Monday, December 26, 2011

'Tis almost the other season...

...ALA Youth Media Awards season, that is! The Caldecott, Newbery, Printz, and a number of other awards will be announced on January 23. A few thoughts, Part I:

Kadir Nelson's Heart and Soul, whose images stayed with me long after I closed the book, is my pick for the Caldecott.  That's not to say that there aren't legitimate contenders among more traditional picture books (or books in the Bricks by Brian Selznick genre), but I think Heart and Soul stands out both in the achievement of the art itself and in the way the art enhances the text. Whether or not it wins the Caldecott, if it doesn't win the Coretta Scott King, I'll (make a hat out of something edible and) eat my hat.

The Newbery field is more crowded, methinks. I'm pulling for Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs, which manages to be a great fantasy without losing any of the qualities of a great realistic novel - that is to say, it's both accessible and challenging to fans of both and makes total emotional sense. (It also does a great job of addressing things that need to be addressed more - race, divorce, depression - without being About Them. The first half of that probably shouldn't count in Newbery decisions, but the second half means it's good storytelling.)

For the Printz, if there's one novel that illuminates the young adult condition, it's Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler's The Future of Us. I don't think that's too broad a generalization - even if not all teens use Facebook, I would bet that at least most know what it's like to be concerned about one's future. The Future of Us approaches that natural concern in a thoughtful, well-plotted, often hilarious manner.

Stay tuned (or, um, stay on the Internet?) for Part II: The Awards for More Specific Stuff.

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's alive!

Death of the book, my sore feet. Death of the book, my hoarse handselling voice. Death of the book, my overflowing clipboard.

People are buying books.

They're buying them for their nieces and nephews and grandkids, their college friends' kids and their coworkers' kids, and their own kids (don't talk too loudly, he's right over there). They're asking about classics they remember from their childhoods and about what to give a kid who's read everything. (Breadcrumbs.) They know everything about the recipient and can describe exactly what they want (sometimes to the point that what they want doesn't exist); they've never met the kid. They want large, fancy gift editions; they want books that are easy to mail. Some have ten minutes' worth of questions before they even bring up the second sibling; some say "perfect!" to the first thing they hear described as "about right for an eight-year-old."

Luckily, most of these giving folks have enough residual goodwill to understand a chipper "I'll be right with you," and even more luckily, fellow booksellers jump in when necessary. It helps that it's the kind of store where we bring in food for each other all month, search for the perfect gift for our "secret gnomes," and even get store-sponsored massages.

The store is not a calm place right now, but by and large, I think it's a happy place. Which may be a symptom of a happier-than-we-thought industry.

Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

French the llama! something John Green says when he's excited. I suspect that he is these days, what with The Fault in Our Stars topping the bestseller list before its release, largely if not completely due to an army of Nerdfighters' excitement about his promise to sign all the preordered copies. (If I ever get carpal tunnel syndrome, I want it to be for a reason like that.)

And French the llama, I'm excited about this. A few friends and I are planning to fangirl geek out attend, and I'm equally excited to hear both the hosts of my favorite place on YouTube. If Hank sings, it will pwn n00bs.

There's lightness and levity surrounding the release of The Fault in Our Stars, which might seem incongruous for a book about teens with cancer. But John and Hank are good at combining the silly and the serious. For all its references to puppy-sized elephants, Your Pants, and even Humpy Hank, their vlog's major goal is to "decrease world suck." They bring attention to things in the world that ought to change, from local attitudes (if there's such a thing as local on the Internet) to global crises, and they get teens mobilized within a community that accepts them, which isn't always a given for Nerdfighters.

It's a good time to be nerdy.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The reinvention of Hugo Cabret

"So what's this Hugo movie about?"
"Oh, the book is really cool! Parts of it are told in images instead of text, so reading it is kind of like watching a movie."
"Oh. Huh. But what's it about?"

The Invention of Hugo Cabret tells a good story, but when I talk about it, I usually focus on the aspect that made it so fresh when it came out: its form. Reading it really does feel like watching a movie, but it also feels like you're a real reader who can get through a a gigantic book (which does have sizable passages of text), and more than one customer has praised it to me as the book that infused his or her child with reading confidence. What happened to Hugo, though interesting, seemed less important than all that. (I'll admit that although I think Selznick is immensely creative, I can find his prose to be a little stilted and distancing, particularly in Hugo, which is probably part of why I didn't embrace the plot or characters on my first encounter.)

My first response to the announcement of Scorsese's production was, "But it already works like cinema. How are they going to turn it into a plain-old movie?" The answer, I found out yesterday, is that the story is awesome enough to stand on its own. With the elimination of the need for narration, all the words in the movie are dialogue of the sort that reveals, and usually endears, the characters, and everything else is left to the visual. And it turns out that a story largely about movies--silent movies, at that--is better the more visual it gets. Scenes depicting once-wondrous, now-cheesy pre-World War I films are, in my generation's parlance, uh-mazing in a way the book couldn't be expected to show.

Go see Hugo, guys. And then, come home and read Wonderstruck.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Conquerors of NaNo, explain yourselves! (Please.)

First of all, congratulations to all of you who completed NaNoWriMo!

NaNo, for the uninitiated, is a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. It's a really cool idea, and obviously, it assumes that most writers will leave revisions for December and beyond and just focus on getting words onto the page. That, I understand.

What's harder for me to wrap my mind around is where planning fits in. Even if I go into a project with a good idea of what's going to happen, I find that the first few chapters are the slowest going. At that point (and I've heard other writers say this as well) every line involves decisions that will affect the rest of the novel - what kind of character is the person who's about to say something, even a basic something? How does the narrator feel about every person and concept that comes to his or her attention? Once I get past these questions, I can produce volume faster, but in order to do NaNo, I think I'd need to spend October producing thirty pages and an outline.

So, NaNo champions, I'm curious - how do you do it? Do you do lots of planning before the month begins? Do you jump in and make notes as you go if you change your mind about major plot elements or character traits? Do you make a rule that doubts have to shut up until December?

I'm impressed, guys. And very curious.