Sunday, August 21, 2016

Yay for YA!

I'm not a big reader of YA.  Too much sappy romance, too many vampires, too many dead parents.  I know, there's plenty of YA that does not include any of those elements.  But I don't have the time or energy to seek those out.   But every now and then, a YA book will grab me.  A friend will recommend it, or a review will catch my eye, or I'll hear about a book that interests me and only realize later that it's been classified as Young Adult by... someone!  (Whom?  The publisher?  The Library of Congress?  The author?)

In the last 6 months or so, I have read three stand-out novels that someone, somewhere, has deemed Young Adult.

Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert, seems at first to be a book about baseball, but is really about faith, love, parenting, siblinghood, morality, the justice system, and a tug-of-war between familial loyalty and truth.  When I first started the book, I assumed the title referred to a belief system, but as I kept reading, I realized it also referred, cleverly, to a finding of guilty in the criminal justice system.  A fabulous book for adults, young and otherwise.

I picked up Burn Baby Burn for it's NYC 1977 Summer (Son of Sam, the blackout) setting.   Although I am too young to remember that summer, I lived through it, and am convinced I have a sort of collective memory about it, combined with living in NYC through the 80s and 90s.  Author Meg Medina, thankfully, does not wear rose-colored glasses and lament the gentrification of the city since then (yes, artist could afford apartments here back then, but they often got mugged as they traveled to and from them!).  Her 1977 Queens is the real deal, with a serial killer on the loose and looting erupting during the blackout.  But her characters have their problems writ small (although not to them), too.  Nora is eager to graduate high school and start her "real life" but her teachers are trying to convince her she's college material.  She has a crush on a coworker and there is domestic violence at home, of a sort not often addressed in fiction.  Again, you don't have to be a young adult to enjoy this book.  In fact, you will probably enjoy it more if you lived through that summer or lived in New York during its grittier days.

I've lately become intrigued by books set in the Middle Ages, possibly because there suddenly seem to be a slew of them being published (it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario),  or maybe because of my daughter's fifth grade class trip to a place called Medieval Times.  With the publication of the highly anticipated The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog in September, the trend continues.  In the meantime, pick up The Passion of Dolssa (written, strangely enough in my opinion, by the author of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, a perfectly fine book, but far inferior to this one) to satisfy your medieval cravings.  Dolssa believes she has a direct relationship with Jesus, who she says appears to her, and who endows her with the power to heal and work other miracles.  The Church has labelled her, and other women like her, a heretic. Dolssa takes refuge in a medieval village where three sisters protect her.  The middle sister, the local matchmaker, narrates the story.  However, I must make one confession.  At the very end of the book there is an epilogue of sorts.  An old woman is in prison and is speaking to someone outside the prison with instructions.  I could not figure out who the woman is.  Apparently I was not the only one who was confused (sigh of relief!), because the author posted an explanation online.  Nonetheless, the book is wonderful despite this lack of clarity (or perhaps despite my denseness!).

What YA books have you read and enjoyed?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What Do These Books Have in Common?

These books don't look like they have much in common, do they?  One is a mystery for kids involving a treasure hunt through New York landmarks and clues in the forms of poems,.  The other is fiction for adults about women working in the financial industry, based on the author's own experience.  It turns out that they were written by the same author, Maureen Sherry.

And, unusually, the children's book was published (although not necessarily written) first.  While there is no shortage of authors of fiction for adults trying their hands at children's books, particularly picture books (e.g. Harlan Coben, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, John Grisham, inter alia), it is rarer for an author of children's books to then write for adults.

As for the books themselves, I definitely enjoyed Walls Within Walls.  Hand it to a child who loves From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  Although the characters are not as fully realized as I'd like, and the plot point of the parents getting swept up in their newfound wealth strained credibility, especially for the mother, the plot was a fun romp through New York.  A sequel set in London is to be published next year.  I am only about one-third of the way through Opening Belle (I love the title!) but so far, it's an engrossing look at the male-dominated world of finance and how women operate in that world.  As someone who frequently used to be the only woman in a roomful of male lawyers, I can relate.

I hope Ms. Sherry writes many more books - for both children and adults.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Summer Is For Reading

This past weekend, we visited my older daughter (now 11!!) at sleepaway camp.  The week leading up to Visiting Day, we had received a letter that consisted only of a list of things we should bring: a fan, more sunblock, more underwear.  Conspicuously absent from the list was books.  She'd gone up to camp with 4-5 books and after 2.5 weeks, I was expecting her to have finished them.  (Last summer, when she was only at camp for a total of 2.5 weeks, she told me she'd had to reread the 4 books she'd brought because she'd finished all of them.)  So, assuming the failure to mention books was an oversight, I hit the bookstore, and this is what I bought.

It was so fun to go to the bookstore and just browse!  I don't do that enough any more - I think most of us don't.  Now that it is so easy to access book reviews and to put books on hold at the library, I usually go just to pick up books I've already reserved.  And when I buy books, it is usually only to purchase something I already know I love.  Browsing is under-rated.  I haven't read any of these,  although I can't wait to do so when my daughter comes home.

And as it turns out, the day after Visiting Day, I received a letter from my daughter requesting... books!

(By the way, don't worry that she is sitting at camp indoors reading all day.  She goes to farming camp and is out all day, petting the goats, visiting the chickens, doing arts and crafts and as well as all the other traditional camp activities.  But I am happy she is has enough downtime to sit (outside!) and read, too.)

How many books does your child go through at camp?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Final Four

The Final Four will be:

Wimpy Kid, unsurprisingly, crushed Alice (by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor), 81-8.

Harry Potter squeaked by Wonder, 49-44.

Wimpy Kid will face Harry Potter in the semifinals.

Big Nate clobbered Ramona, 61-20.

From the Mixed-Up Files... overwhelmed Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, 43-25 .

This semifinal match-up will therefore be Big Nate versus From the Mixed-Up Files...

May the best book win!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

First-Round Winners!

I tallied up the results of our first round and read them out loud to a bunch of my kids' friends yesterday before announcing them in the library.  It was fun to hear them cheer when their picks won and groan when they didn't.

The discrepancy in the number of votes is because the students weren't supposed to vote unless they'd read both books in a particular pair. I knew neither Alice nor Anastasia wouldn't be super-popular but I was hoping including them might get some more kids to pick them up.  Plus, I just love them both!

Without further ado, the winners:

Wimpy Kid beat out Smile,90 votes to 57
Alice (by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor) defeated Anastasia, 30-18

This means we have a second round match up of Wimpy Kid v Alice.  Next year I have to plan better as that one's a foregone conclusion!!

Harry Potter triumphed over Percy Jackson, 76-49
Wonder trounced Out of My Mind, 89-21 

In the second round Harry Potter will face off against Wonder.  That one should be interesting.

Ramona overcame Clementine, 55-21

Our second round will pit Big Nate against Ramona

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle prevailed over The Worst Witch, 39-18

So Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle will face From the Mixed-Up Files... in round 2.

(Yes, I used a thesaurus!)

May the best book win!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

March Madness, Bibliophile-Style!

Inspired by the literary takes on March Madness proliferating online, I decided to do our own March Madness competition at the school library.

Although we got off to a rocky start (one child asked, confused, "Wait, the books are going to play basketball?!?"), once the kids got the hang of things, they voted enthusiastically, with some even adding notations to their ballots ("hardest choice EVER!!!!" - for Wonder v Out of My Mind).

Our bracket:

Which books would you choose?

Which do you think will win?

Stay tuned for our first-round results...

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Elephants Don't Need to Go to the Gym!

The version I own
Every summer, when we went to our country house, I would read The Saggy Baggy Elephant, a story about a lonely young elephant, Sookie, who is made to feel bad about his wrinkly skin by the other jungle animals.  The book ends with Sookie meeting a whole herd of elephants and realizing that elephants are supposed to have saggy, baggy, wrinkly skin.
The version I saw at the book fair

So I was excited to see the book at my school book fair.  Yes, the cover looked a little different than the one I remembered, but I figured that was just marketing, tapping into the huge market for beginning readers.

Unfortunately, I failed to notice the little "adapted by" notation on the cover.

I opened it and skimmed it until I got to this spread:

Whereupon I was horrified.  The tiger is not saggy because he "stays fit"?  No, the tiger is not saggy because he is a tiger!  Not only is the book now body-shaming elephants and implying they need to exercise and "stay fit," but the ending of the book remains unchanged, thereby making no sense!  If elephants are supposed to be saggy, then they are not saggy because they do not "stay fit." Elephants do not need to go to the gym (although it conjure up a funny image in my mind of a class of elephants jazzercising! - perhaps there's another picture book, right there!).

Why, oh why, do publshers tamper with perfectly good books?  Why?