Friday, October 21, 2016

The Princess and the Shark

The Princess and the Shark.  If I ever write a children's book, that's what it will be titled.  If, that is, I don't care about quality but do care about selling a lot of books.  Based on the very small, unreliable sample size of 2 school libraries that I've worked in, both on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, girls in grades K-2 want books about princesses and their male peers want to read about sharks.

There are other scary, fierce, awesome-looking animals besides sharks.  Why the obsession?  I have no idea.

And the princesses.  When these girls ask for princess books they mean Disney.  I offer them Shirley Climo's The Egyptian Cinderella and they turn up their noses.

Of course there are other requested topics.  Ballet, gymnastics, soccer, and lately, cooking.  The boys also ask for books about the military - soldiers, military aircraft, the navy.  Crafts, especially origami, are big too.

The gender divide is (nearly?) absolute.  To date, I have never had a boy request a princess book or a girl request a book about the military.  I probably have had boys ask for cooking and have definitely had them ask for origami, and I've probably had girls ask for sharks.

So in order to capture the market and straddle that divide, The Princess and the Shark it is!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

After Harry Potter

In the past two days, two parents have come to me saying, "My child has read all of Harry Potter (and/or Percy Jackson) (multiple times)... what's next?"  While I have a lot of great suggestions for the child who's read everything, many of those may not appeal to a child who is just looking for fantasy.  I'm not personally a fantasy reader, so I haven't read all of these myself, but these recommendations come on good authority.  For those kids, here are a few ideas.

Don't forget these classics:

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Chronicles of Prydain trilogy by Lloyd Alexander.  An undeservedly forgotten series.

A Wrinkle in Time quintet by Madeleine L'Engle.

Newer series:

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins (author of The Hunger Games).  For those children who are not ready - or whose parents are not ready! - for The Hunger Games

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

Not exactly fantasy but may appeal to fantasy lovers:

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.

For fans of fairy tales, these series take them to a new, darker, level:

The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer.

The SIsters Grimm by Michael Buckley and Peter Ferguson.

The Grimm series  by Adam Gidwitz.

What other books do you suggest for a child who loved Harry Potter and/or Percy Jackson and is ready for something new?

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!