Apr 30, 2010

National Poetry Month: Robert Francis

The Base Stealer
By Robert Francis 
Poised between going on and back, pulled
Both ways taut like a tightrope-walker,
Fingertips pointing the opposites,
Now bouncing tiptoe like a dropped ball
Or a kid skipping rope, come on, come on,
Running a scattering of steps sidewise,
How he teeters, skitters, tingles, teases,
Taunts them, hovers like an ecstatic bird,
He’s only flirting, crowd him, crowd him,
Delicate, delicate, delicate, delicate – now!

Apr 29, 2010

Book Review: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe Road
by Melina Marchetta
Hardcover: 9780061431838, HarperTeen, $17.99
Paperback: 9780061431852, HarperTeen, $8.99

This post was originally published here in August 2008. A few alterations have been made to the version posted on Afterthoughts...

Every time I read this book, I cry. I am not generally a crier. Yes, tears welled at the news of Walter in Rilla of Ingleside (by L.M. Montgomery, and if you don't know the news, I'm not telling), and okay, I admit it, I am a HUGE movie crier (I swear I shed a tear at something in almost every movie), but about books, and most importantly, in real life? Not a weeper. Have you ever seen The Holiday with Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, and Cameron Diaz? Jude Law has a funny bit in it about being a major weeper. Not. Me.
I digress. The point is, not every book reaches in and pulls at my heartstrings, so I wanted to tell you about one that has. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. Amazing.

The main character, Taylor Markham, is 17 and lives at the boarding school on Jellicoe Road. Her mother abandoned her when she was 7. She doesn't know anything about her father. 

Taylor has just become the new leader of her House at school, and the unwillingly chosen leader of all of the House leaders. The leaders don't believe in her. Her House barely knows her. Though Taylor doesn't want the responsibility, she has no choice but to shoulder it.

There's a war, you see. A war that began almost 20 years ago and is faithfully carried out while school is in session. Townies vs. Cadets. vs. the Houses of the school on Jellicoe Road. The Townies are kids who live in the town nearby. The Cadets are boys from the military academy that comes to the area for training ever year. There are property boundary lines, invasions, retaliations and retributions, fist fights, broken bones, treaties, and maybe a hidden tunnel.

There's Taylor's closest-thing-to-family, Hannah, who has just disappeared. There's Raffy, Talor's BFF, who tells her the truth and keeps it from her when necessary. There's Santangelo, leader of the Townies, with his sidekicks, The Mullets, and his history with Raffy. Lastly, there's Jonah Griggs - betrayer, former run-away mate, who knows too much about Taylor for his own good, and is currently the leader of the Cadets.

Betrayed numerous times beyond measure, hurt, afraid to hope for love, and reluctant leader, Taylor can't keep it together. She falls apart. The surprise is who is there to help put her back together when she does. 

Who is Taylor? Where is Hannah? Where is her mother? Who will win the war? And in the end, does it matter? 

If all that isn't enough, here's a taste of the book - just the first two lines should do it:

"My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. I counted."

Read it. With a box of tissues.

If you like Melina Marchetta's writing, also check out Finnikin of the Rock.

Apr 28, 2010

Gift of Reading Club Selections: April 2010

Ever have one of those "duh" moments when you wonder why it took you so long to think of that simple, yet brilliant, idea?

Each month at the Odyssey Bookshop, I hand-select books for children signed up for our Gift of Reading Program. Usually a family member or close family friend signs up the child (age infant through teen), and each month I pick out, ring up, gift wrap, and mail out a book chosen specifically for them. The books have usually been recently published (within the last three months or so), and is chosen based on the age of the child, the gender (yes, I take that into consideration, though I do think outside the box) of the child, the reading level, if I know anything about the child's reading preferences, the literary merit of the book, the artistic merit of the book, and of course, my own personal taste.

Why I never thought to blog about my selections before is beyond me. I will now begin to do so, using only age and gender to identify the recipient of the book. Here they are:

April 2010 Gift of Reading Club Selections
(by age)

Baby (months old) female:

Gossie Plays Hide and Seek
by Olivier Dunrea 
9780547242965, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $13.99

1 yr/o male:

Trucks: A Mini Animotion Book
by Accord Publishing
9780740792007, Accord Publishing, $9.99

I Like Bugs
by Lorena Siminovitch
9780740792007, Candlewick Press, $6.99  

Zoo Parade!
by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Simms Taback  
9781593540142, Blue Apple Books, $8.95 

2 yr/o female:

Pepi Sings a New Song
by Laura Ljungkvist
9781416991380, Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), $16.99 

3 yr/o male:

Giant Pop-Out Ocean
9780811874793, Chronicle, $10.99 

4 yr/o female:

The Sandwich Swap
by Her Majesty Queen Rania AlAbdullah of Jordan, with Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Tricia Tusa
9781423124849, Harper, $16.98

by Elise Broach, illustrated by Richard Egielski
9781416916284, Simon & Schuster, $16.99

The Django
by Levi Pinfold
9780763647889, Templar Books (Candlewick), $16.99

6 & & yr/o male:

Shark vs. Train
by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
9780316007627, Little, Brown for Young Readers (Hachette), $16.99 

7 & 8 yr/o female:

Madame Pamplemousse and her Incredible Edibles
by Rupert Kingfisher, illustrated by Sue Hellard
9781599903064, Bloomsbury (Macmillan), $15.99

9 yr/o female:

Kaline Klattermaster's Tree House
by Haven Kimmel, illustrated by Peter Brown
9780689874031, Simon & Schuster, $5.99

8, 9, & 10 yr/o male:

Big Nate: In a Class By Himself
by Lincoln Peirce
9780061944345, Harper, $12.99

11 & 12 yr/o male:

Dangerous Book of Heroes
by Conn & David Iggulden
9780061928246, William Morrow & Co, $26.99

12 yr/o female:

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place
by Maryrose Wood, illustrated by Jon Klassen
9780061791055, Harper, $15.99

15 yr/o female:

And Both Were Young
by Madeleine L'Engle
9780374303648, Farrar Straus & Giroux (Macmillan), $16.99

Apr 25, 2010

Fall 2010 Picturebook Highlights: Random House

Remember back in January when I posted about ordering books that would be published this Summer 2010? Well, it's the end of April and guess what I'm doing.

If you guessed buying books for Fall/Winter 2010, you'd be correct!

Introducing the Fall 2010 Picturebook Highlights, beginning with Random House!

Camille Saint-Saens's The Carnival of the Animals
music by Camille Saint-Saens
verses by Jack Prelutsky
illustrations by Mary Grandpre
9780375864582, $19.99, Pub. Date: August 2010

You don't get more all-star cast than this, folks! The illustrations are by Mary Grandpre, the woman who first put a face to the American versions of Harry Potter. Jack Prelutsky was the first Children's Poet Laureate in 2006. Camille Saint-Saens was a famous French composer who wrote a musical suite of 14 movements, the musical accompaniment to carousing carnival animals. The music is performed and recorded by the Wurrtemberg Chamber Orchestra and Jack Prelutsky reads his poetry on the 54-minute CD is included with this delightful picturebook.

Dog Loves Books
by Louise Yates
9780375864490, $16.99, Pub. Date: September 2010

Yes, I chose to highlight this book in part because it describes my life as a bookseller so well! When you love books as much as Dog and I do, obviously opening a bookshop is the thing to do. Unlike dog, however, I can't just read when customers aren't in the shop. Dog reads all kinds of books waiting for customers to arrive, and when his shop becomes busy, he's able to put exactly the right book in their hands.

Six Crows
by Leo Lionni
9780375845505, $16.99, Pub. Date: September 2010

Originally published in 1988, this book is back in print for the first time. I love crows - I've actually been designing a crow or raven tattoo for years - so I was particularly pleased to see this one back in stock. Leo Lionni's Swimmy stole my heart as a child (9780394826202, $6.99); it was a pleasure to be introduced to this classic. Six crows watch a farmer tend his field of wheat. Though he sets up a scarecrow to protect his wheat, the clever crows make plans to outmaneuver the farmer. Like most of Lionni's books, there is a moral to this tale: compromise.

Hush, Little Horsie
by Jane Yolen
illustrated by Ruth Sanderson
9780375858536, $16.99, Pub. Date: September 2010

Two local children's book creators have teamed up to bring you this gentle masterpiece. Ruth Sanderson's dreamy illustrations perfectly compliment Jane Yolen's rhyming bedtime verses.   

The ABCs of Rock
by Melissa Duke Mooney
illustrations by Print Mafia
9781582462936, $16.99, Pub. Date: October 2010 - from Tricycle Press, distributed by Random House

This book is really for adults, I think, or maybe for the children of musicians or those really into the rock music scene. Personally, I love it, but what I'm trying to say is this book is probably not for everyone. This is what the catalogue has to say:

From one of the top rock band poster artists comes a collection of 26 evocative images of rock music's most recognized icons. Starting with AC/DC's familiar lightning bolts and ending with ZZ Top's customer Ford coupe, this alphabetical retrospective of more than four decades of rock history will inspire music lovers of all ages.

Apr 24, 2010

Author Visit: David Hyde Costello, Author of I Can Help and Here They Come!

You want to know why I love my job?

Yes, I get to read children's books months before they get published and then recommend them to you and others to read. Yes, I get to hold weekly storytimes where adorable children sit at my feet and listen with rapt attention (usually) while I read them picturebooks. And yes, I get to hold events with authors and illustrators, meet them, hang out with them, find out their favorite type of signing pen and bottled water...

As if those weren't enough, one of the top reasons I love my job is that, on the rare occasion, an author will unexpectedly stop by for a visit. Those are some of the best days of all. Working at a bookstore in the Pioneer Valley, where the old adage says you can't throw a stone without hitting a children's book author or illustrator, greatly increases the chances of a surprise visit. Today, I got one from author/illustrator David Hyde Costello!

David is the author of Here They Come! (9780374330514, Farrar Straus Girroux - Macmillan, $15), a really fun Halloween book told from the point of view of small monsters. You see the monsters celebrate Halloween with a big party until strange creatures show up wearing all kinds of crazy costumes and scare the monsters away. Can you guess what type of creatures are beneath those costumes? (Answer: Human children.) Wonderful for storytime with a crowd, or if you're taking a closer look, make sure to keep an eye out for the sneaky subplots happening in the illustrations. SIGNED COPIES AVAILABLE AT THE ODYSSEY BOOKSHOP.

David's newest book is I Can Help (9780374335267, Farrar Straus Giroux - Macmillan, $12.99). In addition to the simple, colorful illustrations, the trim size is my favorite part. This book is perfect for the little hands of the youngest picturebook reader. The charming story is perfect for that age, too, about baby animals helping each other in various ways. What child hasn't said, "I can help!"? SIGNED COPIES AVAILABLE AT THE ODYSSEY BOOKSHOP.

Thanks, David, for stopping by!

Apr 23, 2010

Ode to Stephen Gammell

Author and illustrator Stephen Gammell's work is known in two very different veins: sassy, whimsical picturebook illustrator and nightmare-inducing, horror illustrator.

My first introduction to his work was through his Caldecott Award winning book Song and Dance Man (9780679819950, Random House, $6.99). I loved having my parents read the story to me, but it was for the illustrations that I flipped through the book again and again. When I became the Children's Department Manager at the Odyssey, there was an established section of award-winning picture books. Song and Dance Man was one of the first books I ordered in for that section.

More recently, I posted about discovering My Friend, the Starfinder by George Ella Lyon (9781416927389, Simon & Schuster, $16.99) and my love of his newest picturebook How the Nobble Was Finally Found by C.K. Williams (9780152054601, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18).

What I didn't realize until I began researching him is that most people know Gammell as the illustrator for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz (9780064401708, Harper, $5.99). I vaguely remember this book from a 3rd grade slumber party where I got so freaked out, I couldn't sleep for days.

It's amazing to me that his picturebook illustrations create such a different mood that until today, I never made the connection between the nightmare-inducing images of my childhood and the exquisitely detailed, beautifully vivid, almost ethereal picturebook illustrations. It speaks to the versatility of Stephen Gammell as an illustrator, as do his two other Caldecott Honor-winning picturebook titles The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant (9780689717383, Simon & Schuster, $7.99) and Where the Buffaloes Begin by Olaf Baker (9780140505603, Penguin, $6.99).

Sadly a few of his books are out of print, but here are some favorites, in addition to those already mentioned, still available at your local bookshop:

The Secret Science Project That Almost Ate the School
by Judy Sierra
9781416911753, Simon & Schuster, $16.95

Old Henry
by Joan Blos
9780688099350, Mulberry Books, $6.99

Old Black Fly
by Jim Aylesworth
9780805039245, Henry Holt & Co. (Macmillan), $7.99

I Know an Old Teacher
by Anne Bowen
9780822579847, Lerner Publishing Group, $16.95

Hey, Pancakes!
by Tamson Weston
9780152165024, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17

The Burger and the Hot Dog
by Jim Aylesworth
9780689838972, Simon & Schuster, $17.99

Airmail to the Moon
by Tom Birdseye
9780823407545, Holiday House, $6.95 
As it is National Poetry Month, I would be remiss in not mentioning his illustrations for Dancing Teepees: Poems of American Indian Youth by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (9780823408795, Holiday House, $8.95).

Check out Stephen Gammell's profiles from these publishers:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 
Random House
Simon & Schuster

I hope you have a chance to examine his work. You won't be disappointed.

Apr 21, 2010

Book Review: Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman
9780547231846, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16

Meggy Swann is crippled at a time when non-able-bodied people were thought to be cursed by the Devil. She must walk with two crutch-sticks to support her weak and twister legs. Her sour disposition doesn't help her make friends, but which came first – the sour disposition or the near constant taunts and torments from those around her?

At the opening of the novel, she has just been shipped off from the only home she's ever known in a country village tavern to live with her father in Elizabethan London. Having never met or heard of her father before, she has no idea what to expect. Neither does he. Neither one are happy with their situation. Meggy is stuck living in a dark, dingy, dirty house with no food or money while her alchemist father spends all his time upstairs in his laboritorium trying to find the secret to turning things into gold and finding the elixir of life.

As Meggy taps into sources of inner strength, she begins to explore London, and in doing that, unexpectedly makes some of her first human friends. She had brought with her to London her best friend, Louise, a large white goose, which unfortunately gets banished soon after they arrive. Roger Oldham, her father's former apprentice-turned-player (as in play-acting), and his troupe led by Mr. Grimm and Mr. Merrymaker agree to keep Louise out of the slaughter house. Besides the merry band of players, Meggy also gets to know a cooper and his son, and a printer and his family.

When her father sells some men arsenic to kill off a baron, Meggy is shocked to discover her father is desperate enough to consort with murderers in order to earn money for his experiments. She comes up with a plan to warn the baron, but without confessing her father's role. Though she succeeds in warning the baron, her father lives up to his bad character and leaves her stranded and homeless in London. Meggy is dismayed, but the biggest shock comes from finding out she has friends who will help take care of her. She goes to live with the printer and his family to take care of the babies and be an apprentice print-maker. The short novel ends with her dancing for the first time in her life, happy among friends, flirting with Roger, and not quite as sharp-tongued as she first was in the beginning.

Though I did not enjoy as much as The Midwife's Apprentice or Catherine, Called Birdy, there is a similar brilliance in how much Karen Cushman can pack into a 150+ page novel. The historical elements are by far the most interesting, and of course, impeccably researched. There's so much factual information packed into this slim book, and enough of a story to interest the young historical fiction enthusiast. The publisher is marketing this book toward ages 10-14, but I think a strong 8 or 9-year-old reader wouldn't have a problem. Not for every child, but I don't believe Karen Cushman fans will be disappointed.

Apr 20, 2010

Typography Tuesday: Measuring Type

Ever wondered how economical your favorite typeface might be?
Me neither.

But these guys have, and they've created the Measuring Type project. The picture to the left shows how much ink was used to write the same word at the same point size in the different font styles.

While I've never thought about it before, I admit I was pleased to discover my favorite everyday font - Garamond - used the least ink.

What's your favorite everyday font?

Typography Tuesday: Intro to Typography II

TYPOGRAPHICS from BoCa on Vimeo.

View the first Intro to Typography video here.

Apr 19, 2010

Book Review: The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller

The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller
9781595143082, Penguin, $18.99, Pub. Date: August 2010

I admit I don't tend to like lovey-dovey YA, but Haven's voice, and that of her gay best friend Beau, kept me hanging in there. As did the unique premise –love as the cause for reincarnation.

Haven Moore lives in Tennessee but can describe New York City without having been there. She's seen it in visions since she was a child; visions of the city and a time when Haven was known as Constance and she was in love with a man named Ethan. Haven's grandmother thinks she's possessed by the Devil. Haven knows she's not possessed, but then how to explain these visions? How to explain the feeling that she must go to New York, and how to explain she thinks famous playboy Iain Morrow might be Ethan?

Going to New York provides her with some answers but more questions as she gets caught up in a web of lies involving the Ouroboros Society, a society begun to help people who remember their past lives, but which now is a den of corruption that has spread around the world from the highest to the lowest classes of people. Haven doesn't know whom to trust as she gets more involved with Iain - who feels like he's her soul mate, but then blatantly lies to her.

Events are brought to a head when Iain gets accused of kidnapping and murder. Not knowing who to trust, being chased by the "grey men" (the henchmen of the Ouroboros Society), Haven runs around New York City picking up tidbits of information here and there, having visions and flashbacks that allow her to piece together how her past is affecting her present and future.

With help from her gay best friend Beau (her brother in a previous life), Haven escapes from being kidnapped by the evil Adam Rosier, the man who was Haven's husband in her very first life. In her first life, Haven was kept cloistered in her husband's home because he was a possessive and jealous man. When she fell in love with a servant (the man who would later become Ethan/Iain), Adam killed them both. All three have been reincarnated again and again, destined to replay the same love triangle until true love conquers all.

Though Haven makes some dumb decisions at times (really, you're 18, never left TN, but go to NYC and allow some guy you've just met – yes he may be your soul mate, but still – to fly you to Rome in his private jet and then not let you call home for 3 days?), she has a strong character and personality, trying to make sense of what her brain and her heart and everyone else is telling her. Romantics will love this because of the resolved ending, and it's a new twist in the "love conquers all paranormal adventure story" genre.

Apr 18, 2010

Book Review: Serena by Ron Rash

This was a post I intended to publish over a year ago. Now in paperback, I'm finally going to post my review of Ron Rash's Serena.

Hardcover: 9780061470851, HarperCollins, $24.95
Paperback: 9780061470844, HarperCollins, $14.99

Serena blew my mind a bit.

You wouldn't think upon first picking up a book about a timber empire in North Carolina during the years leading up to the Great Depression that it would be a gripping read for anyone other than a history buff. Yet the cast of characters and the stark reality of Ron Rash's writing creates a compelling and bone-chilling story.

The absolute lack of morality and concern for anyone other than herself makes Serena a heinous individual. You want to hate her, but her intelligence and self-possession make her fascinating. In a harsh land, building a harsh timber empire, Serena is a beautiful, feminine, immovable steel rod who has a blow as heavy as one of the trees felled by her timber crews. Recently married to owner George Pemberton, Serena is as obsessed with power and the unplumbed Brazilian forests, as George is with her. Together they form an nearly unstoppable team of knowledge, money, and Serena's ruthlessness. If someone stands in their way, they will be taken down - whether by a swift knife across the throat, a hunting "accident", or Serena's right-hand man who always gets his prey.

An unnerving subplot involves George Pemberton's illegitimate child, mothered by a local mountain girl, conceived prior to George's marriage to Serena, but birthed afterward. Distracted by her ambitions in other directions, Serena does not focus on the mother and child until later in the book. Then, for reasons of her own, Serena turns her obsession toward them - and it is time for them to die.

Much like the trees now clogging the riverways, Serena will cut down everything in her path: Teddy Roosevelt's plan for a national forest, a local sheriff who is the only man with backbone enough to stand up to her, and the mother and child who retain a claim on the man and the empire that must be solely hers. Serena doesn't share; she takes, eliminates, and possesses.

A frighteningly compelling read, you won't want to put it down until you find out how, why, and who is the next to die.

Apr 17, 2010

David Foster Wallace Vocabulary

Thanks to @kentmeusemarian for today's post! (Follow me on Twitter: @rebf)

David Foster Wallace was an American novelist, essayist, and short story writer, whose most famous work, Infinite Jest, was included in Time magazine's All-Time 100 Greatest Novels list.

Hardcover: 9780316920049, Little, Brown & Co., $35
Paperback: 9780316066525, Little, Brown & Co., $17.99

In his work, he had much occasion to check out his favorite American Heritage Dictionary, and while he was there, circled a multitude of words. Though this article doesn't really go into detail about why DFW circled all these words, this is, apparently, a complete list of the words he did circle.

Were they his favorites? His most-used? Words he could never remember the definitions for? Words he most-loved to use at dinner parties? Was he studying up for an adult spelling bee? We may never know, but you should check them out.


Check out this post on my personal blog.

Book Blogger Hop!

Thank you to Presenting Lenore for turning me on to a phenomenon known as the Book Blogger Hop!

Through Presenting Lenore, I discovered Crazy-for-Books, who hosts this weekly event. Click on this link to sign up for this week's Book Blogger Hop.

What IS a BBH, you ask? Pretty much what it sounds like. If you have a blog that reviews books in some shape or form, and you want other people to read it (and come on, why else do you have a blog?), then you add your name to the BBH list. Other book bloggers add their names to the list as well. You check them out. They check you out. You meet some great new internet blogs & friends, and in turn, hope more people are turned on to the wisdom of your own posts.

You know, like, "I'll scratch your back, if you scratch mine."
Or maybe, "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours."

Something like that...so sign on!

Other book blogs I've discovered through the BBH include:

Persnickety Snark (a YA book review blog I actually found before and had neglected to bookmark!)
The Compulsive Reader (another YA book blog with a great title)
The Story Siren (a big book blog that awes me and inspires me to get more creative with my own)
Reading with Tequila (I confess, I checked it out because of the name, and then stayed for the reviews)
A Blog About Nothing (again, followed for the name, stayed for the reviews)
Book of Secrets (a blog that will tell me everything about my guilty pleasure reading)

Check 'em out!

Apr 16, 2010

Pioneer Valley Children's Book Exhibit

For those folks living in, around, near, or feel like traveling to the Pioneer Valley in Western Mass (an area consisting of towns such as Amherst, Northampton, & South Hadley), a traveling area picturebook exhibit is making its final stop.

The Making of a Picture Book: The Marriage of Text and Art is an exhibit curated by Mount Holyoke College Professor and author, Corinne Demas. The exhibit focuses on these four picturebooks:

Hans Christian Andersen's The Perfect Wizard
written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Dennis Nolan
9780525469551, Dutton Books (Penguin), $16.99

The Littlest Matryoskha
by Corinne Demas, illustrated by Kathryn Brown
9780786801534, HarperCollins, $15.99

Once I Ate a Pie
co-written by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest, illustrated by Katy Schneider
9780060735319, HarperCollins, $17.99

Ten Times Better
by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Leonard Baskin
9780761450702, Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, $17.95

The exhibit has toured around the Pioneer Valley, most recently at Mount Holyoke College, and now is installed in its final exhibit space at the Forbes Library in Northampton (20 West Street, Northampton, MA - 413.587.1011). The exhibit will be up through the end of May. Stop by and check it out!

Apr 14, 2010

Alice on the iPad

I admit I'm completely, 100% fascinated by this video. What I can't decide is whether I've just watched my future as a children's picture book author go up in smoke, or if I just need to learn to adapt to the changing times. Obviously I'm not a Luddite, but still, it's a little disconcerting to feel the tug-of-war between the snake charmer fascination of the iPad and my desperate cling to hard copy books. Watch and see for yourself:

(There's sound, if you have speakers.)

Apr 10, 2010

Summer 2010 Picturebook Highlights - Candlewick

Presenting #8 in the Summer 2010 Picturebook Highlights series: Candlewick Press!

Practically in the back yard (okay, it's an hour and a half away in Boston), this press is the home of Kate DiCamillo, Judy Moody, and Emily Windsnap. Here are some of my favorite picturebooks for the summer season.

I already mentioned Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illustrated by Juan Wijngaard in an earlier post, so you know how I liked that. And, I already mentioned some new board book favorites by mixed-media artist Lorena Siminovich: I Like Bugs and I Like Fruit.

Another book already on the shelves is The Django by Levi Pinfold. Published as part of Templar Books, a Candlewick imprint, this picturebook was inspired by Jean "Django" Reinhardt, a famous jazz musician. The illustrations are just gorgeous - expressive and colorful, the double-page spreads remind me of fairy tale illustrations, but also have a photographic quality, which contrasts nicely with the fantasy element of the Django character. A tribute to jazz, music in general, and Jean Reinhardt in particular. 9780763647889, $16.99

For fans of Lauren Child's (author of Charlie and Lola) Clarice Bean middle grade novels, check out Clarice Bean paperback picture books!
Clarice Bean, That's Me 9780763647957, $7.99
Clarice Bean, What Planet Are You From? 9780763647964, $7.99
Clarice Bean, Guess Who's Babysitting? 9780763647971, $7.99, Pub. Date: May 2010

Have a new mythology fan, thanks to Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series' success?
Check out Encyclopedia Mythologica Gods and Heroes by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda, a pop-up book with all kinds of in-depth information about sacred myths and legends, popping out from unexpected places. 9780763631710, $29.99

Apr 9, 2010

National Poetry Month: Mary Oliver

The Summer Day 
by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down,
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Apr 7, 2010

National Poetry Month: Galway Kinnell

In honor of my co-worker, Nieves, who loves turkeys:

by Galway Kinnell

Sometimes we saw shadows of gods
in the trees; silenced, we went on.
Sometimes the dog would bound off
over the snow, into the forest.
Sometimes a tree had twenty
or more black turkeys in it, each
seeming the size of a small black bear.
We remember them for their care
for their kind ever since we watched the big hen
in the very top of the tree shaking
load after load of apples down to the flock.
Sometimes I felt I would never
come out of the woods, I thought
its deeper darkness might absorb me
or feed me to the black turkeys
and I would cry out for the dog
and the dog would not answer.

Apr 6, 2010

Scrabble Sacrilege

Some disturbing news concerning the game Scrabble was released today. Matel, the toy company who holds rights to Scrabble in the UK, has announced that they will be releasing a new form of the game in which proper nouns will count for points (there has been no news as to whether Hasbro, the toy company who holds rights to Scrabble in the US, will release a similar game). Those are the names of people, places, and things, that up until this time have been considered cheating by the more serious scrabble players. This causes some concern for me, and I will tell you why, but first let me confess something:

I am horrible at Scrabble. No, really, considering how much I read, what I attend grad school for, and the scores I received on my SATs and GREs, you'd really think my apparently impressive vocabulary would hold me in good steed when it comes to a word-based game such as Scrabble. Not so, my friends. Though it's taken me many years to admit to this, I've finally made my peace with the fact. Now on the rare occasions I play, I resign myself to the knowledge that even the 9-year-old I'm playing against will probably beat me.

Why am I telling you this? So you won't think the following rant comes from a die hard Scrabble lover who just can't imagine imposing upon the sanctity of the game rules.

Now, back to why a Scrabble rule change is horrifying. Basically, Matel is saying that the current "younger generation" they're trying to reach is too dumb to play Scrabble, so they're making the rules easier. Oh, you can pretty it up by likening it to an updated version of Trivial Pursuit that has references to pop culture from J.T.T. (Jonathan Taylor Thomas to those who don't get that reference) to Beyonce, but we all know the original Trivial Pursuit is the best, the hardest, and has the most equal playing field, and so is the now-old version of Scrabble.

Also, both articles I could find on this tragedy - one from the BBC and one from the NY Daily News - neglected to mention that in the globalized communities we find ourselves in, ALMOST ANYTHING can be argued as a proper name. There are names from languages other than English that do use silent Qs, Ps, Xs, Ys, and Zs (probably)! Even as I realize these new rules will probably make the chances of me actually winning a game all the more greater, I still can't endorse a change as apparently ill-conceived and not thoroughly thought out as this one.

Last, but not least, if you haven't already figured out that you can change the rules on your own when you play Scrabble with someone to include proper nouns, and thus enjoy the already existing game of Scrabble, then maybe you shouldn't bother in the first place.

National Poetry Month: Sherman Alexie

Congratulations to Sherman Alexie for winning the 2010 Pen/Faulkner Fiction prize for his latest book War Dances (9780802119193, $23, Grove Press) (out in paperback in August). Always multi-faceted and multi-talented, Alexie's latest book brings his penchant for unique book design and content, began in his National Book Award-winning YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Absolutely True was written in various formats, like diary entries and comic sketches. War Dances alternates between poetry and prose, and as with all of Alexie's writing War Dances is lyrical, to-the-point, and thought-provoking.

This poem is not from War Dances, but is one of my favorites for its commentary on people who tend to think of themselves as in the majority, assuming everyone is just like them.

On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City

The white woman across the aisle from me says 'Look,
look at all the history, that house
on the hill there is over two hundred years old, '
as she points out the window past me

into what she has been taught. I have learned
little more about American history during my few days
back East than what I expected and far less
of what we should all know of the tribal stories

whose architecture is 15,000 years older
than the corners of the house that sits
museumed on the hill. 'Walden Pond, '
the woman on the train asks, 'Did you see Walden Pond? '

and I don't have a cruel enough heart to break
her own by telling her there are five Walden Ponds
on my little reservation out West
and at least a hundred more surrounding Spokane,

the city I pretended to call my home. 'Listen, '
I could have told her. 'I don't give a shit
about Walden. I know the Indians were living stories
around that pond before Walden's grandparents were born

and before his grandparents' grandparents were born.
I'm tired of hearing about Don-fucking-Henley saving it, too,
because that's redundant. If Don Henley's brothers and sisters
and mothers and father hadn't come here in the first place

then nothing would need to be saved.'
But I didn't say a word to the woman about Walden
Pond because she smiled so much and seemed delighted
that I thought to bring her an orange juice

back from the food car. I respect elders
of every color. All I really did was eat
my tasteless sandwich, drink my Diet Pepsi
and nod my head whenever the woman pointed out

another little piece of her country's history
while I, as all Indians have done
since this war began, made plans
for what I would do and say the next time

somebody from the enemy thought I was one of their own.

Type Joke

Apr 4, 2010

National Poetry Month: Nikki Giovanni

Last year's poetry month post also included Nikki Giovanni, and in fact, this same book, though a different poem. Now in paperback, I highly recommend running out and picking up a copy of Bicycles: Love Poems (9780061726491, $11.99, Harper). Here's a taste of a new favorite:

Another Day (Revisited)

Librarians do it
but they do it by the book
Fisherman do it
'cause they have a special hook
Opticians do it
and they love to take a look
Zorro does it
'cause he's a special crook

Three-ring circuses
do it for the clows
Football players
do it on first downs
Swimmers do it
'cause they know they will not drown
Prince does it
'cause he likes to go down

Chefs do it
and they like to use the spices
Bakers do it
with all the bread that slices
Butchers never do it
on the job
Persnickety folk
never do it with a slob

Weather persons...in any clime
Poets do but only in good rhyme

I like this poem because it reminds me of one of my favorite songs sung by the great Ella Fitzgerald:
Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)

Apr 3, 2010

National Poetry Month: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As spring so often brings a little rain into our lives, I thought I'd share my favorite rain poem with you. In particular the last line is something I often repeat to myself.

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all, 
Into each life some rain must fall, 
Some days must be dark and dreary. 
(image by Marinshe)
Two children-specific, well-known 
Longfellow poems-turned-picturebooks are: 
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
illustrated by Jeffrey Thompson
9780792265580, $7.95, 
National Geographic Society (Random House)
illustrated by Susan Jeffers
9780140558821, $7.99, Penguin   

Apr 2, 2010

National Poetry Month: B is for Bad Poetry by Pamela August Russell

How did I miss the beginning of National Poetry Month?
Maybe because April 1st is April Fool's Day and though I've never been astoundingly pranked, I always live April 1st with a nervous tension as if someone is going to play a colossal prank on me.

Regardless, it's now in full swing and I'll be sharing bits and pieces of poetry with you throughout the month.

You're Like Dolly Parton Only You're Not

You're like Dolly Parton
only you're not
in love with me
the way she loves
a hot pink electric guitar.

by Pamela August Russell in B is for Bad Poetry
Hardcover: 9781402767876, $9.95, Sterling

Happy Birthday Hans Christian Andersen

Thank you to Google for reminding me that today is the 205th birthday of Hans Christian Andersen. Google has a five-image series of Andersen's  Thumbelina surrounding their logo today.
Andersen was a Danish writer and paper-cut artist who not only recorded tales from the oral storytelling tradition (in the style of the Brothers Grimm), but who also wrote his own creations. His fairy tales were published in Europe beginning in the 1830s, but it wasn't until the 1860s that Americans first got a look at them (in an American English edition - maybe they'd seen them before elsewhere, people did travel back then, you know).

A man named Horace E. Scudder worked for an early version of the publishing house we now know as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, known then as Hurd & Houghton. At that time in children's publishing, children's magazines were becoming a big deal, with many publishers vying for the position of top-circulating, best-illustrated, most-engaging-stories-by-most-famous-authors children's magazine producer. The Riverside Magazine for Young People was first published by Hurd & Houghton in December 1866. Scudder had a close relationship with Andersen and was able to not only publish 17 of Andersen's fairy tales in The Riverside Magazine beginning in 1868, but Scudder also negotiated on behalf of Hurd & Houghton to publish the only authorized American edition of Andersen's stories (thank you to Leonard Marcus's Minders of Make-Believe for this information). Scudder was constantly encouraging Andersen to make the trip across the pond and visit the States, but sadly that never happened.

Andersen's tales have been made into movies - cartoon and live-action, plays, and ballets. They also continue to be collected in anthologies and illustrated as individual stories. Just last month in March 2010, Chronicle Books published a version of Thumbelina, illustrated by Sylvia Long (9780811855228, $17.99). One of my favorite versions of this story was illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger, published under the title Thumbeline (9780735822368, $6.95, NorthSouth). There is even a graphic novel version (9781434217417, $4.95, Capstone Press), and a re-imagined full-length middle grade novel with silhouette illustrations by Barbara Ensor (9780375839603, $12.99, Random House).

Of the hundreds of anthologies of Andersen's work, Lisbeth Zwerger has illustrated a beautiful edition in her signature dreamy watercolor style (9780698400351, $21.99, Penguin). W.W. Norton (a publishing house) has released an annotated collected works (9780393060812, $35), while Calla Editions, an imprint of Dover Publications, has published an immense, bound in a cloth binding with gold embossed lettering, gift edition (9781606600009, $40). Lastly, don't miss a collection of his paper cuttings - artwork that looks like reverse silhouettes, compiled by Beth Wagner Brust for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (9780618311095, $9.95).

However you prefer your Andersen, illustrated or performed, take some time today or this weekend to read a few of his treasured tales. I'd start with The Little Mermaid (if you're reading with older children or for yourself). This isn't a washed-out Disney version. It's the real classic. As it should be.
 - Rebecca
Click here to see this post on my personal blog.

Apr 1, 2010

Recognize that voice? Part 2

For the second time in as many years, you are now able to access my voice over the airwaves!

I had the pleasure of returning to the WAMC radio studio in Albany, NY last week, along with Joan Grenier, one of the Odyssey Bookshop's co-owners.

To listen to us talk about books (Joan about adult fiction and non-fiction, me about children's books), check us out here.

To check out the first show I was on last year, check out my previous post.

Here are the books I spoke about:

Picture books:
  • Wendel's Workshop by Chris Riddell, 9780061449307, $16.99, HarperCollins

  • Forever Friends by Carin Berger, 9780061915284, $16.99, Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins)

  • Extraordinary Pets by Barroux, 9781609050115, $15.99, Blue Apple Books
Middle Grade:
  • Sluggers (series, formerly known as Barnstormers) by Loren Long and Phil Bildner, Simon & Schuster
  • The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry, illustrated by Jules Feiffer, 9780547238692, $16, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
 Teen or Young Adult:
  • The Devil's Breath by David Gilman, 9780440422396, $9.99, Delacorte Press (Random House)

  • Heist Society by Ally Carter, 9781423116394, $16.99, Hyperion (HarperCollins)

  • Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, 9780763643614, $18.99, Candlewick Press