Friday, April 28, 2006

More About Eagle Books

I can't help myself. After my last post about eagles, I had to go and rumage around my book shelves and boxes and dig out one of my all time favorites, Paul Goble's Adopted by the Eagles. Although it was written in the mid-90's, this Lakota tale continues to be a treasure. The story is one of those classics about friendship, jealousy and betrayal, but also of forgiveness. It recognizes that, that not all in the world is warm and fuzzy, which is something I really liked, and something I think kids know intuitively. Like many other First Nations tales, people exist in a world that balances human, animal and spiritual. I also love the rhythm of the language used in the story, and the fact that Goble includes Lakota words so naturally. As well, the illustrations are incredible. Goble has written and illustrated many other books, and I have liked every single one I have seen. He includes a bit of backround, definitions and notes that are helpful for teachers or parents. It's published by Bradbury Press for those who want to search for it, but again, any of Goble's work is worth having on your bookshelf.


Eagles are often linked thematically to kids books. I did an eagle book myself a number of years ago, about a boy who finds an injured bald eagle that he takes care of until it is healed and can be set free. So, I thought I would send this link to any bald eagle buffs out there who haven't yet heard about it. It is a live recording web cam set up just above an eagle's nest, and the eggs are soon to hatch. I keep checking myself, and you might want to too.
I should mention that you it takes a couple of seconds for the screen to come up, so be patient and please don't leave the site running on your desktop because there are so many viewers that their system shuts down.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Kids' Book News

In kids' book news, it seems that a ton of kids books are being made into films. I haven't yet seen Because of Wynne Dixie or Narnia, but I will do one of these days. Personally, I loved A Series of Unfortunate Events in film almost as much as I loved the book version. Some adults worry that kids won't want to read the books once they've seen the film, but I think it's sort of like eating apples versus apple pie. Just because I like apple pie doesn't mean I'm never going to eat apples again. for example, I loved the movie version of The English Patient because it was visually stunning, but the book was as much or more of a masterpiece of lyrical language. Watch for the film version of Where The Wild Things Are among others.

It isn't exactly a surprise, but I'm not the only Katherine Paterson fan out there. I was scanning through the archives of the kids section of Publishers Weekly online journal and came across this:

"Katherine Patterson has been awarded the 2006 Astrid Lindgren Award for Literature, given by the Swedish government. It is the largest paying international award dedicated to writers of children's books; the author will receive five million kronor, or $640,000. Paterson has won two Newbery Medals (in 1978 for Bridge to Terabithia and in 1981 for Jacob Have I Loved) and a Newbery Honor (in 1979 for The Great Gilly Hopkins). The award will be presented on May 31 in Stockholm."

All for now.

Ways to get unstuck/ Watch for a review of Kate DiCamillo's new book.

I know that I can procrastinate for only so long before I get back to writing, and already I have read a dozen kids books, created a new flower bed in my back yard, and cleaned out my overflowing garage. As a last ditch effort to further procrastinate, I have done the laundry. The closest I've gotten to gettting back to this new book I'm working on in a week is to draw up a list of scenes I still need to write. Not good.

So, this morning I have pulled out all the stops. I've gone to Katherine Paterson for help. No, sadly I do not know her in person, although I do feel like I know her through her books. I dare not start one of her novels, because if I do, that will be the end of writing before it has even begun. I know myself you see. I will read one of her novels, rediscover how good it is, and then start another, and another. Instead, I pulled out The Indispensible Child: on reading and writing books for children. You see, Katherine is a reader as well as a writer. Oddly enough, I have met quite a few writers who are not big readers, and it totally throws me. But Paterson and I share a deeply held trust in the power and importance of books. "There is something so comforting about the beloved books of childood," Paterson confides. "When the uncertainties of life assail us, they stand as healing verities, and we can return to them again and again."

How inspiring is that! Really, it doesn't matter what page I open, I always find something in her writing which helps me get back to doing the work closest to my heart. Interestingly, though Patterson goes on to say something even more striking. "But only, of course, if someone helped us to find those books when we were very young." In other words, bringing the books to the attention of kids is as important as writing them. We still need someone to make sure kids get their hands on books that speak to them. The go-betweens: teachers, librarians, and blogs about kids books are as essential as the books themselves. Yeah Katherine. I knew you'd make my day and you did. I think I'll go write a few pages now, and then maybe treat myself to Kate DiCamillo's new book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which I have been saving for a special treat.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mysteries are as popular with kids as they are with adult readers, and fortunately for those of us who are addicted, there are plenty of series around to choose from. Two writers who recently made their debut and are soon releasing second books are Bennett Madison, and Blue Balliett.

Blue Balliett’s sleuths Petra and Calder first appeared the widely acclaimed Chasing Vermeer. The pair return in The Wright 3 and are joined by Tommy, a classmate recently returned from New York. Set in Chicago with a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece playing a central role, The Wright 3 will make a great summer read for pre-teen sleuths and architecture buffs. There is plenty of action, more than one hidden treasure, coded messages, ghostly encounters, and more danger than the three bargained for. Brett Helquist, illustrator of the Lemony Snicket books, makes this one extra special. My only complaint was that in her desire to inform, Balliett too often slips into an adult voice. Still keep The Wright 3 in mind when you’re on the lookout for books to keep preteens occupied this summer. (Reviewed from advance reading copy)

For the teenage girl on your list, Lulu Dark and the Summer of The Fox is the perfect choice. The backdrop for Bennett Madison’s second Lulu Dark mystery is the B movie world of Hollywood. Lulu, our reluctant girl detective is relieved that school is out. Summer vacation has finally arrived and her plans involve hanging out with her best friend Daisy, daytime TV, lying in the sun in her bikini, talking on her cell phone, and trying to figure out how her best guy friend ended up as her boyfriend. The disappearance of her aging B-actress mother from a movie set followed by the disappearance of her boyfriend throw her back into the world of stake-outs, slinking down dark alley’s, and high speed motor bike chases. Can Lulu Dark find her mother and save her boyfriend? Does she even want a boyfriend? And what outfit should she wear to rescue them? The answers all await your beach reading pleasure. Enjoy. I did, despite the lack of a beach or even sun. (Reviewed from advance reading copy)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More reviews in the Archives + what's ahead...

Hey, don't forget to check out the archives for more kids book reviews, including: Benny's Had Enough, The Queen's Feet, all three of the Attolia books, Gingerbread, and Under the Persimmon Tree.

I am in the middle of reading The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett which I will review in the next day or two along with another mystery called Lulu Dark and the Summer of the Fox by Bennett Madison. Both are book two of on-going series worth checking out.


Monday, April 24, 2006

The Crazy Man

On the weekend, I finished The Crazy Man, which is an absolutely must read by Pamela Porter(see earlier post for more info). It is set on the prairies in the recent past. A farm accident which injures Emaline, is the last straw for her father who destroys the dog whom he blames for the tragedy, and then walks away from his farm, his family, and a life that has been nothing but stife and stuggle. In order to survive, Emaline's mother gets help from the local insane asylum in the form of Angus, known to the town as the crazy man. A series of encounters with cruelty, ignorance and predjudice convince Emaline that crazy is very much a relative thing and that healing and friendship can be found in places where you never thought to look. So good. Strong characters, solid plot development, although I still question the structure. Free verse poetry did not really seem to me to be an essential vehicle to carry this story. Would love to hear what anyone else who has read this book thinks.

Not a Fan of Best Books Lists Because...

Too sunny to spend much time reading inside this weekend, but last night I did surf the web for---what else, kids' books. I came across dozens of 'the best kids' books' type lists which I always find a challenge. I mean, how do you decide what to put on the list? There are the best picture books, the best YA novels, the best early chapter books not to mention the best of categories within the categories. How about the best cross-over picture books, the best humorous picture books? How do you distinguish between a brilliant book like The Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting and the equally brilliant Gifts by Jo Ellen Bogart, or a million other wonderful titles? Or what about Philip Pullman's Dark Materials fantasy series with its biblical and mythological echoes that continue to resonate long after you've read them versus something like the edgy realism of Blue Highway by Diane Tulson, a book about teenage substance abuse and its consequences. While Pullman is often appreciated, Blue Highway garnered negative reviews probably because its content is a little too close to home. Otherwise, I can't figure out why it wouldn't be at the top of everyone's list. There's the whole 'we want kids to have uplifting messages' not to mention the downright censorship that a book like Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak by Deborah Ellis which has recently been buffeted by. Given the wonderful books that can get left off a list, I'd rather stick to the 'I love this book because of this... or that book because of that...' approach. Besides, any list that I could ever create would have to constanly been expanding. I guess I just don't trust other people's lists, and mine wouldn't stay still long enough to be useful. So, happy reading, no matter what kid's book you pick up. But if you do find a good one, be sure and let me know.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

British Children's Book Prizes

So a bit of news . The British Children's Book of Year was announced with Ark Angel by Anthony Horowitz (Walker Books) taking the prize. The winner is one that I don't know, but will have to look for as they are almost always really good including the short-list which follows: Eldest by Christopher Paolini (Doubleday), SilverFin by Charlie Higson (Puffin), Wizardology by Dougald Steer (Templar), I, Corriander, by Sally Gardner (Orion), and "...and that's when it fell off in my hand" by Louise Rennison (Harper Collins). Of these titles, I have only read two. Wizardology is great, but not my cup of tea, although much loved by legions of young boys. I, Corriander was incredible though, with a convincingly smooth blend of history and fanstasy. I enjoyed following the main character, Corriander and her family through a series of misadventures that include: her fairy mother's untimely and suspicious death, her father's second marriage to a horrible woman who pretends piety yet only wants his worldly goods and schemes with an evil man who pretends to be a priest, her father having to go into hiding when he is accused of being a loyalist at a time when loyalists are losing their property if not their lives, the rescue of her battered step-sister, and an trip into fairy land where she must outwit the wicked fairy queen. I know, I know... it all sounds so dramatic and over the top, and I suppose it is, but then again it is soooo good. I, Corriander is one of those books that you will have a hard time putting down.

The W H Smith Book of the Year is J. K. Rowlings Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. No need to comment on Rowlings success except to say "Don't I wish..."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

One More Step by Sheree Fitch

All day and only a half of a chapter written. I must confess that I have to force myself to stick to my plan of not editing along the way. I have a tendency to want to go back and rewrite. I wonder how many other writers have this particular problem. I'm pretty sure it is another of my procrastination methods. I should make a list sometime of the various ways I procrastinate...Hey, it could be another tool for procrastination!

But, to the point of this blog, kids' books. I have to start by saying that I am a huge, and I mean huge Sheree Fitch fan. For those of you who don't love her nonsense poems like There Were Monkey's In My Kitchen as much as I do, you might want to try some of her many other books. A YA easy read that I just finished called One More Step, is fabulous. It's about a couple of brothers and their single parent mom who has a new man in her life. Told from Julian's point of view, it draws you in right away.

The book starts with "Purple condoms. My brother got purple condoms in his Christmas stocking. Mom must think things are heating up between Chris and Becca. Not likely."

Julian's voice rings true throughout; sometimes cocky and belligerent, other times unsure. There are some hilarious scenes, like when they are rained out on a camping trip. On the other hand, Christmas holidays with their real dad and his young family makes your heart ache. The closeness between Julian and his no-nonsense grandfather helps centre Julian, but when Poppy suddenly dies, Julian is like a lost little boy who lashes out. I won't give away any more except to say that Fitch's deft touch ensures that this is not an issue book but a story about people you will love. It is part of Orca Book Publishers excellent "Soundings" series for teens who are reluctant readers.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Nibbling on Einstein's Brain by Diane Swanson

So I started out the morning catching up on my newspaper reading, which I haven't done all weekend. To my delight, local science writer Diane Swanson was featured in Sunday's paper. Diane is so prolific that she blows me away. She has 65 books to my 12 (soon to be 13)! Yes, she has been writing a little longer than I have, and yes, I have only recently become an empty nester (or at least until the summer when my youngest comes home from universtity) while she has been a grandmother for quite a few years now, but still... She writes science for all ages, but my two favourites are Nibbling on Einstein's Brain: the Good, the Bad, and the Bogus in Science (Annick Press, 2001), and Animals Eat the Weirdest Things (Whitecap, 1998). There are tons more titles though, 63 to be exact, so definately check her out. Teachers, be sure to check out for activities and suggestions. (Sorry this isn't hot-linked. I have to get my daughter, Ali to help me with such things).

A slow start with my newspapers and my tea was perfect for me today as I must admit to feeling a little stiff this morning after a walk up Mount Douglas yesterday with my friend Leslie. She made us a great lunch which we ate outside in the sun. Yes, not a drop of rain in sight. We chatted about books and life until we got to the steep part. If the steepness of the grade didn't take your breathe away, the wildflowers would. Dainty fawn lilies, chocolate lilies cannas lilies, and flowering red currant bushes were almost as spectacular as the sweeping 360 degree view at the top. San Juans Islands to the south, the spectacular mountains of the Olympic Pennisula to the west, Finnalyson Arm north, and the mainland with Mount Baker peaking through the clouds to the east. One of these days I will buy one of those cute little digital cameras but in the meantime, this place has infiltrated my heart. I had never thought of setting anything up top Mount Doug, but this mystery I'm working on could use the kind of drama so I may take some of the kids in this book up Mount Doug on mountain bikes. The view is dramatic for sure, but there is plenty of room for other sorts of drama at the top of a mountain. It's just the thing to get me back on track after a weekend of overindulging in chocolate and easter feasting with my kids. Now this has to be one of the things I like best about the writing life; the way leisure and work fit together so very snuggly.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Did You Say Pears? by Arlene Alda

Ok, so it's Saturday afternoon, and I have just spent an obscene amount of money on chocolate for Easter, whipped up a strawberry shortcake, and marinated steaks to celebrate Katie coming home from university for the Easter Weekend with her new boyfriend in tow, and I have a few minutes to write. I picked up a picture book the other day that I fell in love with. It isn't funny. It isn't a tear-jerker. It isn't a lot of things. What it is though, is a book that ought to be in the hands of kids. It's a playful look at some of the oddball words in the English Language and is called Did You Say Pears? by Arlene Alda. It's published by Tundra Books, in Canada. It's the sweetest, by which I mean coolest, book of homonyms and homophones that you'll ever come across, and questions are at it's root, or should I say route. So if you are a primary teacher, this one needs to be in your bag a tricks. If you are an intermediate teacher, the photos could easily sell this book to your kids, and so could getting them to use this book as a jumping off point. And, of course, if you are just an ordinary adult like me who loves kids books, you'll want it too, if for no other reason than to savour it on a Friday night before turning out the lights after you have had a rocking good time watching "What Not to Wear". Rumour has it that I may not have an exciting life...This is absolutely and unequivocally untrue!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look

Early Readers can sometimes be dreadful. So, when my bookseller daughter suggested Ruby Lu, Brave and True, by Lenore Look, I didn't exactly race out to read it. I should have known better and taken her advice sooner. It is a book that I will definately bring with me to recommend when I visit schools. Ruby is an endearingly quirky 8 year old. She loves her little brother Oscar, perfoming magic tricks, and driving (oops, don't want to give the whole story away). Ruby's adventures are a perfect classroom read-aloud and would also suit young readers who already have a bit of chapter book experience. Expect belly laughs and demands for more Ruby books in either case. This refreshing multicultural gem stands head and shoulders above some of it's predecessors and even includes a glossary and pronunciation guide of Cantonese/Taishaneseis words Ruby uses. It's published by Aladdin. Buy it today.

Breaking News in Hollywood

Thought I'd pass on a bit of Hollywood news. A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh has been given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. No lie, I read it in Publisher Weekly's Children's Bookshelf. Kid's books rule, even in Hollywood!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Mile High Apple Pie by Laura Langston

So last night we had our local Children's Literature Roundtable meeting with a disappointing 9 people showing up. Sadly, the group has dwindled from almost 100 members in the past, to 30-something these days, with often only a handful making it to any one meeting. There are dozens of Roundtables across the country with the mandate to promote and support children's literature in Canada. Last night's meeting was a presentation of the best in recent children's books from picture books to young adult titles. Cadboro Bay Books presented with my daughter Ali, who runs the store 5 days a week, doing early readers, juvenile, young adult and fantasy, and the owner taking on picture books. So many wonderful books. I wish I could buy them all. I did purchase a couple, and will use them when I go into schools to give author presentations. I always like to have a few recommendations on hand for kids and teachers. Check out Ali's blog to get her list. Her blog is Can't Stop Reading. While Ali often turns me on to wonderful new books, here's one that I discovered all on my own. Mile High Apple Pie by Laura Langston who just happens to be a local writer. This picture book has just not garnered the notice it should have. It is one of those understated gems that deals with a tough subject (Alzheimer's in a grandparent) from a child's perspective. No preaching here, but the simplicity of the insight blows me away. A bonus is the recipe for 'mile high apple pie" which you can make with your kids or grandkids, or just borrow a kid for the afternoon and give an over-worked parent a bit of free time. Whatever you do, pick this one up today, and if you don't have anyone to give it to, donate it to your local school. They'll love you.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Benny's Had Enough by Bardro Lindgren

So, here's a picture book for the piglet in all of us, Benny's Had Enough by Barbro Lindgren, illustrated by Olof Landstrom (I know, I know, there are two dots over the last o in the illustrator's name, but I'm not sure how to do that). Anyways, this Swedish picture book was first published in 1998, is happily now out in paperback (R&S Books, distrubuted by Farrar, Straus and Giroux). It's a must have for small children and picture book addicts like myslef, if only for the expressions the illustrator paints on little Benny's face when his mama makes him clean up. Of course, like any self-respecting piglet, Benny would rather run away. If you've never seen a pig sprint, this is the picture book for you! But, the world is a frightening place for little piglets. Benny returns home, mends his ways, and indeed "washes" his stuffed pig; albeit in piglet fashion. This is one of those treasures disguised by its simplicity. Read it today.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Golden Spruce, The Crazy Man, & other great YA titles

Love my book group. We will be reading The Golden Spruce for next month. It's another Governor General Award winner, but this one is for non-fiction. It's a book that has been touted as a exploration of quirky West Coast characters and mythology. I have wanted to read it for ages, so this is the kick in the behind I needed. But, we will also read a YA title. Yipeee! Everyone will choose one or more of the books I suggested in additon to our regular selection. I am delighted. I love turning people on to great kid's books.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn

Just about to head out to my monthly book group where we will be discussing Saturday by Ian McEwan. With lines like, "Even as you struggle against the numbness of poor recall, you know precisely what the forgotten thing is not." on practically every page, no wonder the man won the Booker Prize (not for this one...those judges!) Anyways, I'm hoping that I can talk everyone into reading a YA novel next time around. I'm thinking of the Fisher Staples book I talked about earlier, or perhaps Gingerbread byRachel Cohn It is one of those truly brilliant coming of age novels that likely won't get the attention it deserves because of a few swear words that are perfectly appropriate coming out of the mouth of Cyd, the main character. On the other hand, not much comes out of her surfer boyfriend's mouth, and yet he is such a strong character that you can practically see him walking into the surf or working in his older brother's restaurant. Author envy speaking here...Ah to be able to bring one's characters come to life with a few deft strokes of the pen, or keyboard as the case may be. And I practically bled for Cyd's mom and step-dad, but I suppose that's the parent in me talking. It is a fabulous read.

Then again, I have had The Crazy Man by Pamela Porter for a good month and haven't yet read it. It won the Governor General's Award in Canada, and is written entirely in verse. It is supposed to be fabulous, and I did hear Porter speak recently. If I can convince 8 other women to read it, I just might have enough incentive to finally crack the cover. Worth a try.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Queen's Feet by Sarah Ellis

Today I am procrastinating yet again, only this time it is from sorting out my taxes for my accountant. I use the modified shoe box method, and must add up the various categories that she has assigned. I have piles of paper everywhere, but every time I look up, I am distracted by a book. The temptation was too much. I pulled The Queen's Feet by Sarah Ellis off the shelf, and I am immediately drawn in by the fabulous cover art. Only the quirky Sarah could come up with a story where fidgiting rules. Every teacher and parent who has ever admonished a child for his or her inability to sit still (hey, isn't that all of us!) will want to read this one, and I doubt that there will be a shortage of interest from the kids themselves. If I've ever met a kid disguised as an adult, it's Sarah. Check out her Ben books too. In fact, while you're at it, check out everything she's written.

A refreshing cup of tea and a half hour with a favourite picture book, and it's already time to get back to the tax grind. I will keep my eyes only on the papers in front of me. I will keep my eyes on these papers. I will. I will. Don't you dare look up at that book shelf, Sheryl. Don't you dare. Sheryl...Sheryl! Oops...too late.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, & The King of Atolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Time for a break from mystery writing, so thought I'd turn you on to a couple of recent reads that I just could not put down. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner doesn't start off as a page turner, but you will soon find yourself absorbed in both the story and characters' lives and the mystery of why the thief has been broken out of jail with the sanction of the king he had threatened to fleece. An author's note at the end tells us that the setting of the story was inspired by a visit to Greece, but the characters feel truly alive, especially the Thief himself. Expect plenty of twists and turns in plot, and be prepared to dive into the next two books, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia, neither of which I could put down. My advice: get all three, and go for a marathon weekend of reading. Of course, I have the perfect excuse for reading books like these. I call it research. After all, I am working on a young adult mystery, so reading a variety of mysteries, is part of my job. What's your excuse?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples

So, here is my first post. I'm sitting here listening to kd lang's Hymns to the 49th Parallel after just having returned from a succesful shoe shopping venture with my daughter, Ali. What has this got to do with kids' books you might ask. Obviously, procrastination! First, the shopping, now this whole blog thing. I should be working on the picture book that has me totally stumped, but they always start out this way, with much angsting, procrastinating, more angsting, a little gardening, and perhaps a home reno show or two on tv. Of course I'm new to blogging as a procrastination tool, but I'm sure I'll pick it up quickly and in no time. When I'm done this, I'll jump back into Under the Persimmon Tree, a YA novel by Suzanne Fisher Staples, a journalist turned author. She is good, very good. I have read two of her other books, Shabanu and Havali, also wonderful. If you want insight into childhood in Afghanistan, she's a must-read, along with Deborah Ellis, of course.