Hi, I'm Mrs. F-B!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Spirit Seeker John Coltrane's Musical Journey, Gary Golio, ill.Rudy Gutierrez

Guess where I saw this book?  Yep, on another Caldecott list, and this one is up there in my estimation.  Meaning?  Yep, you guessed it again, it probably has no chance.

But it is awesome and you should definitely read it if you are
*interested in music, especially jazz
*looking for a picture book biography with a little meat
*interested in spirituality
*interested in stories of recover from drug an alcohol addiction
*interested in black history

I really knew nothing about John Coltrane before I read this book, and now I could tell you many, many interesting facts about his challenging and oh, so gifted life.  John Coltrane grew up surrounded by music but faced some devastating family losses at a fairly young age. He struggled for most of the rest of his all too short life to overcome the addictions to drugs and alcohol.  Ultimately, he found that spirituality and music provided the solace he needed to survive, and he sought to share those gifts with the world. Sadly, he died at just 40 years old from cancer, likely as a result of the drug and alcohol abuse.

The story itself is very, very interesting.  It's well told and is much longer than many picture book biographies.  Each page has one or two paragraphs of information. There is additional information in the author's note as well. But what brings this book to the top for me is how the art in this story adds another dimension to the storytelling. At times it's bright, others, dark, but always powerful and engaging. There's lots going on in every illustration. Sometimes I found myself so sidetracked by the art that I had to go back and re-read the text because I hadn't really absorbed it.  The pictures convey mood beautifully as well as plot.  Another reviewer (clearly one way smarter than I), described it this way, "Wisely, Golio lets the pictures carry the melody while his text supplies the backbeat." Booklist (November 1, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 5))

This book is gorgeous as well as being informative and is suitable for older elementary school as well as middle schoolers looking to get information about this jazz giant. Watch for it on the podium in January!

Just found THIS link to an interview with Gary Golio talking about the book!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Crow, Barbara Wright - a Newbery contender?

This historical fiction set in 1898 in Wilmington, NC, was a fascinating read and taught me a whole lot about a horrible historical event I'd never even heard of: The Wilmington Massacre.  This book is on Newbery contender lists and ballots all over the country. I, however, am thinking it's more likely to win a Scott O'Dell historical fiction award and/or a Coretta Scott King.  It's definitely award worthy, but I'm not so sure, as I have seen other reviewers mention, that this book meets this guideline for the Newbery:

b.Committee members must consider excellence of presentation for a child audience.

The story is told in the 1st person by 11 year old Moses Thomas, an African American boy born to a black father and a mixed race mother who can pass for white.  Moses' grandmother, Boo Nanny, plays a large part in the story as well. Aside from the clear "white people against black people" issues, there are many race issues in this story that would not be clear to child audiences who were not reading this without guidance from an adult, particularly child audiences in the younger age range.  Even the title Crow, which refers t Jim Crow laws that were not yet in place, is likely to be a reference lost on many child readers. Again, I am no judge of the judging, as it were - my choice never wins - but it seems to me that this book will be held back from the Newbery for this reason IF the judges seriously take that into account.  There have been other winners that I felt didn't meet this criteria either, though, so we'll just have to wait and see.

However, like I said, it should win a Scott O'Dell award for historical fiction. It's an excellent presentation of an event that should be told. The storyline of the coup staged by white residents to overthrow their town government is exciting and suspenseful, at times even terrifying.  The characters are well developed, particularly Moses, his father, and Boo Nanny, but even some of the minor characters who have few appearances in the story are skillfully created to shine. 

I keep catching myself thinking how imposible this situation seems, and then realize once again that it's based on a true story and that while there are now laws in place to prevent coups, and while the majority of people of every color do live in harmony in our country, it's not entirely the case, and that's why books like this are so important.  We need to have some radical stories highlighted t illustrate what racism can lead to and why we need to fight it at every opportunity.  This story definitely highlights bullying in addition to racism.

I'll be looking for at least one shiny sticker on this book come January.  Have you read it?  What do you think?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

More possible Caldecotts???

More books this wek with Caldecott hype behind them.   First up was Chloe by Peter McCarty - This is a very cute book with simple drawings and a sweet story of family togetherness and the fun you can have when everyone plays together.  My favorite illustration is a circle of all the kids with Chloe in the middle (Chloe has ten older siblings and ten younger.  Chloe is in the middle.).  My other favorite is the page where, "...everyone came to the table for  peas, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, asparagus, noodles, and sweet potatoes, all their favorite foods."  For some reason I just loved the inclusion of asparagus and noodles.  The other thing I really love about this book is that the kids do not love TV.  They'd prefer to play in the box the TV came in. I wish more people recognized this!

Next I read A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead - Vernon the Toad finds a bird - it's clear from the drawing it's not real, but that's not clear to Vernon.  Vernon takes the bird everywhere, but the bird never talks.  Vernon is worried.  He wants to find a home for bird so he's happy.  He tries al kinds of different places and finally floats away with bird in a "hot air balloon" (see book cover). There, miraculously, he finds a perfect home for bird. I liked this book, its cute and funny, and I know kids will enjoy it, but again, it's not beating my other choices for the Caldecott.

The third book in this grouping was Jazz Age Josephine, story Jonah Winter, Marjorie Priceman, illustrator. This picture book is a biography of Josephine Baker.  I'ts a bit of a melancholy story, really, of an African American singer and dancer who wasn't happy with the work she could find in the US, in part because she was forced to do blackface. African Americans definitely did not enjoy equal opportunities at that time. Josephine finally gave up and fled to Paris where she was an instant success during the height of the Jazz age.  Still, she longed for home, but she never moved back I did love the illustrations in this book and how color, and lack of, convey the mood beautifully.  My favorite pages are a bright two-page spread of the Eiffel Tower when she arrives in Paris that require reader to turn the book. The book ends with an author's note with more historical info about Josephine that I found helpful because I wanted more information.  I'm not convinced the text in this book is "distinguished" enough for the book to win the Caldecott medal, however, but I do think it will win something.  Caldecott Honor maybe?  Or surely a Coretta Scott King medal of some sort.  Your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Caldecott winners??

Recently I read three more books that have some Caldecott buzz around them.  Honestly, as I've said before, I just really don't get the Caldecott. Or any of the awards, honestly.  What ARE they looking for?  Who knows.  All I know is what I like.  Of these three, I liked Step Gently Out the best because it was kind of different, which most likely means it won't win anything at all.  I liked Extra Yarn next which some people say won't win because the girl holds her knitting needles wrong.  But as a beginning knitter, can I just say, people, cut her some slack.  She's a magic knitter - there oughta be some options.  And I liked and then it's spring (no capitals on the book cover, so no capitals here) fine, but it didn't wow me, so it will probably win the whole darn thing.

Step Gently Out is a poem by Helen Frost accompanied by photographs by Rick Leider.  Two things I love, and two things not often put together, and so, from what I can tell, two things that will sink it's ship.  Or, maybe, two things that will give it the leg up to win. The photos are all macros (close-up) of things you find outdoors - ants, bees, caterpillars, grasshoppers crawling on sticks, grass, flowers, etc.  The photos are vivid and tack sharp but soft at the same time.  Just perfection.  I wonder how many shots the photographer had to take to get these.  As a photographer I especially appreciate how challenging this must have been with teeny, tiny moving animals.  And the accompanying text is also so lovely.  If our kids aren't getting enough time outdoors, at least they can explore through this beautiful book.  I hope it gets something.  There should be a photography book award for kidlit.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen (I Want my Hat Back)is about Annabelle and her box of magic yarn of every color.  Or is it the box that's magic?  Hmmm.  Point to ponder.  In any case, the yarn never runs out, and Annabelle knits sweaters for everyone (and everything - even pickup trucks!)  She won't give up her yarn even for the million dollars offered to her by the greedy archduke!  The yarn is very important because it brings color to everyone's life in an otherwise very black (soot) and white (snow) existence.  The storyline is simple and sweet, focused on kindness and giving. The illustrations are soft and gentle and I enjoyed them very much, but they didn't WOW me like the illustrations in Green or the photos in Step Gently Out.  Also, for some reason, I didn't love the pattern in the sweaters which is nitpicky and stupid, but also true (for me).  One thing I know kids will love about the illustrations is this book if they're fans of Jon Klassen is that there are some cameos in this book from his other works. That's pretty cool.

and then it's spring was written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin Stead who won the Caldecott medal in 2011 for A Sick Day for Amos McGee. since she's already won a Caldecott, I feel a little less bad about saying I don't think this one will win.  It's not that it's not good or that I don't like it, either.  It's just that I don't think it's as good as some of the others.  We've already established, however, that I know nothing about this whole process, so maybe it's better than all of the others.  Much of this book is illustrated in brown because it begins in winter when a boy and his dog decide they've had enough of winter and it's time to get on with the growing of things.  To that end, they plant some grass seeds and wait for them to grow.  And wait. and wait, and wait.    I'm not the most patient person, so I could relate to their frustration with the waiting.  I wonder if it even affected my reading...In any case, on the waiting pages there's just a splash of color - a raincoat, an umbrella, a little red house. Of course spring does come, and with it more brightness, color, and the joy of watching the earth come to life.  Like I said, I don't think it's going to win a medal.  But if it does, I won't be disappointed because this is a good book, a good story, and it has lovely illustrations.

Grown-up books

Recently I've read a few grown up books.  One was for pure fun, one was for book club, and one was, well, not for fun exactly because it sounds weird to read a book about murder for fun, doesn't it?  same with recreation or relaxation...so, well, I read it because I like to be a little bit scared when I read sometimes and I like a good mystery.

Size 12 and Ready to Rock, Meg Cabot  This is the Heather Wells mystery I read just for the fun of it.  this is the most recent in the Heather Wells series and it's just a light, fun mystery/romance series by the ever delightful Meg Cabot.  I've read al the other books in this series and I really enjoy them.  Wherever Heather Wells goes, it seems murder follows - usually onto the college campus where she works.  If I were the higher ups, I think I'd be considering firing her, but what would be the fun in that?
Recommended for fans of Janet Evanovich.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan was my book club book last month.  Loved and hated this one.  The story was fascinating, but everyone in our group was so frustrated with the choices that the main character made. And I think we were even more frustrated than we might have been if it was pure fiction because we knew it was based on a true story and that the main character, Mamah  Borthwick Cheney,  left her husband and her children for another man, Frank Lloyd Wright.  It's hard to know how much of this story was actually what happened because it is historical fiction, though. As I said, though, the story was fascinating.  If you like historical fiction, I'd highly recommend this one.

The Ice Princess, Camilla Läckberg is for people who like to be scared, although it's not nearly as scary as, say, a Chelsea Cain book.  Good mystery with plenty of red herrings that you're pretty sure are red herrings but then again, maybe they're not. I was surprised by the ending, but not especially sure that this direction was the best choice the author could have made.  It was interesting.  If you like mysteries, this is a good one.  I want to read some more of hers and compare them. I listened to this on audio.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor

I waited forever to read this book - not sure why - but I'm actually really glad I did because the sequel jut came out, and I'd have been dying if I had to wait around for a year or more for it after reading this one.  Holy camoly was this story good.

It was a little weird, too, I'll say that for it. It's a fantasy, after all.  And I think that's maybe why I shied away a bit.  I'm not a big fantasy fan, as you know, so some of the language and the strange names were hard for me to adjust to.  Honestly, for the first few chapters I as feeling a little lost and I didn't love it.  I liked it, but I wasn't 100% in.  But once I got used to the language, I really, really liked it.  110% in by the end!

I love the way Laini Taylor wove and layered so many levels of the plot together.  It was fascinating to try and figure out how A was related to B was related to C and so on.  And it was VERY complicated.  I'm amazed someone could sit down and come up with all this.  I have no idea how she did it.  I love how the title fits with the story.  I love her word choice.  I love her strong female protagonist.  I love her descriptions.  Did she get to go to Morocco to research this?  I wanna know.

So lucky for me that the next book in the series is out now.  It's called Days of Blood and Starlight, and I am so looking forward to it, although I am worried about Karou and what she'll find!  Here's the cover -  just as gorgeous as the first one was. It was #4 on the New York Times bestseller list last week.  Hurrah for Oregon authors!

Elizabeth Rusch titles - Will It Blow, The Planet Hunter, A Day with No Crayons, Girls' Tennis, For the Love of Music, The Mighty Mars Rover

Author Elizabeth Rusch is an Oregonian who has a writing resume that is quite varied!  She's written book and magazine articles.  She writes fiction and nonfiction.  She writes about sports and art and music and science.  It's pretty amazing that she does all these things and does them all well!

Recently I met her at a conference and before the conference I read nearly all her children's books.  I loved exploring the world of Mozart and music in the book she wrote about Mozart's sister, actually, called For the Love of Music.  I loved exploring Mars in her book The Mighty Mars Rover, especially since that book came out right around the time we were landing Curiosity on Mars, and I really enjoyed learning about why poor Pluto got demoted from being a planet in The Planet Hunter.  Her fiction book A Day with No Crayons was super fun, and the volcano books were also quite interesting.  But the book I loved the most was Girls' Tennis.   I started playing tennis this last year, and I really am having fun with it (well, less fun in the rain...), so it was cool to read about these really rock star women of tennis.

Elizabeth said that when she was young she had all kinds of ideas about what he wanted to be when he grew up, and that choosing this career path has allowed her to sort of be all those things, if just for a little while, as she researches and writes.  That's a pretty cool thing.  So if you're not sure what you want to be when you grow up, keep this profession in mind!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Green, Laura Vaccaro Seeger - will it win the Caldecott?

This book has had some hype surrounding it as to whether it might win the Caldecott this year.  To be honest, I've NEVER really figured out the method to the Caldecott committee's madness when it comes to choosing a winner, but I do know what I like, and I like this book.  So do a lot of other people.  But it's what people in the know,  apparently, call a"concept" book.  Basically, it explores a concept (the color green in this case) instead of telling a story, and I guess those kinds of books don't really win.  But then there's always an exception and a new committee, and they could just do anything, so who knows.

Actually, I have to admit, when I first read this book, I was kind of surprised there was so much hype about it. I mean, it's a cool book and all, but it's just green.  Except it's totally not JUST green. You see, this book has little cutouts on every page, and the cutouts match perfectly with the picture on the  previous or following page to fill in the space with precisely the right color. for example, there's a page with some limes on it, and one of them is missing a segment, but then the color in that space on the next page perfectly fills in the lime, AND it's a perfect part of the picture on the next page which is totally nothing to do with the lime.  On another page it's a pea; on another, some tiny, nearly iridescent moths; on another, delicate yellow daisies.  She even has a few pages where tiny brushstrokes on the previous page spell out words that go with the next pages.  It's amazing.  There has also been some criticism of the lightning bugs page which some people think will take the book right out of the running because they don't match perfectly.  Everyone's a critic, hey? Yeesh!  Whether it wins or not, I still think it's fantabulous.

You can read more about the controversy on the super smart Betsy Bird's blog here and she has a link there to yet another blogger's thoughts over at Calling Caldecott.  Pick up the book and let me know what you think!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I got to meet so many fun authors recently!

Hard to believe that in the space of just a few weeks I had a chance to hang out with four fantabulous authors!  Authors are like rockstars to librarians, you know, and it was way fun to get a chance to talk to these people whose work I admire so much and who make such a difference in the lives of children.

First I got to spend a whole day with the very fun and sassy Amber Keyser, who visited Highland Elementary School.  She talked to the kids about her books Paddle My Own Canoe and her Max Axiom graphic novels.  In the evening she even helped students make their own comics.  It was a super fun day.  Unfortunately, somehow I never got a photo of me with amber.  Tragic.  I got lots of great ones of her, though, such as this one where she's showing the her own childrens' canoe paddles to the audience .

At my library conference I had the chance to meet and talk with Oregon author Elizabeth Rusch who's written several books, both fiction and nonfiction for elementary readers.  Her lastest book is The Mighty Mars Rover : the Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity. Amazing story, amazing book.  I loved hearing her talk about what she wanted to be when she grew up and then seeing how she made all of those things happen through her diverse collection of writing topics - from art to music to science to sports.  Writing provides some pretty amazing opportunities for the right person.  I also might have the chance to work with Liz later this year on another book she's doing, and I'll definitely post about that if it happens. Exciting stuff.

Young adult author Chris Crutcher was also at our conference, and since he has long been one of my favorite young adult authors, it was really fabulous to have him there.  He's got such a gift for tackling difficult issues and making connections with readers, the theme of our conference - making connections.   He also uses humor in his books, which I love and which I think is what makes his books work. If he just tackled these heavy issues without the humor, they'd be pretty hard to take.  He's super funny in person, too.  If you ever get to meet him, ask him if he wants to do something neat...

Finally, this week I was invited to hear young adult author Libba Bray, winner of the Printz Award, no less, speak.   She was super funny, which I should not have been surprised by, because the last book I read of hers, Beauty Queens, and her Printz book, Going Bovine, were both hilarious.  She was speaking to kids when I heard her, and she was just fantastic with them.  Engaging and fun but also pretty serious at some times. It was a treat to get to listen to her for an hour and to actually meet her.  I'd actually had a conversation with her on Facebook about Beauty Queens earlier, so that made it extra special for me.

So it's been a great few weeks for me, as you can see.  Any authors wanting to meet me this week? Leave me a note in the comments. I'll have my people call your people!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater

Loved, loved, loved this audiobook that I checked out from Multnomah County Library based on the recommendation of one of the women in my adult book club.

This is a story told in alternating chapters (or if not alternating every chapter, at least every few chapters) - one chapter by a boy narrator and one by a girl.  Both the readers on the audiobook are excellent. I could listen to that Sean Kendrick reader all day long!

Sean Kendrick is the odds on favorite to win the Scorpio Races this year because he's won it already for the last several years.  Puck Connolly, the first girl to ever enter the races is not.  The Scorpio Races are a horse race, but most of the riders ride on very special horses, water horses, who come from the ocean and have a drive to get back to the water as well.  They're fierce and frightening, and will kill a person or another horse as likely as not.  Puck doesnt' have a water horse, she has no money, she has no training, and many, many people do not want her riding this race.  Sean Kendrick has everything he needs to win, of course, since the owner of his horse is extremely wealthy, but there is one person who definitely does not want Sean riding this race, either.  The two make an  unlikely friendship, and perhaps more (it is the ever romantic Maggie Stiefvater, after all) as they prepare for the competition.

The story draws from ancient folklore but author Maggie Stiefvater said she realized she could pull only what she wanted from the ancient tales, and she didn't need to use it all, so it's more her own talewith elements of the old stories within it. I am generally not the biggest fan of the magical, but this story had enough of the real in it to be extremely appealing to me.  It had incredible tension that was built on many fronts, and it kept me wanting to read (listen) at every opportunity.

I highly recommend this book to middle schoolers and up.  It's a fantastic ride (pun intended, it couldn't be helped)!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

This book was also provided by ABDO as a digital title for preview.

I found this 40 page biography to be a good overview biography of President Obama.  It has information about his childhood, his school life - both elementary and high school as well as college and law school - his career before politics and, of course, his political career.

The biographical portion of the book ends with this election and inauguration and does not talk about the four years since he took office.

The book includes lots of photographs of President Obama and his family members throughout his life.

The last ten pages of the book have general information about the US government, such as the branches of the government, who's in line for the presidency if something happens to the president, a list of all the presidents, etc., and then a glossary and some suggested web sites for further research.

This book was provided in a middle level bookshelf, and it seems like a very appropriate resource for middle schoolers looking for good background information on Barack Obama.

The Adventure of Abbey Grange

I recently received a free trial from ABDO books of some of their online publications, and this was one of the titles I read.  It's a graphic novel of a Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of Abbey Grange", one of the 56 original Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir ArthurConan Doyle.

Since this is the story in graphic novel format,  it is re-told in a much shortened form.  I have read a lot of Sherlock Holmes' stories, and they generally have quite a lot of detail in them, although the reader is, of course, also forced to make a lot of conjecture to try and solve the story in the way Holmes does in his mind.  I felt this re-telling perhaps made the reader do even more than normal.

I enjoyed the GN format much more reading this book than I have in the past, and I think it was because I had just heard author Amber Keyser speak last week about graphic novels and did some work creating a lesson for teachers on how to read graphic novels.  I think my heightened awareness of the form helped me appreciate it more.  That makes me wonder if we shouldn't spend more time teaching this genre as it becomes more and more popular so we are sure our students are really getting all they can from it.

As always, Holmes solved it before I did, and I was quite surprised at the ending of this one, but not for the reasons you might think.  Now I'd like to go back and read the original to compare, but since I know the ending, I wonder how I'd like that...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

So much nonfiction this summer

This summer was the  summer of nonfiction,which is quite unlike most of my summers, during which I usually read tons of YA fiction. In fact, I rarely read nonfiction, although because I carefully choose my nonfiction, I almost always like it, so you'd think I'd do it more often. Go figure.

Anyway, here's my list of nonfiction titles for this summer with a short blurb about each.  Most of these would not appeal to readers younger than high school.

Bindi Girl - A young woman's journey to India, back to the US, and back to India again. Fascinating stuff to someone like me who's obsessed with India. Of course I immediately wanted to go there.

The Elephant Whisperer - this is the one book middle schoolers might enjoy, this is the story of a wild animal refuge in Africa that takes on a troublesome herd of elephants.  Amazing!

To See Every Bird on Earth - The story of a man whose father was obsessed with birds. Heartbreaking and exalting by turns. I, bird nerd that I am, adored this book.  It was my favorite of the summer.

The Year of Living Biblically - Very interesting book by AJ Jacobs, one of the quirkiest guys I know who in this book set out to follow every law in the Bible for an entire year.  turns out that's challenging for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is all the contradictory laws.

Kitchen Confidential - Lots of bad language in this book, but it was really interesting to hear about the subculture of fancy restaurants. Written by Anthony Bourdain of TV fame. Longer review here.

Butterfly Mosque - this was the book that I thought I'd like the best but which turned out just not to pull me in deeply as I'd expected it would. It's a love story between a Muslim man and a woman who converts to Islam. Longer review here.

Gift from the Sea - A lovely book written on Sanibel Island where I was visiting this summer.  Perfect to read a chapter at a time during my stay. Lots of philosophizing on being a woman.  I really enjoyed reading it the way I did surrounded by the things Ann Morrow Lindbergh was when she wrote it. Even so many years later, many of her thoughts ring true.

Not quite finished with Steve Jobs but it is also fascinating stuff.  that guy was surely a genius, but he was also a head case and I don't think I would have liked him very well personally.  I certainly would not have liked working for him!

How Many Baby Pandas, Sandra Markle

If this isn't just the cutest book ever, I don't know what is.  It's got pictures of baby pandas on every page.  Amazing.  Pandas are fairly ugly when they're born, though, did you know that?  They are hairless and pink and their eyes are closed.  On the left you can see a photo of one of the newborn baby pandas from the Animal Planet website.  See what I'm saying?

This nonfiction, informational book is about sixteen baby pandas that were born China's Wolong Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center and raised with the help of scientists.  It incorporates basic counting lessons into the panda information, and like I said, it has all kinds of adorable pictures of the pandas as they grow. My favorite picture in the book, I think, is at the very end where they show the scientists all holding the pandas in a row. 

If you like to learn about animals, this is a great book for you.

I checked this book out from the Highland Elementary School library, but it is also available at the Multnomah County Public Library.

Two mysteries

A Red Herring without Mustard, A Flavia DeLuce mystery and Elegy for Eddie, a Maisie Dobbs mystery.

These are both mysteries from series, and I have read several of the books in these series previously.  I listened to both of these and checked them out from the Multnomah County Public Library.

A Red Herring Without Mustard is by Alan Bradley and is a series about a young girl named Flavia deLuce who is a devilish young scientist who's always got her nose in other people's business and is, consequently, always getting herself into a jam.  This story involves murder, stealing, a fire, and a near kidnapping.  Flavia fancies herself somewhat of a detective and is always investigating things on her own, much to the chagrin of the local constables.  These are fairly slow moving mysteries, but I enjoy them quite a bit.

Elegy for Eddie is maybe the seventh Maisie Dobbs mystery I've read, and I love these books.  the main character in these stories is also a female detective, but she's a grown-up and really Is a detective; she doesn't just fancy herself as one.  This novel involves a supposed suicide, a gruesome death (or is it a murder?) in  a newspaper factory, and government officials acting suspiciously.  This story is set between World War I and World war II and is historical fiction as much as mystery.  I really enjoy how the author of this series continually infuses these stories with history.  Again, these are not the fastest moving mysteries, but they are very well told and have excellent character development.  It's so nice to come back to my friend Maisie Dobbs time and time again. 

I recommend these for middle school and up.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Poetry Saturday

Picked these plums from my parents' tree today, and all afternoon I've been thinking of this poem. It's one of my favorites.  I hope you enjoy it.  And I hope you get to eat some delicious plums, soon, too.

This Is Just To Say

by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Escape from Fear, Gloria Skurzynski

We read Escape from Fear, a National Parks Mysteries novel, with our niece Rachel when we were down in the Virgin Islands.  The story is set there, so it was really fun to read.  The characters in this series are a family where the mother is a veterinarian who consults with the national parks and her husband and two children.  In this story she's been called to the National Park of the Virgin Islands where they are having turtle trouble.

The novels always give a lot of information about the park in addition to having an engaging storyline.  They usually require a little suspension of disbelief, and this one was no exception, but once you get past that, the suspense is high and are excellent reading.  I definitely recommend them as a family read-aloud, everyone is sure to enjoy the story.

I've written a couple of reviews for other books in the National Parks Mysteries series,  one here and one here.

Butterfly Mosque and Kitchen Confidential - adult titles

The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam is a book I heard about recently that sounded really interesting to me.  It's a memoir, my favorite genre of non fiction, and is the story of a young American woman who moved to Egypt, converted to Islam, and married an Egyptian man, all near the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.  I found it to be very interesting, but I wasn't as completely pulled in as I expected to be.  It was a book that would definitely provoke a lot of good conversation in a book group, because there was a lot of discussion about faith, acceptance, family, love and culture.

Kitchen Confidential is the book by Anthony Bourdain that my husband's reading group is reading next month and it's an expose of his life in the restaurant industry.  This book has a LOT of bad language in it, so it's definitely for adults, but it was really, really interesting.  He and his friends were pretty wild, and his chef experience sounds a bit harrowing at times. He wrote the book long before he had his TV show and everything, but he'd already been a chef for over 20 years.  There was a lot of background on the restaurant industry combined with a lot of personal anecdotes, written in a staccato style that's just like his personality.  We listened to the book on CD and it was read by the author, so that was a nice little bonus.  

Confessions of a Cake Addict and Always the Designer, Never the Bride

These are two adult beach books I recently read on my vacation to, not coincidentally, the beach.  They were light and fluffy (like the frosting in Confessions of a Cake Addict), and they fit their purpose perfectly.  I doubt either will go down in the annals of classic literature, but I enjoyed them.  I particularly liked the form of Confessions of a Cake Addict which is what is known as an epistolary novel.  That means it's written through letters, in this case letters and emails back and forth between two sisters, one living in London and one living in Sydney.  What I didn't like about this novel was that the lovelorn sister took too long to get herself together and made too many annoyingly obvious stupid mistakes.

Always the Designer was a more fun storyline, but it still had a lot of, "seriously?" moments in it.  In this story, Audrey Regan is a wedding dress designer, and I like to read stories that have to do with designing and sewing clothing.  Her business isn't going so well, though, and she's looking for a big break.  Will she find it out in Tanglewood or will she have to close up shop?  And will she ever find her Prince Charming?

This novel has some overt Christian moments in it, and normally I don't have a problem with that, but in this case, they seemed forced and contrived and they did not work well.  In this case, they weaken the story and should have either been re-worked or left out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Monster Talk, Michael Jarmer

Monster Talk by Michael Jarmer is a treat to read.  Young Victor, the story's main character, is a direct descendant of Frankenstein, and is eager to share this fact with the world.  Most of the world, however, is unwilling to believe.

Those who are familiar with Shelley's Frankenstein will be delighted with the references to the text, but those not previously familiar with the original story will not feel lost even for a moment.  Those readers will discover the story with Victor and his young friend Michelle, who with the help of Victor's grandmother, Elizabeth, undertake the reading of the original novel.

The story is about more than just reading Frankenstein, though.  At its heart, Monster Talk is about relationships.  Relationships between friends, between boys and girls, between teachers and students, between parents and children, and, of course, relationships between monsters.  It's about growing up and discovering how relationships work, and how they don't. It's about figuring out which relationships you can live with, and which ones you can't live without.

This is a particularly strong debut novel. The character development in this novel is extremely powerful. I became quite attached to Victor, to the point of audible intakes of breath and laughing out loud, but I also found myself strongly attached to several other characters. Descriptions are detailed and clear but not overdone, giving the reader enough information to form his or her own vision of the characters and places.  While it is closely tied to Shelley's novel, the plot of this story stands firmly on its own.  The author weaves the story of Frankenstein into a contemporary setting seamlessly and skillfully, inviting the readers to believe.  

I highly recommend Monster Talk by Michael Jarmer for high school readers and up.  If you love a good story, strong writing, and excellent characters, you won't be disappointed.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It, Gail Carson Levine

This is a book of poetry modeled after William Carlos Williams' poem called "This Is Just to Say", which is one of my favorite poems.  This book is a hoot!  The subtitle is false apology poems, and I'm going to give you a teaser of just one.

This is Just to Say
I have shortened
my nose
with your saw

telling lies
is so much more fun

Forgive me
I don't care
about becoming
a real boy

Know what that's referring to?  If you guessed Pinocchio, you're right.  If you got it wrong, it's only because you didn't see the picture in the book.  If you saw the drawing accompanying the poem, surely you'd have gotten it right.   Matthew Cordell illustrates the poems, and the drawings are as fun and whimsical as the poems themselves.  Many of them refer to nursery rhymes or fairy tales, but others do not.  I especially loved the Little Red Riding Hood poem and the Humpty Dumpty one.

Gail Carson Levine gives a little lesson on how to write these formulaic poems about 1/3 of the way into the book, where she also "sneaks" her introduction poem.  This would be a fun, fun book to use with a class or on your own to practice writing some false apologies.  You never know, they might come in handy sometime!! 

It was an excellent book to snuggle up with on the couch today, this rainy, ugly, SO not summer day, but it will be just as fun in the bright sunshine.  You could sit outside and read it, then write some of your own while you soak up the Vitamin D. Enjoy!

Another summer reading program for kids!

Barnes and Noble is also having a summer reading program for kids.  You can win a free book!  And the best news is, you can use the reading you're doing for any other summer reading program (like GBSD Middle School Sizzling Summer Reading or Multnomah County Summer Reading) to count for the B&N program.  You could be double or even triple dipping!!!!

Rules for B&N summer reading are

Step 1:  Read any 8 books and record them on the B&N Reading Journal form
Step 2: Bring the completed form to your local B&N store
Step 3: Choose a FREE BOOK from their selection on the Reading Journal list!!!
Get all the details and the PDF form here.

Sounds like fun to me! Now why isn't there a grown-up summer reading program???

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

It's the day OF The Day Before

Very exciting news, people:  Lisa Schroeder's book The Day Before is out in paperback TODAY! This is a powerful novel in verse for older readers by Oregon author Lisa Schroeder.   I wonder if the cover will be the same?? The hardback version is an amazing photo!  Enjoy!

Monday, June 04, 2012

Why it's been forever since I posted

Wow! Seems like a long time since I posted here, and when I look, it really has been!  Why, you ask, has Mrs. FB stopped reading?  Well, I just want you to know that I haven't stopped reading, I've just not been finishing much because I'm trying to get through one of the longest, weirdest book I've read in some time. The book I'm reading, and have been for quite some long time, is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.  It's a magical realism book - meaning it has a bunch of realistic stuff in it, but it also has this element of magic - in this case, time travel.  It's fascinating and puzzling and wacky and so, so interesting.  There are really two stories which are tangentially related and I'm so curious to watch themas they're coming closer and closer together.

I really love this book, but it's around 900 pages, and it takes some slow reading and focus to get through it without being confused.  And I'm trying to read some other things other things at the same time.  Consequently, I'm not getting much finished at all.  But bring on vacation.  I'm gonna get a whole buncha books read!!  See you again soon!

Monday, May 21, 2012

There's a new blog in town!

Do you enjoy reading about book events and love seeing pictures taken at them?  Do you live in the Pacific NW, or even just love some authors that do?  Maybe you enjoy reading reviews/interviews/guest posts/giveaways and other goodies featuring authors from the Pacific NW?  And last of all, do you live in the Portland, Oregon or surrounding area and are looking for a YA book club? 
The gals at Novels, News and Notes from Your Northwest Neighbors are looking for readers!  You do not have to live in the area to read the blog featuring the fabulous authors that we have in this corner of the world, they do not discriminate!  And right now they are giving away 3 fabulous prize packs featuring two awesome Pacific NW authors.  Go here to find out what you can win.  
Some (this is NOT a full list yet!) of the fabulous authors that you will find featured on Novels, News and Notes are:

Holly Cupala, Joelle Anthony, Stasia Kehoe, Lisa Schroeder, Colleen Houck, Kimberly Derting, Lisa Burstein, Inara Scott, April Henry, Maureen McQuerry, Cat Patrick, Conrad Wesselhoeft and many, many more.
Take a look at what they've got to offer - lovers of YA are sure to find some gems (including a contest that ends tomorrow,5/23). Enjoy! 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Out of Sight, Out of Time, Ally Carter

Just so, so love the Cammie Morgan series by Ally Carter.  This is book five in the series, and if you have't read any of them yet, I'd highly recommend them for a great summer read.  They're perfect for summer.  Boys AND girls will appreciate this series because although the main characters are girls, they go to girl SPY school!  How cool is that?  I actually almost wrote how killer is that?  But then I thought better of it.  Or not.  Plus there's a boy spy school, too.

This book, book 5, is much darker than the other books in the series.  Ms. Darby-Lanker thinks so, too.  Just ask her.  For most of this book Cammie is befuddled and depressed, and she's not physically well, either. There's other depressing stuff going on around her, too.  Her friends are confused and unsure how to handle it, how to handle her.  Consequently,  they don't do it very well.  No surprise.  I doubt I'd know quite what to do or say myself.

Cammie's had people after her in the past, but she's always gotten away.  This time, though, she wakes up in a convent in the Alps not having any idea how she got there, where she is, or how long she's been there (four months!).   She doesn't remember anything, and it's driving her crazy.  Literally, a little bit.  Of course Cammie and her friends try to figure everything out, and this isn't the wisest decision, as there are definitely still people who do not want this information to come out.  It's another exciting adventure, but I'm hoping that the next book will lighen up a little bit.  Reminds me a little of Harry Potter book 5.  Just brought you down really low, right?  But did JK Rowling (and Harry Potter) bounce back? YES!  And I think Ally Carter and Cammie Morgan will snap back out of the doldrums in book six as well.  I'd stake my Cammie's life on it!

Highly recommended.  Enjoy!

Why We Broke Up, Daniel Handler, Maira Kalman, reivews

Fun fact:  Daniel Handler is better known to some as Lemony Snicket!!

I listened to this book on audio, and although the CD set included a pdf of the drawings, I didn't take the time to look at them.  I just downloaded the book then returned the CDs to the library. Now I'm disappointed that I didn't do that because I think it would have made a difference in my enjoyment of and engagement in the story.  As it was, I didn't really love the book.  In fact, the only part I really liked was actually the 20 minute interview at the end done by the narrator with Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman.  It was really the only part the grabbed me.

I think that were I a teenage girl or boy with a failed romance (and how many teenagers don't fit in that category??) this story would really have resonated with me.  And since that's the intended audience, it's a fie story. Middle aged me, however, just wasn't in the mood to appreciate the teenage angst and whininess of sixteen year old Min Green writing a letter to her ex-boyfriend about the box of "treasures" that are all that are left of their relationship.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find too much empathy for her.  I feel kind of bad about it still actually, even though she's not even real, because she clearly was deeply hurt by this charmer, but she was not dealing well, and I was over it.

This book is more appropriate for high school students due in part to some of the subject matter but also just because most middle schoolers haven't had such an intense relationship yet and so I don't think they'd appreciate it either.

Available at the Multnomah County Library.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Maurice Sendak has died :(

Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and many others, including his most recent work, Bumble-Ardy died on Tuesday.  Mr. Sendak has one final book coming out in February.  You can read a terrific article about him here.

The reading world is a better place for his work, for sure, and his amazing contributions will continue to provide joy to millions of children  every day.  Can't ask for much more of a legacy than that.