Archive for January, 2011

When Molly Was a Harvey Girl by Francis M. Wood

When Molly Was a Harvey GirlBack when I was a kid, I loved the old Judy Garland movie The Harvey Girls, mostly because the premise seemed so bizarre. Young girls left their homes and moved across the country to be morally upright social examples who ran restaurants? What?

Then last year I read a non-fiction history of the real Harvey Houses and the Harvey Girls, and I discovered how true to reality the movie actually had been. (Though I think it’s safe to assume that song-and-dance numbers rarely broke out in the Harvey dining rooms). On the heels of the non-fiction book, I discovered When Molly Was a Harvey Girl, a fictional story of a (much too young) girl, who lies about her age to get a job in the Harvey House in New Mexico.

Molly’s father has died, leaving her and her older sister Colleen penniless. Colleen’s bright idea is for them both to become Harvey Girls–waitresses at the nationwide chain of restaurants attached to the railroad lines. (This is the 1800s, when the railroads were nearly the only way to travel from one end of the country to the other–certainly the only civilized way). Colleen is of age, but Molly is only thirteen; luckily she’s tall, and thus appears older. They sneak through the application process and find themselves in Raton, New Mexico, quite a change from their Illinois hometown.

Molly is spunky and likeable, but not in an unbelievable way. In fact, she’s quite believable: she thinks the Harvey Girl idea is a TERRIBLE one, and she’s not above a little trickery to try to right the situation as she sees it. (If she can just get Colleen married to a successful salesman, they can move back home!) As it turns out, everything in Raton changes Molly’s views of herself, her sister, other people, and her firm ideas on How Life Should Be. This book is a great, realistic coming-of-age story with an unusual setting. Highly recommended!

Posted by: Sarah

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Crunch by Leslie Connor

CrunchI liked the premise of this book. Fuel is unavailable. All the cars, and buses and trucks cannot run. The highways are empty. So people start walking and bicycling instead and they use the highways because it’s easiest. Can you imagine walking 22 miles to work? Bicycles become necessities and are in high demand.

Fourteen-year-old Dewey Marriss had been left in charge of his father’s bike shop and his older sister, Lil, left in charge of the house and children while their parents took their yearly trucking vacation together, making deliveries up the coast and enjoying the time together. This year the children had been left in charge rather than getting a sitter because Lil had turned eighteen. But because of the fuel shortage, mom and dad are stuck in Canada with no way to get home.

Dewey and his younger brother Vince work every day in their dad’s bike shop. The five-year-old twins go to camp every day and Lil is supposed to go to art school but that has been cancelled due to the energy crisis. She begins her own special art project using the side of the bike barn as her canvas.

As the gas shortage continues, bad things begin to happen. The book becomes a mystery as parts begin to go missing from the bike shop and the reader wonders who could be stealing from them – their odd neighbor, the man that Dewey befriended on the highway one day, or someone else? It is a portrait of a well-disciplined and loving family and their extended friends and neighbors working with them in tough times. Recommended for grades 5th and up.

Posted by: Fran

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Polar Opposites by Erik Brooks

Polar OppositesPolar Opposites is a fun story about friendship that will help you get through the long, cold winter. Not only do Alex the Polar Bear and Zina the Penguin live on opposite sides of the world, but they are complete opposites. Alex is messy while Zina is neat. Alex is loud and Zina is quiet. Alex travels fast, Zina takes it slow. Although they are different, they can come together once a year and go on an annual vacation. A fun new concept book just in time for winter.

Posted by: Liz

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What the Ladybug Heard by Julia Donaldson

What the Ladybug HeardThere are probably a million and one farm picture books in existence, and so it is really something to come up with a unique and clever new farm book. Well, this author has succeeded! In the story, crafty robbers have a plan to steal the prize cow and the only one who hears their plan is the little ladybug who never says a word. She bravely utters her first words “Help!” and then “gather round” and foils the bad guys’ plan by coming up with her own clever plan. Of course, the rest of the animals play along, and the prize cow is saved! The rhyming text and fun illustrations make for a wonderful read-aloud! Very fun!

Posted by: Mary

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Almost Zero by Nikki Grimes

Almost ZeroA classmate tells 3rd grader Dyamonde that it’s her mother’s job to give her what she needs. When she tries that approach on her mother about a pair of red high-top shoes that she feels she really needs, it totally backfires. In an effort to teach her a lesson about true need, her mother takes away everything that she doesn’t really need and leaves her with only one outfit to wear. After all, that is all she needs, isn’t it? While it doesn’t seem that things could be any worse than Dyamonde’s plight, something even worse does happen when a classmate’s family loses everything in an apartment fire. Dyamonde suddenly understands the meaning of need vs. want and she decides to do whatever she possibly can to help this family in need.

Posted by: Wendy

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Special! An Interview with Cartoonist Barry Deutch

We’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview Barry Deutch, the author of Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, a wonderful book that just won the Sydney Taylor Award.

Have you always wanted to be a cartoonist?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a vet for years and years. That plan went away as soon as I took high school biology.

When did you start cartooning?

I think I first stated drawing comics sometime in junior high school.

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

I think I’d be a political writer, or maybe a lawyer. I really enjoy getting into arguments.

How long did it take from finishing your first book to when it was actually published?

Well, I had a contract for the book before it was finished. I turned in the final art for “Hereville” in March, I think, and it was published November 1st.

Did you get many rejections?

Yes, I did! A lot of companies turned down “Hereville.” But there were also several companies who were interested in it, happily.

Do you find it hard to stop revising? Or do you have a definite ending point?

Well, I have a deadline, so I have to be done by then. But I can keep on revising forever, if not for that. Just brushing up the dialog here, or redrawing a face to try and get a better expression there… But eventually you have to move on, because you get better by finishing projects and starting new projects, not through endless revisions. Some of the best advice I’ve heard for cartoonists came from the Canadian cartoonist Dave Sim: “If something’s done, don’t finish it.”

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

Plotting the book is very hard for me. That’s the closest I ever come to making something out of nothing. Once the book is plotted out, at least everything else is building on that. But I just gave you that answer because that’s where I am on my current book — I just finished plotting it, and I’m about to start writing and laying out pages. Once I’m well into doing the layouts, probably I’d say that’s the hardest part. Then, when I’m doing the drawings, that’s the hardest part.

What made you decide to write a graphic novel for children, rather than adults or teens?

I didn’t decide! I just tried to make a comic that I’d want to read, if I came across it on a bookshelf. I didn’t know it was a kid’s book until other people told me it was. In my heart, I think of it as “all-ages.”

What advice would you give young cartoonists?

Draw comics! Work really hard. Being paid for your work takes luck, but you can put yourself in a position where getting lucky is a lot more likely.

Where do you get your ideas? From real life? Or from things you read?

From both! I need real life to make things “feel” right to me, but I need reading to make more kinds of experiences and people available for me to draw on.

Where did you get your idea for Mirka, and for Hereville itself? It’s such a wonderfully realized world that I thought for certain you must be from a small Orthodox town yourself.

Thank you!

I wasn’t raised Orthodox. And to tell you the truth, I have no idea where my ideas come from. But so many people have asked me, I’ve acted like an archeologist, digging through my past to find the seeds of Mirka. In the past, I’ve left a couple of fairy-tale projects unfinished: A version of Rapunzel in which Prince Charming had a tough, Mirka-like sister, and an idea for a St George versus the dragon story, except with a Jewish protagonist who wouldn’t have been legally allowed to have a sword to fight the dragon with. And about 15 years ago I read the book Holy Days by Liz Harris, which contained a lot of really compelling stories of daily Hasidic life. I think all of those things went into creating Mirka and Hereville.

Of course, that’s not enough. Once I got started on Hereville, I had to do a lot of research. The book that was the most valuable to me was probably Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers by Stephanie Levine, but there were many other useful books as well.

I love the character of the pig-what made you choose a pig and not some other animal?

In retrospect, it’s silly how long I spent trying to decide on the right animal to be in the Witch’s yard. Wolf? Huge housecat? Giant ferret? But then I thought of pig, and obviously a pig was the perfect antagonist, just because a pig is the iconic “non-kosher” animal that Jews avoid eating. And once I had that, the pig’s grumpy, over-the-top personality fell into place.

Do you have any subjects that you’re dying to write about, but haven’t yet? Any non-Hereville books that you have percolating away in your head?

I have a few non-Hereville ideas. But Hereville is also a very broad canvas — after all, hundreds of people live in the town of Hereville. So I think I could happily do many, many more Hereville books, and be able to fit in a huge range of stories and characters.

I’d be really eager to do a story with a positive, fat character as the protagonist. I was really disappointed when the TV show “Huge” was canceled.

What is your favorite word?

Wow, that’s tough! I don’t think I have one. I like newly coined words, like “retcon” and “yoink.”

Who is your favorite author or book (children’s or adult)?

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis is my favorite prose novel; Guns, Germs and Steel is my favorite non-fiction. I’d have a very hard time picking just one (or just ten) favorite graphic novels, but at the moment I’m halfway through the second Castle Waiting book, by Linda Medley, and enjoying it immensely.

What cartoonists influenced you when you were first starting out?

Dave Sim is probably the largest influence on my work, even though politically he’s as far away from me as Cleveland is from Venus. Scott McCloud was also very influential, and has also been very kind to me personally. Jennifer Manley Lee is a good friend of mine who has influenced my work a lot, both with her webcomic Dicebox and with good advice. My friend Rachel Swirsky, the science fiction writer, has also had a lot of influence on my work. And Will Eisner was a big influence, both directly — I took a cartooning class from him — and through his work.

Do you have a favorite illustrator or graphic novel illustrator?

I have a hundred! In addition to the influences I just mentioned, I love Bill Watterson’s drawing (Calvin and Hobbes), Walt Kelly, and for more current cartoonists, Faith Erin Hicks, Kazu Kibuishi, Eleanor Davis, and… well, I could go on all day.

What are your hobbies when you’re not writing or drawing?

I have a blog which I don’t have nearly enough time for anymore! I’m a political junkie, and I constantly read about politics. I used to do role-playing games, but I don’t have anything going at the moment, unfortunately.

Can you give us a hint about what’s next for Mirka? Or at least tell us when the next book is projected to be out?

The next book will be out in fall of 2012, if all goes as planned. The story involves one of Mirka’s older sisters getting engaged. I can’t wait to draw it!

Thanks again to Barry Deutch! We can’t wait to read that new Hereville book–or, frankly, anything else he writes! For more information on Mirka and her world, visit the Hereville website. And, if any of you are interested in the books Barry mentioned, we do have nearly all of them at the library.

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A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to WaterLinda Sue Park has done it again. I could use many words to describe A Long Walk to Water . Words like remarkable, fantastic, memorable, or first-rate ( I know that’s two but it’s hyphenated so cut me some slack). Basically, though, I can say without hesitation that A Long Walk to Water is one very special book.

I first picked it up for two reasons. One, I was going away for the weekend and was looking for something to read. People on various websites had been talking positively about the book. Two, it was Linda Sue Park. She’d never disappointed me. It was a good—make that great—choice.

Briefly, the book is written as two concurrent stories that take place almost 25 years apart. They’re tied together by their location, the Sudan. It’s a small book. The text is spare. The stories are straightforward but not lacking emotion.

There are two main characters, young Nya, a girl in contemporary Sudan whose sole job is to twice daily walk miles across the blazing, barren countryside to fetch muddy water. Her job, in other words is to keep her family alive. The other character, Salva, is one of the “Lost Boys” separated from his family by the civil war in 1985. Each day, for years, he struggles to stay one step ahead of the ruthless rebels stirred on by the overriding hope of seeing his parents again someday. Both children face adversity with strength and wisdom far beyond their young years.

Despite the fact that the title of the book is A Long Walk to Water, I was completely unprepared for the ending. I had become so absorbed by story that I almost gasped as I read the last lines. I put the book down and told my husband, “I think I just read the 2012 Newbery Award book.” I hope I was right.

Posted by: Eileen

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