Saturday, January 27, 2007

Quad by C.B. Watson

Here I am at American Library Association Conference in Seattle signing books. I am with two fantastic Fitzhenry & Whiteside Sales Reps. Stephanie Stewart (left), and Penny Taylor (right).

While I was there, I picked up a few titles that looked interesting. One that I just finished was Quad which will be out in May 07 by Razorbill; part of the Penguin group. The author is C.B. Watson, a high school teacher and newbie. The author’s familiarity with the age group has served the author well. While the dialogue in this disturbing YA title sounds like it came directly from the halls of your local high school and the cluster of teens gather with Slurpees and skateboards outside your local 7-Eleven, the author’s approach is subtle and insightful. The narrative starts with the central issue of a high school shooter. What I liked so much about this book was the way in which the author doesn’t centre on the shooting, but on what led up to it. This is done through short chapters told from various points of view: “FREAKS, JOCKS, PREPS, DRAMA QUEENS, CHOIR BOYS, and TECHIES”. Each chapter offers a slice of the cruelties of high school life and insight into the reason why some kids snap. By letting us see that each group has kids who are vulnerable, Watson not only keeps the suspense high, but pushes us to examine what might be going on under the surface of our own schools and with our children. This is a disturbing and powerful novel, but one that teens, educators and parents will benefit from reading. C. G. Watson is definitely an author to watch out for. I'll post a cover as soon as it's available on the publisher's sight.

Friday, January 26, 2007

2007Newbery and Caldecott Medals

The Newbery and Caldecott Medals were awarded earlier this week, to Susan Patron for The Higher Power of Lucky (Atheneum/Jackson) and to David Wiesner for Flotsam (Clarion). It was Patron's first win, and Wiesner's third—he's only the second artist ever to win the Caldecott three times. I must admit that I haven't read The Higher Power, but Flotsam is fabulous.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Odd Man Out by Sarah Ellis

Long plane rides are good for something. On a very long plane ride to visit my daughter in Down Under country recently, I brought along the new Sarah Ellis book, Odd Man Out. I was not disappointed. If you’ve read my blog before you’ll already know that I’m a big Ellis fan so no surprise there. As usual, Ellis tackles tough subjects with a quirky sensibility that has come to define her highly individual approach to children’s books.

Kip, the main character in Odd Man Out is the odd man in multiple ways. Visiting his Gran along with five female cousins, Kip is the only boy, the only one who isn’t a regular, and the only one who doesn’t know how he will survive a summer where the rules have been turned upside down. Since Gran’s rambling old house will soon be torn down, anything goes (except tearing down load-bearing walls). Gran’s rules are written on the walls, and the most important one seems to be no whining. To make matters worse, Kip is equally uncertain about fitting in back home when his mother and her new husband do finally return from their vacation (carefully not referred to as a honeymoon) in Hawaii. The discovery of a dusty notebook belonging to his dead father uncovers a secret and exciting world acts like a healing balm. Kip builds a sanctuary in the attic where he can read his father’s words and share in his fictional creations. Just when things are looking up, a family talent fiasco brings Kip’s new found sense of belonging crashing down.

As usual, Ellis has peopled her popular fiction with quirky characters that jump off the page. Gran’s “anything goes” approach to her impending move, hobo dinners, and trips to the free store are balanced by a vulnerability that makes you as nervous as her grandchildren when she is rushed off the Island suffering from a possible heart attack. And, the “girlatorium” as Kip refers to his cousins are as engaging as they are unique―insists that she is a dog who speaks human. What is different about Odd Man Out though is the increasingly complex and subtle way that Ellis introduces sensitive issues such as mental illness. She is a writer at the top of her game. I can only marvel at her skill and look forward to her next book.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Skinnybones and The Wrinkle Queen by Glen Huser

So, I'm finally back from a wonderful trip to Australia where my three lovely daughters and I enjoyed surf and sun, great wines, and fantastic museums and art galleries for almost a month. Arrived home to power outages and a foot of snow. Yikes! That was followed by wind storms, downed phone lines, and then computer problems. I fit in a trip to Seattle for the American Library Association Conference and book signings with author friends Debbie Hodge and Linda Bailey which was also lots of fun. So, you see I have plenty of excuses for not updating this blog for a while. No more slacking off though…

While I was away, I confess to straying from my passion for kids books into an occasional thriller, a couple of Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction titles, and a few chick lit titles, but on to kids’ books. One that I totally adored was Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen by Glen Huser published by Groundwood Books. Tamara is the ‘Skinnybones’ foster care reject of the title while the ‘Wrinkle Queen’ is the ninety year old former high school teacher and senior care home resident, Miss Barclay. They meet when one of Tamara’s teachers matches students up with seniors at a nearby facility. They pair up on a Thelma and Louise style dash for the coast to indulge their respective passions—the Wrinkle Queen wants to go to the Ring Cycle Wagner operas staged in Seattle one last time while Tamara is desperate to take a modeling course in Vancouver. It takes months to lay the groundwork of subterfuge necessary, but the two finally set off with 15 year old Tamara at the wheel with her newly acquired learners’ permit. The deal is, if Tamara gets Miss Barclay to Seattle and takes her to the four day operatic extravaganza, the Wrinkle Queen will pay for her modeling course. That is if the two don’t throttle each other along the way.

Their adventures are hilarious, but what I liked most was the snappy dialogue between the two. Huser tells the story from both the Wrinkle Queen and Skinnybones point of view and manages to successfully skirt sentimentality. Neither Tamara nor Miss Barclay are initially sympathetic of the other. Despite occasionally nodding off mid-sentence, the Wrinkle Queen is as savvy when she’s awake as she would have been standing in front of a classroom of teenagers who’d rather be any where else than where they are. She easily sees through Tamara’s fake movie star smile. Meanwhile Tamara is as tough as they come. She’ll do anything to get out of the foster care cycle and into the glamorous world of modeling including: lying to her foster family and social worker, ditching school, stealing, and helping a ninety year old lady escape from a nursing home. It is when the trip begins to unravel and their respective tough veneers begin to show cracks that the story is at its strongest. Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen is one road trip you won’t want to miss.