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Perhaps my favorite thing about Flora’s Dare (by Ysabeau S. Wilce, sequel to Flora Segunda) is the language.  And not just the fake-swearing language, either (exclamations of “pigface!” abound).  The names are just as delightful as the first time around – I just met a character named Tiny Doom, which ranks up there with the Dainty Pirate.  Throw in a fantasy version of San Francisco (or at least that’s how it reads to me), magic and monsters, a city under the rule of the Birdies, a high rate of bacon and waffle consumption, a girl who’s outgrowing her stays, a kilt-wearing populace, an army general for a mother, a best friend taken over by the outlaw version of the red shoes (in this case, a pair of sparkly red boots with a five inch heel), and some stuffed pigs that I suspect of being more than they seem – well, sign me up.

I took my time getting around to reading it, though, and now I’m in a rush before it’s due.  And it’s a long one with a slightly meadering plot, like the first one.  Still, I couldn’t resist.  Pigface, I ought to be reading, not blogging.

On a different fantasy note, I’ve been listening to Kristin Cashore’s Graceling in the car – a full cast recording.  I’m hooked, even though I mostly remember how it all works out.  It’s fun to see the clues laid.  Unfortunately I’m not quite a fan of the voice for Katsa herself, but the narrator is great and as always the full cast deal makes it easy to tell who’s talking at any point.  Also, I knew that Cashore’s current project is called Bitterblue, but I’d forgotten exactly who Bitterblue was, so it makes for some nice imagining about which part of her story will be told in her own book.  Also, I’m appreciating the character overlaps between this book and Fire.  To mention them would be to spoil it – and I recommend them both.  Start with Graceling, then move on to it’s prequel, Fire.

So, it’s been a week since the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced (you know – Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, etc.) and it’s been a week of discussing and reading opinions on blogs and listserves and the like.   I haven’t actually done any reading of the award winners (cough), but my holds have started rolling in and I’m looking forward to getting started, once I clear one or two things off my shelf (things that absolutely cannot be renewed one more time).

All of the blog reading and discussing has got me thinking about the books that I never get around to reading – the ones that win the not-as-famous awards, the books that are getting some attention but not as much, the awards that get overlooked.  Liz has a post about the Schneider medal, which I noticed (and ordered) this year, but would I have noticed as much if I hadn’t already been familiar with the teen winner, Marcelo in the Real World? And if I hadn’t heard buzz about the middle-school winner, Anything But Typical? I dunno.

Then, oh boy, there are the recent cover controversies – the ongoing issue of characters being depicted as white when they are in fact not.  It’s bad enough when you don’t feel like the cover illustration/photo suits the book or matches the character’s personality, but whitewashing?  Ugh.  Again, Liz has a good overview of the cover issue, and Colleen has passionate summary with plenty of links and some great discussion in the comments.

After toying around with the idea for a while (am I really organized enough?) I thought I’d join the POC Reading Challenge.  While I’d like to think I read books with characters from a variety of racial backgrounds already, this will be a way to make sure.  Plus, as a librarian – as someone who’s ordering books and putting them into the hands of children – I feel some responsibility to make sure there’s access to quality and variety in my collection.  I need to know what’s out there, be able to talk it up, and do my little part to show publishers that variety is needed.

A slightly unrelated goal is to read all of the award winners from this year (I took off the life-time acheivement awards and the Arbuthnot lecture – I’ve read books by all of the winners, so I figure that counts – Walter Dean Myers, Jim Murphy, and Lois Lowry).  Yikes.  Did I just say that?  Let’s see what that list would look like (taking off the ones I’ve already read):

  • “The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg” by Rodman Philbrick
  • “Going Bovine,” written by Libba Bray
  • “The Monstrumologist” by Rick Yancey
  • “Punkzilla” by Adam Rapp
  • “Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal,” written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
  • “My People,” illustrated by Charles R. Smith Jr.
  • “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” illustrated by E. B. Lewis, written by Langston Hughes
  • “The Rock and the River,” written by kekla magoon
  • “Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day; Celebremos El día de los niños/El día de los libros,” illustrated by Rafael López
  • “Diego: Bigger Than Life,” illustrated by David Diaz, written by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand
  • “My Abuelita,” illustrated by Yuyi Morales, written by Tony Johnston
  • “Gracias Thanks,” illustrated by John Parra, written by Pat Mora
  • “Return to Sender,” written by Julia Alvarez
  • “Federico García Lorca,” written by Georgina Lázaro, illustrated by Enrique S. Moreiro (is this in Spanish?  I might have to cross it off my list – we’ll see when our copy arrives)
  • “Django” written and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen
  • “Anything but Typical” written by Nora Raleigh Baskin
  • “Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken”  written by Kate DiCamillo and narrated by Barbara Rosenblat (audio)
  • “In the Belly of the Bloodhound: Being an Account of a Particularly Peculiar Adventure in the Life of Jacky Faber,” written by L. A. Meyer and narrated by Katherine Kellgren (audio)
  • “Peace, Locomotion,” written by Jacqueline Woodson and narrated by Dion Graham (audio)
  • “We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball,” written by Kadir Nelson and narrated by Dion Graham (audio – I’ve already read the print version)
  • “I Spy Fly Guy!” written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold
  • “Little Mouse Gets Ready,” written and illustrated by Jeff Smith
  • “Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends,” written and illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee
  • “Pearl and Wagner: One Funny Day,” written by Kate McMullan, illustrated by R. W. Alley
  • “The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors,” written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani
  • “Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11,” written and illustrated by Brian Floca
  • “A Faraway Island”  written by Annika Thor, translated by Linda Schenck
  • “Eidi,” written by Bodil Bredsdorff, translated by Kathryn Mahaffy
  • “Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness,” written by Nahoko Uehashi, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, translated by Cathy Hirano

A mere 29 books!  And several of them are early readers or picture books.  Totally possible.  The question is how long it will take to cross them all off my list.  Also, several will fit into the POC Reading Challenge.

I’m not sure if I’ll attempt the Alex Awards, but that would be a good list to familiarize myself with – and it never hurts to have some adult titles to recommend to adults, too.  So much harder than recommending to kids!  You can tell where I belong.  Here’s the Alex list, in case I’m feeling even crazier:

Alex Awards for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
“The Bride’s Farewell” by Meg Rosoff, published by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group
“Everything Matters!” by Ron Currie, Jr., published by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group
“The Good Soldiers” by David Finkel, published by Sarah Crichton Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux
“The Kids Are All Right: A Memoir” by Diana Welch and Liz Welch with Amanda Welch and Dan Welch, published by Harmony Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House
“The Magicians,” by Lev Grossman, published by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group
“My Abandonment” by Peter Rock, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
“Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel,” by Gail Carriger, published by Orbit, an imprint of Hachette Book Group
“Stitches: A Memoir” by David Small, published by W.W. Norton & Company
“Tunneling to the Center of the Earth” by Kevin Wilson, published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins

Leaving the Bellweathers Leaving the Bellweathers by Kristin Clark Venuti

A fun and off-beat story full of improbable characters and storylines, wordplay, endangered animals, eccentric parents, crazy triplets, an oath of fealty – you get the idea. It’s become a cliched comparison to say that it reminds you of Lemony Snicket, but it’s such a quick way to get the point across – the quirkiness, the wordplay, the narrative style – it’s definitely in that vein. While I didn’t necessarily find it a satisfying story, there’s no reason it shouldn’t appeal to kids who want something to read after polishing off A Series of Unfortunate Events.

View all my reviews >>

Crossing this title off my to-read list also fits in nicely with my goal of reading more of the books I buy for the library – I ordered this one a few months ago, but still.  I like to be able to tell people things about what’s on the new book shelf without resorting to what I learned from reviews.

Ballad: The Gathering of Faerie (Books of Faerie, #2) Ballad: The Gathering of Faerie by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As with Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception (which you really ought to read before this one, because although this plot is mostly independent, the characters and set-up will make a whole lot more sense if read in order), I loved the snark. Here, the story is mostly from James’ point of view, while Dee is more of a background character. The other point of view is that of Nuala, a sort of muse-fairy. It’s still got the romance and drama, the undercurrent of fear, the can’t-trust-’em fairies, the nerds, and the awesome quantity of snark. Some people might like these stories more for the fantasy elements, but I could care less – Stiefvater’s characters, in all their nerdy, snarky glory, make for my favorite kind of light, fun reading.

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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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Heart of a Shepherd Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A slim but moving story about a rural family of ranchers and soldiers who are spiritually inclined – doesn’t exactly sound exciting, does it? But for readers who like stories with great characters and vivid settings, this is a treat. It’s also not a dull, actionless story. Sure, a big focus of the book is on Brother’s thoughts and feelings, as he stays home on the Eastern Oregon ranch with his grandparents, while his dad is in Iraq and his brothers are off at school. But the details about rural life and military families will make this appealing to kids interested in either of those topics, and it’s refreshing to see a story where the characters are actively religious in a non-didactic way.

You respect the way spirituality pervades their lives without the story becoming preachy. While I think that people who are Christian might find this aspect of the story more appealing than other groups, I would still recommend it to a young reader who isn’t Christian, or isn’t necessarily religious. A variety of faiths are represented, and if anything the message of the story is to support your community and your family through thick and thin. The ending is hopeful but not too neatly resolved.

One small quibble with the book – for a character-driven story, I just didn’t buy the mom’s story. Every time she was mentioned, and every time I thought of her role in Brother’s life, I was drawn out of the story because it just didn’t ring true, and felt like an awfully convenient way to get her out of the picture without killing her off.

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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.

Yes, it’s 6 am and I’m posting, because I actually managed to wake myself up by 4:45 to watch the Youth Media Awards webcast AND get an order in before the library catalog went down!  I feel so accomplished…and tired.  It looks like all the results are up on the individual award pages already – nice and quick.

It seems like ALA finally managed to get a large enough webcast – or whatever you call it when you can let enough people watch it at once.  I got kicked out during the Batchelder announcements and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get back in, but no problems.  Two years ago, the last time I tried to watch it live, there was no room at the inn.  My only moment of panic was when I went to the bookmarked page and was told that I needed Windows Media Player to watch it – which I didn’t have installed.  A little advance warning would be nice for that sort of thing, especially since the placeholder website had been up for quite a while.  Fortunately I only missed a couple minutes waiting for the download, and got on just in time for the Schneider.

Nothing shocking this year for the Newbery or Caldecott – the only thing I had to order for my library was a second copy of When You Reach Me. We even already had a second copy of The Lion and the Mouse – it was an accidental duplicate, since one librarian ordered it for picture books and another for the folk tale collection, and I remember saying, “hey, maybe it’ll win the Caldecott and we’ll already have our second copy!”  But I’m happy for more than budgetary reasons – it’s a stunner.  And I certainly can’t argue with WYRM, although The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate getting an honor seemed more iffy and was therefore more exciting.

And non-fiction seemed nicely represented across the board.  Claudette Colvin kind of cleaned up, with a Sibert honor and Newbery honor on top of that National Book Award.  The Coretta Scott King author award went to Bad News for Outlaws, the Edwards went to Jim Murphy (I had a little fan girl moment there), Charles and Emma got a Printz honor, We Are the Ship got an Odyssey honor, there were a few bios on the Belpre list…

And YA!  I’ve always said that the Printz is unpredictable – or at least it always surprises me.  Last year – well, 2009 was a golden year for the Printz.  I knew and loved every title on that list.  This year, the only two I’ve read are Charles and Emma and Tales of the Madman Underground, and I’m pleased to see both of them on the list.  I suppose now I’ll have to grit my teeth and read The Monstrumologist (it sounds good, but not my thing – look at that cover!)  And Punkzilla hadn’t been on my radar at all (side note – two YA books mentioning Portland and meth in the awards this year – Flash Burnout is the other.  We’re going to get a great image this way).  Going Bovine – interesting choice!  I’ve heard lots of love for it, but also some meh.

I was pleasantly surprised that my library owns all but 9 of the juvenile titles that got awards or honors (there was a lot of the YA that we didn’t own, but that’s not my department, and I didn’t order the audio books because we do that separately).  I can’t take credit for many of them, since I came in halfway through the year, but I was quite pleased when I recognized all of the Batchelder titles.  Big Wolf and Little Wolf was one of my favorite quirky picture books of the year, and I can take credit for ordering the three fiction titles on the list – Eidi, Moribito II, and A Faraway Island (the winner).  Now I just need to actually read them.

Now, breakfast and coffee or a nap?

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!

January 2010

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