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  

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)  

#YASaves

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  

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  

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)  

Lessons of a China Rabbit

Kate DiCalimo is the “it girl” of the children’s lit world and I must admit that I have not read anything since the release of Because of Winn Dixie and my next best encounter with her was dramatically pressing the power off button to my DVD player an hour into the atrocity that is The Tale of Despereaux film.

A copy of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane ended up on my desk last week.  I schlepped this and a number of other books  to Jersey City to one of my schools.  Per usual, the PATH train was incapable of functioning properly (my secret hypothesis as to why each and every New Yorker loathes New Jersey) so I picked up this book.  Number one reason why:  little trim size, big font, even bigger margins.  Therefore I could possibly finish it by the time this silly train got its act together.  Candlewick sure does know how to sell a novella for the price of a novel.  Alas, I did not finish it in my thirty minute train ride which means I was forced to sneak it into my purse because there was no way I was not finishing this beautiful book.

This book is why people work so hard to share the pleasures of children’s books to adults.  This book about a china rabbit is so stunningly, intimately, human.  It spans the gap, that we so love to stretch to its limits, between childhood and adulthood.  It’s a person book.  A love book. A resilience book. Almost everything I have to say about it reveals too much, for, indeed, it is very short but I will say that it supports a concept that everyone can grow from knowing, no matter their age.  In fact, it is a book about growing in itself.  And I am in no way ashamed that I was seen shedding a few tears on the 4 train while holding its painted white rabbit cover.

 

Published in: on February 22, 2011 at 4:50 am  Comments (1)  

More Of The Same

Unsurprisingly, I am gravely behind on everything associated with 12 and up kids.  That is one thing about my job that is limiting…plenty of picturebooks, plenty of early chapter books, but very little teen melodrama, dystopias, or good old-fashioned battle scenes.  And now that I have paid my debt to society in the sum of $25.00 to the Brooklyn Public Library, I can check books out again and catch up on some over due teenage shenanigans.  Which, hopefully, I will not return overdue.  First stop; the City of Bones.

Cassandra Clare’s series, “The Mortal Instruments” has been creating buzz for a while now.  In fact, she just released her prequel series called “The Infernal Devices.” But since I am so far behind, I just now picked up the book first released, “City of Bones.”  It will be interesting to see if I pick up the others.

Simon & Schuster is obviously selling to a specific demographic with its shiny city sprawl and shirtless, faceless boy cover art.  And what could be more perfectly placed across the boy’s chest but a glowing review by Stephenie Meyer! At least once you open the book the female heroine, Clary, is slightly less of a wimp than Twilight’s Bella.  Alas, she does show some pretty lame similarities, socially awkward, uncoordinated, and consistently relying on male power figures.  In fact the only other female characters in this book are either comatose, shell-like vessels for male controlled demons, or a hyper sexualized teenager who distributes no power despite her position as a warrior…oh yeah…and she also cooks for everybody.  But Clary does defy some male commands based on her own needs and not “in the name of love” so that’s a step in the right direction…an itty-bitty baby step but at least a step.

Clare (so weird how close the author’s last name is to that main character’s name…eh?  Freud would have had a field day with this one) does create some interesting lore for the now common characters of vampires, werewolves, and the like.  She creates a whole world within our own, just beyond “mundane” sight.  Golly mundane sounds a lot like muggles, don’t it?

Where I really get heated is in regards to the twisty plot that, I’m guessing, is supposed to keep you guessing but was completely and ridiculously predictable no matter how outrageous the next development was.  (Spoiler!) For Christ sake, stealing a major plot point from STAR WARS is not creative in the least!  I actually had a moment where I thought…I am way to smart to be reading this book.  And the only other book that I have read in the last ten years that made me feel that way was written by the glowing reviewer herself.  Needless to say, I should have listened to all of the signs Simon & Schuster was shoving in my consumerist face and moved on to the next one.

Published in: on January 24, 2011 at 11:04 pm  Comments (1)  

The Subtle Book

 

This entry is long overdue but New York has been busy, the holidays were crazy, and even at this moment my cat is brushing up against my face, pawing the keyboards and demanding for attention.  How is a gal supposed to have a hobby in all of this mess?  My point is that I HAVE been reading…I just haven’t been doing the writing part so much.  So I’m doing it.  Right this second. Fur in my mouth.

Amidst all the chaos of living in a giant, loud, people all up in your business city I immediately turned to a books that are comforting.  Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” was a series that I devoured growing up and going back to them was a complete pleasure.  I really thought that after all of my education…all this deconstruction, feminist, Marxist, Freudian and you-name-it theory study…I would be navigating the many possibilities that Pullman offers a reader.  Hell no.  I was getting wrapped up in it as if I were a kid again.  All I wanted to know was who was good and who was bad and what was going to happen next as I twisted through Pullman’s tricky plot devices.  I couldn’t’ get enough of it.  Once I finished I realized I had not really thought about the book at all, at least not in the terms that I’m used to.  And you know what?  It was beautiful.  It was magical.  It was what made me love reading in the first place.  It was what we dream of kids experiencing when we hand them books.

It is also a place of fragility.  A book and all of the millions of ideas those pages represent become part of you.  It is within that absence of thought that a book can create ideas that you bring into your own world.  The conscious reader will question, confront, and come to their own conclusions but as I seeped into Pullman’s world I accepted it all as normal and internalized that normality.  It is this fragile moment that makes so many people scared of books.  Why “Go Ask Alice” was banned in school libraries and “Harry Potter” burned to cinders.  But it is also why studying children’s literature is so important.  Children’s books can create these magical delicate moments, can open a mind just as easily as it can close it.  They are the creators of worlds.

 

 

Published in: on January 5, 2011 at 3:21 am  Comments (2)