Friday, February 15, 2019

SONG FOR A WHALE by Lynne Kelly

SONG FOR A WHALE by Lynne Kelly (February 5, 2019, Delacorte Press/Penguin Random House, 320 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she's the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she's not very smart. If you've ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to "sing" to him! But he's three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?

Why I recommend it: Such a touching story! And so beautifully told. I have a young cousin, a social worker, who studied sign language at Gallaudet University (and I'm giving her the hardcover review copy. Thank you, Penguin Random House!). 

All the characters are multi-dimensional, and even the bully has a character arc. But it's the relationship between Iris and her deaf grandmother that really makes this book sing. The way the grandmother sneaks Iris onto the cruise to Alaska, only letting the parents know after Iris and Grandma are on the ship, is downright thrilling. Grandma, of course, has her own reasons for going on a cruise. And the scenes with the whale blew me away. You'll love reading this and you'll cheer for Iris and Blue 55. I'm also most impressed by the way the author, a sign language interpreter, chose to show the sign language dialogue between Iris and her Grandma. It's in italics, so it's easy to differentiate between other characters' spoken dialogue. 

Favorite lines (from p. 132): "Grandpa always wanted to touch a glacier." Grandma didn't turn back to the window, but kept looking right at me. She hadn't done that for a long time.

Lynne Kelly's website

Friday, February 1, 2019

Congratulations to all the ALA Youth Media Award Winners!

I'm thrilled that this year's Printz Award (as well as the Pura Belpre Author Award AND the National Book Award) went to a novel in verse!

From HarperCollins website

Congratulations to Elizabeth Acevedo and HarperCollins!

On a personal note, I'm also thrilled that my writing friend Traci Sorell won a Sibert Honor award for her nonfiction picture book WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA. It's well deserved.

Congrats, Traci and illustrator Frané Lessac!

From Charlesbridge publishing website

Saturday, January 19, 2019

RIP Mary Oliver, accessible poet of the natural world

Copyright 2011 Joanne R. Fritz

My favorite poem by Mary Oliver, who died Thursday January 17, 2019:

Starlings in Winter

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard, I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

~Mary Oliver, from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays, 2003

(Many thanks to my source The Exponent II,

Monday, January 7, 2019

MMGM -- thoughts on the Newbery Award

Happy New Year to all and I'm sorry I haven't been around for two months.

Believe it or not, I was so out of my mind last January, February, and part of March, that I only recently learned that Erin Entrada Kelly won the Newbery Medal in January 2018 for HELLO, UNIVERSE. (For sports fans, I'm from the Philadelphia area and I also didn't know the Eagles won the Superbowl until August 2018, when my husband finally thought to mention it to me. I said to him, "You're kidding, right? You're pulling my leg!")

I'm so embarrassed that I didn't know about this award back in January 2018. In November 2018, I suddenly remembered that I'd never seen the American Library Association's ALSC Book and Media awards, so I looked them up. Imagine my surprise to find out a Philadelphia author won the Newbery (she's a Professor at Rosemont College)! Plus, I've met her in person.

Huge and much-belated congratulations, Erin! It's so well-deserved. An intriguing, thought-provoking novel from four different points of view (even the bully) and the author pulls it off with great mastery. Three tweens have to work together to outsmart the bully and rescue Virgil, an 11-year-old Filipino American, from a well where he's been trapped. The three rescuers are Valencia (a Deaf girl on whom Virgil has a crush), Kaori Tanaka, a would-be fortune teller, and Kaori's sister Gen, her rope-skipping apprentice.

Coincidentally, HELLO, UNIVERSE was the last book I read a few days before my Sept 29, 2017 rupture. So I never got a chance to review it here. If you haven't read it, it's well worth the read.

As for this year's awards, I've only read half the books I normally read in a year, so I'm probably not the best person to make predictions, as I usually do. I'm quite partial to THE BOOK OF BOY by Catherine Gilbert Murdock and JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno. So I'd be happy if either receives even an honor award. But I've heard good things about THE JOURNEY OF LITTLE CHARLIE by Christopher Paul Curtis and THE SEASON OF STYX MALONE by Kekla Magoon.

What are YOUR predictions?

Monday, November 19, 2018

THE BOOK OF BOY by Catherine Gilbert Murdoch

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdoch (February, 2018, Greenwillow, 288 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the book jacket):  What a fine story this is!
                                                         For who does not want to read
                                                                about such things?
                                                          A boy who can talk to animals.
                                                          A terrifying, perilous journey
                                                                full of bravery and daring.
                                                           Knights and bandits and
                                                                ghosts and thieves.
                                                           Howling wolves, heroic
                                                                donkeys, and a bag of bones.
                                                           Lords, ladies, liars, and
                                                                 riches beyond compare.
                                                           And mysteries and miracles--
                                                                  of the sort that concern
                                                                  the living and the dead.

Why I recommend it:   The voice is superbBoy himself tells the tale in first person. Masterful writing, a compelling plot, and intriguing characters (especially Boy and Secundus, a mysterious pilgrim who hires hunchbacked Boy to carry his pack on a pilgrimage) make this a novel you MUST read. Plus, the research is most impressive and the book jacket and chapter headings are beautifully designed.

I was still hospitalized when this book came out in February, so I completely missed it, but thankfully, the publisher recently sent me a copy, in exchange for an honest review. Set in 1350 Europe, this is a compelling, funny, earthy and yet religious tale, reminiscent of Chaucer, though with a touch of magical realism. I had no trouble divining the mystery of who Boy really is, but I'm sure an 8 or 9 year old would be kept guessing.

Favorite lines: Last night's conversation flooded my mind. I carried a rib of Saint Peter, the first pope of Rome--me, a humble goatherd!  (from p. 28)

Catherine Gilbert Murdoch's website

Have you read The Book of Boy?  What did you think?

Monday, October 15, 2018

IN YOUR SHOES by Donna Gephart for MMGM

In Your Shoes by Donna Gephart (October 9, 2018, Delacorte Press, 336 pages, for ages 8 to 12).

Synopsis (from the publisher):  

Miles is an anxious boy who loves his family's bowling center.

Amy is the new girl at school, who tries to write her way to her own happily-ever-after and does not want to live above her uncle's funeral home

Then Miles and Amy meet in the most unexpected way... and it is the beginning of everything.

Why I recommend it: The publisher's synopsis doesn't tell you much, but this is one of those sort-of-sad-but-not-too-sad books about a dead mother, specifically Amy's. However, Miles is dealing with his own grief, having recently lost his beloved grandmother. But the way they meet is more like slapstick humor (his bowling shoe, tossed in the air, meets her forehead) and there's a lot of realistic middle-school awkwardness along the way. I'd almost tag this Upper MG because one of the major plot points involves a school dance and the ensuing drama. 

The characters are delightfully real, the dialogue is spot-on, and the setting is small-town Pennsylvania (woo hoo!). There's a wonderful, caring librarian named Mr. Schu (which, no doubt, some of you will understand, besides the obvious homonym). The only thing I could have done without is the nosy narrator intruding every once in a while. Just let me lose myself in the story! Don't keep reminding me it's a story.

It's not a big deal, though, because Donna Gephart has mastered this dual POV novel (in third person), and she's not afraid to delve into difficult questions of life and death, of shyness, and of overcoming odds, both physical and emotional. In lesser hands it would have fallen apart.

Favorite lines: (from p. 37)  Get up, sweets. You're not going to let a little thing like an airborne bowling shoe hold you back. Are you?

Amy shook her head in answer. She loved when her mom's voice floated into her head. It seemed to come when she needed it most, and it made her feel less alone, more brave.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The lure of the shiny new idea

If you're a writer...

You've probably had this happen to you. You're slogging away at revisions on your last manuscript (in my case, written in 2016 and revised a few times in 2017 before I was laid low by illness). And you're trying to make it better, stronger, more compelling, when you're struck by... THE SHINY NEW IDEA!

Yep. That's what happened to me. I quickly started a new notebook for ideas and scribbled down everything that occurred to me. It filled, oh, about three pages.

Then I waited....

And waited... Days went by. Then weeks.

And nothing else occurred to me. Having a shunt in my head makes me feel like all the creativity is being sucked out of my brain.

When a Shiny New Idea fizzles, what do YOU do?