SLJ BotB Overview

10 03 2012

Okay, if you want to hear about what School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books is about, go to their website.  They’ll tell you what it is.  I am here to tell you what I think of their selections.  But before I can do that, let’s see what I’ve read this year.  And the nominees are…
(books I’ve read in bold)

Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming
Anya’s Ghost
 by Vera Brosgol
Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
Bootleg by Karen Blumenthal
The Chesire Cheese Cat
by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
 by Laini Taylor
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos 
Drawing from Memory by Allen Say
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami
Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai
Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Okay for Now by Gary
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

I’ve read exactly half of the books and I liked all of them.  There’s only one book on this list I hadn’t heard of until I saw it: The Grand Plan to Fix Everything.  What?!  A Bollywood-inspired tale!  No wonder I’ve never heard of it says the girl who has never seen a Bollywood film.  Yup, it’s true.  Too busy reading YA.

If you’re reading this when I post it, you have approximately 1.5 more days to vote in the Undead Poll so it only makes sense that I tell you which books you should consider voting for.  Anya’s Ghost was my pick.  Devoted blog readers know how much I love graphic novels and this one is spot-on.  It scared the crap out of me.  The art was creepy and accessible and added to the mood of the story.  And it told the story.  I loved it.

But if I had to choose another favorite, it would be a close call between Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Dead End in Norvelt.  And possibly A Monster Calls.  How do you judge such fantastic and varied literary talent? One has angels and death and war–but mostly just a teenage girl finding out her true roots.  The next has death in its title and a pretty solid murder mystery.  And the last, well, it has an epic battle with a monster and…cancer.  All incredibly written, poignant, smart, absorbing reads.

Possibly the best part of SLJ BotB is that no judge is told how to judge.  There’s no rubrics.  There’s no scoresheet.  That means on Friday, March 16, when Sara Zarr judges two of my favorites, (the “D” books), there is no guarantee of who she’ll pick.  Will she go for the strength of the world that Laini Taylor created or the incredible recreation of a time period by Jack Gantos?  I can’t fault her for either.  But stay tuned!  I will be shedding a tear for one of the two.  But secretly, I think I’m rooting for:


Where’s Alexa?

9 03 2012

It has been an incredibly long time since I last posted on this blog.  In my last post, I was in the middle of my self-imposed summer reading.  That deadline was extended until I got a full-time job and…surprise!  I did!  Which is why I quit posting and reading.  Oops.  Sometimes life gets in the way, right?

So where am I now?  I am in the Chicago Tribune giving preschoolers a lesson in finance.  I am in Chicago working for an incredible library system doing something I never expected.  I am a storytime factory.  Most days, I get up and I go to a school and sing, read and play with preschoolers I’ll only meet 3 times.  I read some really fantastic books (like Ella Sarah Gets Dressed by Margaret Chodos-Irvine and Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems).  Kids say ridiculous things about money.  It’s wonderful, but it is also exhausting.

I am lucky because I still get to read lots of fancy new YA books and I get to share those thoughts with some of my YA crazy colleagues.  But I miss putting up my own thoughts online and sending them out onto the Internet all by themselves.  Also, it’s my favorite time of year: time for School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books!

SLJ BotB is a time to geek out on children’s and YA lit.  It’s my time.  Come back tomorrow for more!  Because tonight, I am taking the night off from everything except my bowl of pasta, my glass of wine and posting about the best bracket-ed competition in March.

Graphic Novel Interlude

27 09 2011

A short pause in the summer reading recaps to bring you the best graphic novel I’ve read all year, Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel.

My favorite part of this story was how much backstory all the characters had.  You could tell from the start that this was a huge world with characters who had lived there before the reader entered the story and would continue to be there afterwards.   I have found that some graphic novels aimed at the younger set feel like they just popped up out of nowhere–like the characters only existed the moment they were drawn on the first page.

Other things to love: the dry sense of humor.  The Afterworld TenNapel imagines.  (I had one small qualm with the timeline in the Afterworld but I will get over it.)  The artwork which has its own attitude and its own sense of humor.

Bottom line: Do you like well-told stories about what might happen when you die?  Do you like graphic novels?  If the answer to either of those is yes, I recommend this book.

Fabulous Fantasy: The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card

16 09 2011

Self-Imposed Summer Reading Book #6: The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know one thing is for certain: I am a slow blogger.  But I intend to write this post faster than Orson Scott Card completed the absolutely wonderful book I’m reviewing.  Over 20 years in the making (though certainly not all active time) I believe helped Card to define the world that Danny North is born into.  The mythology involves legendary gods now living in isolated clusters on Earth–the Norths are poor, living in Virginia like backwater hicks with a lot of power at their fingertips.  Also, the family functions somewhat like the mafia especially when it comes to gate mages, a kind of mage that has been outlawed and will be killed once discovered.  Somehow, when Card describes all of this through Danny’s eyes, it works a lot better than when I describe it.  (That’s why he writes the books, I just write the reviews.)

Danny starts out with no powers at all–he’s the outcast in his family.  Can this really be a book about a powerless kid?  *mild spoiler* Of course not.  The ones who start out powerless usually wind up being the most powerful and Danny North is no exception.  Then he has to learn to use his powers, always entertaining and here it really helps to move the plot along.  It moves Danny along on his quest to *this would be really spilery, I am not including his purpose.*  Rest assured, the quest is intriguing and seems impossible–making it even more intriguing.  But despite these predictable elements, the story as a whole is not predictable.  It feels new.  To me, that’s the mark of a great novel.

In between the chapters about Danny, there is a completely different story involving a guy named Wad and a castle and all the usual political intrigue involved in castle stories.   Ignore the name Wad (it’s terrible but you’ll understand if you read the book).  Even if you aren’t a big fan of castle fantasy stories and political intrigue, I can promise you this feels different.  It feels classic.  Lots of good feelings about this book!  Even now, as I blog about it about a month since I turned the last page.

Bottom line: Really fabulous fantasy with a classic feel.  I hope it doesn’t take Card another 20 years to write the next book in the series.

Pendragon, Or Why I Read Books I Dislike

13 09 2011

Self-Imposed Summer Reading Book #5: The Merchant of Death (Pendragon #1) by DJ MacHale

Before I read this book this summer, I had probably recommended it to 10 kids, if not more.  Some of these kids were young enough that reading a book with the title The Merchant of Death was still shocking.  I told them not to be worried–I knew from the teens that I work with that it is not a scary book (particularly) and that the series is well-loved for a reason.  Two high school students recommended this book to me and by proxy, to all the kids who walk through the doors of my library. My question while reading this book: why do kids love it?

Answer: It’s non-threatening fantasy with a lot of action and the usual moral quandaries thrown in.  One of the often lauded qualities of fantasy, especially high fantasy, is that it makes the reader work.  This work is often deciphering the way the fantastical world of the book works.  What is different about the Pendragon books is that Bobby Pendragon and his friends do most of the deciphering for you.  It is certainly not the first book to have a naive narrator help explain what is going on.   However, something about the combination of Bobby’s journal and the reading of Bobby’s journal by his friends left on Earth really overexplains the fantasy world if you’re an adult or an experienced fantasy reader.  It drove me a little insane, but I could see how inexperienced fantasy readers might really be drawn to the writing style.

The fantasy world itself is fun!  Even though I wanted to strangle Bobby Pendragon by the time I hit the last page, I very nearly found myself reading the “sneak preview” of the next book which is set in a world with some giant killer sharks.   Who doesn’t love books about giant killer sharks?  And yet…Bobby Pendragon is not my kind of narrator.

Bottom line: I will still recommend this book to kids–in fact, I will probably be able to hand sell it to even more kids now that I know the whole story.  But I cannot spend another 300 pages with Bobby Pendragon.

Time for a Memoir!

29 08 2011

Self-Imposed Summer Reading Book #4: Stitches by David Small

Welcome to a very candid look at David Small’s not-so-uplifting childhood.  It is illustrated and written in a manner that makes it incredibly easy to read, but not so easy to digest.  The washed out grays and the soft lines contrast harshly with Small’s childhood, which was not full of love or happiness.  The text here is not quite sparsely written–there’s more of it than would qualify as “sparse”–but there isn’t tons of text.  There is just enough to tell the story.  This is where the power of what happened to Small comes in.  Even though I was not totally taken by the book, weeks after I read it I can remember the emotion that Small brings to the table.  The dream sequences he draws pull you in rather than pushing you away.  I have very little patience for dream sequences mostly, although since these are “true,” I might have upped my tolerance.  They also move the story along in a way that isn’t gimmicky.

Probably the best thing I can say about this book is that it will stay with you.  I read it quickly and am actually astonished at how much of the feeling that Small puts into his text and his pictures has stayed with me.  It only took me an hour to read but it took much more than an hour to work through the book.   No matter what indignities Small suffered as a child, growing up the way he did, his story will be noticed and remembered by others.  (Many besides me, not least the National Book Award committee.  Even the love on Goodreads is amazing!)

Bottom line: Well-written, beautifully drawn and a National Book Award finalist means this book is definitely worth a read.  Maybe it will resonate with you more than it did with me.

Newbery Winner is a Winner!

12 08 2011

Summer Reading Book #3: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, 2011 Newbery winner.

Abilene is sent to live in Manifest, Kansas during the Great Depression.  She’s grown up on the road with her father butshe’s turning into a young lady.  So he sends her back to his home town to live with Pastor Shady, who isn’t much of a Pastor at all.  In fact, he’s a bit of a bootlegger with a good heart. Everyone in town seems to have a good heart, even the creepy fortuneteller who Abilene grows to love.  The reader grows to love everyone, but especially Abilene who is a perfect tween heroine: smart, a little quirky and very independent.  I am totally a sucker for those characters.

I was warned by some librarians (who shall not be named) that the switching between time periods was confusing and that the character list at the beginning of the book is totally necessary.  While I will never turn down a good character list (and they can really help younger readers), I had little trouble keeping track of everyone.   This could be because I had a chance to read this book in large chunks.  Moon Over Manifest is not the kind of book that can be read in short snatches, 2 minutes at the grocery store, 5 minutes before bed, etc.  The time period switches were denoted by different fonts, which always helps.  Mostly, I was as interested as Abilene in hearing the stories from her father’s childhood.  That’s what made it easy to follow.

Having read 2 out of 4 Newbery Honor book–One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia and Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm–I have a lot of good, award-winning historical fiction starring tween girls to compare Moon Over Manifest to.  While One Crazy Summer is my favorite of the 3, Moon Over Manifest comes in an easy second.  The top 2 on my list are deeper, exploring issues and themes that sometimes don’t get a lot of attention in books for this age group, from mothers that really just don’t want to be moms to a father’s real motivations.  Turtle in Paradise, while it takes place during the Great Depression, has been recommended lately as a “beach read for the younger set” with great, snappy writing to keep kids engaged, especially reluctant readers.

Bottom line: Watching Abilene grow over the summer, the reader is treated to a mystery AND a history lesson as part of a coherent storyline.  I already know which middle school kids I’ll be recommending this one to!