Under the Black and White Tent

The first time EVER that I actually get an ARC in my hands before anyone on the kidlit webasphere has blogged about it and it takes me a month and a half to sit down and do anything.  I’m pretty disappointed in myself.  The fall is always a crazy time of year at my non-profit because I’m hopping from one school to another, matching volunteers and kids, and pretty much people pleasing 24/7 but I love my blog.  So why do I neglect it so?

What particularly makes me grumpy is that I love the bejesus out of this book! Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is probably the best book I have read this year.

Let me set the scene:  Two children are each raised separately by magicians (for lack of a better term) and as they reach adulthood they are placed in a cruel competition disguised as a black and white outfitted circus.  Of course, they fall in love (like ya do)  and things get lovely as (spoiler) the circus  develops into physical love letters that they create for each other.  But we have all heard this story before so it’s not surprising when things get complicated and exquisitely dark.

In fact, the book is always playing with the contrasts of the world.  It constructs that within every characteristic, every location, every individual action there is the juxtaposition of beauty and cruelty.  Harnessing magic is a freeing and always expanding art but within those freedoms there are sacrifices.  The circus itself is a stunning experience full of wonder and joy for those who visit and everyone involved but it is also limited, cut off, and the setting of a duel that can only end in destruction.  Even the boy who falls in love with the circus sees the positives and negatives of his small town.

It is no surprise that the landscape of this novel is a world of black and white for it spends a great deal of its time showing the many layers that are hard to see in between.


Published in: on November 6, 2011 at 5:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Life Saving Properties of Fairyland

Am I allowed to admit on the Internet that my job is making me go bananas?  Well…it is.  I run full tilt all day on a snackpack of carrot sticks trying to please 8 year olds, schmooze with corporate peeps, and navigate office politics.  So, like every mature adult, I pass right by the liquor store, the cupcake shop, the shoe sales, and arrive home to hop into my polar bear jammies to escape into a book.  And what a wacky journey it was.  In fact, stopping by the liquor store would not have been a bad idea.

Catherynne Valente’s (take a long breath for this one, team) The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making would be alike to Willy Wonka writing Lord of the Rings.  (Please note, that while TGWCFIASHOM is stunningly catchy, lets just call it The Girl Who Circumnavigated.)

Many have compared The Girl Who Circumnavigated to Alice in Wonderland but I don’t think that’s quite fair.  The main character, September, is far-less didactic and Valente does not spend a great deal of time being silly for silly sake on a singular subject.   The story is clear, less flowery, and the adventure is quite fast-paced.  Maybe Alice on speed?  AKA a pace just right for the young readers of the 2000’s.  Heck, it was a pace just right for this 1980’s baby.  I giggled all the way through and fell in love with animated objects that shone with personality.  It was a great joy to read at the end of a day that felt anything but silly.

Published in: on August 23, 2011 at 12:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Just Another Reason Why Wells are Creepy


In celebration of purchasing an air conditioner after a brutal day of 105° heat I picked up some books and laid in bed and read.  All day.  It was magical.

I tore myself away from Game of Thrones (if you have read these books you understand the magnitude of that statement) and grabbed the YA graphic novel Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

Anya’s voice is strong and easily relatable.  As a Russian immigrant, her story of exclusion, awkwardness, and self deprecation can be applied to any kid who has ever felt like an outcast or just not cool enough.  And when she befriends a
ghost at the bottom of a well who is willing to support her, those same kids can relate to her enthusiasm for that support.  But this story wouldn’t be any fun if all was hunky-dory after that, now would it?

Brosgol’s choice of moody purples that soak each panel is a perfect reflection of Anya’s emotions and creates a not-terrifying-but-still-creepy ghost story setting and, later, a down-right-terrifying ghost story setting.  Way to be multifaceted, purple.

I also appreciate how Brosgol dynamically overlaps images and text that are easy to follow despite the absence of cell lines.  When this happens you can’t help but stop and really feel the moment.

Like this image that I ruined by using my zero photography skills.

Oh, and take some time to look at the cover art of this book.  It is really smart and I don’t want to give away too much but think about what it means to you before you open the book, finish it, and then take a look back.  For me, the image transforms and that transformation is exactly what happens within the text.  It is so smart and it just keeps pulling me into the book over and over again in search of new things.


Wanna see more?  Check out this 17 page preview at First Second!

Published in: on July 25, 2011 at 11:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Adult Lit + Kid Lit = Questionable Results

This one will be quick since it vaguely has something to do with children’s lit.

I just finished reading Grossman’s The Magicians.  It’s being marketed as an adult fantasy novel about a college student trying to fit into the world (in this case, worlds), deconstructing illusions, and drinking…a lot.  That kind of sounds like a fun read, right?

What made it even more fun was that it felt like it was written for the fantasy lovers of my generation.  In the first 100 chapters it had made allusions to many of my favorite fantasy novels, from A Wrinkle in Time, to Tolkien, to Harry Potter.  Sometimes it was a respectful nod and other times it was a hilarious quip pointing out the ridiculousness that is allowed to go on in fantasy worlds.

This was all well and good until I realized that the book didn’t have much to offer after halfway through.  The overall conceit of the novel is easily and quickly unearthed and the sense of adventure it strives for falls flat.  It did not call my name from my bedside table or demand me to enter its worlds through wardrobes or clock faces.

Published in: on July 24, 2011 at 11:18 pm  Comments (2)  


Look at me! In The Loop!  Too bad it is a loop that is making me grumpy.

You will notice that I have been reading a lot of ‘dark’ YA lately….so this seemed an appropriate item to bring up.  Children Literature Peeps can’t stop talking about Meghan Cox Gurdon’s most recent article in the Wall Street Journal.  Twitter heads everywhere are tweettweeting under that hashtag YASaves with torrents of disagreement.  And if you have even read a smattering of this blog you would know who’s side I am on.

To begin, her article starts in the wrong place.  It starts with an adult looking for a book for an adolescent.  An adult claiming what is acceptable.  An adult claiming more knowledge and exhibiting power over a youth that is experiencing a completely different world than they experienced.

The adult has always been the Gatekeeper of what is acceptable for a child to read and what is not.  They write the books, they run the publishing houses, they buy the books.  As the easy access to knowledge is growing, a broader, more honest, less protective,  picture of the world is available to youths….oh YES and to all of these kids who actually are experiencing the horrific realities that exist.. and authors are providing the same scope in their writing.  It makes sense.  Particularly, when we are talking about realistic fiction, here.  The ‘dark’ YA literature that Gurdon references are creating backdrops that mirror the world they see unfolding before them.

Many of the book topics Gurdon argues against are concepts that youth have had to battle through on their own for generations; physical abuse, intense depression, eating disorders, murder, rape, etc.  These are not new experiences.  She claims that ‘back in the day’ books covering these topics were milder, more acceptable, and less graphic/detailed.  Again, As youth grow to have a stronger concept of the real world they demand books that reflect that world.

Think about it.  When you watch a sappy lovey dovey movie where everything turns out perfect and everyone says the right thing what do you think?  This is not real life!  Well…its the same for an adolescent who is struggling with anorexia reading over and over again about characters who go to clinics and are ‘fixed’ for life.  It’s just real.  Instead, tough reads like Wintergirls that take an intensely honest portrayal of what some girls experience brings something relatable to the table.  At the same time it also overtly notes the problems with eating disorders and offers possible solutions.

So really there are a lot more things to be said but the average blog reader will not sit still for more than four paragraphs so a quick summary:  Adults = Gatekeepers of the YA world which seems pretty ridiculous since they don’t know shiitake about being 13 in 2011.  The Internet = a realistic portrayal of the world available to all youth, not just the ones experiences ‘dark’ issues, 24/7.

The Book I Wish Had been Published in My Youth: The Uglies Trilogy by Scott Westerfield 

Published in: on June 8, 2011 at 1:46 am  Leave a Comment  

In the Inside

I could have sworn I wrote this blog already. No. Really. I have distinct memories of it. Maybe my brain is slowly shutting down bits and pieces of itself. I am quite overwhelmed at work with wrapping up the school year and developing and launching two summer programs (and, yes, I will accept pats on the back) and I must admit sometimes it is hard to even pick up a book before my head hits the pillow. So maybe fabricating memories of putting together a well thought out blog is entirely possible. So I give you this second-rate albeit real version.

Remember how I was talking about INYOURFACE YA start-ups? Well this one drops you next to a man chained to some tracks in the biggest darkest space your mind can think of while a thunderous machine comes racing towards him. Don’t worry. He doesn’t die. The large 200 chunk of pages in your right hand can tell you that much. While this method is obviously trending, the author of Incarceron, Catherine Fisher, utilizes it to her theme’s advantage. Focused on a prison dubbed Incarceron that can think, sustain the life of its inmates, and create anything it likes within its ever-expanding walls, Fisher recreates the feeling of being dropped into the depths of the prison, alike to some of her characters.

Some fun facts about Incarceron: 1) No one gets out. Ever. 2) Its personality ain’t so nice. Since no one has ever left most of the prisoners inside have been born in Incarceron, keeping inmates’ families stuck in the cyclical violence the prison creates. It is easy to see the connection of Incarceron and our own prison system and this thread leads to an interesting trail on the book and its sequel, Sapphique, goes on.

Clans of killers, thieves, and addicts fill Incarceron’s chambers but as a result of what? Which corrupted which….did the man-made machine, left to its own devices, corrupt the people inside who were merely trying to survive or did the inmates within teach the machine the nature of cruelty?

Published in: on June 7, 2011 at 11:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

YA Adventure; Pedal to the Metal

Yeah, so what, I picked up another Printz winner.  Just cause the last one was just so darn good!

Ship Breaker by Paola Bacigalupi was a whole different beast though.

Your butt in thrown into this crazy, broken down, tattoo-labeling, violent, future world.  It is as raw as a slab of sashimi…but less healthy…and covered in tar.  And you have to figure out what the heck is going on and fast.

Does anyone remember the good old days when the setting lovingly unfolded page by page like in Tolkien’s The Hobbit?

It seems that young adults are demanding immediate gratification in their action-adventure books and can’t even wait three pages.  I mean, main character Nailer’s life is severely threatened by page 20.  I’ve seen this intense start-up over and over again…See Incarceron and The Graveyard Book…admittedly, books I LOVE.

And I can talk about how our digital age is to blame and how attention spans are getting shorter and shorter and all that stuff.  But what is really spectacular is how quickly these youngsters are putting the pieces together.  How little they need to figure out the world, how they are comfortable (albeit if there is rousing action) NOT knowing the details and picking them up along the way.  And maybe this is because this method is better representation of the young mind.  The brief descriptions of the outside and the fundamentals of the society are only given in relation to the main character, the self: the most important thing to teenagers.

Published in: on May 3, 2011 at 1:23 am  Comments (1)  

Electronic Hardback

My theory is that picturebooks will be the last form of literature that is swallowed up by the electronic era.  Nothing can compare to a child getting to flip pages with their small, newly conscious mobile hands and having a book unfold in front of them, sending rich, touchable images across their gaze.  Plus, they can bite it.

Electronics just haven’t got the depth of image yet…but it will not be long.  And for the time being we have books like Press Here by French author and illustrator Hervé Tullet.  This book reverses the whole order of how ‘moving forward’ looks.  Press Here takes our knowledge of technology and places it in a book, creating an interactive experience in the stagnant format of a hardback.  On the cover you are confronted with a simple yellow dot and told to “press here.”  Once you turn the page another yellow dot appears, as if your action created a reaction. The book utilizes the common aspects of a smart phone or iPad…devices I have seen many a toddler play around with on a train..such as flipping the device to make the image turn, shaking it to scramble the images, and, of course, the simple concept of pressing a button to make something happen.  It even takes it beyond the capabilities of our technology, reacting to your blowing on the page and clapping your hands.  What I love it that it is fun and interactive and saying “Look! Look!  I’m a book and I am these things too!”

I’m not saying that this is going to be a classic by any means.  But for this moment…yet another thing it has in common with electronics…it holds greatness.

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 12:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Pre-Springing into Spring

In hopes of forcing spring to come to this city that still demands three layers and a hat, I am performing my usual its-spring!-burst-of-energy a bit early.  I really think this is going to work.  Already the temp has risen to the 50s and the sun is streaming into the house.  I’ve rediscovered the password to the bigbookliltweet twitter account, gone to Manhattan TWICE this weekend, and read some sweet books.  I am hoping this entry will bring the temp up to the 60s since this book is all about living life to the fullest and my fullest more easily exists in a tank top.  Here’s hoping.

I left Libba Bray’s Going Bovine on my kitchen table as I schlepped trash down to the street.  When I returned, my roommate was hunched over my book reading the back cover, giggling.  And understandably.  It speaks of a boy diagnosed with mad cow, a sickness that leads to hallucinations, inability to control your body, and eventual death, as well as sugar eating angels, a video gaming dwarf, and a talking yard gnome.  Crazy, right?  And I have to admit it was not a book I would have picked up if it were not for the Printz Award on the cover.  But, man oh man, am I glad I did!

This is one crazy ride where reality becomes so wonderfully blurry, where the truth becomes obsolete, and finding joy in the world, however that can be achieved, is the greatest goal.  It is craftily written in a way that I believed in the ‘hallucinated’ world.  So much so that it seemed more honest than the other alternative, despite the ridiculousness of that world.  I mean we are talking Viking gods living in yard gnomes, time traveling rock bands, snow globe creating weaponry, and punk rock angels here.   And I was in it to win it!  Dude, the gnome made me cry.  It was Dobby all over again.  Plus, this main character is funny as hell.  This book is worth picking up just to get to know him.  And, no, he does not turn into a cow, as the cover may suggest.

Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 5:49 pm  Comments (1)  

The Pile Has Been Conquered!

Bookmarks have officially been placed into other books and now I am faced with three very different books rumbling around in my head…not to mention the two I am feverishly speeding through at the moment.  Seriously…what has gotten into me?  I am hoping this does not become a habit purely for the sake of this blog.  While it is interesting to have all of these texts talking to each other in my head the dialogue is too convoluted and would reveal way too many plot points for any kind of hint-hint-read-this-book-post. Solution? Mini entries!?Many entries? BOTH! *oh man my wit kills me sometimes*

Tale of Desperaux by DiCamillo:

This is a direct result of a previous read that had me wondering why I was denying myself the world of DeCamillo.  Unfortunately, this one left me with less of a sense of wonder and self-exploration than Edward.  I found the read enjoyable, just less dimensional. Granted, it is rich storytelling with a perfectly darling main character (Desperaux would take offense I believe, but, dude, you are darling) who has as much resilience and compassion as the knights he so idealizes.  And DeCamillo does cover the subject of the idealizing of a fictitious hero since Desperaux has to learn through his many trials that the self, as opposed to a false projection, is a more beneficial way to live.

The Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce

I grew up as a HUGE fan of Pierce’s “Alanna” series and continued to follow her in her explorations of the characters that inhabit Tortall.  I decided to branch out all thanks to a closeout sale at the Borders near my office where this little book was sitting on the shelf 50% off.  And since I still own the library gobs of money I purchased a great number of books.  Of course the total was more than what I owe the library…but trust me, I learned my lesson.  It is books like these that are why I go to the library.  Seeming so right on the shelf and yet so wrong by page 50.  This was no page turner.  In fact, I am tempted to blame the picking up of several books on this one.  Yes it has Pierce’s strong female doing strong female things and not thinking about boys for even a second…but the plot! EEGAD!

Nation By Terry Pratchett

If this entry was, say, a science fair, this book would be leaving the auditorium with ribbons and trophies galore and the other books would be crying into their paper mache volcanos.  The tale of two lone children, separated by differing languages and cultures, forced to survive alone on a small island sounds pretty darn dramatic while at the same time holds a lot of potential of being cliché and pretty much blowing up in one’s face.  Luckily, Pratchett handles it with grace and leaves the reader with much to think about.

At first the children manage their differences on their own.  What is particularly brilliant is the depiction of their limited understanding of their own cultures, their own personal questioning, and then having that wobbly perception slammed up against another that is so drastically different.  Once that seems to be somewhat stable Pratchett brings in several other perspectives through the adult characters that seek refuge on the island, complicating things immensely.  And this is just one concept battled in this book.

Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 1:42 am  Comments (4)