Tuesday, October 20, 2015

One Book. Two Perspectives. My Diary from the Edge of the World, by Jodi Lynn Anderson

 Oh, twitter.  Sometimes you are a wonderful thing!  Last July I was at my daughters' swim lesson reading away, and I shared a shot of the book I was reading online.  Barbara, it turns out, was reading the same book and we began somewhat of a back and forth as you are want to do when you find out someone besides yourself is smitten.  We decided we would co-blog closer to the publishing date, and here are our thoughts!

Barbara:  Gracie Lockwood's voice immediately drew me into the story. She keeps a careful record of the family's journey in a diary, a gift from her mother. It is lovingly inscribed with these words, To Gracie, May this diary be big enough to contain your restless heart.  Gracie is a girl with strong opinions, stating from the outset that her purpose in keeping a written record is to "prove that I knew it first." Her friend Oliver's observation, "You're kind of fiery" is an understatement. In addition to Gracie's fire, readers witness her gradually evolving realization that the world is much more complex than she initially imagined it to be.  She begins to temper her original strong judgments. "I've realized I may have been completely wrong about my dad."  "I wondered about the word 'beast.' I wondered if sometimes, the way everything looks - who's the beast and who isn't - depends on where you're standing."  I love this statement of self-realization:  "Every year I realize how dumb I was the year before." 

One of this book’s striking aspects is the comparisons I made to Homer’s The Odyssey.  The book’s 416 pages is itself a reading odyssey.  It requires an investment of time, attention to storyline, and a commitment to the characters. Reading Gracie's diary becomes a personal journey for the reader.

The travelogue aspect is certainly an integral part of this family's epic saga. We follow Gracie and her family on an extended journey to known and unknown places, several described in vivid detail. The mode of travel is symbolic. The family first travels via Winnebago, a name reflecting a Native American Tribe who excel in oral storytelling. Later they board the Weeping Alexa.  Alexa is a reference to Alexander the Great, the “protector”. These modes of transportation give added meaning to the family’s quest. 

​The major characters read like the cast from a Greek drama.
We meet good guys, bad guys, both real and mythical. Sea monsters and mermaids inhabit the waters. Dragons and unicorns take flight through the skies. 
Homer’s motifs take the form of the individuals the family encounters on their journey:  an oracle (Grandma), sirens (Luck City), Penelope’s suitors (Captain Bill).
Not since the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? have I encountered such an imaginative homage to Homer’s epic classic.

Without question, the theme which resonated with me and continues to haunt my thinking is the concept of fate. This also reflects the Greek concept of The Fates: goddesses who controlled the life of every mortal from birth to death and watched that the fate assigned to every being proceeded without obstruction.

Stacy: I read quite a few books.  Especially during the summer when I am fortunate enough to be lakeside and poolside depending on the day. So it’s not everyday that a story really makes me sit up and notice it. In the first few pages of MDFTEOTW I found myself looking up from the pages and grinning.  Reading bits aloud.  And then tweeting this to my friend Barbara -

@moonb2 thanks for the spotlight on this book, Barbara. I'm only on page 7 and I'm already delighted!”

By page 7 we know this: Cliffden Maine isn’t the Maine that we know in 2015. It is a Maine where there are the expected things like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s, schools and houses. But people in town are scuttering around because the dragons are on their way to hibernate and they’ve been quite destructive this year. Protagonist Gracie is out at her favorite spot (where she’s not supposed to be) on top of the hill overlooking town and writing in the journal her mom gave her for her 12th birthday.  

Dragons aren’t the only odd things in the sky in Maine. There are also Dark Clouds. These are not the storm clouds we know that release the likes of lightning and rain. Rather they come to town and take away the people who are meant to die.  And now a Dark Cloud is settling right in Gracie’s yard.  Gracie is worried about her little brother Sam, who is often ill.  Complicating family matters is the fact that Gracie’s dad’s crackpot theories about the Extraordinary World have just ousted him from his job.  So when Gracie comes home one day to see a Winnebago in the front yard, she’s not too surprised that her dad means to pack up her mom, sister, brother and Gracie and head out of town.

Obviously this is a story about a journey, but it wasn’t until I had back channeled a bunch with Barbara that I could see the Odyssey’s tracks.  For me, the Lockwood family was running from crisis and desperately grasping at possibility.

Gracie truly makes this books shine. Whether it’s seeing her witchy grandmother’s house through her eyes, feeling her affections for Sam, seeing her longing to have a relationship with older sister Millie, or having those moments of embarrassment followed by yearning to believe in her father, if Gracie’s voice was less Gracie, the story wouldn’t work half as well.

The other high point for me was Anderson’s world building. The magical mixing with the mundane is presented so matter of fact, that readers simply have to buy it.  The journey has them landing in places like Luck City, Big Tex’s Circus, The Crow’s Nest, a broken down L.A. and even Cliffden itself and of the places contain different magic, but the magic follows the same rules. 

And then there’s the idea of hope. Inextricable hope tangled up with fate. Which one rules the day?

What a pleasure it was to virtually read My Diary from the Edge of the World with Barbara across geography and time.  Clearly, both Barbara and I love this book, and though we both approached it differently, it worked for us.  I can’t wait to share this with a big cross section of readers. It works on so many levels that I am sure it will be a crowd pleaser!


A big note of thanks to Barbara Moon for co-blogging with me this time.  Barbara is a retired librarian who reads up a storm! Member of 2009-2011 Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee, 2012 Odyssey Award committee, 2014 Margaret A. Edwards Award committee. Currently servicing on the 2016 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award committee. You can find Barbara blogging at Reading Style

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Quick Bits

Hello?  Is anyone there?

It's been quiet over here with the start of school and getting back into the swing of living the commuting life again.  Every September, something has to give and it tends to be this blog.

But I'm back! And to make up for lost time, I am sharing short recommendations for three (yes 3!) books with you.

First up is the delightful and different Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. Now if you know me, you know that the saddest part of my summer was finding out there would be no chickens at the county fair due to avian flu paranoia.  I do have a soft-spot for all things chicken.  And how can you deny that title?  Sophie Brown has just moved with her parents to her late great uncle Jim's farm from LA. It's quite the culture shock. Add on the fact that Sophie's dad has lost her job and money is tight, and there don't seem to be any other brown people in Gravenstein aside from Sophie, her mom and the mailman.  Readers learn about Sophie's circumstances through the letters she writes. Letters to her grandmother, and to great uncle Jim who have passed on.  Letters to the poultry company to help her figure out how to take care of the weird chickens she keeps finding. And letters to the mysterious Agnes. It soon becomes clear that Sophie's chickens are exceptional and that they are wanted by someone else in town.  Will Sophie be able to manage all the changes in her life and figure out how to keep chickens at the same time? Wonderfully illustrated by Katie Kath, this is a book like no other.

Next, the dreamy Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley.  My kid's librarian read it aloud to her class last year, but she liked it so much, she asked me to read it for our family read this summer.  After the first few pages I knew that this one is going to be a modern classic.  Beasley manages to get that dreamy feeling, respect the reader and get us to suspend disbelief.  Micah's grandpa Ephraim is very ill.  His sister, Micha's great aunt Gertrudis, has come to live with them and she couldn't be more different from grandpa.  She is pinched, closed off and truly hateful.  She won't even allow Ephraim to keep telling Micah his stories about the Circus Mirandus...a place she is sure is fictional.  But with childlike wonder, Micah vows to find his grandpa's circus and save him.  This is a dreamy adventure that will have readers young and old believing in magic.

Next, Rebecca Stead's Goodbye Stranger.  I'm not going to lie. When I heard there was a new Rebecca Stead coming out, I did a happy dance. Then I harangued my colleagues to hand over any arcs they had forthcoming!  Luckily I got my own eyes on an arc through netgalley.  Stead can capture that moment -- that breath of change that  happens when kids are on the cusp of that place moving from kid to teen.  As usual, I find it difficult to summarize Stead's book.  Suffice it to say there is a character for everyone in here...whether it's Bridge who is resisting the changes of growing up,  strong willed Tab who jumps into life with two feet, Em who is navigating the changes to her body and friendships with a little less grace than folks would assume or Sherm who is a bit like the Duckie of the modern day. There are moments of breathless beauty in the writing, and I found myself putting the book down and just considering the words.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste

Corrine La Mer is totally at home on her island. She’s not afraid of the woods like most of the kids she knows, so when two village boys tie her late mother’s pendant to the leg of an agouti she simply follows her instincts and dashes into the woods after it. It is all she has of her mother and she needs to get it back.

But once she retrieves the pendant and is not concentrating on the chase, Corrine does start to feel some unease. Her skin prickles as she thinks about the creatures the villagers talk about inhabiting these woods...the jumbies.  Corrine thinks she sees some eyes behind a bush and she hightails it out of the woods straight into the arms of her Papa as he and the rest of the village makes their annual trek to the graveyard to pay respects to those who have passed.
On their way home, a woman stands in the shadows. Corrine’s Papa asks if she needed any help but she refuses.

This is both the end and the beginning.

It is the end of the simple life with the people living on the outside and the jumbies living in the woods. It is the beginning of Corrine’s coming of age. Not only has a jumbie followed her out of the woods, but this particular jumbie has Corrine and her Papa in her sights.

So begins the adventure that will test Corrine’s will.  Even though she has always been strong willed and independent, she must bend a little and learn to ask for help and depend on her friends.  She learns that things aren’t always as they seem, and that adults are very adept at keeping secrets.

One of the most interesting parts of the story is in the way that Baptiste weaves in a narrative about colonialism, and as Betsy Bird put it “us” and “them”. There are some very poignant moments filled with these big ideas that are handled with aplomb and never seem forced.

This book fills several voids for the audience. First, most of the retellings of folklore in novel format that I have read are European in source. The Caribbean setting is a stand out.  Also, this title fits perfectly into the just creepy enough and just scary enough for the audience.  The island is lushly painted with its’ port and marketplace and dense woods.  Corrine and her friends are off on their own most of the time, but the adults in their lives clearly care for and love them deeply. This gives readers the reassurance that things will hopefully come out okay.

I will be booktalking this one as soon as we go back to school!

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano

Pram has never truly been told the tale of her beginnings.  A beginning that started with her still inside her mother, even as she hung from the branch of the tree. Pram was orphaned right from the start, but was taken in by her two no-nonsense aunts. Pram is even short for Pragmatic -- named such because it was deemed sensible for a young lady, and sensible is just what the aunts wanted for Pram.

But Pram has always been the opposite of sensible.  She’s dreamy, and her oldest and best friend is a ghost named Felix who appeared one day in the pond by the home for the aged where she lives with her aunts.

Pram is forced by the state to actually attend school at the age of eleven and this is where Pram meets her first real life friend. She gets into an argument with Clarence before school even starts when he informs her that she is sitting in his desk. By lunch time they have discovered that both of their mothers are dead and with this the seeds of their friendship are planted.

As time goes on, Pram doesn’t tell Clarence that she can speak with ghosts, but she does agree to accompany him to a spiritualist show where he hopes his mother’s spirit will reveal herself. Things don’t go as Clarence hoped and instead the spiritualist is very interested in Pram. What Pram and Clarence cannot know is that the spiritualist is anything but a charlatan, and a girl like Pram is very valuable to her.

What follows is a haunting and frightening ghost story that straddles the world of the living and the dead. Lyrical and tender, DeStefano’s story will scare readers without tipping into horror. This is an achingly beautiful story of love and loss, of friendship and family. A Curious Tale of the In-Between is for the deep reader, and I can see it becoming that touchstone title that ferries readers into more complex and intricate stories.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Real Life Tween Review - The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold

I figured, since I live with you real live tweens, it is high time that I have them write some of the book recommendations that appear on this blog.  Tween 2 read The Imaginary before school was out, and she loved it!  The following is what she has to say about it!


I had just finished a book, and as always, I was looking for a new one. Just like most kids, I like it when a book sticks to me. Sometimes I read the first two chapters of one book and I do not like it and then same with the next, and so on. As usual I asked my mom/librarian for a suggestion. She usually gives me like 8 books and I don’t like any of them, so it is usually hard for her to give me suggestions. This time she gave me this book, and it hooked me right from the introduction. I checked it out and just read it.

The one thing that keeps Amanda happy is her imaginary friend Rudger. After all, she is an only child.  There is just him and her. They are best friends. But Amanda’s mother thinks there is something wrong with Amanda. Amanda loves to imagine. Rudger and Amanda always go on adventures in the backyard. Then one day Mr. Bunting comes to the door.

Mr. Bunting hunts Imaginaries. Rumor has it that he eats them! He sniffs them out and this time he has sniffed out Rudger. With Mr. Bunting’s (well let’s say) “assistant” he has almost got Rudger in his clutches! With Amanda unconscious in the hospital, Rudger is alone with nobody believing in him.  He is starting to fade away with Amanda not being able to imagine him. All at once he is trying to get to Amanda, escape from Mr. Bunting, and not fade before it is all done. On his way he meets some other imaginaries that help him. But can he make it before fading?

A.F. Harrold has created humor, with scary moments and magic all in one plot. This book was super amazing! Emily Gravett has so many great and detailed pictures. The illustrations and the book work in harmony together. This is a must read book! Ten out of ten stars! **********

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting (And Lives to Tell About It)

The first time I saw this title, I have to say I laughed out loud.  I lifted my gaze from the catalog, and surveyed the library to see most middle schoolers faces glued to their phones.  Needless to say, the title struck me even before I got my hands on the book.  While it was on my desk, it drummed up lots of interest from the kids and the adults alike.

Katie Friedman is an expert multitasker.  She's the kind of tech user who would have ALL THE TABS open.  As we begin she is texting her friend Hannah, posting a pic of her dog, receiving some texts from Becca, and sending texts to bff Charlie Joe Jackson. This is all before breakfast.  During breakfast she gets some texts from Nareem, Eliza, Hannah,  and Becca.  Then on the bus ride to school Katie is texting with Charlie Joe, and her mom.  Whew!  Exhausted yet?

The thing is, it's pretty easy to send a text to the wrong person.  Especially if you are texting multiple people at the same time.  Lots of times, it's kind of funny to send the wrong text to the wrong person. But sometimes it's really not.  Especially when you're texting about something personal.  Something like not liking your boyfriend so much anymore...and sending it to your boyfriend.

Hitting send changes everything for Katie.  Not only has she gone and really hurt Nareem's feelings, but she begins to realized how far into their phones her friends are.  She thinks about the fact that it just seems easier to text people instead of actually talk to them.

Inspired by her musical heroine, Jane Plantero, Katie sets out on a quest.  A quest to live without her phone for a while.  And Jane says if Katie can convince 10 of her friends to give up their phones for a week, she will come and play a show for them.  The twist is that Katie is not allowed to dangle to carrot of the concert.

How hard will it be to convince a bunch of middle schoolers to give up their phones?

Tommy Greenwald has tackled the topic of kids and phones without making it seem like a "topic".   Gweenwald nails the voice as usual, and if I didn't know better, I'd say he was a teacher.  Charlie Joe pops up throughout the book to lend his sarcastic wit with segments like, "Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Why Texting Is Awesome". Where Greenwald shines is in writing the relationships.   They are messy and fickle and constantly shifting ... totally like in middle school.  Katie isn't all good, just as Charlie Joe isn't all snark.  This is a book that should just show up on library tables, and in living rooms all over the place.  I think this would make a fantastic book club book, and the kind of classroom read that will get kids talking.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Hilo - The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, by Judd Winick

There are never enough graphic novels for kids.  This is a simple truth. When I look to our circulation at school, out of the top 50 circulating titles during the school year 44 were graphic novels.  88%!  So I was pretty delighted when my colleague Karyn told me there was a graphic novel for kids I needed to check out.  I finally got my hands on the arc and sat down to give it a go.

DJ is just an average kid in the middle of an above average family.  The one thing he was really good at was being a good friend to Gina, but Gina moved away 3 years ago.

DJ is sitting on the roof of his club house when he sees something crash out of the sky.  Imagine his surprise when a blond boy in silver undies climbs out of the newly formed crater in the earth.  This kid has a lot of energy and even more questions since his "memory is a busted book" and he's not quite sure where he's from or what he's doing on earth.  DJ takes Hilo in without much of a plan, and quickly finds himself with his hands full.

DJ is surprised when Gina ends up back in town, and notices that she's changed quite a bit in the 3 years she's been out of Berke County which makes DJ notice that he hasn't really changed. At all.

As Hilo's past is revealed to him in his dreams bit by bit, it soon becomes apparent that danger is on the way.  And now maybe DJ will realize he's not so ordinary after all.

This outstanding graphic novel needs to be purchased in multiples.  Winick has created lovable, funny and real characters that readers will laugh with and cheer for.  The movement in the art is reminiscent of both Watterson and Gownley and I defy anyone to read Hilo without feeling moments of joy.  While reviewers have pegged this as a 9-12 title, I'm saying all ages.  I know we will have kids from 6 to 14 eager to check this one out, and my adult self enjoyed every moment!

I heart Hilo.