Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Another Site!

So one my fellow students in the USF MFA program has a website! Mary wants to write for kids too, and reads way more than I do. So for more on all things kid lit, go to this link:

She has contests, so, you know. Go there.

Good grief.

So, I admit that things like seeing the crew from San Francisco getting eliminated on America's Best Dance Crew have made me cry. Once, a Campbell's soup commercial. It's true. So maybe it's fair to say it doesn't take much to make me cry. I'm a sucker. But, at the very least, I like to think I can tell when I've been sucker punched. And there are some things that earn the tears.
I recently read the new YA novel,
If I Stay, by Gayle Foreman, and cried and cried and cried and cried and then cried some more until my face hurt. It's about a girl named Mia who begins an out of body experience after she suffers a horrific car accident with her family. Her parents are dead on the scene, and her believably adorable younger brother is whisked away. The novel moves back in forth between the times before the accident, and after. What I found really compelling was the handling of the out of body conceit. Mia's body is comatose in the present action of the novel, and her spirit, her consciousness (or however you want to describe it) bears witness to visitations from her extended family, friends, and boyfriend.
When I was told what the conceit was, I had my reservations; it sounded a little Lovely Bonesish to me, and I seem to be the only person in the world who did not like that novel. But Foreman handles it elegantly, believably and most of all evocatively. The family and friends that create Mia's emotional landscape are empathetically and realistically portrayed. And while they are incredibly specific (a dad who used to love punk and now loves bow ties, for example) they also feel authentically universal in the love that binds them to one another. So while Mia struggles to decide between life with the crippling pain of losing her family and something that may be much easier, the reader is invited to look for moments of love in their own life.
And so even though the novel centers around the absolute worst-case scenario of family loss, it is ultimately a celebration the things that make life worth living. And so I cried and I cried and I cried and then I cried some more while I thinking about it later.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

oh mr. jeffers, you're so dreamy.

My favorite picture book artist, Oliver Jeffers, (I own all his books... and have no kids) put out a new book in January, called The Great Paper Caper. It's the story of a tree shortage in a forest that is ultimately accredited to a well-meaning but competitive grizzly-lookin' bear who just wanted to win the annual paper airplane contest. Perfectly illustrated, as always (Jeffers is also a working artist, whose paintings toy with the relationship between text and image-- swoon) the story utilizes a lot of great detective/police procedural vocabulary, not to mention to obvious conservation themes. And like The Incredible Book Eating Boy (also by Jeffers, winner of the Irish Children's Book Award) there are lots of clever little details in the backgrounds of the illustrations, though Incredible Book Eating Boy does not have anything quite like a pig making bacon as his alibi. Better for kids who are willing to have vocab words explained to them, this story did not do particularly well at my toddler-laden storytime. But nonetheless, I recommend it all the time, for ages 4 and 5 and up.

An Illustration from The Great Paper Caper

The Witness, a painting by Oliver Jeffers

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I love you, man.

You'd think that working at a bookstore, I'd be at no loss for good books to read, but every once and a while I hit a slump, and the last few weeks have been just that. At first, I thought it was the books that I was reading (why can't they read my mind, and give me exactly what I want right this very second, even if I don't know what that is? gosh), but after a while I came to the conclusion that it was actually just me, being lazy, or being unwilling, or some such excuse. Whatever the case, I'd picked up and put down over 6 titles, and not for lack of trying with them, either.
But 3 of my coworkers have all been recommending City of Thieves by David Benioff (which is now in paperback) and I'm glad that I finally listened. It was exactly the quickly paced, escapist, pleasingly cinematic novel I needed to pull me out of my reading slump. And it's a great book to recommend to older teens, not just for its accessibility, but also since it's a strong, contemporary coming of age story. For those interested in WWII, it's a good choice, and accessible enough for reluctant readers.

After being arrested for looting the corpse of a German soldier, the narrator, Lev, is sent on a wild chicken chase with a charming deserter named Kolya to find a dozen eggs for a Soviet colonel's daughter's wedding cake. If they succeed, their lives are saved. If not, you get the idea. Their search takes them beyond Leningrad, and into enemy territory. In the mean time, the unlikely duo create an unexpectedly sentimental bond.
And it's possibly the most bromantic book I've ever read.
Though sometimes all the maleness of the novel got to me (if you don't have the equipment, it can be boring to peruse the manual) the friendship forged between the two main characters was always entertaining. Benioff certainly has a talent for writing clever exchanges, perfectly suited for film, if not always so in novel form. His dialog heavy style makes the book move along at a nice clip, and the plot does as well, with more intelligence than one expects from a page turner.
Benioff may not be ready to stand next to Vonnegut and Heller in the category of tragi-comic WWII stories, but he's certainly crafted an intensely entertaining novel, so good, it could pull my head out of my own
You get the idea.

Monday, April 6, 2009

my skirt is poofier than yours

The Luxe series, by Anna Godbersen, is my favorite not-really-guilty read to recommend to girls too smart for some of the more average mean girl fare. Though diction certainly does not define the intelligence of a novel, the language in all three installments of The Luxe is appropriately luxurious, particularly when providing lush descriptions of the clothes.
And the clothes. Set in 1899 New York, the ladies and gentlemen of this series are all lavishly dressed in true designer garb-- that is, articles made for one person only, for a high price by the very talented. (I felt very rewarded for having read Dana Thomas'
Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, which is a non fiction work I'm a little disappointed in myself for not recommending to older, college bound teens.) However, changes in wardrobe have never been so menacing as in these winding tales of secrets, true love and jealousy. Great for lovers of historical fiction and romance, with outreach to those of us who are not necessarily bound by those two genres.