Monday, December 31, 2007

The To Be Reviewed Pile is Collapsing...

I currently have nine books waiting to be reviewed. 7 of them are Cybils books. 2 of them are just-for-the-fun of it books. The problem? It's New Years' Eve and I'm feeling a teeny tiny bit overwhelmed. I feel like I'm starting the new year off behind. But some things can't be helped. Another problem--a big problem in some ways--it has now been almost two weeks since I finished a few of these. That means that for the most part, my impressions are fading and fading fast. I don't know how to fix this problem. If I review the books freshest on my mind, the others will fade away completely. And if I review the ones I'm already beginning to forget, then these newer ones will start to fade away before I get a chance to write their reviews. It's a never ending cycle it seems. I feel like Lucy at the chocolate factory.

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Interview with Natasha & Sylvie

Today is a very special day. A very very special day. I am happy to be presenting TWO interviews. As a few of you may remember, GO TO BED, MONSTER by Natasha Wing with illustrations by Sylvie Kantorovitz, is one of my favorite picture books of the year. It is just an oh-so-magical book for me. Even the end papers are fun. So I was very pleased when both agreed to be interviewed.


From the press release:

Go to Bed, Monster!, released in October 2007 by Harcourt, Inc., is a story about Lucy who has an active imagination and trouble going to sleep. She draws a crayon monster which jumps off the paper ready for action! The two play together, yet when it's time for Monster to go to bed, he refuses. Lucy's many attempts fail until she comes up with just the right way to get Monster to settle down.

Oil paint and oil pastel illustrations by Sylvie Kantorovitz bring to life the crayon world of Lucy's imagination with kid-like humor.


Natasha Wing's Interview

What inspired you to write Go To Bed, Monster!?

"Go to Bed, Monster!" has gone through many incarnations before it became this story! It started off in 1996 as "Lucy's Crayons," a story of a girl who draws a picture and ends up drawing herself into the picture. Then it morphed into "One Yellow Sun," a concept book of colors and shapes. Somewhere along the line the shapes turned into a hungry monster which ate all of Lucy's drawings - and Lucy! My original editor at Harcourt loved Monster and wanted to develop more fun between the monster and Lucy, so it turned into a bedtime story with Monster taking on the role of Lucy, and Lucy taking on the role of a mother trying to get her unruly child to bed.

How long did it take to write-to go from inspiration to finished product?

Well, I started in 1996 and it was published in 2007, with lots of starts and stops inbetween. Much longer than a typical picture book of mine. [Go To Bed, Monster is Natasha's sixteenth picture book.]

What was your first impression of Sylvie Kantorovitz's illustrations? Did her vision of Lucy and the Monster match your own?

When I saw her illustrations I got the tingles and remembered thinking, "She got it!" meaning she understood the Monster and the idea of reality versus imagination.

Do you have a favorite scene? A favorite illustration?

My favorite is when the Monster snaps, "Not sleepy." I think it's so defiant. Kids, of course, love the potty scene.

One of the things I love most about Go To Bed, Monster! is that it appeals to both kids and adults. It is just as much fun the tenth time around as the first. Was that your goal, to write a book that parents wouldn't get tired of reading aloud to their children? What are your goals? What inspires you?

I never think of parents when I write, I think of the flow of the story and what could be interesting and fun for kids to read. My goal is to find a way to express my thoughts and visions, and to write a story that publishers are excited to release to the world. My ultimate pleasure is to then hear back from readers that they like my stories. The things that inspire me are happy families, funny situations, silliness, with an undercurrent of education.

What is your favorite thing about being a writer? What is your least favorite thing? Can you describe a typical day?

My favorite thing is being able to express myself without being filtered through a committee - at least during the initial stage of writing. I also enjoy the sensation of when my mind locks onto an idea and starts churning it over. If it sticks, then I know I'm on to something. My least favorite thing is when I pour myself into a story that just isn't working and I don't know how to fix it.

A typical day for me is writing from 8:00ish to about noon. I check my emails regularly since that's my form of office chat. And I typically skip around and work on a few stories in various stages. In the afternoons, I either continue writing if something is working well, or else I do some marketing, blog reading, or book reading. But most often my writing is part-time work. All this is interspersed with letting my cat, Jemima, in or out of the house. And a break at noon to watch What Not to Wear.

What projects are next? Do you have a new book coming out soon? What is your current work-in-progress?

Lots of books in the works! I have another story with Lucy and Monster called "Go to School, Monster!" in the final art stage. A biography, "An Eye for Color," about an old neighbor of mine when I lived in Connecticut, Josef Albers, who was an artist known for his Homage to the Square paintings. The 13th book in the Night Before series, "The Night Before St. Patrick's Day." And a chapter book for first graders with Scholastic about a girl, Pearl Ruby, who wants to keep her first lost tooth, but the Tooth Fairy wants it...bad. Then if I can shake this writer's insecurity, I will rewrite a novel for teens that I've been working on for years. I have also produced a DVD geared to kindergartners called "A Visit with Natasha Wing" about what it's like being a writer. It includes a reading of "The Night Before Kindergarten." Should be ready in January. So I'm a busy girl.

Who has been your biggest supporter through the years on your road to publication?

First of all, my husband, Dan. He's the one who gave me "permission" to take a break from my public relations job and give writing a chance. Then I have a few writer friends, Mary Nethery and Barbara Kerley, who I used to be in a writers group with who have helped me improve my skills and provided emotional support. But most of all, my agent, Linda Pratt, who unconditionally believes in me and my skills, so it's very comforting to work from that base of support.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Did you have a favorite book, a favorite author, someone whose work you admired that made you say "I want to do that!!!"?

No, I didn't figure out that I wanted to be a writer until I was 32. So before then I wanted to be a tennis player, or dig dinosaur fossils, or maybe work in a big time ad agency. I was struck by one of those "angel singing" moments when I was at a Christmas fair and picked up "Polar Express" by Chris van Allsburg and declared, "I want to make magic like this for kids!"

Have you always loved to read? What are some of your favorites? (past or present)

I have always read, but I can remember liking the idea of owning books more than reading them. Having books on the shelves, knowing that I could step into a new world just by opening a book, was thrilling to me. So it was more about the anticipation of things to come rather than the actual act of reading. (I think that's why I like Christmas Eve better than Christmas.) As a girl I had this wonderful Cinderella book with a pop-up crepe paper pumpkin carriage in the back. I thought that was magical.

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

First I'd have Stacy and Clinton of What Not to Wear make me over. Then I would love to have a sit down over some fine champagne with Philip Pullman, the author of "The Golden Compass." I admire his brain and bravado and would be honored to be in his presence, even if only for an hour. Then I'd travel to Italy and kiss the handsome tall man behind the counter at the meat deli, and then time-travel back to czarist Russia and ride in Czar Nicholas's carriage, and open up every Faberge egg. Of course it'd all have to end with a fabulous meal, perhaps in southern France.

Sylvie Kantorovitz's interview:

What was your first impression of Natasha Wing’s story, the text of Go To Bed, Monster? What excited you? What inspired you?

My agent sent me Natasha’s story as she thought it was made for me. I loved it right away. It was called ONE YELLOW SUN then. It was more of a counting, shapes and colors book. The element that really excited me was Lucy drawing a monster that came to life.

How long did it take to draw the illustrations—to go from inspiration to finished product?

It is very hard to tell as projects like that go through many stages, through many proposals and rejections, through many revisions and in this case, a complete story upheaval. But all that doesn’t happen in a linear way. From the day my agent sent me the story to the day the final drawings were done, years had passed. But all kinds of other projects alternated with MONSTER.

My favorite scene is when the Monster gets excited when Lucy pulls out a book…Do you have a favorite scene?

I have a soft spot for the page where Lucy falls asleep thinking Monster is finally asleep but we see him awake and looking anxiously at her. Illustrators enjoy adding their own story twists through their pictures.


Your website mentions that one of your goals is to inspire kids to become eager to write and draw their own stories…do you have any advice for parents or teachers on how to inspire or encourage children’s imaginative and artistic sides?

Artists, no matter their age, need material, dreaming time, and approval. Material can be as simple as paper and pencils. Dreaming time may require less organized activities, and approval comes naturally to proud parents.

How important do you think it is for children to have art as part of their education?

I think art is vital for children. It allows for fantastic ways of expression. It can mean everything to some shy or physically challenged children.

What is your favorite thing about being an illustrator? What is your least favorite thing? Can you describe a typical day?

My favorite thing: I work at home. I make my own schedule. I draw and paint and make a living at it. What could be better?

My least favorite thing: Some of my artist friends do a lot of self-promotion. It is a very difficult aspect of the work for me.

A typical day: Days vary so much from one to the next for me. On some stages of a project, I can only spend 2 or 3 hours at a time while at others, I could be at my table for hours on end. So sometimes work alternates with some reading or some of my personal painting or some “office work”. There is a lot more “office work” than one would think. I often enjoy working late in the day. The quiet hours after an early dinner are my most productive ones. If I want to go to the gym or the library or see a friend or do some errands, I prefer to do that during most people’s working hours to be able to have my evenings free.


What projects are next? Do you have a new book coming out soon? Are you busy working on a book?

The editor liked what happened with GO TO BED, MONSTER! so much, she asked Natasha to come up with another story for Lucy and Monster. So I am now working on GO TO SCHOOL, MONSTER. A book coming out soon is SMARTY SARA, a step into reading book by Anna Jane Hays. And I am also working on a story of mine called SOPHIE AND THE MAGIC PIG.

Who has been your biggest supporter through the years?

When I was young, my parents were very proud of my drawings and did agree, somewhat reluctantly, to send me to art school. I am very thankful for that. Later on, my then husband, now good friend, Thor Wickstrom, was very supportive in my first efforts. My daughter Sam, 15, has now taken over.

But the biggest encouragement is to see children enjoying my books and my illustrations during school visits.


Do you think your experience as a teacher has helped you when it comes to illustrating? I mean, does all those years of knowing kids, of observing kids, help you when it comes to knowing how to make a scene just right? Of knowing what makes a book kid-friendly?

I taught only one year and I do have great memories from 3 months during which I substituted in Kindergarten. But that is a long time ago. Although it is not especially conscious, I think I draw inspiration from having observed my daughter and her friends when they were little and from the children I meet during my school visits. And I do believe all of us are still little kids somewhere inside us. I definitely am. Maybe I am illustrating for myself?


Growing up, who was your favorite illustrator? Was there someone whose work you admired? Someone who made you say, “I want to do that when I grow up!”?

Although I read constantly, I do not remember any particular author or illustrator. I do remember a couple of beautiful tale books. One in particular had a Nordic feel to it. But I had no clue that one could become an artist.

There is one clear memory that emerges: I saw an illustrated magazine story where the drawings –of crazy monkeys running after spilled oranges! - were done in colored pencils and in a bit of a childish way. I remember thinking in awe: somebody drew this!

The conscious thought: “I want to do this” came in art school while looking at art books in book stores and being drawn to nearby shelves of children’s books.

Your website mentions that you loved reading—that you still love reading—what are some of your favorite books? (Past or present) Who are some of your favorite authors?

This is a question that makes my mind spin. And go blank! There are so many! But I will try:

Early on: LE GRAND MEAULES by Alain Fournier, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY by Richard Llewellyn, Jules Verne, Jack London, Mark Twain…

Later on: John Steinbeck (EAST OF EDEN), John Dos Passos (MANHATTAN TRANSFER), Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, Dostoyevsky, Balzac, Maupassant, Camus, Eric Maria Remarque,

AND THEN: KURT VONNEGUT!!!

But also: Shakespeare, Harper Lee, Somerset Maugham, Henry James, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ursula Le Guin, Chaim Potok, Elie Wiesel, Russell Banks…


What do you love about children’s books? What has kept you hooked?

I love the variety, the unbelievable cleverness of the writers, the humor, the possibility of expressing a whole range of emotions. Not to mention that while I draw Monster and his antics, I have a big smile plastered on my face.

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

24 hours to fix the world. Talk about stress! I would probably spend the whole time making a list of things that needed to be done: environment, education, justice for all, health care for all, world peace… And I would panic: where to start? How?

I probably couldn’t figure out how to use the time machine anyway… oh well. Maybe that’s why I am an artist. I’d rather be drawing…

Sorry I wasted a perfectly good time machine and lots of money…



Read my review of Go To Bed, Monster.
Kelly Herold's review for Book Buds.
Cheryl Rainfield's review

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Revolution is Not A Dinner Party


Compestine, Ying Chang. 2007. Revolution is Not A Dinner Party.

I read this one about two or three weeks ago. I remember reading Erin's review of this a few months ago, and looking back it summed it up just right. I'm not sure who the audience of this one will be exactly, but it was an enjoyable read nevertheless. One thing to its credit, it made me more interested in this time period. I may end up seeking out a nonfiction book or memoir about the cultural revolution in China in the near future. But as good as it was, it wasn't quite great. At least not for me. I enjoyed the heroine's narration a good deal. As Erin said, it was made this one good. Our heroine, Ling, is nine years old when our story opens. She is living in a nice apartment with her family. But things change rather quickly when Chairman Mao comes to power. His stirring things up philosophy of social and economic class will leave Ling and her family in danger. Her father, a doctor, is forced to become a janitor. One by one, Ling sees her friends and neighbors taken away, killed, or imprisoned. One of her neighbors, a boy just a little older, is taken away and brainwashed. He is now part of the "enemy" force threatening her safety, her family, her life. It isn't a pretty story--it is full of danger and political, social, and economic unrest. I think one positive about the book is--if it can find a reader--is that it will expand their knowledge, their perspective. I certainly didn't know much going into this one, and now having read it, I am curious to know more, to learn more. A historical fiction book that makes you curious to read more? That has to be a good thing. So while I wasn't blown away by this one--thinking it was the best book in the entire world and that every man, woman, and child needs to pick it up and read it--it was a good read.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Another Reminder


I announced this a week or so ago, but with it being the holiday season and all...I'm sure everyone could use a friendly reminder or two before the January 11th deadline. I am hosting the 7th edition of the Bookworms Carnival. I will host it at my blog, Reading with Becky.

The theme for January 2008 is

Best Books of 2007

There are several options. You could create your own "best of" list of books you've read and loved in the past year. You might want to make this a list with notes or commentary. But that isn't a requirement necessarily. Or you could submit a book review of the book you think is THE BEST of the year. Your list can be general or specific. Your focus can be looking at all books or just books about pirates in space fighting spiders. :)

The deadline for submission is January 11th.


Submissions for this carnival are by email. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com. Please use the word Bookworms AND/OR the word Carnival in your subject line. Thank you!

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Short Story Challenge


A new challenge for 2008. Like I needed another one, right? Well, I just can't say no. And this one should be quite fun. The host is Kate of Kate's Book Blog. The challenge is The Short Story Reading Challenge. She lists five options for participants to choose from--ranging in commitment and flexibility. I'm going for option five. "Option 5: This is the custom option under the rubric of which you can tailor your reading list to best meet your personal reading aspirations. You might wish to craft a list that focuses on a particular place, or era, or genre."

I plan on reading a mix of individual short stories and short story collections. Zora Neale Hurston, for example, wrote many short stories. I'd love to read those. And Kate Chopin. And I'd love, love, love to read some Dorothy Parker. And this would be a great time to read some more Ray Bradbury. Even Orson Scott Card has a collection of short stories. And I bet they'd be other science-fiction collections as well. If memory serves me, H.G. Wells wrote short stories too. This is going to be me so much fun!!! I don't know how many or which authors yet. But I'll commit to at least twelve of something. (It could be, for example, four short story collections and eight individual stories.) Anyway, I'm very very happy to have stumbled across this challenge.

The challenge has its own website here.

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Clarifying the Celebrate the Author Challenge


The start of the new year is only days away. And with it comes the start of many of my challenges.

I posted about the Celebrate the Author challenge back in September. And the response has been more than I ever imagined. (You're still welcome to join up by the way....I'd say you could join up anytime between now and January 15th.)

This is a twelve month challenge (January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2008).

The challenge is designed to "celebrate" author birthdays. Choose one author for each month of the year. Read at least one book a month. 12 authors. 12 birthdays. If you like, you can read MORE than that. If you're really obsessive, you might want to "celebrate" all 52 weeks of the year. (But even I am not THAT zealous!) The challenge is designed to 'celebrate' the special bond--the connection--that occurs between the author AND the reader as well as the connection between readers. It is very easy to "bond" with other readers over certain works, certain authors, etc.

For full details and to sign up, you'll need to go to the original post.

How does this challenge work? On the 15th of each and every month, I will post a Celebrate-the-Author Roundup. When you've read the book for that month, simply leave me a comment in the roundup post. I'll take everyone's links and write something up. That way you can visit other participants books and get a sense of what everyone else is doing for the challenge. The reviews might even begin to influence your to-be-read pile! At the end of the year, I will then do a roundup of all the months' roundups. I might ask--I probably will ask--you to write up a post summarizing your year, picking your favorites, etc. I'll link to those as well.

Edited to add: To clarify this clarification. This doesn't mean you'll have to have read your book for the month by the 15th. It just means that that is the post you'll need in order to use the comments to leave your links. (Could that sentence get any worse as far as wording goes????) I picked the middle of the month because it seemed fair. I thought that earlier than that and most people wouldn't have had a chance to read their books yet and might feel pressured. This way whether your "late" or "early" in your reading, you'll know where to find the roundup post.

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Cardathon Banner


The Cardathon Challenge now has a banner for you to post on your site if you so desire. A big thank you goes out to Foxy Writer.

To those unfamiliar with this challenge, it does have its own blog. But I'll post a little intro here as well...

When does the challenge begin? Officially, January 1, 2008. Unofficially, whenever you want to start reading and reviewing!

What books are eligible? To qualify for the Cardathon Challenge a book needs to meet one of the following criteria:

1) a book written by Orson Scott Card
2) a book edited/compiled by Orson Scott Card
3) a book with an introduction by Orson Scott Card
4) a book reviewed by Orson Scott Card on his official website.

How many books are we talking about? I'd suggest choosing 6-12 books to read. Along with alternates, of course. Always feel free to list more alternates than 'official' choices. Essentially, you could read as many or as few as you wanted. Although, I hope that given a year, you would read at least six books. If you should read all the books on your list, feel free to add more.

How many books must be written by Card? I'd hope that you would choose at least one or two books for your list. But you can choose many other authors as long as they've been mentioned and/or recommended by Card. This leaves the selection process very open-ended, and gives you many, many options.

Do I have to be a sci-fi fan? No. You can be a newbie to the field. (Or a devoted fan.) Prior experience is not required. If you're a fan of realistic fiction, science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, young adult fiction, mysteries, horror, etc. I really truly believe there is something for everyone to enjoy! Card has reviewed lots of adult books, many young adult books, a few picture books, and even a few board books. So there is truly something for everyone.

Do I have to be an Orson Scott Card fan? No. Not necessarily. You can be a newbie and be trying Orson Scott Card for the first time.

But how will I know which books are eligible? I have listed the books meeting the first three criteria in the sidebar. I will be sorting through his review columns in the days and weeks leading up to the official start date. I will be making individual posts about those books. So looking in archives will give you a list of those. Feel free to go to his site and search for yourself if you like. And feel free to choose books that fulfill other challenges you're already participating in!

Once I make my list, can I change my mind? Yes. You can change your mind at any point. Card will keep reviewing books in his weekly column as the months go by (now-December 2008) and you can always change your list to incorporate new titles. Also, always feel free to abort a book. If you've started a book and it's not just working for you, by all means abandon it in favor of something else! No use suffering through a book because you feel it's 'required' because it's on your list.


To join the challenge, you'll need to go to the other site and sign up via comments or Mr. Linky.

Here are some additional banners:


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Saturday, December 29, 2007

2007: Rewinding to Find the Best...


I read so many great books this past year. I haven't kept track of how many books or how many pages like so many of you do. (Math never being my strongest subject.) But I thought I would take a bit of time to look back at this past year. I think almost without a doubt that the author whose work I became most obsessed with was Margaret Peterson Haddix. I believe I read fourteen of her books in the past twelve months. (If you can trust my math that is) H.G. Wells was another obsession coming in with eight books. But of course it's not quantity necessarily as much as quality. For the record, I didn't consider books that I was rereading. Yes, I love Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead and Pastwatch and Worthing Saga...but I knew that already. I read them (for the first time) about six years ago. I value rereading, I love to squeeze it in when I can. But this is all about new discoveries, new favorites, new finds, new obsessions.

Authors (most not particularly new) that I *discovered* and /or *loved* and/or became obsessed with in 2007

Margaret Peterson Haddix: Just Ella, Turnabout, Shadow Children series--seven books in all, Running Out of Time, Because of Anya, Double Identity, Escape From Memory, Takeoffs and Landings
Jeanne DuPrau: City of Ember, People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood.
Michael Buckley: The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy Tales Detective, The Sisters Grimm: The Unusual Suspects, The Sisters Grimm: The Problem Child, Sisters Grimm: Once Upon A Crime.
Kate diCamillo: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Tale of Despereaux
Jonathan Stroud: The Amulet of Samarkand, Golem's Eye, and Ptolemy's Gate.
Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles, Quicker Than Dead,
H.G. Wells: The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon, The Food of the Gods, When the Sleeper Wakes.

Favorite Books Not Published in 2007

Home and Other Big, Fat Lies by Jill Wolfson. In my opinion, this book SHOULD have won the Newbery. It was infinitely better than The Higher Power of Lucky. And it could possibly be the best book about foster care ever, ever written. With Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes being tied or a close second.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. This Newbery Honor was so, so, so good. I highly recommend it to adults and kids alike.

Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle was an incredible read. I just loved it.

I was charmed by Julia's Kitchen by Brenda A. Ferber that won the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray. I was one of the few not impressed with A Great and Terrible Beauty. However, this second book wowed me. I just loved it. I read it all in one sitting, and for those not familiar with it--it is a big, thick book.

For younger readers, I think Toys Go Out is a great read or read aloud choice. The author is Emily Jenkins.

Year of the Dog by Grace Lin was a thoroughly charming book for young readers. I just loved it!!!

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

Gossamer by Lois Lowry

Sleeping Freshman Never Lie by David Lubar

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. One more reason why Julie Brinker is my best friend. (As if introducing me to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn wasn't enough!)

The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Gallery of Regrettable Food by James Lileks. My review begins, "Part of me thinks it should almost be illegal to have this much fun reading a book..."

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Life As We Knew It
by Susan Beth Pfeffer. If I ruled the world, one of the things I'd do (but not the only thing I'd do) is make sure everyone reads this book. I just can't begin to explain how powerful and intense this book is. Read it, and it will stick with you for life. There is no forgetting this one. It *changes* you.

Favorite Books Published in 2007

What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know
by Sonya Sones
Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
Greetings From Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Cupid by Julius Lester
Miss Spitfire by Sarah Miller
Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford
First Light by Rebecca Stead
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson
Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison
Book of A Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf by Jennifer L. Holm
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Wildly Romantic by Catherine M. Andronik
Such A Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess
Billie Standish Was Here by Nancy Crocker
Walt Disney's Cinderella retold by Cynthia Rylant

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The A to Z Challenge for 2008


Joy of Thoughts of Joy is hosting the A to Z Challenge. It is to read A to Z authors AND A to Z titles. She writes, "All that's required is that you align the author's last name or the title of a book (excluding "the", "a", etc.) with its corresponding letter in the alphabet. Each author and title entry must be a different book. I will be working on both the author and title lists at the same time; however, you may complete the alphabet lists anyway that suits your fancy. The challenge last throughout the 2008 year."

Your books can overlap with other challenges. So that is GREAT incentive for me. I'm not sure which titles I'll read yet. But I'm sure I'll have fun as I go.


A
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A
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G
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Just for fun...

75 words

Touchtyping online

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Two More By Margaret Peterson Haddix

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. 2005. Double Identity.

Bethany has always thought her parents acted oddly. She didn’t live like other children. Her parents were different. She’s almost thirteen years old and had never spent a night away from her parents. In fact, her parents had never gone out and left her with a babysitter even. They were with her constantly. They acted as if she might disappear or vanish if they were separated. They were holding onto her much too tightly to be ‘normal’ or what Bethany thought of as normal. Yet when her mother begins to have nervous breakdowns--to cry irrationally for days or weeks, she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that her parents are keeping a big secret from her. The secret becomes even more of a mystery--a dangerous mystery--when they pack her up and take her to visit an aunt she’s never known. An aunt she’s never even heard mentioned. Dropped off on her aunt’s doorstep, she is treated by the town like she’s a ghost. Something is definitely not normal here. Can Bethany figure out the secret before her mother completely loses it? Why does everyone act so strangely around her? And why is everyone calling her Elizabeth?

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. 2003. Escape From Memory.

Kira was just a giggling girl at a slumber party who let herself be hynotized for laughs, but suddenly her life is being turned upside down and this ‘laughing matter’ is becoming an issue of life and death. Kira remembers something odd--something that doesn’t fit in with the stories she’s been told about her life. What does it all mean? Seeing her mother’s reaction, Kira knows something is being hidden from her...but she couldn’t have predicted the magnitude of the secret. Someone is willing to KILL to find out just what Kira knows. ESCAPE FROM MEMORY is an exciting, fast-paced science fiction novel.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Takeoffs and Landings

Peterson, Margaret Haddix. 2001. Takeoffs and Landings.

Can a two week vacation with your mother change your life? It can if you’re Chuck and Lori and your mother is a famous motivational speaker. Don’t believe me?... read TAKEOFFS AND LANDINGS. After Chuck and Lori lose their father in a tragic tractor accident, their mother begins to support the family by traveling all over the United States giving motivational speeches for various companies and conventions. With each trip, her older children have resented her more and more. Resented the fact that she’s never there. Resented the fact that she’s different than before. Resented the fact that she never talks about their father. Living with their grandparents and younger brothers and sisters who can barely remember their father, life has moved on for all but them. But now their mom is home and convinced that she can change her relationship with her son and daughter if only she can spend some quality time with them. So relunctantly, the three set off on a wild trip...full of emotions...full of expectations...and nobody certain of the outcome.

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Just letting you know....



Foxy writer is hosting the Mythopoeic Award Challenge in 2008. It lasts all twelve months. The goal is to read seven books that won the Mythopoeic Award. You can find the list of award winners here. And a list of finalists here. I'm not sure if finalists count or not. Which is why I haven't committed yet. I haven't found seven award-winners that I'm oh-so-excited-that-I'm-ready-to-commit-to yet but broadening it to finalists too, and I think I could find enough.

The challenge is to read seven books between JANUARY 1ST 2008 to DECEMBER 31ST 2008 from the list of Mythopoeic Award Winners. (See? All kinds of brilliant Fantasy books to choose from!) Here are the rules:

  1. Choose seven books from the list of Mythopoeic Award Winners.
  2. Anything on the list is fair game, fiction or non-fiction.
  3. Post a link to your list in the comments of this post (if you don’t have a website, post your list in the comments.)
  4. Somewhere in your post, link back to this challenge post. (permalink)
  5. Read the books between January 1st, 2008 and December 31st, 2008.
  6. You may start anytime in 2008, but you must finish by the end of December 31st, 2008.
  7. You may combine this challenge with other challenges.
Here is my potential list and alternates:

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (nominee, 1974)
Watership Down by Richard Adams (nominee, 1975)
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (nominee, 1983)
The Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley (nominee, 1983)
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (nominee, 1985)
Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card (winner, 1988)
Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card (nominee, 1989)
Prentice Alvin by Orson Scott Card (nominee, 1990)
The Giver by Lois Lowry (nominee children's 1994)
Good Griselle by Jane Yolen (nominee children's 1995)
Young Merlin trilogy consisting of Passager, Hobby and Merlin by Jane Yolen (winner children's 1998)
Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley (nominee children's 1998)
Stardust by Neil Gaiman (winner adult 1999)
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (children's nominee 1999)
Skellig by David Almond (children's nominee 2000)
Beast by Donna Jo Napoli (children's nominee 2001)
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (adult nominee 2002)
The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine (children's nominee 2002)
Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson (children's nominee 2002)
Tithe by Holly Black (children's nominee 2003)
Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde (children's nominee 2003)
The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle (children's winner, 2004)
The Abhorsen Trilogy, consisting of Sabriel, Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr, and Abhorsen, by Garth Nix (children's nominee 2005)
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (adult winner 2006)
Valiant by Holly Black (children's nominee 2006)
Corbenic by Catherine Fisher (children's winner 2007)
Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (children's nominee 2007)

Those are the titles that are coming to me at the moment. But I really need to regroup and refocus to see how many of these would be eligible for the Cardathon. If OSC is recommending any of these authors and titles, then maybe I need to consider expanding my reading. One thing is clear--I want to read more--I need to read more Gaiman this year.

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Poetry Friday: When We Two Parted



When We Two Parted by George Gordon Byron

WHEN we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow—
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame:
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o'er me—
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well:
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met—
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.

Poetry roundup is at Check It Out.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Not Like you need another reminder but...





To read all about the Austen Mini-Challenge I'm hosting, read this post.

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Searfaring Challenge Update

I Heart Paperbacks is hosting a challenge, the Seafaring Challenge. The challenge officially starts November 1, 2007 and runs through January 31rst. The basic criteria for a challenge book is simply this: it must feature something nautical. See the site for official rules and suggestions. The site to post links to reviews is here.

So far I've read:

The Redemption by M.L Tyndall
Peter and the Secret of Rundoon by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

To successfully finish the challenge with my stated goal of reaching admiral, I need to read two more books.

I am a little over halfway through Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss

Which leaves me one book short....I'm not sure what I'll read yet but here are some possibilities:

The Reliance by M.L. Tyndall
The Restitution by M.L. Tyndall
Beloved Castaway by Kathleen Y'Barbo
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Sci-Fi Experience 2008


Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting an experience this January and February. He clearly points out that it is not a challenge per se, more of an experience. There are no required number of books. The goal is to have fun and to read books. For those that are intimidated perhaps by reading challenges and feeling that there is a "have" or "must" about them--it's a good distinction. I read his description--although Carl might disagree--and think of it as taking a class without receiving a grade. For the record, I'm still planning on counting this one as a "challenge" in my reckoning. Because I belong to a group that keeps track of how many challenges per year you participate in and complete. It's all fun. I don't take the numbers too seriously, after all, but I like the challenge of being challenged. Read all about the sci-fi experience here. Read the sci-fi experience reviews here.

I plan on reading some Orson Scott Card. An obvious choice for me since not only do I love him, but the Cardathon challenge officially begins January 1rst. I may (may being the key word) read C.S. Lewis' sci-fi trilogy. I'd like to perhaps read some Asimov as well. But I may be too busy to squeeze that in. If you have suggestions, ideas for books--titles and/or authors--please suggest away. My familiarity with the genre really goes no further than OSC and a few H.G. Wells and Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles.

The experience goes from January 1 to February 29th.

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Travel the World: Christmas Part Five

Today we begin our travels by reading Christmas In Scotland. This is one of the newer titles in the World Book series. A series that has turned out to be fascinating--most of the time--and more often than not good for a laugh while looking at some of the outdated pictures. There are a few things you need to know about Scotland. One is that for centuries, Christmas wasn't celebrated at all. Even stranger to fathom is that it wasn't made a national holiday until the 1970s. Scotland didn't begin out being Scrooge and all bah humbug. At one point in time, around the time of the Protestant Reformation and the resulting Puritan movement, Christmas was banned. No celebrations were allowed. The traditions apparently were too deeply rooted in either Roman Catholic ceremonies or even more ancient traditions--heathen traditions from Celts and Vikings and whatnot. So Christmas may have been banned, but that didn't stop the New Years' celebrations. Not at all. Hence Hogmonay. A very unique Scottish New Years' celebration. One that lasts a few days up to a whole week. So even though Christmas isn't illegal--far from it--it's not the main 'holiday' that gets people celebrating. Overall, I found the book interesting and enjoyable. One of the more amusing--to me--features is that it includes a recipe for Haggis. I know it's traditional and all...but a book geared for kids...that informs them exactly what the dish is..."the stomach of a sheep stuffed with its chopped lung, liver, and heart mixed with oatmeal and spices and then boiled." And then the reader learns that it is customarily served with turnips...I just don't think anyone would be jumping up and down at the chance to learn the recipe. Also not to be missed, Winter Solstice at Maes Howe. Watch through webcam November 25, 2007-5 February 2008.

Christmas in Greece (2001)

Greece is completely different from the other countries we've looked at so far (Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, etc.). But different is part of what makes this one so fascinating. One of the things that is so strikingly different is the observance of the Christmas Lent. "Christmas Lent is a solemn 40 day period of fasting and reflection. It begins November 15 and continues until Christmas Eve. During this time, devout Greeks focus on preparing themselves spiritually for the arrival of the Christ Child. For the Greek Orthodox, this is not a time for parties or merrymaking. Instead, it is a time for fasting, confession, and deep reflection. People attend church services, make confessions, and take Communion as they prepare. The Christmas Lent fast is strictly observed. It requires abstinence from all meat, milk products, and other rich foods" (11). There is no public or private celebration before Christmas Day. With Christmas comes a feast. One of the most important parts of this feast is the baking and breaking of the Christmas bread, the Christopsomo. This isn't the only special bread of the season. New Year's Eve/New Year's Day sees the baking of Vasilopita, St. Basil bread. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Beginning Christmas Eve, children--traditionally boys--would carol--sing songs--going from house to house. They would be rewarded with treats--coins, or small treats of food--nuts, fruits, etc. This is called kalanda. They make three appearances during this time: Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and the Eve of Epiphany. One other thing you should know about celebrating Christmas the Greek Orthodox way is that the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany are exciting ones--they are called the Dodecameron. It is during these twelve days that shopping, partying, and other 'festive' activities such as decorating occur. While it isn't unheard of for Greeks to have the traditional Christmas tree. Their own ancient traditions have them decorating boats. Why? Because St. Basil, the gift-bearer for children, comes by boat for one. St. Basil delivers presents during the night of the New Year's Eve. (There are no presents exchanged on Christmas day.) But even if families have a tree in their homes to decorate, it never appears before Christmas. And sometimes it doesn't appear until New Years Eve. Epiphany is another sacred celebration--this time of John's baptism of Jesus. So while Greeks may begin the season relatively late--when it comes to celebrating and feasting--their celebration and feast days continue into January--January 6th in some places, January 8th in others. Like the others in the series, this one includes crafts, recipes, and songs.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

While Shepherds Watched


Roberts, Steven. 2007. While Shepherds Watched.

I meant to review this one on Saturday, but things got away from me. Earlier in the year I reviewed Steven Roberts book, Christmas On Deery Street. I loved that book. I loved, loved, loved that book. I wish I could say the same about While Shepherds Watched. I didn't love, love, love it. But I enjoyed it. I'd give one an A+ and the other a B. Although since reading is subjective, you may find yourself loving this one more than the other. I can only speak to my own experiences here. First of all, Steven Roberts has once again created authentic characters. Characters that you feel you actually begin to know, begin to love by the time the story is through. That is rare for short stories, at least in my experiences. I'm used to bonding with characters in novels, but short stories--not so much. But Roberts does have a gift for characters, a gift for capturing human emotions, human nature so authentically, so genuinely. The stories presented here are: Gabriel's Trumpet, Peace In the Valley, Miracle in the Clearing, The Madam and the Paperboy, Transforming Christmas, and Full Circle. Of those stories, Gabriel's Trumpet, The Madam and the Paperboy, and Full Circle stand out to me. With Gabriel's Trumpet and Full Circle tying for first place in my thinking. Again this is subjective. In the first collection, I loved each and every story. In this second collection, well I loved a few, I liked a few, and I was neutral about a few. There weren't any that I hated by any means. But there were a few that left me unaffected, unmoved. But I'm glad I read this one, it would be worth your time and energy even if you just ended up loving two or three out of the six. There really is something for everyone--from every generation--to appreciate. Although I think this is a book for adults. (But what I meant by "every generation" was whether you're twenty-five or sixty-five, you're going to find something to enjoy in this collection.)

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Merry Christmas

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Interview with Linda Urban


Today I am happy (interpret that ecstatic if you want) to bring you my interview with Linda Urban. She is the author of A Crooked Kind Of Perfect, a novel that was so so so good, that I had to read it TWICE within the same week. You can read my review of A Crooked Kind of Perfect here. It has been nominated for a Cybils. And it appeared on the Amazon's Best of 2007 list. Be sure to visit her official site and her livejournal site.

What inspired you to write A Crooked Kind of Perfect? (Or How did you come to write A Crooked Kind of Perfect?)


I was having a conversation with the author/illustrator David Small about music and told him about how my dad bought an organ instead of a piano. I told him how my dad was seduced by the fancy rhythm switches. David said how he could just see that illustration. A few weeks later, as I was driving to work, the first line of a picture book popped into my head and I had to rush into my office and write it down.

How long did it take you to write?

You’ll notice I said picture book above. The first incarnation of this story was as a picture book. It wasn’t until about a year later that I started it as a novel. Once it started, it came fast – a couple of months, tops, for the first draft.

Do you have a favorite character? A favorite scene?

I love all the people in the book. Except maybe Joella Tinstella. And I wish I had a Wheeler in my fifth grade life.

I think the last scene is my favorite, but I also like Emma’s Really Big Shoe – that excruciating birthday party. Poor Zoe.

Will we by any chance see another book featuring Zoe and Wheeler? (I could even see one told from Wheeler's point of view.) I’d love to see how (or should I say if) this like like relationship develops!

People have asked for a Wheeler book and for an Emma book. Right now I have plans for neither, but I won’t say never.

Do you, like Zoe, dislike the excessive use of exclamation points? Was that scene with the manual or brochure drawn from real life by any chance?

Yes!!! I think they spring from a culture in which we are always being encouraged to Get Excited!! – usually about some new product.

I’ve read tons of brochures like the one in the book, haven’t you? You know “Welcome to the exciting world of your new GDS (Garbage Disposal Supreme) – the first kitchen waste system with Sansismear!” Yeesh. It is a garbage disposal. I’ll be excited if it works. For now, just calmly tell me how to install it without losing a limb.

Zoe’s song choice of “Forever In Blue Jeans” seems so perfect. She, of course, didn’t know the words to the song. Didn’t understand the message. Was that song choice an easy one for you? Did you choose it because of the lyrics—the message—or was it because it is one of your favorites?

I used to think it was “Reverend Blue Jeans” when I was a kid. The song just sort of appeared there on the page. Zoe needed to pick a song to play and, since she didn’t know any of the songs in her song books, she needed to have a reason to pick one over another. Zoe figured that Neal Diamond was as close as she was going to get to a diamond tiara, so she went with that. But Forever in Blue Jeans just sort of appeared. It wasn’t until later that I thought about the words and how much they might add to the novel.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect is about a girl who dreams big—really big. What were your dreams at age eleven? Did you ever want to play the piano?

I wanted to be like the heroine in whatever book I was reading at the time. It seemed to me that my favorite books were about girls who were unappreciated or underestimated but were eventually recognized for being the most beautiful or talented or magical or whatever. I did, at one time, think that playing the piano might be that thing for me, but I really was no musician. And besides, we had that organ.

How much do you love the cover of your novel? (I personally think it is one of the funnest covers of the year.)

I think it is a great cover. Isn’t it amazing how a simple image gets at the heart of things?

Who has been your biggest supporter during your writing journey?

My editor, Jeannette Larson, has been wonderful. She puts up with lots of lunatic email.

My two biggest supporters are my friends Myra Wolfe and Marla Frazee. Myra was my writing buddy through that book and every Friday she read whatever it was that I had written that week, and I did the same for her. That kept me writing. And Marla is just about the most inspirational person I know. I’ve been honored to watch her books in progress and have learned so much. And she laughs at my jokes.

Are you excited that your novel has been nominated for a Cybil?

I am. The Cybils readers and judges are so well read and so up on current trends in children’s literature. Just to have those women spending time with my novel is an honor.

Does award season (best-of season) make you nervous or excited as a writer?

I guess all of that. Mostly, I’m trying to keep my head in my current writing. Still, my bookstore experience tells me that a couple of Best Of list mentions or a big award cam bet the difference between a book that has a significant shelf life and one that is slated for post-Christmas returns.

Are you writing another novel? Can you tell me anything about your work in progress? (Personally, I hope this is just the start of a very long career!)

Aw, thanks. I can’t really talk about my work in progress, to do so squeezes the juice right out of things. I am glad you’d like to see another book from me. Will a picture book do for now? I’ve got one called MOUSE WAS MAD coming out from Harcourt in Spring 2009-ish.

What is the best part about being a writer?

When the story is working. Those hours spent “in the zone” are just plain magic.

Is this something you’ve always wanted to do? Something you’ve always dreamed of and worked for?

I loved writing when I was a kid, but I really didn’t think of it as a career possibility. My parents raised me to be more practical than that – and also, I never met an author. I kind of thought that all the books had already been written. I knew plumbers and hairdressers and policemen and secretaries. So while I had wild someday dreams of writing a novel like Jo March did, I also knew those dreams were as impossible as becoming a princess or a fairy or any other fantastical thing I read about.

Have you heard from any fans—any readers—since the publication of A Crooked Kind of Perfect?

It is so cool to get email from people who have read your book. Most of those notes have been from grown-ups: writers, teachers, librarians, booksellers. I love that. The kid letters are really great, though. I got one that said: You must be like so rich!


Who are some of your favorite authors? What are some of your favorite books?

There are books I can read over and over: Sarah, Plain and Tall; Granny Torelli Makes Soup; Maniac Magee; Missing May; Stuart’s Cape; Charlotte’s Web; Donuthead; Toys Go Out; Rules; Tale of Desperaux . . . you want more? Newish on my list: Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, which totally knocked my socks off. The authors of those books are among my favorites.

Dang! That doesn’t even include the picture books. I love Marla Frazee’s work as author and illustrator. I’m also a sucker for just about anything David Small puts a pen to, especially those books written by his wife Sarah Stewart. Other books I love: How to Make An Apple Pie and See the World, Miss Rumphius, Roxaboxen, Andrew Henry’s Meadow, Some of Each, Little Bear’s Little Boat, Owl Moon, Apples to Oregon, The Great Gracie Chase.

I do, sometimes, read grown-up books, too. Especially those by Wendell Berry, Ann Tyler, Richard Russo, and poet Billy Collins.

What were some of your favorites at Zoe’s age?

I read Little Women at that age and wanted to be Jo. I had a serviceable bedroom at the time, but dragged a card table and a folding chair into the unfinished, uninsulated room above the garage, so that I could write in the cold, like Jo did in her attic. Also, I had a real connection to the Little House books and read them over and over from the time I was eight until, well, yesterday.

Finally, and a bit off topic, If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

I’d probably spend twenty-three hours trying to figure out where to go, forty-five minutes mad at myself for waiting so long, and fifteen minutes in line to buy a snack.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Reading...


McKissack, Patricia C. 2007. The All-I'll-Ever-Want-For-Christmas Doll.

Christmas always came to our house, but Santy Claus only showed up once in a while.

It's the Depression. And Nella and her two sisters are wondering if Santy will make an appearance this year. Nella more than anything wants the beautiful Baby Betty doll she saw advertised in the paper. She imagined what it would be like to play with her. She talked about how she was the only thing she ever wanted...ever. I flat-out refused to give up my dream. So, without my sisters knowing it, I wrote Santy Claus a letter and sent it all the way to the North Pole. Will Nella get her wish? Will the Baby Betty doll be hers? And if she does get it...will she share with her sisters? Read and see. This one is too good to miss!


Polacco, Patricia. 2004. AN ORANGE FOR FRANKIE. New York: Philomel. ISBN 039924302X

Author and illustrator, Patricia Polacco is known for her outstanding picture books. With endearing books such as THE KEEPING QUILT, MRS. KATZ AND TUSH, CHICKEN SUNDAY, PINK AND SAY, and THANK YOU, MR. FALKER to her credit, her readers expect the best, and AN ORANGE FOR FRANKIE will not disappoint. Drawing again from her family history, Polacco shares the story of one memorable Christmas centering the tale on Frankie, her great-uncle who died in childhood. As the story opens, the Stowell family is eagerly waiting for the return of their father and the gifts--nine oranges--he'll be bringing back for Christmas. Meanwhile, the family is preparing their home for Christmas and even caring for those in need as they give hot food and drink to the engineer and a group of hobos traveling through the local train station. Frankie, the youngest son, sees one man in particular whose need he can fill; he gives away his warmest--and best--sweater to an old hobo. The father soon returns with oranges for all--but the oranges must be saved for Christmas. He gives his children a warning not to even think about touching the oranges he places on the mantel with the greens. Frankie, however, can't resist just one touch. Then it's off to the pageant, where Frankie plays an archangel. It is only after the pageant that he realizes that the orange--which he stuffed into his sweater to conceal it when his mother came into the room--is gone. He then confesses all. He's soon forgiven and there are enough love and oranges to go around for everyone--each of his family gives him one section of their orange tied together into one orange with a ribbon. AN ORANGE FOR FRANKIE is a wonderful Christmas story that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

Robinson, Barbara. 1972. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

This little gem of a book is only 90 pages long. It's been a favorite of mine for years, and I really can't recommend it highly enough. It is just one of the best Christmas books ever.

The Herdman's were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker's old broken-down toolhouse. (1)

Meet the Herdman's: Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie and Gladys. They're described as "six stringy-haired kids all alike except for being different sizes and having different black-and-blue places where they had clonked each other." (4)

The first chapter we see what they're all about--the troubles they cause, the fear they create among their peers, etc. But chapter two is when it really gets exciting.

Mother didn't expect to have anything to do with the Christmas pageant except to make me and my little brother Charlie be in it (we didn't want to) and to make my father go and see it (he didn't want to). Every year he said the same thing--"I've seen the Christmas pageant." "You haven't seen this year's Christmas pageant," Mother would tell him. "Charlie is a shepherd this year."
"Charlie was a shepherd last year. No...you go on and go. I'm just going to put on my bathrobe and sit by the fire and relax. There's nevery anything different about the Christmas pageant."
"There's something different this year," Mother said.
"What?"
"Charlie is wearing your bathrobe."
So that year my father went...to see his bathrobe, he said.
Actually, he went every year but it was always a struggle, and Mother said that was her contribution to the Christmas pageant--getting my father to go to it.
(17-18)

Here is where we learn that this won't be an ordinary pageant as we plainly see in chapter three at the casting. This year the Herdmans land all the big roles--through fear and intimidation, yes--but the roles are theirs just the same.

The first pageant rehearsal was usually about as much fun as a three-hour ride on the school bus, and just as noisy and crowded. This rehearsal, though, was different. Everybody shut up and settled down right away, for fear of missing something awful that the Herdmans might do. (43)

It soon becomes evident that this pageant will be one-of-a-kind, though no one quite expects it to turn out the way it does. Let the Herdmans surprise you this Christmas!

The Best Christmas Pageant is funny and charming and true-to-life. It makes a great read aloud too!

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Picture Book Parade


Wing, Natasha. 2007. Go To Bed, Monster!

I loved, loved, loved this one. I did. Consider it the playfulness of Wing's text alongside the fabulous illustrations. The book opens with Lucy, our girl heroine, not wanting to go to bed. (Familiar premise isn't it?) One night, Lucy tossed and turned. She could not, would not, did not want to go to bed. Lucy wants to draw. And she is a mighty imaginative artist as we soon find out. What Lucy draws come to life. (Think Harold & The Purple Crayon). What she draws are "an oval body. A square head. Rectangle legs. And circle eyes." But she's not done yet. What her drawing needs to be complete are triangles--small triangles--that turn these shapes into one yellow-green (or green-yellow) monster! The first thing the monster says is "Roar!" But Lucy is SO not afraid of her own creation. "You don't scare me," said Lucy. "Let's play!" So the two play together. They do many fun things--fun activities--together. I won't list them all. That might spoil the fun. But eventually, Lucy begins to get tired. She then has the monumental task of putting a monster to bed. The monster wants many things--has many excuses--that will be familiar to young children. The book is fun, playful, and just a joy to read. The day I got it, I must have read it five or six times.


Wheeler, Lisa. 2007. Jazz Baby. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.

I read this one months ago--probably back in the summer--and fell in love with it completely. I didn't only read it five or six times in a row. I read it aloud that many times. Sure, it's fun to read aloud to someone. But I was by myself. But I just couldn't get over how wonderful the words sounded. That doesn't always happen with picture books--even good picture books. Rhythm and sound can be tricky. And in my opinion, Jazz Baby is perfection. Jazz Baby is all about a family spending time together making sweet, sweet music. Brother's hands tap. Sister's hands snap. Itty-bitty Baby's hands clap-clap-clap! But this isn't just immediate family--no, there's plenty of room for everyone. Grandpa. Granny. Mama. Daddy. Auntie. Uncle. Cousins. They're all there. They're all having fun. They're just having the time of their lives. This is one of my favorite parts, I'm sharing it because I think it's a good example of how the text just works:

Mama swings high.
Daddy swings low.
Swingin'-singin' Baby says,
"Go, Man, Go!"

So they Boom-Boom-Boom
And they Hip-Hip-Hop
And the bouncin' baby boogies
with a Bop-Bop-Bop!
Really who could resist the line "bouncin' baby boogies with a bop-bop-bop"??? The whole book just is so perfect, so right. If you love Al Perkins' Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb you're going to love this one too!!!


Isadora, Rachel. 2007. The Princess and the Pea.

I don't know about you, but I always love a good fairy tale. I love new picture book editions of favorite stories. Each illustrator, each author, tackles the subject differently. Each has a different vision, a different imagining of the story, the characters, the setting. The Princess And The Pea uses the familiar story but places the setting in Africa. There is still a prince looking for a princess to marry. There is still the princess-who-doesn't-look-like-a-real-princess who shows up in the midst of a storm. There is still the testing by pea to see if the princess is a really real princess. There is still a happily ever after ending. But the art, the illustrations, definitely give you a different feel than what you may be used to. Most of the story, as I said earlier, is traditional. But there are three foreign words...three ways to say hello in Africa. Selam (Ethiopia; Amharic), Iska Waran (Somalia; Somali), Jambo, Habari (Kenya; Swahili). Overall, I liked this one a good deal.


Isadora, Rachel. 2007. The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

I love fairy tales. I do. I know not everyone does. Not everyone can review a book with the same amount of enthusiasm. But what's not to love about this new retelling of a classic tale? Similar to The Princess and The Pea, also by Rachel Isadora, The Twelve Dancing Princesses is a familiar tale in an unfamiliar setting. Once again, Isadora has chosen to set her story in Africa. You'll recognize all the classic elements of the original story--the king, the daughters, the bet. "The king made it known that whoever discovered where the princesses went at night could choose a princess for his wife. If after three tries they failed, they would lose their life. Many tried and failed." This is the story of the one man who was successful and got to pick a princess for his bride. What makes this book, this series, unique is the artwork. It's rich. It's vibrant. It's detailed. It's just amazing.


Thompson, Lauren. 2007. The Apple Pie That Papa Baked. Illustrated by Jonathan Bean.

Apple Pie. While reading a book about apple pie isn't nearly as delicious as actually eating a slice of apple pie, it is a treat all the same. A treat meant to be enjoyed, shared, and repeated often. The text by Lauren Thompson is simple and repetitive. The text builds upon itself, repeating line after line, and soon children will be able to join in 'reading' this book.

This is the pie, warm and sweet, that Papa baked.
These are the apples, juicy and red, that went in the pie, warm and sweet, that Papa baked.
This is the tree, crooked and strong, that grew the apples, juicy and red . . .

While the text is great. It's the illustrations that really stand out and make this one a winner. Jonathan Bean's artwork is inspired by two legends in the field of illustrators: Virginia Lee Burton and Wanda Gag. These are not your typical illustrations; these are not your typical colors. The art is thoroughly charming. I just loved the feeling these pictures evoke.


Weeks, Sarah. 2007. Ella, Of Course! Illustrated by Doug Cushman.

Ella is a pig. Pigs made it big in 2007. There are piggies, piggies everywhere. Ella is a problem-solving piggy. But when Ella starts causing more problems than she solves, well, something has to be done. It all started with Ella's birthday. Her fourth birthday. Her present from her grammy? An umbrella. A blue umbrella--a sky blue umbrella with puffy white clouds. She loves everything about her umbrella. But most of all, she loves the whooshing sound it makes as it opens. She loves her umbrella so much she wants to take it everywhere with her. The problem? Umbrellas really don't belong everywhere. Especially when "everywhere" is mostly inside instead of outside. She whoosh-clicks into lamps. She whoosh-clicks into other people. She whoosh-clicks jars of honey at the grocery store. You get the idea. Ella has become a trouble-maker. Will Ella find a way to love her umbrella, to treasure her umbrella AND still be a problem-solver?

My favorite thing about Ella, Of Course! is the illustrations. Some of them are just perfect. They capture the playfulness of the text, the story. And the truth is that whether she's the cause or solution of the problems...she's one adorable little piggy.

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Christmas On Deery Street


Roberts, Steven. 2006. Christmas on Deery Street & Other Seasonal Stories.

I rarely read short stories. True, I have read a lot of short stories in literature classes in college, but I don't typically make a point of seeking out collections of short stories in my normal non-assigned reading. I like--love--well-developed characters, characters that you come to care about and know. And truth is, that rarely happens for me in such a short amount of time and space. So I was wonderfully surprised to find that Steven Roberts has an incredible gift with characterization. His characters in the stories--so real, so human. It is so easy to care about what happens to them. So natural to love them. Each story in this collection was great. There are no duds. I loved them all. In fact, it would be hard to choose a favorite. Although I suppose under duress I would answer "Christmas on Deery Street" or "Nanny's Locket". But how could I not equally love "The Angel of Union Station" and "Magic Socks"? The stories? How to describe them? They make me feel good. Warm and fuzzy. But not in a cheesy way. I know if I call them heartfelt or sentimental that someone will say, "that's not for me." And that would be a disservice. The stories cover a lot of emotions. There is love and heartache and loss and sadness. There is anger and guilt. There is hope. There is regret. And there is plenty of humor. But above all there is a feeling of genuineness, authenticity, a realness, knowing that these stories are indeed true-to-life and true to the human spirit. This is a book that I loved--I simply loved it. Adored might even come into fashion as a way to describe how much I loved it. Why? I know this is a book that I can share with my mother, my grandmother, my great-aunt, not to mention my best friend and her mother. It's a book I know so many people will enjoy that it's just a real treat to have been the one to discover it first.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Jars


Wright, Jason F. 2005. Christmas Jars.

I am so glad I found this to read before Christmas. When it came to my mailbox a few months ago, I set it to the side. I wanted to save it until it was really and truly Christmas. (A time when it wasn't 70 or 80 degrees outside.) Well, yesterday was the day. I loved this one. I did. It was just the right mix. It was sentimental and heartwarming, but it wasn't overly done. It was just a real, feel-good, warm and fuzzy read. One that I think everyone would enjoy. It's relatively short--a little over 120 pages--and it's just an enjoyable, satisfying holiday read. I don't want to get it into plot summary because there really isn't a way to do it justice. You'll just have to trust me that this works.

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