Sunday, August 25, 2013

Seeing Red, Alice, Sean Rosen, Better Nate Than Ever, and first award prediction of the year

Another round-up of good recent reads:

Seeing Red, by Katherine Erskine. I'm surprised I haven't heard more about this one, out in October. Katherine Erskine's writing process seems to involve putting a character in a tough situation, finding several ways to make the situation tougher, and then challenging the character to do the right thing. In this case, Red, who lives in 1972 Virginia, has just lost his father and is desperately against his mother's plan to take the family back to her home state of Ohio. That desperation makes him willing to do anything (he thinks) to prevent the sale of their land, but that "anything" turns out to include using race. Red gets caught up in things he doesn't believe in, and ends up a reluctant participant in a scene that amounts to kids playing at KKK-type activities. There's no permanent physical damage, but the images are frightening nonetheless, and I admire Erskine's willingness to show how a generally sympathetic character can be driven to do something evil, and then to stick with that character through the fallout. This is upper-middle-grade, and I think I would've been ready for it around 11 or 12.

On a very different note, several omnibuses of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Alice books have recently come my way, so I've been catching up on my Alice in preparation for upcoming series finale. I'm sure I'll have more to say once I've finished the series, but oh, Alice, I'm glad you're there in all your sometimes ridiculous and didactic glory.

I Represent Sean Rosen is a fun and silly middle-grade novel about a kid who has a cool idea for Hollywood, but no idea how Hollywood works. Think of him as a slightly more successful Timmy Failure, and though it's not quite semi-graphic, parts of it are written in screenplay form, which breaks up the text. Between that, the humor, and the Hollywood connection, this could be a great light read for readers on the reluctant side. I'll very likely recommend it the next time a parent begs me for "something that isn't Wimpy Kid" (while I praise Wimpy Kid as a gateway series).

Better Nate Than Ever is another story about a kid with grand showbiz dreams, one who sneaks off to New York to try out for a Broadway musical. I did a lot of you're thirteen and innocent and practically penniless and alone in New York, you brave idiot panicking for the poor kid, but I also did a lot of nodding. Because this is a middle-grade novel about a boy who's getting teased about maybe being gay, and who isn't quite sure whether he is or not, but who is reassured to see same-sex couples walking around openly in New York. With the exception of the graphic novel Drama, I haven't seen this topic covered at length for an audience younger than YA. (Books showing gay parents and other adults are a valuable thing, but they're a different thing from this.) I have thoughts, lots of them, about how children's lit as a whole portrays boys with nontraditionally male interests, but that's a topic for another post (probably in the near future). For now, I'll just say that this is one of the types, though not the only type, of book I'd like to see more of.

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata shows a family of Japanese-American migrant workers. Summer, age 12, has a lot to put up with, beginning with a prickly grandmother whom I kept wanting to shake. There's a lot of humor and a lot of originality in this one - how many novels have main characters obsessed with bug spray because they've just recovered from malaria? A great glimpse into the modern migrant working culture, which I hadn't known much about, and also a great story.

Finally, if Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane doesn't win an Alex Award, I'll eat a bug. (There are, like, chocolate grasshoppers or something to get me out of this if I need it, right?)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Fasten your Backseatbelts...

NPR released its "Ultimate Backseat Bookshelf" this week - its recommendations of "books that every 9- to 14-year-old should read," in the words of the call for listener suggestions. That phrasing sticks in my craw; I'm sure the intent was to highlight the awesomeness of the books, but it comes off as prescriptive, and if there's one thing I'd love all whatever-to-whatever-year-olds to learn, it's that they can make reading into whatever kind of experience they want by choosing their own reading material.

And once you get rid of that "should" business, it's a great list that sends exactly that message. Like the extensive summer reading list from our local schools, this list is broken into categories that practically scream, "You get to spend your reading life on whatever kinds of books you want!" You like magic? The NPR list has a "Fantasy Worlds" category. Prefer a cozier read? Try something from the "Family Life" list. Graphic novels count. So does nonfiction, with or without lots of pictures (or adolescent snark from a certain young diarist). You can read about kids whose backgrounds are like your own or different from your own, whoever you are. You can read a book that says "ages 9 to 12" when you're 8 or 13, and you can skip a book that doesn't look interesting and, if you want, come back to it when you're 29 or 92.

"Must-read" in the sense that we might call a summer blockbuster a "must-see?" Heck yes. I just hope no one's looking at that list as "must-read" in the homework sense.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Preview time!

Is it just me, or are there a lot of cool projects on the horizon?

Here's one: Laurie Halse Anderson and artist Emily Carroll are adapting Speak into a graphic novel. There's so much that's visual about this story, and I imagine the new format will highlight the contrast between Melinda's silence and everyone else's chatter. Just look at that piece of sample art in the article linked above. I really think this has the potential to be something special. Tentatively Fall 2016 (which makes me think they're putting a lot into it.)

So does the Hallmark Channel's upcoming film of The Watsons Go to Birmingham -1963 (film title simply The Watsons Go to Birmingham). What I love about Christopher Paul Curtis, especially in this book, is his power to create absolutely hilarious characters who are loveable in completely three-dimensional ways. When history happens in his books, we care that it's happening because we care about the people it's impacting. My sense from this featurette is that the movie remembers to emphasize all that; I see loving family scenes, I see Byron's tongue frozen to a car window, and I see the serious aspects of the book, too. (September 20) (Fear not, fellow lackers of cable - it looks like there will be a DVD.)

And then there's Dear Mr. Watterson. The first person who says anything in the trailer talks about how Calvin and Hobbes got him to read. Sounds like a movie after my own heart. (November 15)

I'm not saying the summer should end any faster. I'm just saying good stuff is coming afterwards.

Friday, August 2, 2013

And what would *you" steal from a children's book?

This week, I've been getting my background noise from the Kidlit Red Carpet. Interviewers Jim Averbeck, Betsy Bird, and Kristin Clark spend blessedly little time grilling Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet attendees about their outfits, instead getting actual interesting information out of them. Many of the authors and illustrators revealed their upcoming projects, some of which were new to me. For instance, did you know Brian Selznick is working on another book in the style of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck? The word "trilogy" came up (in terms of "structure" and "theme"), and if this one has another one-eyed spine, the S-shelf is going to look a little creepy... but seriously, I can't wait. (And yes, that's what face-outs are for.)

Daisy of Chris Raschka's A Ball for Daisy is getting another book, and Patricia Polacco has a new companion coming out to the 25-year-old The Keeping Quilt. Katherine Paterson and her Brother Son, Sister Moon collaborator Pamela Dalton have a beautiful-sounding new book about how people give thanks around the world. Sheila Turnage says her protagonist keeps giving her sequels; we'll see Three Times Lucky heroine Mo LoBeau at least three times. And Leonard Marcus has a new biography of Randolph Caldecott, who sounds like he was quite a character himself.

In honor of the high-profile theft in current winner This Is Not My Hat, the interviewers asked the passing luminaries what object they would most like to steal from a Caldecott winner/any picture book/any work of children's literature; the parameters changed a few times. If the answer is limited just to Caldecott winners, I think I'd have to go for Sylvester's magic pebble and just use it very, very carefully. If the pilfered item can come from anywhere in kidlt (and not necessarily American kidlit), then the real question is which magical gadget I would steal from Harry Potter and friends. Hermione's time-turner, I think. Of course, there are other magical worlds full of goodies, and Lyra does have an alethiometer, though I might first have to steal Will's knife to get to it... Maybe I should just keep it simple and, in the tradition of a Klassen character, steal a snazzy hat.

If you need me, I'll be sneaking through the pages of Go, Dog, Go.