Friday, November 30, 2007

Dewey's Printz Award Challenge

The rules come straight from Dewey at The Hidden Side Of A Leaf who is hosting this challenge:
To participate in the Printz Award Challenge, choose 6 books that have won the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature OR one of the Honor books. The challenge runs from January 2008 to December 2008. When you’ve posted your list, please leave the link to your post in the comments.

Here is a list of all the award winners and honor books since 2000. The award hasn’t been around very long, but since each year has several honor books, you should find plenty to choose from.
My list includes

1. Either the 2008 Winner or one the 2008 honor books if I haven't already read them...
2. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
4. Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
5. Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
6. A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson


1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
2. Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
3. The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
4. Postcards from No Man's Land by Aidan Chambers
5. Monster by Walter Dean Myers

It goes from January 2008-December 2008

This Is What I Did

Ellis, Ann Dee. 2007. This Is What I Did.

Imagine if you had witnessed something horrific.
Imagine if it had happened to your friend.
And imagine if you hadn't done anything to help.

Logan is our young narrator. He is an outcast when our narrative opens--someone who's awkward and troubled. Troubled for two reasons--the way others treat him either through ignoring him or bullying him, and troubled by his past. One day, one night changed his life. One troubling event caused his parents to decide to move neighborhoods, change schools. This event is revealed slowly, piece by piece. Logan, our narrator, is used to lying, used to keeping secrets, used to being alone.

This is how the narrative opens:

Last week Bruce kicked me in the balls at Scouts and all his buddies were there laughing and I started crying. I was lying there crying.

But he doesn't feel comfortable, doesn't feel right, telling his parents--his dad--about the bullying, the abuse, the taunts. Afraid and ashamed he lets everything slide.

A year ago I was fine. That's when there was nothing wrong. A year ago, in seventh grade, I was fine. We were living on Mulholland with the hills and the lake and the freeway and the Minute Man Gas Stop and my best friend, Zyler, ate Twinkies and Coke and hated girls, except one.
I couldn't eat Twinkies or Coke because of Mom, but I hated girls too, except one.
At school we weren't so cool but we weren't so not cool.
Zyler and I would sit and talk about whatever we wanted: aerodynamics, space-time continuum, Cami Wakefield, fencing, the Denver Nuggets, Lamborghinis, and soggy Tater Tots for darts in the school lunchroom.
No one cared what we said and we didn't care what anyone else said.

Eighth grade isn't easy for Logan--that would be an understatement--but with the help of a quirky girl that loves palindromes and a counselor, Logan might just find a way to survive it all.

I liked this one. Logan was a great narrator. And you could really feel his pain--his angst. I disliked some of the adult characters--but then again, I think we were supposed to. I can't really get into it without spilling some of the secrets, but I liked it. I suppose it could be described as a "problem" novel since it dealt with some heavy issues, but I felt that it did so in a realistic and authentic way. It wasn't always pretty to watch the drama unfold, but ugly things happen in life.

Poetry Friday: Cinderella

Today I've got a song, a video, and a review--all Cinderella related. Personally, I'm more of a Rodgers & Hammerstein kinda girl than Disney. I'd much rather listen to "In My Own Little Corner" and "Ten Minutes Ago" and "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful" and so many other great songs...

I'm as mild and as meek as a mouse
When I hear a command I obey
But I know of a spot in my house
Where no one can stand in my way
In my own little corner in my own little chair
I can be whatever I want to be
On the wing of my fancy I can fly anywhere
and the world will open it's arms to me
I'm a young egyptian princess or a milkmaid
I'm the greatest prima donna in Milan
I'm a heiress who has always had her silk made
by her own flock of silkworms in Japan
I'm a girl men go mad for love's a game I can play
with a cool and confident kind of air
Just as long as I stay in my own little corner
All alone, in my own, little chair.

I can be whatever I want to be....
I'm a thief in Calcutta
I'm a queen in Peru
I'm a mermaid dancing upon the sea
I'm a huntress on an African Safari
It's a dangerous type of sport and yet it's fun
In the night I sally forth to seek my quarry
and I find I forgot to bring my gun!
I am lost in the jungle all alone and unarmed
when I meet a lioness in her lair!
Then I'm glad to be back in my own little corner
All alone, in my own, little chair.

Give me that over singing mice and chirping birds any day. However, I'm not immune to Disney completely.

Especially when I'm inspired by a new book. I love, love, love the new version of Cinderella that was released this past August. Walt Disney's Cinderella, retold by Cynthia Rylant. Pictures by Mary Blair. This book is incredible. It had me at hello.

This is a story about darkness and light, about sorrow and joy, about something lost and something found. This is a story about Love.

Tears have a wondrous magic about them. They often change everything. And for Cinderella, on this night, tears created a miracle.

Who can say by what mystery two people find each other in this great wide world?
How does a young man find his maiden? His heart leads him. He finds her in a room. He asks her to dance. And when he touches her, he knows.

A young man knows what he must do when the girl he loves disappears. He must find her.
He went to every home in the land, searching for the foot meant for the shoe and the heart meant for a prince.

I recommend this book to everyone regardless of age. I think it is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful book.

Mary Blair was one of Disney's conceptual designers. These illustrations come from those early concept designs before the animators got to work bringing this classic tale of love to life.

Roundup is at Two Writing Teachers.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


While nothing can displace Ender's Game from being my favorite and best Orson Scott Card novel, I love, love, love Pastwatch. I'm not quite sure how I can convey that. But I'll do my best.

It's set in the future. I would guess several hundred years in the future. Humans on Earth have become technologically advanced, but they're still paying for the mistakes of the past--most notably the environmental mistakes of the past. One of the technologies available is the ability to watch past events fold out before your eyes on the big screen. In the early stages, this technology could only watch vast regions--note climate changes and social changes--the building of communities and sometimes their collapses. But as this technology is developed further, it becomes possible to watch history in greater detail, minute detail. Scientists, historians, researchers (whatever you want to call them) can do studies on communities, societies, or individuals.

What's the point of watching the past? To learn. To understand. To answer impossible questions.

Pastwatch has multiple narrators--each one with a special interest, a special research area, together they are trying to answer some BIG questions.

How is Christopher Columbus involved? Well, he's one of our narrators for one thing. But secondly, he becomes the subject of interest for most of our other narrators. It is HIS life that is being dissected and held up for study. What our researchers learn is that at some point in time, future scientists, interfered or manipulated the past that turned Christopher Columbus' interest to sailing west. Their quest to figure out how and why of this manipulation will lead them on a journey with massive consequences. For they're debating whether or not they should do something along the same lines...

Semi-Apocalyptic fiction. Alternate histories. Time Travel.

Pastwatch is exciting. While the characters are well developed, they aren't as memorable for me as those in the Ender books. But that could be because I've read Ender's Game about a dozen times and Pastwatch only twice. Overall, I say this is a must-read. Those with an interest in history will find it fascinating. As will those with a love for science fiction.

Hornbook Fanfare '08

Hornbook Fanfare time...

Picture Books
At Night by Jonathan Bean
The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County (!!!! So excited to see this one!)
A Good Day by Kevin Henkes
Pictures From Our Vacation by Lynne Rae Perkins
First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian (Not a surprise, is it???)
Becca at Sea by Deidre Baker
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron (I'm in the middle of this one)
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (!!!)
Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan
A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve
The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Again, something that's expected)
The New Policeman by Kate Thompson

Beowulf James Rumford
Bearskinner by Laura Amy Schlitz

Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian
Tap Dancing on the Roof by Linda Sue Park

May I Pet Your Dog by Stephanie Calmenson
Who Was First? Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman (I reviewed this one not too long ago)
The Wall by Peter Sis

-----The surprising thing to me is that this is yet another 'big' list OVERLOOKING the brilliance of The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. Really??? What were they thinking????

Inklings Mini-Challenge


The Inklings Challenge

January 2008-December 2008

Options: Read two C.S. Lewis books (fiction or nonfiction) and/or watch films based on his life or his works. In addition, read two books by J.R.R. Tolkien and/or watch films based on his works. Biographies of the two men would also work. Also reading the two books by James A. Owen that feature these two as fictional characters would work. The books are Here There Be Dragons and Search for Red Dragon.

Exceptions: If you're interested in reading one but not both of the authors (say Lewis but no Tolkien OR Tolkien but no Lewis), I'm willing to allow a few substitutions. One exception, as noted above, is to read the two books by James A. Owen. I've read the first one and loved it. The second one is coming out in January. They're YA books, and they read really quickly. But there is a second option. The challenge is to read 4 books. So if you like you may read 4 books by Tolkien OR 4 Books by C.S. Lewis.

These exceptions weren't noted in the first post I had written about the challenge. But I've heard feedback saying, "if only"... and... "but"... more than a few there you have it the new and revised rules of the Inklings Challenge.

To sign up for this challenge post a comment to this posting OR post a comment to the original posting. You may join this challenge late. I don't see any reason why it couldn't remain open for newcomers to join until September or October 2008.


Amy from The Sleepy Reader
Chris from Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Ex Libris
3M from 1MoreChapter
Debi from Nothing Of Importance
Debbi from My Reading Spot
Ladytink from The Movieholic & Bibliophile's Blog
Maybe Kate? (She didn't specify Austen or Inkling or both)
Angliophile Football Fanatic
NSR (?)
Lindy (?)
April of Cafe of Dreams (?)
Lenneth of Foxy Writer.

Something Rotten

Gratz, Alan. 2007. Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery.

I was curious to read this modern adaption of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. I was a bit hesitant, after all, it had potential to be great fun OR truly awful. Most modern adaptations fall into one of those two camps. I was hoping for 'great fun' and indeed it fell more in line with that. I think the reason this book works is because it focuses not on Hamlet (Hamilton Prince) and his melodrama but on his friend Horatio. This is Horatio's story from beginning to end.

First line: Denmark, Tennessee, stank. Bad. Like dead fish fricasseed in sewer water.

The Prince family of Denmark, Tennessee, is rich and corrupt. Mostly. Horatio is a school friend visiting Hamilton for the summer. Their first stop? The family paper plant--Elsinore Paper Plant--the source of the stink in Denmark.

I don't know how familiar teens are with Hamlet these days. I would imagine it's still assigned reading in some places. But those who are familiar will recognize how Gratz updates the memorable ghost scene which opens the play. A videotape reveals a startling image:

The man on the screen had snow white hair and a face like a walnut. He looked like he was a hundred years old, but it was Mr. Prince, sure enough. There was a sad, hollow look in his eyes that I knew but couldn't place.

The tape goes on...

Hamilton, if the boys show you this tape, it means something bad has happened. Something very bad. It means I've been murdered. . . It was poison . . .

Hamilton immediately suspects his uncle Claude. His new step-father. Horatio isn't as quick to jump to conclusions. He treats this situation like a true mystery. He decides to observe, listen, and wait patiently for the pieces to fall into place. Hamilton? Well, Hamilton just wants to yell, mope, drink, and be a miserable drain to everyone's mood.

All the familiar characters are there. I think the more familiar you are with the play--either through reading it or seeing it--the more you can appreciate it. However, I doubt that that is essential.

There were many things I enjoyed about this one, though I didn't love, love, love it. Still, I can see myself recommending this one to others. I know a few people who love Shakespeare, and this will definitely be something I mention to them. :)

You can read the first chapter here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Travel the World: Christmas Part One

Today is the very first in a five part series on Christmas celebrations around the world. Most of the 'featured' books are books from a series published by World Book in the 1990s.

Christmas in France (1996)

In this title, the reader learns about Christmas (Noel) customs both past and present. Highlights include reflections on Christmas Eve mass and the accompanying "reveillon", the importance of the creche or manger scene including descriptions of clay santons. The book covers it all from decorations to music to the Christmas Eve visit of Pere Noel to the New Years day celebration where adults finally exchange gifts or etrennes. The book is full of facts and photographs. While I'm not sure many would pick up this book 'just for the fun of it,' I'm sure it comes in useful for school assignments and such. Overall, it had plenty of I-didn't-know-that facts to keep it interesting. My favorite part? The last section entitled "Christmas the French Way" which included recipes, crafts, and songs. (Though the chances of me ever voluntarily consuming Roast Goose with Prune and Pate stuffing OR Baked Red Cabbage is so minute it could be said to not exist at all.) One of the more amusing things, and I don't know how well it will show up that it shows that toddlers can be terrified of Santa in any culture. The boy looks like he's terrified! Here is a typical spread:

I won't always be doing this. I would imagine that each book is fairly laid out the same. But I wanted you to get a 'feel' for what the series is like.

Christmas in Spain (1996)

Christmas in Spain is a real treat of a book. It offers much for readers young and old. (I'm not necessarily saying Christmas in France was a bad read, but, comparing the two...well, it's easy to see that Christmas in Spain is well written and well organized. There is a big difference between the two titles when it comes down to it.) This book is just a fascinating read. Text, photos, recipes, and crafts. What more could you ask for really? Did you know that in Spain it is all about the Three Kings? That the 'big' day of the year is Epiphany, January 6th? That children will write letters to the Three Kings and everything? That they go to malls and shopping centers to stand in line to chat with The Three Kings? And oh the food, the descriptions of the foods--from turron to churros to roscon, to flan and marzipan--they're wonderful. And the songs and dances. Who knew there was such a thing as the Dance of the Sixes or that people get together to dance the sardana in large groups? This book recounts traditions and customs old and new and reports on the variances between provinces. And there is even a glossary of Spanish terms related to the holidays! Overall, this one is just too fun to miss. In case you're curious, the recipes in the back of this one sound much more kid-friendly. (Medias Lunas de Nueces [nut crescents], Pastel de Navidad [Christmas nut cups], Chocolate a la Espanola [Spanish style hot chocolate], and Almendrados [almond cookies] just to name a few.)

November Carnival

The November Carnival of Children's Literature is up now at MotherReader. The theme is tips and advice. If only there was a tip on how to find publicist contacts for elusive publishers like Disney Book Group and Hyperion Books for name a few.

The next Carnival will be hosted by Big A, little a. The theme is books that make good gifts. So dust off the reviews of your favorites or get ready to make some new suggestions.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Crutcher, Chris. 2007. Deadline.

My plan was to focus my senior year on information I could use after graduation when I set out for Planet Earth from the Pluto that is Trout, Idaho, population 943. My SATs said I wasn't even close to brain-dead and I was set to be accepted at any college I chose, as long as I chose one that would accept me.

Thus begins Deadline. Our narrator is Ben Wolf. From the very beginning--page 2 to be exact--we know that Ben is dying presumably of cancer. "Doc Wagner left a phone message a few days after my routine cross-country physical . . .there was gravity in his voice, so I decided I'd better scout ahead to see if his message was PG-13 and suited for all, or R-rated and just for me. Turned out to be X." He opts out of seeking treatment and decides to live life with all the zest and zeal he can muster. He also decides NOT to tell his parents, his brother, his coaches, his friends, his teachers. He'll carry the burden of his impending departure all on his own.

One of the first things he decides is to go out in style. If he is going to die young, he might as well be brave and try out for football. He's a short guy. A small guy. But he's always envied his younger brother's skills on the football field. Now is his last chance to go for it all--both on and off the field. Football. He also has his eyes on one other thing--his dream girl, Dallas Suzuki.

School. Football. Dating. His dysfunctional family. He starts out thinking that he is going to protect his friends, his family, his loved ones by keeping this big secret. That they're too fragile to handle the truth. That it would ruin their lives to have to watch him die and know what's coming. And as a reader, you can see there are reasons why he would think that. His mother is a basket case. She has tons of issues all her own. And she's barely holding onto her sanity most of the time--not all the time though. And his father is so concerned with taking care of his wife that things do get a bit neglected at times.

If there is a theme in Deadline it would be that everything is complicated. Life is complicated. People are complicated. Relationships with friends, families, lovers, etc. are complicated. Nothing is as simple as it appears. Lies. Secrets. Regrets. Everyone has them. Everyone is carrying a burden--be it of shame, guilt, anger, or confusion. Ben isn't the only one keeping secrets. And it is through his relationships--his conversations--that he learns some of life's greatest lessons.

Two relationships stand out. One is with an older man, the town drunk. Ben gets the notion he needs to "save" this man from himself and stop him from self-destructing. The problem is that some burdens can't be eased--not in this lifetime--not without divine intervention. The other relationship is with Dallas. Dallas has a few secrets of her own--about her family, about her past--she comes clean with Ben. But Ben has trouble being honest with her. Will she--can she--forgive him for lying by omission?

I didn't love everything about this book. I'll admit to some personal biases. The conversations he has with Hey-Soos or Jesus, his 'imaginary' guide were troublesome for me. Not everyone will find the messages and 'truths' to be troublesome, however, and there are many many views of spirituality and the afterlife. Just because I didn't click with this particular aspect doesn't mean I disliked the novel. And it won't stop me from recommending it to people.

Deadline is similar to Before I Die. Both have teen narrators that are facing death. Both decide to live life to the fullest why they can. Their philosophies are different. Very, very different. But both are independent and strong-willed. Both have complicated families--dysfunctional families--they're leaving behind. Both want to find love and romance before they die. One is on the surface more honest and forthcoming and the other. I can see strengths and weaknesses in both. Before I Die made me cry at the end, I didn't have that response with Deadline. What was missing for me in both books--and this is a personal thing I would imagine--is that I had a hard time liking--really liking--the characters. I thought Crutcher's were better developed. I thought there was more depth, more development. I think Ben was a bit more self-aware and definitely less self-destructive than Tessa. I think he did better at dealing with what life had thrown him. But that's not to say that Before I Die doesn't have strengths of its own. I can see why they are both powerful depictions.

Wishes and Fairy Godmothers

In the category of "how did I miss this???" and "I really really really really wish I had a publicist contact here" (Disney Press) or "this would make a great birthday present for me (happy almost birthday to me--the big day is Thursday) I present my latest discovery:

Walt Disney's Cinderella retold by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Mary Blair

Monday, November 26, 2007

Becky's Holiday Shopping Guide, Pt. 2

Friday's post was all about finding perfect gifts for book-lovers. Most of the books were classics or well-beloved favorites. Books known by the masses for the most part. But I hope that a few of them were new-to-you discoveries. Meaning, that while you might know of Alice in might not know that there is a delightful pop-up edition that would be sure to please.

Today's post is different. I'm focusing on newer books. These books are books that I have loved, loved, loved in the past five or six years. Some of them are 'gift' editions or 'collectible' editions, but that's not the emphasis this time around.

If someone was going to FORCE ME to choose my favorite, favorite picture books. These would top my list:

Bubba and Beau: Best Friends by Kathi Appelt (paperback) $6.00 (hardcover) $16.00
Bubba and Beau: Go Night-Night by Kathi Appelt (paperback) $6.00 (hardcover) $16.00
Bubba and Beau: Meet the Relatives by Kathi Appelt (hardcover) $16.00
Dog Blue by Polly Dunbar $14.99
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems (hardcover) $15.99
Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney $16.99
Llama Llama Mad At Mama by Anna Dewdney $15.99
Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal $12.95
Cookies: Bite Size Life Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal $12.99
No More Cookies by Paeony Lewis $16.95
Dooby Dooby Moo by Doreen Cronin $16.95
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin $15.95
Big Sister, Little Sister by Leuyen Pham $15.99
Grump by Janet Wong
Go To Bed, Monster! by Natasha Wing $16.00
Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler $16.00
My Cat Copies Me by Yoon D. Kwon $15.95
Hurry! Hurry! by Eve Bunting $16.00

And of course anything and everything Charlie and Lola by Lauren Child.

Of course the wonderful thing about picture books is that you can have fun browsing the bookstores, reading the titles that catch your eye, finding new authors, new titles, that interest you. It's not really possible to "preview" a novel in the store before you buy it.

Early-to-Mid Readers

I love, love, love the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems:

There Is A Bird On Your Head $8.99
I Am Invited To A Party! $8.99
My Friend is Sad $8.99
Today I Will Fly $8.99

I love the two Clementine books. I hope the series continues for a long time. :)

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker $14.99
Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker $14.99

And these books are great as well:

Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins $16.95
Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford $12.99

Middle Readers on up...

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan $17.95 (hardcover) $7.99 (paperback)
The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan $17.95 (hardcover) $7.99 (paperback)
The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan $17.95 (hardcover)
Bartimaeus Trilogy Boxed Set by Jonathan Stroud $45.00 (Also available individually in both hardcover and paperback)
The Twilight Collection by Stephenie Meyer $55.00 (also available individually)
Uglies Boxed Set by Scott Westerfeld $25.99
Extras by Scott Westerfeld $16.99
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray $9.99
Rebel Angels by Libba Bray $9.99 (paperback)
The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray $17.99 (Amazon lists a post-Christmas release date)
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer $17.00 (also available in paperback for $6.95)

Other must-have authors: Sarah Dessen, Sonya Sones, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Shannon Hale, and Joan Bauer.

Auction Two Begins Today

Auction 2 will begin accepting bids on Monday, Nov. 26 at 9:00 a.m. with a starting bid of $100 for each snowflake. All bids must be before the close of Auction 2 on Friday, Nov. 30 at 5:00 pm. Don't forget that 100 percent of the proceeds from this online auction will benefit sarcoma research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and that all but $25 of the winning bid is tax deductible.

Read about all the illustrators who contributed to this auction at the sites linked below. (The order presented is the same as on the auction page.)

Becky Interviews Sara Lewis Holmes

Here is my interview with Sara Lewis Holmes, the author of Letters From Rapunzel. She is graciously sharing a photo of herself as a child. You may visit her official site or blog. She is also a regular contributor to Poetry Friday. I especially loved one of her recent poems, "Credo." You can read the first portion (letter) of Letters From Rapunzel online. Here are some blog reviews: Jen Robinson, Reading YA: Readers' Rants, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Here's what I wrote in my review:
When "Rapunzel" finds a scrap of a letter in her father's chair addressed to "Box # 5667", she begins an unusual correspondence with one of her father's inspirational muses. Her father, a poet, has been hospitalized with clinical depression. Rapunzel, however, is too young to really understand that diagnosis. All she knows is that her father is under an evil spell. She hopes by writing her father's friend--his poetic guide--that she will somehow break the spell. That she will be rescued from her tower--the horribly yucky after-school Homework Club. And that her father will be rescued from his tower--the hospital. (Or clinic, or institution--I can't remember if the book was too specific in saying where the father was being kept).

Who is Box #5667? A mystery that won't be solved until the final chapters. I certainly won't tell--or even hint. But the correspondence isn't so much about "Box #5667" as it is about a young girl's inner thought life. Her joys. Her concerns. Her worries. She can be funny. She can be entertaining. But she can also be quite serious. She wants to do anything and everything she can to help her father. But there is nothing she can do. School and the homework club are just two of her troubles. Homework--so isn't fun. Teachers--so don't understand her sense of humor. Classmates--don't understand where she's coming from.

Letters from Rapunzel is a truly enjoyable read. The characters are well-written, and the story is heartfelt.
What do you love about being a writer? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

I love playing with words, wrestling with Big Questions, and being able to work in my pajamas. Also, I can justify reading children’s books as part of my job. I talked about being a writer in high school, but I loved science and theater and other things too, so I didn’t pursue fiction writing until much later.

How long did it take for you to write Letters From Rapunzel? What was your inspiration? What kept you going through the years?

Letters From Rapunzel first appeared as a scribbled book title idea in my journal of June 1997. There’s a brief note to myself that reads: “Letters From Prison: A Princess Writes From Her Tower. Could this be a fractured version of Rapunzel?” (No, as it turned out, because Rapunzel became a real girl, not a fairy tale character.) There was also this picture, which says so much about what the book would eventually become, especially that mailbox!

What has been the most surprising thing about your journey to publication?

Winning the HarperCollins Ursula Nordstrom fiction contest was a complete surprise. I absolutely didn’t expect to win. The most I had hoped for was to have an editor read my work, and jot something encouraging in the margin, like a smiley face.

What do you hope readers will walk away with after reading your book?

I want them to know that rescuing yourself is hard work. I want them not to be afraid if someone they love is coping with something that can’t be easily solved. And I want them to hold onto every story that helps them do either of these. I also hope they laugh, and share the bits they like with their friends.

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

Only a teeny, tiny bit. There’s not much I can do about any of that, so I’m more apt to get nervous or excited over a school presentation or an interview or anything that I’m currently creating.

How excited were you to find out that your book, Letters From Rapunzel, had been nominated for the Cybils?

Well, I was thinking of paying my brother a quarter to submit my name, and then I didn’t have to, because someone I don’t know nominated me! (Saved me a quarter, too.)

Who has been your biggest supporter?

My husband, no contest. Not only does he shamelessly promote my book to everyone he meets, but he’s the one who disagreed with me when I thought I should put Letters From Rapunzel in a desk drawer and count it as my “first failed novel.” He told me that “someone out there really needs this story,” and he laughed and cried every time he read it. That convinced me.

Can you tell us anything about your work in progress? Will it be another novel? Or will it be poetry?

My work in progress is another middle grade novel, which was inspired by the quote: “Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle.” It’s about theater, and military kids, and knowing who and where you are. I’m also working on some poetry in the form of picture book manuscripts.

What do you love about blogging?

The connection to the wider world. New friends. Being able to shout about the good things I find. Immediate feedback. It’s kind of like performing in that way.

Do you think it is important for authors to have a presence on the internet?

Only if an author truly wants to. But I’m always glad when an author I love has a website or a blog. How else would I ever get to meet them?

This one is for you both as a reader and an author. Do you write fan letters to authors you admire? And have you received any fan letters from readers? How important do you think it is for readers and authors to connect with one another?

I wrote a blog post to Connie Willis for Tell An Author You Care Day. But I think my choosing to be a writer is, in a way, my “fan letter” to my favorite authors growing up.

I have received a few fan letters, mostly via email or through my web site. Here’s one. And once, my aunt, who was a teacher at the time, had her class write letters to me after they read my short story “A Tale of Quiet” in Cricket magazine. I think I got 25 letters, and I answered all of them. They were so important to me.

Growing up, what were your favorite books? Which ones have stayed with you and made a lasting impression? Which ones still give you warm fuzzies?

Lloyd Alexander’s five books in the Prydain Chronicles were (and still are) my favorites. My dad read them aloud to me, and I read them aloud to my kids, and I adore them with a white-hot passion. They are so full of wisdom, sorrow, joy, humor, and the most beautifully unadorned writing I’ve ever read. Plus, it helps that I’m part Welsh, and they’re based on Welsh mythology. I also loved The Phantom Tollbooth, the Anne of Green Gables series, Enchantress from the Stars, Nancy Drew, the Narnia books, Half Magic, Harriet the Spy, The Great Brain, books about magic tricks and all the Andrew Lang fairy tale collections.

Did you have a favorite time and place to read?

I always read while I eat lunch, or at any meal where it wouldn’t be rude. And I like reading whenever I’m on a train, and outside on my deck. If I had a deep windowsill, I’d read there. I used to like to read upside-down.

In your opinion, what makes a book a classic?

The ones that stay with you long after you’ve put them down. These are not necessarily perfect books. That surprised me, when I started trying to read more “classics.” There were plenty of flaws, if you looked, or if you were just sensitive to them because you’re aware of the craft. But books don’t have to be perfectly written to be classics. They have to be perfectly LOVED.

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

I’d like to hold my children as babies one more time. And I’d like to tell my niece’s family about her cancer early enough that they could have defeated it long before now. And I’d like to meet Shakespeare. None of those would cost money, so I’d use the pile of cash to buy a killer pair of shoes and give the rest (anonymously) to every school library in the country to buy books kids want to read.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Who Was First?

Freedman, Russell. 2007. Who Was First? Discovering the Americas.

Few authors are more respected in the field of nonfiction than Russell Freedman. He's the best of the best. His books are readable (aka accessible) and thoroughly researched and documented. He is perhaps best known for his biographies, but he's written many other types of nonfiction as well.

Who Was First is his newest book. The topic is an interesting one. Who discovered America "first"? When was it "discovered"? Is there any way to know when the first people arrived and settled in the Americas? While there are a few things that are documented--Columbus being one of the established facts--many things are speculations or hypotheses. Freedman starts with Columbus and works backwards. He is looking for evidence of the 'first' discovery. We are certain that Columbus was not it. Obviously. The various Native American tribes of both continents and islands are proof that others were there first. But his quest is a global one. It examines the sailing and exploration history of many countries--many peoples. Including the Vikings and the Chinese.

While a lot of this is guess work, the book never fails to fascinate. Freedman clearly distinguishes between fact and speculation. When it comes to speculations, he explains both the theory and the theorists. The historians and archaeologists are sometimes as intriguing as their theories.

Overall, I enjoyed this one because of the fact that there are so many unknowns. I think sometimes things are presented in history class are presented in such a way that they seem absolute and unquestionable. I think it is difficult to teach the concept of Columbus in general. There are too many complexities involved. Columbus certainly wasn't the "first" to discover America. And he wasn't even the first European to discover America. And his arrival and the introduction of Spanish explorers to native shores is naturally complex. Their treatment of the natives as savages is hard to sugarcoat. There's no polite way to excuse their behavior--slavery, disease, war--all side effects of Columbus' "discovery." But this book goes beyond Columbus. I think it is nice for kids to be exposed to this side of history--the unknowns, the conjectures. To learn to think of history as a mystery waiting to be solved instead of a bunch of boring facts to be memorized.

This book is appropriate for middle readers on up.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Gaiman, Neil. 2007. Interworld.

It would have been hard for me not to enjoy Interworld by Neil Gaiman. It's science fiction. It's alternate realities. It's other dimensions. It's Neil Gaiman. Take any one of those, and there's a good chance I'll enjoy...but all of them...and it would be impossible for me not to.

Joey Harker is our teen hero. He's directionally challenged in the real world, but he's about to go where few have gone before--walking between worlds, walking between realities. And at this--directionally challenged or not--he excels. This "gift" makes him a valuable asset to both the good guys and the bad guys. And this "gift" may just cost him his life in a war he never expected to fight.

First line: Once I got lost in my own house.

When Joey and his classmates are turned loose on the streets in an experiment for his Social Studies class and told to find their way to a certain place by a certain time, Joey's sense of direction will be tested like never before. The class is paired up--maybe in twos or threes I don't remember the exact number--but Joey's partner, not so lucky. When Joey gets lost, he sets off on his own--telling his partner that he'll be back in a minute or two. He doesn't return...not for thirty-six hours. And when he does return he has amnesia. He has no idea of what happened while he was missing. Though, of course, the reader does.

Interworld is an exciting, action-packed adventure.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Becky's Favorite Things Pt. 1

Becky's Favorite Things: A Gift Guide for Book Lovers

Note: The prices are the list price. I would imagine you can find the books at many places for lower than the list price. The links are for Amazon, but you're definitely encouraged to shop at independent bookstores as well.

All Things Alice

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Vintage Classics) by Lewis Carroll $9.95
Princess Alyss of Wonderland by Frank Beddor, Catia Chien illustrator $19.99
Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Lizabeth Zwerger $24.99
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: A Pop-up Adaptation by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Robert Sabuda $26.99
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor $17.99 hardover, $8.99 paperback.
Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor $17.99
The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition by Lewis Carroll. Edited by Martin Gardner. $29.95 hardcover, used editions of paperback are available.
Madame Alexander Alice in Wonderland Doll, $49.95

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Commemorative Pop-Up by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by Robert Sabuda $26.99
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 100th Anniversary Edition by L. Frank Baum, W.W. Denslow, illustrator. $24.99
The Annotated Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Martin Gardner, Forward; Michael Patrick Hearn, editor. $39.95
The Treasury of Oz by L. Frank Baum $19.49
Wicked and Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire $44.95 [Note: These books are not appropriate for children. Older readers--teens--should be fine though.]

All Things Little House

Little House 9 Book Box Set (Paperback) $59.99
The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods From Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories by Barbara M. Walker $9.99
My Little House Crafts Book: 18 Projects From Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House Stories by Carolyn Strom Collins $12.99
My Book of Little House Paper Dolls $10.99
Little House In the Big Woods Audio CD, Unabridged Cherry Jones, narrator. $25.95
Little House On the Prarie Audio CD, Unabridged Cherry Jones, narrator. $25.95
On The Banks of Plum Creek Audio CD, Unabridged, Cherry Jones, narrator. $25.95
By The Shores of Silver Lake Audio CD, Unabridged, Cherry Jones, narrator. $25.95
The Long Winter Audio CD, Unabridged, Cherry Jones, narrator. $25.95
Little Town on the Prairie Audio CD, Unabridged, Cherry Jones, narrator. $25.95
These Happy Golden Years Audio CD, Unabridged Cherry Jones, narrator $25.95
The First Four Years Audio CD, Unabridged Cherry Jones, narrator $25.95
Farmer Boy Audio CD, Unabridged, Cherry Jones, narrator $25.95
Little House in the Big Woods: 75th Anniversary Edition by Laura Ingalls Wilder, ill. Garth Williams $19.99

All Things Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia Pop-up: Based on the Books by C.S. Lewis Robert Sabuda, Matthew Armstrong, and Matthew Reinhart $29.99
The Chronicles of Narnia CD Box Set, Audio, Unabridged $75.00
The Chronicles of Narnia: Radio Theatre (Full Cast Drama) Audio $49.97 (Abridged)
The Chronicles of Narnia Boxed Set (Paperback) by C.S. Lewis, $45.00

All Things Peter Pan

Peter Pan Audio CD, Unabridged, Jim Dale narrator $29.95
Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson $17.99
Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson $18.99
Peter and the Secret of Rundoon by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson $18.99
Escape From the Carnivale: A Never Land Adventure by Ridley Pearson $9.99
Cave of the Dark Wind: A Never Land Adventure by Ridley Pearson $9.99
Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean $17.99
Peter Pan 100th Anniversary Edition by J.M. Barrie, Michael Hague illustrator $25.00
Peter Pan and Wendy Madame Alexander Dolls $149.99

All Things Beatrix

A Beatrix Potter Treasury $19.99
Complete Beatrix Potter 2-Disc DVD $19.98
Beatrix Potter: The Complete Tales (Hardcover) $40.00
Beatrix Potter's Nursery Rhyme Book $12.99
The Complete Adventures of Peter Rabbit $14.99
The World of Peter Rabbit (23 Books & Presentation Box) $160.00
Peter Rabbit's Giant Storybook $15.99
The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Board Book) $6.99

All Things Pooh

Winnie the Pooh 80th Anniversary Edition $19.99
The House At Pooh Corner, Deluxe Edition $19.99
Note: Deluxe Editions of When We Were Young and Now We Are Six will be released in 2008!
The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh (75th Anniversary) $40.00
Pooh Library 4-volume Set (Hardcover) $48.00
Winnie the Pooh, Audio CD, Unabridged, Narrator Peter Dennis $19.95
The House At Pooh Corner, Unabridged Audio CD $14.95
Classic Pooh Plush $19.99
Classic Piglet Plush $19.99
Classic Pooh Hand Puppet Trio $19.99
Madame Alexander's Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day $99.95

All Things Anne

Madame Alexander Anne of Green Gables Doll $80.00
Anne of Green Gables DVD $24.99
The Complete Anne of Green Gables Boxed Set $43.49
Anne of Green Gables (Radio Theatre) Audio CD (Abridged, I'm assuming) $14.97
The Annotated Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Wendy Elizabeth Barry, editor $49.95

Mother Goose Time

Mary Engelbreit's Mother Goose: One Hundred Best Loved Verses $19.99
Richard Scarry's Best Mother Goose Ever $14.99
Mother Goose's Little Treasures by Iona Opie, Rosemary Wells Illustrator $27.38
Here Comes Mother Goose by Iona Opie, Rosemary Wells Illustrator $18.95
My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie, Rosemary Wells Illustrator $22.99
The Neighborhood Mother Goose by Nina Crews $16.99
Wee Sing Mother Goose $9.99
The Movable Mother Goose (Mother Goose Pop-Up) by Robert Sabuda $21.99
Tomie DePaola's Mother Goose $25.99

Spotlight on Mrs. Piggle Wiggle

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald, Anne MacDonald Canham. Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger $15.99
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald $5.99
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Magic by Betty MacDonald $5.99
Hello, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald $5.99
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Farm by Betty MacDonald $4.95

Note: 2007 is a great year to find new editions of Roald Dahl's books. All of his books have been reprinted, and new audio editions are available as well.

New Editions of Classic Favorites

The Annotated Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, editor. $35.00
Mary Engelbreit's Classic Library: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett $9.99
Mary Engelbreit's Classic Library: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett $9.99
The Annotated Brothers Grimm by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. A.S. Byatt, introduction. Maria Tatar, translator. $35.00
The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar (editor) $35.00
The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen by Hans Christian Andersen, Maria Tatar, editor $35.00
The Annotated Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Michael Patrick Hearn (editor) $29.95
The Annotated Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Michael Patrick Hearn (editor) $39.95
The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats by Philip Nel $30.00
How The Grinch Stole Christmas 50th Anniversary Retrospective Edition by Dr. Seuss and Charles D. Cohen $24.99
The Annotated Charlotte's Web by E.B. White $19.99
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Lauren Child illustrator. New translation by Tiina Nunnally $25.00
A Collection of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories $21.05
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling $9.95

Anthologies for Enthusiasts

The 20th Century Children's Book Treasury $40.00
HarperCollins Treasury of Picture Book Classics: A Child's First Collection $27.99
Mike Mulligan and More: Four Classic Stories by Virginia Lee Burton $20.00
Eloise Wilkin Stories (Little Golden Book Treasury) $10.95
Farm Tales (Little Golden Book Treasury) $10.99
Animal Tales (Little Golden Book Treasury) $10.99
Sleepytime Tales (Little Golden Book Treasury) $10.95
Inspirational Tales (Little Golden Book Treasury) $10.95
The 20th Century Children's Poetry Treasury $19.95
Tomie DePaola's Favorite Nursery Tales $25.99
Tomie DePaola's Book of Bible Stories $12.99
Tomie DePaola's Big Book of Favorite Legends $14.99
Mercer Mayer's Little Critter Storybook Collection 30 Years Celebration $9.99
Just A Little Critter Collection by Mercer Mayer $9.99
The Complete Adventures of Curious George by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey $30.00
Your Favorite Seuss: A Baker's Dozen by the One and Only Dr. Seuss $34.95
George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends by James Marshall $25.00
Mouse Cookies & More: A Treasury by Laura Numeroff $24.99