Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Year of the Bomb review

The Year of the Bomb

In Sierra Madre, California, 1955, Paul and his three best friends Oz, Crank and Arnie are obsessed with monster movies. The horror-movie fake-out at the beginning of the book really drew me in.  Shortly after leaving the theater, Paul and his friends are overjoyed to learn that Invasion of the Body Snatchers will be coming to film in their downtown.

It really is amazing to think that this juxtaposition of events: monster movies and world altering break-throughs in physics, including work on nuclear bombs were all happening within a 15 mile radius. While Paul and his friends enjoy a lot of freedom - they ride their bikes, or bus around town, with no fear of crime, the negative sides to the 1950's are also highlighted. Hollywood Boulevard has yet to become a seedy (and later still, commercialized and gentrified) place.  The book touches lightly on the Hollywood blacklist as well as the pressures that families (especially fathers) felt at that time to financially keep up with the Joneses.  

There's a wonderful contrast in this novel between the (artificial) fear that Paul loves to inspire in himself watching monster movie matinees vs. the very real daily fears that he struggles with.  He genuinely fears nuclear attack, and family dynamics are tense as his father slogs away in a top-secret military job that he hates in order to pay the bills.  The other boys families have similar problems.  Paul is soon drawn into some FBI intrigue, as one of the female extras on the set (who Paul immediately develops an innocent crush on) starts spying on her fellow castmates, looking for signs of Communist sympathizers.

I thought it strained credulity that the four boys would gain such easy access to the movie set, as well as famed physicist Richard Feynman's office.  They literally show up and start grilling Feynman with questions.  Feynman answers them in full and pours his heart out to the boys.  Still, it's an enjoyable read and Kidd definitely manages to transport you to another time.

I would recommend this book for readers, especially boys, aged 9-12.

I borrowed this book from my local library.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Swag, beautiful swag

I have to admit, I was getting pretty worried. I shipped all the Advance Reader Copies I'd obtained at ALA this year, but when my package failed to arrive I started to get impatient. And then, nervous. What if it'd been lost in the mail? Or sent to the wrong address? What if I never saw all those lovely, lovely ARCs ever again? Happily, after some double-checking, it turns out it did get here all right. Here it is! My sweet, sweet haul from ALA Annual 2010. I promised myself I wouldn't go to hog-wild... but then, the box the shipping company provided still had so much room in it, I ended up going back for more. The books are (very roughly) arranged in order of publishing date.

I picked up a few book bags as well. Everyone was jealous of my Judy Moody bag. I never did manage to track down the much-coveted Vladimir Tod bag, or the cute Hello Kitty book bag.  I'm psyched to dig in and start reading all of these!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Spaceheadz review

by Jon Scieszka and Francesco Sedita, illustrated by Shane Prigmore
Simon & Schuster

Hurrah! Scieszka and Company are in rare form, with this humorous science-fiction middle-grade adventure. Fifth-grader Michael K. gets stuck with the task of showing two new kids, Bob and Jennifer, the ropes in Mrs. Halley's classroom.  He quickly realizes that they are both out-of-this world... literally, from another planet.  The only information that Jennifer, Bob and their hamster leader, Major Fluffy, have about planet Earth is from television commercials, beamed into space.  Media-savvy readers will recognize many of the catchphrases and slogans that Bob and Jennifer employ in their conversation.

The kids manage
to stay one step ahead of bumbling Agent Umber of the Anti-Alien Agency despite his phalanx of super-spy gadgets, including the Pickle Phone, a box of cereal that turns into a laptop computer and a giant taco disguise.

I found the spelling of
Spaceheads - rendered throughout the text as SPHDZ - a little distracting at first but after a little while I got used to it.

Some of the
best story content is featured on accompanying websites, full of Easter eggs and additional jokes and information, including This website is a brilliant send-up of many teachers' poorly designed efforts, complete with plenty of clashing colors, busy patterns, flashing extras, Comic Sans font and cheery "inspirational" quotes.  Agent Umber's somewhat official looking "government" website has most links leading to an ominous pop-up reading, "Access Denied. You do not have sufficient security clearance to view this page."  However, some careful poking around will lead to case file reports of The Fried Santa Incident, and a rather silly set of highly bureaucratic forms, including Shoe Replacement and Suit Pocket Addition Forms.

Similar in theme,
but weightier than Daniel Pinkwater's Fat Men from Space novella, less scatological than but just as fast paced and hilarious as Andy Griffith's The Day My Butt Went Psycho, I would recommend this for readers aged 8-10.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Old Spice Guy video

Old Spice Guy shares some of his thoughts on libraries.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Twilighting the Classics

Wow!  Check out this line-up of seemingly Twilight-inspired covers on classics put out by HarperTeen.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, and Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, quite a triptych, eh?

Here's the British edition of Wuthering Heights by the same publisher.  It's billed as "Bella & Edward's Favourite Book."

And here's a cover for Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre by Amazon's publishing house, CreateSpace.  Look familiar?

Okay, these last few aren't classics... but the cover of Kissed by Angel, by Elizabeth Chandler looked so Twilight inspired, I had to include it.  The American edition is on the left, the UK edition is on the right.  I don't think you can see in this picture, but the British edition also has the tagline, "True Love Lasts Forever" in tiny lettering at the bottom.

And here, the cover for Sleepless by Cyn Balog, also features a flower on a black background.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Wondrous Strange review

Wondrous Strange

Having read Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely novels I was looking for something in the same vein, and was not disappointed by Wondrous Strange. Kelley Winslow is a young actress in New York working on a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in the park. While I thought some of the Shakespeare allusions came across as a little heavy-handed, readers who aren't as familiar with the Bard's works will probably appreciate a lot of the exposition.  Rescuing what she believes to be a drowning horse (actually, a kelpie) Kelley is  dismayed when the horse reappears in the bathtub of her upper-story apartment. This whole exchange is played with humor, as Kelley frets over what she will feed it (turns out the kelpie has a taste for Lucky Charms cereal) or how she will clean up after it (luckily, the supernatural horse doesn't leave any messes behind.)

Angry, lonely Sonny is a changeling - a human child raised by faeries and sworn to service as a protector of them. Upon meeting Kelley in the Central Park one night, he quickly begins to suspect that she could be Faerie King Auberon's long-lost daughter.  A strained romance begins between the two, as Sonny struggles to keep the faery world and his duties within it a secret from Kelley for as long as he can.

One of the surprises in the book is one of Kelley's fellow actors, Bob, turns out to be the real Puck, a wisecracking, sticky-fingered guy, who's secretly been keeping an eye on Kelley, and manipulating things behind-the-scenes for years.

The climax of the book takes place on actual midsummer night, as the portal between human and faery worlds threatens to open, and hell hounds chase through Central Park.  Sonny and his fellow members of the Janus Guard are prepared to do battle to keep the rest of Manhattan safe, but ultimately, it is Kelley's faery heritage which saves the day.

This novel's blend of Celtic mythology, Shakespeare and romance will more than satisfy fans of urban paranormal fantasy. There is a sequel, Darklight, released earlier this year, which is sitting on my "To Be Read" pile.

I blogged this during the 48-Hour Reading Challenge.
I borrowed this book from the library.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lucky Breaks review

Lucky Breaks
by Susan Patron, illustrated by Matt Phelan
Ginee Seo Books

In this wonderful sequel to The Higher Power of Lucky, we return to the dusty micro-town of Hard Pan, California. Lucky's meandering thoughts and careful appreciation of little details is explored in a quirky and whimsical fashion.  She sees eleven as being intrepid and cherishes the "secret 11" in the straps of her new training bra. At eleven years of age, she is clearly looking forward to growing up, wearing make-up and other such things that are just ahead of her... yet she is still happy to not-quite be there yet. Lucky reminded me of Fern from Charlotte's Web in many ways.

Lucky has settled into a much more comfortable relationship with her adoptive mother Brigitte, who has started a new business, a small cafe. Geologists are up to study the rocks in Hard Pan, which affords Lucky the rare opportunity to make friends with a visiting girl her own age, Paloma.  Again, Lucky stirs up trouble with her misunderstandings

Patron defiantly returns to the matter of Roy's dog, who's scrotum so famously caused a flurry of censorship after the Newbery win of The Higher Power of Lucky. To be honest, in the first book, the incident is so seamlessly part of the story, I didn't even notice the "offending" word on my first read-through. The thing that I found most interesting about the whole controversy surrounding the first book, were the justifications that I heard about the word, including everything from "It's not like she was talking about a person!" to, "But, it's the actual medical term!"  The inclusion in the second book felt a bit forced to me, but not at all objectionable.

Birgitte's speech to Paloma's overprotective mother about how the world is full of danger, but full of adventure and wonderful things too, to let children experience things and try being brave is a rallying call against helicopter parenting.

Lucky's reverence for science, including her hero worship of Charles Darwin and, in general, her unique way of looking at the world will continue to charm those who enjoyed the finely-wrought world introduced in The Higher Power of Lucky. I am eagerly awaiting the final book in the trilogy.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

After ALA

After ALA wrapped up, I made my way up to the Baltimore-area to visit friends.  I visited the Frederick County Public Library in downtown Frederick, Maryland and was very impressed.

I wish I had taken a photo of the brick exterior.  Here's a picture of the central atrium.

Here are a few of the quotes they had selected for each of the support pillars in the children's room. Aren't they inspiring?

Here are two more signs which really tickled my fancy.  These were both near the computers.  Ha!  Yoda, and Shel Silverstein's Lazy Jane.  I love it! What a great sense of humor the librarians there must have.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Finally review

by Wendy Mass

Rory Swenson just can’t catch a break. She’s been waiting for what seems like forever for her 12th birthday. According to her parents’ rules, that is the magical age when she’ll finally be able to partake in many formerly forbidden activities such as wearing contact lenses, getting a pet, owning a cell phone, piercing her ears, and staying home alone. Now that the day has finally come, she finds that growing up isn’t as satisfying as she imagined. She’s completely unprepared for the minor disasters that result: her new pet bunny seems homicidal; staying home alone is scarier than she thought; and her attempt at having her ears pierced reveals an allergy to gold. The only silver lining is her growing friendship with movie-star Jake Harrison, who is filming at her school. There’s a nice twist at the end, when the many good deeds Rory has done without thinking of herself pay off, and she realizes that her misfortunes are minor. This novel pairs well with Mass’s 11 Birthdays, but it stands on its own. Children will relate to this warm, funny story of a heroine who can’t wait to grow up.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
This review first appeared in School Library Journal.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Exhibits Hall ALA: Chapter Books Edition

Moving on from picture books, here's some middle-grade and young adult fiction that caught my eye at ALA Annual.

by Heath Gibson

Lately, I've got my eye out for fiction that will appeal to guys. I think this might fill the bill. J.T. is struggling with his parents death, ROTC training and his violent new foster father.

The Wager
by Donna Jo Napoli
Henry Holt & Co.

I was drawn to this mesmerizing cover. Closing in, I noticed Napoli's name. I love her creative retellings of fairy tales. The book is set in the Middle Ages, and I wondered if this would have Faustian theme. Turns out it's a retelling of the story of the man who makes a deal with the devil to not bathe for three years in exchange for a huge fortune. Hmm... may be a little too much of a gross-out factor for me. Still, I was intrigued.

Dillweed's Revenge: A Deadly Dose of Magic
by Florence Perry Heide, illustrated by Carson Ellis
September 2010

I only had the chance to flip through a few pages of this one, but I was reminded very, very strongly of Edward Gorey. The highest possible praise for this book comes from The Series of Unfortunate Events author Lemony Snicket who says, "The story is unnerving, the characters are unpleasant, and the artwork is unsettling. I am going to read this book again and again."

A Wizard of Mars
by Diane Duane

Hurrah! The newest installment in Duane's Wizard series is available at last. The title alone sounds completely over the top. We're talking about wizards, here people. Wizards on Mars.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Exhibits Hall ALA: Picture Books Edition

As much as I might scour through publisher catalogs, there are always literary gems that wouldn't have caught my eye unless seen in person. I really enjoyed running across interesting items in the ALA Annual exhibits hall this year.

Here are a few books which grabbed my attention.

I Can Be a Real Boy
by Guido van Genechten
Clavis Publishing

I liked this little Belgian import board book.  Each page shows a cheerful boy dressed for a different possible career: cowboy, sailor, chef.  There's a companion volume, I Can Be a Real Girl, which has (nearly) all the same careers.

A Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes
by Salley Mavor
Houghton Mifflin
September 2010

I like this looks of this.  The embroidered fabric relief illustrations reminded me a lot of Clare Beaton's work.  Beautiful!

Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night
by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen
Houghton Mifflin
September 2010

From the author of last year's Caldecott Honor winning book, Red Sings From Treetops, this is a gorgeous collection of nighttime poetry.  I love the woodcut illustrations.

Bubble Trouble
by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Polly Dunbar
Clarion Books

Apple-cheeked children chase a baby who's on the loose in this English import.  The language is infectious and bouncy.

Flora's Very Windy Day
by Jeanne Birdsall, illustrated by Matt Phelan
Clarion Books
August 2010

Here's a great sibling story, illustrated in Phelan's trademark energetic, flowing style.

All My Friends Are Dead
by Avery Monsen, illustrated by Jory John
Chronicle Books

This little book is hilarious.  Imagine Remy Charlip's Fortunately... without any of the positive reversals of fortune.  This is gallows humor at it's finest.

by Steven Jenkins
August 2010

Steve Jenkins is one of my favorite illustrators.  This volume has a more restrained color palette than his other works.  White, grey, a bit of yellow and black stand out against various bold background colors on each page.

A Garden for Pig
by Kathryn Thurman, illustrated by Lindsay Ward
Kane Miller

I'm sorry to say I didn't jot down the publisher information on this one. Is it self-published?  The collage illustrations are winsome, and make use of paint and fabric, especially raw muslin. It's based on a true story of a pig who planted and fertilized his own garden. Great for ecologically minded readers.

*edit: I've been alerted that the publisher is Kane Miller. Thanks!*

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Serendipity at ALA

One unexpected surprise at ALA Annual was getting to see the art installations at the Washington Convention Center.  This series of sculptures used bicycles, kayaks, bar stools and other found materials.

Further down the hall, I found this installation by, a statement on the oil spill.

Monday, July 5, 2010


As usual, I ended up spending more time in the exhibits hall than I had originally planned. How can one resist the siren call of all those "free" books, and authors to mingle with. Sad to say, after an exhausting day running around Washington, I ended up oversleeping and missing the YA Coffee Klatch… and I did not make it to the overlapping session about kidslit bloggers, either. Rats!

The exhibits hall publicists did a fine job of sustaining a buzz throughout the whole convention by selectively releasing different ARCs throughout the weekend. As usual, there was the usual grousing amongst librarians about the lack of free ARCs that have been available in years past. To be honest, I didn't really see a cause for concern. I managed to pull in quite a haul of books. Most impressively, at least to me, were all the ARCs that were in finished full-color paperback format. I didn't see any with the pale pastel unfinished looking covers that were so common a few years ago. There were a larger number of F&G's for picture books than I've seen in years past, and a good amount of non-fiction ARCs as well. Wizard's of the Coast didn't have too many freebies at their booth, but they made up for it with their awesome, self-contained little "magic shop".

Perhaps it was slim pickings for adult librarians, but the number of middle-grade novels and YA novels available was really pretty impressive. I'd heard conflicting reports on how publishers were treating bloggers at BEA, some said that being a blogger "didn't seem to matter anymore" and others said that mentioning a blog (especially one that looked more professional, with known blog stats, a business card, a domain name, a review policy, etc.) did seem to open doors. I found most publishers friendly when I mentioned my blog -- not overly impressed, but not dismissively rude about it either. 

The on-site shipping was deceptively dangerous.  In the past, I've used the old, "pack a bag inside your luggage" trick, and brought books back on the plane with me.  But that backfired, because books are heavy and my luggage was over the weight-limit, incurring additional fees.  This year, I decided to use the shipping center at the conference, which caused me to load up on more books than I'd originally planned.  They give you that big box, you might as well fill it right?  Sadly, I don't have any pictures of my haul, but I'll be sure to post them once the books get here.  Shipping book rate is very affordable, but also very slow.  My books haven't arrived yet, and probably won't for some time, leaving me in a worried state about their condition until I finally get to see them again.  There are definitely plusses and minuses to shipping vs. packing in your luggage, that's for sure.

What I saw this conference, more so than I ever have before, were books for sale. Lots of autographing sessions with authors, with books available for $1-$10 dollars ($5 for a hardcover seemed to be the dominant price). I didn't see anyone charging money for ARCs, but I did see a number of publishers "bundle" the ARC with a hardcover. Buy the already published hardcover book (normally $17-25) for five dollars, and get the new (and highly anticipated) ARC for free. Plenty of fans in line admitted to me that they already owned or didn't need the hardcover… they were paying for access to the ARC, and for the autograph. Can the day of outright charging for ARCs be far behind?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sunday night at ALA

For the first time, I decided to splurge and spend the money to attend the Newbery Caldecott banquet. Before I headed off to the awards ceremony and speeches however, I had one other important stop to make. The Sixth Annual Bookcart Drillteam Championships!  The MCs Mo Willems and Jon Scieszka were in fine form, with plenty of hilarious side-commentary.  I thought the 80's team from Gettysburg College displayed more athletic skill, but the Pittsburgh SLIS students were far and away, leaders in artistic merit, with their "Night of the Living Librarians" which nabbed them first place.

After dashing out of the Bookcart Drillteam hall, everyone at the Newbery Caldecott banquet was dressed to the nines. It felt great to be amongst so many children's librarians. Once everyone at my table started talking about some of the craziest antics we'd tried during summer reading programs or during storytime, I knew that I was among My People. 

Jerry Pinkney designed this amazing die-cut program, and all the attendees were given a CD of the winners speeches. Pinkney (a five-time Caldecott Honor winner) talked about how when he received the call, he waited… waited… for that word… "honor" uncomprehending at first that the gold medal was finally his. 

Rebecca Stead told us how she'd been told to keep her speech short, and so she subdivided her speech into four parts. I love the way her speech circled back on itself, repeating many of the same themes. She talked about how, as a shy, author-to-be, she'd always simultaneously craved, yet hated being the center of attention on her birthday, as everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to her and how receiving this award was like the biggest round of "Happy Birthday" ever. As she ended her speech, a lone librarian called out, "Happy Birthday to you!" much to the amusement of the crowd.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Job hunting at ALA

The job hunt is fresh on the mind of plenty of newly-minted or newly laid-off librarians.

I ran into a number of new librarians who I've given career advice to which was a nice feeling. I don't think I can consider myself a "real" mentor -- I'm not old enough! But, it still feels gratifying to help fellow colleagues in some way. This year, in particular, felt like a "sophomore" year for me -- I'm not brand-new to the profession anymore, but I am by no means a grand lioness of the library profession, either!

I love, love, loved the "Librarian for Hire" badges being handed out at the Placement Center. I wore one and got lots of positive comments on it. Now, I didn't have any employers ask for my resume and an interview or anything magically wonderful as all that, but I did get quite a number of sympathetic comments from fellow job hunters, and lots of words of encouragement - especially from seasoned librarians who'd survived the major economic downturn of the 70's. More so than ever, I felt a strong sense of community and support amongst my fellow librarians, bloggers and book lovers.

Getting an appointment for the NMRT Resume Review service was quite an adventure and it felt like I'd been dropped into
Fortunately by Remy Charlip.

FORTUNATELY, ALA was offering resume review.
UNFORTUNATELY, all of the spots quickly filled up.
FORTUNATELY, someone cancelled their appointment, just as I was asking about getting on to a back up list.
UNFORTUNATELY, there was someone else already next in line.
FORTUNATELY, (for me, unfortunately for them) they weren't able to make use of the newly freed-up session, and I was able to get in.
UNFORTUNATELY, my resume reviewer was late!
FORTUNATELY, she did finally make it. And, she had a lot of really good advice for me, ways to get my resume in top-notch form.

If you haven't been to the NMRT Resume Review, I highly recommend it. I was saddened to see they intend on charging $5 a person to those who were not able to snag an appointment at Annual. With the unemployment rate the way that it is, that's quite the potential racket, no? I know people's time is valuable, especially senior level administrator's whose advice is most coveted… but preying on unemployed hopefuls just seems dirty to me. Can't experienced librarians be cajoled into volunteering their time on this worthwhile project?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

ALA Annual 2010 wrap-up

This felt different to me than any other ALA Annual I've been to, in large part because of Twitter. Whenever I felt hungry, tired, or alone, I'd turn to Twitter and within the hour, be surrounded by insta-friends, who were immediately willing to meet up (or in Twitter parlance, "tweet-up").

I really enjoyed reading other people's tweets for sessions that I wasn't able to make it to… and there were many. Even with Hermione's time-turner, I wouldn't have been able to make it to a fraction of the sessions that looked interesting. Each time slot had at least three panels that I wanted to go to, if not five, six or even seven! Reading others short, jagged twitter impressions of programs attended was nowhere near as good as actually being there myself of course, but it certainly did take a bit of the "sting" of not being able to be two or three places at once.

If it weren't for Twitter, I wouldn't have found this devastatingly accurate comparison of vendors vs. librarians. Ouch. Guilty as charged. Most of the librarians attending wore appropriate business casual clothing - embroidered A-line skirts, sweater sets, chunky beaded necklaces. But, there were just enough librarians in orthopedic shoes paired with cat-themed socks, OR purple-haired, pierced hipsters to lend truth to those stereotypes.

I had a carefully crafted schedule of events that I did not want to miss… but once I was there ended up abandoning most of my plans and just going with the flow. And I am so glad that I took the time to head down to the National Mall, and check out part of the Smithsonian. I made it to the pop-up books display, which was very tiny but still very worthwhile, and a display of Julia Child's kitchen.

Here's the view of the Washington Monument from the National Mall.

I did go to a panel about the future of book reviewing. That was an interesting session! I was dismayed to see how unenthusiastic the panelists who represented the mainstream media were about blogging. Essentially, they felt very threatened… that we'd put them out of a job. What a shame. I liked a great deal of what Reading Rant's Jennifer Hubert Swan had to say, but disagreed with her on a few points, and was a little worried to see her opinions being represented as typical of all of the blogosphere, instead of solely her own. Still, I suppose the format of the discussion forced that… because hopefully, Booklist moderator Keir Graff's opinions don't reflect all of those working in traditional print. I liked the Amazon and Goodreads panelists, Jon Fine and Otis Chandler, respectively, who both had smart things to say about using algorithms to weed out bogus reviews. Overall, a great session and very thought-provoking.

I had been planning to see Toni Morrison speak, but walking on the way there, I popped in for LITA's presentation of science fiction writers, including Cory Doctorow, of One of the things that Doctorow said was that his way of "appearing" to be cutting edge, was to find a news story that interested him… and then write about it as if it was happening in the future. By the time his book was published, people would have forgotten the original article and would credit him for having "predicted" it. Cherie Priest gave a great talk about steampunk, including the hilarious quote, "Steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown." Brandon Sanderson spoke about how our culture is addicted to "the real" - lightly touching on the idea of the snobbishness with which readers of adult fiction look upon readers of sci-fi and fantasy. He talked about how reading Toni Morrison's excellent novel, Beloved, might only reinforce the concept of people of color as "other". Reading fantasy however, where different races got along just fine, allows one to imagine a world that is more truly egalitarian. Also, "with dragons!" and "in space!" is just more fun. Interesting stuff!


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