Friday, October 29, 2010

Bink and Gollie review

Bink and Gollie
2010

From the first page, when I saw the amazing treehouse that the girls live in, I wanted to move right in. Check out that fabulous deck! With a telescope!

Two best friends, each very different, star in this collection of expertly written stories. Sparing use of color lends emphasis and draws the eye throughout the highly illustrated text. Tall, well-groomed Gollie plays a sort of Felix Unger to Bink's exuberant, irrepressible Oscar as they make their way around town. Much like Nate the Great, Gollie seems to have a craving for pancakes, while Bink's stout frame could be attributed to the numerous peanut butter sandwiches she always seems to be fixing for herself. Three little mini-adventures are included in the book. The two girls go roller-skating and end up shopping at a sock bonanza, Gollie goes adventuring in the Andes (sort of) and Bink purchases a goldfish to be her marvelous companion. When Bink makes the ill-advised move of taking her goldfish Fred out roller-skating, disaster ensues. Although Gollie has never been fond of Fred, she leaps into action, saving the day by relocating Fred to a nearby pond.

I must admit, I did feel a little pang of worry about that frozen fish in the pond on the final page. Bink and Gollie seem pleased though - they're confidently skating along, smiling, perhaps secure in the knowledge that the fish will thaw out in the spring? I think a lot of really great children's literature does that though... leaves you wondering and worrying about some small detail.

Bink and Gollie is a little tough to categorize. I nearly want to put in alongside beginning reader books like James Marshall's George and Martha, or Lobel's Frog and Toad, but the difficulty of some of the vocabulary would seem to preclude that. The small trim size has me leaning against saying this is a picture book, although, if it had been in a larger format, I might not have thought twice about putting it there. What decides me? Is this a book best enjoyed read-aloud or read to oneself? Ultimately, I have to say, despite the brevity of the text, and generousness of the illustrations, this appears to be a light, refreshing sorbet of an early chapter book.


I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bookshelf Organization Challenge

A friend of mine recently challenged me to illustrate how my bookshelves are organized, using only MS Paint. While I don't have that particular program, I did mock something up using photobucket.

After losing a great deal of my book collection in a flood last year, I've made a concerted effort to thin out my books -- keeping only the ones that are most precious to me. If I'd done that in the first place, then I wouldn't have needed to put books in storage, where they flooded!  And now, I've got everything narrowed down to one bookshelf! (Avert your eyes from the towering stacks near my bedstand, ahem.) I've got it organized thusly:




After working all day in a library, the last thing I want to do is organize books alphabetically by author, or anything like that. They are arranged pretty willy-nilly, and somewhat by size. The "books to be read shelf" is mostly YA ARCs and a few picturebooks.

How about you? I'd love to see how others are keeping their bookshelves organized. Want to play along? Post a picture on your blog, drawn in MS Paint, GIMP or something similar (the simpler the better) of your layout.  Leave a comment and I'll link to your post!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Matched review

Matched
by Ally Condie
Dutton
November 2010

I snagged a copy of this at ALA Annual. It's a book that I've been looking forward to for a while. The only bad thing about it is that it doesn't come out until November, so if you haven't gotten an advance copy yet, then you still have a little while to wait.

The inhabitants of this world would probably tell you that they are living in a utopia, but if so, it's certainly not a place where I would want to live.  There is no hunger, no disease, no uncertainty. Citizens live in perfect comfort, they are matched with their ideal mates, receive work assignments, start their families and live happily until their eightieth birthday.

As much as everyone seems comfortable with this arrangement, there are little clues that all is not perfect in paradise. Families are fearful of how any little action (stopping to talk to someone on the train, being a few minutes late to work, having to deal with a child's temper tantrum) might look to officials. People talk about how there used to be more "free hours" assigned. Even now, some of the recreational activities are thinly disguised efforts at getting more work out of the citizenry. Everyone carries three tablets with them at all times: a blue nutritional supplement, a green tablet to relieve stress if necessary, and a red tablet only to be taken at the direction of an Official. Sounds ominous, no?

Cassia is pleased beyond measure when she is matched for an arranged marriage with her childhood friend, Xander.  She is dumbfounded when for a brief moment, her screen flashes to another possibility -- Ky Markham, a bit of an outsider at her school.  The officials assure her that it was just a mistake, but now that the seed of doubt has been planted, she can't help but wonder... might Ky be a better match for her?


I was a little surprised at how slow Cassia is on the uptake with certain things.  It takes her a long, long while to cotton on to the fact that the elders are being poisoned.  It's not just a coincidence that everyone passes away exactly on their eightieth birthday.


There is a bit of twist at the ending that I didn't quite expect.  Although it doesn't have a head-scratcher of an ending, there are a few important questions unanswered and unresolved.  Easier to read, with more romance, this is an approachable, enjoyable alternative to Lois Lowry's The Giver.




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

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Dominoes video

So nifty!  I'm sure they did this all in more than one take, but it's really cool to see, nonetheless.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Very Best Pumpkin review

The Very Best Pumpkin
2010

This is a sweet, simple tale of a boy named Peter who spends the year carefully tending a runt of a pumpkin, until, by fall, his efforts are rewarded with a beautiful specimen of pumpkin. He generously gives the pumpkin as a gift to the shy girl next door, Meg, an act which seals their friendship.  I enjoyed the illustration of her, hiding behind a book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The ink and watercolor art is aged with coffee stains, and the deliberate curlicues throughout lend a country-kitchen feel to this feel-good fall story. The art reminded me very strongly of Mary Englebreit with just a touch of Tomie DePaola. Full-color spreads are occasionally punctuated with illustrated borders featuring ladybugs, roses, bees and oak leaves.

There is an addendum in the back, with advice for growing your own pumpkin. Families who are looking for a seasonally appropriate, yet totally not-at-all-scary story for Halloween will be very pleased with this offering.


I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fire review

Fire
by Kristin Cashore
Dial Books
2009

I hadn't picked this one up right away, because I heard that Katsa, the star of Graceling, was not in it... and I loved Katsa so much, I couldn't picture the Seven Kingdoms without her. What a mistake! This was a fabulous book, and almost more of a companion novel, rather than a true prequel. On the other side of the mountains, completely cut off from the Gracelings, we get a glimpse of a parallel world. To be honest, it nearly could have been a different series altogether if it weren't for the brief inclusion of creepy Leck, who possesses the "Grace" of mind-control.

The titular character of this novel, Fire, grew up in an isolated mountain retreat with her best friend and sometime lover Archer and foster father Lord Brocker. In this world, technicolored super-versions of every species are referred to as "monsters."  Fire is a human monster, with telepathic powers. She can influence others thoughts, read minds, and communicate through telepathy. Her mere presence is usually enough to provoke strong feelings in other humans and in the monster-creatures around her.  Fire's father Cansrel was the advisor of King Nax, who led the kingdom into ruin with his penchant for drugs and parties. Cansrel was an exceptionally cruel person who delighted in torturing others, and reveled in the stupefying effect he had on ordinary humans. Fire wants, more than anything, to be different than him.

Prince Brigan approaches Fire to ask for her help with a delicate political situation in the capitol, which she initially refuses to do, until his thoughtfulness and kindness finally win her over.  He is less susceptible to her magical aura, and provides her with a group of female bodyguards to escort her.  At the climax of the story, Fire stretches her mental powers to the utmost, by keeping track of an entire castle-full of occupants during an evening of espionage at a state dinner and carefully nudging players to be in the right place, at the right time.

I wondered whether most teens would be interested in reading about Fire's intense conflicts on whether it would be right for her to have children, and her ultimate decision not to have children, not wanting to create more "monsters" like herself.  This was a powerful and engaging story, however.  The writing is lyrical and vibrant and the world-building is incredible.  Many of the themes verge on the adult, including patricide, making this a more appropriate choice for older teens.





I borrowed this book from the library.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Graceling review

Graceling
by Kristin Cashore
Harcourt
2008

This book
 stars a strong but lonely heroine in a medieval fantasy setting.  People known as "Gracelings" possess mismatched eyes and an unusual skill or "grace" of near supernatural ability.  One might have a grace for baking, or horsemanship, or sewing.  Or, in Katsa's case, a killing grace.  It's hard for Katsa to make friends when everyone around her fears her.  Even without training, she has an eerie knack with any weapon, perfect balance and incredible luck.  Katsa's abilities as a warrior have been put to use by her uncle King Randa, who forces her to use her deadly skill against his enemies. Sick with shame over the way her uncle has forced her to torture his opponents she starts an underground rebel group.

Katsa reminded
me tremendously of Katniss from The Hunger Games Chronicles (and not just because their names both start with "K")  They are both expert hunters, extremely resourceful outdoorswomen, incredible survivors, and both are trying to escape from an uncomfortable political regime.  They both detest the idea of ever getting married and seem to be natural loners.  They are both stubborn and hardheaded.

Things start t
o get interesting when the neighboring kingdom's heir, Po, arrives.  His grace in sword-fighting means that he's the closest to an equal that Katsa has ever met.  Katsa is very slow to realize that she has feelings for Po, and resists their connection, not wanting to be "tied down."  Together they unravel the mystery of who has kidnapped one of the kings of the seven kingdoms and face against their enemy, King Leck, a sadistic tyrant who has the terrifying power to influence people's thoughts according to his own mad whims.

SomehowI
didn't mind that despite how caring and warm Po is, Katsa never does change her mind about marriage or children.  Their relationship continues, but Katsa always keeps him at an arm's length.  I was heartbroken when Po revealed the truth about his Grace... he was never a fighter, at all.  Rather, his ability to read minds allowed him to anticipate his opponents moves.  When he loses his sight, he is able to use his mental ability to navigate his surroundings.  Fans of the Alanna series by Tamara Pierce will enjoy the mix of magic, action-adventure and romance that Graceling offers.


I
borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Still time to nominate!

There are still a few hours left to nominate a book for the Cybils awards, if you haven't already. Polls close tonight, at midnight.
I've got my nominations in.  I know a lot of these aren't front-runners.  But, they're books that I think deserve a look, nonetheless.  I thought long and hard about what to put for my middle-grade graphic novel pick... ultimately, I decided there are so many great books nominated already in that category, I couldn't think of any to add.  Clearly, it's an area that requires more reading, on my part!  Here's the complete list of what I put forth.



Early Chapter Books: Mallory Goes Green! by Laurie B. Friedman
Easy Readers: Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa: Spring Babies by Erica Silverman
Fantasy and Science Fiction - middle/elementary: The Magic Thief: Found by Sarah Prineas
Fantasy and Science Fiction - teen: Monster High by Lisi Harrison
Fiction Picture Books: The Trucker by Barbara Samuels
Graphic Novels - teen: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Graphic Novel by Jane Austen
Middle Grade Fiction: Ratfink by Marcia Thornton Jones
Non-Fiction - middle/teen: Denied, Detained, Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of American Immigration by Ann Bausum
Non-fiction/Information Picture Books: Country Road ABC: An Illustrated Journey Through America's Farmland by Arthur Geisert
Poetry: All Around the Seasons by Barney Saltzberg
Young Adult Fiction: Stranded by J. T. Dutton

Looking over my choices, I wish I had 10 more votes for the following picture books! Some are sharp and funny, others very tender and cosy, all of them are great.

Santa Duck - David Milgrim 978-0399255410


Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn't Fit - Catherine Rayner 978-0374322175


Brownie and Pearl See the Sights - Cynthia Rylant 978-1416986379


Dinosaur vs. the Potty - Bob Shea 978-1423133391


Everyone Needs a Friend - Kolanovic 978-0843199185


Welcome Home, Mouse - Elisa Kleven 978-1582462776


Little Wolf's Song - Britta Teckentrup 978-1907152337


Snow Happy! - Patricia Hubbell 978-1582463292


Socksquatch - Frank W. Dormer 978-0805089523


Babyberry Pie - Heather Vogel Frederick 978-0152059279


10 of my favorite KidLit Blogs:
Forever YA
Eve's Book Addiction
Oops, Wrong Cookie
Jacket Whys
Stacked Books
Wands and Worlds
Charlotte's Library
The Book Aunt
Chasing Ray
The Happy Nappy Bookseller

Finally, a shout-out to a few of my favorite independent bookstores, Little Shop of Stories in Decatur has wonderful storytimes, and bright, clean, pretty displays.  When I lived in Austin, TX, I frequently could be found shopping at Book People, a Texas-sized independent with a cool stage/magic passage/storytelling spot in the children's area. No other store could ever take the place in my heart of Children's Bookworld in Los Angeles though, with their fabulous selection, busy line-up of author visits and highly-knowledgable staff.  I was lucky to work there for over 6 happy years!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Incredible pumpkin carving



I had no idea that children's book author illustrator David Rochelle is such an expert pumpkin carver. Two of my favorite picture books of all time, The End (a fairytale that takes place in reverse) and The Best Pet of All (about a boy who brings home a dragon) were written by him.

Wow! What creativity. So beautiful. There's more, lots more, at his website.


If that's not enough for you, be sure to check out this collection of science-fiction and fantasy themed pumpkin carvings (many of them book inspired) at flickr.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cybils: State of the Judges





I thought it might be interesting to take a look at where the Cybils judges are from.  There are 107 judges total (including one set of co-judges), and nine panel organizers (some of whom are serving double-duty as judges as well) for a total of 116 individuals.

After checking out their blogs and twitter accounts, I was able to find out where all but 10 of them are located.  Four of them are outside of the U.S., two of them in Canada.  Out of the 10 judges that didn't reveal their location, three gave vague, broad areas such as "North America" or "New England."  I was a little surprised to see that the competition is so American-centric.  The award is for any book in English  in each category, which falls within the scope of the judging year.  I had anticipated seeing kidlit bloggers from Great Britain, Europe, Australia... all over the globe really; but with only a few exceptions, most of the judges appear to be American.  Maybe that will change in years to come.

As can be expected, we see the most judges in denser urban areas and populous states.  New York and California are at the top of the heap, with 11 and 12 judges respectively.  They are closely followed by seven in Texas.  The Washington, D.C. metro area is also rather healthy in Cybils judges, with 12 total spread out over the surrounding suburbs in neighboring states of Virginia and Maryland.

Next, let's look at states who nabbed 3-5 spots on the Cybils judging panels.  They are: Florida, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Utah and Massachusetts.

Plenty of states had only one or two judges.  The states with two judges a piece are: Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan and Washington state.  The states with only a lone representative on the Cybils award panels are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

What really surprised me the most was to see how many states had no one on the Cybils panels at all.  With over a hundred judges, and with some states grabbing a lot of spots, I knew that not every state would be represented.  Is there just a dearth of bloggers in these areas?  Is it that they're sparsely populated or don't have as much access to technology?  Or were they simply unlucky?  Unless a few of our judges with undisclosed locations are hidden away there, the 18 17 states with no Cybils judges this year are: Hawaii, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Wherever they're from, I'm sure the Round I stars are busy reading, re-reading, requesting, note-taking and otherwise preparing to whittle down their tremendous lists of nominees.  There are still five more days to nominate one of your favorites!  Polls close on October 15th.  If you can think of a book that hasn't been nominated yet, but you think deserves a look, skedaddle over to the Cybils website and make your suggestions now!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Too Pickley review

Too Pickley!
2010

I must confess, between the title of the book, and the bold green cover, I was expecting a story that focused solely on pickles, so I was a little surprised to see all kinds of foods roundly rejected by the young boy and his pet hamster, both picky eaters to the extreme. Intermittent rhyme struggled in a few places, and the actual text was somewhat spare. The clean, vibrant illustrations are the star of this story. Each page features a different monochromatic jewel-toned background with tone-on-tone food images. The boy's facial expressions cycle through disgust, disappointment, frustration and amazement. The end-paper images feature table settings on a blue picnic tablecloth background.

After declaring raisins too wrinkly, tomatoes too squishy, and fish... well, too fishy, the duo continues to sample their way through a feast they find lacking. What kid rejects pizza for being too cheesy, I ask you? After sensibly turning his nose up at a strange eyeball and octopus-laden stew, the book ends rather abruptly when the hero of the story inexplicably declares, "So yummy! All done." I might add this into the mix at a food-themed storytime, paired with a proven crowd-pleaser such as Mouse Mess by Linnea Riley.





I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mad Hatter Day


Happy 10/6, a.k.a., Mad Hatter Day! What are you doing to celebrate? I won't be doing anything as ridiculously awesome as the Mad Hatter Event I did last spring for Young Audiences, but I may rent Tim Burton's recent movie adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (I still haven't seen it yet) and help myself to a spot of tea.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Zombie Felties review

Zombie Felties: How to Raise 16 Gruesome Felt Creatures from the Undead
2010

Just in time for Halloween, Tedman and Skeate bring us this collection of creative crafts. Never in the history of ever have zombies looked quite so gosh-darn cute! Page after page of this attractive volume feature full-color photographs of mini-zombie felt creations, including a zombie bride, zombie vampire duck, a zombie pirate and many more.

Readers will find the clearly-labeled instructions and a preface including hints and tips on basic stitches extremely helpful for getting started. Each project is rated by difficulty level: one skull for the easiest projects, and up to four skulls for challenging zombies. Japanese-inspired design with tiny bodies and wobbly oblong heads gives each feltie a very kawaii look despite the pink beads representing brains spilling out, or the red embroidery floss for oozing guts... leaving one unsure if you'd rather run screaming or snuggle these little guys.

Tiny, simple to make, and easy to completely hand-sew, making the zombie dolls from this book will be much easier if you are already a crafter with lots of scraps and notions to choose from. Still, I see no reason why an enterprising YA librarian couldn't acquire a few sheets of felt, some embroidery floss and an assortment of beads and turn the book into inspiration for a Halloween craft library program. Teens with a twisted sense of humor will love these undead felt dolls.


I borrowed this book from the library.


I'm happy to be hosting Nonfiction Monday today.  Leave a comment, and I'll add you to the Round-Up!  I'll be checking in and updating through-out the day.
Thanks again, to Anastasia Suen for organizing Nonfiction Monday.  Be sure and check out her line-up for the next few months... there may still be a few upcoming hosting spots available.  And don't forget to check out Nonfiction Monday next week, hosted at Picture Book of the Day.

Comments seem to have gone all kerfluey.  If you want to be included in the list, and haven't been able to leave a comment, drop me a line at madiganreads (at) gmail.com.

And here's the line-up!  (So far.)


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Spoilerish thoughts on Mockingjay

Mockingjay
2010

This isn't really a true review... more of my general thoughts on the final volume of the Hunger Games trilogy. Before that, though, a few words on spoilers.
In general, I love spoilers. It's crazy, I know! I deliberately seek them out -- why, I can't exactly say. So that I won't be taken by surprise, I guess.

Even though I normally go for spoilers, I decided to hold out on this one. So many people were saying they were going to work extra hard to avoid spoilers for this particular book - taking care not to accidentally spill the beans. After having decided to not spoil this one for myself and assiduously avoiding the internet (you know, just in case) a friend of mine told me the ending less than 24 hours after the book came out! She had stayed up till midnight at a bookstore release party, and devoured the whole book in one gulp. In her defense, she knows that I normally don't mind a spoiler, at all. Aaaaargh!

Well. That having been said, I have a few thoughts to share about the book. It's rather spoiler-esque, so if you haven't read Mockingjay yet for some crazy reason, then consider yourself warned and turn back now!


I loved the people and customs detailed in District 13. The extreme, rigid, scheduled life they lead in order to eke out an existence on the outskirts of Panem, made it clear that being rescued by them was not the answer to all of Katniss's problems. I had predicted that the third book would be when we'd see Gale get his chance to win Katniss back. It seemed like things might be going that way... but seeing Katniss so despondent at being separated from Peeta, I felt very early on in the book that Gale didn't have a chance.

How about that crazy President Snow? He's so terribly creepy. The explanation of why his breath smells like blood happened so quick, it was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of thing. His unexpected gift of roses as an intimidation tactic was brilliantly evil. Snow's lies, manipulations and half-truths really get under your skin.

I was so very saddened to see Peeta mind-controlled by the Capitol. It definitely made his reunion with Katniss anti-climactic, to say the least.

The ending! My gosh, I didn't see that coming. It makes a terrible kind of sense though. After fighting so hard, surviving the horrors imposed on her by the Capitol in the Hunger Games, the whole reason for Katniss to fight is to protect her younger sister Prim. When Prim gets caught in the crossfire and dies in the final battle, Katniss hasn't got anything left worth living for.  
I think, in some ways, because their mom completely mentally checked out after their father died, Prim is more like a daughter to Katniss than a sister.   I was saddened to see Katniss vote to continue the Games. I can see why she does it, though. When Katniss votes, "Yes, for Prim." it seems nonsensical until you remember that, with Prim gone, Katniss has got this mix of hopelessness, anger and desire for revenge. So, that's why she allows the Games to continue.

For me, the very saddest part was the afterward, when Katniss talks about how she and Peeta are living by themselves in District 12, still haunted by everything that's happened to them, and how, after many years, she finally gave in and agreed to have children. It seemed to me like she was just going through the motions. Yes, she survived the gladiatorial Games... but she's not really living, just existing. There's no joy in her life. Like Haymitch, she never really recovers from the ordeal she's been through.  Obviously a totally happy ending would be kind of unbelievable in such a dystopian world, but I hadn't expected things to end quite so grimly for Katniss... living in an empty town, in a loveless marriage, with a couple of kids that she was badgered into.

In the end, Collins does beat the readers over the head a bit with her themes.  War is really terrible. Violence, also really terrible. The way the media manipulates the story is just terrible. Powerful dictators and despotic governments are, obviously, terrible. 

Mockingjay is a powerful book!  I really enjoyed the whole trilogy.  But, knowing now that Collins is the kind of tricksy writer who likes to stick you with a "feel-bad" ending... I'll certainly have my guard up the next time I read something by her.


I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cybils Nominations Open!

Cybils nominations are now officially open from now until October 15.
Folks are welcome to submit one book in each category.  Each book can only be nominated once.  If someone has already selected the book you were thinking of, you'll need to choose an alternate title.  It can be any book in the appropriate category published between October 16, 2009 and October 15, 2010.


The nominations have been open for less than 24 hours, but there have already been over 300 books nominated across all the categories.  I didn't stay up 'til midnight to get my nominations in early... instead, I'll be biding my time, now that many of the popular and obvious choices have been made, wracking my brain for any obscure, but still completely deserving titles.


Go to the Cybils website and check out their nomination form.  It's easy to do!


Here are the categories:


Early Chapter Books
Easy Readers
Fantasy and Science Fiction - Middle Grade and Elementary
Fantasy and Science Fiction - YA
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels - Middle Grade and Elementary
Graphic Novels - YA
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Non-Fiction Middle Grade and Young Adult
Poetry
Young Adult Fiction

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