Archive for November, 2009

Spellbinder by Helen Stringer

SpellbinderThe Harry Potter phenomenon did a wonderful thing for fantasy lovers–it created a world where publishers were willing to take a chance on putting out fairy tales and fantasy for kids, in almost unlimited quantity. This very plus, however, also led to a minus=not only is there a nearly infinite number of fantasy novels to read, but a great many of those novels are not very good. Thus, every fantasy I read–even though I’m probably the biggest fantasy fan in the library–I open with trepidation, fearing the worst.

Luckily, Spellbinder beat back my fears within one chapter.

Belladonna Johnson, a British 12-year-old, can see ghosts. This is handy, because it means she can still have her parents in her life, even though they died in a car accident a few years ago. In general, though, Belladonna finds her ability somewhat embarrassing–she’s already kind of a geek, and if her classmates found out she could see ghosts, she’d be even more of an outcast. She’s prepared to ignore and avoid ghosts–mostly–until the day when all of the ghosts in the world start to disappear. Not just from this world, but, it turns out, from The Other Side, as well.

Belladonna refuses to lose her parents for a second time, so she sets out immediately to find out what is happening, and how to get the ghosts back. Adults, as usual, refuse to tell her anything, so in the company of Steve Evans (the school ne’er-do-well), and Elsie (a tennis-playing ghost girl from 100 years ago), she sets out to save the world.

Belladonna is a compelling character, and her world is perfectly evoked by the writing, and very believable–even when filled with ghosts. Many fantasies recycle the same plots over and over again, but in spite of the fact that this book does, eventually, contain a sort of a quest, it remains fresh and interesting and unique. The story ties up nicely, with no cliffhangers or dissatisfaction, but with just a few short words that do not negate the possibility of a sequel. I would definitely read that sequel.

Posted by: Sarah

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The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat CrookA new graphic novel that will surely become popular, Secret Science Alliance is about three kids who love inventing. They each have different strengths and weaknesses, but together they are a force to be reckoned with. When a renowned inventor steals their notebook of inventions, the team comes up with a plan to get it back. Of course they don’t realize that the scientist is set on using their inventions to break into a museum to steal a priceless artifact! But together, they will come up with a daring, adventurous plan. Based on the ending, this looks like it will be a great new series.

Posted by: Kate

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14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy

14 Cows for AmericaI was going to share the recipe for fake vegetable vomit this month. Then I thought “Nah, too gross.” So, then I thought I’d write about Patricia Rielly Giff’s worthy new book Wild Girl but, I was in a mood for something with more of a worldview. And then I opened 14 Cows for America by Carmen Deedy, a book for all ages and “the ages.”

I have to admit that I’ve become a bit jaded about 9/11. It’s not with any pride that I admit that when it rolled around last month I pretty much tried to ignore it. 14 Cows for America made me sit back and reconsider my opinions.

On the day of the attack, 9/11/2001, a young man, a student, was visiting New York City. He was from a tiny village in western Kenya. His name was Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah. He was a Maasai, one of a people who, once fierce warriors are now gentle herders of cattle. Even though he was a stranger, he was overcome by the devastation, loss of life, bravery and pain that was born on that terrible day. He was determined to help in some way, any way.

His story is the story of one group of people reaching out to help another group in need. It’s a story oft repeated in such circumstances. People who have little in the way of material wealth are willing to give up their most precious possessions to aid someone else—even a stranger–who has suffered a tragedy. The people of Kimeli’s village did not know any Americans, they would, most likely, never travel to the United States and yet, when they heard the story of the attack from the much effected Kimeli, they knew they must do something to show their solidarity with America. They gave their cows, their precious cows. To the Maasai, “cows are life.” They felt that there could be no more fitting gift to a people who had been so badly wounded as New York, as America.

No one can read this book—especially Kimeli’s afterword– and not be touched by the depth of humanity uncovered there. Everyone should read this book. It, along several others, should be part of a standardized 9/11 curriculum.

Next year, when 9/11 comes around again, I will have a new attitude, an attitude born of a compassionate, gentle people half a world away, who put the needs of others before their own, the Maasai of Kenya and their beloved 14 cows.

Posted by: Eileen

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The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the WillowsThis is a charming story which begins with Mole industriously doing his spring cleaning. Suddenly he realizes that he is missing spring because he has been so busy! He leaves his work and sets out on a stroll through the wonderful, awakening fields. It is his good fortune to come upon the river and to meet Water Rat who introduces him to the joys of boating, picnicking and fellowship. Through Ratty, Mole also meets Mr. Toad and Mr. Badger. Mr. Badger lives in the Wild Wood and Mole is very lucky to survive the adventure when he seeks him out without waiting for Ratty to go with him into the dangerous wood. Mr. Toad is rich and lives in a mansion, Toad Hall. Of all the friends, Mr. Toad is the most exuberant , charming and troublesome. He becomes quite overtaken with enthusiasms! His enthusiasm for a horse-drawn cart is forgotten when Toad is run off the road by a motor-car! He is ecstatic and must have one for himself. Unfortunately, Mr. Toad does not always show good judgment. His friends love him for his good nature, his love of parties, his ability to tell a good story and his sense of fun and adventure. However, he is not level headed. He is spoiled and willful and ends up in quite a bit of trouble over his love of the motor-car. In the end, Badger convinces the friends that they must reform Toad for his own good. You will enjoy their adventures together on the river and in the Wild Wood and their gallant efforts to reclaim Toad Hall when it is overrun by villainous stoats and weasels.

A good book to read to children 6 to 8 years old and a good read for older children who like old-fashioned fantasy and adventure.

Posted by: Fran W.

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The Little Dump Truck by Margery Cuyler

The Little Dump TruckA little blue dump truck shares his busy day with readers. Through rhyming verse, we learn that the little dump truck starts his day being driven by Hard Hat Pete with a load of rocks and stones. There are lots of jobs to be done. After a busy day at the construction site, both the little dump truck and Hard Hat Pete get a refill. Adorable, retro illustrations make the story even more fun. Kids will enjoy looking at all the other construction vehicles in the story.

Posted by: Liz

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The Seven Wonders of Sassfras Springs

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras SpringsCould you find seven wonders, comparable to the Seven Wonders of the World, right in your home town? How would you even start to look? Twelve year old Eben McAllister had a plan as he set out to find seven wonders in Sassafras Springs, Missouri, in 1923. If he could find seven wonders in seven days his dad would let him go by train to Colorado’s mountains to visit a cousin. That wasn’t quite like seeing the Seven Wonders of the World he had read about in his book, but it would have to do for now. The wondrous stories Eben heard as he canvassed the town are a folksy combination of down-home humor and a bit of magic. Fourth to sixth graders will enjoy the adventures of Eben and his dog Sal, adults will enjoy the heartwarming historical view of country life. You may be inspired to look for seven wonders in your own home town.

Posted by: Iris

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Special! An Interview with Author Rosanne Parry

Rosanne Parry is the author of the board book Daddy’s Home, and the recently reviewed novel Heart of a Shepherd, which explored the impact of a deployed military reserve unit on a rural area in Oregon. We’re happy to honor Veteran’s Day with an interview with this wonderful author.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?
If you weren’t a writer, what would your job be?

I actually hated writing as a child. I had terrible handwriting and was a poor speller, so while I’ve always loved making up stories, it didn’t occur to me to write them down until I was in my 30s. I love to teach and still do it part-time. I’m sure I’d teach full time if I wasn’t a writer. Of course, my initial career plan was to become a circus flyer–still working on that. 🙂

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

Every writer gets rejections, not just new writers. Even writers with great reviews and best sellers get rejections. I never counted mine, and now that I have an agent I don’t even hear about them.

HEART OF A SHEPHERD was written over several years because I set it aside and worked on other stories when I got stuck. However, if you put together all the months that I worked on the first draft it would be about a year. I revised it with my critique group over ten months. My editor acquired it in September of 2006 and it came out in January of 2009.

Do you find it hard to stop editing/revising, or do you have a definite ending point?
For you, what is the hardest part of writing a book?

Working on my own, I could revise a piece endlessly. One thing I appreciate about my editor is that he is very focused about revisions. He let’s me know which parts of the story are working well and should be left alone and which parts need to be refined. By the time we got to our third revision I could see that I’d accomplished with the book what I’d hoped to, which made it much easier to let the story go on to copy editing and the rest of the process of turning it into a real book.

The hardest part? Waiting. I finished my edits on HEART OF A SHEPHERD almost a year before it was available in stores. I’m going to wrap up the revisions of my next novel SECOND FIDDLE by the end of the year, and it will come out in the spring of 2011.

I think I gleaned from your author’s note that you don’t live in the area portrayed in the book—what made you decide to write about that area?

I love eastern Oregon. It’s a stunning and spare and wild landscape. The people who live there are remarkable. Malheur County, where my story is set, is the size of Massechusetts. It has 30,000 residents, and yes, wildfire is as much a part of the landscape as mining and cattle ranching. I think my editor chose the book in part for the uniqueness of the setting. There aren’t many books set in the Great Basin about the lives of ranchers. Although if you enjoyed HEART OF A SHEPHERD, you might enjoy BULL RIDER by Suzanne Morgan Williams which is set just one county south in Nevada.

The religious aspect of Brother’s life is so homogenously woven into the story, which is somewhat unusual in modern children’s fiction. Was this something that you planned to do on purpose, or did it just develop by itself?

I didn’t set out to write a book with religion in it, but when I chose Malhuer County as my setting it was only honest to have the majority of my cast of characters devout Catholics. This area of Oregon was settled primarily by Irish and Basques for whom Catholicism is not just their faith but part of their cultural identification. Members of the military are also more church going than the general population, so it would have been lie of sorts to leave Brother’s spiritual life out of the book. It is a bit unusual to have a character be so frank about his faith in a childen’s novel though not unprecedented. Madeleine L’Engle’s work is infused with spirituality. Judy Blume’s ARE YOU THERE GOD, IT’S ME, MARGARET is a classic and the recent MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD by Francisco X Stork did a great job of addressing faith.

The relationships between the boys and their grandfather are so believable—did you have a close relationship with your grandparents or older relatives?

My grandfather lived with me when I was growing up although he was nothing like Grandpa Alderman. My own parents live near me and are a wonderful presence in my children’s lives. I can’t imagine parenting without them.

Do you have any family members or friends who are in the military?

Yes, many. My husband is a veteran of Desert Storm and has been out of the Army for many years, but I know many people who serve in the armed forces. Oregon has recently deployed the largest group of Oregan Guardsmen in 50 years, so many of the issues that unfolded in the book are alive in my community and many others.

What advice would you give to young writers?

If you love to write, write lots of things. Try all different kinds of stories. Don’t worry about finishing a story. If you get stuck set it aside and come back to it. If it’s just not fun anymore, start something new that is fun. But find a safe place to keep all your drafts, even the ones you don’t like. You might want to come back and work on them some day.

Are you working on a new book right now? If so, can you tell us anything about it? Do you have any cool plot ideas for the future?

I have a million cool story ideas, both for novels and picture books. While I’m waiting on my next revision letter I’ve been working on picture book ideas–one about St Patrick’s Day and a few about grandparents. My debut picture book, DADDY’S HOME was published by Candy Cane Press, and I’m hoping to work with them again.

I’m thrilled to be working with my Random House editor again on a new novel. This one is called SECOND FIDDLE. It’s about three girl musicians who live in Berlin in 1990 just as the Berlin Wall is coming down. It’s a great adventure story with a little bit of political intrigue and a lot of music and a very spontaneous trip to Paris. It has been fun fun fun to write! The story got me back to playing the violin, which I did when I was a kid and loved. I think it’s been fun for my editor, too, because he’s also a musician.

Who is YOUR favorite author or book?

Golly, do I have to pick one? This year my favorite authors are my fellow classmates at the Class of 2K9– a group of middle grade and YA authors with debut novels this year. You can visit all of us at our website. I have a list of my favorite books when I was a kid on my website, and I keep track of new books as I read them on my goodreads account.

What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?

I like to dance and hike and ride my bike. I don’t get to do these very often, but I also love to ski and sail. Oregon is a beautiful place and Portland is a park-filled city so really anything that gets me outside is a good thing.

Thanks again to Rosanne Parry! We’re so happy that she was willing to answer our interview questions — especially since she had to take time away from revising her book-in-progress.

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Minn From Minnesota by Kathy-jo Wargin

Minn From MinnesotaAdventure and friendship abound in this story introducing Minn, a white-footed mouse who finds herself suddenly stolen away from her cozy Minnesota home with her elderly friend Gerdie. Thus begins Minn’s quest to find her way back home. This book is the 2nd in the Mitt and Minn Series, a collection of stories about the adventures of two Midwestern mice with each book taking place in a different Midwestern state.

In each chapter of this story, Minn meets a different character (mostly animals) and finds friendship and often times a new danger as a predator is always ready and waiting to eat poor little Minn. The story gets even more interesting when Minn meets Paul Bunyon and a small elf-like character who each promise to help Minn find her way back home. Things just keep getting in the way, but the kindness of strangers (birds, bears, and bison) keeps her on her path back home to Gerdie.

This story is written in such an old-fashioned way with lovely language and well-developed characters, even though we know most for only a short time . The illustrations are pencil drawings and add to the richness of the story. The story manages to be heartwarming without becoming too sappy or dated. It is no wonder that kids have been asking for these books again and again. How nice to know that kids still love these kinds of stories!

Posted by: Mary

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Beverly Patt’s Book Giveaway

HavenThose of you who remember our interview with the author Beverly Patt will be interested to know that Ms. Patt is currently running a drawing to win a copy of her new book, Haven! Read her blog entry and leave a comment to enter for a chance to win.

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Frindle by Andrew Clements

FrindleBeing a dictionary freak myself, I have always been fascinated by the way we add words to our language. How surprised I was when I discovered that a 10 year old boy could demonstrate so perfectly how it works! That is the story of Frindle’s Nick Allen, who is not known for being the smartest boy at school, or the worst behaved. What he *is* known for, however, is his talent for stirring up controversy. There was that time when he turned his 3rd grade classroom into a tropical beach and later when he drove his teacher crazy by learning how to chirp like a bird. It came as no surprise, then, when he tangled with his 5th grade language arts teacher Mrs. Granger.

Mrs. Granger is the kind of teacher you can only appreciate years after you have her—years and years later. Her true love is the dictionary and when Nick tries to stall class by asking about how words enter her beloved dictionary, he thinks he has pulled off another great scheme—wasting the whole class period! Mrs. Granger is on to him in a hurry and instead tells him to present a report to the class on that topic. Ugh! To get back at her, Nick decides to take this a step further and starts calling a ‘pen’ by the word ‘frindle.’ Soon he has the entire school behind him. Mrs. Granger won’t give in and call a pen ‘frindle’, but neither will Nick call a frindle ‘pen’. Eventually, the entire town and even the country are swept up in the frindle craze. Nick has started a movement that very soon becomes much bigger than he could ever imagine, and he couldn’t quit now even if he wanted to.
The book ends 10 years later to show what happens not just with the word, but with Nick and the teacher who taught him the greatest lesson he ever learned. This is a surprisingly touching story! I was a little embarrassed to have teared up reading a book about a 5th grade boy who gets in trouble at school over a pen, but I am so glad to have read this. It’s a great book for anyone, but I think a reluctant reader, especially a boy, would not be able to put Frindle down.

Posted by: Cindy

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