Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review of I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

 Sloan, Holly Goldberg.  I'll Be There.  Little, Brown, 2011.

17-year-old Sam and his little brother Riddle's unstable, mentally ill, criminal dad Clarence has dragged them from one side of the US to the other, never allowing them to go to school or the doctor.  In fact, he doesn't even bother to feed them; the brothers live off food scavenged from trash cans, plus whatever small amount of money Sam can make with odd jobs.  They never stay anywhere long; when Clarence has stolen enough to make people notice, they always move on.

But in this new town, something is different.  Sam meets Emily; they fall for each other.  But after Clarence finds out and drags the brothers back on the road, life for Sam and Riddle rapidly turns from bad to operatically horrific.  A plunge off a cliff, multiple wounds, bug-eating, a hungry bear, plummeting down a waterfall, separation - oh, and a crazed and violent dad.

This book reminds me a little of As Easy as Falling off the Edge of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins; it's something about the way the characters connect and then separate, and how the narration might follow a minor character on his or her path away from the main plot before swooping back to the story again.  And of course this is a tale, at least for the brothers, about finding home.

Riddle is a wonderful character, slowly unfolding and blossoming from a pale and enigmatic little grub creating intricate technical drawings in phone books and rarely communicating with anyone but Sam (he seems to have a form of autism or Asperger syndrome) to a self-reliant boy who not only saves his big brother several times in creative ways, but learns to trust and love at least one other person besides Sam.  His relationship with Sam is tender and heart-breaking.

Although we hear parts of the story from Sam's point of view, he remains more of a riddle than Riddle to me.  His main traits are his empathy/kindness, his movie-star good looks, and his mind-boggling prodigal musical ability - but it's hard to pin him down otherwise.  Emily's love for him says more about Emily than about Sam; I couldn't quite see the attraction (except that he's a soft-spoken, sweet piece of gorgeousness).

The most complicated character might be Bobby, a rich, popular boy who has fallen for Emily - probably because she doesn't like him back.  Bobby becomes so obsessed with her that it's a bit sad and quite disturbing.  He provides some comic relief in the book, but it's nervous laughter.  You have to feel for the guy and the series of humiliations he endures - but he's also quite clueless.  Sure, his feelings are strong and real, but they're all about Bobby, not Emily.  Still, the reader gets to know Bobby fairly well, and it's a bit of a letdown to see him end up as a standard-issue jerk when he had the makings of a really unique jerk with hidden depths.

There are flaws in this book - with pacing and plot, mostly.  For instance, the series of outrageous setbacks that the brothers endure are so extreme that the fact that they survive feels like cheating.  Yes, we're glad, because by now we're totally invested in these characters - but still.  And as I said, some characters come alive much more fully than others, and it's not always the ones you might predict.  A very old motel cleaning lady has a bit part that is strangely vivid, as does a Japanese-American coin dealer.

Though not perfectly polished, this is a book that will stay with me a while thanks to the sparks of truth, intensity, and warmth that fizz through its pages.  Recommended for ages 13 and up.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bah humbug

Some LAPL children's librarians (past and present) and I have wrapped up another summer of reviewing holiday books for School Library Journal.  Or at least I hope that the two that landed on my front porch a couple days ago were the last. 

Just try scraping up some holiday spirit while embroiled in record high temperatures!  We Jingle Bell Reviewers had to immerse ourselves in picture books, nonfiction, and novels featuring hot chocolate, snow, latkes, Christmas trees, menorahs, caroling, and Santa.  Ah - snow!

Just put the last review to bed (let's hope) and now I'm headed there myself, with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review of Angel Burn by L.A. Weatherly

Weatherly, L.A. Angel Burn.  Candlewick, 2011.

16-year-old Willow, who lives with her mentally ill mother in her aunt's house, knows she's different; she likes to fix cars and she's psychic.

17-year-old Alex is one of a small, fierce band of "AKs" or Angel Killers; he has been trained from an early age to find and kill angels, using his chakra points to lift his consciousness into another plane so that the angels are visible.

No, Alex isn't the bad guy - the angels are.  Their own planet is dying and can't sustain them anymore, so they come to earth to feed off humans, whose life force is particularly tasty and nourishing to angels.  This damages and even kills the humans, but conveniently, they get a feeling of divine well-being when angels slurp up their souls.  Lots of these angels have started a cult-like Church of the Angels, which works very well for the angels, who are about to invade earth in huge numbers.  Lots of yummy, willing acolytes to devour!

Turns out Willow is half angel (this isn't much of a spoiler - one finds out pretty darn early on) and the angels, who are also psychic, sense that she is a great danger to them.  Willow runs off with Alex, with the angels and their human acolytes hunting for them all over the country.

As long as Willow and Alex are on the run, the story maintains momentum; the road trip is one of the best parts of the tale.  They have an uneasy relationship (after all, Willow is half-angel, and Alex's whole life revolves around killing angels) at first, which adds some interesting tension - and Alex's backstory is fascinating as well.  But as soon as they fall in love (oh, you knew it would happen), the story becomes rather soggy with heartfelt emotion and expressions of undying affection, relieved at the end by a fairly tense climax (of the plot, not sexual, type).

I didn't buy the angels as convincing characters (they just seemed like super-glamorous humans who happen to be able to turn into glorious angels) and the supreme physical beauty of both Willow (oh, her green eyes and soft blonde hair - okay, she IS half angel but still - MUST she have green eyes?) and Alex (chiseled perfection from head to toe) are somewhat annoying.  But it is highly readable and will be an easy sell for readers ages 12 and up looking for a modern fantasy/romance.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Picture book as clothing catalog

Oh bleah!  Check out this Ralph Lauren picture book and video storybook.

If you weren't cynical before, this should clinch it.  Thanks to Jacket Flap for the link.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review of The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

Barnhill, Kelly.  The Mostly True Story of Jack.  Little, Brown, 2011.

Those who think that tales of ancient powers and magical guardians belong only to the Old World haven't read this book or other recent stories of magic in the American heartland*.

Jack knows, sort of, that his situation is peculiar, but he has never wanted to think about it too deeply.  He is so unnoticeable that he's never had to pay for a bus or train ride in his life.  His own parents and brother don't seem to notice him, and there is not a single photo of him anywhere.  But when his mother abruptly drops him off at her sister's house in a tiny town in Iowa, Jack learns - slowly and frustratingly - that there is a magical power here in Hazelwood that has been stealing children.  The richest man in town is somehow connected.  And so is Jack.

This is a deliciously sensual story, filled with the smells of dirt and electrical storms, radiating stifling heat or eerie cold, and pulsing with energy both beneficent and scary.  The power manifests in simple but extremely creepy ways - one building radiates such ominous hostility that it seems right out of a Stephen King novel. 

Luckily, Jack's solidity keeps the story grounded, even as he turns out to be one of the most exotic things about it, and his friends Anders, Wendy, and the tragic Frankie all play their own vital and unique parts in uncovering the secrets of Hazelwood in order to heal it.

This tale of transforming powers of friendship and love is highly recommended for ages 9 to 12.

*Other examples include N.D. Wilson's 100 Cupboards series, Roderick Townley's The Door in the Forest and Brenna Yovanoff's The Replacement.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hello Kitty shirt

A movie about a YA author (played by Charlize Theron), written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman?  Yeah, I'll see that.
See what real YA authors say about Charlize's schlumpy travel attire (thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for the link).

Thoughts on ECRR2

I've spent July and August training our children's librarians on the new Every Child Ready to Read parent workshops.  Because we only meet as one big group (all 72 branches plus Central Library) every three months, I visited each Area meeting (6 in all, plus Central Library) to familiarize children's librarians with the product that they will be using from now on.

There are a few drawbacks to the package, but mostly, the response has been very positive.  Read my post on the ALSC Blog to find out more.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Longing for lunch

My husband once gave me a classic construction worker's lunch box for my birthday, the big rugged kind with a domed lid for a Thermos.

That's not the kind of lunch box I see construction workers toting around these days, however.  The workers arriving at the construction site I jog by every morning at 6:30 am are carrying enormous round coolers, in which my entire family's lunches would fit.

What could be in these intriguingly large lunch pails?  Maybe it's that I'm hungry - or more likely I'm just bored - but I find myself pondering the hypothetical lunches contained in those pails for the duration of my run.

Thick slabs of turkey on rye bread with generous lashings of mustard.
Soy-sauced garlicky soba noodles, studded with marinated tofu, green onions, and red peppers.
Spicy shredded pork, ready to wrap up in home-made flour tortillas, still warm from the skillet.
Noodle soup, thick squares of cornbread, cold pizza, chicken drumsticks, baguette hunks and cheese
Snickerdoodle cookies, a slice of chocolate cake, a tub of butterscotch pudding

In other words, dream lunches - lunches inspired by those that Frances and her friend Albert bring to school in Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban. 
 Albert said, 'What do you have today?'
'Well,' said Frances, laying a paper doily on her desk and sitting a tiny vase of violets in the middle of it, 'let me see.' She arranged her lunch on the doily.
'I have a thermos bottle with cream of tomato soup,' she said. 'And a lobster-salad sandwich on thin slices of white bread. I have celery, carrot sticks, and black olives, and a little cardboard shaker of salt for the celery. And two plums and a tiny basket of cherries.
And vanilla pudding with chocolate sprinkles and a spoon to eat it with.'
'That's a good lunch,' said Albert.
It's likely that the real contents of those lunch pails don't come come close to what I'm imagining.  Do the construction workers bring red-and-white checked cloth napkins to tie under their chins?  Are there little tubs of organic sea salt?  Probably not.

But isn't it fun to imagine it?!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Speaking of booktalk pairings...

Well, I wasn't, but Betsy Bird was - and her fun post brought to mind another pairing.  I just read both these books, so their strange parallels are still fresh in my mind.

Theme: Move to a small town; learn to read
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
Close to Famous by Joan Bauer
In Okay for Now, it's 13-year-old Doug and in Close to Famous it's 12-year-old Foster.  Both kids make friends with difficult, creative, rich older women (one is a famous playwright, the other is a famous actress); both have an abusive man in their lives (Doug's dad, Foster's mom's ex-boyfriend).  Weirdly enough, neither Doug nor Foster can read!  Both learn.  Both flourish amongst the eccentric folks in their new towns.  Both overcome adversity, both personal and in a larger sense.  Both are fine books.

And on a completely different subject:
Last week, Brandy of Random Musings of a Bibliophile mentioned that if she were in the world created by Megan Whalen Turner in The Thief et al "...I would take great care not to draw the attention of the amazing Gen or his Queen. As much as I love them both they would just make me feel like an idiot if  I actually had to come in contact with them. And I don't particularly enjoy that feeling."

I happened to finally be reading the fourth in that series, A Conspiracy of Kings, and now that I've finished it, I have to agree.  Sophos, however, is a different matter - he may become a king, but he's a kindred spirit.  He says:
"My gift is that I always know when I've made an ass of myself... I used to watch other people making idiots of themselves, and they never seemed to know it, but I always have.  All my life I've wished that if I was going to be an ass, I could just be an oblivious one."

Oh yes.  While being excruciatingly conscious of one's mistakes hopefully helps to prevent some future ones, it doesn't make for much serenity, especially when one's own stupid brain makes even pea-sized mistakes seem like boulders.  Perhaps both Sophos and I will learn someday to note when we've been idiots, make a mental note to avoid that behavior in the future, and move on without too much pointless agonizing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Review of Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Schmidt, Gary D. Okay for Now.  Clarion, 2011.

There's something excruciatingly appealing about tough-guy characters with a heart of gold - think of Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar, Robert B. Parker's Spenser, and plenty of other laconic guys with chips on their shoulders and sweetness in their souls.

Such a character is 8th-grader Doug Swieteck.  He's the third boy in a family of guys who act like jerks, from his dad on down - but to Doug's credit, he does struggle against this legacy.  When his dad moves the family to a house Doug calls the Dump in a small and uninteresting town, Doug doesn't exactly feel sanguine about the possibility of anything good coming out of it - and he doesn't go out of his way to make anything good happen - not at first.

But he meets a girl named Lil, gets a delivery job with her dad, gets turned on to art (and specifically to Audubon's bird paintings) by a librarian named Mr. Powell, and things start turning around.  Except - his dad is simply ghastly, his mom is a sweet, powerless nonentity (or she is to this reader, anyway), one brother is a bully, the other comes home from Vietnam with severe damage, and lots of folks are quick to believe that Doug is a bad egg. 

And it's true that he's not always so great at dealing with adversity - but art and friendship prevail, as does a kind of goodness of soul that seems, like a benign flu, to be passable from one person to another if there's the right kind of contact.

Doug's voice is distinct and clear, full of dry wit and self-deprecating sarcasm and at times a piercingly sweet and honest tenderness.  The other characters aren't exactly realistic - some are too good to be true, such as Mr. Powell, others are eccentric in that small-town way that novels love to savor, and Doug's dad is so appalling that I couldn't understand how anyone could remain in the same room with him, much less married to him - but Doug's relationship to each is intriguing, and Doug himself is very real (if he too is occasionally too good to be true, I for one am more than willing to forgive him).

Humor, heartbreak, and goofiness - it's all here.  The writing soars while managing to stay tethered to Doug's 8th-grade sensibilities.  The ending is tremulous and emotional but not soppy.  And the whole novel is entertaining and readable as heck.  This is damn good stuff.  Highly recommended for ages 11 to 14.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Review of Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Brosgol, Vera.  Anya's Ghost. First Second, 2011.

(Graphic Novel) When Anya, a disaffected high school student, falls down an old well, she meets Emily Reilly - a ghost who fell into the old well almost a hundred years ago and whose bones anchor her underground.

Luckily Anya doesn't suffer the same fate as Emily, but she is surprised to find that when she is rescued, Emily comes with her, thanks to a finger bone that stows away in her backpack.

Emily seems meek and pathetically eager to help - at first.  But as she becomes more and more controlling and attitudinal - in fact turning into the ultimate problem teen, even if she is transparent - Anya realizes that she's got a real problem on her hands.  She needs to find the bone that Emily has managed to hide - before Emily turns poltergeist, or worse.

The interesting aspects of this story have to do not so much with Evil Emily - whose story is rather pallid - as with Anya herself.  She's a Russian immigrant who came to America when she was 5, and she still remembers fellow Kindergartners making fun of her accent and funny clothes.  Her relationship with her single mom and her Russian heritage is ambivalent, and she desperately wants to fit in at school but somehow can't quite succeed even though she's shed her accent, smokes cigarettes, and dresses to blend in.  It's a more recent immigrant, fobby as all get out, who helps her see that impressing a bunch of idiot high school students is maybe not the world's best ambition - oh, and Emily Reilly's pychopathic tendencies put things in perspective as well.

Brosgol's art is solid and self-confident, with thick outlines and an altogether pleasant feel that complements this ghost story/high school alienation hybrid.  A quick, fun read for grades 7 and up.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

SCBWI 2011 - Saturday

Wow, what a day!  To summarize:

Donna Jo Napoli:

She was eloquent on the subject of censorship, arguing that it is simply wrong-headed to try to keep kids from reading about the difficult, awful, dark things in life - violence, sexual abuse, poverty, racism, prejudice of any sort, and so on. 
  • The "unprotected child" who is living with this kind of horrible thing can read about a child who is suffering something terrible and see that in fact, bad things do happen to innocent, good people through no fault of their own.  And, though powerless, children may discover that they have some kind of knowledge or resources that will pull them through and help them survive.
  • Even more importantly, "protected children" will see that their own lives are good not because they somehow deserve them more but because they are lucky - and hopefully they will grow into adults who don't feel entitled and who are aware of all the misfortune in the world and may even feel compelled to do something about it (like vote to end tax breaks for the rich!)
David Small:

He provided a nice segue from Napoli, as he shared how both teens and adults have had powerful reactions to Stitches

He also narrated a hilarious slide show (illustrated by himself, of course), depicting himself signing at an uncaring chain store and then at the indie Nickleby's, where he was bear-hugged by Walter the Giant.  (note to self - remind librarians who have author programs to love those authors up - save them parking places, welcome them with huge respect, and beg, borrow, and steal an audience for them)

Judy Blume:

Judy Blume!!!!  Oh my god!!!!!!  And jeepers, she is a lithesome, gorgeous, girlish 73.  What is it about writers, anyway? 

Can't possibly distill her informal talk with Lin, as my head was in the clouds.  Forgot to take notes, except for a dashed "must re-read all of Judy Blume."

Jon Scieszka:

Holy cow, he was a 2nd-grade teacher for 10 years.  How lucky were those kids?!  He recounted how the boys would pick up a book, look at it sideways (at the spine) and then at the cover, and only pronounce worthy of possible interest if it was skinny and cool-looking.  Which explains how the Time Warp Trio books came about.

Quotable quote - "Preschoolers are like Alzheimer's patients on acid - everything's brand-new and a little freaky."

Oh, and he actually made an innuendo about Judy Blume - possibly inadvertently.  After reading us chapter 5 of Spaceheadz, which consists only of a hamster "eeking," he said that Judy Blume really liked that chapter.  "At least I think it was Judy Blume - it was kind of dark."  He paused as we all sniggered.  "Did I really say that?  Oh god!"  He actually blushed!

Norton Juster:

He counseled that kids should be allowed to be bored, as "boredom leads to improvisation." 

And his parting words of advice, which I keep thinking about as they seem both profound and puzzling?  "Spend a large portion of your life 'out of context'" - which will have a bit more meaning to those who remember the dirty bird from The Phantom Tollbooth.

Jennifer Holm:

She gave some excellent advice on using family stories to create great historical fiction, that actually work just fine for anyone writing historical fiction (the Library of Congress is one-stop shopping for research and you never have to get out of your jammies; interview your older family members before they die; always keep your story first, not the research).  And she showed some fabulous family photos...

I didn't attend Sunday, as I had relatives in town and figured I should spend a bit of time with them - but it sounds like it was amazing.

And now back to work and my scary to-do list - feeling more than ever that getting kids and books together is a damn good reason to get up in the morning.

SCBWI 2011 - Friday

The annual Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Los Angeles is one of the highlights of my summer, even when I feel seriously guilt-ridden at luxuriating in rooms full of my favorite kind of people - writers - when I have SO much to do at work.

Unlike ALA, which is so directly related to my job, SCBWI is more peripheral, and yet it's this conference more than any other that reminds me, over and over, about the power of children's books.  Though I no longer personally hand books to kids (well, except for the ones in my family), I'm deeply thankful to be in a line of work in which I still have a role in getting the right book to the right child.

I'm also grateful, down to my bones, for authors and illustrators - who make my life worth living and my job worth savoring.

Now - on to the conference!  As it's impossible to give you the full Fabulosity that is SCBWI Annual, here are some tidbits from Friday:

Over 1400 attendees, including a record # of men – over 150. “You brave soldiers - welcome,” says Lin Oliver to them. Someone from every state but South Dakota; 70 people from over 20 countries.

Bruce Coville:
Questions our society's claim that children are our best resource, when we are cutting schools and libraries, while corporations get wealthier.

Progress toward justice comes in fits and starts, but we are indeed moving forward.

Craft - “Craft without inspiration leads to basketweaving, but inspiration without craft leads to modern art.”

Ripples in the pond – everything we do has an effect that moves outward, even if we can't predict how.

Lots of advice for writers, including these 2 points:
  1. Marry rich
  2. Embrace the unfinished “chord” or thought or plot line. The reader doesn't need to know everything; keep them thinking
Jerry Pinkney:

Grew up in tradition of oral storytelling, which has informed his visual storytelling (he was enthralled by how the stories created images in his mind).

First book, Adventures of Spider, is still in print (since 1964)

Marla Frazee and Allyn Johnston

The two have published some of my faves, including Everywhere Babies and Harriet, You'll drive me Wild.

New one coming out – Stars

Picture books are meant to be read aloud - every single one of 'em. 

Libba Bray:

Yes, Libba is as hilarious as her books are. One-liners, snark – fabulous!

Her message? “Embrace the Suck.” She offers us a tale from the trenches, using the 3rd of her Gemma Doyle series. First 2 books were a blast, but the 3rd – she had nothing, and finally turned in a 565 page novel – a clunker that she had 2 months to pull into shape. Way past deadline, her novel was up to 900 pages, only 100 of which was from the original manuscript.

Advice for writers:
  1. Gather your tools for survival - “your book is in there, buried under the one you hate” - figure out how you like to work – setting, rewards, support group
  2. Avoid the quicksand – irrational fears – don't listen to those friends, family, blogs, articles, etc. stay safe inside the writing cave
  3. Perfect wants to vote you off the island, but better wants to make an alliance – don't get paralyzed by the need for perfection. Lower your standards! Give yourself manageable goals
  4. Explore the whole island – explore different formats, tenses, perspectives, narrators, etc
Yeah, and that was just the tiniest glimpse into an amazing day.  Next up - Saturday!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Review of The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi

DiTerlizzi, Tony.  The Search for WondLa.  Simon & Schuster, 2010.

I don't know why it took me so long to read this; it wasn't until the audiobook snagged my eye as I trotted through the Children's Literature department last week that I finally gave it a chance.

And I'm glad I did, though the audiobook version is a mixed success.  On the one hand, narrator Teri Hatcher does a fantastic and utterly convincing job with the various voices, from Eva Nine's girlish warble to all different kinds of aliens.  But - someone must have told her to read VERY slowly.  Yes, audiobooks need to be read at a slow enough pace that listeners can savor the words - but to space words out like a funeral march is just too much.  This was the slowest-read audiobook I have ever listened to, and I have listened to hundreds!  And the other disadvantage of this audiobook is that I missed the illustrations - but I must say that the author did a fine job describing all the creatures, and my mind's eye populated Eva Nine's world with no problem.

So - this is science fiction, which is evident right off when we meet Eva Nine, who lives all alone in a very modern underground "sanctuary," cared for by an advanced robot that Eva calls "Muthr."  Soon enough, the sanctuary is destroyed and Eva Nine must flee to the surface, something she has never done - and she finds it entirely different than she has been taught.  Right away she encounters danger, but she also meets friends - alien creatures like the backward-bending-legged Rovender Kitt, who becomes Eva's slightly reluctant but amiable traveling companion, and the incredibly sweet giant pillbug Otto, who communicates via a form of telepathy with Eva Nine.

Eva Nine thought this was Earth - but according to everyone she meets, the planet has a different name. Where is Eva?  What happened to all the other humans?  Why is a hunter trying to track her down?  Nicely balanced between adrenalin-pumping danger and fascinating encounters with the various creatures of this planet, the plot is sprightly enough to keep readers glued (even if they are listening to someone read aloud at a glacial pace...), even as it stays focused on the heart of the story - Eva Nine, her important relationships, and her search for her people.  By the end, a few questions are answered but many more remain for following books to resolve.

Good science fiction for middle-graders is hard to find; this one is heartily recommended for ages 9 to 12.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Falling into rabbit holes

Giving birth seriously fried my brains, especially the first time, but it obviously gets Betsy Bird's creative juices flowing, because her posts over at Fuse #8 are better than ever.  Okay, maybe she wrote these before giving birth - but if so, that's even MORE amazing!  Jeez...

Her post rating the magical lands of 2011 fantasies in terms of whether a kid might want to visit them made me think about the lands I wished to escape to as a child.  As an adult, I rarely read fantasies, children or adult, that take place in lands so enticing that I wish I could live there - Harry Potter being the notable exception.  And really, there were very few that compelled me even as a child; there were plenty I liked to visit as a reader but would be terrified to live in or even step foot into. 

Most of those magical lands just aren't SAFE!  From Oz to Wonderland, they're brimming with nasty characters, treacherous landscapes, and tricky tests of character.  Sure, natural-born Gryffindors live to push the boundaries, conquer bad guys, and hurl themselves in the path of danger, but we Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw hybrids crave a quiet life.

The realms I wished most fiercely to visit all had one thing in common - safety.  They were - the Thousand Acre Forest Hundred Acre Wood (see? brain still fried 20 years later), the world of the Peanuts comic strip, Narnia, and (this is somewhat embarrassing) Whangdoodleland.

The first two I still find enticing enough to soothe me when I'm awake at 3 pm stressing about work - they are like those small towns you visit and think "I could live here."  Sure, you'd be bored within a couple months, but who cares?  Boredom feels like sheer luxury sometimes.

Narnia - well, who hasn't walked through a glade filled with dappled light and had the thought that maybe this is IT?  Finally, you've made it to Narnia at long last!  Okay, it wasn't so safe - but I would have found some little cozy corner with some talking mice or whatnot and just stayed out of the Queen's way.  Forget all that hero stuff.

Whangdoodleland.  Well, what can I say?  I adored The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles as a 10-year-old, especially the Whangdoodle himself with his sweet tooth and sweet smile.  The place was a little risky, but its charms outweighed the dangers.  My mother, a librarian herself, couldn't believe I loved what she considered to be a mediocre celebrity-written book, and I don't dare to read it as an adult just in case I agree with her.

What worlds did you want to visit as a child?  Do they hold the same appeal today?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Review of Secrets of the Crown by Epstein and Jacobson

I wrote the following review for the August edition of School Library Journal; find the issue online here.

EPSTEIN, Adam Jay & Andrew Jacobson. Secrets of the Crown. Bk. 2. illus. by Peter Chan & Kei Acedera. 384p. (The Familiars Series). HarperCollins. Sept. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-196111-3. LC number unavailable.
Gr 4-6–In this sequel to The Familiars (HarperCollins, 2010), the traitorous rabbit familiar Paksahara has gained control of the Shifting Fortress, enabling her to cast powerful spells; in her bid to overthrow humans, she has eliminated their ability to do magic. Animals retain their magical ability, so familiars Skylar the blue jay, Gilbert the tree frog, and Aldwyn the cat set off on a journey through strange and exotic lands to find the Crown of the Snow Leopard, which will allow them to locate the Shifting Fortress. The cliff-hanger ending ensures at least one more installment. The writing isn’t the strength of this book–characters are painted broadly and tend to make pronouncements in pompous fantasy-speak. However, the familiars’ adventures are exciting, and the revelations about Aldwyn’s long-lost parents are touching. Fans of the first book will be pleased, and the story will also appeal to readers of animal fantasy series like Erin Hunter’s “Warriors” (HarperCollins) and Kathryn Lasky’s “The Guardians of Ga’hoole” (Scholastic).–Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library