways we can use elements of the Whole Book Approach to enhance kids’ love of literature and reading. And that’s the whole point.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Thursday, March 26, 2009
But Dessa Dean’s mom died in the cold less than two months ago and Dessa Dean’s world has shrunk to her dad and her tiny cabin – she is newly terrified to step foot off the front porch and often suffers wrenching fits of terror that she is afraid mean she’s “daft.”
When a dog appears on the porch one day, there is something else – something warm and brown and furry – to fill her thoughts. The rest of the book is about Dessa Dean’s efforts to befriend this almost-wild dog, while at the same time she begins to come to terms with her mother’s death. Her father, who is away all day every day hunting and trapping, is a taciturn man who is so overwhelmed with his own grief that he doesn’t seem to know how to help Dessa Dean with hers – but the dog allows them to understand each other just a little bit better.
This is a focused book – it’s all about a girl, her grief, and a dog. It’s unclear when or where the book takes place, although the lack of modern amenities (and Dessa Dean’s failure to comment on this) seems to indicate that this might be the 1930s or earlier. Dessa Dean has a very old-fashioned way of talking, using words like “gladsome” and in general speaking, and occasionally acting, like a very old country woman. She cooks and cleans and does her spelling words and her math, and when she has been at the old iron stove all day, she sits down to rest her back. How old Dessa Dean actually is, is also never discovered. She doesn’t talk like a child and can seem both ridiculously naïve and unrealistically good and responsible.
Her love for the dog is the point, though, and it is portrayed with shining conviction. Rarely has there been a more expressive, dog-like dog – her very barks (“boof,” “ra!”) are perfectly rendered. This is a dog-lover’s book, pure and simple. Readers will be moved by Dessa Dean’s plight – her dead mother, her phobia – but it is the dog that will keep them reading to the end, mainly because her utter solid dogginess dispels any possible sentimentality. Thank goodness, because the combination of a dead mom and a miraculous dog could have been a recipe for disaster.
For readers who love books about making friends, especially the animal sort. Grades 4 – 6.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
Halli Sveinson, aged 14, is the second son in one of the 12 main houses in the Valley. Somewhat squat – his short legs are a running joke – and swarthy, he is a trickster and a trouble-maker from birth. Brought up on tales of the Heroes, including his own ancestor Svein, who rid the Valley of the man-eating Trows untold years ago, he chafes at his boring, placid, rural life.
When an annual Gathering of representatives from all the Houses is held at the House of Svein, previous bad blood between Halli’s reprobate uncle Brodir and the leaders of the House of Hakon leads to Brodir’s murder at the hands of one of the Hakonssons. Halli, who witnesses the murder, is horrified when he realizes that all his family will do to get revenge is demand land of the Hakons through the Valley justice system. His blood is hot with the need for more visceral and bloody justice, and so he leaves his remote part of the Valley for the first time and journeys all the way to the House of Hakon to mete out his own punishment.
It’s a darn good thing that one other significant thing happened at the Gathering – Halli met a girl about his own age named Aud, only daughter of the head of the House of Arne. Her caustic manner of speaking is balanced by her common sense, curiosity, and basic decency. As Halli is himself a decent sort of guy despite his tendency to act without thinking, they get along instantly – and Aud saves Halli from disaster any number of times. Her presence during the final battle scene (a scene that manages to be both unspeakably grisly and ridiculously funny) prevents Halli from suffering a most gruesome death and removes a huge threat from the Valley once and for all.
Being a big Bartimaeus fan myself, I tore eagerly into Heroes of the Valley. Although it began rather slowly, the more I read, the more I appreciated the slow build-up of tension, character development, and humor. Something about the tongue-in-cheek dryness of the wit is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett, although sometimes it veers into Monty Python territory with wonderful results, especially when the characters of Snorri, a crusty old beet farmer, and Katla, Halli’s old and dismissive nurse, make an appearance.
Halli, the hero of our tale, is not so clear-cut a character. At first he seems like a truly annoying trouble-maker, and in fact he does have a tendency until the end to act impulsively and sometimes idiotically. However, he is rarely mean-spirited, even when being bratty and obnoxious, and he shows true and believable growth throughout the book. When Halli displays real leadership qualities at the end, it makes complete sense, unbelievable as it would have been at the beginning.
Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy was wildly popular with 11 and 12 year olds, particularly boys. Maybe it was the sassy, pompous, over-confident, yet ultimately thoughtful djinni, maybe it was the crazed footnotes, maybe it was the thrilling magic and intriguing setting, or most likely it was a combination of all three. At any rate, it was a trilogy that was right at home in both the children’s and YA sections. This book, lacking the over-the-top goofiness of the Bartimaeus books, skews a bit older and perhaps won’t have their wide appeal. But maybe I’m wrong. Just in case, hand it to as many kids and teens as possible. Some won't take to it - but the lucky ones who do have a real treat in store.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Many libraries solicit suggestions, usually by some kind of box at the circulation or reference desk. Often labeled "Suggestions," it is high up and out of kids' reach. And let's face it, it's grown-up suggestions that we're really asking for.
We Children's Librarians read books and eagerly put them into the hands of kids, spend lots of time planning and presenting every kind of program from story times to puppet shows to book clubs, and in general do our best to give kids the best library service possible. For the most part, we do a damn fine job.
But how often do we actually ask kids what they want? What books and DVDs would they like to see in the library? What is their favorite kind of furniture? What programs would most excite them? We tend to assume that because we are knowledgeable and have their best interests at heart, we know best what kids want and need.
Idea Boxes like Adrienne's, focus groups, and Children's Advisory Boards would all be great ways to really find out how kids envision the ultimate library. At a June 2008 ALA program called "Kids and Ever-Cool; Finding Them Together @ Your Library," Gene Del Vecchio, author of Creating Ever-Cool: A Marketer's Guide to a Kid's Heart, told us the kinds of things kids wanted to see in their libraries, including coke machines (maybe not), Dance Dance Revolution (actually a reality in some libraries), and cool furniture like teepees where they could crawl inside and read (now that we could do!). How did Del Vecchio find out? By asking focus groups to draw pictures of their dream libraries - what a fun idea for a library program, especially if we could put at least a few of those ideas into effect.
What do we get when we decide that it's kids, not necessarily us, who know best what kids want? We get libraries that are up-to-date, innovative, and decidedly outside the box, and we get buy-in from kids who have actually taken part in shaping their own libraries. How can we lose?
Friday, March 20, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Gr 4 and up
In the graphic novel world, this 2005 title is practically a golden oldie by now. It’s a terrific one, though, and well worth spotlighting.
In a small town populated entirely by anthropomorphized animals, a young and shy elephant named Turnip meets an outgoing young dog named Stucky, who urges him to join a sculpture camp where kids can make things out of clay, stone, wood, and metal. Meanwhile, a rabbit girl named Ana becomes a cub reporter for a top-secret underground (literally) newspaper, where her bird friend Emily is the photographer. In 178 densely illustrated pages, Turnip discovers his artist talent, Ana and Emily try to figure out the secret of a fabled monster in the town pond, the grown-ups of the town try to run the sculpture teacher out of town, and Ana gets eaten – or does she?
Renier must have spent a long time on this book. Each of the 178 pages has anywhere from 6 to 13 panels on it, each one featuring close-ups of the very expressive main characters or crowd scenes in the street or local hang-out featuring handfuls or dozens of townsfolk (fish in small water-filled spheres-on-wheels, giraffes with spiked collars, turtles wearing glasses, butterflies in bowler hats). Despite the fact that every character is an animal, the kids look like kids and the grown-ups look like grown-ups – this is achieved not by size and scale (because a young giraffe is pretty big, after all) but by details of dress, facial features, expressions, and body language. Turnip’s eyebrows are thin and often raised in a rather woeful and timid expression, while his dad has bushy eyebrows and the tusks of an adult elephant. Ana the rabbit is a particularly beguilingly drawn character, with her long ears spilling down her back under the bandanna she wears on her head, her scrunched-up leggings, and her exaggerated and very “tween” body language.
And the plots, which all revolve around the mythical monster in the pond? They are intriguing and loads of fun. I guessed the secret of the monster fairly quickly, but there was still a plot twist or two to catch me up short. Turnip’s slow and painful quest toward acknowledging his own creative gift is touching, as is his relationship with his loving but difficult father. In fact, even bit characters are given tiny but deft strokes of detail, enough to bring them to our attention and make the whole book shine all the brighter.
Renier hasn’t produced any more graphic novels that I know of since this one. Let’s hope he’s working on another one right this moment!
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
To the right is the Rogue River County of the Jackson County Library, favorite branch of Cindy and Ryan. And with all that lavender growing right outside, it's no wonder.
Candace, who loves the Los Feliz branch of the Los Angeles Public Library because it's cozy and the cool Children's Librarian makes cupcakes for the kids. (winner of David Carter's pop-up version of Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who)
ReadingTub, who fondly remembers the third floor of the University of Charleston library. (winner of Carl Hiassen's Scat)
Book Chook, who loves her first library in Sydney, NSW, Australia. (winner of Daniel Pinkwater's The Yggessey)
Brimful Curiousities, whose beloved childhood library was only 707 square feet. (winner of Joost Elfers' Do You Love Me?)
Congratulations to the winners, and thank you to all who entered the contest. Please read all the funny, touching, amazing entries here.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Gr. 8 and up
Things are terribly wrong in 16-year-old Rue’s life. Her mother has disappeared under dubious circumstances and her father is an emotional wreck, and when one of her father’s students is found murdered, suspicion falls upon him. If that weren’t bad enough, Rue keeps seeing odd creatures all around – creatures with wings, horns, or pointy ears that seem to be masquerading as “ordinary” teenagers.
It turns out that, thanks to her mother, Rue is half-faerie, and this is the crux of this exhilarating story – what fey teenager (and I’m thinking of a certain little pointy-eared 14-year-old I know, who looked just like a baby goblin when she was born) wouldn’t give almost anything to learn she was a faerie? Rue doesn’t seem too excited about it, but that’s because her world is truly falling apart around her ears. Readers will be thrilled on her behalf, especially as Naifeh’s moody, hip artwork depicts a dangerous and oh-so-fabulous world of un-human creatures. This is an intense and atmospheric ride and will leave readers gasping eagerly for book 2. I hope it comes out soon, as I was as seduced as any elf-addled teenager. More more more!
This tale of two 7th-grade Kentucky girls is a bit like the tale of the city mouse and the country mouse. The country mouse, Ivy June, comes from one of the poorest parts of Kentucky, mountainous Thunder Creek. The city mouse, Catherine, lives in a big home in Lexington. In an exchange program, Ivy June stays for two weeks at Catherine’s house and then Catherine stays with Ivy June for two weeks.
The idea is not just to see how the other half lives but to puncture stereotypes (on both sides) and to gain new appreciation and knowledge about other ways of life. This does happen – both Ivy June and Catherine are at first taken aback but then learn to see all the important things beneath the surface differences. Despite a few misunderstandings, they even become friends.
Both girls are kind, thoughtful and intelligent, making them fine ambassadors for their respective regions and ensuring that the reader doesn’t have to endure any contrived culture shock crisis. There are some uncomfortable moments for both girls, but they weather them with maturity. Things go relatively smoothly and yet the experiences and thoughts of the two girls (expressed in journal entries that each girl is required to write) are compelling and extremely believable. This being mostly Ivy June’s story, readers really get to know this practical and thoughtful girl and to feel completely comfortable in her world – outhouses, no phones, and all. Catherine’s lifestyle, although probably bearing more resemblance to that of many readers, begins to feel like the exotic one.
It’s almost unnecessary, then, that drama is injected into the story in the form of two disasters, one happening in Catherine’s family and the other in Ivy June’s. It won’t be a spoiler to reveal that Ivy June’s beloved grandfather gets trapped in a mine, as readers will have been expecting it since the beginning of the novel – but I won’t give away the ending. The tension does draw the girls closer together and allows Catherine in particular to gain insight into the close-knit fabric of Ivy June’s community – but this would have been a fine friendship story even without the nail-biting climax (which did bring me to tears – and that’s not giving anything away, I promise!).
This is a thoughtful and well-written exploration of family, friendship and one’s place in the world. For grades 4 to 7.
This will be so useful in so many ways. A huge shout-out to Terry and all the contributors!
And Share a Story - Shape a Future continues today at Dulemba.com, where Elizabeth shares many insights on the future of books and (most importantly) stories.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Day 4: A Visit to the Library!
From Cozy to Cool - Library Spaces for Everyone - Eva @ Eva's Book Addiction
Lions and Marble and Books, Oh My - Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production
How to Make the Library Work for YOU - an interview with Adrienne of What Adrienne Thinks About That conducted by Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
The World Beyond the Library's Walls - Melissa @ Librarian by Day
ABC Storytimes: Taking the Library Home - Pam Coughlan @ MotherReader
And don’t forget to enter my Favorite Library contest! Tomorrow (Friday, March 13th) is the last day to enter, and randomly selected winners will be announced Monday, March 16th. At least four lucky folks will win a free children’s book.
Does Dewey confuse you? Then check out (and print and cut out and color and laminate) this cool bookmark! It will give you some of the very coolest Dewey numbers, so that you have no problem finding books on dinosaurs and astrology and other essential subjects. Warning – some library systems (including my own dear Los Angeles Public Library) do deviate from these numbers, but this bookmark will give you a head start nevertheless. Thanks to Terry at Scrub-a-Dub-Tub for help with this!
Have you checked out your library’s website lately? Many library websites have special pages just for kids. LAPL’s Kids Path includes a wealth of booklists, games, and links to fun and useful websites. The Hennepin County Library Kidlinks page polls kids on different silly, crucial questions such as “What is your favorite food?” and their Birth to 6 page is ideal for parents of young children. Explore your local library’s kid pages today.
And please the wonderful posts listed above and feel free to link to your own related blog posts in the comment section, if you like. Happy Library Day!
Day 3: Reading Aloud - It's Fun, It's Easy
hosted by Susan Stephenson at the Book Chook blog
How to Read Aloud and Wow Your Audience by The Book Chook
Conquering Stage Fright - an Interview with Sarah Mulhern at the Book Chook
Fourteen Fantastic Hints on Reading Aloud by Mem Fox, Queen of Read Aloud at The Book Chook
Reading Aloud with Kids: A Dad's Perspective at Book Dads
Reading Aloud: Sharing Your Childhood Favorites at Bantering Blonde
21st Century Read-Alouds: Using Technology for Read Alouds - Sarah Mulhern @ The Reading Zone
What to Do When the Reading is Done - Aimee Buckner, hosted by the Stenhouse blog
Never Too old: Reading Aloud with Independent Readers - Donalyn Miller @ The Book Whisperer
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Day 2: Selecting Reading Material
hosted by Sarah Mulhern at The Reading Zone
-- Sarah's Host Post: Selecting Reading Material
-- Eeny, Meeny, Miny, May- Which Book Do I Choose Today? The ABCs of Reading: Infants, Toddlers & Preschoolers - Valerie Baartz on The Almost Librarian
-- How to Help Emerging Readers - Anastasia Suen @5 Great Books
-- I Don't Know What I Want to Read Next: Helping Middle Grade Readers - Sarah Mulhern @ The Reading Zone
-- Read Alikes and Booklists - Sarah Mulhern @ The Reading Zone
-- Using Non-fiction - Mary Lee Hahn of A Year of Reading, hosted by the Stenhouse blog
Monday, March 9, 2009
We take the children's areas of our public libraries for granted. Of course we have children's books and areas - kids are a library's most important kind of patron! How easy it is to forget that 100 years ago, most libraries didn't even let kids in. Libraries were for grown-ups, and if kids wanted to read library books, they had to hope that their school was borrowing books from the library for classroom use. Librarians set up children's libraries in settlement houses, private homes, and in the basements of "real" libraries whenever possible.
Some libraries did create spaces just for kids, the Los Angeles Public Library among them. For the first time, children were not just allowed but actually invited to come on in and stay awhile - furniture was scaled down to fit smaller bodies and the shelving was low so that kids could reach all the books. Still, the effect was rather somber and dignified. Furniture was dark and heavy and the atmosphere was hushed. Check out this photo of the children's room at the Los Angeles Public Library (Homer Laughlin building) between 1906 and 1908. (credit: Los Angeles Public Library)
As the Los Angeles Public Library began to expand rapidly in the 1920s and 30s, its new buildings (often designed by well-known architects of the day) featured lovely children's areas, often equipped with fireplaces for that warm and fuzzy feeling. Here is the Children's Room of the Hollywood Branch circa 1923. It's rather spartan, but no one could deny the grandeur and allure. (credit: Los Angeles Public Library)Luckily, a bit of child appeal began to creep into children's spaces. Colorful rugs, more and better books for children, and a bit of wall art brightened things up considerably in many children's rooms. Children's Librarians began to receive special training to respond to the unique reading and reference needs of children in the library.
Here is the children's room in the San Pedro Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library - 1949. Note the kid-friendly art, low shelving, and child-sized furniture. Fairy tales get their own section, as do "Fourth Grade" books (we all know that fourth-graders are a breed unto themselves).
Credit: Los Angeles Public Library
When I started working at the Los Angeles Public Library in 1987, children's rooms hadn't changed much in the past few decades. There were low shelves of books, small wooden tables and chairs, a wooden book trough or two to display books, and some bulletin boards to put up posters, displays, or children's artwork. There was usually a papeback rack. Perhaps there were some stuffed animals decorating the tops of shelves. And that was about it!
During the last few decades, another round of building projects has resulted in the replacement of our many old and outdated branch buildings with beautiful new buildings. The childen's areas are bright and comfortable, with durable and comfortable seating, gorgeous art, and sometimes even special architectural features like round picture book rooms, carpeted risers, and more. Teens aren't always so lucky - their spaces often amount to just a wall of books and a couple chairs - although they occasionally luck out, as in the Teenscape of LAPL's Central Library. Why read at a stiff and uncomfortable table when you can sprawl on a giant cushion?
Some branches are now receiving funds, particularly the ELF (Early Learning with Families) LSTA grant administered by the California State Library, to enhance their children's rooms even further, making them attractive and welcoming not only to school-aged kids but to very tiny children and their families. Here are before and after shots of the Wilmington Branch Library - which would you rather spend some time in with a baby or toddler? Comfortable places for very young kids and parents to sit and read, plenty of toys and books, plenty of opportunities to play and learn - this is the new face of the children's area.
And here is more before and after magic, this time at the Watts Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. Watts' round picture book room looked fine before, but see what just a few cushions, sofas, a rug, and some educational toys can achieve?
Sunday, March 8, 2009
To celebrate, I'm offering a contest in conjunction with A Visit to the Library day (hosted right here on Thursday, March 12 - y'all come!). It's simple and there are two ways to win - either send me an email (evasbookaddiction at gmail.com) with a labeled photo of your favorite library OR write a one-sentence comment to this post that begins "My favorite library is (blank) because..."
I've got a bunch of great books to give away, both picture books and chapter books. See this slide show to find out which ones. You have until the end of the day Friday to enter. Winners will be selected randomly (via "Sorting Hat") and will be announced Monday, March 16. Any photos I receive will be posted Monday as well (unless you request otherwise).
Have a fabulous week week celebrating books, reading, kids, and libraries.
Friday, March 6, 2009
This fantasy starts off like many Human vs. Unhuman stories, with the humans making a yearly ritualistic offering to the nightlings in order to maintain an old truce that promises that nightlings won’t harm humans so long as humans give them goods and don’t trespass on nightling territory. Nightlings are a bit like elves – their faces are delicate and ethereal, their skin comes in colors like yellow and blue, their magic is of a higher order than that of humankind, and they can only venture out at night.
It is soon clear that all is not as it seems. 14-year-old Genna and her 12-year-old brother Dan set out at night into the woods to gather magical sap to help their dying mother (horribly risky as this is the time and the territory of nightlings) and are brought by a nightling girl named Yarri to the Kai-Lord, ruler of all the nightlings. He is a tyrant who has made a terrible bargain with the chieftain of Genna and Dan’s village – they, and in fact all humankind, might perish unless Genna and Dan can find and bring a nightling boy named Doyati back to the Kai-Lord.
From this point on, the action is non-stop. Genna and Dan’s journey is mind-bogglingly dangerous, with nasty creatures trying to eat them and various factions pursuing them. They can’t let their guard down for a second, and so the reader can’t either. Luckily, they have two companions – Yarri and a supercilious talking cat (who reminds me of Mogget in Garth Nix’s Sabriel) – who just barely keep them from getting killed over and over. Despite the tension, there is a lightness to the tone and even moments of levity. Several episodes have a very funny Lloyd Alexander-esque quality to them, as when Doyati tries to guess how Genna kills a huge dire-worm.
‘“Enchanted arrows? Spell of exploding flesh? Rain of fire?…Speak up, girl.”
“I hit him with your skillet. A lot.”’
In another scene, the travelers consult an old wise woman. After much mystical and vague proclamations, “she made a broad, sweeping gesture, certainly meant to be ominous or impressive, but in the cramped space, she managed to knock two jars of herbs from the shelves right beside her to the floor. We heard glass shatter, and then twin clouds of powder and dust billowed up from the floor.” Soon everyone is sneezing and the eery mood is quite broken, to everyone’s relief.
The finale is appropriately climactic and tense, with some surprises thrown in. Nothing is predictable, a refreshing thing in a fantasy, and there is still plenty of chaos left to ensure that the next book should be just as thrilling. I just hope we learn more about that mysterious cat.
One final note – this book is printed with dark blue ink rather than black, giving it a special look that is quite easy on the eyes.
Grades 5 - 8
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Gr. 3 – 5
This is one of the more appealing and original graphic novels I’ve read in a while. Two brothers, 11-year-old Jack and 8-year-old Benny, are very reluctantly spending a summer with their parents in Chowder Bay, Maine, a picturesque little seaside town. Two things make their television-less sojourn bearable – their introduction to salt-water taffy and a fisherman named Angus O’Neil. Then the taffy store is robbed. Could the perpetrators have anything to do with Angus’ tales of a giant lobster named Old Salty?
Outrageously, they do. Lobsters (big and small), a mysterious figure who always seems to be around at just the right time, and some really odd seagulls all play their parts in this deliciously different story. Jack and Benny find a terrific friend in Angus, who, although strong, brave, and imposing, totally lacks the usual grown-up characteristics of self-consciousness and skepticism – he’s a great guy to have along on an adventure.
The black-and-white artwork is presented in rectangular panels of varying size. Lines vary in width, with bold ones predominating, giving the art a bold and energetic look. The characters don’t have a wide array of facial expressions, but their body language and the exaggerated angle of their mouths always get the point across.
The unpredictability and goofiness of the story and the energy of the art make this a great choice for most young readers, including reluctant readers.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Notice anything odd about that list?
All right, I'll tell you. It was mostly fantasy. There was only one SF title on it - The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson. Now, the full title of this award is "The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book" so obviously fantasy is fine. But heck, when when you hear the word "nebula," don't you think about outer space? It's telling that the Norton award has turned into a fantasy fest.
It just so happens that Farah Mendlesohn has written an excellent piece for Horn Book on the state of science fiction for young people, and she includes a terrific bibliography. I wrote about this myself recently, science fiction being a deeply-cherished love of mine.
Graceling - Kristin Cashore (Harcourt, Oct08) - (didn't write a blog review but gave it 4 stars on Goodreads)
Lamplighter - D.M. Cornish (Monster Blood Tattoo, Book 2, Putnam Juvenile, May08)
Savvy - Ingrid Law (Dial, May08)
The Adoration of Jenna Fox - Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt and Company, Apr08)
Flora’s Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room) - Ysabeau S. Wilce (Harcourt, Sep08)
The winner will be announced at the Nebula Awards Weekend in L.A., April 24-26.
Monday, March 2, 2009
Certainly my grasp of the general rules of spelling, grammar, and punctuation haven't lead to any facility with texting. My daughter cringes whenever she sees me hunched over my cell phone, tentatively tapping with one thumb, tip of tongue sticking out of the side of my mouth.