Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

First, I want to say welcome to the new followers. I don't post often, but I hope what I post is entertaining in some way.

For various reasons, I never got around to wishing everyone a Happy Hanukkah, Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, and whatever other holiday people celebrate in December.

So now I can say to everyone, Happy New Year! Cheers. And here's to a great 2010 for all of us.

I'll leave you with a few recommendations. Managed to read 107 novels in 2009 (yes, I should read more nonfiction...) and here are my last Gems of the Week for 2009:

by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Harper, pub date 1/19/2010), for ages 8 to 12.

Anyone who read and loved Millions as much as I did will also enjoy Frank Cottrell Boyce's new novel. But it's a very different storyline. Here, twelve-year-old Liam Digby manages to get himself onto a rocket ship. How? By pretending he's his own father. And how, you ask, could he possibly fool the scientists into thinking he's 30-something? Simple. Liam is incredibly tall and mature for his age. He's already shaving.

Ok, so if you can accept that premise, you'll have a lot of laughs with this very entertaining novel, in which the narrator convinces us that playing video games really does prepare you for life. Like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl, Cosmic centers around a contest. The lucky winners will get a chance to go to China and ride the best thrill ride ever invented. Liam talks his friend Florida into going as his "daughter" because the contest is open to kids and their fathers. When they get there, they find out the rocket is a real rocket, not just a thrill ride. And only one dad can go up with all the kids. So in a sort-of contest within the contest, Liam (who, remember, is only 12) has to compete with the other dads to be the best dad, the one dad who gets to go into space. Luckily, Liam is a very observant kid and knows all about dadliness.

Sound goofy? It's hilarious.

In sharp contrast is Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Little, Brown, official pub date is January 2010, but it's already on the shelves), ages 12 and up.

Dark, brooding and lushly atmospheric, Beautiful Creatures is a young adult paranormal romance mixed with Southern Gothic. And unlike so many young adult paranormals, it's told from a guy's point of view. Ethan Wate comes from a long line of southerners. He's spent his entire life in Gatlin, South Carolina, and can't wait to graduate and get the heck out. Then Lena Duchannes comes to town...

"She was powerful and she was beautiful. Every day was terrifying, and every day was perfect."

Lena, the niece of the town recluse, has certain powers. Things happen when she's around. And Ethan is inexorably drawn to her.

I'm sure Little, Brown is hoping this will be the next Twilight (same publisher). It could well turn out to be.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Gem of the Week

Now that winter's here (hey, we had 16 inches of snow yesterday and it's not officially winter until tomorrow), keep in mind this young adult title that's coming out in about six weeks:

The Life of Glass by Jillian Cantor (HarperCollins, $16.99, due February 2010 for ages 12 and up).

A sweet and beautifully-written story about a 14-year-old girl named Melissa, who loses her father to cancer. Before he dies, he tells her that the piece of glass she found in the dry riverbed behind their house would last for a million years. She keeps it because it's the last thing he ever touched. She also keeps his journals and tries to lose herself in them. As the months go by, her mother and older sister seem to be getting on with their lives (Mom starts dating, Ashley tries out for a beauty pageant and also goes out with a popular football player). But Melissa is stuck. Her grades are slipping. She doesn't care what she looks like. She knows she'll never be beautiful like Ashley. The only person Melissa can talk to is her neighbor and best friend, Ryan. But even Ryan begins to distance himself from her as he falls for the new girl in school.

This is so much more than a contemporary high school story. It's a quiet little gem of a novel about love and family and friendship and beauty -- the inside kind and the outside kind.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

As I steal from Monty Python...

Thanks for all the comments on my last post. And I'll keep that book in mind, Kim. So, what DID I end up reading as Book Number 100 this year?

Yep. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (Abrams). Find it at your local indie bookstore through I've been selling this book for years without ever knowing what the fuss was about. Kids love this mix of middle-school humor and cartoons. Now I understand why they're so popular. Jeff Kinney obviously remembers his own school years. The voice is spot on.

And since the first book was so hilarious, I skipped right to his newest:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4: Dog Days (Abrams, 13.95). It's equally as funny. Maybe even more so. This one delves into Greg's summer vacation (and with the snow and ice we've had here in Pennsylvania already this winter, I didn't mind reading about hot summer days and swimming in the pool).

Now I'm going back and reading book two, Rodrick Rules and book three, The Last Straw.

So I've already passed my record from 2008 of 101 books (and just in case you're thinking, oh they're children's books, of course she can read so many, I have to tell you that this year I also read Pillars of the Earth, among other grown-up titles).

What are you reading?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's December

And I'm not ready! Wanted to do a blog post of book recommendations for the holidays. Of course, I've already mentioned a few here and here. But for a much more thorough list, go check out Janine and Sara's wonderful post over at the FNC, and note that they also recommend Magician's Elephant, as I did way back in August, so we must be on to something there. If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for?

The great news is that my son, Eric, is an official winner of NaNoWriMo, with 50,171 words. First time he even participated. Way to go, Eric! Halfway through chemo and he has a novel under his belt.

I, alas, didn't even begin to finish the novel I was supposed to be trying to finish during November (unofficially, of course). However, I did write three new picture books, including Elephants Are Dancing (thanks, Kim, for the nudge) . I'll see what my writing group thinks of my rhyming elephant story this weekend.

Well, for those of you who don't think writing picture books is much of an achievement, here's another accomplishment. Every year, I try to read at least 100 novels, along with working and writing and doing household chores and all that boring stuff. I keep a notebook with titles, authors, and dates I finished reading the books. As of today, I finished Number 99. In the past few weeks, in addition to Solace of the Road, I've read:

Before I Fall
by Lauren Oliver (due March 2010, Ages 14 and up). Keep this one in mind. You won't be able to stop reading it. Guaranteed. "Groundhog Day" meets "Mean Girls" with a dash of 13 Reasons Why. Samantha has to relive the last day of her life over and over until she gets it right. Oddly, this isn't a story about dying. It's a story about living. And Sam's character development is amazing as she relives that Valentine's Day and grows and matures and realizes, finally, what's important.

Along For the Ride by Sarah Dessen, ages 12 and up. Just a really sweet story from a wonderful writer.

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen (due Feb 2010, ages 12 and up). The Revolutionary War as you've never seen it before. Nice and short and should appeal to reluctant readers. But there's a lot of pretty horrifying violence, which is, of course, Paulsen's point. War is never justified.

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick (Feb 2010, ages 12 and up)
By turns funny and heartbreaking, this is a great read, largely due to Sonnenblick's pitch-perfect teen guy voice. Jeffrey, the little kid with cancer in Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, is back and all grown up. Or at least he's now in 8th grade. Aftereffects of chemo have made school a struggle for him. If it weren't for new girl Lindsey and best friend Tad, another cancer survivor, Jeffrey would be lost. His older brother Steven, the rock he's always depended on, has run off to Africa to study drums.

rs by Rachel Ward (Feb 2010, ages 14 and up).

A stunningly original story. Jem sees numbers when she looks in people's eyes. The numbers are the date of their death. When she and her friend Spider ditch school for a day in London, they plan to ride the London Eye -- until Jem looks into the faces of the others in line and realizes they all have the same numbers. And their numbers are up today. Seen running away just before an explosion, and wanted for questioning by the police, Jem and Spider go into hiding. Two city kids holing up in the countryside, they don't have a clue what to do. And Spider's numbers are ticking closer...

So, what should I read next? I'm considering Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees or Liar by Justine Larbalestier. I want Number 100 to be something special.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Gem of the Week

Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd (David Fickling Books, pub date Oct 13, 2009, for ages 12 and up)

"You can't think all your memories at once or your head will burst."

Oh, this is such a lovely story and so beautifully written, it hurts that Siobhan Dowd died tragically and too young (age 47) after completing this novel. We'll never know what wonderful novels she might have written. Her first novel was A Swift Pure Cry. She also wrote The London Eye Mystery.

In Solace of the Road, we meet Holly Hogan, a foster kid in London who is so full of anger that her caseworker has to teach her to kick the mattress instead of breaking things. With masterful plotting, Dowd doesn't reveal the heartbreaking reasons for Holly's anger until near the end of this road trip story.

Holly's 14, almost 15, and hates her new school and her new foster family. Fiona and Ray mean well, but they talk too much and ask too many questions. They wanted to have kids of their own, but couldn't because Fiona had ovarian cancer.

When Holly finds Fiona's blond wig in a closet, she puts it on and realizes she looks older in it. Old enough to go on the road, to leave London and hitch rides all the way to Ireland. What's in Ireland? Her real mother. The one she lived with when she was little in an apartment building Holly calls the sky house.

This amazingly-crafted novel, disguised as a simple road trip story, is actually about the tricks your brain can play on you as you sift through childhood memories. On the road, Holly meets a variety of eccentric and sympathetic characters, including a vegan truck driver, a night nurse and a pig farmer. In talking to them, Holly begins to dig down through the complicated layers of her past memories and eventually learn what really happened in the sky house.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

First Novels Club Rules

Over at the First Novels Club, where they do everything with such awesomeness, there's a very thorough recap of the author breakfast on Sunday with Sarah Dessen and Laurie Halse Anderson (who also mentioned us briefly in her blog).

Nice job, Janine, Sara, Frankie, and Donna (and honorary member, Courtney).

And many thanks for the plug. I'm actually eternally grateful to Frankie for taking all those excellent notes and putting it on the blog, because I certainly didn't have time to take notes. And both authors had some fascinating tales to tell. For instance, they're both married to carpenters. Isn't that amazing? And I loved what Laurie Halse Anderson said about her first drafts. It's good to know that her rough drafts are, well -- what else can I say? -- crap.

Wish I could have gone to Children's Book World too, but I went straight home (after putting away 60 chairs while Cindy handled all those heavy tables -- yeah, Cindy!) and I took a nap.

I'm excited to actually own this:

My biggest regret is that I forgot to get Laurie Halse Anderson to personalize my copy of Wintergirls (she was signing someone else's books while Sarah was writing that sweet message above). Then, ahem, I was asked to take pictures for a certain group of bloggers, so I set the book on the podium, and never thought of it again until Laurie had left.

It's okay, though. Both Laurie and Sarah were really nice about signing stock for us, so I exchanged my unsigned copy of Wintergirls for a signed copy.

I read an ARC of Wintergirls months ago but had never had a chance to read Along for the Ride. I'm up to page 175 and enjoying it immensely.

Most important tip from both authors? Turn off the internet while you write. Good advice. So, um, I'm going to go write now.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Exhausted but happy

Okay, so I got up very early yesterday, Sunday, November 22nd, and came to work. Not a morning person. Try to picture this: I was standing there in front of the microphone (public speaking = my number one fear), getting ready to introduce Laurie Halse Anderson (left) and Sarah Dessen (right). Was I still asleep and dreaming?

Not sure.

But it was a very successful event. Laurie and Sarah are two of the coolest and nicest authors I've met. They answered questions for about an hour. And they took their time and spoke with every customer who came up to the signing table. One lucky girl even got a signed dollar bill for being brave enough to ask the first question.

And since I never got around to posting a Gem of the Week last week (Oops. Did anyone notice?), I can now give you two.

WINTERGIRLS (Viking, $17.99) by Laurie Halse Anderson is the powerful and chilling account of one girl's descent into anorexia and self-destruction. Lia's best friend Cassie is dead. And Lia is barely holding on. Matchstick thin, she still believes she's overweight. She counts every calorie. It's harrowing, poetic and hard to put down when you start reading it. Ultimately uplifting (spoiler alert?). Lia learns that food is life. Brilliant. For young adults, ages 12 and up.

ALONG FOR THE RIDE (Viking, $19.99) is Sarah Dessen's newest novel. For the summer before college, Auden decides to go stay at the beach with her father and his new wife and their baby daughter. The baby's colicky screaming bouts drive Auden out of the house to the boardwalk and beach, where she meets an enigmatic loner named Eli. Also for young adults, ages 12 and up.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Unchain yourself

The American Independent Business Alliance urges you to "unchain yourself" on Saturday, November 21st by shopping at local independent businesses instead of big chains.  

You could, for instance, go to your local bookstore and buy a book. Then you could go to your local health food store and buy some organic cookies and tea. Hmm... Then you could go home and curl up on the couch with your snack and your new book. Perfect.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

First Novels Club goes Big Time

Just a plug for my friends over at the First Novels Club blog, one of the best blogs I read.

For the first time (and certainly not the last), they've been mentioned in Publishers Weekly thanks to Frankie's excellent note-taking during a young-adult author event at Books of Wonder in NYC. Sounds awesome. Wish I coulda been there.

Click on over and check it out.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Almost halfway through NaNoWriMo

How's it going, all you NaNoWriMo and NaNoRevisMo participants?

And even those of you writing new picture books or trying to come up with new ideas or spending November sending out manuscripts (because it's wise to get them to the editors before Thanksgiving)? Well, here's some inspiration for you:

My older son, a 22-yr-old full-time college student -- and oh yeah, he happens to be a cancer patient currently going through chemo -- signed up for NaNoWriMo. He's writing a fantasy novel.

Woo hoo, Eric!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Gem of the Week

Since the holidays are just around the corner, think about buying this book as a gift for someone special. Here's my latest Gem of the Week:

Season of Gifts by Richard Peck (Dial Books for Young Readers, published Sept 2009, perfect for ages 8 to 12).

Richard Peck, the first children’s author to have been awarded a National Humanities Medal, gives us a wonderful gift: a Christmas story to make us smile.

The hilarious Grandma Dowdel returns in this sequel to the award-winning novels,
A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way From Chicago. It's 1958 and a new pastor and his family move in next door to the eccentric Mrs. Dowdel.

The first one in the family to get to know her is the pastor’s 12-year-old son, Bob. She saves him from an embarrassing predicament involving some bullies, an outhouse and a reel of fishing line.

In her gruff way, Mrs. Dowdel ends up helping every member of the family. By the time Christmas arrives, they realize they need to find the perfect way to say thanks and give her a gift in return.

Friday, November 6, 2009

November 7th is National Bookstore Day!

Yes, that's right. Saturday November 7th is National Bookstore Day (according to Publishers Weekly).

This means you should run right down to your local bookstore and buy something. Anything. Support your local bookstore or before long you won't have a local bookstore.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Elephants are Dancing

No, that's not the title of my 27th attempt at writing a picture book (although, come to think of it, that's a great idea. Hmm.

Sort of a cross between Giraffes Can't Dance and Hilda Must Be Dancing... only with elephants).

And it has nothing to do with a Republican winning the governor's race in New Jersey.

No. It's actually a snippet of a quote from Michael Powell of Powell's Books, as quoted in The Oregonian (and quoted again in Shelf Awareness on Oct 26, 2009).

The full quote: "It's nice to find a high perch when elephants are dancing."

That's by far the most creative way I've heard of describing the book price war between Walmart, Amazon, Target and Sears, and how bookstores should cope. You can read more about that craziness here.

Will this be the nail in the coffin for independent bookstores and chains alike? I don't think so. Those big-box stores are deep-discounting only bestsellers, and only online. Bookstores can offer so much more than that. And I expect this pricing war will be temporary. Bookstores will survive. What do you think?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Writing

Good luck to all those brave souls participating in NaNoWriMo.

Personally, I plan to use the time to FINISH a children's middle grade novel I started a long time ago and which stalled out after 30 pages. Wish me luck. Not as difficult as writing 50,000 words from scratch, right? Ha. You don't know me.

What about all you writers out there? Participating? Revising an existing novel? (INTERN has a great post about this.) Or just getting your head in gear to even think about writing a novel? It's a daunting task.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

We have a winner

Kim correctly guessed the book title (see my posts from Oct 16 and Oct 23) in what turned out to be my first contest. For this she has my eternal gratitude (and her choice of Spring 2010 ARCS).

The way I figure it is, there are two kinds of people in the world of children's lit: those who adore Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.

And those who hate it.

Which one are you?

Whoa. Hang on. Don't click "comments" yet. Get back here.

Before you answer the above question, read this comment on Alison Morris's Shelftalker post by Andy Laties:

I watched Bob Munsch perform this book for a crowd of children's booksellers in 1997. He handled it as pure, satiric comedy. I believe the book was originally developed as comedy, and that the incorrect, sentimental reading is an example of the general public completely misunderstanding an extremely dry, ironic text. That it's intended as satire is proven by the image of the mother climbing in the grown man's window and rocking him. Munsch developed his stories during live performances for toddlers. Of course toddlers would find it absurd that a "daddy" figure would be rocked by his own mommy.

Thanks, Andy. I never thought of Love You Forever that way. And yeah, by looking at that photo, you can guess that Bob Munsch is a comedian.

So, blogger friends, how do YOU feel about Love You Forever?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Books for guys

Okay. So, looking back at my own posts, I realized my Gems of the Week have been girl books. And there's a definite need for books guys will like. So here are two suggestions:

Z. Rex (The Hunting Book 1) by Steve Cole (Philomel, Sept 2009), ages 8 to 12.

Think you'd rather play video games than read a book? Think again. This book is so exciting you'll feel like you're inside a virtual-reality game. Thirteen-year-old Adam Adlar's dad is working on an ultra-reality game when he suddenly goes missing, captured by power-hungry people who want to use his technology. The problem? They want to use it to bring a dinosaur to life. And not just any dinosaur, but a super-intelligent T-Rex with wings and the ability to become invisible. Nicknamed Zed, the creature gets loose and runs amok, tearing apart buildings and people. Since Dad used Adam's brainwaves for the game, Adam is the only one who can communicate with Zed. Together they try to find Dad.

War Games by Audrey and Akila Couloumbis (Random House, Oct 27, 2009), ages 8 to 12.

Much quieter, but still a powerful story. Petros is 12 and lives in a small village in Greece with his family during World War II. Born in America, Petros barely remembers it, though his family speaks both Greek and English. The war seems far away at first. Petros, his older brother Zola and their friends play games when they're not doing chores, gardening or feeding chickens. Then the Germans invade and everything changes. The family must discard everything American and speak only Greek. The German commander moves into Petros and Zola's house. And suddenly the games the boys play become deadly serious.

This is based on true events in the life of Akila Couloumbis as a boy in wartime Greece.

Gem of the Week

The Shifter by Janice Hardy (Book One in The Healing Wars), Published 10/6/2009 by Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins). Ages 12 and up.

A highly original fantasy. Nya is a 15-year-old orphan, struggling to survive and take care of her younger sister Tali in the war-torn city of Geveg. Both girls are Takers, healers who can draw out other people's pain. But unlike Tali, who joins the Healer's League as an apprentice, Nya can't complete the process. She can't push the pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal that can hold pain. What Nya can do is shift the pain from one person to another. When pain merchants and politicians realize this, Nya has to go on the run to avoid becoming the ultimate secret weapon.

If you like your fantasy fast-paced, filled with action, and startling in its originality, you'll love this book.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Children's books that hang around forever

Well, since no one guessed the answer in my last post, I'll give you another hint. It's a picture book.

And to repeat what started this little contest, I had a customer recently who came up to me with this conundrum:

"I'm looking for that kids' book. You know the one I mean."

and oddly enough I did know the one she meant. If you're the first person to guess which book it was, you'll win a prize (your choice of certain ARCs for Spring 2010).

Happy guessing.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Actual Customer Quotes

I'm not trying to insult anyone here. So no names, dates or other clues will be used. But just so you have some indication of why booksellers sometimes want to tear their hair out, these are actual customer quotes from the past few months in the bookstore where I work.

"I'm looking for a kids' book and I don't know the author or the title but it has a blue cover."

"Is this the price that it says it is?"

And last but certainly not least:

"I'm looking for that kids' book. You know the one I mean."

The strange thing was, I did know the one she meant. Clearly, either the brain aneurysm made me psychic or I'm the perfect person for this job.

A prize will be awarded to whoever guesses the title of that last request.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gems of the Week

Okay, since I haven't been on here in, ahem, 10 days (gulp), I'm offering you not one, not two, but THREE gems of the week. That's because they're all by the same author and she considers them a trilogy. And I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to the author yesterday at a writing conference, SCBWI's Fall Philly. Catherine Gilbert Murdock is the author of the Young Adult novels Dairy Queen, The Off Season and the newest, Front and Center (all published by Houghton Mifflin) and she revealed to us at the conference that she never intended to write a trilogy. She started with a stand-alone book (Dairy Queen), which, believe it or not, came to her in a dream, and fans wrote to her, begging for sequels.

If you read the trilogy one right after the other, you'll almost think you're reading one continuous book. The story in book two continues right where book one ended, and book three follows immediately after book two.

What's so great about the D.J. Schwenk trilogy? The voice. By far, the voice. It really sounds like a sixteen-year-old girl who lives on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and likes sports. And she's a great character, funny and talented as all get out, but so normal and down to earth she doesn't even realize she's talented. And as someone who was painfully shy throughout adolescence (okay, I admit it, even into adulthood) I was most affected by her shyness. This girl is real. You'll come away from these books with a sense that D.J. could be your friend, or your neighbor or that tall girl who sits next to you in Math class.

And whether she's trying to save the family farm in Dairy Queen, trying to save a family member who's seriously injured in The Off Season or trying to decide between colleges -- and boys -- in Front and Center, she'll make you smile. I'm not usually a sports fan but I found myself cheering at the endings of all three books. Winners all.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gem of the Week

Just finished reading an amazing, thought-provoking Young Adult novel:

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr (Little, Brown, $16.99, published Oct 2009).

It's a hot, dry California summer. Sam (short for Samara), a fifteen-year-old pastor's daughter, hangs around the house, not wanting to do anything. Sam has always been the model daughter in a seemingly perfect family. But now everything's falling apart. Mom is in rehab. Pastor Charlie spends too much time with his flock and not enough with Sam.

Then a 13-year-old girl from the church choir goes missing. Suddenly a novel that seemed to be about family relationships and losing one's faith becomes as gripping as any crime thriller I've read. Who kidnapped Jody? Is it someone Sam knows? And is Sam, herself, in danger?

An expertly-crafted novel about hope and faith. This is the first book I've read by Sara Zarr and from now on, I'll be reading all of hers.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Movies from Picture Books

As "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" rakes in money at the box office and "Where The Wild Things Are" is due to open Oct 16th, I just had to draw your attention to this hilarious article from, "Classic children's books we'd like to see receive the Hollywood treatment."

If you read the comments after the article, you'll notice that most of the commenters didn't realize author Keith Staskiewicz had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. (My favorite line is from Staskiewicz's version of The Giving Tree: "All you ever do is take, take, take!")

In short, full-length movies are being made from picture books of less than 500 words. What does this mean? They pad out the story by adding a contrived plot and characters who aren't even in the original.

Is it a good idea? Or a bad idea? What do you think?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Early Newbery and Caldecott predictions

Okay, I probably won't be on here much for the next couple of weeks (so all 4 of you who are reading this, take note) because I'm now up to my eyeballs in critiques. First for my own writing group (which always takes priority) and then for an SCBWI conference in early October.

But I wanted to post some early Newbery and Caldecott predictions. Because even though I never ever manage to predict the gold medal winners, I have on more than one occasion actually picked some books that ended up with silver medals (honors). For those who don't know, the Caldecott Award is named for the 19th-century illustrator Randolph J. Caldecott and is awarded every year in January by the ALA (American Library Association) to the artist who has illustrated the most distinguished American picture book of the previous year. Last year's winner was The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes (Houghton Mifflin).

The Newbery (and please note the spelling: it's not Newberry) is named for an 18th-century bookseller (woo hoo!) named John Newbery, and awarded by the ALA for the most distinguished contribution to American children's literature from the previous year. Last year's winner was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins). These are the big two awards among librarians and booksellers. There are a host of other awards including the Bel Pre award and the Sibert Medal, etc. The Printz award (for young adult books) has been gaining ground in more recent years, and the Theodore Seuss Geisel Award for Beginning Readers is starting to pick up speed. But the two awards that make book collectors salivate are the Caldecott and the Newbery.

So, as of today, here's my list:

Caldecott Award Predictions

Jerry Pinkney for The Lion and the Mouse (a wordless picture book with stunning illustrations) just out this month from Little, Brown.

Leo and Diane Dillon, illustrators of Mama Says by Rob Walker (Scholastic, April 2009).

Marla Frazee, illustrator of All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, Sept 2009).

Newbery Award Predictions

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, with illustrations by Yoko Tanaka (Candlewick, Sept 2009). Mentioned in my earlier post.

Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur (Random House, June 2009).

Beautiful and sad. And it won't win because she's a new author. But one can always hope.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, July 2009). Also previously mentioned here.

There you have it. I may not hit any of them but it's worth a shot.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I'm back from a much-needed vacation and trying to catch up.

For all of us, ahem, older aspiring writers, here is a quote from the bookseller newsletter Shelf Awareness from Wednesday, September 2, 2009:

Dick King-Smith (author of Babe, the Gallant Pig, among many other books) "was first published at age 56."

I'm just sayin'.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Compelling Reads

Have you ever been lucky enough to pick up a book that you just couldn't stop reading? I'm talking about a book that draws you in so completely that your surroundings fade away and you're deep in the world the author has created. And your family has to tear the book out of your hands so you can eat dinner. (Huh? Whaaa? Dinner?) Or you're reading late into the night and before you blink, it's three a.m.

Those kinds of books.

Here are a few recent Young Adult books that I've found compelling:

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (pubbed in 2006 by Harcourt, but I didn't discover it until the paperback came out in 2008)
When a meteor pushes the moon out of its orbit, life for everyone on earth changes. Tsunamis and earthquakes wipe out millions of people. Summer becomes as cold as winter. Miranda decides to keep a diary detailing how she and her family struggle to survive. So convincing it will make you want to run out and stock up on peanut butter and batteries.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (hardcover publisher Henry Holt, May 2008, paperback publisher Square Fish Sept 2009)

Jenna awakens from a year-long coma after an accident, with no idea who she is. Gradually, memories begin to come back to her but they're impossible. She can remember her baptism. She can quote entire novels. Who IS she really? What did her parents do while she was in that coma? Chilling futuristic stuff.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (Random House, March 2009)

Honestly, I would never ever pick up a book about zombies. But this amazing cover pulled me in. And even then I only intended to read the first chapter or so (just to see what it was about) one morning when I had a day off work. Before I knew it, I was so deep in Mary's world that it was dinnertime and my husband was getting antsy. Best thing about it: she never uses the word zombie. They're the Unconsecrated. How cool is that?

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (St Martin's Griffin, May 2009)

Kyra is 13 and lives in a polygamous community in the desert. She has 20 brothers and sisters, three mothers and one father. And there's genuine love among them all. But Kyra has some guilty secrets. She sneaks out to a bookmobile and borrows books instead of reading only the Bible. She wants to kiss Joshua Johnson. Worst of all, she fantasizes about killing the leader of the cult (one of the best opening lines in any young adult novel). When she's told she has to marry her cruel 60-year-old uncle, she agonizes over whether or not to run away. Horrifying and amazing at the same time.

And here's one for Middle Grade readers:

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas (HarperCollins, June 2008)

Conn is a pickpocket and a gutter boy in Wellmet, a city that runs on magic. When he picks the wrong pocket, trying to steal a magician's locus magicalicus (a stone that helps magicians work spells), he winds up working for the magician. But Conn isn't content to be an errand boy. He wants to be an apprentice and learn magic. I read in one breath the scene where Conn is searching for his own locus stone.

What books have you found compelling enough to keep you reading late into the night?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Brain Aneurysm 101

Ok... so up there in my header it mentions "the brain stuff." If you wondered what that meant, I'm here to explain. And please bear with me, because this WILL tie in to books eventually. After all, books are my life. In honor of September (National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month... if Congress ever gets around to declaring it. House Resolution 263 still needs more co-sponsors before they can pass the legislation), I present to you the basics of brain aneurysm awareness:

1) A brain aneurysm is NOT a brain tumor. They are two completely different illnesses.

2) A brain aneurysm is a bubble or bulge in a weakened wall of an artery in the brain. In my case it developed on the tip of the basilar artery.

3) According to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, 1 in 50 people have an unruptured brain aneurysm.

4) Approximately 25,000 people per year will suffer a cerebral aneurysmal rupture.

5) According to Dr. Kwan, the neuroradiologist who coiled my aneurysm, one third of rupture patients die within 15 minutes. Of those who survive the initial bleed, one third will die of complications, one third will survive with some deficit and one third will survive and return to the baseline state.

So the odds of me fully recovering worked out to something like 1 in 9. I'm one of the lucky ones. I was able to go back to work (on a limited basis) three months after my rupture. But it took me a full year and a half to feel like myself again.

Yes, I am a brain aneurysm survivor. And, yes, I work in a bookstore. Would you believe in seven years of working in the Children's Department, the only book I've come across that treats brain aneurysms with respect is Tangerine by Edward Bloor? (Thank you, Mr. Bloor.)

Then there are books that turn aneurysms into a joke. On page 357 of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, Bella says: "It appeared that Charlie was having an aneurysm." She does something similar in New Moon, when Bella tells Jacob, "Don't have a brain hemorrhage, Jacob." As someone who actually had a brain hemorrhage, I can tell you there is nothing funny about it.

Now if someone would just write a book in which the brain aneurysm sufferer actually lives...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Should kids read what they want in school?

I was going to write about something else entirely today, but then a co-worker (thanks, Julia) alerted me to this article in the New York Times. This is just too important to let pass.

It seems that some teachers are now experimenting with letting their students choose what they want to read for class, instead of the entire class reading and discussing, say, To Kill A Mockingbird. While you may have dreadful memories of boring classics thrust upon you by teachers who taught the same lesson plan year after year after year, there is something to be said for having a common culture. If kids aren't exposed to these classics before they graduate, they may never read them. And if they never read Harper Lee or Mark Twain or Charles Dickens or John Steinbeck, then references we used to think were understood by all will no longer mean anything.

This hit home when I finished reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird this morning. In a chapter about capturing ideas on index cards and then starting to think like a writer, she says that thoughts or images "will step out of the shadows like Boo Radley and make you catch your breath..."

Now, if I had never read To Kill A Mockingbird I would have no idea what she's talking about there on page 136.

What do you think? Should kids get to choose what they want to read in middle school or high school, even if it's Captain Underpants or Twilight? Is it better to let students read what they want, just to get them reading? Or should they all be required to read certain books?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reading should be a pleasure

Just had to quote the wonderful Philippa Gregory in today's issue of Shelf Awareness:

"Reading should be a pleasure, a joy, and if I am not entranced and delighted then I don't bother."


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Do you write every day? Part Two

If you want to be a writer, ya gotta write. All the best writing teachers (and wonderful writers like Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott) say this. It's kind of obvious, no? If you write every day, you get in the habit of writing and your writing will begin to blossom. If you read yesterday's post, you'll know I didn't write much at all until my aneurysm-induced ephiphany in Feb 2007. Even now, I occasionally miss a day (and I don't beat myself up over it), but I'm writing more than I'm NOT writing. And that's progress. It may only be a paragraph a day, five or six days a week. But I'm writing. (And starting this blog actually helps me stay in the habit -- thanks, Marie Devers of Booknapped, for the tip.)

But what about published authors? Do they write every day?

When I attended a recent SCBWI conference, the weekend concluded with a brunch and an Author Panel, manned by several well-known Children's writers and a few, shall we say, less well-known. Some of the latter had published one MG or YA novel through a small press. Some had a few picture books under their belts. My hat's off to all of them (except that one woman who had no business being there because she was no more published than I am, cough cough).

By far the most successful of the bunch was Dan Gutman. If you're reading this blog, you'll probably recognize Dan Gutman as the popular author of My Weird School, a chapter book series, and the Baseball Card Adventures, a MG series, among many other books. My Weird School has sold over 2.2 million copies. As he told us the night before, it took him 15 years to become successful, but I'd say you can't argue with that kind of success.

Now back to our Sunday morning author panel. Eight or nine authors, of varying degrees of success, sat in a long line facing the rest of us (the attendees), who were still munching our bagels and fresh fruit. They took questions from the audience and passed the mic down the line. Dan Gutman sat at the far right end.

The question arose, "Do you write every day?" The responses were interesting to say the least. (I'm actually paraphrasing here because -- gulp -- I didn't take notes as I did the rest of the weekend. I'm blaming the bagel.)

"No, I write when I feel like it."

"No, I write for a month or two, then I take a few months off."

"No, I find it very hard to write every day."

Finally, finally, the mic reached Dan Gutman, who said promptly, "I write every day from 8 to 11."

Aha! The most successful writer on the panel (more successful than a recognizable YA author who is remaining nameless here because I don't want her to hunt me down) and he was the ONLY ONE who writes every day.

I'd say the verdict is in.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Do you write every day? Part One

Ok, so enough bookseller recommendations and thoughts for a while. Now I want to talk about writing. That's really why most bloggers are here, right? We love to -- no, need to -- write.

I started writing when I was eight years old. I can still remember the awful story I wrote about a girl who died and saw a path to heaven (yes -- it was that dreadful) . I ripped it into pieces and tossed in the wastebasket. Off and on throughout my school years, I wrote depressing stories and depressing poetry. In college, I went more for the urbane, sophisticated short stories. I thought I'd get published by The New Yorker. Ha. No publishing credits to my name, other than the college literary magazine, but I kept writing. Off and on. Off and on. I'd write furiously for a month or two, then stop writing for a few months or a year. (Get the picture yet?) In my twenties, I plugged away at short stories and started branching out into essays. Rejection letters began to pile up in earnest. Still I wrote off and on. A few months off. A few months on.

I married at 30 and my first son was born when I was 32. That's when I started trying to write children's books, specifically picture books. I collected more rejection letters and long before my second son was born (when I was 35), I had given up. Kaput. No more.

Most of the time I was too exhausted to clean the house, let alone write picture books. I've never understood how mothers of young children can also write. Maybe if I'd kept up with the writing and stopped worrying about cleaning the house, I'd be published by now.

I'd have a filthy house and probably be divorced, but I'd be published.

So it's a trade-off. I wouldn't take back those years of being a stay-at-home mom for anything. It was something I was actually good at (yes, I ended that sentence with a preposition, but you get the idea).

My sons are now in college, I've been working at the bookstore for seven years, and I've been writing on a regular basis for two years. What changed? It's simple. I survived a life-threatening illness in 2005. Nothing like a brain aneurysm to help you see the light. Once I'd recuperated to the point where I felt like myself again (in 2007), I told myself: if you're ever going to realize your dream of writing children's books, you need to sit down and write. Right?

To be continued...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Quick Picks

More books to look for in the coming weeks:

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, September 1st), ages 12 and up.

This gripping sequel to The Hunger Games will keep you on the edge of your seat. Having defied the Capitol, Katniss and Peter now find themselves caught up in a different kind of dangerous game, as sparks of rebellion begin to catch fire. An electrifying read.

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, illus by Yoko Tanaka
(Candlewick, September 8th), ages 8 to 12 (or, really, all ages).

Reading this lovely story is like floating inside a dream. Anything is possible. When Peter asks a fortune teller for help in finding a long-lost sister, the fortune teller says an elephant will lead him to her. Kate DiCamillo has outdone herself. This is a timeless fable that will linger long after you turn the last page. And undoubtedly will be one of my top recommendations for holiday gift-giving.

And a few titles that are already available in stores:

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic), ages 14 and up.

A deeply romantic and unusual fantasy about a girl named Grace, obsessed with wolves since she survived an attack years ago, and a yellow-eyed boy named Sam, who's a shapeshifter. This heartwarming story could well do for werewolves what Twilight did for vampires. Told in alternating chapters by Grace and Sam, the narrative races to a powerful conclusion.

n You Reach Me , by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House), ages 8 to 12.

In the future, this will be one of those quirky and amazing books that everyone talks about. Set in New York city circa 1979, this brilliantly-plotted novel delves into the life and times of Miranda and her friends, and involves a series of mysterious notes and unusual occurrences. Reach out and grab this book and read it. Now.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

An oldie but goodie

Thought it was time to re-introduce a youtube oldie. Seems more timely than ever, in these days of book vs e-readers. This comes from Norwegian television, in 2001. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Sound of Silence

Excuse my silence (if there's actually anyone out there reading this. Hellooo? hellooo? hellooo? )

Haven't posted for two weeks. The day after my last downer of a post, I learned some distressing news that hit much closer to home. So I decided to start another blog for personal posts and go back to being professional in this one.

Ahem. So here are my Gems of the Week, based on ARCs I've read recently (and no spoilers, I promise).

GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray (Ages 14 and up, Random House, available Sept 22, 2009). Cameron, the sixteen-year-old narrator, is a slacker and a stoner who wants nothing more than to coast through high school (forget reading Don Quixote). Early in the book, Cameron learns he has Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (commonly known as mad cow) and that he's dying. The kicker: it's actually very funny. After being visited by a punk angel named Dulcie, Cameron escapes the hospital (or does he?) and goes on a cross-country trek with a hypochondriac dwarf and a living yard gnome. Everything in Cameron's life comes into his journey, so in that respect it's reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz. But look for those sly Don Quixote touches too. Oh, and there's Disney World. Who wouldn't love a novel with Disney World in it?

One warning: if you're looking for something similar to Great and Terrible Beauty and the rest of the Gemma Doyle trilogy, you may be shocked. Or disappointed. But don't be. Because this is a wild ride of a novel and overall just a really cool book. (In fact, it mentions Schrodinger's Cat, which I wanted to mention in my own YA novel, of which I've written only 15 pages, so ... bummer. Libba Bray, you win.)

LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld, (Ages 12 and up, Simon & Schuster, available Oct 6, 2009). This is my first experience with Steampunk. As the ARC explains, "Steampunk is a genre of science fiction set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used." Leviathan is set in an alternate 1914. Yes, you remember a few things from history class, right? The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 started The Great War (later known as World War I). Well, that's what Leviathan is all about, with the addition of some really imaginative machinery (used by Germany and Austro-Hungary) that should make George Lucas salivate, and the even more amazing addition of living beasties that have become machines (used by the British Empire and France). Huge airships are whole ecosystems, with whales, bats, birds and other animals each contributing life threads to make it work.

But this is mostly the story of Alek, from Austro-Hungary, and Deryn, from the British Empire, two fifteen-year-old kids drawn into war. Both kids are hiding secrets.

I'm a huge fan of Westerfeld's Uglies books and of So Yesterday, and I'm really impressed with his newest offering. He's a master craftsman. I was completely caught up in the story and couldn't wait to find out how the two story lines would intersect. I was so interested in it that the ending caught me off guard and left me wanting more (naturally, because this is the first in a series).

Side note: this would be perfectly safe for younger readers too. And it's even illustrated (by Keith Thompson), with detailed, though rather dark, drawings.

So keep those pub dates in mind and run to your local independent booksellers to order them. Ok?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The bookseller as counselor

Sometimes my job is awesome. I mean I get to read books (ARCs or Advanced Reader's Copies, but more commonly known as galleys) -- on my own time, of course. But then I get paid to tell customers how great these books are. How I couldn't put this one down. How I cried over the ending of this book. Or laughed out loud throughout this book. Or how this book didn't work for me. Or I couldn't get past chapter 2 of this book.

Let me repeat: I get paid for that.

Of course, I also have to shelve the books, straighten and alphabetize, pull books that aren't selling so they can be returned, clean up empty coffee cups and crushed Cheerios after the customers leave.

But then there are parts of the job that are more difficult. Like hairdressers and bartenders, we hear all the stories. People tell us details of their lives, their hopes, their dreams. We hear that someone's 2-year-old grandson is a genius who is already reading. We hear that a child is jealous of a new sibling, and is there a book for that? (yes, of course, several). We hear that a child is sick or has a broken leg or just lost a grandparent (or, worse, a parent) and is there a book for them? Always.

Today ranked right up there with the most difficult days. I just learned last night that my 19-year-old son's former classmate died suddenly over the weekend. And today, at work, his older sister came in with a neighbor to buy a guest book. For the funeral. The neighbor could barely bring herself to ask me, in a whisper, if we had something appropriate. Ahh. Of course we did and I found the guest books for her. But I'd rather not have to do things like this.

RIP, Matthew.

We sell portable reading devices

As a bookseller, I've been following the smackdown between the Book and the Kindle, brought to you by the guys at Green Apple Books in San Francisco. It's funny to me. But it might not be to you. (Yeah, it's a little hokey and the acting is um, not exactly professional, but hey, they're doing their best. Indie bookstores have a tight budget.)

Ahem. If I could figure out how to include a youtube video right here, I would. But if you go to the Green Apple's blog, you can see them all.

Then today I found this bookstore sign in Shelf Awareness. This is so awesome it has to speak for itself. Yay, Jackson St Books!

Monday, August 3, 2009


Ok... so I've been wanting to start a blog for a long time. Now I've gone and done it. And darned if I'm not totally speechless. What were all those witty things I was going to say about books? Or brain aneurysm awareness? Hmm? Shoulda kept notes.