Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. My choice this week:

Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick
Publisher: Scholastic
Release date: September 13, 2011

A new Brian Selznick book! I am absolutely HEAD OVER HEELS for Selznick's previous book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, one of the most awesome Caldecott medal winners ever. In addition to being a captivating story, it's ridiculously fun to recommend that book to a 9-year-old. Their eyes widen with doubt as they see the heft of the enormous 533-page tome, and then they breathe a sigh of relief when it's revealed that half the pages are pictures. Hee! If you haven't read Hugo Cabret, go read it.

Like, now. Right now.

I'm serious, what are you waiting for?

...

Okay, so, you've read it? Good. Now you know why I'm so excited for Wonderstruck. According to School Library Journal, it follows the same format as Hugo Cabret: a story told in both words and pictures. And I'm extra giddy about this one because it looks like Wonderstruck involves one of my favorite storytelling devices- where seemingly unrelated plots come together in a surprising way. Plus, 460 pages of Selznick's incredible art! I. CAN'T. WAIT.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tween Tuesday: Warp Speed, by Lisa Yee

Tween Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at GreenBeanTeenQueen to highlight great reads for tweens.

Warp Speed. Yee, Lisa. 320 p. Arthur A. Levine. 2011. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN
9780545122764.

Fourth in the series that began with Millicent Min, Girl Genius, the focus shifts to Marley, an earnest seventh grade Star Trek fan who feels invisible and is often bullied as he navigates the complex social structure of junior high. As always, Yee tackles some serious issues while keeping the book's overall tone light and funny, and there are some laugh-out-loud funny Star Trek vs. Star Wars vs. Batman debates in this one. Yee really has a gift for understanding how kids think and experience the world around them.

Although it's not necessary to have read the other books in the series, it's a pleasure to revisit characters from the previous volumes, as Marley encounters Stanford Wong, Emily Ebers, and the most excellent Millicent Min. Is it wrong that I'm sorta shipping Millicent/Marley?? Come on! They'd be adorable together! And I can't get enough of Emily Ebers. She's just so likable, non-judgmental, and nice to everyone she meets. My new motto: WWEED?

In addition to the well-rounded, genuine youth characters in this book, I love that the story includes adults who are different- Marley's blind mom and agoraphobic dad- but clearly find their niche and truly enjoy their life, providing positive models for Marley as he tries to find his place. The book's central theme is that you don't have to fit in to be happy, and that's a message that bears repeating over and over.

Warp Speed is a great choice for middle school book groups. Hilarious, endearing, and thought-provoking, it will lead to some great discussions about self-esteem and bullying.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Audiobook Review: Little Princes, by Conor Grennan

Grennan, Conor. Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal. Harper Audio. 2011. Audio $24.99. ISBN 9780062027269.

Where do I begin? This book is SO GOOD, you guys. I can't stop thinking about it.

Little Princes
is the memoir of an Irish-American twenty-something who goes to volunteer at an orphanage in Nepal for a few months, and ends up devoting years of his life to helping the children there. His story is riveting from beginning to end.

The author, Conor Grennan, is candid about the fact that he didn't set out to change the world; he just thought helping orphans in Nepal sounded impressive. But then he became completely wrapped up in the plight of the victims of child trafficking, and found a way to affect change. His story and the humble, honest way he tells it are genuinely inspiring.

The writing is filled with vivid detail, and the storytelling structure is strong; Grennan deftly intersperses information about Nepalese culture and politics into the narrative, providing context for his story in a way that is both engaging and informative. The personalities of the children he works with are brought to life with such warmth, the reader really comes to share his affection for them.

The audio recording of this book only enhances its quality. Listening to the author tell his own story makes an already personal tale that much more personal. After all, he knows exactly how it should sound, right down to the nuances of every piece of dialogue. His reading is a true pleasure, and his dry, often self-effacing sense of humor is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s like sitting down with a friend over coffee to hear the most amazing story.

Little Princes was recommended on the yalsa-bk mailing list due to its appeal for teens, and indeed, although it may be marketed to adults, I think it's a fantastic read for young people- inspiring and eye-opening. The timing of this book couldn't be better for librarians to share it with our teens; it's a perfect fit for those travel-oriented booklists to go with this year's nationwide Teen Summer Reading theme, "You Are Here."

I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. A portion of the proceeds from your purchase of Little Princes goes to Grennan’s nonprofit organization, Next Generation Nepal, which works to reconnect trafficked children with their families.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Entwined, by Heather Dixon

Dixon, Heather. Entwined. 480 p. Greenwillow. 2011. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780062001030.

This book first caught my eye because of its gorgeous cover- specifically, the gorgeous DRESS on the cover! And when I realized the story was a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, I was sold. I was sure it would be exactly my kind of book... and my instincts were right! Entwined is utterly beautiful.

The prose is lush, but not overwritten, and has a comfortable feeling about it- maybe because it's a fairy tale retelling and the reader feels familiar with the premise right from the start. Dixon's writing makes me just want to sink into the pages of this book and stay there for a good while.

In this retelling, the sisters don't sneak off to their magical dance each night for mere pleasure- they are in mourning for their beloved mother, and dancing has been forbidden for one very long year. The girls see dance as healing and life-affirming, and find themselves lost without it. Thus, their nightly escape is a way to help them cope with their loss. By turning this into a story about healing from grief, finding unexpected love, and protecting what is important, Dixon adds substance and depth to the original tale.

In writing the story of the twelve princesses, the author takes on quite an ambitious challenge in dealing with so many characters. Some of them are more fully realized than others, which makes the large cast seem more manageable. Also, unique speech patterns for each princess and a cleverly devised alphabetical flower naming pattern go a long way in helping the reader remember who's who. By the end of the novel, I felt so much love for this large family. The girls' tenuous reconnection with their estranged father might just be the most heartwarming depiction of familial love I've read in a long time. I just want to give them all a hug!

I also want to hug the love interests in this book... all three of them. There's a romance for the three eldest sisters in the family, and their love stories are distinct from one another, demonstrating different ways of falling in love. Each one is absolutely delightful-- cozy and sweet.

On the other hand, I most emphatically do not want to hug the villain of this book. Dixon does a masterful job of creating and subtly building tension with the character of Keeper, at first blurring the line between tantalizing bad boy and total creeper, and then taking him straight to eviltown once his motivations are fully revealed. Keeper is a truly memorable villain.

All in all, this book is fantastic- a must-read for fans of Shannon Hale and Robin McKinley.

Look for Entwined in bookstores on March 29. ARC for review was very kindly lent by my friend Michelle at Never Gonna Grow Up Reviews.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. My choice this week:
Between the Sea and Sky, by Jaclyn Dolamore
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release date: October 5, 2011

Bloomsbury's summary, via Goodreads:
For as long as Esmerine can remember, she has longed to join her older sister, Dosinia, as a siren--the highest calling a mermaid can have. Then Dosinia runs away to the mainland, and Esmerine is sent to retrieve her. Using magic to transform her tail into legs, she makes her way unsteadily to the capital city. There she comes upon a friend she hasn't seen since childhood--a dashing young man named Alandare, who belongs to a winged race of people. As Esmerine and Alandare band together to search for Dosinia, they rekindle a friendship . . . and ignite the emotions for a love so great it cannot be bound by sea, land, or air.
Jaclyn Dolamore's debut novel, Magic Under Glass (Bloomsbury 2009), is an absolute gem with a charming, old-fashioned feel. It has a tightly woven plot, a determined heroine, excellent world-building, and something that always endears a book to me: decadent food descriptions. Pure loveliness!

So of course I'm very eager to read her next book. And bonus: this one has mermaids!

As stated in this blog post, Between the Sea and Sky takes place in the same world we saw in Magic Under Glass, so I'm excited to get to know that rich, detailed setting even better. I'm looking forward to another beautifully-crafted "but how will it WORK??" romance. And how can anyone resist a story the author envisioned as "Jane Austen meets Miyazaki?" Hee! Also, can I just say? Esmerine is the most perfect mermaid name EVER. So elegant and wonderfully mermaid-y. Esmerine! I love it. Cannot wait for this one.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Around the Web + Summer Reading Idea

Everyone's talking about Jennifer Lawrence being cast as Katniss in The Hunger Games film. I'm not familiar with her work, and admit I'm not sure she looks the part... but according to this article from Entertainment Weekly, author Suzanne Collins fully approves of the casting decision, which is encouraging.

Now I suppose the debate will move on to the casting of Peeta! I've seen Josh Hutcherson's name mentioned as one of the possibilities and I have to say, even though he's not blond, I'm cheering him on. I hosted an event with him at my library in 2008 when he was the spokesperson for YALSA's Teen Read Week, and he was the NICEST guy- definitely Peeta material.

The ebook edition of one of my favorites, The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale, is being offered for only $1.99 until the end of the month. What a bargain! It's such an absolutely gorgeous book. If you haven't read it, now's the time.

School Library Journal highlights the profiles of the 10 youth services librarians honored by Library Journal as Movers & Shakers. Seriously inspiring. People in this field do such very awesome things... I'm taking notes!

And speaking of what we do as librarians, I'm really focusing on my Summer Reading Program plans lately. With the travel theme, "You Are Here," I'm thinking of incorporating Boom Boom Cards as a passive program for teens. The concept is that each card dictates an act of kindness to be done. When you play the card by completing the kind act, you log your act and your location on the Boom Boom Cards website using the card's unique ID, and then pass the card along to someone else. You can view a map on the website and see where the card turns up next. How cool is that, right? I love it! There's even a teen version, so it seems perfect for Summer Reading Program purposes.

I think I'll offer a small incentive to each teen who picks up a Boom Boom Card at our reference desk and proves that they completed their assigned act of kindness by directing us to their entry on the Boom Boom Cards website. To encourage the teens to pass those cards along, maybe I'll offer bonus incentives to the teen whose card goes the farthest geographically, or gets played the most. At the end of the program, hopefully some of the cards will have traveled around to a few different places, and I'll write up an entry about it on my library's blog so the whole community can see what good things our teens are doing.

Can't wait to see how this goes!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan

Like everyone, I'm watching the coverage on the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan with a heavy heart.

After I graduated from college, I spent a year in Japan teaching English. My home was in a small city in a rural area on the western tip of the main island. My year there was filled with a blur of students shouting exuberant greetings in English. I spent hours gliding through the countryside on my bicycle in all sorts of weather. I went on frequent karaoke outings, countless train rides, and visits to tiny shrines in the middle of nowhere. I relished the crisp air and the smell of burning crops in autumn, and the rhythmic drone of cicadas in the summer. I marveled at the infinite varieties of canned beverages in ever-present vending machines, sank into the comforting waters of hot springs, and happily ate unknown foods simply because they were offered to me. And I met people with such kind hearts, eager to help me feel at home in their country.

These memories stay with me over a decade later. I recall an elementary school student taking ahold of my hand and telling me, "Wasurenaide." Don't forget. Of course she's probably forgotten me by now, but I can't forget.


Toyoura ITraditional houseElementary school lunchtimeTrain tracks in morning snowNew Year decoration

If you want to know the beauty of rural Japan, understand what life is like in all those small villages that have now been swept away by tsunami waves, read Holly Thompson's stunning novel in verse, Orchards.

Thompson, Holly. Orchards. 336 p. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. 2011. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780385739771.

Most people think of Tokyo when they think of Japan: a bustling city, crowded with people and tall buildings, flashing lights everywhere, and a maze-like metro system. But there's another side to Japan that most Westerners don't know: the rural villages where the way of life hasn't changed so much over the years. There are no crowds, and the pace of life is a little slower. Family businesses are passed from parent to child. Local artisans use the same techniques originated by their ancestors hundreds of years before. Wooden houses with tiled roofs are nestled into hillsides, and the landscape is rich with rice fields, mountains, and the sea. Shrines and temples are tucked in between houses and stores, and local festivals mark the seasons. Thompson captures this setting so vividly, I was completely transported.

When I first read Orchards, it struck me as remarkably relevant because of the sensitive way it addresses the topic of bullying. And now the book is relevant for another reason, too: all those little villages in Japan.

If you would like to donate to relief efforts in Japan, text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 today.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

House of Dolls, by Francesca Lia Block

Block, Francesca Lia and McClintock, Barbara. House of Dolls. 61 p. HarperCollins. 2010. Hardcover $15.99. ISBN 9780061130946.

I KNOW! This isn't a YA book. But it's written by a YA author! I was straightening up a display in the children's section today, and this gorgeous cover caught my eye. Upon flipping open the book, I knew I couldn't resist it when I landed on this passage:
The dolls wandered through their house crying out,
“Where is the lemon-yellow satin chemise?”
The bejeweled green silk strapless mermaid evening
gown with the tulle tail?”
(p. 35)
Swoon! These luscious costume descriptions would have won my heart as a child, and let’s face it- they have the same effect on thirtysomething-me.

Where IS my lemon-yellow satin chemise, indeed?

Ahem. Anyway.

In classic Francesca Lia Block fashion, the prose is in turns spare and lush, with a distant, fairy-tale-like quality. It's wistful, strange, and beautiful, centering around themes of love, loss, and healing. Barbara McClintock's black-and-white illustrations are delicate and intricately detailed, a perfect complement to the text. The plot is simple: a little girl feels alienated in her own home, so she makes life miserable for her dolls, and then one of the dolls makes the unselfish wish that the girl may feel loved by her family.

This book poses a bit of a puzzle in terms of the intended audience. It was ostensibly written for children, but there is depth in this story that seems aimed at an older reader. I suspect a child will understand that there is more here than pretty dresses and teacups, but they may not dwell on it. It depends on the reader; they might absorb the underlying complexities, or they might prefer to simply enjoy the lovely descriptions of dollhouse accessories. An adult or teen, on the other hand, is more likely to linger on matters such as the horrors of war, the loss of a child, and the ways in which grief changes a person. At the same time, the older reader can unabashedly revel in the beauty of the dollhouse, too. I think this book can be enjoyed on both levels, and it's utterly beautiful either way. It might just be the perfect read-aloud for a mother and daughter.

I read House of Dolls in one sitting, and am still thinking about it hours later. Francesca Lia Block really knows how to cast a spell over a reader.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Clarity, by Kim Harrington

Harrington, Kim. Clarity. 242 p. Scholastic Point. 2011. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9780545230506.

Left to my own devices, I tend not to read mysteries. Why? Lamest reason ever: when I was a teen, I was all like, OMG, my MOM reads mysteries. So OBVIOUSLY, I can't possibly. I mean, REALLY.

But as I've grown older and wiser, I've come to acknowledge that my mom is totally awesome. And so are mysteries!

Plus, it's part of my professional duty to read in a wide variety of genres so I can provide good reader's advisory to my library teens. And they absolutely devour mysteries. So when I saw an ARC of Clarity at ALA Midwinter, I had to grab it. A teen psychic helps the local police solve a murder in a small town- sounds like something both my library teens and I would enjoy!

The plot of this paranormal, contemporary mystery moves at a brisk pace, and the writing is tight, with no filler. The author has woven the mystery so neatly, with perfectly placed clues and red herrings, that the reader is kept guessing until the big reveal.

The protagonist, Clare, is one of the most awesome book characters I've come across in a while. She's smart and observant- it's totally believable that she can help solve a crime. She's also got some very relatable flaws: she's hot-tempered, impulsive, and holds a grudge. And best of all, she's funny, with one-liners that made me really and truly laugh out loud. Love her! This book's supporting characters are also well developed and three-dimensional. I particularly enjoyed Clare's mind-reading mom- can you imagine growing up with that?

The end of this book leaves room for a sequel- and one is coming, hooray! Perception is due out in March 2012. But the story in this first volume is so complete on its own, I didn't even think about the possibility of a sequel until the very end, when it became clear that the author was deliberately leaving a few plot threads unresolved. You know how, sometimes, the first volume in a series feels like it's just setting up the story for the rest of the books? Well, that's not the case here. This is an intensely fun, smart, and satisfying read.

Clarity is available in bookstores now. ARC for review provided by the publisher.
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