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educatingalice August 23 2014, 09:25

Jennifer L. Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish



Who doesn’t enjoy a well-drawn curmudgeon? Children’s books are rife with them. From dour Eeyore moping about the Hundred Acre Wood to the irritable Mary Poppins, they come in all shapes and species. Proudly singular, such cantankerous characters are invariably exasperating, endearing and entertaining all at the same time. And now along comes Jennifer L. Holm with a doozy. Best known for her works of historical fiction, three of which have won Newbery Honors (“Our Only May Amelia,” “Penny From Heaven,” “Turtle in Paradise”), and the graphic novel series “Babymouse,” Holm uses a surprising twist to bring us a particularly memorable grouch in her latest, “The Fourteenth Goldfish.”

That’s the beginning of my very enthusiastic review of The Fourteenth Goldfish in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review.  Read the rest of it here.

writingya August 23 2014, 08:21



I make a pretty solid effort not to over-feature self-published and indie published books which are SOLELY ebook offerings, because I'm still a fan of the pages-cover-artwork-words experience that comprised books for me for most of my life. However, I love experimental fiction, and know some authors every once in awhile put out works that are only to be read on a screen, and this is one of them. This is a GOOD one.

Fairy tale retellings have been done. Fairy tale retellings from blogs have been done. The thing is, "new" is not a word you're every going to get in conjunction with fairy tales; they're hundreds and hundreds of years old, so retellings are just-fine-okay-right by me. Retellings which widen the circle of imagination? Better still.

Fans of the dangerous and tip-tilted worlds of Margo Lanagan or readers of the Merry Sisters of Fate short curiosities - Brenna Yovanoff's stories, especially - will find these an enjoyable new pot to stir.

Summary: I am a lover of the short story form - but I can't write short stories, at least, not if you ask me. Which is why the forward for this novel made me laugh - T. Kingfisher didn't think she could write them, either. And yet, we now have an entire book of her short stories. She focused on the fairytale - because all the cool kids are doing it - and I'd like to note that this is a book for older readers. Yeah. See, the idea here is that folk and fairy tales are generally not for children, because, those tales are dark. Terrible things happen - stalking, assault, theft, murder, grue and gore - but, so do wonderful things - frogs, privacy, baking, and potatoes, and true friendships. And honestly, bad puns.

Peaks: This book contains several stories ("Toad Words," "The Wolf and the Woodsman," "Bluebeard's Wife," "Loathly," "The Seawitch Sets the Record Straight," and "Never;") a few poems in blank verse (It Has Come To My Attention, Bait, and Odd Season), a shorter piece of flash fiction called "Night" and "Boar & Apples," a novella.

It is always hard for me to assess short stories - I suck them up greedily, lurching from one "favorite" to the next "favorite-this-hour" -- I have no literary restraint. Fortunately, T. Kingfisher does -- there's restraint in these stories. There's observation, wit, and a dry, almost detached narrative voice which, "Dear Readers" you without ever actually saying that. You get the sense that you're snug in a recliner in a dim room somewhere, a mug of something tasty in your hands and a fuzzy blanket of dog, cat, or knitting over your lap, listening to someone tell all that they saw or heard, in that village, or the next over the rise. There's a sense of coziness, in that it's almost confessional - lean close, and let me tell you...

This makes some of the disturbing tales ESPECIALLY disturbing. Please don't whisper in my ear about hearts kept in boxes... please...!

The stories are so well written. I love "Bluebeard's Wife," -- because I have played with a version of the horrific fairytale myself, and am always intrigued to see varying takes on it. Kingfisher cleverly plays with the concept of privacy and secrets as a GOOD thing, and the concept of bad vs. evil. Bluebeard was an evil man, but he wasn't a bad one, in this tale. And his poor wife is mainly... introverted. Understanding. And, in the end, a bit regretful that she can't go home.

Toad Words is my all-round favorite poem; I have always hated the traditional toads-for-bad-girls-and-diamonds-for-good story - as much as I love rocks, what's wrong with frogs? It was LOVELY to imagine whispering spring peepers into streams. This is not the type of story for those not really fond of things found beneath rocks, or those who earnestly believe the message of If you girls don't speak nicely BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN. this poem challenges the idea of punishment, and turns it on its ear.

"Never" made me tear up a bit. Perhaps through having read the story when I was older and less malleable, I've never been a fan of the (disturbingly erratic) mercurial Tink and Pan - at all - and imaging being forced to live as a child forever is truly, truly vile. This story captures that painfully.

Authorial Elements: The author, T. Kingfisher, is Ursula Vernon - and her "vaguely absurd" pen name is to separate her stuff from her kids' stuff. (The author being Ursula Vernon, Actual Artist, is also why the cover art is so fantastic on this book.) Being fans of her Hugo-Award-winning, multiple Junior Library Guild selected graphic novels will give you a hint of the humor and talent in her narrative. If you've popped by her blog, you've seen some of these short stories in progress - as she plowed through longer fairytales she found through reading, and marveled at how whack job they were... which of course encouraged her further to write her own. As it would. Why self-publish? I think it's because she wanted to see if she could write short stories that would sell. And, guess what...? Now she has her answer.

I purchased my very own copy. You can find TOAD WORDS and Other Stories by T. Kingfisher at Smashwords, Amazon, or her various livejournal sites. Enjoy!

This work is copyrighted material. All opinions are those of the writer, unless otherwise indicated. All book reviews are UNSOLICITED, and no money has exchanged hands, unless otherwise indicated. Please contact the weblog owner for further details.

beckybooks August 22 2014, 19:56

Reread #34 Out of the Dust


Out of the Dust. Karen Hesse. 1997. Scholastic. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]

I first reviewed Out of the Dust in March 2008. Out of the Dust is a historical verse novel that I likely would have avoided at all costs as a kid. It is set in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and Depression.

Billie Jo is our piano-playing heroine. Life was hard enough for Billie Jo and her family BEFORE the tragic accident. Multiple crop failures in a row. Worry and doubt weighing down whole communities, and, not without cause. But after the accident, things are even worse.

Added to despair and doubt is anger and bitterness and regret. Billie Jo doesn't know how to talk to her father anymore. She doesn't know how to be in the same house with him. Things are just off between them. Both are suffering souls. Both have needs that aren't being met. Both need time to heal at the very least.

The novel spans two years, 1934 and 1935. These two years are very hard emotionally for almost all the characters. Out of the Dust is a great coming-of-age novel. I think I liked it even more the second time.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
If you're reading this on a site (other than Becky's Book Reviews or Becky's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.
jkrbooks August 22 2014, 16:41

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: August 22


TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. The new Cybils website launched late last week, and the call for judges for 2014 was released on Monday, so there are quite a few Cybils-related links. The KidLitCon program is shaping up nicely (due out next week), and there are a few links there, too. Other topics this week include book lists, back to school books, growing bookworms, parenting, publishing, reading, schools, libraries, and summer reading.


#Kidlit 's @StudioJJK is featured on the TED website today talking about Lunch Ladies as heroes, says @100scopenotes http://ow.ly/AxtX1

Book Lists: Back to School

Planet Kindergarten and other Books for New Kindergarteners from @darshanakhiani http://ow.ly/AzO4O #kidlit #BookList

Five @FirstBook Favorites for Back to School http://ow.ly/AuJ8v #BookList

#BookList for Back to school: easing your kindergarten worries (ages 4-7) from @MaryAnnScheuer http://ow.ly/AuL6y

Book Lists: Other

Australian Children's Book of the Year Winners Announced @TrevorHCairney http://ow.ly/AsnsK #kidlit

A Tuesday Ten: #kidlit Fantasy Dealing with Death and Loss | Views From the Tesseract http://ow.ly/AxuAT #BookList

Buried Treasure: Real and Imagined Adventure Titles | by John Peters @sljournal http://ow.ly/AvhA0 #kidlit #booklist

Seeking #diversity in your #yalit reading? New Stacked #Booklist | Protagonists of Color in YA SFF http://ow.ly/AxuEK

Some solid choices in Favorite Historical Fiction Novels from @brandymuses http://ow.ly/AspPe #BookList

Read about female pilots on National Aviation Day, a #BookList from @CarliSpina @HornBook http://ow.ly/AuKqr

In honor of Shark Week, a list of "recent YA books featuring sharp-tongued narrators with biting wit" @HornBook http://ow.ly/AspDK

10 Books By Women (About Girls) That Boys Should Read from @Book_Nut (inspired by @haleshannon ) http://ow.ly/AsnSH

I am saving this list! Over a Dozen Great Audiobooks for Kids recommended by @momandkiddo http://ow.ly/AslQC #kidlit


Cybils-Logo-2014-Round-SmNew Cybils blog post | Meet Members of the #Cybils Team at #KidLitCon! http://ow.ly/AuL3W

Don't miss it! The call for judges for the 2014 @Cybils awards went up today on our lovely new website http://ow.ly/Asn94

Original Content: Aunt Cybil Wants You, says Gail Gauthier http://ow.ly/AzPlq #cybils

Re the #Cybils Call for Judges, @tashrow says: "Join in the fun, you will be glad you did!" http://ow.ly/AxvQS #kidlit

WANTED! Panelists + Judges for the 2014 #CYBILS Poetry Award | Reasons you might be a good candidate from @JoneMac53 http://ow.ly/Axw4b

Cybils_mugmugsNew #cybils blog post: Now Updated for 2014: Cybils Bling! | Get yours now! http://ow.ly/AzNaR #kidlit #yalit

Thoughts and links re the Call for #Cybils Judges! from MG Fiction organizer @MsYingling http://ow.ly/AxvvU #kidlit

Some advice for potential #cybils panelists at the end of this week's #kidlit SFF roundup @charlotteslib http://ow.ly/AsofC

Growing Bookworms

Time to get ready for The 6th Annual K-4 @MrsPStorytime Be-a-Famous Writer Contest, says @MrSchuReads http://ow.ly/AvCtY

Teach Me How To Read: 10 Strategies When You are Stuck from former teacher @growingbbb http://ow.ly/AslGf

Jon Scieszka on How to Get Kids to Love Reading (Stop Telling Them How Important Reading Is) @ParnassusBooks http://ow.ly/AsacF @librareanne


2014 KidlitCon PictureAnother #KidlitCon Shout Out! Tanita Davis has a gorgeous image showing some of the expected attendees: http://ow.ly/AzODh

Can you see yourself with these expected #KidLitCon attendees? http://ow.ly/i/6D29V (photo collage by Tanita Davis)

A #Kidlitcon14 Program peek, starring Jewell Parker Rhodes! from Program Chair @charlotteslib http://ow.ly/AzOnF

Blast from the Past: Thoughts and Photos from Last Year's #KidLitCon from @aquafortis http://ow.ly/AsTSZ

On Reading, Writing, and Publishing

Food for thought: A Possible New Reading Plan For Serials from @gail_gauthier http://ow.ly/AuLt5

Fightin' words from Steve Cohen @WSJ "I'm Backing @Amazon and Authors Should Too" http://ow.ly/Axlig

DucklingsThis pleases me. New "Make Way for Ducklings" Children's Bookstore in Faneuil Hall in Boston http://ow.ly/AAJWG @PublishersWkly

At The Uncommon Corps, thoughts from Myra Zarnowski on YA and adult books that are Adapted for Children http://ow.ly/AsoOU

Thoughtful stuff! Girls Ruin Everything: Stephenie Meyer, Lois Duncan, and Childhood Nostalgia | @catagator @bookriot http://ow.ly/Asq5T


5 Things All Teen Girls Need, say @SensibleMoms http://ow.ly/AxuiB #Parenting

Fathers Who do Household Chores More Likely to Have Daughters Who Aspire to less Trad'l Feminine Occupations @WSJ http://ow.ly/Avuo2

Schools and Libraries

This is neat! In Tehran, a Couple Turns Their Taxi Into a Rolling Library @WSJ http://ow.ly/Asg8E

A library steps up in a crisis: Ferguson Public Library Offers Lessons for Students in Limbo | @sljournal http://ow.ly/AAJEd

Displaying Multicultural Books: The Magic of Windows and Mirrors by @MitaliPerkins http://ow.ly/AsTLJ #diversity

Top Ten Reasons for Starting a Staff Book Club by @megskogie @NerdyBookClub http://ow.ly/Aspnl

Summer Reading

#SummerReading Tips 42-45 @aliposner | Several concrete ways to motivate end-of-summer reading! http://ow.ly/AuJIa

#SummerReading Tips 46-47 @aliposner | Before school, visit a library, museum, park, or fair that celebrates #kidlit http://ow.ly/AuK7e

#SummerReading Tip49 @aliposner | Encourage fun and meaningful writing over the summer http://ow.ly/Axv03

#SummerReading Tip 51-52 @aliposner Help your kids integrate writing by encouraging them to author their own books http://ow.ly/AzO1e

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

queer_reads August 22 2014, 13:15

If There's A Heaven Above: A 1980s Goth Teen Tries To Find The Guy Of His Dreams


If There's A Heaven Above by Andrew Demcak
It's the early 1980's and Matt is on the cusp of adulthood in the flickering shadows of Los Angeles' Gothic music scene. He dives into a pulsating world of death-rock music, sexy musicians, and strung-out groupies in leather bondage pants and vampire makeup. Through the faded glamour and glittering whirlpool of alcohol and drugs, Matt moves from one good time to the next, searching for something more.

Then he meets Patch: shirtless, tribal-tattooed, wearing cut-off jean shorts still damp from an afternoon at the beach. Patch is a punk-rock Adonis who wears his dark hair spiked up and whose blue eyes are bloodshot from too much late-night fun. Patch doesn’t say much when they first meet, but his body speaks to Matt’s on a cellular level, pure chemistry. To Matt, Patch's tattoos tell him they are part of an invisible tribe, the night people.

But one night is all Matt gets with Patch before he disappears into the neon-washed streets. Matt sets out to find him again, sure Patch is "the One." Along for the ride are his friends Annie and Suzy, one straight, one gay. Wearing too much Aqua-Net and torn fishnets, the girls cruise L.A. in a white Mustang whose seat belts are perfect beer bottle openers. The ultimate Goths, they adore Siouxsie and the Banshees, paint their eyes with kohl, and vow to help Matt in his quest to hook up with Patch.

Will Matt be able to find Patch in L.A.'s drug-soaked clubs? Will one night be all he gets with the man of his dreams? If there's a heaven above, will Matt ever find it?

This book was one of 51 nominees for the American Library Association's 2014 Rainbow List. Add your review of "If There's A Heaven Above" in comments!
slayground August 22 2014, 13:02

Poetry Friday: An American Girl by Brander Matthews

She does not care for meditation;
Within her bonnet are no bees;
She has a gentle animation,
She joins in singing simple glees.

- from the poem An American Girl by Brander Matthews

Read the poem in its entirety.

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

yzocaet August 22 2014, 08:13

Review: Feral


Feral by Holly Schindler. Harper Collins. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Two girls: one dead, one left for dead.

Serena is the dead girl, but it's her story that starts the book.

Claire is alive, having survived a brutal attack months before. She's the new girl in town, arriving at the same time Serena's body is found.

Claire finds herself drawn into the mystery of Serena's death: was it an accident? Or was it murder?

The Good:  The cats. Oh dear lord, the feral cats.

I thought I was going to say that the scariest scene was Claire's attack. A confident teen, walking home alone in the dark, chased and surrounded and beaten and left for dead.

But then I think of the feral cats, the ones that went after Serena's dead body and that scene, and the later scenes were the cats seem to come after Claire, and I think, no, that's the scariest scene.

This is a mystery, yes, about what happened to Serena. The reader, from the start, knows what has happened: "The body belonged -- or really, the body had once belonged -- to Serena Sims, a B average junior who loved her best friend, the sound of the rain, writing for the school paper, and her mother's chocolate mayonnaise cake with homemade icing, a family specialty. . . . Seventeen and dead: it was the worst kind of vulnerable." Serena is dead, but she is somehow still present, still feeling everything. And sharing all that, every bump and thump as her killer drags her body and dumps it. And then the cats come.

But there is only so much that Serena shares with the reader.

Then there is Claire: still recovering, physically and psychologically, from her attack months before. She is drawn to Serena's death for many reasons, one of which is that everyone else seems to believe that Serena's death is accidental. It turns out that Claire's new house was one that Serena lived in years ago; the first teens she meets are friends of Serena's; the local feral cat is the cat Serena fed.

As the story progresses, as Claire chases down the truth, Serena's ghost -- if that's what she is -- grows unhappier and unhappier with her own death, and more dangerous.

One more thing: the setting is fabulous. The town, Peculiar, Missouri,

How all this comes together was something I didn't expect, and made me go back and reread the first few chapters to see what clues were there. Part of me doesn't want to give away what that is, but part of me wants to give it away so you can understand when I say: Brilliant. You had me, you convinced me, and when I realized the truth of what was happening -- yes. That's true and real. Well, maybe not real, because at the end? I'm not sure what was real or not, what was Claire's fears, what was a haunting. But I do know this:

Damn, those feral cats are scary.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
writingya August 22 2014, 07:48



This morning it is downright chilly... Which is kind of ridiculous for August, but it's also rained already this month, so what can you do. School is starting within this week or the next for most of the county, and my armchair-by-a-sunny-window motif is about to get replaced by suede boots and a thick sweater and a stack of books. Roll on, autumn.

Never mind the weather; a good book can take you through any season, of course. This self-pubbed "indiebook" by Australian debut author Ceinwin (Kine-win) Langley (which has a fab cover in paperback and ebook) takes us to the edge of the cold... a withered, wintry little village of patriarchy. No, that's not its name, but it might as well have been...

Summary: Emma and her mother live in grinding poverty, but five-year-old Emma has no real idea. Her father has died, and for her birthday her mother organizes a lovely picnic at the edge of the woods. It's a rare treat, to be so close to the dark, encroaching wall of trees, and when Emma runs around - tumbles down a hill - and grabs a tree to get to her feet, her mother is quick with a smack and a scolding. NO ONE - not even on their birthday - goes into the woods, and even the edge of the woods, where the bluebells Emma loves grow, is TOO CLOSE. Later, Emma dreams she saw a mysterious boy playing a flute in the woods, but over time, reality erodes those childish dreams. Reality, for Emma and her mother, is a drafty shack, ironclad rules, and hard, hard work. No bluebells. No running around. No real dreams, either. Work, and worry is all that's left.

Once, they lived in an actual house, within the village proper. Once, Emma and her mother were well dressed, the family of the village tailor - but Emma's father died that year when she was five, and no widower in the village stepped up to marry Mama. Their tiny family's hope is now built on... Emma's marriage. She's seventeen, and at eighteen, she'll be Of Age. She MUST marry -- it's the only way to put food on the table, a roof over their heads, and clothes on their backs - but there are only two eligible boys of her age, and one of them is the Mayor's son. He's too high for her to shoot for, but there's another boy her mother insists will "do." Problem? Emma doesn't really know either of them, and could care less about them. But, reluctant or no, it's vital that she make a good impression. It could mean the difference between surviving or ...not.

A very poor girl, Emma has no opportunities to work on becoming superfluous and beautiful or talented. She's doing her best to survive. All she has is her mother's love, her dreams -- the dream of the boy with the flute, who, oddly, seems to have grown older as she has -- and the smiles provided by her snarky best friend, a Stranger called Mona. But, on the other side of the balance of Duty -- saving her mother, providing them security - is what Emma has enough? Enough to challenge the Mayor? Enough to actually get what she wants? Enough to change her world?

Peaks: The voice is memorable and consistent, the prose is uncluttered, the characterizations are deft, and the imagery - the rigid line of houses, the encroaching woods, the cloying carnations, dancing bluebells, and magical lightning bugs -- works. (Need a sample? Here ya go.) I think the best thing I can say about this story is that it's a Little Story.

We don't always talk about it in this respect, but a little story to me is one which plays out life-and-death issues close to the chest, where the microcosm is as detailed, vibrant, and important than the bigger issues. I LIKE little stories. It's not about an entire planet that needs to be saved from Certain Doom, it's one life. It's not a novel describing nations which need to be restored or some sort of epic where the heroine Saves The World. Nope. One village. One shack. One girl. Sometimes, the smallest gains are the ones which mean the most.

Class, wealth, gender, religion -- it's all there, writ tiny on the stage of this Little story. Emma faces discrimination, makes assumptions, and "others" and is "othered" based on seeing and being seen through the lens of difference. The author leaves Emma free to make poor decisions, make futile gestures, kiss up and demean herself. She is not always noble or dignified - sometimes, she stops caring and falls down on the "heroine" job. Those are the times she becomes real.

The discussion on sexism, patriarchy, and women is pretty much right out there in this YA novel, which may surprise some readers. In this village, women who work? Are not respectable. Women who have opinions? Are not respectable? It's a woman's fault, if she lives alone. Only Married ladies are respectable - within the bounds of a marital relationship, where their husband can speak for and vouch for them. Unmarrieds aren't to be spoken to or look anyone in the eye - and the only color they can wear is gray. Strangers - people who are from elsewhere - the Unmarrieds and the poor are what can only be tangible proof of not living by the rules. The shocker is that though the men make the rules... the women live and die by them. (I wished very much that could have been explored just a bit more). The first half of the novel lays this stuff out -- and the reader soon catches on to the fact that only those within the system can change it. It's a clever ploy to get the reader hooked on thinking about it.

Valleys: If there's anything that caught my attention it was the lack of information on the three "enemies" in the novel: the Monsters, the Strangers and the heavy-handed religion which adds a burden to the lives of the villagers and offers no relief to anyone.

First, the religion: It's not that this doesn't reflect or parallel real life, not that there aren't awful interactions with religions -- the little detail on the church just served to make me curious about it. Suffering the fate of poverty or - the fate of being female - seems to be tangible proof of not living by the rules - and thus out of favor with the Lord. The Mayor always tells everyone, if people would just attend Defense every Sunday and listen to his rules on how to live, they would be shown favor, and live well. At least, it seems to work for him.

I wondered, how did it start? Was it once a real faith? How did the Mayor become head of their non-religious "church?" (Or, maybe I'm from a country wherein the government leader isn't the head of the official State Church, and this is a stupid question. The author is from Australia, a Commonwealth country; Britain's Queen Elizabeth is the head of the Anglican church. Moving on.)

Next, I wondered about the Monsters and the Strangers. Without spoilers, you'll figure out who/what the Monsters are easily - they're not a great mystery - but I wondered at the history of their interactions with the village. I was deeply curious. What divided all of the villages into untrusting little burgs dotting a trade route? How did everyone become so divided? How did the Strangers come into the village if everyone eschewed travel because of the Monsters? And how, if they knew there were Monsters, did the villagers forget their Lore? These questions could actually have been answered with a sentence or two, and not knowing the answers didn't at all take away from my enjoyment of the novel... but they do prove that I have a bad case of Reader Greed, and I want to know ALLLL the things. This is a common failing when reading a good book.

Finally, I noted the lack of racial diversity in the novel. The descriptions of the characters in the novel make it clear that fair skin and blonde hair is still the beauty standard - the Doctor's daughter is attractive and well thought of - but there doesn't seem to be any other kind of beauty. This is, again, a tiny quibble - and more an encouragement: if one is going to write speculative fiction, please let's speculate a world where there is more than one color!

A surprise find with an excellent and professional appearance, this is a greatly enjoyable fairytale - it went down like a cold glass of lemonade on a humid day - quick and satisfying. I have the highest and best of hopes for this author, and expect to see more good things from her, in due time.

I received a promotional copy of this book, courtesy of the author. You can find THE EDGE OF THE WOODS by CEINWIN LANGLEY online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

This work is copyrighted material. All opinions are those of the writer, unless otherwise indicated. All book reviews are UNSOLICITED, and no money has exchanged hands, unless otherwise indicated. Please contact the weblog owner for further details.

sevenimpossible August 22 2014, 06:49

What I’m Doing at Kirkus and BookPage This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Gary Kelley


“Dismissed by much of white America as ‘darkies playing soldiers,’ porters, butlers, hotel doormen, elevator operators—2,000 strong—volunteered for the cause.”


Today over at Kirkus, I’m shining the spotlight on Barbara Bottner’s Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome!), illustrated by Michael Emberley. That link is here.

Also, yesterday at BookPage my interview with author-illustrator Cece Bell went up, as well as my review of El Deafo, her graphic novel. That is all linked here. And remember: I featured art from El Deafo back in June. That’s here.

* * *

Last week, I wrote here about J. Patrick Lewis’ Harlem Hellfighters (Creative Editions, August 2014), illustrated by Gary Kelley. And guess what? I saw yesterday that it up and won an Original Art Award from the Society of Illustrators. See here for more information and the other winners.

I have some art from this book today. Enjoy.


“Somewhere in the mid-Atlantic fog of history, two dark ships passed in the night …”


“The Harlem Hellfighters defined courage, / none more than red cap Albany porter / Henry Johnson …”


“Relieved from trench duty, Jim Europe found a modest farmhouse
in a remote hamlet alive with birdsong. …”


“Three days later, / the first black man ever to be given / a public funeral in the city of New York / rolled through the streets of Harlem / past a delirium of mourners. /
In black armbands, the Hellfighters / marched last, their hushed instruments /
at their sides.”



* * * * * * *

HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS. Copyright © 2014 by J. Patrick Lewis. Illustrations © 2014 by Gary Kelley. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher, Creative Editions, Mankato, Minnesota.

readingyear August 22 2014, 04:34

Poetry Friday: So. Much. Joy.


by Hugh MacLeod at GapingVoid.com

’T IS so much joy! ’T is so much joy!
If I should fail, what poverty!
And yet, as poor as I
Have ventured all upon a throw;
Have gained! Yes! Hesitated so
This side the victory!

Life is but life, and death but death!
Bliss is but bliss, and breath but breath!
And if, indeed, I fail,
At least to know the worst is sweet.
Defeat means nothing but defeat,
No drearier can prevail!

And if I gain,—oh, gun at sea,
Oh, bells that in the steeples be,
At first repeat it slow!
For heaven is a different thing
Conjectured, and waked sudden in,
And might o’erwhelm me so!

by Emily Dickinson

From Bartleby.com (bibliographic record for the poem here)
You can see the poem in Emily's own handwriting here.

Lots of great conversations these first couple of days of school about the importance of struggle, of perseverance, patience, and practice. Growth mindset. We watched Kid President talk about inventing, and we read The Most Magnificent Thing. I think we're ready to dive into the hard work of fifth grade.

I splurged yesterday and bought a little purple Moleskine journal to keep track of my "trout of the day." We're two days in and I'm having a hard time picking one "trout." I'm thinking that bodes well for the year.

We've had a change in the Poetry Friday roundup this week. Irene is taking over for Robyn. Head over to Live Your Poem to leave your link.

jkrbooks August 22 2014, 00:22

Yes, She Is My Daughter: Growing a Bookworm


Two days ago my daughter came to me with a Berenstain Bears book, and begged me to get her a copy of a book shown on the back cover (The Berenstain Bears Sleepover). I agreed, subject to some behavior conditions, and ordered the book from Amazon. I told her that it would be here in two days (the beauty of Amazon Prime). 

Now, for the past two days she has been asking me, at regular intervals: "Is my book here yet?" Today the mail came, and UPS came, and the book did not come. My daughter arrived home from an outing and immediate asked me: "Did my book come?". She was crushed when the answer was no, even though I told her that there was still time for another package to arrive. I had to distract her with another "new" book from my review shelf. 

Here's the thing: she has literally hundreds of books in her bedroom alone. She has a huge bag of library books in the family room. But this is not enough. It has to be THIS particular book that she has her eye on. The Berenstain Bears Sleepover is the one she wants, and she wants it now. 

Yes, this is my kid. I do the exact same thing. I have an overflowing stack of books from publishers, and I still order, and pay for, particular titles that I HAVE to have. 

Readers will be happy to know that while my daughter was off on another outing, the book did come. She came to visit me in my office when she got home, and I told her that the book was in the kitchen. She ran down the stairs, literally panting with excitement, screaming: "It came! It came! It came!".

This book cost me $3.59. The rewards of seeing her so excited about the arrival of the book that she wanted? Priceless. Don't ever let anyone tell you that choice is not essential to growing bookworms. 

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate.

writingya August 21 2014, 22:18

Toon Thursday: Exciting and New! (Like the Love Boat!)


Difficult as it may be to believe, somehow I managed to come up with a NEW CARTOON today. It's been a while, and for that I apologize. Plus it's one of the sort-of weak ones where I recycle the part I already drew, and just add new text. (Do other cartoonists do that? Or am I just SUPER lazy?)

Anyway, one other thing, in case you didn't know: the Cybils Awards call for judges is open, and if you're a blogger in the area of children's or YA lit, you should check it out! It is a really fun experience, and provides a lot of insight into what it's like to judge one of those fancy-schmancy book awards.

This work is copyrighted material. All opinions are those of the writer, unless otherwise indicated. All book reviews are UNSOLICITED, and no money has exchanged hands, unless otherwise indicated. Please contact the weblog owner for further details.

guyslitwire August 21 2014, 19:10

Mike Dawson's Troop 142


This week I’ve finally gotten around to Mike Dawson’s Troop 142, a graphic novel about one Boy Scout troop’s travails over a week away at camp. I was prompted to read it because of his post about the book’s sales history on his blog. That discussion is something I’ll take up later, but first my review.

I almost don’t know how to describe how I feel about this book, which is a good thing. It’s one I’ve been thinking about constantly since I read it, and one I’ll be re-reading more than once. To say I like it or even love it is a bit misleading—it is disquieting, and while I read it I was pushed into uncomfortable places both in terms of memory and how I think about myself now, particularly as a guy relating to other guys and guy stuff.

The book revolves around boys of various ages from Boy Scout troop 142 and their fathers, as they undertake a week at Pinewood Forest Camp, a place where troops get together and do activities for merit badges and bonding—campfires, swimming, hiking, sing-alongs, and the like. But underneath that all-American framework and every-boy experience, each boy and man here bristles with the tension and discomfort of unbridled testosterone and unbound nature of this space where boys will be boys, and boys are made men.

The boys do very adolescent things—curse, call each other names, sneak drugs, plot encounters with girls, mock one another and heap abuse on anyone seemingly weak or outside the group. Meanwhile, the adults seem oblivious, in part because they’re dealing with their own ability or inability to fit in and make sense of this “man’s world.”

There’s this thing that comics can do much better than novels and movies, and that’s the ability to explore character and mood and conflict without the standard needs of plot. Here, Dawson really leans into this. By having every page simmer with tension, often unidentified, and to leave many questions unresolved in ways that force you to revisit each character and their actions and choices, standards of plot and protagonists are very muddied in this narrative.

I found myself asking over and over again, who am I rooting for? Is anyone here doing the right thing? Do men even remember the ways that they fell victim to or enacted all the terrible things boys do to other boys on the path to adulthood, and if not, can cycles of pressure and violence ever be broken?

That’s lots of heady stuff for a graphic novel, and that very headiness is, I’m guessing, part of why the book won an Ignatz award, a prestigious comics award, when it came out. So why didn’t it do very well in sales, as Mike Dawson puzzles in his blogpost? 

(Note: from here on out I’m talking about the book industry and how graphic novels fit in there. If that doesn’t interest you, then check out Troop 142, hopefully available at your local bookstore, or library, or here)

When I first saw the book, the cover didn’t grab me—something about it said it was for an audience much younger than my, and not necessarily in any way that might be fun. That being said, I picked it up from a local comic book store several weeks ago because it was on sale, and I’d been meaning to look it over to see if it would Dawson’s post spawned. In reading the post, I quickly realized that my initial assumption about the book was wrong. This is not a book for kids, or even tweens.
be a good fit for the kidslit bookstore where I work. Unfortunately, it sat in that tower of bedside “to be read” books until I saw the internet kerfluffle

And this is part of the book’s “problem.” It doesn’t seem to know its audience, something said in humorous and frank ways by comics blogger Abhay Khosla when he discussed Dawson’s post on his tumblr. But Khosla misses the point: when Khosla writes about the price point killing an audience, he is speaking as if the audience for this book is in a comic book store, which it most certainly is not. This book is squarely aimed at bookstores. It’s audience is another question entirely, but before we get there, let’s talk about what happens to books in bookstores: Books are categorized, and this book defies categorization in any number of ways.

Besides its cover, this book crosses categories in all sorts of ways. If this were a novel, it would be shelved in Young Adult. But graphic novels have never quite figured out what it means to be a YA book. Dawson’s book is narrated by an adult (sparsely, but it’s still there) so it seemingly has something to say to and about adults. Yes, but that’s not where the book gets its punch. The whole book is about how adolescent boys are shoved into this thing we call manhood in ways that are terrible and unconscious and dark. It's about being a young adult.

Another recent, great graphic novel about summer also messes with this YA thing: This One Summer, by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki is really, really good. But it’s very hard to put in someone’s hand, because the content is definitely YA or older, while the central characters are two tween girls. Having younger (tweens) or older (adults) characters' perspectives front and center is an adult literary fiction device, and one which, in the visual medium of comics, confuses potential readers trying to identify if a book is for them. The best cartoonist hitting that YA space? Hope Larson, hands down. Her books Mercuryand Chiggers are still on the young side of the YA category, but everything else about them works in terms of the expectations of the audience.

The other thing that many people, including Abhay Khosla, miss when criticizing Mike Dawson’s business savvy, is that his book has a publisher. Publishers bear the brunt of the marketing and distributing of books. That’s what they do. Secret Acres has published some excellent books: Capacity by Theo Ellsworth, Gaylord Phoenix by Edie Fake, and Get Over It! by Corinne Mucha. But they did Mike a real disservice by not distributing Troop 142 in any real discernible way to the book market rather than the comics market, and by packaging the book, from cover to price point to cover copy, in a way that lets readers know what this thing is and who it sees as its audience.

Every author I know who has ever gotten attention from a publisher is thrilled, but sometimes authors and publishers are a poor match. Mike is very different from the other cartoonists of Secret Acres—namely, the others are all interested in visual textures and the comics as visual art even before narrative. The other cartoonists in Secret Acres’ stable are sold based on the visuals alone—they are marketed through posters and sample images and the like. You can hand sell the heck out of those books at festivals and conventions. So it would appear that Secret Acres doesn’t know how to market what Mike does, in part because they see their audience as the artcomic world, one they can contact through shows and select comics stores.

Dawson’s previous publisher did know how to market him, however. His first book, Freddie & Me, was published by BloomsburyUSA, a book publisher who distributed that book potentially to every brick & mortar store in every city in the US, and marketed the book using the tools familiar to booksellers. His sales reflected that difference. Unfortunately, where this leaves Mike Dawson is unclear. All I can do as a reviewer is tell you to read his books. I know I will be seeking out everything he did, not because of how easily they look like they fit into my book habit, but because, if they’re anything like Troop 142, they will push and pull at me in ways that the best books do: ways that surprise, and trouble, and delight.
beckybooks August 21 2014, 18:25

Absolutely Almost (2014)


Absolutely Almost. Lisa Graff. 2014. Penguin. 304 pages [Source: Library]

I loved Absolutely Almost. I think I loved it at least as much as Umbrella Summer. Maybe even a little bit more. I don't know. Time will tell. I don't actually have to choose between the two, right?! I can LOVE two GREAT books by one very talented middle grade author, can't I?!

Albie is the protagonist of Absolutely Almost. His narration gives the book a just right feel. It's a satisfying read about a boy who struggles with meeting expectations: his parents, his grandparents, his teachers, his own. He's never good or great, he's always only almost. Almost good at this or that. Almost ready for this or that. And this oppressive almost gets him down now and then. Not always, mind you. I don't want to give the impression that Albie is sad and depressed and unable to cope with life. Albie is more than capable of having a good time, of enjoying life, of appreciating the world around him.

I really appreciated Graff's characterization. Not only do readers come to love (in some cases I imagine love, love, love) Albie, but, all the characters are well written or well developed. Albie's parents at times seem to be disconnected, out of touch with who their son is, what life is like for him, what he wants, what he needs. But just when I get ready to dismiss them as neglectful or clueless, something would happen that would make me pause and reconsider. Readers also get to know several other characters: his nanny, Calista, his math teacher, Mr. Clifton, and his friend, Betsy. For the record, he does have more than one friend. But Betsy is his new friend, his first friend that he makes at his new school. It is their friendship that is put to the test in the novel. It is his relationship with Betsy that allows for him to progress a bit emotionally. If that makes sense. (So yes, I know that his best-best friend is Erlan. But Erlan has been his friend for as long as he can remember, probably since they were toddlers. He's completely comfortable in that friendship. Their friendship does come into the novel here and there. But for me, it wasn't the most interesting aspect of the novel.)

I loved the setting of Absolutely Almost. I loved how we get to spend time with Albie in school and out of school. I loved how we get to see him in and out of his comfort zone. I loved that we got to see his home life. We got to see for ourselves how he interacts with parents. I love how Albie is able to love his parents even if they don't really make him top priority. Especially his Dad. Albie's need for his Dad's attention, the right kind of attention, can be FELT. Albie held onto hope that one day his Dad would find time to spend with him, that one day his Dad would see him--really see him. There were moments that hope lessened a bit as Albie gave into his emotions-of-the-moment. But Albie's love for his dad always won out at the end. His hope would return.

The writing. I loved it. I did. I think the quality of the writing was amazing. There were chapters that just got to me. Their were paragraphs that just resonated with me. The writing just felt TRUE.

Absolutely, Almost is set in New York City.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
If you're reading this on a site (other than Becky's Book Reviews or Becky's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.
jkrbooks August 21 2014, 17:47

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher: Dana Alison Levy


Book: The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher (iBooks Link)
Author: Dana Alison Levy
Pages: 272
Age Range: 9-12

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy is an episodic story depicting a (school) year in the life of a New England family. Sam, Jax, Eli and Frog (a nickname) range in age from 12 to six. They are all adopted, and have different ethnic backgrounds, skin colors, and interests. They have two fathers, one called Dad and one called Papa. Dad is a teacher at a local high school, while Papa runs a computer company from the house. They are, in short, a thoroughly modern take on a stable two-parent family.

The nice thing about The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is that while it has diversity in spades, the diversity feels incidental to the story, rather than being the main point. The kids are the important thing, along with the various growing pains that they go through. Oh, there are new people that the family meets who need to have things explained to them. There are references to the various holiday traditions embraced by the family, in the interest of ensuring that everyone's background is included. But the heart of the book is the individual issues that each boy is going through, and the ways that the Fletchers all come together as a family.

Sam, the oldest son, is struggling to balance his love of soccer with a new interest in drama (and his new interest in a girl who likes drama, too). Jax, the older of two 10-year-olds, is watching his long-time best friend start to act grown-up, in ways that Jax isn't ready for. Eli attends a new school, an academically-focused private school that he really thought that he would like (but doesn't). And Frog? He spends most of his time explaining the absence of his new best friend, who may be imaginary. Mingled with all of these individual stories is friction that the family has with their new, grouchy neighbor, Mr. Nelson. 

Things to like: 

  • The kids are not perfect. They are boys, with all the attendant mess and noise that one would expect. There is lots of soccer and hockey, and the watching of Patriots games on TV. 
  • The dads are not perfect. They are good parents, who try hard, and who are occasionally overwhelmed. Little email snippets and notes at the start of each chapter help to communicate what the dads are really thinking, at times (particularly emails from Papa to his sister). 
  • There are frequent reference to "The Fletcher Family Rules", which are things like: no one plays until everyone has finished their homework. Such rules seem necessary in a large family, and are a nice demonstration of structure. 
  • There's not sweeping resolution, but progress is made in a realistic fashion, in various areas. 

Despite the modern composition of the Fletcher family, and the presence of cell phones and screen time, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher has an old-fashioned feel to it. There's a camping trip, a Halloween party, and a scramble to prepare Thanksgiving dinner. There's playing with kids in the neighborhood, and attending Family Night at the kindergarten. No external real-world events tie the story to an exact time (Mr. Nelson is a Vietnam Veteran, but we don't know his exact age), which will keep this book from feeling dated in coming years. It would make a nice companion book to The Penderwicks series, actually, though featuring boys instead of girls. 

I must admit that I found The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher to be a bit slow-paced, especially the first half of the book. It took me a while to get distinct pictures of all four boys in my mind, and the episodic plot didn't capture my full attention. This did improve for me in the second half of the book, and I enjoyed the book, but it took me a bit longer to get through than I would have expected.

Still, I think that The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher has a lot to offer young readers, especially boys. Happily, kids who have gay parents, or who are adopted, or who are not white, may find in the Fletcher family a mirror. But I think that most readers will be able to identify with at least one of the brothers. Any reader could get some good ideas from the brothers, about trying new things, not judging people when you don't know what they are going through, and admitting when you have made a mistake. All of this, with plenty of boy-friendly fun along the way. I would consider The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher a must-purchase for libraries serving middle grade readers.

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers 
Publication Date: July 22, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

kellyrfineman August 21 2014, 16:02

It's a mental health day

Perhaps this won't make sense to anyone but me, but I am taking a mental health day today. (If you're not familiar with the term, it's a day taken off work just to have a day off work, not for any other purpose.)

"But Kelly," you say, "you don't have an actual job."

You have a point, of course, since my writing job is entirely self-appointed, and the other jobs I do are of the cooking/taking care of the house and yard variety.

But I find myself restless and unsettled and vaguely put-out (for no apparent reason, although maybe it's something planetary or biorhythmic). Also, a bit tired. Also-also, my rheumatologist confirmed yesterday that I am a tense mess (my lower back is a board, yo), and the list of painful joints was essentially all of them, so there's that as well. All of which may explain the earlier portion of the paragraph, except that they've been a constant for a while now, and I haven't felt this particular way until today.

At any rate, whether my issues are mental or physical (or both), I am taking today off. No must-dos at all.

Of course, this means that I immediately wanted to write something – hence this post. But I have decided that nothing today is a "have-to", and that has freed me up to do whatever I want, which includes writing, the mere idea of which felt appalling before I decreed the mental health day. I suppose it's a form of reverse psychology, though I never told myself I couldn't write today. And I am quite excited to be making prime rib for dinner tonight. (As of now, that's the entire dinner menu. Hmm. Probably that will change.)

Perhaps I will do a bit of crafting. Or watch a movie. Or paint my toenails. Or go shopping, just to go out. Or perhaps I will do none of those things. There's a bit of adventure in not knowing what I'll decide to do next, even though none of the likely choices are especially exciting in and of themselves. But I sort of think that's the point of a mental health day.

Have you taken one lately? Do you need one? Can you manage to take one if you do? If you can't manage a full day, can you manage a morning or an afternoon to yourself?

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yzocaet August 21 2014, 08:17

Dolls or Action Figures? Hints or Hacks? Inspiration or FanFic?


One of the things that interests me is the way that language and words get gendered, and how that influences how we talk about things, what gets celebrated and respected, and what is "cool." And how often that if it's something that is coded masculine it's cooler, de facto, and somehow better than when it's feminine.

The two obvious examples are that girls play with dolls, boys with action figures. And when movie tie ins are created, the female characters are sorely lacking in the action figure area because, well, action figures are for boys and that's where the money is. Don't believe me? Look at what is being sold for Guardians of the Galaxy, and what those toys are called, and what is available. Even T-shirts are "boy" or "girl."

Or "life hacks." Disclosure: hate the term. As has been pointed out by many others, it's basically Hints from Heloise with a cool computer (i.e., male) word added to it so now suddenly such hints are not relegated to home ec classes (if they even still exist) or "ladies" magazines, but are now cool trending pieces online.

So all this was on my mind when I read Lev Grossman's op ed for The New York Times about writing fantasy. It's a good piece -- Finding My Voice In Fantasy.

And what I'm about to say has nothing to do with Grossman, his books, The New York Times. 

Here are the paragraphs that made me sit up and go "huh":

"It began almost as a thought experiment: I wanted to write a story like “Harry Potter,” or “The Chronicles of Narnia,” or “The Golden Compass,” a story about someone who discovers power he didn’t know he had, and who finds his way into a secret world. But as much as I loved Harry, and felt deeply connected to him, I was also painfully conscious of how different my life was from his. I was in my 30s and dealing with different problems from Harry’s. I wondered if there was a way to make my magician’s life look more like my own.

"So I made my magician older. I made him American — he doesn’t talk in the crisp, correct manner of English fantasy heroes. I gave him a drinking habit, a mood disorder, a sex life. I wasn’t going to give my magician a Dumbledore or a Gandalf. There would be no avuncular advisor to show him where the path was. I wanted my magician to feel as lost as I did."

I half joked to myself, "ha, sounds like alternate universe fanfiction to me."

And I stopped laughing.

Note: I'm not saying what Grossman did is or is not fanfiction. But as a reader of fanfiction, let me say -- you get into reading alternate universe works, and those AU stories get so far from the original source material that it's barely fanfiction anymore.

And I began to wonder at the mostly women who've written and published many "a story like" and been criticized because the source material was Twilight or the inspiration was One Direction. And how, because those women didn't have a background in publishing or knowledge of how it works from their life or educational experiences, their starting place is not an agent, and their explanation of origins was not "thought experiment" or "a story like," but rather the online community of lovers of the source material/inspiration -- fandom. So fanfiction. And so they are haunted by that past, and no amount of "thought experiment" or "story like" forgives them; instead they are told that it's "not original." (Of course, some of the most well known examples of this are writers laughing all the way to the bank. But still.)

And I think of how the "baggage" of being a fanfic writer can follow the writer (often female) into present works, with those writers getting a heavier dose of criticism / suspicion of originality. I saw a throwaway joke in a story get attacked as not being original, and the p-word mentioned, because the writer (female) has fanfic origins, and the joke was one that was so old that variations of it were probably around before Guttenberg. But because she was known to be in fandom, and a similar joke had been made in that source material, it was suspect.

And so I'm wondering.... it this an example of male writers being allowed to be "inspired" by other works when creating stories, where women are sighed at for not being "original"?

Or is this more to do with privilege -- that those who, whether because of family, education, geography, or profession, "know better" about how it all works so can set up their writing career in a way that avoids the fanfic stigma?

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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