Archive for June, 2009

The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff

The Thing About GeorgieHold on! Not so fast. Before you begin reading this I need to tell you something. It’s about Georgie. The thing about Georgie is, well, it’s that other than being a dwarf, he’s pretty much the same as any other kid.

And that’s what makes this book so intriguing. In one way or another, most of us feel different. It’s our differences, in a lot of ways, which make us all so much alike. Got problems with your parents? So does Georgie. Had a fight with your BFF? Georgie has, too. Do some people scare you? Ask Georgie about Jeanie the Meanie or his friend Andy’s Grandma.

The thing about Georgie is that’s he’s a great kid who happens to be a dwarf. But he’s not all about being a dwarf. Like Shakespeare’s Shylock, when you prick him, he cries. If you tickle him, he laughs. He handles his life with all its ups and downs—and he has a lot of downs lately—like any other fourth grader. Sometimes he makes mistakes; sometimes he comes out on top. Most of the time he doesn’t know the difference between the two. He’s real and that’s what makes him so special (thanks, Lisa Graff). It’s said that big surprises can come in small packages. With Georgie there’s not so much of a surprise as a delight. The thing about Georgie is, you just gotta meet him.

Posted by: Eileen

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That New Animal by Emily Jenkins

That New AnimalI had to double-check the author several times while reading Jenkins’ “That New Animal;” I was half-convinced it was written, in fact, by my dogs under a pen name. For had they the power to put pen to paw about their experiences upon the arrival of the human ‘sister,’ this is the book they would have written. FudgeFudge, the more daring of the two canines in this wonderful book, and Marshmallow, the more practical one, presumably live a cozy existence with tummy scratching, stick throwing and couch sitting–until “that new animal” comes along. The dogs do NOT like that new animal “not even a little bit.” The dogs wonder aloud why they get in trouble for barking or whining or accidents on the rug while that new animal just cries all day long and smells funny. They contemplate new ways to lose that new animal they hate so much. But when someone called Grandpa arrives one day to visit that new animal, the dogs are not so sure they are willing to share their animal, for even though they don’t like it, it is THEIR animal, not this Grandpa’s and he has no right to go near it. By the end, the title character has progressed from being “that new animal” to simply “that animal;” a nod to the dogs’ acceptance of the baby they have reluctantly grown to love.

This heartwarming picture book is filled with simple but vivid two-page illustrations. The pictures could tell the story alone, in fact. We see the dogs sniffing the baby, bringing over toys and sticks and being ignored by cooing new parents. (The picture of Marshmallow on his back with his legs in the air for tummy-scratching is so dead-on that our daughter, who loves this book as much as I do, now calls our Tino “Marshmallow” most of the time.) Then we see the dreaded Grandpa, the dogs barking and the Grandpa leaving. At the end, we see two dogs, one baby, one couch and lots of little pink tongues on the baby’s face. Even after the story ends, on the very last page, we see more pictures that demonstrate the “happily ever after” we crave in picture books.

“That New Animal” has officially become my ‘go-to’ baby shower gift to any friends with dogs, it is that perfect.

Posted by: Cindy

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Special! An Interview with Author James Preller

James Preller is the author of the wildly popular Jigsaw Jones series, and a book we recently reviewed, Along Came Spider, among others. We’re really excited to present this interview.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?

As a boy, I wanted to become a pitcher for the New York Mets. I didn’t really think much about writing. But I used to make and sell little books, oddly enough, from an early age. It was just something to do, not part of a master plan. I’d draw pictures, get help from my brothers writing in the words, and sell them to kids on my street. I remember one called, “Hercules Kills Danger.” A classic, lost forever. My mother did save a copy of “Tarzan’s Adventures,” which I sold to her for 12 cents. Long spent, I’m afraid. It sort of amazes me that I used to do that, since I was much more into imaginary wrestling matches with Batman’s enemies and whiffle ball games in my backyard.

If you weren’t a writer, what your job be?

I’d work with books in some capacity, probably as an editor. I love the creative process, making things. There are so many creative people who contribute to a book, it often seems unfair when the author gets all the credit. This assumes, of course, that the New York Mets would have no use for you. It’s hard to think that I wouldn’t be a writer, in some way, shape, or form. It doesn’t have to be books. I’m one of those people who is much better, more comfortable, writing than talking. I’m awed by smooth talkers who speak in full sentences and shapely paragraphs. I’m all, “um,” and “er,” and “I forgot what I wanted to say.”

How long did it take from starting to write to having the book published? Did you get many rejections?

I published my first book in 1986, an out-of-print title called, “Maxx Trax: Avalanche Rescue!” That one came pretty easily for me, and it sold more than a million copies on Scholastic book clubs. Then they changed the illustrator, the follow-up title bombed, and that was the end of that. I’ve gotten many rejections of the years, each one a little dagger to the heart. Failed picture books, mostly. The way I see it, people will say “no” to you many times in life; the important thing is to never say “no” to yourself. You have to keep on keeping on. You have to believe in yourself, even when, or especially when, those around you have their doubts.

Do you find it hard to stop editing/revising, or do you have a definite ending point?

Well, deadlines help, because they force you to knuckle down. I generally know when a book is finished, and I’m all too happy to push myself away from the desk and say, “Done.” But when I read my so-called “finished” books — published books that have sat on my shelves for years — I still come across things I’d like to change, do differently. It’s never perfect, far from it. I forget who said it, but somebody once observed, “Books are never finished, they are abandoned.” That kind of makes sense to me.

Do you have any subjects that you’ve always wanted to write about, but haven’t?

Oh, yes, there are so many things to write about. As a writer, I enjoy different types of books — easy readers, picture books, nonfiction, mysteries, thrillers, historical fiction, magic realism. I want to try them all. After Jigsaw Jones, I kept getting asked to write more mysteries. And after Six Innings, I guess that some people expected me to immediately write more sports stories. For better and for worse, I’ve resisted getting stuffed into those little boxes. I do find that certain themes recur, friendship under duress, belonging and not belonging, and there are thousands of ways to explore those issues. When I did my research on bullying for Bystander (Feiwel and Friends, September, 2009), I came away with the feeling that I could write a hundred different stories on the subject, each one different, each one never quite saying everything that needed to be said.

In Along Came Spider, Trey appears to be on the Autism spectrum; what got you interested in Autism? What made you decide to incorporate such a character into one of your books?

I began that book by sitting in on a 5th grade classroom over the course of a school year. I didn’t even have an idea for the book, just a sense that I wanted to write for that age group. One of the themes that I’m drawn to is, put simply, friendship. Fitting in, belonging — and not belonging. I started thinking about certain kids who clearly did not fit in with the rest of the group, the hardships they endured and will continue to endure, and how that effected everyone else in their world. In a meeting with a school principal, we talked about kids “on the spectrum,” and that’s when I began to get a handle on the character who would eventually become Trey Cooper. I read up on it and thought, “Yes, I can write about this.” For some reason, I’ve always been vaguely interested in autism. Though I am not autistic, I do feel connected to it, I can relate to those “shadow traits.” Who doesn’t obsess over things, or have difficulty in loud chaotic rooms? Who doesn’t have difficulty making eye contact, or have OCD tendencies? Perhaps it resonates especially with the writer in me, the outsider, the observer. In general, writers tend to stay out of the thick of things, preferring to inhabit the fringes, watching, listening, not always fitting in. For some reason, I get that emotional core.

Your Jigsaw Jones books are so popular: did you enjoy reading mysteries when you were a kid? If not, what did you enjoy reading?

I read according to my interests, which were sports, and sports, and sports. So I read the newspaper, and those were my favorite writers growing up, the sports columnists. I think I owe a lot to that style — punchy, clear, direct, funny, fast. I’m not one to give a detailed description of the furniture in the room. I’ve never read a lot of mysteries, though of course I read my share of The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown. Of the adults in that genre, I love Raymond Chandler, Dashell Hammit, and more recently, Richard Price and Michael Connelly.

For you, what is the hardest part of writing a book?

Getting started, the plot, finding the right voice for that particular story. It’s like a house when all the doors are locked. You want to enter, but you have to find the key. Somehow banging my head against the walls doesn’t seem to work.

What advice would you give to young writers?

Ah, advice. I’m never much good at that. Read a lot. And write from the heart. I personally need to care emotionally about what I’m writing, so the search is always for that ground where I can bring real feeling to the work. I think I read as a writer, in the sense that I’m always aware of the writer behind the story, what he or she is doing, how they are achieving certain effects. Unlike many passionate book-lovers, who consume books, I almost never read simply for “what happens next.” All of which means: I’m a very, very slow reader.

Are you working on a new book right now?

Yes, or, that is, I should be! I think it’s best when I don’t talk about what I’m writing. I have this notion that when you talk it, then all that creative energy escapes out your mouth, rather than the pen or fingertips on the keyboard. The book will be along the lines of Along Came Spider, and will involve a talent show. Hopefully funny, lighthearted, entertaining. A change from my more recent book, Bystander, which is about bullying issues in a middle school setting. That’s darker, has more of a thriller-type feeling to it, with tension and some drama, a serious book about serious things. As I said before, I like to change things up — just to confuse whatever small audience I might enjoy. It must be the failed baseball pitcher in me, trying to keep the batter off-balance with two hard ones and a hook.

Who is YOUR favorite author or book?

I love so many different writers and books, it’s sort of an impossible question for me. I learn something different from them all. But in terms of a single book, it’s hard to beat To Kill a Mockingbird. I also like Richard Ford very much. He can write about nothing — and often seemingly does — and yet I’m riveted. As a pure writer, Roger Angell is another hero, again for his grace, his clarity, his simplicity and directness, and above all the humanity that shines through each page.

What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?

I’m very involved with my children, and these days that means spending a lot of time on various playing fields. I try to help out where I can. I love music, listen to it passionately and often, and still enjoy seeing live shows. I am deeply into Bob Dylan, to the point where I’ve probably read 7-8 books about him and his work, besides owning just about everything he’s ever done.

Thanks so much to James Preller, author extraordinaire! If you’d like to learn more about him, check out his blog, www.jamespreller.com, and the blog written for his publisher, Feiwel and Friends.

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The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

The Last OlympianRiordan’s final, epic book is finally out. At last we will discover what will happen to Percy, the Greek Gods, and whether the prophecy will come true. Riordan has taken us on a roller coaster through the previous four books in the series, each more interesting than the last.

In Percy’s final battle, he must beat Kronos and save the Greek Gods. While the other books have been great, this book was phenomenal. Riordan keeps you on the edge of your seat til the very end. Old friends reappear, but many are lost to the battle. This book is as epic as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or even Harry Potter. ( I know I can’t believe I just said that either). Percy is a strong character that is very likable. As the son of a Greek God, he comes off as both strong and vulnerable. You can really see how far he has come since the Lightning Thief.

While everything does not turn out as expected, it made me feel satisfied. Although it looks like Riordan might be angling for another series.

WARNING: You should not start reading this at night if you want to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Plan to get up early on a Saturday and spend a nice morning reading instead.

Posted by: Kate

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Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann

PinkaliciousFor those who love Fancy Nancy, here’s another series for you. If you haven’t discovered Victoria’s Kann’s Pinkalious yet, it’s time to check it out. The story’s main character loves pink so much that she can’t stop eating the delicious pink cupcakes she made with her mother. In fact, she ate so many that she turned pink! The doctor’s cure is to eat lots of green food (yuck). Will she overcome her pink hue? You’ll need to read the book to find out. The newest book in the series, Goldilicious, should be released this summer.

Posted by: Liz

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Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Bing

Molly Moon's Incredible Book of HypnotismWould you like to be able to hypnotize people or animals so they would do whatever you wanted? Would you have them do funny things or good things . . . . . or bad things? The very old book of hypnotism Molly found at her library started her and her pug dog, Petula, on some wild adventures. It started out as fun, but . . . . read it and see where it leads. If you enjoy Molly’s adventures with hypnotism, look for more fun adventures in Molly Moon’s Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure, Molly Moon, Micky Minus, & the Mind Machine, and Molly Moon Stops The World. Molly and Petula might hypnotize you to keep on reading.

Posted by: Iris

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600 Black Spots by David A. Carter

600 Black SpotsI am often awed by the wonderful, acrobatic things done with paper in pop-up books, but this pop-up book is worth mentioning because it is SO DIFFERENT. I think it might really be meant for adults, but it is fascinating for kids as well. Black spots jump out at you as you turn the pages, creating a sort of modern work of art in paper. One page reads “Tipsy tassels teeter and 78 Black Spots”, and the reader pulls the tabs to sway the tall tower of spots. Another favorite of mine reads “Fauve kaboom and 258 Black Spots” with fingers of spots sprouting out from the page. This book is SURPRISING to say the least — and is a must see!

Posted by: Mary

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