You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2009.

By some strange coincidence, both of these books feature grandmothers encouraging teens without licenses to get behind the wheel (with mixed results).
Mare's War Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis

Like Flygirl, this is a WWII story that hasn’t already been told a million times, covering a piece of history that I didn’t know existed. Stories of female soldiers are few enough without the added aspect of race. A modern-day story line introduces us to Mare through her grand-daughters, adding an appealing and often funny perspective to the history, which is never dry. This would make a great addition to a WWII reading list, but it’s also appealing in its own right, with compelling characters and a brisk pace.

A Season of Gifts A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

Richard Peck is such a trouble-maker, riling folks up with his potentially offensive plot-line about the desecrated remains (or are they?) of a Kickapoo princess, shotgun weddings, multiple counts of theft (Christmas trees, cars, you name it), twelve year olds driving recklessly under the encouragement of elderly women…

Okay, the only thing that actually has people up in arms is the Kickapoo princess. Personally, I thought Peck made it very clear that Grandma Dowdel fabricated the whole thing – she started the rumors about the burial ground, she dug up the “remains,” she instigated the funeral and turned it into a publicity stunt. Was that a good thing to do? I think Grandma has always walked on questionable moral ground. She’s not concerned with whether her actions would offend anyone – she’ll break any rules to help the people she loves, even if maybe there’s a better way to accomplish it. Will child readers pick up on this? Some will, and others might take the Indian princess storyline seriously. This issue almost makes me think that this is a book better suited to adults.

But it IS still a book for children. Maybe it’s a book that necessitates a conversation about how attitudes change and sometimes (gasp) improve. But it’s also a book that will have some readers howling with laughter (the cover scene). It stands on its own plot0wise, but is perhaps best enjoyed along with A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder in terms of character development.

Oh, and do yourself a favor – the audio version is fantastically read and definitely adds something to the story.  All the Grandma Dowdel books are great on audio.

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The Lost Conspiracy The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a must-read for any fantasy readers who enjoy world-building, the kind where elements of landscape, culture, mythology, race, naming customs, burial rituals, and dress are not only key to understanding the characters but are also of vital importance to the plot. So many of these things start out feeling like atmospheric details, the kind that convince you that the author knows her world inside and out, but they end up turning into “ah-ha” moments where pieces of the puzzle slide into place, leaving the book more coherent and complex than you realized.

That’s all well and good, you say, but it isn’t enough without nuanced characters. And this book has plenty of them – characters you want to befriend, characters who creep you out, characters you pity for their faults and learn to love, characters never settle into stereotypes or roles.

It’s a chunker of a book, but the pace moves steadily but surely. Perhaps not the best for reluctant readers, but it’s chock-full of appeals for more confident readers. The kind who like long books, and spending time with characters. Readers who are drawn to the characters, who enjoy vivid landscapes, who love a well put together sentence, who like all the pieces of the plot to slide into place to make a satisfying whole. While I didn’t fall in love with the book as I read it, the world has remained strong in my mind and I would love to reread it someday.

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The nominees for the National Book Award were announced this week, and most of the discussion I’ve seen has centered around Stitches, David Small’s graphic novel memoir, and whether or not it belongs in the Young People’s Literature category.  Which is an interesting debate, but I’m not hugely opinionated about it, so I won’t get into that.  Instead, let’s skip on to a more interesting question to me, which is whether or not I’ll discover any new favorites in this year’s nominations.  As far as the NBAs go, I really only look at the YPL category.  This year it includes:

Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
(Henry Holt)
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.)
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

I haven’t read a single one.  I was planning on reading Laini Taylor’s book, and I’d seen both Charles and Emma and Claudette Colvin mentioned as Newbery-worthy.

Last year’s nominees were What I Saw and How I Lied (the winner), The Underneath, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Chains, and The Spectacular Now (the only one I didn’t read).  The Underneath was the only one of that bunch to also show up on the Newbery list, while Frankie was the only one on the Printz list (gosh, last year was a good Printz year, wasn’t it?)  (And keep in mind that the 2008 NBA corresponds to the 2009 Printz, Newbery, Caldecott, etc., since the NBA is given at the end of one year and the ALA awards at the beginning of the next.)

In 2007, the nominee list included The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (winner), Skin Hunger, Touching Snow, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and Story of a Girl. The only overlap with the ALA awards was Hugo Cabret, which won the Caldecott.  Perhaps the only time the NBA and Caldecott have overlapped?  I read all of the nominees that year, although I probably would have picked up Hugo and Part-Time Indian anyway.  But I don’t think I’d even heard of Skin Hunger before the award, and boy is that a book that’s stuck with me!  What oomph.

I could keep going –  and I think I will.  2006 brought us the first volume of Octavian Nothing as the winner (huzzah!) and Keturah and Lord Death, Sold, The Rules of Survival and American Born Chinese as the runners-up.  I read all of those, too, and I think quite a few ended up on the Mock Printz list that year – definitely a YA year, not much for the younger end.  American Born Chinese was of course the Printz medalist that year, and Octavian was an honor book.

That brings us to 2005, the first year that I paid any attention to the NBA, probably because I remember discussion at work about whether or not The Penderwicks really deserved that win.  The other nominees were Where I Want to Be, Inexcusable, Autobiography of My Dead Brother, and Each Little Bird That Sings (the only one besides The Penderwicks that I read).  Of course, that was the year that Criss Cross won the Newbery – in other words, one of my least favorite Newbery years.  No overlap with the Newbery or Printz that year, but still a good year for the middle grade titles.

And now I’m back to thinking about this year and if I’ll have a chance to read through the list.  I’m going to a Mock Newbery and a Mock Printz this January, so I’ve got quite a reading list at the moment (I’ll post them later – I forgot to forward them to my home email).  The NBA winners are announced November 18, so I’d better get cracking if I want to have an opinion when the time rolls around.

100 Scope Notes has a post up about Things Librarians Fancy, taking inspiration from that other site.  And yeah, it’s true.  These are things that librarians fancy, and I think the list could certainly be expanded.

I have to plead guilty to most of the list – who doesn’t like book carts?  And it’s a rare day (summer or winter) that I’m not wearing a cardigan at work.  In fact, I believe the library is required to keep the air conditioning on high enough that librarians are forced to wear cardigans during the summer.  While I’m not sure whether or not I wear mine with irony (I did start working in libraries in 2003, which is apparently the year in which the ironic/irony free librarian schism occurred), but I do wear my oddly-shaped glasses with an irony that hopefully extends to my cardigans.  Oh, and I prefer to carry my sensible lunch to work in my tote bag rather than a brown paper bag (the environment!)

I can think of a few more things (hand puppets, goggly eyes, cunning crafts, etc.) but I think they’re more specific to children’s librarians.  Any other ideas?

On a completely different topic, we were all forced to listen to a presentation on flu prevention after church today, including an amusing video about coughing and sneezing into the nearest available textile instead of your hands, and that made me think of the latest Elephant and Piggie book, entitled Pigs Make Me Sneeze! in which Gerald does not practice proper sneezing technique.  No wonder Piggie gets sick, too!  The book arrived at the library this week, and as I took it out of the box, the entire staff of the children’s library gathered around me to read over my shoulders.  Such is the Elephant and Piggie love.  I guess I should add Mo Willems to the list, eh?



I can’t take any credit for her, but I’m awfully proud of her all the same – and proud of her parents for bringing such a darling baby into the world.  May I introduce Linnea Evelyn, my newest god daughter to-be?

The full scoop is over on Kate’s blog, of course.  I can’t wait to meet her myself – remind me why they put northern California so far away from Portland?

Last night I finished gobbling up Kate Ross’s Cut to the Quick, the first Julian Kestrel mystery.  And you bet I’ll be grabbing next one as soon as I manage to clear a few other things off my to-read shelf.  I should really say shelves, because now I have one at home and one at work, and I’m constantly surprised to see what’s on each shelf.  Anyway, Julian Kestrel – the perfect combination of character-driven mystery (although the plot wasn’t too shabby), period setting, snark, and the occasional moving, touching moment.  Quite nicely told, and it came recommended by the ever-reliable Bookshelves of Doom.  I love the line that Leila quotes:

“You’re cynical.  I thought you would be.  Can you sneer?”

“With terrifying effect.”

And there were a few other good ones that I forgot to write down as I gobbled.

At the moment I’m listening to the second volume of the Octavian Nothing books in the car – the reading is excellent, as was the first volume, but I’m in that claustrophobic, mad with inaction section in the middle where nothing seems to happen and they’re living off half-rations of salted pork gone bad.  I love rereading because you notice new things each time, and listening to these books brings out qualities of the language that you don’t necessarily notice on the page, but it’s not a fun, easy listen.  After this, I have a few audiobooks lined up – the third Mistress of the Art of Death book, Grave Goods, which I’ve been looking forward to, and then the new Richard Peck, A Season of Gifts, and then Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, which is on this year’s list for the Mock Printz.  It looks like a tearjerker, and I had quite a run of tearjerkers earlier in the year, so I’d been staying away from it, but I’ve got until January.

I picked up Frances Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy last night, and I’m just getting hooked – I’ve heard such good things about it, plus I enjoyed her earlier books.  I’m kind of hooked by Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World, which is full of fascinating characters and digressions into the past, to the extent that the present-day plot has been completely forgotten.  It’s absorbing when I pick it up, but it demands a fair degree of focus in order to relish the language and soak it all up, so I keep putting it down in favor of slightly easier, more plot-driven things.  I will get back to it, though.

If I’d spotted this last year, I would have looked at the calendar, realized that October 12 is a Monday and thusly I would be working all evening, and then I would have wept bitter, bitter tears.

Instead, I look at the calendar, realize that October 12 is a Monday and thusly I am FREE in the evening, and there was much rejoicing and I ran over to my neighborhood library and picked up some tickets.

You’re too lazy to follow the link and feel jealous?  Behold:

2009 Teen Author Lecture

photograph of M.T. Anderson

M.T. Anderson, National Book Award and Printz-winning author of The Astonishing Life Of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; Feed, and many other titles.

On October 12, 2009, at 7 pm, M.T. Anderson will deliver the 2009 Teen Author Lecture at The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave.

Sweet mercy in a firkin, we’re going to go see M.T. Anderson!  Now I don’t feel so bereft about missing all of Wordstock (because I’m working this weekend), including Sherman Alexie (!), Karen Cushman, Jennifer Holm, Laini Taylor, Scott Westerfeld – and a bunch of other people who don’t happen to write for children.  Good thing I’ve got Mr. Anderson’s lecture to console me.

It’s Thursday, which means I have a half day and time to catch up on book reviews.  I’m thinking quick and snappy today, so I can actually get some more reading done, and maybe some baking if I feel really crazy.  And maybe a walk in the gorgeous fall weather.

First up is Shelf Discovery, which I was excited to read – and found hard to put down – since I always enjoy popping over and reading Skurnick’s Fine Lines column.  Books about books – it’s where it’s at.

Shelf Discovery Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you’re one of those people who likes to go back and reread childhood favorites, who likes to marvel and what you remember so vividly and what you completely forgot, who loves to make snarky comments about books that you really adore – then you should take a look at this. Skurnick’s style is hilarious, making me want to go out and reread my own favorites plus take a look at the things I missed. Watch out – your reading list might become a lot longer.

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Next, a story that looked spooky, but annoyingly turned out to be the first in a trilogy.  Sigh.

Prophecy of the Sisters Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
With a slightly gothic feel, a late 19th century setting, mysterious deaths, crippled brothers, possibly-evil sisters, new friends who can communicate with the spirit world, and an ancient prophecy that gives our heroine a role she’d rather not have, this story should appeal to readers who like a little bit of the supernatural without too much of the scary. The combination of fantasy and historical elements reminded me of Libba Bray‘s Gemma Doyle books, although the mood and style are distinct. Lia’s world is lighter on the historical details, but the fantastical elements feel better integrated into the mythology of the story. And while much of the focus in the Gemma Doyle books is on the friendships between the girls, Lia’s friendships are less fraught and her friends share more of the weight of the prophecy.

Particularly interesting is Lia’s relationship with her twin sister, which is often cold and hostile, yet the sister manages to come across as occasionally sympathetic all the same. If this dichotomy continues to develop, she could be a fascinating character, but if she becomes two-dimensional, a lot of the zip would go out of the story. Which brings me to my main issue with the book – no one told me it was the beginning of a series! It’s not terribly long, and in the last third or so of the book I started to wonder how on earth Zink was going to tie things up so quickly. Not only are we left hanging on the overarching story of the prophecy, but smaller questions are also left unresolved as the story closes. Personally, I don’t know if I would bother to keep reading, but I’ll definitely keep this in mind to recommend to fans of the gothic and supernatural. It’s got a YA feel to it, but I would recommend it to middle schoolers, too.

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And finally, just what I wanted: a tidy, stand-alone, funny time-travel story.

Voices after Midnight Voices after Midnight by Richard Peck

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s a pity I didn’t discover Richard Peck as a kid, because this would have been right up my alley. Old house? Check. Time travel to 1880s? Check. Funny? Check. A historical mystery? Check. And it’s all packed in a nice slim volume – if only someone would reissue it with a better cover! I thought my library hardcover was bad – Chad and Luke peering around a doorway, having just traveled back in time and looking very 1989 – but at least it doesn’t give away part of the mystery or employ an unrelated beam of light/flying, like the paperback.

What’s great about the story is that Chad and Luke are just able to move through time – there’s no elaborate explanation, no machine, nothing – which makes you, as the reader, feel like the same thing might happen to you! Your family might be staying in an old house near Central Park and one morning you wake up to find yourself in the 1930s. Or the 1880s. Or you might be walking through the park and see Revolutionary War era soldiers trudging along. And it’s not just a place like New York, either – the same thing happens to the boys back home in suburban California.

Peck also does a great job of making you believe the characters are a family – the annoying older sister, the precocious younger brother, the narrator who’s just turning into a teenager, the parents who are loving but occasionally clueless. The settings are nicely described, and you really feel the contrast between the newness of the California neighborhood and the city setting. Now I just to get kids to ignore the cover and check it out.

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It’s fall – and it feels like it.  Sunday was pleasant and warm, getting hot in the sun waiting for brunch (at the Screen Door), but by Tuesday I was wearing tights and extra layers and bringing a jacket to work.  I even got caught in a sudden downpour on my two block walk from work to my car, sopping wet in spite of my (very un-Oregonian) umbrella – I’ve got to keep all those books dry, and a raincoat only keeps me dry.

Today the sun is out, but it’s chilly enough for knee socks and banana bread and an extra round of coffee to celebrate my half-day of work.  Oh, who am I kidding – I’d be baking banana bread even without the cool weather!  I came across a recipe this morning, following I don’t know how many random links to find this blog that shares a recipe from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life for Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystalized Ginger.  I really enjoyed A Homemade Life when I read it back in July, but hot days in July are not ideal for banana bread.  So I was quite pleased to come across it this morning, when I had a few overripe bananas and some free time on my hands.

The bread is still in the oven, but I’m pretty sure it will be delicious – I licked the bowl clean (almost).  Follow the link above and try for yourself – I only had two bananas, so I added about an extra half cup of yogurt, since that perfectly polished off a carton of plain, cream-top that I’d been ignoring in favor of Greek style yogurt.  Oh, and I threw in some nutmeg and cinnamon because quick breads don’t seem quite right without them.

Fifteen more minutes!  In the meantime, coffee and a gothic novel – Michelle Zink’s Prophecy of the Sisters.

October 2009

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