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Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Diamond of Drury Lane

The Diamond of Drury Lane (A Cat Royal Adventure)Author: Julia Golding
Reading Level: 4th to 7th grade

Pages: 424
Publisher: Roaring Brook
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

This is a winner! (Literally, too, since it did win the Smarties prize.)

Cat (Catherine) Royal is a charming, vivid, endearing, and plucky heroine. Readers really care about what happens to her and her friends. The host of friends are also drawn with details and depth. One can practically hear them speak and see them act and react to Cat's adventures. The clever device of having Cat being immersed and specially educated in the backstage of a theater gives credit to Cat's deft hand at recounting events and using words above her station in life. For example, on p. 89: (I cast around for some suitably Shakespearean language to impress them, not having in truth a clue what I was talking about) "the wickedness of treason, the sting of revenge, and the noble disinterestedness of love, all set behind the scenes."

The fast pace, the string of new obstacles, the many friendships between the characters, the gradual and satisfying unraveling of the truth about the Diamond, the breezy and energetic prose -- all contribute to make a completely enjoyable reading experience. I especially appreciate how Cat got into bigger and bigger trouble and deeper and deeper danger as the story moves along so that toward the end of the tale, you are really anxious to see how she gets out of this last huge scrape.

View all my reviews.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Rapunzel's Revenge

Rapunzel's RevengeAuthor: Shannon and Dean Hale; illus. by Nathan Hale

Reading Level: 4th - 7th

Pages: 144
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Edition: Paperback/Graphic Novel, 2008

It did not disappoint! Yeah! I had so much fun reading and looking at this book and its illustrations. Shannon Hale's telling, even with reduced amount of text due to the graphic novel nature of the book, is crisp and humorous, and with certain subtlety that amuses me, the adult reader, and yet not difficult to appreciate for young readers. (I had a 10-year-old girl today reading it and she absolutely loved the book -- then she found out that this is by the same author who gave her the pleasure of GOOSE GIRL and PRINCESS ACADEMY. She was thrilled!) The wild wild west setting is cleverly executed. I wonder how others react to the the references to the Native American cultures and characters -- personally I thought it's done very sensitively and much of it is conveyed visually -- so I also wonder how all that was communicated between the authors and the artist. What a fun tall tale we've got us here. I am so pleased!

View all my reviews.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

What's up with Normal?

In the past few years, I've noticed quite a few fiction titles for middle grade and middle school readers have the word NORMAL in their titles. Here's a list to help everyone keep them straight!

Back to Normal by Kate Klise (2008 - Scholastic)
Chasing Normal by Lisa Papademetrious (2008 - Hyperion)
Deliver Us From Normal by Kate Klise (2005 - Scholastic)
Far From Normal by Kate Klise (2006 - Scholastic)
The Last Exit to Normal by Michael Harmon (2008 - Knopf)
Looking for Normal by Betty Monthei (2005 - HarperCollins)
Not Exactly Normal by Devin Brown (2005 - Eerdmans)
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor (2008 - HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen)

And, of course there is the wonderful nonfiction, It's Perfectly Normal, and the YA Define Normal by Julie Anne Peters (2000 - Little Brown.)

I wonder if we collectively feel unsettled and abnormal and thus must find some way to either explain our abnormality or to rein


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Someone Save the Authors from Sloppy or Non-existent Copy-editing!!!

Although I am only talking about one book today, by way of an example, I am really ranting about a fairly wide-spread phenomenon in Children's Publishing of late -- that of a lack of careful copy-editing. Copy-editing is defined briefly as: to mark errors of spelling, grammar, punctuation and word usage to prepare the manuscript for final printing so each finished book is as error-free as possible. I am unsure whether there are still full-time copy-editing staff in most children's publishing houses these days (maybe someone can speak to this in a comment?) but from the number of errors one encounters in children's books these days, it seems that human copy-editing has become an obsolete art. If you have read a lot of recent children's books as I have done, you'll know what I'm talking about.

I just finished reading a very well-written and exciting story by Polly M. Robertus, entitled The Richest Doll in the World. It's a Holiday House 2008 publication. Judging from the font size and the length (129 pages,) I have no problem thinking of this book as for fairly beginning readers. Say, 2nd to 4th graders. It is even more inexcusable that the copy-editing is so sloppy! Here are a few page scans to illuminate my concerns. Before you read on and see for yourself whether this is a serious issue, I just want to say how sorry I feel for the author of this book. I can only imagine how much time, effort, hope, and heart went into writing, revising, and perfecting the telling of this entertaining and heartwarming story and yet, as a librarian, I cannot feel comfortable recommending this book to my young readers due to its poor copy-editing. I wonder if I am alone in feeling this way?

p. 18

You lust haven't tried hard enough...LUST?
I can just imagine how a 2nd grader reading this book asks her mom, "Mommy, what is LUST? I don't understand this sentence. What does 'lust haven't tried' mean?" Try explaining that one!

p. 26
Last time I checked (2 seconds ago,) the word "sidesh" has not made its way into the Merriam Webster Dictionary yet. (One would imagine that even a computer spell checking program would have picked up completely non-existing words and corrected the error. Did the production team not even bother with a once-over using a free program?)

These two are both from p. 34 -- and I was simply baffled by the abundance of commas...

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Today's quote

"Things have to end to give them meaning and shape. Without an end, something is a soap opera." -- Neil Gaiman on giving an end to the Sandman series, segment of interview on Globo News.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Two Quotes

A quick and easy definition: Science Fiction has rivets; Fantasy has trees. – Orson Scott Card (from the audio commentary of Ender's Game, audiobook edition, 2002)

"They are not just coloring out of the lines. Their pens are not even on the paper any more!" -- paraphrased from Thom Filicia, designer and host of Dress My Nest, the Style Network

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Quote of the day

I'm listening to Toole's A Confederacy of Duncies and have many occasions to chuckle or even laugh out loud -- although the many comical situations are also profoundly sad. Here's a quote for the day to show Toole's genius in characterization without getting into tedious details:

Miss Trixie was never perfectly vertical; she and the floor always met at an angle of less than ninety degrees.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Kung Fu Panda and Wuxia

Let me just come straight out and state that I really loved Kung Fu Panda, one of the summer's animated family movies set in a non-specific Chinese village, featuring all animal characters, ranging from Rhinos and leopards to pigs and praying mantis. Oh, and, a Giant Panda whose father, unfathomably, is a duck who is a chef and owns a noodle shop. I know that upon close examination, many people might find the story a bit superficial, and superficially mystical: about finding oneself and having faith in one's abilities and the whole "mystical" notion of fulfilling one's fate. It might be an outsiders' view of what Chinese martial arts world is all about but the creators of the movie did their homework and pay a lot of homage to the wuxia tradition.

Wuxia can be loosely translated to "martial arts knights" but the notion of WU is larger than just the practice of martial arts; it's a mind set and a way of life. So is the notion of XIA -- it often is not simply a person who has demonstrated talents in the arts of WU but also someone with great integrity and compassion, one who will help the less fortunate, and fulfill one's duty to the fullest. Wuxia Xiaoshuo (Wuxia Novels) has been a uniquely Chinese popular literary genre for the 20th and 21st centuries. A little more detailed explanation of general themes can be found on the wikipedia article on this topic.

One of the most fascinating elements, for me as a reader of wuxia xiaoshuo (I read wuxia most ardently during high school and college years) is the training processes of the protagonists. These tend to be unrealistically super-human -- one might learn to "walk on the top of grass" or to "defeat a dozen enemies barehanded and blind-folded," etc. That's why in my mind wuxia is closely resembling the western Fantasy novels. The creators of KFP definitely captured this aspect when Shifu (literally: Teacher/Master) figures out how to train Po and the audience is treated to a fantastic sequence of training sessions.

The movie is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack and gorgeous background artwork. The calligraphy is not only beautiful but accurate. However, in most wuxia stories, you will find people using many different kinds of weapons: from swords to spears, with "hidden weapons" such as small needles (sometimes dipped in poison) and poisonous powders. Weaponry and the inventiveness of such are also what the readers/audience tend to appreciate in a work of wuxia. Maybe the sequel will feature more than just body-combat and using random objects (bricks and firecrackers, for example) to fight.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Dystopia on My Mind

After reading Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Game, I've been mulling over the notion of a Dystopian novel. Have had some online and off-line discussions and realized that my definition of a Dystopian novel is very narrow but still want to hold on to that view because I believe that if it is too broadly applied, the power of the genre will cease to be as effective as it has been. Here's an IM chat transcript between me (F) and a former student who is now entering his senior year in high school (J). Slight edition was applied to the original format to make it more readable:

AIM IM with J.

J: Hey!
J: Happy 4th!
F: You too You too
F: So. Asking you a quesiton.
J: Yeah?
F: What do you think is a Dystopia?
J: ...Hmm. Well, WALL-E is dystopian.
F: how so?
J: It's a vision of the world where everything's gone to hell.
F: I have a very narrow definition of dystopia. That's too broad. That's just a BAD future
J: Alright. Well 1984 is dystopian. Yes?
F: Yes. Explain. Haha. This Is A Test!
J: Oh. So you subscribe to the theory that a dystopia must appear utopian.
F: I do.
J: I don't.
F: Then why bother using the term?
J: A dystopia is a world where everything is wrong. Look at the Greek roots.
F: I know.. but the word did not exist until 1868 according to OED
J: War of the Worlds is dystopian.
F: An imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible. That's the broad definition. I'm thinking of the literary tradition. The ‘dystopia’ or ‘inverted utopia’.I guess it can be so easily defined as a horrible future world (or current world.)
J: Yes.
F: Then, to me, the word to define a genre is almost pointless. 'cause anyone writing about the future with a bad government is writing a dystopian novel. Argh. ugh too.
J: Hmm. Well. You have a point, that it broadens the definition...
F: and ceases to be truly meaningful.
J: Although a bad government would never a dystopia make. Go see WALL-E and we can have a more intelligent conversation about this - seriously.
F: For me, the power of a dystopia novel is the presentation and conflict between what's SO GOOD on the surface with what's SO BAD underneath.
F: hahah. I will have to wait for Lily to get back to the city.
J: From the standpoint of a librarian, I see why you're right.
F: I promised not to see it until then.
J: From the standpoint of a student of Greek, I disagree with you.
F: Haha
J: Brave New World. Dystopian?
F: That's MEANT to be a Dystopian novel. So was 1984.
J: Fahrenheit 451?
F: But not sure about Blade Runner. I think 451 is. So is The Giver.
J: But Fahrenheit 451 isn't meant to be utopian. Giver - certainly. Well, Do Androids Dream is dystopian - haven't seen bladerunner.
F: That's why I said, "I think." 'cause I am not sure.
J: The Giver is a very archetypical dystopia. What about The Diamond Age?
F: Not Dystopian by a LONG SHOT. Neither are the Ender's series. The world is not perfect but nothing is so inverse. There has to be some form of "inversion"
J: I kind of thought the Chinese world in Xenocide was dystopian?
F: That's that particular world, maybe, but the entire series is definitely not concerning itself singularly that way.
J: I agree.
F: Matrix is not dystopian.
J: Oh? Why not?
F: Even though it does portray a world that is under such control.
F: I dont know.
J: btw, this question is awesome.
F: Why don't I think so?
F: Matrix -- 'cause I guess in some way the people who made the movie did not really have much to say about our society
F: As a literary genre, it serves a fairly specific function. Here's an example: Lord of the Flies. It's a little society that is as BAD as it can be.
J: LotF isn't a dystopia.
F: That's THE example. How it is not.
J: Well, I've stolen your view.
F: If by your original definition...
J: No, I've switched, irritatingly!
F: Haha
F: Ok.
F: I'm saving this convo for my blog.
J: Well, it's poorly-conceived Greek by your definition.
J: But I concede that, from a literary standpoint, your definition makes more sense.
F: HAHAH. thank you. very much.
J: Have you read The Plot Against America?
F: Now I can go to bed and sleep well and be told by someone else tomorrow that my definition makes NO SENSE.
J: Phillip Roth?
F: Nope.
J: Alright. lol, who's going to tell you that?
F: is that one?
F: Don't know yet.
F: I've been asking everyone I meet.
F: run into.
J: I think it's my lone example of a non-futuristic dystopia.
F: talk to.
F: cool.
F: For some reason, in my mind, there has to be some form of superficial utopian view by the masses to set up the stage for a dystopian novel to work. Or at least, to be effective or powerful. Without the contrast, it does not really function well.
J: If you want to interpret it that way, it's a perfectly legitimate view. So you would think the second half of WALL-E is dystopian, not the first half! ^_^
F: I just read a book for kids (or teens) where you see everything of a BAD society from the view point of a girl who ALWAYS thought of the society as bad and MANY others feel the same way 'cause they are on the BOTTOM of the society. And I simply couldn't peg this book as a dystopia 'cause there is no disillusion.
F: k. I look forward to the movie.
J: Snow Crash is a dystopia. Even if Diamond Age isn't.
F: Say if Brave New World is viewed through not an Alpha's pov but someone really low on the spectrum....
F: Nah.. Snow Crash is set in a future that is both good and bad and people have no illusion about what their society is about. It's a Cyper Punk
J: I disagree with that interpretation.
F: Already a sub-genre.
J: Cyber Punk can be dystopian!
F: I know *haha* Just want to yank your chains.
J: What's-it-called! The book by Gibson! Such a dystopia!
F: Neuromancer?
J: Yeah!
F: Hm... disagree. It's just very bleak world, like Blade Runner.
F: Bleak /= Dystopian
J: So you would think it's dystopian only from a Tessier-Ashpool point of view. Fantastic wealth, technological advances, theoretical happiness, but bleak = dystopian.
F: I'm thinking maybe one can define the WORLD as a dystopia some times without the book as dystopian. ?
J: Or parts of it, even...
F: I do think it depends also partially on how the author treats that world. The focus. Dystopian stories tend to be cautionary tales.
J: Parts of LotR are almost dystopian.
F: Nah. It's FANTASY.
F: hahahahaha
J: Fantasy can be dystopian, silly!
F: Disagree re LotR.
J: Minas Tirith is totally dystopian.
F: If that is then Narnia is, too
F: Not at all.
J: The greatest city in the world, where everything's perfect, rotting at its core?
F: Minas Tirith is just falling from grace, with one bad guardian.
J: A dystopia is a facade of perfection, yes?
F: That's just faded glory.
J: Under which lies great misery?
F: You're picking a small part of a grand picture to argue.
F: In MANY novels, you'll find such settings to help move the plot along or to create conflict.
J: yes. I agree. And Narnia isn't dystopia, just apocalyptic...
F: So, against the grand backdrop of LotR which is NOT a dystopian novel ...
J: Do you mean to tell me you can't have a utopian society in a non-utopian novel?
F: That's important to distinguish and I agree with your assessment that Narnia isn't dystopia (which was my point in the first place)
J: Lorien is a utopia. Yes?
F: Utopian is not a genre. We really don't have a body of literary work that we can say, "Hey, look, a list of Utopian Novels."
J: Sure we do. It's just one book, and it's by Sir Thomas More.
J: ^_^
F: That's why I don't believe that simply defining the word DYSTOPIA is sufficient in thinking about the literary device/genre.
F: it's not a BODY/LIST of books
F: You stand corrected!
J: Eh, fair point.
F: 'k. thanks. it's been fun.

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William Sleator's books

It was telling when Orson Scott Card, upon finding that I had read many of his books and not just the Ender series, got so excited and asked, "So, you must like William Sleator's books a lot?" and proceeded to gush over Sleator's work, specifically Singularity. I acted a bit dense and tried to high-five Card who told me that he's not the "high-five kind." ooops! But, our brief conversation reminded me how much I DID enjoy all the books I read by Sleator, and how much I appreciate that he not only creates gripping plot and probing philosophical and moral dilemmas, he also really gets in science right (at least according to the theories of the time when the books were written.) My favorite titles by him are Singularity, for its illuminating explanation of black hole and singularity and for its protagonist's emotional and moral struggle after he realizes that he can age himself and turn the table on his superior and sometimes bullying brother; The Boy Who Reversed Himself, for its vivid depictions of different dimensional worlds and the protagonists' grappling with adolescence and romance; The Green Future of Tyco, for its dizzying time-hopping scenes and Tyco's realization of how a person's past shapes his future and how one can become careless with one's actions and turn out to be quite despicable; The House of Stairs for its chilling social experiment and exposure of the darker sides (and some brighter sides) of human nature; Among the Dolls, for its creepy depiction of neglected dolls and their revenge upon the careless girl. And I can't talk about Sleator's works without mentioning how much fun my students and I have had for years now when we shared the jokes (gross, quite often) and humorous events (highly exaggerated, quite often) in Oddballs -- short stories based on his family stories.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

2008 Anaheim ALA Highlights in Pictures

I'm back home in warm and breezy New York City. It's beautiful here by the Hudson. The sun just set. And we saw many beautiful white sails on the river in the dimming sunlight.... Now it's time to upload some pictures from the ALA Annual Conference. I never remembered to bring a camera but this time, I did and boy did I go a bit crazy! I should have taken some pictures of the Notable Children's Books Committee but I got too nervous and too focused on "work" and never thought of capturing those moments which were super important. These pictures here preserved the moments that I relaxed and had fun with friends -- old and new.

But before the people pictures... see the carpet in the Ballroom of the Disneyland Hotel.... can you "Spy Mickey"?

Yes. Monica and I (and Nina) went to Disnleyland!

Peter Sis

Orson Scott Card

Nina Lindsay, Me, Candace Fleming, Eric Rohmann, Richie Partington at the Lucky Strike Bowling Lane (Orange Block)

Andrew Clements

Reunion with the 2002 Newbery Committee
(Kathy Odean, Ken Setterington, Louise Sherman, Jeri Kladder,
Patty Carleton, Me, Vaunda Nelson, Vicky Smith)

Lisa Falk, Vicky Smith, Elizabeth Overmeyer, and Kathy Odean

I also saw Joanne dinner and "glanced" and said hi to Deb. Junko is in Germany and Gail and Shron were not at the Conference.


Yup, it's me with the 2008 Caldecott Medal winner Brian Selznick. Our footwear matched!

2008 Newbery Winner Laura Amy Schlitz with Nina Linday, Newbery Chair.

2002 Newbery winner Linda Sue Park with me.

Me, Kathy, and Louise pre-banquet

Jonathan Hunt, friend, librarian, reviewer, and 2008 Printz Committee member Monica Edinger, friend, teacher, author, blogger of children's literature, and 2008 Newbery Committee member. At the banquet.

Me with Hope Anita Smith, poet, author of The Way A Door Closes and Keeping the Night Watch.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

In the Land of The Mouse

Writing this from The Anaheim Hilton. On a warm evening in Southern California. This is a strange land and I still feel a total stranger. The reason for me to be here? The many exciting things happening at the American Library Association's Annual Conference. Among these exciting things:

The 2009 Children's Notable Books Committee has met for the past three days, discussing the merits and concerns of 59 books for children from the Spring 2008 offering. I am so pleased to be on this committee, with ten other thoughtful readers and critics who really understand books and especially books for children. Here is the list of the books in excel form that we discussed from the ALSC Web Site.

The interesting and often illuminating conversations: with authors, illustrators, editors, critics and other librarians: Candace Fleming, Orson Scott Card, John Green, Peter Sis, Eric Rohmann, Linda Sue Park, Dinah Stevenson, Laura Godwin, Brenda Bowen, Anne Scwartz, Vicky Smith, Nina Lindsay, Monica Edinger, Jonathan Hunt, Elise DeGuiseppi, Martha Walke, Eliza Dresang, and many many others.

Of course, there was the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet to celebrate this year's award winners and honorees. Anyone who attended this year's Banquet would probably agree with me that the two speeches were magical, all done without the help of Mouse Ears or a Fairy's Wand. Here's a detailed blog entry by Wendie Old about the evening. Thanks to Tim Jones, Marketing Director at Henry Holt, I was seated with the coolest people in children's publishing: poets Nikki Giovanni and Anita Hope Smith, author/illustrator Laurie Keller, author Mary E. Pearson, publisher and author Laura Godwin, and editor Christy Ottaviano (who now has her own imprint!)

Some other personal highlights:

  • I want to publicly congratulate on a job so brilliantly done by Karen Breen and Nina Lindsay, chairs of Caldecott and Newbery Committees in their introduction of each title. It was a pleasure to listen to their descriptions of the books. And both of them looked so beautiful on stage, too!
  • Brian's "starry shirt" and silver boots were "the talk of the banquet hall!" I had the chance to capture both in pictures.
  • It was wonderful to hear Eeyore's Books for Children mentioned by Brian. He worked there. I did, as well: Brian on the West Side store and I on the East Side. (And he wasn't exaggerating when describing the somewhat demanding and difficult patron, either.)