Thursday, March 31, 2011

Literary Love: Beauty Queens

Beauty Queens is not a subtle book. The cover was my first clue about that. But I have never had so much fun being hit over the head as I did while reading an ARC of Libba Bray's latest YA novel, out in May.

A plane carrying the contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant, a competition run by The Corporation (which owns everything), crashes on a deserted island. Many among the handful of surviving Teen Dreamers take a while to stop thinking about things like lipstick and start thinking about survival, and for a bit, it looks like beauty queens are as dumb as we're supposed to think they look.

They're not. They're also not all backbiters who will do anything to win a pageant (which remains very much on the metaphorical radar even as Miss New Mexico has a literal airplane tray lodged in her forehead). They don't fit the stereotypes for their respective cultures; they just satirize them. They're not all straight, and even the ones who are don't necessarily relate to boys the way one might expect. (Yes, boys show up, and yes, it takes more than that to get the girls off the island.)

The footnotes are hilarious. The everything's hilarious, even when it's making us feel sad about the expectations The Corporation and the world it inhabits has put on these girls. Beauty Queens has a lot to say, beyond the (I hope) obvious point that not all women have the same strengths, weaknesses, interests, or priorities.

Like "beware of exploding hair remover."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

More on Diana Wynne Jones

When I say that Diana Wynne Jones had a loyal, loving fan base, the fan I primarily have in mind is my friend Penina. When Penina heard about Diana's serious illness, she put out a call for submissions to a 'zine in tribute to her longtime favorite author. (For those who haven't heard, Diana passed away yesterday morning.)

The 'zine project was delayed, but Penina plans to put out another call for submissions in the next few weeks and eventually create a memorial 'zine that will be available for order. If you're interested in submitting to the 'zine and/or reading it when it's ready, click on the link above for more information.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

New Sendak book. Yeah.

If the picture book world has one legendary figure, it's Maurice Sendak. Best-known for imagining the eye-rolling, tooth-gnashing mischief of Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak has written and/or illustrated fifty-years' worth of critically worshiped picture books. He's also been involved with children's television, creating the TV series based on Else Holmelund Minarik's Little Bear series, which he illustrated.

Sendak also created a short for Sesame Street in 1971 about a young birthday boy named Bumble-Ardy. Since then, he's fleshed out Bumble-Ardy's story in a picture book, which is due out in September. It's the first book in almost thirty years that he's both written and illustrated, and I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking it's going to be awesome. If there's one artist we can trust not to jump the shark, it's Sendak.

Look, here's the Sesame Street short:

Apparently, Bumble-Ardy of the book has missed out on celebrating his first eight birthdays due to his parents' being eaten. He is now a pig because, Sendak told The Wall Street Journal, "boys tend, generally speaking, to be pigs." Also, the swine drink brine, not wine (so no one will whine).

I can't wait.

In sadder news, author Diana Wynne Jones passed away this morning. Her following was perhaps smaller than Sendak's, but it was a loyal and loving one. I'll be facing out Howl's Moving Castle tomorrow.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Standbys. For when you're flying by the seat of your pants.

When customers ask for book recommendations, I pump them for information. Do they know what the child has read before? Do they know any of his or her interests? Does this child have older siblings, and thus likely already own Goodnight Moon?

But when the answer to some or all of the above is, "I don't really know; it's my boss's nephew/daughter's friend who just moved to town/cousin I haven't seen in two years," suggestions must still be made. And I've realized that for most ages, I have defaults. (Obviously, these aren't the only suggestions I make, but they're my very frequent jumping-off points.)

Baby? Moo Baa Laa Laa Laa. Toddler? Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Preschooler? Pete the Cat. Brand-new reader? Frog and Toad. Ready for chapter books? Clementine. Teen? My Most Excellent Year.

Notice a gap? Yeah, me too. Somehow, I don't have default suggestions from my favorite section: Intermediate Fiction. Oh, there are many books I love to hand-sell out of that section, but there's no automatic "Oh, (s)he's 8/9/10/11/12? I know just the book!"

I have a few thoughts on why this might be. But I'm very glad in this case that blogging doesn't require conclusions.

Monday, March 21, 2011

When your imagination runs away with you

I just started Blink & Caution, by Tim Wynne-Jones, out this month from Candlewick. The first two chapters introduce us to Blink, a teen runaway who's learned how to use a stolen disguise as his ticket to a few days' worth of fancy-schmancy hotel breakfasts.

Smells like one of my old favorites.

I know this YA novel, with its bullet-holed cover (textured even on the ARC!), will be a very different experience from E. L. Konigsburg's comfy From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. But they have at least one thing in common in their appeal. Their main characters (and each novel needs two--a solitary runaway is far less interesting than a runaway relationship) aren't supposed to be able to manage on their own. But they do, at least for now. It's part creativity, part observation, and part luck, and young readers can imagine themselves mustering enough of all of those that they could do it, too.

In case anyone particularly young is reading this, I should be clear that I think running away from home is probably a bad idea. But reading about it and thinking of yourself as independent enough to maybe, maybe manage it? Well, that's probably healthy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The luck of the Ides

I knew there was another reason March 15 sounded familiar.

Looking back a year, I realize that starting a new venture on the Ides of March and naming that new venture Walk the Ridgepole may not have been the most auspicious beginning. But (and I'm knocking on my wooden nightstand in between moments of typing) I'm really glad I did.

In the past year, all your comments both on- and off-screen have made it clear to me that children's lit is still worth talking about and that there's plenty more to say. This seems like a good time to thank you for giving me a reason to do lots more of something I love: talk about children's books. It's also a good time to ask: Are there other topics you'd like to discuss or see discussed? Anything related to children's lit, reading, writing, or language is fair game.

As Anne said when she wasn't walking ridgepoles, "Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Oh, poor me.

A co-worker of mine likes to joke about "first-world problems." Oh, poor me, I saved these crackers for too long and now they're crumbly. Oh, poor me, I have so much to carry on my trip. One might also call these "good problems to have."

Well, I've realized I spend a lot of time concerned about how I'll never get through all the books I want to read. Because, you know, poor me, with my easy access to information about books that I might find interesting or useful, and my unlimited supply of free books from conveniently located libraries, and my advance copies, and the generous book lenders and gift-givers in my life, and, oh yeah, my job in a bookstore.

Also, I am burdened by literacy.

As Tevye might say, "May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover!"

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Cardturner has its game face on.

School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books is coming! Starting this month, a bunch of cool authors will apply whatever logic they see fit in comparisons of kids' books that were, in one way or another, "big" this past year. The books are matched up in brackets alphabetically by title, which creates a fun kind of randomness. Fiction is pitted against nonfiction, graphic novels against historical fiction, apples against oranges.

Seriously, wouldn't you click a link to Naomi Shihab Nye discussing the merits of the apple versus the orange?

I'm amused that R.L. Stine ended up with, arguably, the darkest books (how much darker can you get than A Tale Dark and Grimm and They Called Themselves the K.K.K.?). I'm excited to see Susan Patron's take on Hereville vs. Keeper; she's been through much less enjoyable literary battles with much higher stakes, and I promise not to picket if she doesn't pick my favorite. I can't wait to hear from... well, all of the judges, actually.

Another excuse to have some fun with kids' books and draw attention to some good ones? Let the battle begin!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Losses, wins, and Wakefield twins

"Children's Publishing Today" was the topic of the Bookbuilders of Boston/Emerson College forum I attended last night. Though the first two words always inspire warm fuzzies, that "today" bit made me a little wary. There's no doubt that the field is changing fast, and I kind of feared that we'd spend much of the evening looking at sales figures indicating that only apps need apply.

Panelists Yolanda Scott of Charlesbridge, Mary Wilcox of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Amy Pattee of Simmons College did talk about change. Many of the attendees raised questions that were relatively new, and both the questions and their answers got me thinking about the implications of technology's new roles in reading. But my fears of doom-and-gloom prognostications were not realized.

You see, all three panelists had plenty to say about the content of books. In such a rapidly changing market, it would be easy to focus mostly on keeping up and let those old concerns become a low priority, but phrases like "compelling characters" and "authentic voice" still came up plenty last night. At dinner afterward, a group of us kept talking about the state of the children's book world, and what kids are reading was at least as prevalent a topic as how they're reading it.

If that's not enough to put you in a good mood, get the hilarious Amy Pattee talking about Sweet Valley High. I can pretty much guarantee that'll do the trick.