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September always feels like the start of awards season – the time when people who are into children’s and YA books get serious about what they think should win awards. I haven’t read nearly as much as I’d hoped to (isn’t that always the case?) and in no way am I trying to make predictions about what will win. These are just my favorites, out of the books I’ve managed to consume so far. If you have a favorite that I don’t mention, please suggest it in the comments!

Newbery:

  • Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. She’s already won once, but not for a novel. This one felt like a heavy hitter – tons of atmosphere, great characters, rich historical setting, and some fantastical elements. Top of my list, so far.
  • Liar and Spyby Rebecca Stead. Again, she’s already won once. Some books by previous winners don’t live up to the expectations, but I thought this had a lot of the strengths of When You Reach Me without feeling derivative.

Those are the two that feel completely deserving of a medal. A few others that have felt solid, but not quite as distinguished, are The Humming Room by Ellen Potter, See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowlesand Wonder by R.J. Palacio. These feel worth a look and some discussion.

Printz:

  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. That magical combination of superior writing and a story that I love, love, loved. I can’t imagine anything else this year beating this as my favorite for the award.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Yeah, it’s a tearjerker. But John Green has a way with characters and sharp dialogue.
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Fantasy! Dragons, like you’ve never seen them before! Oh, and great characters and world-building. Please give it an honor.
  • The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats. More historical fiction – characters you love to hate and a time period I was fascinated to learn about.

Any suggestions for me? You can check out the complete list of everything I’ve read this year to see what I’ve read that didn’t make the cut (so dramatic!)

The lists that I posted on Friday were for the mock awards that I’m actually attending in the Portland area.  But why limit yourself to those?  Lots of libraries put out mock lists and hold workshops for both kids and adults.

My favorite to follow online is Heavy Medal at SLJ.  They do host an in-person Mock Newbery in Oakland, with their own list of eight titles, but the online discussion is also very…robust.  There are plenty of people with strong feelings about the books, and Nina and Jonathan do a great job of keeping the discussion relevant to the criteria.  The discussion certainly isn’t limited to their shortlist, which is also great – it gets me limbered up to discuss the books on the OLA/WLA list, and it gets me thinking more broadly about the criteria.

I also follow a Mock Newbery on Goodreads, a group that votes each month on one book to read and discuss.  The discussion isn’t nearly as thorough as at Heavy Medal, but it’s interesting to see which titles are chosen (and so far I’ve managed to keep up – The Kneebone Boy, Scumble, Countdown, The Red Umbrella, Out of My Mind, and Mockingbird.)

Are there any others I should be following?  Or any good Mock Caldecott and Mock Printz discussions?

I’m not quite sure how the last two weeks slipped by without a post, but it’s sure not for lack of things to write about.  I spent a few days in California visiting Bronwen and Kate, and came back with lots of pictures of Linnea and some of the grown-ups in the kitchen, which is where we quite happily spent a lot of our time.  (I still need to go through the pictures and upload the best of the bunch.)  Bronwen and I caught up on some Long Distance Kitchen recipes that we’d both neglected and we shopped for unusual grains, and at Kate’s we were treated to tuna that Keith caught, fresh chanterelles and enormous oysters, and of course some extremely local bacon (as in, from their pigs).

I’ve also neglected to talk about all the mock awards I’m going to this year – I’ve done one or two each year for the past few years, but this year I’m doing the triumvirate of mock awards: Mock Newbery, Mock Caldecott, and Mock Printz.  Hooray!  I love mock awards.  The tricky part is making sure you squeeze in all the books around the rest of your reading.  Fortunately the Mock Printz isn’t until January, and the Mock Caldecott books are short.  Here are the lists for anyone who’s curious or wants to follow along at home:

Mock Newbery

  • The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan. Illustrated by Peter Sis. Scholastic, 2010.
  • Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Josee Masse. Dutton, 2010
  • The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Balzer & Bray, 2010.
  • The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz. Illustrated by Angela Barrett. Candlewick, 2010.
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. HarperCollins, 2010.
  • They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Houghton Mifflin, 2010.
  • Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen. Wendy Lamb, 2010.

I’ve read them all except They Called Themselves the KKK (which is also on the Mock Printz list), but so far I’ve only written about the ones I linked above.  My favorite so far is still One Crazy Summer (and I recently finished listening to the audio version and thought it was even better on rereading).  I’m also partial to The Night Fairy and I’d vote for The Dreamer, too.

Mock Printz

  • They Called Themselves The K.K.K.: The Birth Of An American Terrorist Group. Bartoletti, Susan Campbell.
  • Spies Of Mississippi: The True Story Of The Spy Network That Tried To Destroy The Civil Rights Movement. Bowers, Rick
  • Incarceron. Fisher, Catherine
  • Finnikin Of The Rock. Marchetta, Melina
  • As Easy As Falling Off the Face Of The Earth. Perkins, Lynne Rae
  • Fever Crumb. Reeve, Philip.
  • Revolver. Sedgwick, Marcus.
  • The Last Summer Of The Death Warriors. Stork, Francisco X.
  • Nothing. Teller, Janne
  • A Conspiracy Of Kings. Turner, Megan Whalen. (I actually never wrote about this book – WHAT? – but what I said about the rest of the series holds true for this one.)

I still need to read Nothing, Revolver, As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth, Spies of Mississisppi, and They Called Themselves the KKK. In an ideal world, I would also reread A Conspiracy of Kings and Finnikin of the Rock, although not back-to-back like I did initially (Finnikin suffered).  While it would take a miracle for anything to supplant COK in my affections, I do owe Finnikin a fair shot.  I also just got Incarceron on audio – I don’t know if I’ll listen to the whole thing, but I wanted to have it a little fresher in my mind before the discussion and before Sapphique comes out at the end of December.  In a flash of brilliance, I just put the audio version of Finnikin on hold, and hopefully I can squeeze that in.

Mock Caldecott (I left this list at work, but let me see if I can remember it)

  • City Dog, Country Frog
  • Mama Miti
  • Dave the Potter
  • Paris in the Spring with Picasso
  • Henry in Love
  • Dust Devil
  • Art & Max
  • The Extraordinary Mark Twain
  • The Boss Baby

I’m sure I’m forgetting one, but my mind is blank.  Right now my favorite is City Dog, Country Frog – not only because I just plain love it, but also because I it’s most effective at being a picture book.  I mean, I can pore over the illustrations in Mama Miti or admire the genius of Art & Max, but neither of these has that seemingly effortless combination of pictures, text and story.  The award is for “the most distinguished American picture book” and to me, this one fits the bill.  Some of the others might have more extraordinary illustrations, but this is a picture book that really has “a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised.”  And yes, I don’t think it’s in the criteria but I’ll admit a preference for books that make good read-alouds.

The Merchant of Death (Pendragon, #1) The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The kids’ bookgroup that I run at the library chose this book for May, and it was suggested by a bright, articulate girl so let’s just say that expected better things from it. Would I have finished the first chapter otherwise? Probably not. Would I finished the book if it weren’t for bookgroup? Definitely not.

I think this falls into the category of big, fat fantasy series where the appeal is largely based on plot – nothing too nuanced, but action packed and with easy to read stock characters. You don’t have to think much while you read it, because everything is laid out for you – lots of telling and no showing. Key pieces of information are repeated frequently, just in case you missed them in the previous paragraph.

For example: “It was Uncle Press! He walked out of the tunnel with his long leather coat flapping against his legs. I could have hugged him. In fact, I did. I ran over to him like a little kid. If this were a movie, I’d have been running in slow motion. I threw my arms around him with the feeling of pure joy and gratitude that I wasn’t alone anymore, and that my favorite guy in the world wasn’t shot dead by that Saint Dane guy. He was safe.”

Lots of short, simple sentences with plenty of repetition of the main idea: Bobby is glad that his uncle is safe. This makes it easy to read, sure, but it’s awfully clunky and doesn’t give kids any credit for being able to pick up on Bobby’s relief themselves. What makes this even more incredible is that we’re supposed to believe that these are Bobby’s handwritten journals, sent magically back to his friends at home. Sure.

Another painful aspect of the fantasy world is the way it doesn’t seem to be thoroughly thought-out. For instance, this “territory” has three suns in “opposite corners of the sky.” These suns all rise and set at the same time. They all reach high noon at the same time. There is no explanation for how this is physically possible. Do they revolve around the planet, instead of the planet moving around the suns? Who knows! Also, travel through time and space is conveniently dealt with using the explanation that Travelers arrive whenever they need to arrive. However, this doesn’t stop Uncle Press from whisking Bobby away from his normal life at a moment’s notice. If they arrive when they’re meant to arrive, couldn’t they take their time?

You might be asking, why did I give this book a whole two stars. Good question. The plot actually holds together for the most part. It’s simplistic, the characters are pretty flat, and something is lacking in the style, but it actually manages to keep up the pace and reach a conclusion. And the bookgroup kids liked it, although they’re always pretty generous with their ratings (although I was very proud of the kid who, after our discussion where I brought up the suns thing, said he took a point off because of issues like that).

Source: public library

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Last month there was an interesting discussion about faking nice in blog reviews – which I didn’t quite buy, because I don’t say nice things unless I mean them, but I could see both sides of the argument.  Most reviews in blogland are fairly positive, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to blast the author personally even if you hate the book.

But there’s something so fun and cathartic about a negative review.  They’re so easy to write and it gets that bad experience out of your system.   Plus, I think it’s appropriate to warn other readers against a book, especially if you back up your opinion and don’t just say “I hated it!”   And I’d kind of like to see more negative reviews.  It seems like a lot of blog reviewers choose to not write reviews of books they didn’t like – not that people are faking nice, they’re just avoiding negativity.  If that works for you, great, but I don’t think anyone should hesitate about being critical.

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of those non-fiction books where it’s hard to tell whether you liked it for the story it told or the way it told the story. Here, I think both are effective. The story is certainly one that needs telling – the history of discrimination against female pilots in this country, particularly in regards to the space program, and Stone’s way of telling the story engrosses the reader – building up her case, citing examples of institutionalized sexism, making you feel for the women involved, describing the fitness and isolation tests, and finally the story of how women were ultimately welcomed to NASA. It’s a great book for kids interested in becoming pilots or astronauts, and also a great way to learn about our country’s history of sexism.

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Where the Mountain Meets the Moon Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The whole book is a beautiful package – a strong, likeable heroine, a adventurous quest, light fantasy, lovely illustrations, and a story that’s entirely appropriate for younger readers who want those fantasy elements but aren’t ready for anything too dark or scary. It’s a great novel for kids who are drawn to folktales, and it would also make a great gateway book to folktales, especially with Lin’s list of further reading at the back of the book. I really couldn’t find fault with anything here, and I was quite pleased to see it win the Mock Newbery AND take home a Newbery Honor. I also suspect it would make a great read-aloud for a family or classroom.

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Yes yes, the real deal was announced this morning, but that doesn’t make Mock Printz results any less interesting, does it?  Here is what we read:

I ended up reading All the Broken Pieces the day before the workshop, and most of The Eternal Smile the morning of – and I just couldn’t bring myself to finish the latter.

Going in, there were some titles that I knew I wouldn’t vote for – The Eternal Smile, The Miles Between, Crazy Beautiful, and If I Stay.  Some of those I definitely enjoyed reading and would recommend, but they just didn’t strike me examples of excellence.  But among the rest of the titles, I felt like I could be swayed by discussion.  This is where the mock award workshops get interesting, because so much depends on your small group discussion – who’s in the group and what you end up focusing on in the ten minutes allotted to each title.

My group had three other youth librarians, a library page, and two teens.  There was some real support from the teen boy for Marcelo and Heroes of the Valley, and the Heroes discussion in particular got me thinking.  A few people had minor issues with the ending, but the discussion brought out a lot of the strengths of the book that I’d just jumbled into “liking the book.”  We were mixed on Tales of the Madman Underground – a bunch of people had given up on it, but those that finished it thought it was a strong contender.  No one had any significant criticisms of Marcelo or Wintergirls – not enough to talk us out of them.  We thought All the Broken Pieces was strong but no one really lobbied for it as the best.  North of Beautiful got some love, but those of us in that camp admitted it was more of a “recommend to lots of people” book than a literary success.  We were mixed on If I Stay – one person loved it, but thought it would’ve been better if she hadn’t stayed.  The other three we pretty much dismissed.

Did I mention we were a rowdy group?  We broke almost all the discussion rules (discuss positive first, no personal anecdotes, no comparing to books outside the discussion list) but still had what felt to me like a useful discussion.  In short, a lot of fun was had.  I forgot to write down the point spread, but I think my small group voted Marcelo as the winner with Wintergirls and Heroes as our honors.

Then, the five small groups reconvened, revealed our winners, and large group discussion commenced.  I’m not sure why, but at the Mock Newbery, all of the discussions were fairly sedate.  Maybe it’s the teens that get us more riled up at the Mock Printz, or maybe YA librarians are more argumentative than the rest?  Either way, there was some heated debate, particularly about Tales of the Madman Underground.

Finally, we voted again as a large group.  I switched around my personal votes a lot, mostly because I felt like there were five or so equally deserving books – Marcelo, Wintergirls, North of Beautiful, Heroes of the Valley, and Tales of the Madman UndergroundMarcelo was the only one I voted for both times.  What can I say, I was feeling fickle.  The final results were:

Winner – Marcelo in the Real World (87 points)

Honors – Wintergirls (71) and Tales of the Madman Underground (51)

Interestingly, Marcelo and Wintergirls had a variety of votes – first, second, third – to add up to their higher numbers, while Madman got almost exclusively first place votes.  And, Madman is the only title from our discussion list to be recognized by the real Printz committee (same thing happened last year – The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks got both real and fake honors).  This year’s Printz titles can be found here.

I keep having dreams about book award announcements.  I’m either transcribing the results or I’ve slept through them.  Why can’t my brain figure out which day it is?  Or at least accurately convey the results to me via a prophetic dream?  That would be fun.  As it is, they just make me feel anxious.

Part of it is that I’ve been charged with ordering any books that my library doesn’t already own, and ordering duplicates of the Newbery and Caldecott winners.  Because Monday is a holiday, the library is closed.  And because the library is closed, our catalog is getting an upgrade that day, while no one needs to use it.  Except ME who wants to get an order in pronto, especially if there are some obscure winners and everyone is scrambling for copies.  And if I can’t see the catalog, I don’t know what I need to order (I’m up on what’s in my section – juv fiction – but not necessarily picture books and non-fiction).  Which means I wait till Tuesday.  And yes, that annoys me profoundly.

On the other hand, I could get up at 4:45 am for the awards and send in an order from home before the catalog goes down at 6:30 am.  HAHAHA.  That’s a good one.  I don’t even know if I’d trust myself to place an order at that hour of the morning, even if I were up.

In other news, my reading has been a little scattered this week.  I finished up Ballad (oh, the snark!  How I love thee!)  I was quite taken by the Morris finalist Hold Still – I kept thinking of Thirteen Reasons Why, because I felt like HS did everything right that TRW did wrong.  Sad, but still lovely.  Then I picked up another Morris finalist, Flash Burnout, which coincidentally also involves photography as a major theme in the story, and which I was intrigued to find out is written by a fellow Portlander and is set in Portland – I came across a street name and immediately had to check the author bio.  Plus, it has a nice sense of place so far – it’s not just set here for the sake of giving it a real location.

Yesterday I real the Mock Printz title All the Broken Pieces in two sittings – I thought it was excellently done and I’m curious to hear how it fares in dicussions (this afternoon!)  I kind of read the last MP title over breakfast – The Eternal Smile.  Which is to say, I read the first story and the last story, and artwork in the middle story is so off-putting to me that I kind of gave up.  After my experiences at the first Mock Newbery I went to (the year Criss Cross won), I never expect other people to have the same reaction as I did – because I couldn’t finish Criss Cross for the discussion, and people at the MN raved about it.  So.  I’m looking forward to the discussion.

In audio land, I finished up Once Was Lost – a fantastic book, I wish it were part of our Mock Printz discussion – and started listening to the full-cast Graceling (because audio books are a great excuse to reread).

I also went a little crazy one night and started Leaving the Bellweathers, one of those juv titles I ordered and then wanted to read and have had sitting on my shelf for ages.  And because I finished All the Broken Pieces before my lunch break was over yesterday, I started another title in that category – Escape Under the Forever Sky – which I’d had sitting on my shelf at work.  The non-fiction that I’m planning on reading has been sadly neglected, and I even added to the pile by picking up Jim Murphy’s Truce, which I’m really looking forward to.

Whew!  Now it’s time to get ready to meet fellow book nerd Kitri for lunch before we head to the Mock Printz.  Back with results later!

Whew, I finished up the list just in time – I polished off Where the Mountain Meets the Moon yesterday afternoon, and Almost Astronauts before I went to bed (late).  Good thing, too, because here are the results!

Books considered:

  1. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone. Candlewick, 2009.
  2. Heart of a Shepherd by Roseanne Parry.  Random House Books for Young Readers, 2009.
  3. How Oliver Olson Changed the World by Claudia Mills.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.
  4. The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo. Candlewick, 2009.
  5. Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman.  Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009.
  6. A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck.  Dial, 2009.
  7. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.  Wendy Lamb Books, 2009.
  8. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009.

Our winner is Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, with When You Reach Me as the closest competition.  Heart of a Shepherd also got a good chunk of votes, but only about half as many points as WYRM, and I can’t remember if it was declared an honor book as well.  The next title down only had a third as many points as Heart, so those three were clearly at the top.  They were also my three choices, in exactly the same order.  If I’d had a 4th vote, it would’ve gone to Red Sings From the Treetops, which impressed me more on each rereading, but didn’t stay with me in the same way as the novels.

As an added bonus, I placed second in the quiz to identity Newbery winners based on their first lines, and won myself a copy of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon – sweet!  Now it had really better win.  Just kidding.  Still debating whether or not to arise before the crack of dawn to try and get on the webcast…or sleep and see the winners at a decent hour here on the west coast.

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone. Candlewick, 2009.

Heart of a Shepherd by Roseanne Parry.  Random House Books for Young Readers, 2009.

How Oliver Olson Changed the World by Claudia Mills.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo. Candlewick, 2009.

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman.  Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009.

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck.  Dial, 2009.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.  Wendy Lamb Books, 2009.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009.

The Miles Between The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson

Engrossing and compelling and mildly suspenseful while I read it, this one didn’t have quite the same staying power as The Adoration of Jenna Fox. It would be an interesting one to reread right away, to see all the clues and foreshadowing for what they really are. The whole story is pretty tightly constructed and kept me guessing until just before the reveal. However, the characters don’t stick in my mind as much as the tone of the book. It’s full of improbably coincidences as the characters wish for one fair day, and it’s fun to see how things work out. Recommended to anyone who wants a YA book that’s a little quirky, a little realistic, with a line of suspense running through the story.

However, I don’t think it will be getting one of my votes come Mock Printz time. It’s a good book, but doesn’t stand out from the others on the list as being really distinguished.

View all my reviews >>

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