Link to a report on the Particles of Narrative conference, featuring Megan Whalen Turner

Last weekend, up at the University of Toronto, there was a conference called "Particles of Narrative: Language, Metaphor, and Children's Literature." I really really would have liked to go, mainly because Megan Whalen Turner was giving a talk. But it was impossible. So I was happy to find this account of the conference, with quotes from MWT, here, at Cheryl Rainfield's blog.

If there are fans of MWT out there who don't already know, there is a most active discussion forum about her books here, with lots of detailed discussion about very specific scenes and sentences, along with a touch of frivolous fan chatter.


Ricky Ricotta' s Mighty Robot, a series of books by Dav Pilkey

In my on-going efforts to help my 7 year old make it into the realm of The Reading Public, I have been bravely sitting next to him while he reads Captain Underpants. Blah. So I was thrilled, yes, thrilled, to discover Dav Pilkney's other series. The Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot books don't depend on potty humor! They don't make school look horrible! They don't celebrate jokes that are not nice at all! They are more readable!

And lo, my boy now reads them to himself, silently and with deep concentration.

For anyone out there, who, like me before this morning, didn't know that there are lots of Ricky Ricotta books (I only had heard of 4), here's the Ricky Ricotta webpage over at Scholastic.

Here's the list of titles:
Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot
Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. the Mutant Mosquitos from Mercury
Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. the Voodoo Vultures from Venus
Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. the Mecha Monkeys from Mars
Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. the Jurassic Jackrabbits from Jupiter
Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. the Stupid Stinkbugs from Saturn
Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. the Uranium Unicorns from Uranus
Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot Astro-Activity Book o' Fun
Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. the Naughty Night Crawlers from Neptune (unreleased)
Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. the Unpleasant Penguins from Pluto (unreleased)

By the way, the books started out with a "giant" robot. However, apparently readers pointed out that the robot wasn't really a "giant" --he was just a lot bigger than a mouse. So now the robot is "mighty" instead, and the titles of the first few books were changed.

(Incidentally, this series is also more instructive than Capt. Underpants books--obviously, we learn a bit about the various planets, but perhaps more unusually, the child reader will also develop a familiarity with the names of various cheeses that (s)he might not be familiar with. They are mostly the milder, more child friendly cheeses too. What's not to like about Munster, for instance. And from "Munster" it's an easy step to get out that map of Germany you just happen to have kicking around so as to do a bit of cheese related geography study :) or throw in a bit of Italian language instruction --"ricotta" means "re-cooked"... etc etc and isn't it so much easier to come up with things for other people to do than to do them oneself?)


Ethan, Suspended

Ethan, Suspended by Pamela Ehrenberg (2007, 336 pp, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers).

Ethan is Suspended. From school, from his friends, from his family, from his home town outside Philadelphia. Life as he knows it suddenly comes to an end when he's sent to his grandparents' house in an inner city neighborhood of Washington DC, where they are the only Jewish family left. He thinks it's just for the week of his school suspension, but then his mother just happens to mention while talking to him on the phone that he's there indefinitely.

Now he's the only white Jewish kid at a black/Hispanic junior high. The other kids laugh at him for expecting there to be soap in the soap dispenser, which is the least of his problems. He walks a fine line between getting beaten up, or worse, and making friends. His grandparents mean well, but they eat dinner ridiculously early. They make him take lunches packed in plastic grocery bags. There is no junk food. No computer. How can he stand it? His mother says she cares, but why can't she communicate with him? And his Dad, who just split up with his mom, isn't in touch at all. And there's the disturbing fact that he got suspended from his old school and lost his friends (for reasons discussed in the book). He finds a niche in the school jazz band, makes friends, and at last agrees to watch Jeopardy with his grandparents. When his mom finally says, "You're coming home. I've fixed your play station," he's not sure he wants to exchange the old sagging bed of his dead uncle for his firm mattress at "home."

Within this story line, the author discusses race and class, in the Washington DC of the 1960s as well as in the present. But the book is not overbearingly Message Laden. Ethan, in whose voice the story is told, is conscious of race but not obsessed with it, and the characters as seen through his eyes are people with stories he tries to understand because he cares about them. They are not placemats of varying skin tones and ethnicities. Ethan can afford not to think that race matters, because it doesn't, to him--segregation is over, it's a non-issue. But--"You don't need no laws to keep people out if people can't afford to go there," says Diego.

This book has some great characters, thought-provoking situations, and a glimpse inside an "inner city school" that people like me, living in predominately white suburbs, comfortably reading books, should keep in mind. (ack! now I sound preachy, which the book avoided, but I do think it's true and also, now that I am being personal, I do not not not want my boys to ever have play stations. Nor do they have firm mattresses, but that is their fault because they will jump).

p.s. I read this book because it was nominated in the YA category for the Cybils, but it is not particularly YA-ish. There is one chaste kiss, and a bit of day-dreaming, but nothing to bring a blush to a young girl's/boy's cheek.

p.p.s Reading this book makes me wonder if Jimmy Carter's daughter, Amy, will ever write a memoir about her experiences at a D.C. public school back in the 1970s...I vaguely feel she had a horrible time, but I could be wrong.


Poetry Friday--The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo

I am cheating here a bit today, by not actually sharing a poem, but rather what the author (Rudyard Kipling) calls a "sing-song." It's been going through my head for days, so here are bits from the Just So Story of Old Man Kangaroo and Yellow Dog Dingo.

Kangaroo wants to be "popular and very truly run after," so at the bidding of the Big God Nqong,

"Off ran Dingo-
Yellow-Dog Dingo-
always hungry, grinning like a coal-scuttle,
ran after Kangaroo."

And Kangaroo runs.

"Still ran Dingo-
Yellow-Dog Dingo-
always hungry, grinning like a rat-trap,
never getting nearer, never getting farther,
ran after Kangaroo.

He had too!

Still ran Kangaroo, Old Man Kangaroo.
He ran through the ti-trees; he ran through the mulga;
he ran through the long grass, he ran through the short grass;
he ran through the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer;
he ran till his hind legs ached.

He had too!"

Kipling put many "real" poems into the Just So Stories (1902), but they are nowhere near as good as the poetry that the words of this story make. If you've never read it, do, but not to yourself--read it out loud to someone, or get a copy on tape and listen...My boys (7 and 4) loved these stories, and the words are rather more fun for the grown ups than (to quickly set up a straw man) the Magic Tree House Books as read by their author (said Annie. said Jack. said Annie).

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Literary Safari today, so head on over for more Fun with Words!


It's still snowing

Thanks to all the people who stopped by here yesterday to see Rose Mary Berlin's snowflake--it was the most visitors ever in one day. And the fun goes on, with lots more snowflakes to visit through the links on the right, including my current favorite snowflake, at Greetings from Nowhere.


Lemonade Mouth

After almost dying with embarrassment alongside one of the characters in the first chapter of Lemonade Mouth, by Mark Peter Hughes (ya 2007, 352 pp), I almost thought I would not be able to read this book. I'm not going to go into details, but I just hope it doesn't happen to my dear boys. But I kept on reading, and basically kept on reading until I was done (despite my dear boys), partly because it was my Duty (see below), but more because it's an engaging, fast paced and ultimately (oh gosh so many words are overused) triumphant? empowering? comforting? story. The author set himself a challenge--take five kids on the periphery of high school, and not only make them into a convincing band (in the music sense), but keep them from becoming stereotypes of the various sub-species of nerdy outsider. He tells their story in first person snips, which is not always my favorite narrative style, but which worked here to keep my interest (but when, I wonder, will I read a ya book that is not in the first person???). Because there are 2 male and 3 female points of view, this book should appeal to both genders.

You can "meet the freaks" at the Lemonade Mouth website here, and yes, that is what their own creator calls them. We meet the five freaks at the beginning of their freshman year. They are kids of varying backgrounds and interests, brought together in detention where the music teacher tells them they are destined for musical greatness (well not exactly, but that's the idea). So they form a band called Lemonade Mouth, become friends, achieve a measure of fame and status, and are a heck of a lot happier at the end than they are at the beginning (which is why it's comforting). It's not the most original plot, but Hughes writes enough into each character to make them interesting people, and each has a distinctive voice. Hormones make their appearance (this is ya after all), but are nicely contained as part of the whole rather than the main point. Sub-plots also add interest--both in the lives of the kids, and when, as a group, they take on a battle against the corporate homogenization of American high schools, and bring back the lemonade machine that Big Soda had muscled out.

When my kids start high school, I'm going to tell them to look on the edges, where the most interesting and intelligent people, like the kids in this book, are likely to be found. And I'm going to encourage them to take action when there are issues they believe in. And if this book is still around (7 more years), I might well leave it around the house for them to find (anticipating that they will not be as amenable to my suggestions as they are now).

A minor note: I like that this book was set in Rhode Island, where I live. And Del's Lemonade is just as much a local fixture as the "Mel's" in the book. It is too sweet for my taste, but the lines are long at the stands in summer.

I read Lemonade Mouth because it was one of around 100 so far that have been nominated for the YA Cybils award. Nominations are still open in all categories.

Skating Penguin

Here is "Skating Penguin," by illustrator Rose Mary Berlin. This is her first snowflake for Robert's Snow--an auction of original snowflake art by children's book illustrators to raise money for cancer research.

Rose Mary Berlin has illustrated more than thirty charming books, including this one about two cute little horses--the eponymous Itty and Bitty. She has been braving the world of horse shows to reach her audience for this one--the kids who are so busy with their horses that they might not have time to go to the bookstore! Rose Mary Berlin is venturing into licensing, and will be an exhibitor at the Surface and Textile Design Show in NYC in May (I definitly think that RMB's penguins would make cute pajamas!), and she will have a line of cards coming out with Legacy Publishing, which should be available online soon at www.shoplegacy.com.

We who blog about children's books have been organdized, as Pooh would say--we are featuring many of this years snowflakes at our various blogs in the coming weeks (this is week 2). Check out the links in the sidebar this weeks presentations. And head on over to the Robert's Snow auction site, look at all the lovely snowflakes, and bid bid bid!

Thank you, Rose Mary Berlin and all the illustrators who have donated their time to creating lovely snowflakes! And thanks to Jules of Seven Impossible Things for her wonderful idea and the effort she put into bringing this Blog Tour of Snowflakes together!


My Monday Snowflake

On Monday I will be featuring the Robert's Snow snowflake of Rose Mary Berlin. It will go up at around 9:30 am, so if you are looking for it and it isn't up yet, please come back!

Diary of a Fly

Yesterday, for the first time, my older son read a book to his little brother. It was a good book too--Diary of a Fly, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss (40 pages, 2007).

Diary of a Fly continues the story of Worm and Spider, each featured in his own book by Cronin and Bliss, but it is by no means a case of same old same old. For one thing, the humor in the illustrations is just as sharp and engaging as ever. This book definitely bears repeated re-looking. For another, Fly is a girl, and a strong girl at that. A plot element of her diary is her dream of being a Super Hero, a dream that Spider constantly dumps on. At the end, Worm points out that even worms and spiders and flies can be heroes, and us readers are taught a little lesson in respecting the creatures who might seem disgusting, but are vitally important to our world. Which leads to another reason Diary of a Fly is worth reading--it imparts lots of information about flies.

All this being said, I still like worms and spiders much more than flies.


Some Carl Sandburg from The Blackbirch Treasury of American Poetry

It is Game Day here at my library, and our most excellent children's librarian is playing Trouble with the children. I saved her from Candy Land by asking her to recommend a poetry book, not having thought of anything on my own for Poetry Friday. So I have just spent the last 15 minutes enjoying The Blackbirch Treasury of American Poetry (2001).

Here are the things that make this a good book:
-- it doesn't pretend to be a comprehensive anthology. The editors appear to have chosen their six favorite poets (Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)and have included enough poems for each to make each section long enough for a stand alone book.
-- it is an anthology for children, and so is illustrated, with muted pictures that complement, rather than compete with, the text.
--the editors had good taste, and I like the majority of the poems they chose.

I'm not that familiar with Carl Sandburg, and I especially enjoyed reading some of his poems that were new to me, such as this one:


See the trees lean to the wind's way of learning,
See the dirt of the hills shape to the water's
way of learning
See the lift of it all go the way the biggest
wind and the strongest water want it.

I like "the wind's way of learning," although I am not sure I like the sentiment of the last bit--too imperialist.

Here's another:

I Sang

I sang to you and the moon
But only the moon remembers,
I sang
O reckless free-hearted
free-throated rhythms,
Even the moon remembers them,
And is kind to me.

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Kelly's house today


Walking on Glass, by Alma Fullerton, continued + The Cybils

In my review of Walking on Glass, by Alma Fullerton, I wondered whether she herself considered what she wrote to be "blank verse." So I brazenly emailed her to ask. Here is her answer:

"Some people may call it poetry, others may not. I chose
my words carefully while writing it, but the story is written in the point
of view of a 16 year old. He wasn't a poet, he was a boy so above all I
tried to stay true to him and his voice."

It's a slippery slope, this business of trying to draw lines between poetry and prose. I shall continue to think of Walking on Glass as powerfully arranged prose, and shall report back to the ya nominating committee for the Cybils Awards (of which I am proud to be a member) that I don't think we have to give this one to Poetry.

Speaking of the Cybils, if you haven't gone over to the Cybils to nominate your favorite books published in 2007, you've still got until November 21 (you can only nominate one book in each category, so if you have multiple books you like, you could cunningly wait to the end, to see if some of them get nominated by other people). My group only has 90 or so ya books to read, so there's room for more (!?). The reading seems to be going well. We have a google spreadsheet of all the titles, and we add x-es under our names when we've read a book, and the x-es are building up nicely. Not that I am competitive or anything, but I have been reading hard so as to put more x-es under my name. I realize that this is not the point, but I like adding x-es.

Instead of writing reviews of all the great books I have read last week, I have to prepare for a presentation I'm giving tomorrow on using archaeology in the classroom. If anyone is interested in using archaeology in the classroom, let me know and I can send you stuff.


My Readership-- The Hobbit, by Enid Blyton

I derive much innocent pleasure from staring at my blog statistics (I don't have any comments to read, so I have to do something. Sigh). For instance, why have 44 people from Austria looked at my blog, but only 4 from Germany? It's not as though I've ever featured an Austrian book...

The reader that has impressed me most is one who found the blog through a google search for "Charlotte." No other keywords. When I saw this, I wondered if I had suddenly found more fame than Charlotte Bronte, Charlotte's Web, and the Charlotte North Carolina Public Library system. So I too googled Charlotte, but gave up after 15 pages of wrong Charlottes. Not my reader.

My favorite google search, however, is someone who found me by looking for "The Hobbit by Enid Blyton." Isn't that a charming idea: "Five Go Off on a Quest," perhaps:

Julian, Dick, Anne, George, and of course Timmy the Dog, were enjoying a lavish tea on the first day of the summer holidays (E. Blyton would put in paragraphs about the food here) when they were startled by a loud knocking at the door. Uncle Quentin burst out of his study in a rage, and swung open the front door. "I need quiet to work!" he said angrily to the old wizard, whose staff was raised to knock again...."Take the children! Take the wretched dog! Just let me have some peace!"


Robert's Snow Blogs

At right is this week's schedule of blogs featuring snowflakes to be auctioned off to raise money for cancer research--please visit, admire, and, when the time comes, bid. I have been doing the visiting and admiring part, and also have been enjoying looking at blogs I've never been to before. I know only a small corner of the kidlitosphere, and sometimes I feel that somewhere out there on-line there are hundreds of alternate kidlitospheres, in their own space time bubbles, that I, at least, will never know about.

I left several comments today too, which I feel very proud about doing, because usually I am too shy.

Walking on Glass

Walking on Glass, by Alma Fullerton, is a sad and moving book. It is a story told by a teenage boy, in short journal entries, in short sentences of carefully chosen words. It tells of a mother who has turned from her family in deep depression, and now is kept alive, if it is life, by machines at the hospital. Her son almost saved her from her suicide, and now must be the one who ends her life.

It is not easy reading.

I don't doubt for a second
that most people think
what I want to do
is wrong.
But I don't want to
my mother.
I want to set her

Within this spare prose the author contains several themes common to many ya books-- a friend who is taking a downward path in life, towards violence and alienation; a beautiful girl offering the hope of love; a father who is distant, trapped in his own pain. But mainly this book is about finding the freedom to remember beyond the pain of the present, into the past when love didn't give any clues that the pain would come.

I remember
her soft voice
floating through the air
like the smell of fresh roses,
as she sings me a lullaby
to take away
the monsters in the night.

We never learn the narrator's name, perhaps because if we had to be told, we would be less inside his story. At the end of his journal, after we have traveled with him to his mom's final death, we are left with hope that what his mom has given him of what is good in life will help him be able to go forward. The sneakers that were her last gift to him finally fit.

I wouldn't have picked this book up if it hadn't been nominated for a ya Cybils award. I have a vague prejudice against books that don't have lots of words on every page, preferring thick story I can escape into. But I was glad to follow this story slowly and carefully, as the layout of the pages demanded, taking the words that the narrator/author offered.

(Frivolous aside: I am extremely fond of metaphor, and found a great deal here to keep me happy. If there was ever an author who had a "How many metaphors can you find hidden in this book" contest, I would play).

Walking on Glass is called free verse on the jacket flap, which my mind instantly grabbed as another metaphor, but I'm not sure I agree with the categorization. Does placing the words in arrangements other than straight lines make something verse? Frog and Toad does this. I would like to know what Alma Fullerton thinks. I will ask her.


On reading various young adult books

Last Thursday, Lemonade Mouth made us late for school. Today it was The Nature of Jade. Before I became a member of the YA nominating committee for the Cybils awards, I would rise at dawn, tidy the house, pack lunches, and go out back and build a stone wall or two (Really. Not a whole wall a day, obviously, but bits). Now 6:30am finds me lounging around inside, eating the children's chocolate chip cookies and reading ya novels. Only 70 or so on the list so far, and more nominations coming in. In my defense, as well as it being my Duty to read these books, it is dark and cold outside at 6:30 these days, and if I go out there I might trip over the children's toys and hurt myself. Perhaps once we set the clocks back things will change.

Here are the books I've read this past week, which I hope I will be commenting on in greater detail sometime in the near future:

Lemonade Mouth, by Mark Peter Hughes
Twisted, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Story of A Girl, Sara Zarr
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin
The Nature of Jade, by Deb Caletti
Red Glass, by Laura Resau

Here are my thoughts on the genre so far:

1. The first person present rules. Yet almost never do the protagonists say "we." Perhaps this a clever linguistic ploy to emphasise the alienation of said protagonists.

2. It is very rare to have two nice caring parents who are happily living in the same house together (I don't pretend to be discovering something new here). But really, I don't think the Betsy-Tacy books suffered from the happy marriage of Betsy's parents.

3. As evidenced by my allusion to B-T., I am generally a reader of lighter fare than is offered by many of the ya books of 2007. I believe there is Nothing Wrong with books where people are generally happy and healthy from the beginning to the end. I think that even when I was a teenager I believed this (although back then, in the 1980s, I can't recall ever reading YA books in the sense of the genre these days. Were there any?). I am wondering if there are going to be any books on the 2007 ya list that are cheerful.

4. I have boys, who, if all goes well, will someday be in high school. I am encouraged by the presence (generally as secondary characters, but sometimes main-ish) in many of these books of nice boys who are on the fringes of things but still end up relatively happy and have girlfriends. This is balanced, however, by the many horribly embarrassing/physically painful things that happen to the boys who are main characters, and sometimes secondary characters (see, for instance, Twisted).

5. So far, I've encountered two emotionally challenged fathers building model railroads in their basements. Coincidence or conspiracy?


I don't remember having any pink glittery princess type books when I was young. Maybe things would have turned out differently. Maybe I'd have a dishwasher.

Here's an article from last Friday's Guardian on the subject.


For Poetry Friday--The Wild Carrot Field, by Susan Pendleton

I have been sorting through 20 boxes of books donated to my library booksale by the Brown University library (left over from their booksale). About a third of the books are poetry--very obscure poetry, for the most part. As I picked up one slim volume (They Will Remain, by Susan Pendleton), this picture fell out:

It is Susan.

I then read her poems, hoping I would like them. I didn't, quite, like most of them, but this one struck a chord--it is the best poem about weeding I've ever read:

The Wild Carrot Field

Sun browned field,
Wild carrots dipping;
My task to pull them
While the minutes go slipping.
In beauty bending,
Nodding in grace
Shimmering, pestilent
Queen Anne's lace;

Two thousand, three thousand
Grime and stain.
Last year, this year,
Next year again.
Some folks pity,
Seeing me bend.
"She has taken a task
That will never end."

Yet there comes strangely,
Plodding like this,
Almost hopeless,
Some hint of bliss.
Red sun slanting,
Shadows so fair!
I pause to worship
With head bare.

Wiping the sweat
With torn sleeve.
(There is a heaven
I do believe.)
Colors deepen
With shadowing.
Beauty holds me

Little wind blowing
Sets the lace shaking.
Loveliness here
For a heart breaking,
Let me continue,
Six, seven-
If I stop too sudden
It might snap heaven.

Susan Pendleton was born in Connecticut in 1870. Her poems haven't been widely published--this anthology was compiled in 1966 and privately printed.

The Poetry Friday Round Up is at Two Writing Teachers this week


AA Milne Appreciation

For the first time as far as I can remember, which isn't necessarily that far what with one thing and another, my children laughed at a book I was reading to them so hard they choked and gasped and wheezed. Sure, there have been chuckles, giggles, and smirks in the past (the "pig bums" spread in David Wiesner's The Three Pigs, for instance), but this was the first time there was real laughing.

It was not my intention to amuse. I was taking my 7 year old to bed, and picked, almost at random, the copy of The House At Pooh Corner that had been my mother's when she was a child-- no disneyfication, not even color-added illustrations, and much, much rattier than the one shown. The story I chose was Chapter 3-- "In Which A Search is Organdized, and Piglet Nearly Meets the Heffelump Again." The buildup is amusing but longish; it's worth it in the end when Piglet becomes Utterly Flustered (and 7 year old becomes Completely Hysterical).

The next night it was my turn to take 4 year old to bed, so I tried the same story on him. Same result. We had to go across the hall and read it again to his brother and father, and the boys were still quoting it in the car this morning and chuckling over it.

It is possible that part of the humor came from my masterful reading. We had, earlier this month, been listening to Judi Dench read Pooh, which gave me a few tips. I had been putting off reading Pooh to the boys, because I wanted so badly for them to like him. Judi broke the ice for us, and now we are off and running.

But the bulk of the credit, in all seriousness, goes to AA Milne, whose writing I adore. I especially like the Capital Letters. My grandfather read us the Pooh stories over and over again, and every time I re-read them, I find turns of phrase that have become naturalized in my own speech.

I have one book of Milne's biographicalish essays (Year in, Year out), and I'd like more. I also enjoy his fantasy story, Once on a Time, which is a good read for a nine/ten year old, or a non-cynical older person.

But Pooh, is of course, the best, and I have carefully shielded my children from the Disney version so that they would not be prejudiced against the Real Thing (they aren't going to watch The Seeker either).

So anyway--go find the House At Pooh Corner, read your child Chapter 3, and see how much they laugh. It would be good, but not entirely necessary, to have read the first Heffalump story, Chapter 5 in the first book, Winnie-the-Pooh. Here's my favorite bit from that story:

And all the time Winnie-the-Pooh had been trying to get
the honey-jar off his head. The more he shook it, the more
tightly it stuck. "Bother!" he said, inside the jar, and "Oh,
help!" and, mostly, "Ow!" And he tried bumping it against
things, but as he couldn't see what he was bumping it against,
it didn't help him; and he tried to climb out of the Trap, but
as he could see nothing but jar, and not much of that, he
couldn't find his way. So at last he lifted up his head, jar
and all, and made a loud, roaring noise of Sadness and Despair
. . . and it was at that moment that Piglet looked down.

"Help, help!" cried Piglet, "a Heffalump, a Horrible
Heffalump!" and he scampered off as hard as he could, still
crying out, "Help, help, a Herrible Hoffalump! Hoff, Hoff, a
Hellible Horralump! Holl, Holl, a Hoffable Hellerump!" And he
didn't stop crying and scampering until he got to Christopher
Robin's house.


I wish I could go...

On November 4th, all of these authors-- Jeanne Cavelos, Kristen Britain, Jana Paniccia, Julie Czerneda, Patricia McKillip, Sarah Monette, Delia Sherman, Elizabeth Bear, David Lunde -- will be at at the Flights of Fantasy Bookstore, in Loudonville, NY.

I would love to meet Patricia McKillip. I was just re-reading her Riddlemaster trilogy in my head while sawing wood yesterday (nothing like mindless manual labour for revisiting favorite books). I continue to hope that the release of the two books in her Cygnet series means a third is coming...


Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend

Tips on Having a Gay(ex)Boyfriend, by Carrie Jones (2007, 278 pages).

It comes as no surprise to the reader that a few pages into Tips on Having a Gay (Ex)Boyfriend, Belle's boyfriend Dylan isn't anymore. Common enough subject matter for a young adult book. But it is a surprise to Belle that he is gay--that the loving and intimate relationship* they had, and her picture of herself, must now be questioned, doubted, and reimagined.

The book describes the week that happens next. The author has a lot to work with--the loyalty of friends, the trickiness of memory, the cruelty that can lurk inside ordinary people, the fear of being different, the fear of seeing someone you love hurt (physically), the fear of being hurt yourself, etc. Carrie Jones manages to keep all these balls in the air and not let them get in the way of what, to me, felt like the main story -- Belle falling in love again, with Tom, one of the hottest guys I've ever met in a fictional high school. It is not that Jones diminishes the importance of the big issues dealt with in the book, but that she is able to let Belle, and to a lesser extent Dylan and other characters, be people, not Issues on Legs.

This book is written in the first person present, not generally my favorite. In part this is because I often can't remember the name of the main character after I finish the book. And the present tense often grates on my introverted ears, because it assumes that the reader is right there along with the characters ("we drive along the highway"), and unless I am deeply engrossed in a book, I'm not driving anywhere with these people. (aside--do other introverts distrust the forced intimacy of 1st person present?)

Not a problem in this case. Jones is so very good at using input from all five senses that Belle becomes a person for whom I can suspend my disbelief. I think it also helps that the book only takes a week (their time). So there is time for the writer to create for Belle the details and nuances and flickerings of different feelings that real people experience, without having to say, "A month later, there I was, dramatically changed."

Belle isn't, in fact, dramatically changed. She's a bit sadder, a bit wiser, but still a sweet idealist. I hope that she and Tom have a lovely relationship in the coming year, and that they get into the same colleges. And I hope that Dylan and his boyfriend have a nice year together too--I can't imagine them having a longer future together than that...but I can imagine other futures, with other boys, for Dylan.

Which just goes to show how real these people seemed to me, for crying out loud.

*viz the sexual content--not quite as explicit as in Judy Blume's Forever, but strong stuff. My eyebrows rose.


A Guest Columnist for Poetry Friday

I turned this over to my husband this morning, having left the poems I wanted to talk about at home. Welcome, Patrick.

Charlotte and I were discussing why the poetry in Jack Prelutsky's Scranimals is such a letdown. Inventive to be sure (bananaconda, porcupinapple), but dull. I think it's because he has no confidence in his readers, so feels the need to insist that the rhyme scheme structure the reading of the poem. How does he do this? With too many commas. See how commas can straitjacket your voice:

The comma's the curse,
of children's verse,
leaving no choice,
for the speaking voice,

to sail o'er the chasm,
no, they make us spasm,
odically bumble,
gripe, grizzle, and grumble.

(Charlotte: This is by Patrick, not Prelutsky, incidently)

(Now remove the bulk of the commas and re-read it. It doesn't improve the poem (what could?), but it does grant the reader interpretative freedom of a sort.)

I prefer the semantics to the metrics of rhyme: a series of rather magical coincidences that confronted the rational mind with hitherto unperceived and outrageous comparisons; a bit like Magritte. Hammer the rhyme scheme home with neon nails and you have doggerel. Bossy old commas.

When we were kids in Liverpool we chanted Blake's "Tiger, tiger" like the Shipping Report:

Dogger, Fisher, German Bight,
In the forests of the night

Then one day I heard it read as "burning bright in the forest of the night." No comma, no pause.

So I don't mind rhyme. Auden rhymes. Charles Causley rhymes. Shakespeare sometimes rhymes. Yet neither compel the speaking voice to bang along on the desk with a big stick. I know, I know, speaking poetry is difficult. Here's an awful reading of Tiger Tiger.

Ok, now here's a poem our 7 year-old likes*, from Charles Causley's Figgie Hobbin:

I Saw A Jolly Hunter

I saw a jolly hunter
With a jolly gun
Walking in the country
In the jolly sun.

In the jolly meadow
Sat a jolly hare.
Saw the jolly hunter.
Took jolly care.

Hunter jolly eager-
Sight of jolly prey.
Forgot gun pointing
Wrong jolly way.

Jolly hunter jolly head
Over heels gone.
Jolly old safety catch
Not jolly on.

Bang went the jolly gun.
Hunter jolly dead.
Jolly hare got clean away.
Jolly good, I said.

Charlotte here: So much from trying to shield our little boys from GUNS.
Patrick here: As our 7 year-old would say, "Self-to-text reference!": I first heard Causley in a folk club in Liverpool; or rather, I heard his much-anthologized poem Timothy Winters sung. I'm surprised Loreena McKennitt hasn't plundered his oeuvre yet.
He was in the Navy in WWII, and one collection of poems was named Union Street, after the red-light district of Plymouth, much frequented by sailors on leave. My Mum lived on Union Street for more than 20 years, but always omitted those two words from her address. The shame! (Charlotte here--she still managed to get mail).

Informative aside (from Charlotte): Charles Causley (August 24, 1917 – November 4, 2003) was a Cornish poet and writer. He wrote several books of poetry for children, of which Figgie Hobbin (1970 and many subsequent reprints) is perhaps the best known.

Here's what W. H. Auden thought of him "Causley stayed true to what he called his 'guiding principle'....while there are some good poems which are only for adults, because they pre-suppose adult experience in their readers, there are no good poems which are only for children." (quoted in the 2005 edition of the Norton Anthology of Children's Literature, p 1253)." (thanks, Wikipedia).

*Charlotte here again--actually, our 7 year-old likes Prelutsky just fine too.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Whimsy Books today!


Ralph Masiello's Egypt Drawing Book

One of the cool things that has resulted from this blog has been getting to know Ralph Masiello, aka "The Icky Bug Man." A while ago, I tried out his lovely Dragon Drawing book and posted about the experience, he left a long and friendly comment, and recently he emailed me pictures of some of the art from his upcoming book, Egypt Art (due out from Charlesbridge next July). I also just got my own copy of the cover art. It is lovely:

I am selfishly pleased with the subject and age level (it's aimed at 7-10 year olds), because it will make a perfect birthday gift for my son's 8th birthday (he is saving his allowance to go to Egypt. Only a few thousand dollars more to go).

Do not forget that there is a Dragon Drawing Contest going on over at Charlesbridge--details here.


Shannon and Megan part 2

Anyone who cares has probably figured this out for themselves, but part 2 of Shannon Hale and Megan Whalen Turner chatting is now up here!

Camel Rider, by Prue Mason

Camel Rider (Charlesbridge, 2007, 202 pp) is the debut novel of Australian writer Prue Mason. I'm a fan of the "children surviving on their own in difficult circumstances" genre, so this book was right up my alley. Two boys-- Adam, a privileged Australian, and Emir, an enslaved camel rider from Bangladesh-- must survive an arduous trek across an Arabian desert with nothing to speak of in the way of survival equipment, all the while pursued by hostile adults. As well as becoming keenly engaged in the plight of the boys, my interest was sustained by the setting and situation--the only other book I can remember reading about a boy in Arabia is King of the Wind, by Marguerite Henry (which, incidentally, is a lovely book). Camel Rider is a real page turner--I couldn't put it down.

A central theme of the book is the difficulty of communicating across cultural and linguistic barriers. The story is told from the perspective of both boys (although primarily from the point of view of the Australian), so the misunderstandings are clear, as are the growing dependence of the boys on each other, and their increasing camaraderie.

Prue Mason, in her afterword, writes: "I learnt that when people from different cultures meet, they often don't rust or respect each other, and there can be many misunderstandings that can even lead to war. But after having lived and made friends with people from other nationalities, I know that no culture is better than another; we just do things differently." This is fine if you think of this statement in terms of Adam and Emir's relationship, and watching the two boys growing to respect each other is a fine thing. It gets a little tricky when the bad part of Emir's world (slavery, physical abuse, the treatment of women) is so much clearer to see than the bad part of Adam's world (the sense of entitlement and privilege, the ignorance of other cultures). It would not be hard for a child to leave this book with a mind full of negative thoughts about "Arabic culture," in contradiction to the author's statement above.

In short, this is an engrossing page turner, that I would cheerfully recommend to middle grade readers who want their eyes opened to a different part of the world, as long as they have a chance to talk about it with an informed grown-up! (Charlesbridge has a discussion guide on line to facilitate this).

nb: I recieved my copy of this book from the publisher.


The House on Mayferry Street, by Eileen Dunlop

The first Monday of the month is Wicked Cool Overlooked Book Day over at Chasing Ray, and so I bring you one of my favorite books: The House on Mayferry Street, by Scottish writer Eileen Dunlop (UK title A Flute in Mayferry Street, American edition 1977, recommended for 10-14, or even older...).

There are some children's books that, if you read them for the first time as an adult, seem dull and insipid, yet you know that if you had read them when you were younger, they might have had magic to them. This is not the case for The House on Mayferry Street. I read it for the first time three years ago, and thought it one of the most magical (in the non-spells and fairies meaning of the word) books I've ever read.

The house on Mayferry Street, in Edinburgh, is the large, old, partly empty family home of the Ramseys, 11 year old Colin, his older sister, Marion, and their mother (as well as two tenants). Soon after their father died, a few years before the story begins, Marion was hit by a bus, and now uses a wheelchair. But she won't go out in it, and sits at home, growing increasingly depressed. An old letter from 1914, found while dusting the family bookshelves, brings the first glimmer of interest to her mind for months. When an old picture of a young man in uniform is found in a crack in the floorboards, Colin and Marion begin a quest for answers about the two young men whose story seems to be hidden in the old house. As the quest progresses, the past and the present begin to merge, and the music of a lost flute begins to haunt the house. In the end, Colin and Marion find all that they were looking for.

The supernatural elements, although central to the plot, never overshadow the beautifully drawn characters. They are lovable, but allowed to be imperfect and become furious with each other, and to learn from their mistakes. Edinburgh, Mayferry Street, and the house itself are never "described" in a "here is the description" way, but they become real places in the reader's mind. The mystery (leaving out the slippery-ness of time), is perfectly believable. And there is a smidge of romance at the end, for suckers for sentiment like myself.

Here's another blog review of it, just to show that I'm not alone!

Libraries all over America seem to have bought this book when it came out, just when I would have been the right age for it. Why didn't I read it then???? I would have loved it so very much. But if you haven't read it, it is not too late--all those libraries have now discarded it (except my own, because I keep checking it out), and so you can pick it up on line for a few bucks. It was reprinted in the UK as a paperback in 2000, so is quite available over there.

Eileen Dunlop also wrote Elizabeth, Elizabeth (UK title Robinsheugh), a time slip story that scared me somewhat when I first read it at the age of 8, but which I appreciate more now, as well as many other fine books.

Jen Robinson is rounding up other overlooked ones here. Enjoy!

Robin McKinley has another novel coming out!

So after checking on Megan and Shannon, to see how they're doing (see below) I go over to Robin McKinley's blog and read that she HAS ANOTHER BOOK COMING NEXT FALL! It's the Sept. 28th entry, and it is very very interesting reading, all about the book writing process.

Megan Whalen Turner and Shannon Hale

Over at Shannon Hale's blog, she's chatting with Megan Whalen Turner. Part 1 of 3(!) is up. Two favorite authors of mine discussing plotting, criticism, and life.

And incidentally, doesn't Book of a Thousand Days (Shannon Hale's new book) have the loveliest cover?

Nominations for the Cybil awards are being accepted starting today--just go here

Here's the Official Press Release:


“ Will Harry Potter triumph among critical bloggers? Will novels banned in some school districts find favor online?

With 90 volunteers poised to sift through hundreds of new books, the second annual Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards launches on Oct. 1 at http://www.cybils.com/. Known as the Cybils, it's the only literary contest that combines both the spontaneity of the Web with the thoughtful debate of a book club.

The public's invited to nominate books in eight categories, from picture books up to young adult fiction, so long as the book was first published in 2007 in English (bilingual books are okay too). Once nominations close on Nov. 21, the books go through two rounds of judging, first to select the finalists and then the winners, to be announced on Valentine's Day 2008."

I am very pleased and proud this year to be one of the above-referenced 90--I'm a nominator for the ya category, with a team of wicked cool bloggers:

Category Organizer: Jackie Parker (Interactive Reader)

Nominating Panel:

Stacy DeKeyser
Trisha (The YaYaYas)
Anne Heidemann (Librarianne)
Charlotte Taylor (Charlotte's Library) --me.
Becky Laney (Becky's Book Reviews)
Eisha (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast)
Jackie Parker (Interactive Reader)

Judging Panel:

Liz Burns (A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy)
Jennifer Laughran (Not Your Mother's Bookclub)
Sarah Miller
Maureen Kearney (Confessions of a Bibliovore)
Jen Robinson (Jen Robinson's Book Page)

And another thing about this whole Cybils business--aren't there a lot of great blogs out there to visit? It is hard to keep up. For instance, I just saw at Sarah Miller's blog that she has "not exactly a contest" going on to win an ARC of A Curse as Dark As Gold, by Elizabeth C. Bunce. Not that I actually want anyone else to enter, or anything, but letting you know just proves how beautifully unselfish I am.

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