Mar 31, 2010

Speaking of Libraries...

I seem to be on a library kick this week, as I found this fantastic article via a new favorite Out of Print blog.

The article is all about Britain's Smallest Library - a library housed in an old red telephone booth! I can't help but be wildly jealous as I don't think red telephone booths really caught on in the States, nor were we apparently creative enough to come up with this idea on our own. How refreshing: a community enamored enough of books to create such a unique solution to their lack of library problem.

To sum up the article: when the mobile library service (novel idea!) was canceled in the community of Westbury-sub-Mendip, villagers banded together to set up the "old red phone box into a book exchange". There's a little bit of something for everyone, as titles from popular literature and cookbooks to children's books are in circulation.

Anyone have any suggestions for something similar that can be done in American communities that are sans-library? Maybe a permanently parked yellow school bus? Out-of-season baseball dugout?

Mar 30, 2010

Fantasy Library

I saw this on Twitter this morning (thanks to @readandbreathe, follow me @rebf):

In celebration of National Library Week (beginning April 12), author Laurie R. King is offering three spectacular prizes - two go to you, one goes to a library of your choice - in return for your library fantasy. Not a fantasy involving a library, but your fantasy library, your dream library, your "I never want to leave this spot/couch/chair/bear skin rug surrounded by these tall/short/stacks of books" library. Maybe you work in a library and want to redesign it. Maybe you already have your dream library in your home and want to describe it. Or maybe, like me, you constantly search for pictures of libraries online (visit here and here for some of my posts on this, and visit HERE for some truly stupendous libraries), and so now have countless images from which to pick and choose to make up the library of your dreams.

Whatever the case may be, head on over here to read Laurie's offer, and then submit. And if you want to post your submission here, too, that would be great.

I promise to post mine (as soon as I've written it).

Better hurry, you only have until April 9th to get this done.

Mar 29, 2010

Book Review: You by Charles Benoit

by Charles Benoit
9780061947049, $16.99, Harper, Pub. Date: August 2010

You is a powerful, searing work of realistic teen fiction. The title comes from its second-person point-of-view narrator; a voice that makes the work immediately accessible by encouraging the reader to become the main character.

The main character is sophomore Kyle Chase. He's smart, but took a wrong turn at some point in junior high. He didn't turn in a few tests, and starting hanging out with a slacker crowd known as the Hoodies, due to the black hooded sweatshirts they wear every day. This landed him at Midlands High, one of two town high schools. His old friends went to Odyssey, the high school that caters to overachievers with good GPAs. That's what he tells himself. He could be there if he wanted to. But what's the point? His mother nags him to get a job, his teachers nag him to get homework done, and the only bright spot to his day is his friend Ashley who he wishes was more than a friend and who he gets to spend time with by courting after-school detention so he can stay late to nonchalantly see her. Each day is the same as the next until a new kid, Zack McDade, transfers to Midlands.

The raw voice of You is reminiscent of the writing of Ellen Hopkins; a voice that will tell you the truth, no matter how hopeless or disheartening. This is the story of millions of American teenagers from middle-class backgrounds: smart, promising youth who slip through the cracks, get overlooked, become disenchanted with their overstimulated, over-informed lives. You is an exposé and a call-to-arms. Drugs, gangs, teen pregnancy - these issues all have concrete roots and identifiable plans of action to combat. Juvenile apathy? Ten times harder to identify and counter.

This could have been my story. I'm so lucky it wasn't. But I cried for that possibility, for the friends I lost to this malaise, for my brother still in high school battling this every day, and for the children I hope to have and the future I imagine for them.

Every teenager, teacher, and parent, anyone who works with children and teens, should read this book to understand the spreading lassitude of America's youth.

Mar 21, 2010

The Future of Children's Publishing

Thanks to @MarkMcVeigh and @LiaKeyes for today's post. Follow me on Twitter @rebf.

They tweeted about the Washington Post's article "The future of children's book publishing" by Stephen Lowman, which you should all read, as it talks about the intersection between publishing a paper hard copy and the availability of book content online.

While I don't disagree with the article's premise - children's book publishing will be increasingly linked with the internet, e-books, and other electronic and web-based sources - I'm looking for more of a "but how does that make you feel?" reaction than a straight demarcation of the current reality. The current reality is this: many publishers are dedicating time and money to designing children's book concepts (mostly Middle Grade, Tween, and YA a.k.a. Teen novels) that make heavy use of online content to supplement the hard copy book, and thus, make it a success.

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney story aside (for those who don't know the story, read the Post article - he began the strip online before it was ever a book), I think I can safely claim that most book ideas today don't begin with an internet concept, even if some of them end up there. Yet, almost all books have online content, whether it's a simple website about the book and its author, or the more involved sites, such as these by children's publisher Scholastic: Skeleton Creek, a book that uses a website and videos to help readers solve the clues to a terrifying mystery; and 39 Clues, a 10-book series, each title written by a different author, where readers collect game cards they can plug in online and download extra clues to help them solve this series' mystery. Other publishers are also catching up/catching on to this trend.

Here's my point about all of this. First, a disclaimer: I am NOT a Luddite (one who opposes technology and technological change), as I hope you can tell by the fact that I'm writing this on a blog. I use a computer every single day, and embrace technological advances from the flushing toilet to the iPod. Also, I recognize the importance, the validity, and even applaud the vision of meeting the new generations of readers on terms that are familiar to them. And yet. I can't help but be concerned that the Post article reported:

In January, a Kaiser Family Foundation report found that the time spent on all entertainment by kids from 8 to 18 rose from 6.5 hours a day five years ago to 7.5 hours a day. But only 25 minutes were typically spent reading a book. The Department of Education found that in 1984 only 8 percent of 13-year-olds and 9 percent of 17-year-olds reported that they "never or hardly ever" read for fun on their own. By 2008, the percentage had jumped to 24 percent for both groups. (Washington Post, "The Future of Children's Book Publishing", 03.21.10)

If I'm reading that correctly, on average, kids spend 7.5 hours a day on "entertainment," which I'm going to assume doesn't mean they're at school or doing homework, only the .5 portion of which is maybe spent reading, but 24% of those kids don't even bother to spend that .5.

Now, I'm not going to start to rant and rave, but I have to be honest when I say that I'm scared because I'm assuming that the majority of that 7.5 hours (and where on earth do they get that much free time?!) isn't spent climbing a tree, but is instead parked in front of some piece of technology, not interacting with the world around them.

But, you're going to say, they do interact with people via gchat, IM, twitter, email, electronic gaming sites, etc. etc. etc. And why would it be significantly healthier for them to be spending that 7.5 hours with "their nose stuck in a book," also not interacting with the world around them?

All valid points - my point is simply this: how can we, do we want to, make books that are engaging and help kids to engage in the rest of the world in a way not solely related to technology? Can we help kids to unplug, take a break, interact with the fam (yes, assuming the fam is willing and able to interact with them), notice the world immediately around them rather than confined in that 12-48 inch screen in front of them? Is the future of children's publishing going to encourage only multimedia interaction, or IRL (in real life) interaction, too?

Your thoughts?

Mar 20, 2010

Intro to Typography

Here is a very basic introduction to four different fonts. It's a fun little video that gives DOB, distinguishing characteristics, and some vocab for font description. If you're at all interested in typography, like me, it's worth the four minutes of your life. Enjoy!

Type: Four from R. Ballermann on Vimeo.

Mar 18, 2010

Book Recommendations for 3rd & 4th Grade Boys

Emily, one of this blog's team members, and a grade school teacher, prompted this blog post. Actually, she asked me for this list over a year ago, and she knows how very, truly sorry I am that it's taken me this long to get it for her. Once I had done so, though, I thought I might share it with the world.

The following list is a brief overview of some books that are currently in-print that I think would suit the tastes of boys who are in 3rd or 4th grade,
or are reading at a 3rd or 4th grade level. Having never been a 3rd or 4th grade boy, my opinion comes from having a father, an older brother, and many boy customers, all of whom I observe and talk with about books. The general trend runs toward sports, "funny" books, and action/adventure. I'm also throwing some part-graphic novel titles on here, just for fun.

The original series I recommended at the teacher's request was the Dan Gutman series, Baseball Card Adventures (HarperCollins). These stories featured a boy who upon touching a baseball card, would be transported back in time to meet, say, Mickey Mantle or Shoeless Joe.

Continuing on the sports theme, I would also recommend a series by Loren Long and Phil Bildner, originally known as Barnstormers when it was a hardcover-only series, now known as Sluggers in hardcover/paperback (Simon & Schuster). This has a similar feel to the Dan Gutman series, in that it combines baseball and magic, but aren't high-fantasy (no goblins, trolls, etc.). There are six in the series so far. My favorite aspect of this series is that a lot of baseball terminology and slang are used right in the prose, and then defined in the margins of the page. You get to read a great baseball adventure story and learn baseball vocab - what could be better than that?

One last sports series, that's not baseball specific is the Comeback Kids series by Mike Lupica (Penguin). Each book features a boy playing a different sport; so, for instance, one plays basketball, one football, one baseball, etc.

On to non-sports recommendations:

Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder by Jo Nesbo, illustrated by Mike Lowery (9781416979722, $14.99, Simon & Schuster). The word "fart" is in the title. Need I say more?

The Indian in the Cupboard (series) by Lynne Reid Banks (Random House). An oldie but a goodie, though being sensitive to the portrayal of Native Americans in literature, I have to say this series is typically lacking in its cultural sensitivity and accurate tribal-specific information. That said, I read this series as a kid and it's what, in part, influenced me in becoming a Native American studies major in college. So, you never know.

Never underestimate the power of the
Choose Your Own Adventure novel, mostly written by R.A. Montgomery, though other writers fill in the series (Chooseco). These don't need to be read in order. They have started publishing some CYOAs at the beginning chapter book level for 1st and 2nd graders, too.

The Jon Scieszka recommendation section of this post:

Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka (9780670011384, $12.99, Penguin). The subtitle is Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka. These tales feature the outlandish (mostly true) events that occur when you grow up as one of six brothers. Pictures of Jon Scieszka and his family are sprinkled throughout the book. Some parents have been sensitive to the cover - it was designed specifically that way to reflect the covers of comic books that Scieszka read as a child that age, not as a political statement of today.

Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things...
(...that aren't as scary, maybe, depending on how you feel about lost lands, stray cellphones, creatures form the sky, parents who disappear in Peru, a man named Lars Farf, and one other story we couldn't quite finish, so maybe you could help us out)

by Nick Hornby, Neil Gaiman, Jon Scieszka, Jonathan Safran Foer, etc. (9780385737470, $12.99, Random House). Besides winning best title of the decade, this book is a great introduction to some fantastic authors. Basically these are all short stories, a few pages long, mostly sci-fi or fantasy-related. A good introduction to this genre and these writers for kids at the Middle Grade reading level.

A similar book for those reading at the higher end of Middle Grade, say 10-14 years old, try Guys Write for Guys Read , edited by Jon Scieszka (9780670011445, $11.99, Penguin). This is the same type of book where all the stories are a few pages long, only not only sci-fi/fantasy-based tales. In this compilation, all the contributing writers are guys, writing for a guy audience.

Part graphic novel, part regular novel recommendations:

Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom & Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000 (series starring Frankie Pickle) by Eric Wight (Simon & Schuster). This series is a little easier reading level for those reluctant readers, more of a 2nd to 3rd grade level. The "every day" scenes are in prose; it's when Frankie's imagination takes over that the graphic novel element comes to life.

Dragonbreath (series) by Ursula Vernon (Penguin). A relatively new series starring a little dragon as the main character, but in the role of a boy; also featuring a foreign exchange student (a salamander) and ninja frogs.

The Fog Mound (trilogy) by Susan Schade and Jon Buller (Simon & Schuster). Recommended by my Simon & Schuster book rep, this series is about a chipmunk named Thelonious who is given the chance to find out if the old stories are true - if people rather than animals once ruled the Earth, and if they did, what happened to the humans?

Now that you've heard my two cents, does the peanut gallery have any favorites they'd like to add?


Also posted on my personal blog here.

The Making of Cover Art for Gail Carriger's Blamless

On the Odyssey Bookshop blog, two posts (1, 2) introduced my love for the Parasol Protectorate Series, as they're known - three books (so far) starring the sexy, sassy, soulless Alexia Tarabotti, written by Gail Carriger. Even if you haven't begun the steampunk, supernaturally-inclined series set in Victorian London, you can still appreciate the design process of the book cover for the third book in the series.

This was first seen at this blog here.

Book One: Soulless
9780316056632, $7.99, Orbit (Hachette)

The subtitle says it all, really: A Novel of Vampires, Werewolves, and Parasols. I thought, No, not really, this can't possibly be as witty and engaging as I want it to be. But then I began reading, and to my great surprise and eternal delight, it was!
Alexia Tarabotti is a spinster and a lady, drinking tea and chaperoning balls in London during the time of Queen Victoria's reign. She also happens to be a preternatural, or soulless being, one of the very few lucky individuals who can take away the power of a supernatural being (such as a vampire or werewolf) simply by her touch. When she accidentally kills a vampire (well, he was trying to drink her blood at the time), she is forced to contend with Lord Maccon, the werewolf leader of both the local pack and the local national office of supernatural investigations. Alexia and Lord Maccon find each other argumentative, frustrating, irritating, and secretly appealing as they are forced to work together to uncover who has been making rove werewolves and vampires disappear. Fans of Jane Austen-ish writing and fantasy forces will love this wicked, and wickedly funny, romp through London, supernatural-style.

Book Two: Changeless
9780316074148, $7.99, Orbit (Hachette), Pub. Date: April 2010

Book Three:
9780316074155, $7.99, Orbit (Hachette), Pub. Date: September 2010

the future of publishing by DK

Mar 13, 2010

Summer 2010 Picturebook Highlights - Publishers Group West

Publishers Group West, or PGW, is #7 in the Summer 2010 Picturebook Highlights series!

One book I am a
fraid to say probably won't be a best-seller but is stunningly illustrated is:

Owls See Clearly at Night (Lii Yiiboo Miyo-Waapamik Iii Swer): A Michif Alphabet (L'alfabet di Michif)
illustrated by Julie Flett

9781897476284, $16.95,
Pub. Date: April 2010

Illustrated by a Metis artist from Vancouver, this book is an alphabet book for the Michif language, an
endangered language of the Metis people who are geographically from Northern United States and Canada. The illustrations are a beautiful mix of bold silhouettes against soft-hued backgrounds.

by Suzy Lee
9781934734391, $15.95,
Pub. Date: May 2010

From the creator of the wordless picturebook Wave, comes another wordless picturebook, Mirror. The book is undeniably beautiful, showcasing Lee's signature illustration style - charcoal or dark pencil drawings with washes of bright water colors; half-concrete, half-abstract. While I highly recommend this book for its elegant artwork, the subject of the illustrations is one that is not appropriate for all storytime contexts. Mirror is the story of a little girl who makes friends with her reflection in the mirror. When there is tension between the reflection and the little girl, the little girl pushes the mirror over and it breaks. Then she has no friend to play with. The book is useful for starting conversations about cause and effect, consequences of actions, etc., but is really intended as an exploration of the self and the reflected, or "mirrored" self - quite an adult concept. Yet, please don't let that scare you off, as this picturebook is truly a delight to look through.

More Life-Size Zoo
by Teruyuki Komiya
9781934734193, $18.95,
Pub. Date: May 2010

The sequel to
Life-Size Zoo, on every page is a near life-size photograph of the head of an animal along with fun facts and general information. A great non-fiction page-turner. The oversize format is perfect for sharing with many kids at the same time.

Two new board books by Kate Endle that feature collage-style illustrations are:

What is Green?

9781570616488, $8.95,
Pub. Date: June 2010


Who Hoo Are You?
9781570616471, $8.95, Pub. Date: June 2010

For more on books with collage-style illustrations, check out my earlier post.

Mar 12, 2010

CHIRP, Part 2

In an earlier post, I mentioned the new Candlewick Handselling Indie Recognition Program (CHIRP), and how fabulous I think it is. Well, my gushing got noticed by a few people, it seems, as I received a phone call asking for my thoughts on the matter. You can now read my opinion not only on my blog, but also in these two articles as well:

Publisher's Weekly

American Booksellers Association


Typography Video II

Wish I knew how to create something like this!

Type Music Video: US3 "Cantaloop" from boon on Vimeo.

If you liked this one, check out this earlier post.

What Type Are You

Wondering what type you are? Font type, that is? Check out this great website to find out.

I'm either:

Cooper Black Italic


Pistilli Roman

Yes, I did it twice. You probably will too.

Creative Alphabet

I love that other people take the time to do these things. Then I can just sit back and admire it. Take a look at this blog post that captures a whole lot of people creating the alphabet in unique ways. These two are my favorite:

The Alphabet Photo Gallery
by Abba Richman at

Inspired by Abba Richman’s collection, prior to this, Thomas Fredriksen created his own alphabet photo collection on

Mar 11, 2010

She said, He said: Novels with multiple narrators

A sales rep friend posed this question online today:

I have a writer friend who is looking for YA (or adult) novels that are told in alternating voices. She wants examples where each character has a chapter and they go back and fo
rth between points of view. It’s a bonus if the characters live in different time periods.

The varied responses from the people who answered her, and the fact that I'm working on a YA novel told from various view points, made me reflect on that topic.

A co-worker once lamented about dual-narrator novels, saying something to the e
ffect of, "Unless it's written really really well, it's a cop-out" (I'm paraphrasing greatly here). After I heard her reasoning, I admit I judged dual-narrator novels more harshly, despite writing one of my own.

The way I defend my own writing is that I didn't want to tell the entire novel from a third-person omniscient narrator POV, and both main characters are, ya know,
main characters with two distinct voices, so...mine works (I hope).

But what really makes a novel work with multiple voices and in which cases is it unnecessary to the plot? A lot of novels have more than one main character, or really important secondary characters; why should they not all have their own voice? Often scenes are told from the POV of a character other than the main character, but almost never in first person. It is the omniscient narrator that allows the reader to gaze through the eyes of a secondary character, and it abundantly clear that the POV of the primary protagonist is the central focus.

Of course, I'm also confusing this subject by talking about POV (point-of-view), voices, and narrators, and all that doesn't include various storytelling formats such as diary entries, letters, phone conversation transcripts, and the recently more common emails and text messages. Where do all of these fit into the subject of multiple narrators?

While I don't have concrete answers to the questions I've posed, here are some books to hold up as examples for things I think they do particularly well.

My Most Excellent Year
by Steve Kluger (9780142413432, $8.99, Penguin) is my go-to favorite for multiple narrator/multiple format storytelling. This is a YA novel about three contemporary teenagers. The novel exhibits three different main character points-of-view, with plenty of secondary characters, texts, emails, IMs, diary entries, and expository scenes.

Another favorite contemporary YA novel that switches not only narrators, but also time periods, is Printz Award-winning Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (9780061431852, $8.99, Harper). Warning: It makes me sob (good tears) every time I read it; it's that good.

A new, not-yet-released YA novel told by dual narrators is Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (9780525421580, $17.99, Penguin, Pub. Date: April 2010). Interestingly, the two different view points are written by two different authors.

My favorite adult novel, though sadly out-of-print, is Letters from an Age of Reason by Nora Hague (9780060959852, Harper). Told in alternating sections, letters and journal entries chronicle the relationship between a white American living in England during the Civil War years, and the high-yellow former slave from New Orleans she falls in love with.

Also told in letters, is a non-fiction book, 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (9780140143508, $13, Penguin), which covers the decades of correspondence between Helene, the American author, and the people from the bookstore at 84 Charing Cross Road. Also adult.

Similar to
84... is the best-seller The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (9780385341004, $14, Random House). Also about an American author corresponding with British people, this takes place right after WWII, and delicately showcases the friendships and budding romance. Also adult.

Nora Roberts
, also writing as J.D. Robb, often writes scenes from a secondary character's point of view, though it is always clear who the main character is. Her more romantic novels are almost always told primarily through the woman's point of view, but a great strength of her novels are the scenes that are seen through the man's eyes. In her J.D. Robb ...In Death mysteries, not only does the reader see Eve Dallas's and her husband Roarke's POV, but scenes from various victims' POV are often presented as well.

For another great mystery, read
Darling Jim by Christian Moerk (9780805092080, $15, Henry Hold (MPS)), told from the POVs of a postman, a dead woman and her diary, and a live woman and her diary, among others.

I've noticed YA fantasy novels have a propensity for being told with dual narrators. Here is a quick list of books I've read that showcase dual or multiple narrators that are currently on the store's shelves:

Hearts at Stake (9780802720740, $9.99, Walker & Company (Bloomsbury, MPS)) and Blood Feud (9780802720962, $9.99, Walker & Company (Bloomsbury, MPS)) by Alyxandra Harvey

(9780803733961, $17.99, Penguin) by Catherine Fisher

(9781416971733, $19.99, Simon) by Scott Westerfeld

Sorcery & Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot
(9780152053000, $6.95, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Witch & Wizard
(9780316036245, $17.99, Little, Brown & Co.) by James Patterson & Gabrielle Charbonnet

Do you have any examples of novels of this ilk you'd like to share?


Dear Typography

Typography Video

Thank you to everyone who has sent me typography "things" - videos, pictures, websites, etc. - over the last few days! I'll now be sharing them with you all:

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

Mar 9, 2010

Summer 2010 Picturebook Highlights - Scholastic

Presenting #6 in the Summer 2010 Picturebook Highlights series...Scholastic!

Swim! Swim!

by Lerch

9780545094191, $16.99,
Pub. Date: July 2010

Hilarious! Lerch, the fish, the main character of the story (as well as, apparently, the author), is so very proper I can't help reading this in a (horrendous) British accent. Lerch is lonely and wants a friend, so he examines every object in his confined space to see if he can find one. When he can't find a friend inside, he finds one outside. But who is that furry-looking creature staring so intently at Lerch the fish saying "Yummy?" Friend? Or foe? Great storytime book; you won't stop laughing.

Zen Ghosts
by Jon J. Muth

9780439634304, $17.99, Pub. Date: July 2010

So very beautiful, this is a third companion book to
Zen Shorts, a Caldecott Honor Book, and Zen Ties. All three feature dreamy watercolors paintings with hints of vivid colors, and a Panda and his human friends.

This is Silly!
by Gary Taxali

9780439718363, $17.99,
Pub. Date: August 2010

While children may enjoy the illustrations, this is pretty much a picturebook for adults, in my humble opinion. Art-and-pop-art-loving adults, to be specific. Andy Warhol-esque colors and the whimsical characters and overall design reflect the pop art style of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Silly rhymes showcase the Dr. Seuss influence on Taxali's work (who is an illustrator, fine artist, and toy designer in Canada). I'm not sure how well this picturebook works as a storytime book, but the art is not to be missed.

Mar 4, 2010

Books and Tattoos

Penguin Publishers has found a way to combine two of my favorite topics - books and tattoos - into one magical moment. Okay, actually six magical moments.
Penguin has created a new line of books known as Penguin Ink. Already published adult novels are getting a face lift with new cover designs created by tattoo artists. Paul Buckley is the design director for this new line.

The first six novels are being re-released at the end of June. They are:

Bridget Jones's Diary
by Helen Fielding, cover design by Tara McPherson
Paperback: 9780143117131, $15, Penguin, Pub. Date: June 2010

Money: A Suicide Note
by Marin Amis, cover design by Bert Krak
Paperback: 9780143116950, $15, Penguin, Pub. Date: June 2010

From Russia With Love
by Ian Fleming, cover design by Chris Garver
Paperback: 9780143116943, $15, Penguin, Pub. Date: June 2010

The Broom of the System
by David Foster Wallace, cover design by Duke Riley
Paperback: 9780143116936, $15, Penguin, Pub. Date: June 2010

Waiting for the Barbarians
by J.M. Coetzee, cover design by Chris Conn
Paperback: 9780143116929, $15, Penguin, Pub. Date: June 2010

The Bone People
by Keri Hulme, cover design by Pepa Heller
Paperback: 9780143116455, $15, Penguin, Pub. Date: June 2010

Read more about this here.

And in case you missed it in an earlier post, some adult Penguin Classics have been redone to have intricate typography covers in shades of black, white, and red - the red is to spark AIDS awareness, the cause behind the repackaging. Read more about the Penguin Classics here.

Mar 3, 2010

CHIRP & Book Review: Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet & Elspeth Graham

Candlewick has recently rolled out a new program called CHIRP: Candlewick's Handselling Indie Recognition Program. It is fantastic. Not only is it immensely flattering to have the work of Indies recognized and aided by a major publisher, but the fact that CHIRP really is helpful, is a huge bonus. We received a box of completed books from the Spring list with the intent that staff members who have not already done so, have the chance to look through, take something home and read it, and then handsell it our customers. There are little comment cards we can put into Candlewick books, saying things like, "Liked BOOK X? Try this one!"

And, if all that wasn't enough, I discovered a book on their list that I didn't already have in store, but needed to order immediately. I received a copy of this in the CHIRP box, read it, loved it, and am now sharing it with you.

Thanks, Candlewick!

Cloud Tea Monkeys
by Mal Peet & Elspeth Graham, illustrated by Juan Wijngaard
9780763644536, $15.99, Candlewick

This beautifully illustrated picture book is perfect for the 5-8 year-old child who is on the cusp of reading or can read by themselves, but still enjoys sharing picturebook storytime with an adult reader.

The tale is about a little girl named Tashi, who lives in a village at the foot of a mountain. The women of her village pick tea leaves every day, carrying heavy baskets under the burning sun. When Tashi's mother falls ill, Tashi worries if she can't pick the leaves, there will be no money for a doctor. Tashi carries the heavy basket, almost bigger than she is, and tries to pick the leaves herself. The mean overseer laughs at her and Tashi runs to the comfort of her monkey friends. She cries and tells them her problem and then, in the way of overtired children, falls asleep. During her sleep, the monkeys take her basket to the top of the mountain and fill it with tea leaves. When she drags the basket back to the overseer, His Excellency the Royal Tea Tester is there, looking to find a suitable tea for Her Majesty the Empress. Tashi's leaves make the most heavenly Cloud Tea. In return for one basket of cloud tea leaves once a year, Tashi is given a bag of gold. She gives fruits to the monkeys as thanks for their help, and she and her mother live happily ever after, drinking cloud tea.

The writing is lyrical storytelling, much nicer than my synopsis, with apt, descriptive analogies for everyone from the Overseer to the monkeys. Juan Wijngaard's illustrations are bordered, full-page illustrations that bring the storytelling to life. Additional spot illustrations on the side of each page with text enhance the overall beauty of this book. This is a perfect book to give as a gift, and one that can be enjoyed by many ages.

Book Review: The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal

The False Princess
by Eilis O'Neal

9781606840795, $16.99, Egmont (Random House),
Pub. Date: July 2010

This debut novel was a delight! Very strong writing, a satisfactory conclusion, love, danger, intrigue, magic, a prophecy, and three princesses.

After turning sixteen, Princess Nalia of Thorvaldor learns she is not the true heir. A prophecy made before her birth foretold the princess would die before her sixteenth birthday, and so the real princess has been hidden in a convent for sixteen years while she, the false princess, was raised in the castle. A spell had been cast over both the real princess and the false one, disguising them both. Now known as Sinda, the former princess is forced to leave the only home she has ever known and travel to her aunt's house in a little village far from the city life. Not only is she leaving her home, she is leaving the people she thought of as her parents and Keirnan, the boy she knew to be her best friend.

Struggling in her new life as a peasant - not that she's not willing, she just doesn't know how - Sinda discovers she has the ability to do magic. Returning to the city, she is taken in as an apprentice by Philantha, a somewhat eccentric master sorceress. Sinda is told that the spell she was under to make her look like the princess, also kept her magic from showing itself. While Sinda has an almost overwhelming amount of magic inside her, controlling that magic proves to be difficult.

Reuniting with Keirnan in the city brings Sinda great joy, but also puts her into contact with the real princess, Nalia. Or is it the real princess? Sinda discovers Nalia is under a spell, too. So, where, then is the
real princess? What sort of conspiracy is going on, that there should be two false princesses? Sinda and Keirnan must retrace the steps of the princess's life, all the way back to the prophecy, in order to find out who is the evil behind this plot.

Sinda feels compelled to find the real princess and set things right, in order to be able to focus on who she, herself, is. If she can't figure that out, she'll never be able to control her magic or return the love Keirnan has for her.

A great YA fantasy read, I was most definitely not disappointed with the ending. The true princess is the best woman for the job, I think, and Sinda's future looks nothing but promising.

Mar 2, 2010

Book Review: Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist, Book Two: The Basilisk's Lair by R.L. LaFevers

Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist, Book Two: The Basilisk's Lair
by R.L. LaFevers, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
9780547238678, $15, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Pub. Date: June 2010

I'm so excited about this series! It's the perfect blend of text and pictures, adventure and fun, risk but happy endings.

In this second book, Nathaniel and Aunt Phil (who's really a cousin), and of course, Greasle the Gremlin, have received an urgent telegram telling them about the escape of a Basilisk, a creature known as the King of the Serpents. The Dhughani people have been protecting the Basilisk's lair, but someone has found a way to get it out. Nathaniel, as a beastologist-in-train
ing, is only supposed to watch and assist Aunt Phil in recapturing the Basilisk. As in the first novel, things go awry, and it is up to Nathaniel and Greasle to save the day. How exactly does one go about capturing a creature who can kill you with its breath, its smell, its touch, and its gaze? You'll have to read to find out, but I think we all know the answer is very, very carefully.

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second book in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Harry came up against a Basilisk, too. While that fight scene was frightening (to me!) and ended in the Basilisk's death, t
hat is not the same situation in the Nathaniel Fludd book. No one is seriously harmed, and the Basilisk looks more like a type of dragon. It is captured and returned to its cave for the Dhughani people to watch over.

This series, though very different from Harry Potter, might be a good way to judge if your child is ready for reading that older series. If someone gets scared reading Nathaniel Fludd, it's too soon for Harry Potter.

The most exciting part of The Basilisk's Lair came at the end, when Aunt Phil decided it was time to start on home. I can't wait to read book three, where I hope we'll find out more about what might have happened to Nathaniel's parents, and whether they're still alive.

If you haven't read the first one, don't miss it!
Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist, Book One: Flight of the Phoenix
9780547238654, $16, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Book Review: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock
by Melina Marchetta

9780763643614, $18.99, Candlewick

I love Melina Marchetta's writing. As proof, I offer up my former post concerning (also by her) at my bookstore's blog here, as well as the fact that I read Jellicoe Road a couple of times a year and sob my way through it each time, in the best possible way.

Finnikin of the Rock
is an epic fantasy that is just as compelling as her fiction. I was almost scared it wouldn't be, in that way that something is almost too good to be true, but I gathered up my courage, began reading it, and wasn't a bit disappointed. Now, granted, it's a 400-page book, but I was amazed at how it flew by! So much is packed into that 400 pages, a complete story (as in, not the beginning of a series), and still I could barely believe it when it was done. Where to even begin in telling you about it? Okay, I'll begin with the title character: Finnikin of the Rock.

In this fantasy world, there are different lands, and different groups of people within those lands. Finnikin is of the Rock people from the kingdom of Lumatere. Another kingdom has taken control of Lumatere during the five days of the unspeakable, and due to dark sorcery, the kingdom is impenetrable, surrounded by a thick mist. No one can go in; no one can come out. Finnikin is the son of the former captain of the guard. His best friends were Prince Balthazar and Balthazar's cousin, Lucian. As children, Finnikin, Balthazar, and Lucian mixed their blood and made a pact to protect Lumatere. The time has come for them to keep their promise.

Believing both his father and his father's wife, the Lady Beatriss, to be dead, Finnikin has spent the last ten years outside Lumatere, an apprentice to Sir Topher, the King's First Man. Finnikin has a dream that leads them to a convent on the top of a mountain where they meet with a novice, Evanjalin. Evanjalin has the power of the sight, but only when she bleeds can she have visions. One vision has told her Balthazar, the heir to Lumatere, is still alive. Finnikin, Sir Topher, and Evanjalin must travel the land far and wide, finding their scattered peoples, and bringing them home under the hope that Balthazar can break the curse hanging over Lumatere.
In their travels, they will cross paths with the holy man of Lumatere, the Captain of the King's Guard, a slave child from another land, and they will begin to unravel the plots, myths, and legends that have sprung up regarding the five days of the unspeakable.

Since meeting Evanjalin, Finnikin has felt a loss of control as he is buffeted about by voices of fate, Evanjalin's plans and prophecies, and his struggle with his guilt and fear about a prophecy concerning his own future. Who is Evanjalin really? Where
is Balthazar if he is still alive? And if they manage to get inside Lumatere, what will they find there when they arrive?

I don't want to give too many spoilers, but Melina Marchetta brilliantly weaves an ending that captures the heartbreak and hope a story like this would really entail, and which is also characteristic of her award-winning contemporary fiction. I am awed by her ability to blend that quality with an entirely new genre. Congratulations, Ms. Marchetta. I can hardly wait to see what you will give us next.

Too Much Typography to Handle

Thanks to @bookavore via Twitter (@rebf if you want to follow me) for starting me off on this post!

Penguin Classics and their new typographic covers. Read about it here.

Watch this short video starring different fonts, in your spare time. Sound helps.

Last but not least, I want this on a t-shirt.

Or maybe I want this one.

Summer 2010 Picturebook Highlights - Little, Brown and Company

All the way to number six in the Summer 2010 Picturebook Highlights series is Little, Brown and Company!

Overall, I have to confess there are more novels on this list I'm excited about than picturebooks, but these three did stand out for me (and I'll review the novels as I read them, promise!):

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down
by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
9780316070164, $16.99, already available

This award-winning husband-and-wife team have created another hit, in my mind. Lyrical text tells the story of lunch counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Beginning with four friends, who will come to be know as the Greensboro Four, blacks and whites across the South began peacefully protesting segregation by sitting at lunch counters, politely waiting to be served. With a refrain throughout: "A doughnut and coffee, with cream on the side," and highlighting words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and activist Ella Baker, this picturebook is a beautiful introduction to an impressive moment in America's history. Brian Pinkney's characteristic illustration style - sweeping washes of color with black line overlay - enhance and compliment the text. A timeline and author's note at the back of the book make this perfect for both individual storytimes and classroom use.

Shark vs. Train
by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
9780316007627, $16.99, Pub. Date: April 2010

The illustrations are what make this book a success. The premise is two little boys have chosen a shark and a train from their box of toys and are, in typical fashion, battling to see which toy will win. Quickly the perspective of the book changes to show the shark and the train competing against each other, with cartoonish word bubbles adding text that will make both adults and kids laugh. Basically, two big-kid guys had fun making a kids picturebook.

I Don't Want a Cool Cat!
by Emma Dodd
9780316036740, $15.99, Pub. Date: August 2010

A follow-up to I Don't Want a Posh Dog!, the rhyming text and bold yet cool illustrations are sure to create a similar success. "I don't want a cool cat. A treat-me-like-a-fool cat. I just want a purry cat. A small, soft, furry cat." Who could resist? Just make sure you're ready to, or already have, a cat in your life!