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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Graveyard Book, again

Just want to clarify my own post: Just because The Graveyard Book might have NOT had been widely read by children around the country/world, does not mean that it is not a wonderful Children's Book. It is. It will take mind, heart, and soul of each child reader to truly appreciate this book, though.

I'm thinking of the three kinds of fiction reading that we do as readers (and maybe especially young readers?). (I just made these up, so bear with me.) (And I realize that they can also be the three kinds of writings/books -- so not just dependent on the readers, but the authors as well.)

The first kind is the visceral reading: that we read quickly, just gobbling down the words very easily, like wolfing down a thick slice of chocolate cake. We pay little attention to the word choices, to the deliberate rhythm of each sentence, or other "literary details" but what's going to happen next to the one or two main characters we care about. Some books/stories are created to elicit purely such visceral reactions. And many many readers, young or old, take great pleasure in reading such books, without having to stop and contemplate.

The second is the cerebral reading: that we read closely, conscious of all the craftsmanship mastered by the author -- the voice, the tone, the vocabulary, the ways characters are constructed, the beat of each sentence, etc. etc., to the point that we analyze and marvel as we read without emotionally affected by the work. This kind of reading is often found when people feel the need or responsibility when they "KNEW" before they started reading a book that it is supposed to be a very well written piece of literature, and they want to make sure that they have such and such title under their belt for discussion with others.

The third is the soulful reading: that we are greatly involved with the emotions, the settings, the plot and the world of the story, while at the same time, our souls take flight with the artistic achievements of such skillful telling! Our experiences as humans are enriched with such a reading.

I see The Graveyard Book as belonging to the 3rd kind of writing -- it has the potential to both delight and enrich any reader's life. I see Pullman's His Dark Materials and White's Charlotte's Web as two other prime examples.


Graveyard Book and the Newbery

Ok. I am SUPERBLY excited about The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, won the Newbery. But, I'd have to point out to all those who have been writing/thinking along the line of, "finally, a Newbery winner that has been very popular with kids -- see it's been on the New York Times Bestselling List for children, like, forever" that if you REALLY look into who have been reading The Graveyard Book (and see who the 15,865 Neil twitter followers, who attend his Graveyard Book reading events and bought the book then, and who have written to him on his blog about this book,) you can EASILY find that the book has been a lot more popular with his adult fans. The New York City Graveyard Book reading event that I attended had about 500 people in the audience and only about 10 (or fewer) of them were children.

My husband read the book aloud, and loved every moment of it, to our 10-year-old daughter who really enjoyed listening to this intriguing and beautifully crafted story. And some of my students have read it and thoroughly enjoyed it as well. But, that is not to say that The Graveyard Book has been extremely popular with children (at least, not like the trendy but not as delicately crafted Twilight Saga, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Warriors series, Princess Diaries, or Cirque du Freak series - and dozens of others)

The Graveyard Book won the Newbery because it contains linguistic nuances, humor, dramatic tension, vivid and memorable characters, and unique world building -- and because these qualities are recognized and awarded by the 2009 Newbery Committee members.

It seems to me insulting all around to imply that 1. the Newbery Committee members did not examine the work for its literary and artistic achievements, but simply went with a "bestseller" and 2. Neil Gaiman did not win the award for his fine literary craftsmanship but for being a popular kid author -- which, he has really not been and we don't know what the future brings.

Like I said, being a HUGE fan of Gaiman's and The Graveyard Book, I am tickled all colors of the rainbow to see that the book got the recognition it deserves, but, please, folks, do not jump to conclusions!

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Moribito, House in the Night, Graveyard Book, Oh My... in the BEST POSSIBLE SENSE!!!!

(a very small portion of the people waiting in line to get into the ballroom)

This is the step-by-step report from Denver Convention Center, at the Midwinter Conference of the American Library Association. We got here around 7:15 in the morning. The door opened around 7:30. There were about 800 people or 1000 waiting to storm in. We were a civilized crowd though, so we "strolled" in and only slightly rushed to the seats.

The Press Conference started by showing a celebration video for 40 years of Coretta Scott King Awards. Short video, very touching.

I'm so glad that this is not dubbed "The Academy Awards" of youth media any more. Just the "premiere" awards event.

We watched the slideshow of ALEX Awards. 10 titles of adult books for teens.

Schneider Awards were announced then. I'm really pleased that Waiting for Normal and Piano Starts Here both received the awards. (Although I think the dyslexia does not quite feature prominently in Waiting for Normal.) Lily is reading it right now.

Coretta Scott King Award

Kadir Nelson's illustration We Are the the Ship only received an Honor award for illustration. We were slightly surprised but I am very happy that Floyd Cooper's illustrations for The Blacker the Berry won the Award for illustrations!!! It is SO great.

But Nelson's writing for We Are the Ship, that is SOOO excellent, won him the CSK's author award! This one is amazing. Read it. Really READ IT!

I'm so happy for Hope Anita Smith's CSK honor of Keeping the Night Watch! And can't wait to read her new poetry collection featuring her own artwork, Mother (I think that is the title.)

Of course, all the others are wonderful titles as well.

The CSK committee did a splendid job!!!


Odyssey -- FIVE honor recepients! The winner is: Absolutey True Diary of an American Indian. Narrated by Sherman Alexie himself. It must be a superb recording. I can't wait to listen to it.

Edwards Award for Life Time Achievement in YA Literature goes to Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak and many other excellent titles.

The William C. Morris Award -- a new one for new voice in YA Lit.
This one has a short list of five, published widely a while ago.
The winner is A Curse Dark as Gold. I can't wait to read this and the other three I have not read. (Already read Graceling)

Printz Award

4 Honor Books

The winner is Jellicoe Road -- I have not even heard of this. An Australian import. Nina Lindsay totally endorsed this one. So, another to-read for me.


Pura Belpre Award

... was announced bilingually.
Three honor books for illustration.
The winner is desrvingly Yuyi Morales for Just in Case.

Three honor books for author
The winner is The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom" by Margarita Engle. Another one that I missed this year. I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS!!!

Arbuthnot Lecture Award is given to KT Horning!!!! My long time friend and mentor who taught me everything about serving on the ALSC Award Committees. I am so excited and thrilled and so inspired.


Honors go to Garmann's Summer and Tiger Moon. I absolutely adore Garmann's Summer. Need to read, Tiger Moon.

The Winner is MORIBITO!!!!! Yeah Arthur and Cheryl for their introducing this outstanding book and series to the American children!!

Sibert Award

Two Sibert Honors

Bodies from the Ice and What to Do About Alice. Two excellent books.

We Are the Ship by Nelson got this one, too!!! My friend Carol Philips chaired the committee.

Wilder goes to Ashley Bryan!!! And he's coming to Dalton for a pre-planned celebration of his new book next Tuesday. WOW.

Carnegie Medal goes to the video "March On! the Day My Brother Martin Changed The World".

Geisel Award

4 Honors: Chicken Said Cluck, One Boy, Stinky, Wolfsnail
Winner is: Are Your Ready to Play Outside by Mo Willems (An Elephant and Piggy book) OF COURSE!

Caldecott Award

Three honors: A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, How I Learned Geography, A River of Words. I FEEL SO vindicated! I LOVE ALL THREE.

Winner goes to The House in the Night -- I ABSOLUTELY ADORE THIS ONE, as well. So glad that they all will make the Notables List without my having to spend votes on them.

Newbery Award

4 Honors: The Underneath, The Surrender Tree, Savvy, After Tupac and D Foster

And the winner is Neil Gaiman for THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.

I am hyperventilating..... OMG!! This has been my hope for the this award all year long and I am SOOO grateful, yes, grateful, to the Newbery Committee for choosing this title. OMG OMG again.

This has been the most amazing year and Press Conference (after my own year on the Newbery, of course) with most wonderful selections.

Monday, January 12, 2009


GracelingAuthor: Kristin Cashore
Reading Level: 7th, 8th, and older

Pages: 471
Publisher: Harcourt
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

I absolutely loved this book -- against my initial somewhat negative reaction to the very plain and sometimes clumsy prose and exposition. (The "listing" of kingdoms/names and their relationships definitely, or starting two consecutive sentences with the word And, or slightly muddled sentences like this, "... as if he'd done nothing wrong, nothing completely and absolutely wrong." -- none of this held much promise.) And of course, since I was reading it with the Notable Children's books in mind, the one sort of heavy sex scene stood out as not entirely necessary at the time. (Although, a lovely scene.)

And then, something changed: the characters became real and vivid and completely compelling and the plot took some unexpected turns that caught even me, a veteran fantasy reader, by surprise. I could not put it down and rushed to find out what happened next. Here are some of my thoughts as I read it:

1. In some ways, this one reminds me of Twilight: with its two main young protagonists completely absorbed with each other, against all odds and other people's views over their "talents." But, it is somehow "anti-Twilight" in that these two made a choice to have a physical relationship without conforming to the socially acceptable norm.

2. In some ways, this one reminds me of Jane Austen -- I know it is a far cry -- in that the two characters are initially at odds against each other emotionally, even though they are completely attracted to each other. It also is much like many many Harlequin Romance novels in this aspect -- except, except that they reconcile their differences early on, not dragging or making that sexual/emotional tension into the entire focus of the story (THANK GOODNESS!)

3. In some ways, this one alleviated a little bit of my need to read something akin to George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series: there are several very surprising plot twists that made me go, "WHAT?" and almost drop the book! (Of course, SoIF is so much so much more complex and so much grander in so many ways...)

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