Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making: A review

Valente, Catherynne M. 2011. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making. New York: Feiwel and Friends.
"Tell me the rules," said September firmly.  Her mother had taught her chess when she was quite small, and she felt that if she could remember which way knights ought to go, she could certainly remember Fairy rules.
"First, no iron of any kind is allowed.  Customs is quite strict on this point.  Any bullets, knives, maces, or jacks you might have on your person will be confiscated and smelted.  Second, the practice of alchemy is forbidden to all except young ladies born on Tuesdays --"
"I was born on a Tuesday!"
"It is certainly possible that I knew that," the Green Wind said with a wink.  "Third, aviary locomotion is permitted only by means of Leopard or licensed Ragwort Stalk.  If you find yourself not in possession of one of these, kindly confine yourself to the ground.  Fourth, all traffic travels widdershins.  Fifth, rubbish takeaway occurs on second Fridays.  Sixth, all changelings are required to wear identifying footwear.  Seventh, and most important, you may in no fashion cross the borders of the Worsted Wood, or you will either perish most painfully or be forced to sit through a very tedious tea service with several spinster hamadryads.  These laws are sacrosanct, except for visiting dignitaries and spriggans.  Do you understand?

And to her credit, the 10-year-old and wiser-than-her-years, September, does understand the rules; and leaves her humdrum life in Omaha to enter Fairyland - without so much as a wave to her hard-working mother, a thought for her off-to-war father, and sadly, a shoe.

Evoking obvious comparisons to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the Chronicles of Narnia, September wonders, will it be "a marvelous adventure, with funny rhymes and somersaults and a grand party with red laterns at the end"? Or will it be a serious tale, in which, "she might have to do something important, something involving, with snow and arrows and enemies"?  September does not know, but the narrator gives the reader a clue,
Of course, we would like to tell her which.  But no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move.  And, perhaps, we do not truly know what sort of beast it is, either.  Stories have a way of changing faces.  They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers.  This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.
But thankfully, we as readers, can get in, and well we should! This is a fabulous debut novel.  A Dramatis Personae preceding the story helps us to identify the many inhabitants of Fairyland, including, but not limited to, September's sometimes traveling companions, A-Through-L, a Wyverary (part Wyvern, part library), Gleam, a Lamp, and Saturday, a blue Marid.

And while September does not fathom the depth of the story into which she has been deposited, she nevertheless has an innate sense of purpose, and a willingness to create her own destiny.  Unlike Alice, who passes through Wonderland in random fashion, September charts her own course.  Much like a narrative computer game, September is presented with a series of quests, problems, and puzzles, each one requiring foresight, courage, and personal choice.  (Would you rather lose your way, your life, your mind, or your heart?)  In each instance, the brave little September is suprisingly resilient and equal to the challenge.

Each delightfully titled chapter, "Shadows in the Water: In Which September Crosses a River, Receives a Lesson in Evolution, and Loses Something Precious but Saves a Pooka," tells the reader what will happen, but Catherynne Valente manages to surprise us anyway. The black and white illustrations are a perfect addition to the story and offer just enough detail while leaving room for imagination.

This is a rich, complex, and thoughtful story, yet it reads as a delightful and enchanting romp through a bizarre Fairyland, where we may be frightened, but not terrified, and joyously giddy, but on guard nonetheless. Don't wait for an invitation from the Green Wind.  Read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making today.  You will not be disappointed! A fabulous debut fantasy for children, young adults and adult fantasy fans!
Click here for the link to hear Catherynne M. Valente read Chapter I.

Chapters I - VIII are available for preview at the author's site.

More reviews @
Fuse #8
Publishers Weekly
and many other blogs.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hoping for the best...

Well, my vacation is over - somewhat.  Cutting my vacation short, I arrived home just in time for a mandatory evacuation.  Thankfully, I have my family, my pets (minus Fred and Wilma, the Venus Flytraps), and a copy of  Catherynne M. Valente's, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Feiwel and  Friends 2011). A bit of Fairyland is refreshing about now!  A review will follow later. 

 I also brought a copy of the adult nonfiction title, The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman (Free Press 2011).  It's a fascinating and enjoyable read, but, right now, I've got enough water to worry about!

If you, too, are on the Northeastern seaboard, grab a good book, stay in and stay safe!

Friday, August 26, 2011

I Love My Librarian!

Do you love your librarian? Yes?
Well, time is running out to nominate your favorite librarian for the annual

"There are more than 122,000 libraries nationwide, and librarians touch the lives of the people they serve every day. The award encourages library users like you to recognize the accomplishments of exceptional public, school, college, community college, or university librarians. We want to hear how you think your librarian is improving the lives of the people in your school, campus or community.
Up to ten winners will be selected this year and receive a $5,000 cash award, a plaque and $500 travel stipend to attend an awards reception in New York hosted by The New York Times.
The award is administered by the American Library Association with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York and The New York Times."
Nominate your favorite librarian today! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bake Sale (a review)

Varon, Sara. 2011. Bake Sale. New York: First Second. (Advance Copy supplied by publisher)

Sara Varon, author of the acclaimed, Robot Dreams, has returned with Bake Sale, a story featuring Manhattan bakery owner, Cupcake, his best friend, Eggplant, and themes of friendship, determination, and self-determination. 

 With humor (imagine Cupcake and Eggplant in the Turkish Bath with Celery and Kosher Salt),


Whoa! Your wrapper is starting to peel!

Oh my gosh!  That's so embarrassing!  We'd better get going!

and with heartfelt expressiveness (Cupcake wistfully watches the band pass by, with Avocado taking his place on drums)

Sara Varon has given us another honest tale of friendship, though one with a cautionary note. We cannot have it all, and through our priorities, we determine what we will have.

Following the story is an illustrated chapter containing "Cupcake's Repertoire," and a delicious repertoire it is! Raspberry Squares, Brownies, Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting, Marzipan, Dog treats, and Peppermint Brownies.

(And oh, yeah, the illustrations of Madison Square Garden are spot on!)

Another winner from Sara Varon!
More reviews @

I think I may be forming a favorable bias towards anything published by :01 (First Second).  Their offerings are top-notch!

*spoiler alert*
I should point out that both of my teenage girls enjoyed this book but expressed disappointment in not knowing the outcome of the Exotic Baked Goods Contest.  As for me, I think the absence of that knowledge underscores the idea that perhaps it is the journey rather than the goal that is most important.  You decide for yourselves.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thoughts on "A Place to Call Home"

Deacon, Alexis. 2011. A Place to Call Home. Ill. by Vivian Schwarz. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

I am on somewhat of a vacation, taking my eldest daughter off to college for the first time. What does this have to do with children’s lit, you ask? Well, there are many children’s books that are often given as gifts on these occasions – many are the children who have received copies of Dr. Suess’, Oh, the Places You’ll Go (1990 Random House), upon graduating high school. Perhaps Neil Gaiman’s, Instructions, (2010 Harper Collins), is on your list of timely and apropos graduation gift books as well, or Peter H. Reynolds’, The North Star (2009 Candlewick).

Here’s a new one, however, that may have escaped your notice -

A Place to Call Home

While it is not a story of individual possibility or achievement (it features seven hamster siblings), it is a humorous and touching story of exploration which begins like this,
What is this? 

It is a small, dark hole.
It is also a home. A nice, warm, safe home. The trouble is, if you grow up in a small, dark, hole, even if you start out tiny, there comes a time when you’ve grown too big, and then you to go …

out into the world.

(cue the humor)

From this point, the comical watercolor illustrations feature the hand-lettered, word bubble conversations of the hamsters. Armed with a paper towel tube, two plastic gloves, a faucet, an old boot and a lampshade, the hapless hamsters start out into the wild world - crossing the sea (the dog’s spilled water bowl), the desert (a ripped basement sandbag), and other perils, including the aforementioned dog. The illustrations are so funny, but it is the final double-spread photograph that pulls the book together and gives it a sense of poignancy.

This is a book that one might enjoy for its hilarious artwork or its message of cooperation and bravery; but for me and for my daughter, leaving her small hole and heading out on her own, it’s a perfect fable for a new journey into that great big world.

Now, where are those tissues? (sniff, sniff)

Publishers Weekly review

Friday, August 19, 2011

Super Diaper Baby, really?

Under various headlines, this article, detailing the annual attempts at book censorship in schools, appeared in many newspapers across the country today.

This, in itself, is nothing new.  The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom serves as the librarian community's watchdog for these and other issues.  But why did this particular challenge attract my attention?   Its target.  Super Diaper Baby! That's right, your favorite diaper-wearing superhero has run afoul of a parent in Channelview, Texas, and that parent subsequently had the book banned from the school library.

Anyone familiar with Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants, Ricky Ricotta, Ook and Gluk and Super Diaper Baby series will know that, yes, they are full of bathroom humor, but they are wildly popular - with boys, in particular.  Is "poo-poo head" really that bad?  Dav Pilkey is an author that gets kids to read - and love it!  If I want to attract kids to programs at the library, Captain Underpants and Jeff Kinney's, Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, are sure-fire crowd pleasers.  Kids will read them, talk about them, draw their characters, check them out of the library and beg for more!  Can that be a bad thing?
Super Diaper Baby ... really?

Click to read Dav Pilkey's 2003 response to a school challenge of the original Super Diaper Baby.

See my review of Super Diaper Baby 2, here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Miss Dorothy and her Bookmobile

Houston, Gloria. 2011. Miss Dorothy and her Bookmobile. Ill. by Susan Condie Lamb. New York: Harper.

North Carolina resident, Gloria Houston, tells the true story of Dorothy Thomas, a young woman from Massachusetts who wanted to become a librarian,
in a fine brick library
just like the one in the center of the square
in her hometown.
But instead, she fell in love, married and moved with her husband to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where there was no fine brick library.  In fact, there was no library at all - until the people of the community raised funds for a new green bookmobile, and eventually, "a little white house to be used as a library."  And so, Miss Dorothy delivered and provided books to her community and the surrounding areas, and in doing so, she became a hero to her community - and to Gloria Houston, who wrote this book.

Susan Condie Lamb's illustrations capture both the simplicity and earnestness of the past, and the beauty of one of my favorite places, the Blue Ridge Mountains.  A simply lovely book!

Pair this one with other stories of unusual book-toting librarians, Jeanette Winter's, Biblioburro (2010, Beach Lane) or Daniel Pinkwater's, Aunt Lulu (1988, Macmillan).

Another review @

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Amy O'Quinn.  Stop by!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

Auxier, Jonathan. 2011. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes. New York: Amulet.

(Advance Reader Copy provided by the publisher and signed in New Orleans by the young, very friendly, and tall Jonathan Auxier. Some lucky young reader will be the recipient of this great new book!)

A sightless, orphan boy under the control of a heartless man, the Dickensian Peter Nimble uses his remarkable senses to survive, becoming as unseen as he is sightless - a master of thievery, lock picking, diversion, filching, clipping and pilfering.  It is a mean and demeaning life until the day he steals an elaborately guarded, locked and fortified box containing three sets of eyes - eyes which catapult him into a strange and fantastic journey to the spaces that have heretofore been left blank upon the maps of the world.  His destiny is a quest for the Vanished Kingdom. To accomplish his mission, he has only his new companion, the part feline/part equine/part human Sir Tode (a most miserably enchanted knight), an unfinished riddle, his burgle-sack, and of course, the Fantastic Eyes.

The language of Peter Nimble is the straightforward language of action and adventure, which is not to say that this book is simple or unsophisticated. In fact, the plot has many twists with depth equal to the cruel mines of the Vanished Kingdom. There is some obvious foreshadowing, but this may be a planned device, offering the reader a sense of accomplishment while following this exciting adventure as it changes perspective when new characters enter and expand the story.

As Peter Nimble is blind, the reader depends upon the narrator and good Sir Tode to set the visual scene. Peter's view of the world is colored, so to speak, by his other senses.  He tells the time of day by the "feel" of the sun or moon.  He can "smell the dew percolating up from the ground."  He can judge the size of a chamber or hall by the echo of voices or machinery. But he cannot do it all alone, and enlists the help of the loyal Sir Tode, a fish, thieves, a raven, and "the Princess," in a fierce battle to aid the author of the riddle,
Kings aplenty, princes few,
The ravens scattered and seas withdrew.
Only a stranger may bring relief,
But darkness will reign, unless he's --
For ages 10 and up, readers of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes can expect some violence and even death (no quest is without danger!), but Peter and his allies are up to the challenge, and when they falter, they are reminded,
There are times when Justice demands from us more than we would give.
A satisfying and captivating debut novel that certainly leaves open the possibility of future adventures. (Read more about that in this BookPage interview with author, Jonathan Auxier.) A treat for fans of action, adventure, magic and fantasy!

(I love the cover art!)
True story: I have never encountered the word sternutation before reading Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes. After looking it up, I shared my discovery with my family that evening only to have my son tell me that he, too, had learned the word sternutation that day - from a Snapple cap!  A strange coincidence to be sure!

Other reviews @
Fuse #8

Monday, August 8, 2011

Imaginative Inventions - a review

Harper, Charise Mericle. 2011. Imaginative Inventions: The who, what, where, when, and why of roller skates, potato chips, marbles, and pie and more! New York: Little Brown.

Cherise Mericle Harper is the author of the very popular Just Grace and Fashion Kitty series, as well as one of my personal favorites, Pink Me Up. In Imaginative Inventions, she turns her talented hand to nonfiction.

In 3-6 paragraph rhymes, she features the history of fourteen inventions, including  doughnuts, high-heeled shoes, eyeglasses and animal cookies.  The "Piggy Bank" was a particularly interesting invention,
In the Middle Ages
pots were made from pygg.
It was an orange clay
that wasn't hard to dig.
When someone had some money
to save or hide away,
they kept it in their pygg jar
for a future rainy day.
Some potter probably said,
after giving it some thought,
"What if I take my fine pygg clay
and make a pig-shaped pot?"
Well, soon the other potters
who formed and shaped the clay
were making jars in piggy shapes
just like they do today.
Humorous, brightly-colored acrylic paintings accompany each entry, and are a mixture of folk art, caricature and comic styles.  The double spread illustrations are framed on three sides by a quilt motif of related illustrations (shoes, doughnuts, etc.) and the fourth side has a border featuring facts - Who, Where, When, and more.

Sources are not included, however, Imaginative Inventions is not intended as a research tool, but more as a source of fun or an introduction to inventions.  Many teachers assign projects on inventors.  This would be a fun read-aloud to inspire further investigation.

Visit Cherise Mericle's great website!

(I can't wait to see her upcoming book If Waffles Were Like Boys - what a great title!)
Another review @ Rasco from RIF

Today is Nonfiction Monday and the host is Apples with Many Seeds.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Back-to-School picture book roundup

Many school-related picture books have arrived on my desk in the last week or two, but these are the only two I've really liked. 

Milgrim, David. 2011. Eddie Gets Ready for School. New York: Cartwheel (Scholastic).

David Milgrim has a real flair for simplicity.  I've never reviewed them, but his Ready-to-Read books featuring Pip and Otto are my favorites for very early readers.  Eddie Gets Ready for School is not an easy reader, but it's masterful in its simplicity.  It's nothing more than a checked-off list, one or two items per page, of all the things Eddie "needs" to do before school,
Put cat in backpack
Hug Mom
Take cat out of backpack
Find something else for show & tell
Some items (Eddie choosing in turn, the dog, goldfish, bird, and flat screen TV for show & tell), don't make the written list and are expressed only in the crisply drawn cartoon images on white space.  Mom and the dog are featured throughout the story.  Mom is happy and supportive, although root beer and cartoons for breakfast does try her patience a bit. So what does Eddie finally choose for a snack and show & tell?  You'll never guess!  This is a very funny back-to-school gem!

Murray, Laura. 2011. The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School. Ill. by Mike Lowery. New York: Putnam.

This gingerbread man is not running away as fast he can; he's running to catch up!  The children have cooked him up at school but, oh no! He's left behind when it's time for recess, but he's a smart cookie.  He'll find them,
I'll run and I'll run,
as fast as I can.
I can catch them! I'm their
Gingerbread Man!

Along the way, he loses a toe,
I'll limp and I'll limp,
as fast as I can. ...
and almost ends up as someone's snack,
I plopped on a sandwich
and chips with a crunch
OH NO! I cried out.
I'm in somebody's lunch!
 The story is told entirely in rhyme and presented comic style with panels and word bubbles. Cute and simple.  Kids will eat this one up.

Librarians will want to remove the poster before circulating this one.  Teachers will want to hang it in the classroom.

Author Laura Murray's website has some great Gingerbread Man extras - and a RT script coming soon!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Why nonfiction? (or, heard on a moonlit night)

Thoughts for Nonfiction Monday ...

On a recent summer evening, my husband and I headed up to the beach to watch the full moon rise. Moonrise was scheduled for 9:05pm, and we were a few minutes late. As a beautiful strawberry moon emerged from the clouds in the darkening horizon over the Atlantic Ocean, we stood gazing from the boardwalk.  The moon had not yet fully appeared, and the sky around it was tinged with red.

A young adult man and his female companion were walking by and stopped to see the reason for our eastward attention. With a puzzled, slightly worried expression,  he asked, "Excuse me, but you can you please tell me what all that red stuff in the sky is?" 

Several minutes later, at about 9:20pm, the moon had risen in all it's rosy glory, and three young men on bicycles rode by, and I overheard: "Hey, dude!  Check out the sun!"  "So what. That's no big deal.  I see that all the time." "C'mon, let's go."

Photo by David Saddler
Creative Commons license 2.0
I understand that not everyone lives near the ocean and has seen the moon rise up over the horizon, and I don't mention these conversations to ridicule people enjoying the beach at night.  Many people do not get to see the moon until it rises high and white in the sky.  However, it is my wish that all children (and adults!) know that the sun sets in the west, that it is the moon that rises at night, and that a full moon rising in any location is a beautiful thing.  Thankfully, commonplace, awesome, and terrible things that we are not fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to experience for ourselves, may be experienced through books.

"Common knowledge" exists only between people with common experiences. In working with children, we cannot assume that anything is "common" knowledge.

If we share nonfiction books and make the natural world a source of interest and wonder, then we will have done a great deal in educating children and making the world a better place.

Today's Nonfiction Monday is at Lori Calebrese Writes!  Please, visit and share!

Beneath the Waves - a review

As we read disturbing news accounts of dying manatees , environmental disasters caused by toxic waste, and ocean pollution on the scale of ...