Apr 19, 2011

Guinea Pig Writers: April

In this post months ago, with little fanfare and ado, I mentioned I was part of the Guinea Pig Writers.

This group of 12 (myself included) survived being the first cohort (hence the name guinea pigs) to graduate from the Simmons College MFA in Writing Literature for Children program in association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picturebook Art.

We have a website/blog where we post weekly on a monthly topic/theme (as well as other general posts).

April's theme is Spring. March's theme was mud. February's theme was love.

Here are my posts for February, March, and April - all relate to children's books in some way around those specific themes, but they also relate to other interests and life and...stuff.

I'll be posting a link to my post on that website each month. Hope you enjoy!

Apr 14, 2011

Board Book Round-up

This post was prompted by my friend Sarah who will soon have a new baby in her life. The new baby's parents have decided to ask for books instead of other gifts (brilliant idea), and I was thrilled to be Sarah's go-to for children's book advice. We decided that as other people were already gifting the baby with many classics old and new, Sarah would go with some contemporary board books (because as great as the Harry Potter series is, it's going to be a while until the kid gets to it). Here are my suggestions for recently published board books to give to a new baby:

I have to begin with Chronicle Books. They publish the "In My..." series of finger puppet books by talented collaborators Sara Gillingham and Lorena Siminovich. I wrote about my love for this series before in my mixed-media artist post.

Simms Taback is another artist whose board books Chronicle sells. A completely different type of style and design from mixed-media work, these books are genius in their simplicity, and can be used to grow with the baby.

Blue Apple Books, distributed by Chronicle, sells DwellStudio board books. Dwell is a designer baby boutique, and while normally I'm not into that sort of thing, I just love the look of these books.

More mixed-media board books are created by Kate Endle for Publishers Group West. I blogged about What is Green? and Who Hoo Are You? here.

Alison Jay does these gorgeous crackle-painting illustrations and has a few board books, like the one on the left, as well as 1,2,3 and ABC-themed with nursery rhyme-inspired pictures  (as well as a full-length Alice in Wonderland).

Going back through old posts of mine, I noticed an Ode to Christopher Wormell. While his woodcuts and darker color palate may not be to everyone's taste, I'm personally a fan, and would recommend picking up any one of the 4 books of his available in board book format.

Another ode I wrote was to Gyo Fujikawa, one of my all-time favorites from my own childhood. One of the first illustrators to include babies of all races in her work, her pictures are timeless classics, being slowly republished today by Sterling Publishing.

Matthew Van Fleet is published primarily by Simon & Schuster, and he creates incredibly interactive board books great for all baby/toddler ages. You can touch, feel, pull, look, hear, etc. everything about these chunky, funky board books.

The most recent board book review I wrote was about Patrick Hruby's ABC is for Circus. Read the review if you want to hear how much I gush over his design, color choice, and use of shapes & contrasts.

If you're looking for something a bit older, in 2010, I had a series of posts featuring my favorite picture books by season by publisher. Feel free to read those posts (listed below) for some picture book ideas.

Summer 2010 Harper Collins
Summer 2010 Random House
Summer 2010 Houghton Mifflin
Summer 2010 Simon & Schuster
Summer 2010 Workman
Summer 2010 Little Brown
Summer 2010 Scholastic
Summer 2010 Publishers Group West
Summer 2010 Candlewick
Summer 2010 Penguin
Summer 2010 Marshall Cavendish

Fall 2010 Random House
Fall 2010 HarperCollins
Fall 2010 Candlewick

Apr 12, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish Were Made Into Movies

The Broke and the Bookish, a brilliant book blog, 
hosts a weekly top ten list meme.

I like this meme because I like lists. I like this meme because it reminds me of the Top 5 lists from High Fidelity (by Nick Hornby as a book, starring John Cusak as a movie). And I like this meme because it causes me to think long and hard about book-related topics. So here goes:

Top Ten Books I Wish Were Made Into Movies 
1. Yes, this is my number 1 choice: Mulan

Before you throw the Disney version and its sequel, the 2009 Chinese film, and the rumored 2010/2011 3D Chinese film at me, let me clarify - I'd like an available in the United States, live-action version please. I'm not against Chinese films, I actually really enjoy them (side note: check out "In the Mood for Love," available on Netflix, it's just gorgeous), but unfortunately the two Chinese versions are not currently available in the States. Also, yes, you may bring up the point that the story of Mulan is technically a Chinese ballad, and therefore not really a book, though there have been a few book adaptations, most notably the one based on the Disney movie and one called Wild Orchid: A Retelling of "The Ballad of Mulan" by Cameron Dokey. Yet, I'd still like to plea that in an era of increasingly sappy, helpless, frankly moronic young female movie protagonists (you know I'm thinking of Twilight and the recent reproduction of Red Riding Hood), can't we get just one kick-ass, historically-based, gender-bending, family-honor-centered heroine? I don't think we've had one of those since a 26-year-old Angelina Jolie graced the screens as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. It's time.

This one may be cheating a little because technically I hear it's supposed to be coming out sometime in 2011, but I've yet to see a trailer for this baby. This 2008 Caldecott Award-winner had the movie rights purchased before the book was even published. Half film stills, half text, the novel isn't complete without reading both text and image. A neat bit of trivia about this book is that due to the amount of illustrations, the publishers had to use a cookbook binding for the book so that it would be able to lie flat, taking in the full affect of the pictures. So beautifully and fully envisioned, I can't wait to see what the movie will actually be like.

3. In Death (series) by J.D. Robb, aka Nora Roberts

Also cheating a bit - this is a serious of romantic murder mysteries set in the future that is so.freaking.good, I really wish they'd make a 10-season series of shows out of Eve Dallas, her oh-so-sexy Irish husband Roarke, her aide Detective Peabody, Peabody's co-hab McNab, and everyone else in this richly imagined, not-too-distant futuristic world.

4. Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen, Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey

They did it with Lord of the Rings, can't they do it again? The first trilogy in what's become so-far a 3-trilogy series is one of the most consuming set of novels I've ever read. Drawing on ancient history, religious history, politics, war, human relations, etc., Jacqueline Carey has created an incredible world, ridiculously intricate plots, a sexy, intelligent, courageous woman, and her equally sexy, dangerous, disciplined consort. If not three movies, than an HBO series for sure - and please don't skimp on the sex and violence.

5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

As my choices appear to be getting more bloodthirsty, let me calm things down by plugging one of my more recent (in the last few years) favorite-to-recommend reads. An epistolary novel that takes place right after World War II, I love that it's historical without being "Saving Private Ryan," it's letters are fulfilling without being "Message in a Bottle," and it's lighthearted enough that "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" comes to mind with that similar sense of time period costumes, music, glamor, and a hint of drama. It looks like I might get my wish, too, as there are rumors of this movie being "in development" this year. Who knows when we'll actually see a cast list, much less a trailer, though, so I'm still putting it on the list.

As usual, I'm switching things up a little: now I'd like to highlight what I think are great movie adaptations of some favorite books:

6. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, starring John Cusak

As I mention this book/movie at the beginning of every Top Ten Tuesday blog post, clearly this needs to be #1. Even as an American adaptation of a British book that's so steeped in British music folklore, the movie version totally nails it in terms of the feel of the plot itself. And what isn't John Cusak brilliant in?

7. M.A.S.H. by Richard Hooker, starring Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould

So quirky! All of it - the whistling, the talking over each other, the hijinks and shenanigans. Such a great period-piece.

8. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, starring Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfuss

Tom Stoppard wrote both the play and the movie script (shocker, I know) - the play I love to read just as a book, and the movie is one of my favorites to fall asleep to. It's almost a full 2 hours and it's not really action-packed but in that way that has so many layers of meaning. It's a great rainy day afternoon in the background while I'm cooking or crafting film.

Here is a book I loved but have yet to see the movie because I'm too chicken:

9. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, starring Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, and Judi Dench

I know, I know, with a cast like that, what the heck am I waiting for? Maybe I'll finally gather up my courage to watch it this weekend.

Lastly, please stop making movie adaptations of this book because you'll just never be able to capture it on film:

10. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Ignore both the British, low production quality film unless you want a good laugh, and its 2005 remake unless you're playing a drinking game where you take a shot every time someone with big star power (John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Mos Def, Bill Nighy) is on screen and that still doesn't make the movie any better.

Apr 11, 2011

Book Review: House of Dolls by Francesca Lia Block, illustrated by Barbara McClintock

House of Dolls
by Francesca Lia Block, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
9780061130946, HarperCollings, $15.99

Known for being poetic and surreal while featuring elements from the real world, Francesca Lia Block's latest, House of Dolls, is lovingly illustrated and difficult to sell. Its charming trim size and brightly-colored cover make it appeal to a picture book audience, but the length of the text will make it hard for most children under the age of 8 to sit through. 

This reads as an ambitious project, tackling many tough subjects, filtered through the lens of three female dolls, two boyfriend doll-counterparts, and one human girl. The subtle themes of love and loss, family relations, and the larger context of wartime struggles may require some explaining to a younger reader. It is difficult to see quite how the human characters arrive at the ending they do, when the connecting piece is so clearly missing. Part of the story deals with the human girl's jealousy over the gorgeous doll clothes sewn by her grandmother. At a pivotal point in the book, one doll designs three dresses for herself and her doll friends - this would have been the perfect moment to draw a fourth dress for the little girl, giving the grandmother a clue that she wants to be involved. While the grandmother does eventually make a dress for her granddaughter, it's a stretch of the imagination to see how she comes to this conclusion. Perhaps the author, in signature style, felt that obvious a plot point did not fit with her writing, but as a reader, it would have helped.

The delightful, delicate, and intricately detailed illustrations are classic McClintock, and lend an air of charm to an otherwise heavily-burdened book that tries to do too much at once.

Apr 8, 2011

TGIF - Book Tears

Fridays seem to be a popular day for memes. Two of my favorites are:

Unfortunately neither of these blogs are hosting their weekly memes (as of this writing, maybe they will later in the day), so I went looking for a new thoughtful Friday question.

Luckily, I happened upon GReads! with the TGIF question:

Book Tears: Do you get emotional when you read? Which books had you in tears?

I am roughly 10 times more likely to cry at books and movies than in real life. In fact, if I know I need a certain type of emotional release, I've been known to pop in a vid or pick up a book that is guaranteed to make me start shedding those tears that would otherwise never see the light of day (or the bedside lamp at 2 a.m.).

The first book I remember making me cry was Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery. I won't give away any spoilers, but as we all know, when there's a war going on (like there is in Rilla), some go away to fight and some never come back. It was such a pivotal moment in my life when I realized I was absolutely heartbroken, just like Rilla, and I had the ability to release those emotions like that.

Since then, I relish a good crying book, to the point where there are some I'll read at least once a year just to reassure myself that connection is still there. I may win an award for how many times I can mention the same book throughout one blog, but Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta makes me literally sob - not that pretty, just one or two tears running down your cheeks, movie sort of crying, but the going through an entire box of tissues, can't read for the fountain of tears pouring from your eyes, having your roommate knock on the door to ask if you're okay type of crying. Every. Single. Time.

Truth & Beauty by Anne Patchett also had me in tears, in a big part because this is a work of non-fiction, and the love and friendship and grief and reckoning described throughout the book is made so much more powerful by the fact that it is a true story.

I honestly can't remember the last book that made me cry. Maybe it's just Friday morning-almost-the-weekend brain, because I'm pretty sure I cried at one fairly recently, and they were happy tears, too, though admittedly I'm more likely to sad-cry than happy-cry. Maybe it will come to me. If it does, I promise to report back to you.

I'm curious - are you more likely to sad-cry or happy-cry?

Apr 5, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Redesigning Book Covers

The Broke and the Bookish, a brilliant book blog, 
hosts a weekly top ten list meme.

I like this meme because I like lists. I like this meme because it reminds me of the Top 5 lists from High Fidelity (by Nick Hornby as a book, starring John Cusak as a movie). And I like this meme because it causes me to think long and hard about book-related topics. So here goes:

Top Ten Book Covers I Wish I Could Redesign
1. First and foremost, one of my favorite books of all time: A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter. 

Let's take a look at some of the horrendous covers this book has been saddled with over time (to the left & right):


Now let's take a look at the cover I redesigned for it in a class in grad school (thanks to the incomparable Sandy Littell for her design and technical expertise/assistance!):

 Wouldn't you pick up a book with a beautiful cover like that?!? (Click to enlarge.)

This one is actually my favorite book of all time: Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. This is the only book cover this book has ever had, and while I'm impressed it was originally a NYTimes bestseller (when it was first published in 1991), the book would definitely have benefited from a cover redesign when it was re-released in 2010.

Honestly, other than those two, I don't have many covers I would redesign. Instead, I'll bring up other cover thoughts to make it to my 10 books.

3. Biggest personal disappointment with a series repackaging: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Keith Thompson. Love the original cover with the steampunk gears and the raised, embossed feel of the cover; dislike the rebranding with the character's face on the front.

4. If it's a book for a woman, it must have pink on the cover. I think that's a not-so-subtle industry motto. Here's the biggest example: Knock Yourself Up: A Tell-All Guide to Becoming a Single Mom by Louise Sloan. As a potential single mother by choice, I was really inspired by this book, and appreciate the stories, advice, and down-to-earth approach to an incredibly difficult life choice. However, did the cover have to be bright, freaking, hot pink? I understand most men would not be drawn to this book in the first place, but much like there isn't one type of motherhood for women, why does there need to be this stereotypical gendered pink cover? If you're going to publish a thought-provoking book about choosing single motherhood, why not continue that outside-the-box thinking with a well-designed, original, cover? Humph.

Now I will switch to discussing some book covers I absolutely adore.

First, a mini-ode to Penguin Group.

5. Penguin Inks
. Penguin really does have one of the best design departments in the industry, in my humble opinion, warring closely with Chronicle Books in San Francisco. Their Penguin Inks series is inspired - hire tattoo artists and artists who create tattoo-like art to redesign selected paperback fiction covers. Click here to read more about the collection at the Penguin Ink website.

6. Penguin Classics: Couture Classics
. Another genius idea to jazz up the classics to reach a wider audience. What teenager could resist this Wuthering Heights? All the covers are designed by Cuban-born artist and fashion designer Ruben Toledo. To read more about him, go here and here. To see the entire collection, click here.

7. Penguin Classics: Hardcover Classics.
The talented Coralie Bickford-Smith, senior cover designer at Penguin, is the creator of the gorgeous patterned linen cloth covers in the hardcover classics series. Forget the matching red leather spines, imagine a whole set of these on your bookshelf. Read more about the series here.

8. As I mentioned Chronicle earlier, it would be remiss of me not to highlight some of their books. A recent favorite of mine is Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl. Though I've seen it in person, I've yet to get my hands on a copy to read, so I can't speak to the writing yet (though I suspect it's great). Normally I'm not one of those "Ooh, shiny!" types of people, but the Andy Warhol-esque pop art cover completely grabbed me. Unfortunately, I'm having trouble uploading a picture, so click on the title to take you to the Chronicle webpage.

I think I'll stop there, as I haven't completely followed today's "assignment" anyway. Enjoy.

Apr 4, 2011

Book Review: Burning Bright: Stories by Ron Rash

Burning Bright: Stories
by Ron Rash
9780061804120, Ecco Press (HarperCollins), $12.99

Though I had every intention of attending his appearance at Harvard Book Store last month, I'm afraid in the end I missed it. I did, however, finish reading his book on the day of the event. Despite my missed attendance, everything else about this book was the perfect set of circumstances. I walked into the library and saw it in front of me on the shelf. I read a little bit of it every morning and afternoon on the T to-and-from work, and finally finished it the day of the event. Short stories are a favorite form of mine, so I was even more thrilled to be reading this collection by one of my favorite southern authors (Dorothy Allison being another).

Overall, Burning Bright is a collection of thoughtful, evocative, charming, and quick reads. The language is not wasteful of words but is also fully descriptive. Speech in dialect normally drives me up a wall, but in this case fits naturally with the Appalachian setting. I think the word "raw" is often overused, but that quality comes from the stark lives of the characters; much like the words used to describe them, there is no flash–no excess–in their living. What little happiness or advantage appears in their lives is so unexpected and often burdened that you question whether it's worth it.

For instance, an older woman, widowed, marries a young outsider. The community that should have taken care of her now questions not only her relationship, but if her new husband is the one setting the recent rash of forest fires.
In another story, a young man, burdened by the hospital bills for his mother, agrees to grave robbing for Civil War artifacts. Though his mother's bills get paid, he'll have nightmares of what happened that night for the rest of his life.

The portrayal of modern day poverty leading to drug usage in that historical a setting was especially meaningful.

A pawn broker takes family matters into his own hands: Who is worth saving? His brother? His nephew?
Two loving yet meth-addicted parents struggle to provide a Christmas for their son while coming down off a high. The son provides momentary salvation for them by secretly stealing pawnable items from a plane crash, but is the quick fix worth the ultimate sacrifice?

From historical to modern day, these brief slice-of-life moments offer a powerful glimpse into one view of Appalachian society.

For more Ron Rash, read my review of his novel, Serena, here.

Apr 3, 2011

April Book Events

Continuing my New Year's Resolution of attempting to attend one literary event per month in the Boston area, here is the list of events I'm considering stopping by this month. I advertised 2 last month and only made it to 1; I'm going with the logical conclusion that the more events I'm interested in, the more I'm likely to make.
Would anyone care to join me?

Who: Anne Lamott, author of Imperfect Birds 
What: Reading & Signing
Where: Harvard Book Store
When: Wednesday, April 6, 7 p.m.
Fee: Free
For more information: Click here.

Confession: The only Anne Lamott I've read is two of her non-fiction books, Bird by Bird and Operating Instructions. Maybe it's time to pick up one of her novels.

Who: Jennet Conant, author of A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS
What: Reading & Signing
Where:  Porter Square Books
When: Thursday, April 7, 7 p.m.
Fee: Free
For more information: Click here.

With the release of the Julie & Julia movie and Houghton Mifflin's publication of As Always, Julia (the first collection of her letters with best friend Avis DeVoto), I've been on a real Julia Child kick for the past year. Looking forward to exploring her non-cooking side (even though, sorry S&S, I think the cover is simply awful). 

Who: Marjorie Garber, author of The Use and Abuse of Literature 
What: Reading & Signing
Where: Porter Square Books
When: Wednesday, April 13, 7 p.m.
Fee: Free
For more information: Click here. 

Total lit nerd event here. A discussion of the "usefulness and uselessness of literature in the digital age".

Who: Joshua Kendall, author of The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture 
What: Lecture
Where: Boston Athenaeum
When: Thursday, April 14, 6-7 p.m.
Fee: $10 members, $15 non-members, call (617) 720-7600 to make reservations
For more information: Click here

For the language geeks like me who will enjoy an hour lecture on the father of the American Dictionary of the English Language. Also, I've been dying to get inside the Athenaeum ever since moving to Boston. Am seriously considering the $115 yearly Associate Individual Membership. For more about the Athenaeum, including membership, click here.

Apr 1, 2011

Literary Blog Hop

Thanks to the lovely Ms. Emily Crowe over at
for introducing me to the Literary Blog Hop hosted by
The Blue Bookcase

You might have noticed my blog title is Wildly Read, tagline: Wildly, if not widely, read. Yes, I do blog about children's books, mass market romances, non-fiction, and whatever else happens to catch my reading fancy, but I also read and blog about my more traditionally literary tastes, and so make the case that I be allowed to participate in the Literary Blog Hop.

This week's question I think is particularly apropos to me as I've been sharing around a link to a Telegraph article spoofing the "Top 50 blank before you die" lists.

The question: Do you find yourself predisposed to like (or dislike) books that are generally accepted as great books and have been incorporated into the literary canon? Discuss the affect you believe a book’s “status” has on your opinion of it. 

The spoof: "Not the 50 books you must read before you die"

My answer: Yes and no. (You knew that was coming, didn't you?) Personally, I'm predisposed to both like and dislike books based on a variety of factors, among them when and where and from whom I first heard of the book, whether the book was assigned reading at some point, and where I was when I was reading the book (IF I read it). Ultimately, though, the more a book is talked about, the less inclined I am to pick it up, here comes the perverse part, even though I might want to. Chalk it up to a continued post-adolescent problem with authority, or maybe it's a hangover from those days when if everyone else was doing it, I wanted to do the exact opposite. Whatever the reason, it's rare that a hyped book becomes a book in-hand. 

Then there's the fact that while I was in high school, I felt a general disdain for books (like Catcher in the Rye) where I was assigned to read it in three different classes (I went to three different high schools, long story), never read it once, and never got lower than a B on any test or paper I had to take or write on it. If I was able to pass with a B based on the knowledge gleaned from the chatter of my peers and the heavy-handed class discussions led by my teachers, was the book really worth reading in the first place? I think not.

Fortunately or unfortunately, this feeling followed me into college and grad school where I can now admit (though I doubt this will come as a shock to any former classmates or professors reading this) that there were many canonical books I never read and somehow managed not to fail those classes. I don't say this proudly (really), but it does make me question the validity of the canon. 

WHY is a book canonical? What puts it on that list? Oh yes, people give various explanations for that all the time, everything from cultural impact (Harry Potter and Twilight), to language (Dickens to David Foster Wallace), to social, political, and economic commentary (everyone from Mark Twain to Tolstoy). Top 50 to 100 to 1000 lists of books abound in every subject matter (including this one from the BBC that was a viral Facebook meme for a while - here's my tally: A whopping 53 books read, 1/3 of Shakespeare, 1/2 of Rebecca, and parts of the Bible, with only 8 titles I've never heard of). My conclusion from all of this? They're a starting point, nothing more, nothing less.

Give yourself the privilege of forming your own opinion, of putting a book down if you're not liking it, and of not feeling like you're not a well-read book lover if you haven't read The Brothers Karamazov in the original Russian.

Judgmental Bookseller Ostrich

The original can be found here.