Friday, February 26, 2010

Smile, by Raina Telgemeier

I love working with colleagues who love books as much as I do! Without them, I might not have gotten my hands on a little gem of a autobiographical graphic novel like Smile, by Raina Telgemier. So thanks to Jesse and Jen!

Raina is coming home from Girl Scouts one night and is running to her front door with her friends Kelli and Melissa when she trips and goes down hard! She lands on her face, and when she comes up, her front two teeth are no longer where they should be. They find one on the sidewalk, but the other is not to be found (it will be discovered later jammed up into her gums). One emergency dentist office later, a tooth is replace, the other pulled back down, Raina has a cast on her teeth and is hoping for the best.

The treatment doesn’t work out quite as planned, and Raina is left with front teeth that don’t fit her mouth, and braces on top of that!

But this story isn’t all about Raina’s smile problems. Readers watch her go through growing pains including a first crush on a 6th grader when she’s in 7th grade, and all of the grief that her “friends” give her about it -- forays into the scary world of the school dance, and the realization that true friends accept a person for who she is.

Tweens will eat up this real life story of growing up. Readers will be able to relate to the aches and pains of middle school, even if they’ve never sat in an orthodontist’s chair. If Raina’s art seems familiar to readers it’s most likely because she is behind the graphic novel adaptations of The Babysitter’s Club. Smile will appeal to the reader’s of that series, but will be enjoyed by a whole new audience as well.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis




Popeye is ready to spend yet another day in his regular life, with his bedroom ceiling dripping rusty water and listening to his grandmother Velma recite British royalty in order of reign to prevent herself from cracking up. It's been raining for a week, and Popeye feels like he is the one who is going to crack up!

Once the rain finally stops, Popeye takes the opportunity to get out of the house. He is walking down the road, pitching stones into the ditch when he sees it – a big motor home that is “tilted precariously to the side, one of its giant wheels sunk deep down into the gloppy red mud of the road”. (p.12)

Popeye’s summer, and his life, are about to change.

The owners of the motor home are a family with a passel of rag tag kids who quickly induct Popeye into their Spit and Swear club. The eldest, named Elvis, takes an interest in Popeye and soon the two are inseparable -- having small adventures for at least as long as the motor home is stuck in the mud. They spit and swear, discover Yoo-Hoo boats filled mysterious notes and soon Popeye has dreams of hopping on the motor-home and finding adventures that are even bigger. Each day Popeye hopes that his Uncle Dooley, who is supposed to dig the motor home out, will stay true to his nature and not get it done!

On the surface, this book penned by Barbara O'Connor seems to be simply about a summertime adventure that happens to blow into town, but dig a little deeper. Popeye, who has always listened to Velma before, tries on defiance for the first time, not just for the sake of making trouble either. In the name of adventure, he is willing to risk Velma’s wrath. After Popeye and Elvis meet Starletta (a girl who lives through the woods and down the creek) readers can feel Popeye’s inhibitions and apathy peeling away. Dreams start to seed, and readers will believe that Popeye will not end up like his Uncle Dooley…he’s made of bigger stuff.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place

Penelope Lumley has just graduated from Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, where she was dropped off when she was four years old. At the Academy she was a bright student, fond of quoting the sayings of Miss Agatha Swanburne, and is now en route to interview for a job as a governess at Ashton Place. Her head mistress Miss Charlotte Mortimer penned Penny a glowing recommendation, and Penny is hoping for the best.

When she meets Lady Constance, Penny is a bit surprised when she ends up asking the lady of the house questions rather than the other way around. And for some reason Lady Constance really doesn’t want to talk about the children. In fact, she states that children are not very “interesting” to discuss.

But the real surprise comes when Penny does meet the children. Raggedy and kept wrapped in blankets in the barn, the three children howl away and act like animals. Penny soon learns that Lord Ashton found the children in his woods while out hunting, and instead of sending the children to a work house or an orphanage, he applied his “finders keepers” philosophy and decided to advertise for a governess instead.

Penny is soon knee deep in the task of re-education Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia (names chosen by the master of the house). She is sure that poetry, Latin and some etiquette will change their lives. The children and their governess are mostly left to themselves, until Lady Constance lets them know that she is planning her first Christmas fete as the lady of the house and that the children must be presentable by that time.

Penny is sure that she can have the children ready, but it seems that someone doesn’t want her to succeed. Who could it be?

Maryrose Wood has written an incredibly smart and engaging start to a series that has left me wanting more. The pacing is perfect, the voice of the narrator is polished and so much fun! All of the pearls of wisdom from Agatha Swanburne will have readers thinking, and no doubt quoting as well. My friends know that I usually bemoan the fact that so many titles develop into series…I hanker for the stand alone. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, however, does it right. The characters are interesting, the setting is clear and the writing is strong. Simply put, I cannot wait for the next installment!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean

In this graphic novel style biographical look at Amelia Earhart, readers are treated to the marriage of fact and story. The story starts in a small Newfoundland town. Amelia Earhart, Bill Stultz, and Slim Gordon have arrived in the hopes to make Amelia the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air.

Grace, a girl in town who fancies herself a reporter and publishes her own paper, is shocked and intrigued by Amelia's goal. Grace takes to following Amelia around town, hoping for a scoop and some insight. Once attempt, after attempt to take off fail, many people lose interest in the flight...but not Grace! She actually gets a tête à tête with Earhart and has her questions answered - including why she wants to fly airplanes, how she was chosen for the Atlantic crossing, and what her husband thinks about her flying.

Readers see Grace grow up and follow her own dreams, apparently inspired by Amelia's successes.

The introduction by Eileen Collins (the first female pilot of a space shuttle) sets the tone. Readers are introduced to Earhart through the eyes of someone inspired by her, and Collins lays out the facts of Earhart's life. Ben Towle's illustrations are filled with emotion and give a real sense of time period. The tri-color panels (black, white and blue) instantly pull the reader in and are evocative not only of the triumph of the skies, but the tragedy of the seas. The panel discussions int he back matter deepen the factual content of Earhart's life through quotes, information on women pilots, as well as society in the 1920s and 30s.

Overall, this is a stunning and interesting look into the life and times of Amelia Earhart.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang


Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang have been friends forever. They are in their last year before middle school, and they know it’s time to take action regarding their popularity. Better stated, their lack of popularity is the real problem. They have watched Lydia’s sister make the transition to middle school and somewhere along the lines she went from a tanned, cute, musical girl to a pale, black-haired, pierced being. To tell the truth, Lydia and Julie are a bit scared of her, and want to make sure that nothing like that happens to them along the way.

But how to get popular? They decide their best course of action is to do some good old-fashioned research by studying the girls who are now popular, and recording their findings in a journal. They divide the work up by having Julie do most of the writing and drawing (since she’s better at both), and having Lydia dictate.

They study the 4 main popular girls: Gretchen (who has the cool blonde streak in her hair), Lisa (who has the expensive cell phone), Jane (the fashionista, theater girl) and Sukie (who they can’t really figure out). Should they dye their hair like Gretchen? Learn to knit or play field hockey like Sukie? Start to like boys?

The girls end up trying various hobbies and interests of the other girls on for size. Is the result popularity? What do you think?

Amy Ignatow has created a super cute scrapbook-style book, that tween readers will eat up. Not only is the format fun, by Ignatow is able to go beyond the format to get at the meaty issues of girl-friendships. There are bossy moments, backstabbing moments and she brings the ebbs and flows of girl-friendship alive on the pages. And Julia's parents just happen to be two dads, which is always a good thing. Ignatow does this with panache, without Julie's family being a big deal, simply a fact.

I read this in arc format (due out 4/10) and I cannot wait to see the final copy. The details even in the arc are stupendous with scotch taped bits, school notes, and hilarious illustrations. I hand sold it to a big reader of mine, and it’s safe to say that The Popularity Papers won’t cross my desk again until every girl (and some of the boys) in her class have read it

Monday, February 01, 2010

Blogger Swap

I have been totally remiss in letting everyone know about the wonderful holiday swap gift I got by taking part in this year's swap. My partner sent me this gem:





How GORG is this? I had it sent to my workplace, so it sat in my mailbox til school was back in. I have the perfect place for it in a little cabin by a lake!

Big thanks!