Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review - "Breadcrumbs"

Snow fell to the ground outside while I read Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu.  I took this to be a sign, a sign that something magical was happening.  And it was.  For books are magical things, good books, even more so.  Books can take you away, move you to another planet, or another realm, or just across street…and into the woods.  The woods are magical too, you see.

Hazel and Jack have been friends since they were six years old.  They shared their joy, the grief and their bountiful imaginations.  Jack was Hazel’s lifeline in her new school, a school where imagination wasn’t appreciated and paying close attention was essential.  With Jack, Hazel belonged.  She fit in.  Until one day, she didn’t.  One day, after an accident on the playground, Jack stops wanting to hang around with Hazel, and she doesn’t know why.  Then Jack does the worst thing of all.  He disappears.  He’s been taken by the white witch (which Narnia got from her, by the way), and it’s up to Hazel to get him back.  This takes Hazel on a journey into the magical woods, which tests her heart and her head.  Will she have the courage to do what is needed to get Jack back, and will Jack ever be the same best friend he was again?

Ursu’s Breadcrumbs is based upon Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, but it owes a debt to many other works as well.  Normally, I don’t like it when books are too referential to contemporary works (it can badly date them; see: The Princess Diaries), but in Ursu’s world, it only adds to the magic.  Among the works referenced are the Harry Potter series, The Golden Compass, the aforementioned works of Narnia, Coraline, When You Reach Me, The Phantom Tollbooth and others.  What this does is give credence to Hazel’s knowledge of how stories should go.  When Jack’s friend says he saw Jack being taken away by a woman in white, Hazel knows what this means.  Her knowledge of the tenets of fantasy saves her in the woods (as does some sheer dumb luck).

As pointed out by Fuse 8’s Betsy Bird, “The Snow Queen” is a great metaphor for puberty.  (Breadcrumbs is actually the second time I’ve seen this story used in such a capacity this past year, the first being Catherine Breillat’s film, The Sleeping Beauty).  Boy and girl are friends, boy and girl grow up, and the friendship changes.  Thankfully, Hazel is the kind of character who isn’t going to let this slide, isn’t going to let her best friend disappear without a fight.  She’s a little bit lost and uncertain, but much stronger than she knows.  She rightfully takes her place among the fantasy heroes and heroines she admires so much, just as Breadcrumbs should and will take its place among the books that inspired it.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
2011, HarperCollins
Library copy

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Top Ten Children's Non-Fiction Titles of the Year

Top Ten Non-Fiction Titles of the Year:

09. Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a few flat tires along the way) by Sue Macy
08. All the Water in the World by by George Ella Lyon and Katherine Tillotson
06. Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and its Legacy by Albert Marrin
05. Drawing From Memory by Allen Say
04. A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Aston, ill. by Sylvia Long
03. Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg
It may not be a landslide (for I really did love Amelia Lost), but the gorgeous, Caldecott worthy illustrations but Kadir Nelson and Heart and Soul over the top for the best non-fiction work for children this year.  His look at the African American experience from the Revolution to the Civil Rights movement, told through the wise voice of a nameless grandmother figure captured by heart and my mind.  It’s impossible not to be drawn in by Nelson’s prose and the poetry of his images strikes right and the heart of the matter.  This didn't win the heaps of awards I was expecting, but I'm proud of Nelson for winning the Coretta Scott King Book Award.

Honorable Mentions: Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Thomas F. Yezerski; Migrant Mother: How a Photograph Defined the Great Depression by Don Nardo; Who Has What? All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies by Robie H. Harris, ill. by Nadine Bernard Westcott; and Rah, Rah, Radishes! A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre.

Monday, January 23, 2012

ALA Youth Media Awards 2012

It's Awards Day!  Happy Day!  And once again, I'm wrong all over the place. But that's why I love these awards. They always surprise me, and in some cases, bring my attention to books of which I wasn't aware.

This year's Newbery medal went to Jack Gantos for Dead End in Norvelt. I haven't read it yet, but I've got an ARC laying around here somewhere, so I'll get on it soon. The good news is, I've already purchased it for my library, so I won't have to deal with the long delays of getting these winners. Honors were Thanhha Lai's lovely Inside Out and Back Again and the completely out of left field Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin.

This year's Caldecott went to the not altogether unexpected A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka, which yes, made me a little teary eyed. Call me an animal lover. A great group of books cover the honors: Grandpa Green by Lane Smith, Blackout by John Rocco and Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell.

I was right about one thing (though I didn't post it, curses!): Shane Evans won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Underground. And Kadir Nelson did get some gold, winning the Book Award for Heart and Soul (though he should have won more).

Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider won the Geisel award, while Mo Willems' I Broke My Trunk, Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back (!!!) and Paul Meisel's See Me Run were honors.

It was a great morning for books.  Head over to the ALA webpage to read about all the winners.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Blog Giveaway!

The Nostalgic Librarian is hosting her first book giveaway of the year, featuring some excellent looking books.  Go check it out!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Awards Predictions

We’re smack dab in the middle of movie award season, and what better time to post predictions for the ALA Youth Media Awards than now?  As I said last year I have little real idea of how these awards work, and my predictions come from a very limited perspective, ie, what I hear from other librarians and teachers and Mock Awards given out.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to try.  So here we go!
Newbery Medal
Last year, the committee hit me in my blind side and came up with Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool for top award.  And while they certainly could go totally off the radar again this year, there have been a few books at the top of people’s lists all year that I think will be the eventually winners.  So I say, this year the medal goes to:

Okay For Now by Gary B. Schmidt
Some say it’s too happy ending could do it in, but I believe the love is still there.  Schmidt won an Honor for The Wednesday Wars, a kind of prequel to Okay For Now, and I think he’ll best himself on this one.  I’ve seen Mock Newbery support from across country for this title, and I believe committee members who love this book will stand behind it.  It also happens to be one of my favorite books of the year, which doesn’t hurt.
Among the honors could be: The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming; Flesh and Blood So Cheap by Albert Marrin; AMonster Calls by Patrick Ness (though some may think this skews too YA) and Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu.  I’d like to think that Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has a shot, but I think the title might be too divisive.

Caldecott Medal
Some years there are lots of possibilities, and some years, it seems the award is wrapped up far before it’s ever announced (think Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion & the Mouse).  This year, I’d like to think there’s a clear frontrunner, though there is some heady competition.  I think the medal goes to:

Nelson’s book is heartbreakingly gorgeous to behold, and the art is clearly tied in with and enhances the (also very good) text.  It’s been eleven years since a non-fiction book won the top prize (David Small’s So You Want to Be President? written by Judith St. George), but I believe this year will be the one to break fiction’s streak.  I simply can’t imagine the committee looking at Nelson’s work, and not wanting to reward it.
Among the honors could be: Grandpa Green by Lane Smith (Nelson’s main competition, I believe); Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell; Blackout by John Rocco; A Butterfly is Patient by Sylvia Long, written by Dianna Aston; Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg and A Ball For Daisy by Chris Raschka.  I would dearly, dearly love for I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen to be among the winners, but I don’t think Klassen’s there just yet.

Quick picks:
The Geisel Award

Mo Willems will do it again.  I predict his I Broke My Trunk! will waltz away with the shiny sticker come awards morning.

 The Michael L. Printz Award

This one will and should go to the lovely Ruta Sepetys for her debut work, Between Shades of Gray.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Non-Fiction Round Up

I don't read many juvenile biographies, unless they come highly recommended. Luckily, such was the case with George Sullivan's Tom Thumb: The Remarkable True Story of a Man in Miniature. It was included on an ALA list of notable books to be discussed at Annual Conference and received a starred review from Booklist. Going in, I didn't know much about Tom Thumb, outside of his involvement with P.T. Barnum, but I was certainly interested to learn more. What I found from Sullivan was a well-reseached, detailed and engaging portrait of a man from his early childhood to his young death at the age of forty-five. I was impressed with Sullivan's tactful handling of the touchy topic of "freaks" and their exhibitions, and the sensitivity he gave to Tom's story. The archival potraits and drawings are a wonderful touch, particular the photographs of Tom and Lavinia's famous wedding ceremony. This will make for the second biography for last year that I'm going to be actively pushing into reader's hands (the first being the wonderful Amelia Lost), but with books still left in my pile, hopefully it won't be the last.

The first thing to say about Stewart Ross' Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air must be said. This book is cool. Like, super-duper cool. If I can just get kids, especially boys, to open the book, I know I'll have them hooked. Into the Unknown tells the tale of fourteen great explorations and the great men and women who undertook them. Each section is rich in historical facts and modern context, and makes for interesting reading, but lets face it, the coolest parts of this book are the fold-outs. Each section contains a fold-out with incredibly detailed drawings by Stephen Biesty. These drawings include maps and cross sections of every vehicle employed by our explorers, even the clothing worn by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. These additions are extraordinary, and I got lost in each and every one, examining even the smallest detail so painstakingly crafted by Biesty. I should have no trouble getting this book into eager hands.

Tom Thumb: The Remarkable True Story of a Man in Miniature by George Sullivan
2011, Clarion Books
Library copy

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air by Stewart Ross, ill. by Stephen Biesty
2011, Candlewick Press
Library copy

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review - "The Luck of the Buttons"

Plucky, intelligent young girls are hardly a new concept for juvenile literature. We've got our May Amelias, our Anne Shirleys, our Hermione Grangers. So it's hard to write a character like that and make her someone new, someone exciting. This is partially where I felt disappointed with last year's Newbery winner, Moon Over Manifest. Abilene Tucker didn't strike me as someone new or exciting at all. In fact, I felt I'd met characters like her a dozen times over, and it hurt my enjoyment of the book. So taking this into account, I approached Anne Ylvisaker's The Luck of the Buttons with some trepidation. What would this book offer me that others haven't? Would Ylvisaker be able to give me a character that was both original and interesting?
Tugs Button comes from a long line of the unlucky. So unlucky, in fact, the family has a pie-eating coping mechanism. So when lucky things begin to happen to Tugs, like getting invited to a birthday party and winning a raffle, the family doesn't quite know what to do with her. Luckily, Tugs always knows just what to do with herself. She takes her raffle prize, a camera, a Kodak No. 2 Brownie F model, and is determined to make the most of it. Meanwhile, there's a shady character in town, and Tugs seems to be the only one in town who isn't under his spell. Her quick thinking and investigative work just might be in time to save the day, and the town.
It turns out that Tugs Button was exactly the kind of character that I needed, and Ylvisaker did have something new and exciting between her pages. There are shades of other girls we've known and loved (especially fellow tomboy May Amelia), but Tugs is someone interesting on her own merit. The element of luck, her newfound talent for it and her family's lack of it, lends an unexpected element to the proceedings. I loved reading about how the family prepares pies for various misfortunes, and how Tugs finally loses her patience with the brooding, complaining family and speaks her mind. Tugs desire for friendship with the well-to-do Aggie and the girly, cliquey "Mary" girls is something we can all understand, as is her decision not to be "hemmed in by a dress", especially when there are much more exciting goings on.
I didn't love The Luck of the Buttons, but I did enjoy it. It left me feeling pleased I had taken the time to read it, and eager to read more, which is always a good sign. Whether Ylvisaker chooses to continue the adventures of the irrepresible Tugs or branch out with other characters and stories, I'll be anxious to see what she has in store for us.
The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker
2011, Candlewick Press
Library copy

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My, my, a whole year.

I may not have posted as often as I would have liked, but it seems I have survived the first year curse and actually made it into year two of my blog.  I may not have a lot of readers (something I hope will change over time, but even if it doesn't, I enjoy the writing for myself), but I'll keep plugging.  Between work and school I know I don't post much, but if I can manage a handful of entries a month, I'll be happy.

In the coming weeks I'll have Newbery/Caldecott predictions, my top ten lists (I still need to get through at least five or six more books before I can finalize my middle grade list), and a look at what I'm most looking forward to this year.  I've challenged myself on GoodReads to read 150 books this year.  If I include picture books, that should be a walk in the park.  I don't have the official numbers in front of me, but I estimate that I read around 170 books last year, including picture books, YA and adult.

So here's to a marvelous 2012!  I've already begun to plan for my library's Summer Reading Program ("Dream Big, Read!") and have all sorts of fun things planned.  And here's to the books, what keeps me chugging along!