Sunday, August 22, 2010

The 2011s Are Coming! The 2011s Are Coming!

It's hard to believe, especially since there are plenty of exciting 2010s left to read, but it's true.

So what does that mean here at Welcome to My Tweendom?

Usually it would mean I start blurbing those books, but this year is a little different.  I am very excited to be on the ALA 2012 Newbery Committee.  This means that if it's a children's book, and comes out in 2011, chances are I will be reading it.   In the name of staying as far away from  a conflict of interest as possible the focus at Welcome to My Tweendom will shift for the year.

What you won't find here are reviews and blurbs of the 2011s.  What you will find are reviews and blurbs of past Newbery winners, my still enormous pile of 2010 titles, and books that I feel have been overlooked in the past.  Once school is in session there will be lists of what our tweens are checking out on the clipboard.

I am super excited about this next reading year, and I can't wait to troll the blogs and find out what you all are reading!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Karma Bites, by Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas

Franny Flanders isn’t exactly in love with her life. Her two best friends no longer speak to each other, her trippy grandmother has comes to stay since her parents split, and her mother is in meltdown mode.

In an effort to have more fun, Franny decides to dye her naturally red hair blond. Anyone who knows anything about hair dye knows that getting red to blond should be left to the professionals, and Franny in turn is left with neon orange locks. Not exactly the look she was going for. In an act of desperation, Franny goes to her grandmother for help. Her friend Joey reasons that since Gran is old, maybe she’s wise as well and can help with the hair situation!

Well, Granny does decide to help and frankly, Franny is a little embarrassed about the production that involves beakers, tinctures, olive oil, smoke, sparks and alchemy?! Somehow it works and Franny asks her Granny what the heck happened, but she refuses and simply warns Franny that there may be some side effects

What she doesn’t mention is that the side effects are of the social suicide variety! Franny’s middle school is completely divided by cliques and there is a set of unwritten laws about who to talk to, where to eat et cetera. Franny’s side effect has her talking to kids who shouldn’t be talked to and talking back to the Queen Bees!

When she finally gets her Granny to spill about her recipe for fixing her hair, Granny introduces Franny to the Hindi Help Box…a magical box that helps fix problems with different recipes. Franny can’t believe it. There are loads of problems in her life and her middle school that need fixing! She can’t understand why Granny won’t hand over the box and let Franny go to town.

But Granny is too trusting, and soon Franny is “fixing” the relationship between her two best friends Joey and Kate. She’s “fixing” boring teachers. And she’s “fixing” her dad’s girlfriend. But what Franny hasn’t counted on is the butterfly effect…the fact that all of this messing around she is doing affects everything else in her world. Can Franny fix all of the fixing that she has done? What are the outcomes of using magic to further her own ends?

Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas have written a breezy story that reads like a television sit-com with over-the-top characters and situations. But that’s not a bad thing! The underlying message of being careful what you wish for is loud and clear, but is presented in a thoroughly entertaining way. While Franny’s middle school has more cliques than I have personally ever encountered, the archetypes wear their characters well. The one pause I was given was with the character of the Lama who comes to Franny and Granny’s aid…he is given quite the Hollywood treatment and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. But if readers take his character in the spirit with which he is given, I think that his character works for this book.Liz Burns over at A Chair A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy gets it right when she explains who this book is for.

Another fun piece of this title that needs to be mentioned are the recipes from the box that are provided ranging from the “Sensationally Sexy Smoothie” to the “Forget it Fudge”. Tweens looking for fun will eat this up!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror

While I was at ALA in DC, I was fortunate enough to attend a breakfast hosted by the kind folks at HarperCollins. I was doubly fortunate to have the whirwind that is author Jennifer Finney Boylan sit down next to me, slap her hands on her copy of  Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror and launch into an extraordinary book-talk. Falcon Quinn made it to the top of my pile, due in large part for her enthusiasm for the book.

Falcon is waiting for the bus as usual, accompanied by quiet Megan and not-so-quiet Max. As they board the bus, Falcon notices a new driver, but doesn’t think too much about it, as he is distracted by some creepiness in the graveyard across the street. Before they know it, the 3 are careening through the streets, skipping stops and are soon deposited through the Bermuda Triangle and into another world.

They find themselves in the quad of Castle Grisleigh, where they are met by Mrs. Redflint who tells them that they are actually monsters and that Castle Grisleigh is an academy for monsters…a place where they can learn how to suppress their true natures and live among humans. At the Castle, the monsters are divided up by types with the sasquatches staying with sasquatches, vampires with vampires et cetera. Mrs. Redflint isn’t exactly sure what kind of monster Falcon is yet and Falcon finds himself feeling just as out of place at the Academy as he had on the outside. He doesn’t know what kind of monster he is, and even if he did, he’s not sure he would want to suppress his monsterness anyway! Just look at Max…he is loving his life as a sasquatch, why should he pretend just to be a big, hairy boy?

Jennifer Finney Boylan has written a fun and funny story about the nature of fitting in and finding friends. While she has said that Falcon is not a metaphor, the message about categories and acceptance comes across loud and clear. I have found over time that most kids do not mind the apparent messages found in many books, and I doubt that they will have an issue this time, as they themselves are in the heart of trying to figure out who they are and how to treat other kids who don’t identify as they do.  It is a big book at 486 pages, but it starts nice and quickly, and over-the-top characters like Perla (La Chupakabra), and Weems (the ghoul) will keep readers laughing out loud and wondering what will happen next.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Kneebone Boy, by Ellen Potter

As fellow readers, I am sure that some of you have experienced this. The siren song of a book simply from title and cover art alone. This was my initial experience with The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter. Now, I have enjoyed Potter’s work in the past, so I wasn’t worried at all about experiencing the dreaded feeling of, “but I wanted to like this book!” that happens when readers fall for covers and titles sometimes. From the creepy dark haired young children staring out with their older blond brother wrapped in a scarf and holding a cat, to the bare feet hanging from the tree, I was simply intrigued.

Upon opening the arc, I was greeted with Chapter 1 followed by a bit of foreshadowing of the upcoming chapter: “In which we meet the Hardscrabbles, unearth a triceratops bone, and begin to like Lucia even more.” The Hardscrabbles are siblings Otto, Lucia and Max, who all live in the town of Little Tunks with their artist father Casper. Their mum is simply gone. She had been there, then she wasn’t. As in most small towns, the rumours began to spread…especially when Otto gives up talking aloud (he has invented a sort of sign language that he and Lucia use) and takes to wearing his mum’s scarf everywhere.

Casper is a peculiar sort of artist in that he paints portraits of royalty…exclusively exiled royalty. Casper says, "...there is something extraordinary about the face of a person who has fallen from greatness. They remind me of angels tossed out of heaven who are now struggling to manage the coin-operated washing machine at the Scrubbly-Bubbly Laundromat" (arc p.23) As you can imagine, exiled royals are not big on settling up their bills, so the Hardscrabbles don't live a luxurious existence by any means, and it means that their father is often traveling to wherever it is that the exiles are.

Usually when their dad goes away, the children stay with kooky Mrs. Carnival from down the way, but this time Casper tells them that they are to stay with their cousin Angela in London. Lucia especially is quite excited about this turn of events, and some time in London would be great if cousin Angela were actually at home.  Stuck on their own in London, the kids come up with a plan that doesn't involve staying back in Little Tunks with Mrs. Carnival.  Instead of trying to head home, the kids go on another adventure to find their Great Aunt Haddie in Snoring-by-the-Sea.

It turns out that not-so-old Haddie is renting a castle folly that is chock-full of its own secrets, including the entrance (a Tyrolean traverse), a parent castle (named the Kneebone Castle), and some pretty interesting rats.

I don’t want to go too deeply into the plot and get all spoiler-y. Suffice it to say there are some twists and turns that will make readers want to start flipping back through the text looking for clues. From the beginning where readers are told that the narrator is one of the Hardscrabbles, but not which one, to the very big reveal, Potter has woven together a plot that flows pretty seamlessly. The characters are all well developed (I grew particularly fond of Otto) and their personalities will draw readers in. This is the kind of book that captures readers at the beginning and keeps them in its thrall all the way through. Emily Reads captures the essence in her haiku review found here.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson

Emma Freke doesn’t have it easy.Why couldn’t her mother have at least said her name aloud before naming her: “am a freak”?That is exactly how Emma feels.She doesn’t fit in with her expressive Italian mom, Donatella, who likes to leave out the fact that she has a daughter while she is meeting potential suitors.Her Nonno, who lives with them above their bead shop, is either asleep in his chair or out walking the dog. And you can imagine what school can be like for a 5’ 10’’ tall 11-year-old with her name.

Donatella, in a rare instance of maternal action, gives Emma a thoughtful birthday gift this year. Home-schooling! Donatella says that Emma’s Nonno will help out with the teaching by bringing Emma to the library daily, as home-schooled kids generally do.Emma realizes that the materials her mom gave her to use are a bit dated, so she enlists the librarian Stevie, to suggest some more recent workbooks at a higher grade-level. Stevie makes a few phonecalls, and Emma isn’t really surprised to hear that Donatella didn’t exactly go through the proper channels to get Emma into home-schooling in the first place. This makes Emma think on something that her neighbor and best friend Penelope planted in her brain…maybe Emma, like Penelope, is actually adopted. It would explain a few things. She doesn’t look like her mom or her other relatives, and she certainly doesn’t act like them.

No such luck. In an unexpected turn of events, Emma is soon whisked off to the Freke family reunion. She knows that her own father who she has never met will not be there due to a rift in his own family relations, but maybe Emma will find some sense of place in her namesake family.

Elizabeth Atkinson has written a story about family and finding your place in it. What is a family, after all? Can you ever fight how you fit in yours? What traits do you pull from the folks who raise you, and what do you get from genetics? It’s also a story about finding your voice, your courage and your confidence. Diversity of all sorts is woven into the story, from Phoebe’s lesbian moms, and Phoebe’s own Liberian decent, to Emma’s own inter-generational family and her cousin Fred’s non-conformity. Feeling like the square peg is very understandable for tweens, and readers will be charmed by Emma’s journey.