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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!)

I stopped beating myself up about writing something about everything I read (quality over quantity being the idea) and instead I’ve been writing…nothing much. So here’s an attempt to dip my toes back into the water and make it fun again. These are all February reads that I haven’t already blogged about, but wanted to put out there as well worth picking up:

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This one hardly needs more buzz, and books with buzz often end up being disappointing – but this is the exception. The buzz is not wrong, but it’s still best if you can set it aside and enjoy the book on its own merits. It’s funny and raw. Some readers have accused the book of doing exactly what the characters hate – somehow romanticizing kids with cancer or turning into entertainment – while others wonder whether teens actually talk and think this way. The second question bugs me because I want to see more characters like these – smart, intelligent teens who also act like teens. While I can’t claim to being this smart or well-read in high school, I would’ve eaten these characters up with a spoon because I would’ve wanted to read and think and discuss like them. There is nothing wrong with a high standard. The first question is trickier, and I won’t try to answer it except to say that it didn’t prevent me from finding the book emotionally and intellectually stimulating. Also, I started this on a dinner break at work, but for the love of dignity, read the second half alone, or around people who understand crying over books.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright. I listened to this one, as read by the incomparable Katherine Kellgren. It’s full of nods to the works of Charles Dickens, and he features as a character in the story, but they’re more extras than essential to enjoying this fun story of a cheese-loving cat and a band of mice. Fun, and especially recommended to fans of stories told from the perspective of  animal characters.

The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey. I had this one checked out forever before picking it up, but I’m glad I did because it’s my favorite so far in the series. This one has all the appeal factors of the first two – Victorian style, gore, monsters, fabulous characters – but the relationship between Warthrop and Will Henry deepens in a way that caught me off guard. Will Henry is growing up! Plus, the whole monster chasing bit at the end had some great twists. Recommended to fans of the series, but you should really start with The Monstrumologist and go on from there.

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. You’ve got to listen to this one on audio if you’re an audiobook fan, because listening to Jack Gantos read you the story of Jack Gantos is perfection. His voice is quirky and distinctive and serves to highlight all the black humor. The cover does this a disservice, because the story is dark and funny and a bit rambling, but filled with a fascinating sense of history and place and childhood. The whole thing is awash in nosebleeds and dead old ladies, with some fantastic obituaries and an appearance by the Hell’s Angels. Just read it already. This year’s Newbery winner!

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. After something of a slow set-up (I was puzzled by the alternate chapters from different viewpoints for quite a while) the story gets going. It’s both suspenseful and ordinary, dealing with the disappearance of Cullen’s younger brother and the everyday despair of a dying small town. It’s also frequently funny, enough to keep the whole thing from dragging down, and has brilliantly realistic characters. Recommended for teens & adults who like stories that pack a punch without much action, and for readers who like character-driven stories. This year’s Printz and Morris winner!

I have a few longer reviews that I’ll post separately, and then we can move onto March and (sooner or later) my hesitant embrace of ebooks.

Going Bovine Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Oh, Going Bovine. I wanted to like you. A few years back I was at an author signing and heard Libba Bray describe the plot of her new book and my first thought was “thumbs down!” So I can say that it is much, much better than it first sounded to me. Parts are delightfully wacky (while other parts are just…wacky) and it’s funny, and I have a deep affection for anything that’s an homage to Don Quixote (I did once dress up as Don Quixote for a high school party – but let’s not talk about that).

Here’s the thing – after a certain point, I just wanted to know how it would end. And the ending was more or less what I expected – without giving anything away – and it had some nice moments, but it never really got to me. That said, would I recommend it? Sure – to someone looking for something off-beat and funny and irreverent. Maybe someone else will get that emotional punch that I was waiting for.

View all my reviews >>

Nation Nation by Terry Pratchett


My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I tend to over-think the ratings I give to books. Sometimes I just want to say “this was a good book” without attaching any other value. Sometimes I can’t figure out the difference between a 4 star book and a 5 star book – and then I read something that feels fresh, but draws on all sorts of compelling themes, where I don’t want to leave the world of the book or the characters – and then I know – THIS is a 5 star book.

Which is all a way of saying that the premise is hard to describe, and it sounds pretty silly when you try. But the style is fantastic, with plenty of quirky humor and wordplay, plus a good sense of movement in the plot. And the characters – well, I hated to see them leave the page. I wanted MORE. There’s a bit of an adventure story, but never just for the sake of adventure – and it always ties into the bigger themes about faith and science and friendship and community, without being didactic. It’s a little genre-defying too, and I think this gives it a nice wide appeal. Good for any reader (probably middle school through adults) who likes to think and have a good plot, plus the world would draw in people who like vivid settings, plus the characters are fantastic, plus the style is great for those of us who are picky about those things.

Plus, I can’t read the word “trousermen” without snickering.

View all my reviews.

First up – yes, I’m a huge nerd when it comes to the big children’s book award annoucements.  Not quite enough of a nerd to get up at 6:45 to watch the live feed, but enough for it to be the first thing I thought about when I woke up.  I was making some last-minute guesses in my head, trying to remember all my favorites before checking the internets to see what took home the shiny medals.  It’s like the cat in the box that might be alive or might be dead – all the possibilities exist until I turn on the computer.  This version of reality makes it possible to make last minute wishes (please not Madapple) and last minute hopes (wouldn’t it be nice if The Graveyard Book got the Newbery?)

For that real-time experience, I tried to follow the Twitter updates, where I got news on the Printz and a few other awards, but it stopped abruptly at the Wilder Award and left me hanging.  Fortunately ALSC had a list up, which includes everything except the Printz, Morris, and Alex Awards (the YA awards) – as far as I can tell.

Printz: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Honors: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson, Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, and Nation by Terry Pratchett.

I’ve read them all (except for Nation, which is somewhere in my to-read pile) and I have to give an enthusiastic “well done!” to the Printz committee.  There were some really fabulous books this year, and it can’t have been easy.  I didn’t really think that Jellicoe Road had a chance, but I’m totally behind it.  Octavian and Tender Morsels were my favorites, so I don’t have to feel slighted on their behalf.  Frankie was my favorite from the Mock Printz I attended, so it’s nice to see her on there, too.  And Nation was just recommended to me recently.

Happily, I’d also managed to read the Newbery and Caldecott medalists, too (although not all the honors).  I’m so happy for The Graveyard Book taking the Newbery – it’s got great literary merit plus (I think) plenty of kid appeal, which is of course not a criteria, but more like a happy bonus.  The House in the Night wasn’t one of my top favorites, but I can definitely stand behind it, and I think it’s a solid choice.  I also really liked two of the honors – A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever and A River of Words were both awesome in totally different ways.  I haven’t read the third honor book yet.

I was quite pleased with a few of the “smaller” awards, too – the Odyssey (for audiobook) went to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which I’m about to start listening to.  The Geisel (for early readers) went to one of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books, and the question there is how the committee chose just one – Are You Ready to Play Outside? I haven’t seen it yet, since those puppies fly off the library shelves, but I’m confident that I’ll love it.

All around, it’s been a very satisfying morning – and now I get to geek out some more and see how other bloggers reacted!

Thanksgiving was the traditional and oh-so-delicious dinner, plus tequila and salsa dancing.  In our living room.  Yeah.

Who said it could be December?  This is my last week of classes.  Eep.

I need some audio book recommendations.  Here’s what I’ve already listened to.  I have three or four on hold, but I’m creeping up the list with painful slowness.  I might even have to browse the shelves today – shocking.  I’m almost at the end of The Off Season, and I’d hate to be caught without something to listen to.

Before I started using Goodreads for class reviews, I had a pretty simple way of counting the books I read.  Things like picture books and short non-fiction never made the list – things I could down in an hour or less.  Now I can’t figure out quite where the line is, and my November list at Goodreads is outrageous.  Do I count Judy Moody if I read it in one sitting?  I could start separate lists for kids, YA, and grownup, but sometimes the lines are so ambiguous, and there isn’t anything to be gained by it.  Even if I’m only keeping the lists for my own list-making satisfaction.  Oh well.  I added 35 books to my “read” shelf in November.

I just realized that January’s Mock Printz is suddenly much closer.  I’m not even sure how many I have left to read.

Only 5 more to go – and I’m really close to the end of Sunrise Over Fallujah.  Obviously I’m not too taken with it since I haven’t bothered to figure out how it ends.  I can’t tell how much my reluctance is just my lack of fondness for war stories and how much is the actual quality of writing.  I can’t put my finger on anything wrong with it – but an excellent book, no matter what the subject matter, shouldn’t be so easy to ignore.  If I can get engrossed in a book about spiders, with incredible close-up photos of hairy tarantulas, then I should be able to get into a good war story.  Little Brother, for instance, make all the technology sound fascinating – but really I could care less about technology in general.  An excellent book is more than the subject matter.

But out of what I’ve finished, there are a lot of close ties.  I thought Madapple was good, but not quite in the realm of the others.  I really enjoyed My Most Excellent Year, and it’s dripping with appeal, as is Little Brother – but they almost seem too fun to win awards.  Not that fun books can’t/don’t win awards, but sometimes it’s hard to evaluate the quality of writing for a super entertaining book, because you’re so caught up in it.  Which is maybe why they should win awards.  The others I’ve read are all excellent – really, I would be happy to see ANY of the books I’ve finished win an award.

Which starts me thinking about all the other books that didn’t make our discussion list – because really, it’s impossible for us ordinary mortals to read them all.  I thought Pretty Monsters was absolutely top-notch – and OF COURSE Octavian Nothing.  I don’t see anything in the criteria or eligibility prohibiting a collection with previously published stories, or any admonition against sequels that may or may not stand on their own.  Given that Dreamquake got an honor last year, I would consider volume two of Octavian just as eligible as volume one.  Dreamquake took some awesome concentration to decode the characters and issues and context – Octavian wouldn’t be any more difficult.  The Hunger Games has gotten a lot of attention, but I think it fits into the same category as Little Brother and My Most Excellent Year.

Hmm, now I’m digging around for other Printz contenders – very distracting.  I’m a big fan of the Printz – there’s always an excellent variety, plus the award is still new enough that you can read your way through all the winners and honor books without dying of exhaustion.  There are only two winners I haven’t read – Postcards from No Man’s Land and A Step From Heaven.

Well, this has been fun – but it hasn’t gotten my homework done.

I can’t remember where I originally saw the link, but you can listen to this year’s Printz acceptance speeches  here.  I’ve listened to a few of them, but so far my favorite is Elizabeth Knox’s speech – her book, Dreamquake, was an honor book this year.  She tells a great story about her father, and her own experiences with libraries and books (plus it’s always fun to listen to New Zealand accents).  At one point she says that perhaps she should have been a librarian, but decided to be a writer instead.  And then she says something I love:  “Although I have managed to become a writer, my true aim is somehow to become a book.”  Um, YES.  That’s it exactly.  So go give it a listen – or better yet, read her books.  I thought The White Darkness (this year’s Printz winner) was excellent, but Dreamquake was probably my favorite from the list of honorees.  Which reminds me that I need to look for her adult books, too.

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