105 Ways to Give a Book

Shug

Finally! I’ve been reading all these YA novels, and had only found one (Happy Kid) that I could/wanted to use when I booktalk to the seventh graders in the fall. Now, here comes the second for my list, and it’s a great one. Absolutely fantastic, I should say.

ShugI’ve had Shug by Jenny Han since the beginning of May, and I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I had a good feeling about it and wanted to save it for a special day. Today it is hot, but pleasant, the rain of the past week having swept the humidity away. I went outside to enjoy this lovely white book with the red popsicle on the front, and felt like I had just the right book for just the right day. And how right I was.

Annemarie, called Shug by her family, is making the transition from elementary school to middle school and from being a girl to being a girl. One of her best friends is a boy, but suddenly he is looking different to Shug. He looks like a boy. Shug also has to deal with a father who is never around, a mother who drinks too much, and a sister who is way too pretty. She is trying to find her own place and adjust to who she is becoming and who her classmates are becoming. Living in a small southern town, she has known everyone for all of her life. Her parents are from the same town, and they have known everyone all their lives. It makes changes even harder.

Shug is so realistic and so honest. The characters are flawed, but they are all trying to be better people. Shug’s mom makes some mistakes when she has been drinking, but she tries to make up for it later. Shug’s friend Mark has always been good to her, but he doesn’t stand up for her when he should. All of the people in the book have some good and bad about them, and that is what makes it feel so real.

Jenny Han has a website and a blog that look pretty interesting. This is her first novel, and I can bet we’ll be seeing more wonderful things coming down the pike. I personally am hoping to hear more about Shug as this book only covers the first few months of seventh grade, and I feel like I was just getting to know her. The good books always end too soon.

Poetry Friday: It’s All On Me

It’s a sad day in the kidlitosphere if the upholding of Poetry Friday falls to me. It seems like everyone else is on vacation, recovering from ALA, or just abstaining. But I’ve been holding onto this book for two weeks now and even though it is a picture book written as a poem rather than a poem itself or even a book of poetry, I’m going with it because I am the last one standing, as scary as that is.

Got to DanceMy seven-year-old picked out Got to Dance by M.C. Helldorfer from the picture book section of our local library. This is remarkable because we rarely go to our local library, and I usually just pick out books from my branch that I think the kids will like. Since they get to pick out their own books weekly at the school library, I never felt they were particularly deprived. Sometimes they come to my branch, where they spend the whole time playing games on the children’s computer. So be it.

Anyway, my daughter picked this book out, and we read it that night. It is about a young girl home with her grandpa while her mom is at work and her brother is at camp. The girl has the summertime blues, but shakes them off with dancing. The whole book is done is free form verse, with some rhyming and some not. It is a wonderful tribute to the joys of summer when you are little and just happy. A sample:

Bare feet — yow!
the burning hot street
makes me dance, dance.

Beneath the bus seats,
jig-jigging feet
do a crosstown dance.


The illustrator, Hiroe Nakata, is one of my favorites with her soft yet vibrant watercolor illustrations. They fit perfectly with the happy, light text. The characters are African-American, but their ethnicity isn’t a factor in the storyline. This is a great summertime in the city book, and poetry at its best.

In a Roundabout Way

So, I was reading an email from my best friend, and he sent a picture of his new baby boy. I wrote back to say how very cute his baby is and also how he (my friend) is looking pretty good himself. I gave a brief update to hold us until our next phone call and mentioned the things I had done on my blog — namely the 48 Hour Book Challenge and the Mo Willems meeting post. My friend replied that he had seen both and that the Mo meeting was so me. The discussion of this post reminded me that a coworker had told the director of the agency that coordinated the Mo event about my description of said event. I begin to wonder if I had written anything “wrong” from that perspective, and went back to read it. I did describe the director as shooting daggers with her eyes while smiling, but I don’t think that is too bad. As I read the two posts, I came across the link to Mo’s website. Since websites aren’t updated like blogs, I don’t go back there very much, but with the link right in front of me it was as good a time as ever. And I discovered two things.

One, that Pigeon and Knuffle bunny ringtones are available for your cell phone. I am sooo getting “Let me drive the bus!”

Two — and more important (well, to me) — is that under “The Pigeon’s funny!” is a link to my article in Edge of the Forest, where I listed the funniest books for kids up to age seven. So, you can go to Mo Willems’ website, click on the link to the article, click on the link to MotherReader and come back to here. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

My web name is even the way I like it, with no space between the Mother and Reader. And I didn’t think I was important.

Quinceañero Extravaganza

With the ALA conference and the first real summer weekend, a lot of bloggers seemed to take the weekend off, so I did too. I didn’t go anywhere, but I can now walk through my living room without stepping over the contents of my daughter’s school desks. Way to go me.

Cuba 15Six days ago, I read a review on Chicken Spaghetti for a quinceañero book. In the comments, Jen Robinson mentioned how she had just reviewed a quinceañeo book and then it was noted that the book Cuba 15 is also about a quinceañero. I chimed in that I had read that book and would skim it and write about it that night.

So much for that.

I did pick up the book that Thursday, but found that I wasn’t able to just skim it. I remembered that I had read it, liked it, and recommended it for our summer reading list two years ago. But I could not remember enough about it to review it. I started to skim, but found myself continually slowing down to reading speed. I gave up, and just reread the whole thing.

Fortunately, it was a good book.

Violet has a Cuban father and Polish mother, and has spent her last 15 years staying away from Cuban culture. Her father doesn’t like to talk about Cuba, and Violet doesn’t want to cause any family controversy. Her grandmother offers to give her a quince party, and Violet reluctantly accepts. She doesn’t want a big fuss and she doesn’t want to wear a dress, but it seems to make her grandmother happy.

At the same time, Violet is getting involved with the speech team at her school. She was hand-picked to do the Original Comedy competition, even though she can’t imagine how she will write and perform something funny. She writes a piece about her Cuban relatives and learns the ropes of speech competition. She also develops her first crush and deepens her personal friendships.

The grandmother speaks a mix of Spanish and English, which gave me numerous opportunities to try my high school Spanish. For me, it was more the recognition factor at play than actually translating the phrases themselves. But whatever — it made me feel a bit smarter.

Though the quince preparation is a ongoing theme of the book, it is not all the book covers. It is also about friendship, boys, competitions, and family. I was surprised by the breadth of the novel, having assumed it was going to be a madcap telling of the quince process. Like a Quincezilla tale or something. But I would say it is more about self-discovery and embracing one’s heritage.

Friday, Chicken Spaghetti directed readers to a call for quinceañeo stories for a new book, so I am still riding the quince wave by getting this review done today instead of a week ago. Way to go me.

Edge Of The Forest: Now With MotherReader!

The new Edge of the Forest, a kidlit online magazine, is ready for viewing. There are many wonderful reviews, interviews, and whatnot, but note the featured article by yours truly. I wrote about funny books for babies to first graders. Stop by and take a look.

Celebrity... Author?

There must be some kind of rule by which we can override crediting the author, and go directly to the illustrator. Please, let that be so before Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee write again.

Please, Puppy, PleaseLook, the illustrations of Please, Puppy, Please are extraordinary. Several times it looks like the puppy is coming out of the page at the reader. I love, love the picture where the puppy is rolling in the mud in super-close-up from the reader’s perspective. I love the cute kids. I love that the book features African-American children, but their ethnicity isn’t the focus of the story. Kadir Nelson really knows his way around a picture, and if he was listed as the book’s author, I would have no problem with the slight text. This book is really about the illustrations anyway.

But the text is so simple, it shouldn’t be credited to anyone, much less two people. I counted fifty words in the whole book that weren’t “please” or “puppy.” A sample? Oh, if you insist:

Away from the gate, puppy puppy, please, puppy.

Oh wait puppy, wait, please, please, please, please.


Oh, and there was a page turn in between those lines of poetry.

I get the celebrity author bit. Sells books, blah, blah, blah. But there has got to be some level of what we would consider writing. And it needs to be more than fifty words I could pick out of a first-grade spelling list.

Two Yucky Picture Books

I’ve had to save these books for a rainy day. You know, a day when I couldn’t think of anything to write. Sometimes when I’m at work I’ll make notes in an email and send it to myself, usually notes about books that I don’t want to bring home. Here are two such picture books.

I'm a Duck!At first I thought I would like I’m A Duck! by Terry Sloat. The pictures look like Make Way for Ducklings in a way that must be intentional. But in this story, the duckling is supposedly growing as we read this from a tiny duckling to a full-grown drake who finds a girl duck and they have babies and start it all over again. So why does the duck still talk like a baby? Is something wrong with him? And then here are the rhymes:

Look at these feet — pretty neat! Wow,
They’re webbed. What a treat.

There’s a strut in my waddle now. I’ve got a wife!
I tell you, this girl has changed my whole life.


Oh, just yucky.

When You Are HappyBut worse was Eileen Spinelli’s When You Are Happy. Again, good author, I thought I would like it. Started reading...

When you are sad. I will hold you. I will let you cry.

Okay...

I will catch your tears in a blue cup and water the yellow flowers and they will grow more beautiful.

Yuck.

When you are cold, I will weave you a blanket from leftover sun. I will sing summery songs for you until my voice cracks, and I will watch you warmly until I become the firelight dancing in your eyes.

Yucky, yuck.

Hey, I’m a softy. Loved On The Day You Were Born. Love books about loving your kid. But there’s a point at which the sweetness becomes yucky sweetness, and this book reached it. Reached it, passed it, set a new record.

The 48 Hour Book Challenge: THE WINNER IS...

48 Hour Book ChallengeAll right, I'm calling it. The winner of the 48 Hour Book Challenge is Midwestern Lodestar! This dark horse librarian by training read an amazing fourteen books with a total of 3155 pages! She read and blogged for about 26 of the 48 hours. What an introduction to the kidlitosphere!

As host of the contest I was contractually obligated to spend a lot of hours reading and blogging. MotherReader did log in thirty hours, eight teen books, and 2262 pages. But as I spent some of my time overseeing the contest, I want to direct the attention to a blogger who logged 27 hours, 10 books, and the second highest page count, 2692 pages. Congratulations to Jen Robinson’s Book Page! In her words, "I found this 48 hour book challenge utterly consuming. I didn't cook anything during the 48 hours, didn't put away the dishes in the dish drainer, didn't bring in the mail, didn't go for my usual walk. I could never keep this up all the time, but I learned that it's amazing how much reading and reviewing you can get done, if you make it your top priority."

I gave myself the loophole of rewarding an alternate challenge, something that didn't fit all the rules. This blogger included a few younger elementary age books in her reading list, but got through an impressive number of them. So with 15 books and about 2220 pages under her belt, Little Willow takes the alternate challenge by storm.

The prize for the each of these winners, is a $35.00 electronic gift card to Amazon.com. Buy books with it, or a nice little fondue set. Totally your call.

If you haven't been spending today making the rounds, let me direct you to the list of final participants. Many of them logged impressive numbers of books and hours. Great job, guys! Everyone found some great books to share for your summer reading selections.Thank you to all the participants for joining me on this adventure. Thanks to all the blogs who supported the challenge with links and blogtime (like airtime, I guess). It was so much fun starting this summer off with a splash in the blogosphere. Next year? You bet!!!

The 48 Hour Book Challenge: FINISH LINE

Check in on the comments when you are done with your summary, which should include number of books read, total page count, number of hours reading/reviewing, and your 48 hour or personal challenge experience.

At this point, it looks like we had fifteen participants. I’ll be back later with the winners.

Final Stats

Final stats for MotherReader: Eight young adult books, 2262 pages, and 30 out of 48 hours spent reading or reviewing.

I substituted two books from my alternate pile because one of my original choices was too long to finish and one was too depressing to read. But since the alternates were also books that had been blogged about, they still fit my criteria and thus my goal.

Of the eight books that I read, I can only use one, Happy Kid! at my seventh-grade booktalking session in the fall, though I am on the fence about using M or F? Maybe, we’ll see.

Some books were light, several were funny, a couple were intense, and one was extra edgy. I enjoyed all but one of them. New York City featured in four of the eight books, which I find surprising since it wasn’t planned. Three books were girl books, three books were boy books, and two had a boy/girl pair. Again, unplanned.

It’s hard to pick a favorite, because they were all so different, but if forced to choose I’d pick Happy Kid! because I liked it and I know I can’t wait to recommend it. My second favorite was King Dork, even though I grumbled about it taking forever to read. It was the stupid font size. Those were some densely packed pages.

As for my experience, it was fun — mostly. It was a beautiful weekend here, so I spent a lot of time outside while I read, and that was a treat. I enjoyed most of the books, so that turned out great too. But I suppose I prefer things in moderation. A little reading, a little chatting, a little (very little) cleaning. My husband and kids were wonderful at letting me read, not interupting me, and taking care of themselves for one weekend. They even cleaned up the kitchen. Well, once.

As it turns out, having to read isn't the same as getting to read, which was what I suspected all along. My real goal in this challenge was to push myself just past the point of comfort, past of the point of fun even. I realized that I had reached that place when I was craving the chance to do the dishes. But, no, I had to go read. Again.

Overall, I had a good time and accomplished a lot. I’m excited to see what other bloggers did. I’m just excited that other bloggers played. What a rush! I’ll spend the day checking out the other blogs, and not reading a book. Well, maybe just one.

The Final Stretch

M or F?I’m at the end of my 48 hours with a last-minute book substitution. I had decided to read teen books that I had previously seen reviewed. But with only three hours left, I decided to take Bass Ackwards and Belly Up, by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, out of the lineup. I still want to read this, but it is too long to finish in the time left. I also jettisoned Over A Thousand Hills I Walk With You, by Hanna Jansen, because it isn’t a happy story, and I am not in the mood. It’s replacement was Fly On The Wall, and the last book of my line-up, the eighth book is... M or F? by Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts. I had also seen this book in a review, so it still counts towards my goal. And, really, I needed something a little light about now.

Frannie and Marcus are best friends. More than best friends, Brain Twins. When Frannie admits her crush on a boy, Marcus wants to help her out. He starts her chatting online with the boy, Jeffery, with Marcus providing most of the banter. When Frannie is around her crush, she freezes and finds she has nothing to say. But Marcus is more than willing to keep her end of the conversation online, even when she is not around to know about it.

Marcus begins to develop a bit of crush on Jeffery himself — after all, they have such great flow online. Though Marcus is gay, he has no reason to think that Jeffery is. Or does he?

M or F? was cute and handled the gay issue in such a nonchalant, non-issue way. It was the perfect dessert for my 48 hours of reading.

I’ll be back tomorrow morning with my summary and a post where everyone can check in. Hope everyone had fun.

Too Much Information

At midnight I wanted to squeeze in one more short book, but forgot to blog about it in the morning. So here it is now.

Fly on the WallI heard about Fly On The Wall in relationship to a contest whereby one wrote an entry with the theme of said title and one could win the book. I wrote the entry, only to realize that the contest had been over for a week. Since then the title has been embedded in my mind waiting for the book to arrive.

Gretchen is a girl at Manhattan High School for the Arts (how many books are set in NYC?) with a crush on a boy. Problem is, she can’t figure out if he likes her at all. She wishes that she could be a fly on the wall in the boys’ locker room so she could figure out what boys are really like. At the same time, her parents announce that they are divorcing and Gretchen has to move to a new apartment. Her mother is offered a trip to the Caribbean with a friend and says she’ll go, leaving Gretchen alone for a week in the house.

Now, Gretchen’s wish to become a fly on the wall comes true. It is convenient that no one is home to notice that she spends a week in the boys’ locker room as an actual fly. How does this happen? Don’t know. Does it matter that no sane set of parents would leave their sixteen-year-old alone in New York City for a week, especially right after announcing their divorce? Apparently not.

So much for the first part of the book. In the second part of the book, she buzzes around as a fly inspecting the private parts of boys and calling them gherkins. The boys also call them gherkins to each other, which I guess is the author’s way of getting around using the cruder names. She has no problem with the f-word, though, because it is used quite frequently in this section. The reader learns that even the perfect boys aren’t so perfect and that everyone’s body is different. Oh, and that boys are sometimes mean to each other and like girls they don’t admit to liking. Notify the press.

There are other dynamics and stuff in this short book, but really, that’s enough. And analyzing boys’ body hair, that’s too much information for me.

Crazy Is As Crazy Does

It's Kind of A Funny StoryAfter reading up to page 46 of It’s Kind of A Funny Story, I almost gave up on it. There’s something about a book where the character is losing it mentally which make me kind of uncomfortable. I went upstairs, got a cup of coffee, came back to the book, picked it up, studied it for a minute and thought, “Eh, what the hell.” And just kept reading.

I am very glad that I did, considering that I would have missed a great and insightful book. Disaster averted.

Craig is having some trouble. He doesn’t feel like himself and can barely force himself to eat. When he does eat, he can’t always keep it down. He knows that he has bad days and less bad days, but there comes a point where it just wants all the days to end. Fortunately, before actually taking drastic measures, he calls a suicide hotline and goes to the emergency room to be treated. He is surprised to find himself admitted to the psychiatric ward of the hospital, but makes the best of it. There are the usual crazy characters — crazy being the operative word here — and emotional breakthroughs. What is great about this book, however, is the characters are realistic and handled with a degree of sensitivity. It would be easy to make fun of the people in this psychiatric facility, but Ned Vizzini lets us laugh with them, not at them.

Now is when I should add that I worked in a psychiatric hospital just after college, mainly with the teenagers and children. The author has captured this world pretty accurately. There are usually a few regulars who come back repeatedly, but more of the people seem — for lack of a better word — normal. They just need some help getting back on track. Vizzini does a good job of conveying the messages about depression and suicide without being preachy. He also does a good job of showing hope, without seeming like a Pollyanna.

In the end, it is kind of a funny story, because the fragility of people has humor to it, as well as angst.

A Book By Its Cover

Dairy QueenOne thing that I remember about seeing a review of Dairy Queen was that I liked the cover with the blue sky and the cow with a crown. It looked funny. The other thing that I now remember is one of the other bloggers reviewing Dairy Queen and saying how wrong the cover was for the book. Oh, yeah.

The cover belongs to a book full of madcap girl adventures, perhaps of a farm girl who tries out for a beauty pageant and hilarity ensues. Well, that is not, um, this book. In fact, the title is actually kind of wrong for the book too. Just off the top of my head, I’d name it What’s Not Said. Oh, or picking from the chapter titles, maybe Heifers Don’t Play Football.

D.J. has gotten stuck with running the family dairy farm when her father is incapacitated. Her grades have slipped and she is exhausted, but the Schwenks work hard and that is what she is determined to do. One day a football player from the town’s opposing team is sent to the farm to help out, and he makes her look at how she falls in line with everyone’s expectations. After an initial conflict, he comes back to work and D.J. trains him for the new football season. Along the way, she finds a friend and learns how to talk — a skill she hasn’t picked up from her uncommunicative family. She also discovers that her best friend is gay, and finds that she doesn’t know how to deal with that revelation. As Brian trains with her, D.J. discovers her own hidden talents and finds ways to bring out in her family what’s not said (see how I worked the new title in there).

Dairy Queen had some light humor to it, but is not the book you would expect from the cover — or the title for that matter. I enjoyed the farm setting, having grown up in a rural area myself. In fact, in numbers and demographics, it could have been my high school. Wisconsin isn’t the only place that has cows you know. I thought the message was good, if sometimes overdone. Communicating is good, not communicating is bad. Following a predetermined path is bad, making your own decisions is good. Not hard-hitting stuff here, but it was well presented with realistic and interesting characters.

None of whom — as far as I can tell — ever put a tiara on a cow.

Bye, King Dork

King DorkI liked this book. I really, really did. But I am glad that it is over. I don’t have the energy to tell you what it is about, so I am just going to put in some quotes from the book and hopefully come back later with a real review.

“The familiar monotony of standard, generic High School Hell, which somehow manages to be horrifying and tedious at the same time. We attended our inane, pointless classes, in between which we did our best to dodge random attempts on our lives and dignity by our psychopathic social superiors.”

“Still, Sam Hellerman’s peace of mind required that he limit contact with his parents as much as possible, as each enthusiasm stomped upon by the Ministry of Stomping on Enthusiasms represented a tiny missing piece of Sam Hellerman’s soul that would probably never grow back.”

“Ages ago, when the school system had more money and everyone was trying a lot harder to create the impression that Hillmont High School was more than just a clean, well-lighted place for hazing, they used to have a Jazz Band.”

And three of my favorite band names:
  • Tennis With Guitars
  • The Sadly Mistaken
  • Sentient Beard

End, King Dork, End!

All right, I’ve been reading King Dork for what appears to be twenty-seven hours, but the modern time tracking system I have in my house which I call a “clock” seems to indicate it has only been about three hours. I am just passing page two hundred, which leaves a solid third of the book in front of me. How much type did they cram in each of these pages anyway?

To keep my mind fresh — that being a relative term — after one day of priority reading, I keep changing locations. Even though the temperature is about ninety today, it isn’t humid. And we all know that it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. So, I read on the back porch in the shade for a while. Then I switch to the hammock. Then it’s upstairs to the couch. But after the third hour on this book, I needed a break. Hello, computer.

Please understand, I’m liking King Dork. It is an incredible piece of work. I having been laughing out loud at several lines, not to mention the endless song titles and band names. This is a very funny, very clever book.

It’s just long, and I’m tired and I want to go see the movie Cars with my family, but this weekend is about reading. Apparently, even, reading until you are a little bit sick of it.

You Say Lo-li-ta, I Say Lei-la

When I was nineteen I dated a man who was thirty. He was also the manager and part-owner of the hotel where I worked as a desk clerk for the summer. My parents seemed all right with it, which was surprising to me. I asked my mom why they weren’t upset, and she said that he seemed like a gentleman.

She was absolutely right. He was a gentleman. We enjoyed each other’s company, but he was never pushy. I was smart, funny, attractive, and he liked me. But I knew he liked the idea of me even more. He took me to bars and clubs where we could be seen together. He wanted to have some young girl on his arm, like an accessory. Certainly everyone thought we were sleeping together, but we weren’t. I already said that he was a gentleman.

I liked him because he was smart, funny, and attractive. I also liked the idea of him even more. I liked going to bars and clubs where no one questioned my legal drinking age, because everyone knew him. I liked being on the arm of someone that everyone knew. If it was icky that everyone thought we were sleeping together, I didn’t dwell on it. I knew that he was a player and I wasn’t going to lose myself to him, in any way.

He, of course, dropped me later that summer for someone less smart, less funny, who needed less of a gentleman.

Stay With MeThe most important part of the book Stay With Me is not the relationship of 17-year-old Leila and 31-year-old Eamon. But in some ways, maybe it is. Or maybe the theme of a book can be what resonates with you. Or maybe I haven’t gotten quite enough sleep to handle this book. Seventeen is just two years from nineteen, but it seems like such a huge span. High school to college. Just legal to acceptable. Lolita or L.A. Story. What a difference a number makes from her story to mine, or vice versa.

Garret Freymann-Weyr has written a book that is simultaneously about loss and gain. Leila loses her sister Rebecca to suicide. She gains a relationship with her other sister Clare when she lives with her for a year. She loses a relationship with her boyfriend and gains a relationship with an older man. In trying to learn more about the motives of her older sister’s suicide, she finds out how much can never really be known about anyone. In struggling to overcome her dyslexia, she learns how some people can just stop trying.

I had two problems with the book. One, was the use of the name Rebecca for the sister who killed herself. It kept in my mind du Maurier’s haunting Rebecca. Perhaps this was intentional, perhaps not, but I found it distracting. Also it gave me pause that the name of the main character, Leila, was so close to Lolita. Again, intentional or not, I found it distracting. My second problem was that I never understood the fascination with the lost hotels, and exactly what was lost about them in regards to this family. That said, I started this book at 2:00 a.m. and read until 3:00 a.m., so I may have missed something in that early morning hour of reading.

Overall, I loved the book and had to make myself stop thinking about it to start writing about it. Stay With Me is a complex, intense, book that leaves the reader to her/his own judgments about situations, characters, and stories. If it leaves one reflective about one’s own story — whether that be of loss, gain, sisters, boyfriends, struggles, accomplishments — then so much the better.

I Am Clearly Not Cool Enough

Nick & Norah's Infinite PlaylistFinally getting to read Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist was like going to a really hot club. You wait and wait, to find that you’re not cool enough for it anyway. Nick and Norah really have got it goin’ on. I certainly wasn’t that cool as a teen, but nor was I that cool in my twenties when I had the money, independence, and legal ID. I wasn’t ever even a quarter of that cool.

I read books about rich kids and I don’t feel all uncomfortable because I wasn’t rich. I read books about shape shifters, and I don’t feel all uncomfortable because I wasn’t ever a hawk. So, why can’t I get past the complete hipness of this book? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

The book was good. The writing by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan was sharp and honest. It was amazing how well the authors conveyed the feelings of anger and hurt and bewilderment and excitement and everything you can name.

Nick has been dumped by a girl who shows up at his gig with a new boy on her arm. To avoid a conversation with her, Nick asks Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes. Norah agrees for her own reasons, and they end up in an electric kiss. The ex-girlfriend leaves the scene, but Norah needs Nick to help her get her drunk friend home. But that isn’t the way the night is going to go for these two, as they repeatedly come together and pull apart against the background of Manhattan. Each with their own baggage and need for connection, they stumble to a way to be together.

Oh, did I mention that the f-word is used, like, a lot. I wanted to have a count of the number of times it was used in all its glorious variations, but I hit nine by the sixth page and just gave up. Page 95 all on its lonesome has an f-count of 26, and the top third of the page was blank. Hey, I like the word myself. Very versatile. But it does make for a more controversial book — i.e., I won’t be booktalking this one to the seventh graders this fall.

Now I’m going to call it a night and try not to dwell on what the f**k I was doing with my pitiful self in my younger years.

What a Relief!

A long time ago a friend told me, “It must be such a relief to have cute kids, because then no one has to lie to you.” Of course, the strong emphasis on the word relief is what makes this statement both so funny, and so true.

Happy Kid!I use this to introduce the book Happy Kid! by Gail Gauthier, because the author is participating in the 48HBC this weekend, and I can’t tell you how awful I would have felt if I had read her book and it... well, sucked. But no. It was funny, interesting, realistic, and meaningful. I can’t wait to booktalk it in the fall to those brand-new seventh graders.

Kyle is starting seventh grade with some issues. He got into some trouble the previous year, even though it wasn’t his fault, and has drifted away from the few friends that he once had. He tends to be a loner and a pessimist. His mother surprises him with a book titled Happy Kid! which she pays him a dollar a chapter to read. He reads it for the money, but finds that the paragraph-size chapters are influencing him to make positive changes in his life. He begins to suspect that something else is at work here when the book is strangely accurate in predicting what he needs to know next.

All the characters in the book had very authentic voices. The book was humorous, but had a real message to convey in all of the self-help book excerpts. You know, I may have to come back and strengthen this review later, because I don’t feel like I am doing the book justice.

What I am trying to say is, “Gail, it much be such a relief to have written a great book, because then no one has to lie to you.”

It Starts With a Splash

I decided, in the spirit of summer reading, to start my 48 hours at the community pool. This may not have been a wise decision.

I began my reading at 4:00 in a lounge chair by the sparkling water. My children are old enough to be in the pool without me, and to actually prefer that I keep my distance, so I was pretty safe in my spot in the sun. I read for an hour and took a five-minute dip.

But then I ran into a new friend, and not wanting to seem rude, I talked to her instead of reading. For like an hour.

When her husband came, I excused myself back to my chair to read for another hour, but then my youngest wanted to eat the dinner they were serving at the pool that evening. “Blah, blah, blah, your needs,” I thought, but it was Chinese food, so we took another break.

Then, after we ate, we had to get back home. I read for another half an hour, before my friend came by to drop off a sleeping bag for my oldest’s slumber party guest. And okay, okay, I talked to her for most of an hour.

On the plus side, I wrote this entry and the one to follow it in about a half an hour, so I can fit in another book tonight.

My goal is to read the teen books that everyone has been blogging about, because I am never as excited to read books that have already been out there, but I want to read them because everyone liked them. I know, it’s a quandary.

So on my list are:If I am even going to have a chance of finishing them, I am going to have to get on the ball. No More Chatting!

The 48 Hour Book Challenge: GO!

And so it begins. When else will you get the chance to use as an excuse, “I’d love to, but I have to read all weekend.”

Happy reading, everyone!

The 48 Hour Book Challenge: GET SET...

48 Hour Book ChallengeHello, I’ll be your host for The 48 Hour Book Challenge. The 48HBC charts its history aaaaall the way back to May 28th, and now will be responsible for the neglected household chores of many kids’ lit bloggers. It all began when I discovered I had accumulated forty books in my to-be-read pile. I wondered how many books I could read if I devoted a weekend to the task. And like many bloggers, I did my wondering online. Imagine my surprise when other bloggers accepted the invitation to join in my madness.

Will anyone read and blog for 48 hours straight? I doubt it, but nor do I expect it. With the creative and mental energy required for reading and writing, I think it would be extremely difficult to do without breaks, not to mention sleep. I see this less as an exercise of endurance — like a danceathon — and more an exercise of commitment. That said, participants should keep track of their hours spent for that aspect of the contest.

I’ve selected books fourth grade and up for the 48HBC for two reasons. One, I want to make sure that we all have the same approximate frame of reference for what counts as a book in the contest. An early chapter book isn’t the same as a young adult book, so a contest involving numbers of books and page counts would be comparing kumquats and yams. Two, it’s hard to look at those longer novels and figure out how you can set aside the time to really get into them. Well, here’s the time. And, just to clarify, while I know that there are wonderful picture books that are appropriate for fourth grade and up, my intention was to give participants a general idea of the type of book. I would have said “upper elementary novels,” but then someone would have brought up the Diary of Ma Yan — which is a biography — and then it’s just another kind of explanation.

For those of you who want to show your solidarity, want to play along but can’t give up your weekend, I’ve added a personal challenge aspect to the 48HBC. Over the weekend, you can work on a personal goal and write about how it’s going for you. On Monday, post a summary of what you did and why. Come to my site to sign in that you’ve done your challenge entry so that everyone can come by your way and check it out.

Here are the rules as I see them. You won’t see any real changes, though there may be additional clarification. Here goes:
  1. The weekend is June 16–18th, 2006. Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the 15th and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday. So, go from 7:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday... or maybe 7:00 a.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday works better for you. But the 48 hours do need to be in a row.

  2. The books should be about fourth-grade level and up. Think novels or, say, novel-like. Adult books are fine, especially if any adult book bloggers want to play.

  3. It’s your call as to how much you want to put into it. If you want to skip sleep and showers to do this, go for it (but don’t stand next to me). If you want to be a bit more laid back, fine. But you have to put something into it or it’s not a challenge.

  4. The length of the reviews are not an issue. You can write a sentence, paragraph, or a full-length review.

  5. For promotion/solidarity purposes, let your readers know when you are starting the challenge with a specific entry on that day. Make your references to the 48HBC to this post, since it has the most updated information. When you write your final summary on Monday, let that be the last thing you write that day — so for one day, we’ll all be on the same page, so to speak. It will also give all of the participants a chance to catch up on everyone else’s posts.

  6. Your final summary should be posted online after 8:00 on Monday morning, even if you finished your 48 hours on Sunday. Include the number of books read, total pages, the approximate hours you spent reading/blogging, and any other comments you want to make on the experience. If you set any personal challenges for yourself, this would be the time to explore them. Writing the summary does not need to count as part of your 48 hours, but it can if you want it to.

  7. When you finish your summary, check in at my site, in the comments of the post I’ll put up Monday morning.

When everyone has their final entries done, I’ll announce the winners. Though, with the opportunity to blow off everything else to read and write for one weekend, I’d say that we’re all winners.

The 48 Hour Book Challenge: ON YOUR MARK...

Ready for a list of participants in the 48 Hour Book Challenge?

The players so far:Alternate challenge players include: Musings of a Lady is on the fence as of this writing, but might cave in to peer pressure. The PlanetEsme Book-a-Day Plan never really said she would play, so she is neither backing out nor on the fence. We’ll just wait and see. Sending their best regards are Book Buds, Gotta Book (who reminds me that he has never done a book review), Kids Lit, Readable Feast, and Semicolon. Unfortunately, Bookshelves of Doom and Outside a Cat had to bow out, though they may participate in the alternate challenge.

Anyone I’m missing? Anyone who now wants to play? Comment below with your link of where you’ll be posting your reviews. I did have a couple of people who were interested, but I couldn’t identify their blog from the information I had.

The final rules and game plan will be posted later this evening. I know, it’s hard to contain the excitement.

Gotta Book Deal

Oh,
My.
It’s true.
“Listen up,
“I Gotta Book deal!”
Says the great and famous fibber.
Book? The 14 Fabulous Fibs of Gregory K.
Congratulations to a creative, worthy, and hardworking blogger and writer.

Come back this evening for the final information and rules on The 48 Hour Book Challenge. We have a lot of people on board and it’s going to be amazing. All the cool kids are doing it. Are you?

My Two Cents: Fuse#8 Edition

There are times I believe that Fuse#8 and I were separated at birth, and only 10 years and some 300 miles render that theory unlikely. I trust her reviews completely. We tend to like the same things, hate the same things, and have crushes on the same cute, married, children’s book authors/illustrators. We’re simpatico.

I have one, teeny, tiny complaint about Fuse#8, and it isn’t even her fault (not really). She gets the books faster. I know that often they are the prepublished editions, but I suspect that sometimes they are just the regular books that her public library is getting sooner than mine. And since we gravitate toward the same types of books, she reviews them first. Waaaay first.

So long before me, in fact, that you have probably even forgotten that she reviewed them at all. Today, I add my two cents and as I link to Amazon, notice the reviews on the bottom of the pages. The very long, thorough reviews of each book. A little Bird told me that those reviews are worth a second look.

Ruby Lu, Empress of EverythingRuby Lu, Empress of Everything, by Lenore Look, finally made its way to my library, fortunately in time for summer reading. I like Ruby Lu. She’s like the Chinese-American Judy Moody — and so says Megan McDonald, author of the Judy Moody books.

When her cousin Flying Duck comes to the United States from China, Ruby Lu is happy. She loves having her family from China, and Flying Duck has many useful tricks and skills. Among those skills is lip-reading, because Flying Duck is deaf. And in the perfect way kids interpret such things is this line from the book: “Having a cousin from China who was deaf was as good as having a cousin who had a third eye in the middle of her forehead.” At first everything is great, but the strain of having extra people around begins to show. There are arguments. There are bathroom conflicts. There are 911 calls. Ruby becomes her Smile Buddy at school, helping her adjust to the new school. Unfortunately, she helps her a little too much, by doing her cousin’s schoolwork, and ignoring her own. Both of them have to go to summer school. But there is still time for swimming lessons, dead mice, and lots of adventures. The book contains a glossary of important words and pictures of some of the sign language. An enjoyable read for the early elementary kids.

Rosy Cole's Memoir ExplosionRosy Cole’s Memoir Explosion, by Sheila Greenwald, was a surprise in that I thought it was a early chapter book at first. The book was all right, but I wasn’t sure who it was for. It seems written for 3rd/4th graders, but Rosy is 11 and she has a crush on a boy — and has for two years... actually, now that is sounding more realistic than I thought. She needs to write about someone for class, but she can’t decide who. Then she has the brilliant idea of writing her own story. She goes through the outline for writing her own story, which shows that she needs “Talent, Tears, Turning Points; Romantic Relationships; Confronting Demons; Overcoming Obstacles; Family Feuds; Rising Above Failures; A Never-Before-Told-Secret; Reader Sympathy.” (Before the book is over, we will go through all of these steps with Rosy.) As she tries to convince her friends to write their memoirs, she ends up taking their stories and turning them into a book they would rather not read — especially as it isn’t so much true. Rosy writes the story of how she loses all her friends as way of atonement, and is forgiven.

A Horn for LouisA Horn for Louis, by Eric A. Kimmel, is a nice read, even if it makes me wonder how much is true. It is the story of Louis Armstrong as a young poor boy who played a tin horn for the junk man, so people would come out with their junk. He played so well on a cheap tin horn that everyone noticed. A gambler even throws Louis a dollar coin for his playing. But when his tin horn breaks, what is Louis going to do? The junk man’s kid finds Louis a real trumpet in the store, but of course there isn’t any money for it. My favorite part of this book was the relationship of Louis to the Jewish family running the junkyard. The integration of a black kid into their family dinners was something most white families wouldn’t do. Some of the Jewish traditions and words are noted, but not overly much.

The UnvisiblesI knew that I liked Ian Whybrow, but I couldn’t remember why. Especially after reading The Unvisibles. This book is British. Very, very British. Hard to understand some of the expressions kind of British. Frankly, I just found it too much work. The basic story is that a boy, Oliver, finds an old magazine with instructions on becoming invisible. But the magazine is taken by a man who is cheating his father, and Oliver needs to find that magazine to get back to normal. He employs the help of Nicky, a boy who is invisible in his own way, in that he stays under the radar and draws no attention to himself. Oliver uses his invisibility to pull tricks on the teachers who don’t much like him. It is supposed to come off funny, but I sympathized with the teachers who didn’t seem to like him because Oliver was a troublemaker to begin with. However, given all the Britishness of this book, maybe I just didn’t understand. Now, I had thought that Fuse#8 had raved unequivocally about this book, but when I went back to her review, I realized that she also thought the book was very British — she just handled it better. Oh, and it was Ian Whybrow’s Little Wolf’s Book of Badness that I liked so much, I remember now.

And just as final proof that I am two steps behind Fuse#8, here are the notes I wrote on a new picture book that came into my library. Notes that I made, but didn’t format into an entry, before someone beat me to it. See if you recognize the book.

The boy invites the fish to come visit him someday. He puts the note in a bottle, and throws it into the sea. The next day there is a fish in his bathtub and two creepy catfish eating the neighbor’s lawn. The neighbor Sally blows up some blowfish for balloons while jellyfish swoop in to make peanut butter sandwiches. A whale flys overhead like a hot-air balloon. Fish invade everywhere. Chris writes them another note telling them they should live at home. WAPB.

The book? Dear Fish, by Chris Gall. The acronym, WAPB? Weird-Ass Picture Book.

Is It Good To Shave Your Eyebrows? No. Never.

Now I’ve mentioned before my surprise that the search “what wine goes with spaghetti” in Google brings up my blog. My blog. On books. I responded to this phenomenon by adding the answer, “It’s Red,” to the entry title so people wouldn’t have to look any farther for the answer. The poor people already thought my blog could help them on this topic. I had to do something.

Generally, searches that bring people here are pretty ordinary.

But not today. A new favorite: “is it good to shave your eyebrows?” It’s only been used once so far, but hopefully my answer in that entry helped. I was firmly against eyebrow shaving for any reason.

A strong favorite contender: “mo willems married.” Yes, he is. Oh yes, he is.

Not Dead Mom Free

When I was a new mom, I couldn’t read any book where the baby dies. Since I wasn’t reading much those days anyway, between working full-time and taking care of a fussy baby, I let my sympathetic friend serve as a screener for me. It was she who coined the phrase “Dead Baby Free.” As in, “You’ll like The Rapture of Canaan, and it’s completely Dead Baby Free.” It later became just the intials “DBF,” and was used as such: “Angela’s Ashes was great, but not DBF.”

Now my girls are more grown up, and while I still prefer books that are DBF, those that aren’t no longer send me into crying fits. But those books where the mom is dead, now those touch a nerve.

It has long been a staple of fairy tales that the mom dies. You know, Cinderella, Snow White, etc. And Disney took those stories on and kept it up with Bambi, Herbie the Love Bug, etc. Then teen books got in the game. My favorite by Sonya Sones even makes fun of the trend with One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies.

Pieces of GeorgiaSo, I picked up Pieces of Georgia and by the second page, I realize that the mom is dead. Bummer. But the book was thin and in verse, so I knew I could finish it fast and that was enough incentive for me to read it.

Thirteen-year-old Georgia has lived without her mother for six years but is still considered “at risk” by her middle school. Her school counselor gives Georgia a journal and encourages her to use it to ask her mother the questions she wants answered. With the journal, Georgia begins a time of discovery about herself, including her love for art. She also begins to look at her relationship with her friend, a rich girl that lives nearby, and finds that money isn’t everything. It sounds very predictable written out that way, but I did enjoy the verse and Georgia’s discovery of herself as an artist.

But for the next month, at least, I’m going to need my books to be Dead Mom Free.

All Things Mo

Okay, I rarely do this. In fact, I may have never done this, but I am directing attention away from myself and to another worthy blogger. Now what could this blogger have done to garner this response from me? What possibly could it be?

Fuse#8 met Mo Willems.
Fuse#8 met Mo Willems and used me as an opener.
Fuse#8 continues to be cooler than I will ever be.

Check out her encounter.

Why I Am Always Late

I am going to be big about this and admit that much of my lack of promptness is my own fault. First of all, I often think that I can fit in one more thing before I leave. I’m usually incorrect in this assumption. Second of all, I am chronically disorganized, which leads to a last-minute search for the right shoes, the lost books, or my car keys. I am usually successful in this search, but not particularly quick.

But the third reason that I am always late is bigger than me. I believe in my heart of hearts that I’m somehow cosmically doomed. I believe this because while I generally run into the more mundane delays — like bad traffic, broken signal lights, and slow drivers — I am plagued with other instances that cannot be normal.

This past Wednesday I was going to the government offices for a meeting with a member of the library administration. The offices are about 15 minutes from my house. I prepared early so that I would have plenty of time. As I found myself ready at 8:45 and my appointment wasn’t until 9:30, I worked on a blog entry. I mean, I can’t get there half an hour early, can I? So no problem.

I wrote until 9:00, signed off, and made my way out the door. Just as I was grabbing my keys from the kitchen table, the phone rang. I saw that it was one of my mommy friends, and concerned that she might need kid assistance, I picked up the call. She didn’t need me to pick up her child, but we did have some Girl Scout information to share. But I had to go, so we didn’t talk long, and I left the house by 9:05. No problem.

Except that when I got to the government offices, most of the parking lot was taken over by a county festival that was going on that weekend. I searched for a usable parking lot and then walked farther than usual to the building. But I still had enough time if I just walked a wee bit faster. No problem.

I got inside the building and to the stairs... and realized that I couldn’t remember if the library offices are upstairs or downstairs. If I went directly to the office, I’d still be on time for my appointment.

I chose downstairs. The office is upstairs. I arrived two minutes late.

In the past year, the following have occurred when I have tried to allow extra time to get somewhere. This can’t be normal.
  • Dressed nicely for a school visit, I exited the house on a hot day. My cat — who at 12 years old and 14 pounds is neither young nor spry — managed to slip out through my legs as I was leaving. Knowing she was too old and too fat to stay outside on that scorching day, I spent ten minutes trying to capture her as she slipped between the bushes and I struggled to keep my shoes and skirt clean.

  • After running over an object in a parking lot, I worried that my car’s tires were punctured. But they held up overnight, so I drove my kids to school and got ready for work. When I came back to drive to work, one tire was flat. I called my father-in-law for help and then, with fixed tire, drove to work.

  • Getting ready to pick up a friend for a Girl Scout event, my oldest yelled up to report that my cat had caught something outside. As I was coming to investigate, the cat entered the foyer with said caught thing in her mouth. I spent five minutes herding the live chipmunk back outside and another five calming down both daughters.
These things do not happen to people unless there are some kind of cosmic forces at work. I’m just sayin’.

Not Special For Me

SpecialsI’m sure that I am supposed to like Specials by Scott Westerfeld. Everyone else seems to. But hey, I hated Tulane even before Fuse #8 made it cool to bring down the bunny book, so maybe I’m just one of those people.

I had three problems with Specials. The first is what we might call a personal problem. I am terrible with series. I retain almost nothing from the books I read. While this makes it easy for me to jump from book to book quickly, it makes reading the books in a series months or years apart just about impossible for me. In fact, I usually avoid series as they are starting so I can pick it up later. When they have the three books, I’ll read through them all one after another.

For me, reading Specials was like walking into a movie halfway through. And not some family movie, either, more like walking into The Usual Suspects. (Who is Keyser Söze? What’s going ON?) I was halfway through Specials before I could remember significant plot points from Pretties — and I still needed to ask two teenage girls at my middle school booktalking session what happened at the end of Pretties. So I am a series loser.

I am going to attribute that problem mostly to me and not to the book — though maybe a little more back story would be nice. However, I found the second problem that I couldn’t buy the over-the-top action in this book as compared with the others. I mean, I already have to buy into the idea that every sixteen-year-old gets an operation to become pretty. Okay. I have to buy into the idea that the powers that be want to keep everyone bubbleheaded so they can regain control. Okay. I have to buy into the idea that they can remake a person from the bones up to be a Special. Okaaaay, you’re starting to lose me. Now I have to buy into the idea that this Special can do all the things — and not to give anything away, but there are lots of things — the book would have them do. Okay, you lost me.

I liked Uglies because Talley was average, her strength was internal, and her skills were her own. I liked Pretties because she had to think her way out of her own predicament, and the action was good. In Specials it is all about the super technology, and I didn’t like it.

The third problem with the book is a minor detail that loomed big for me through the whole book. In changing the Cutters, they were given razor-sharp fingernails and teeth. Does anyone else see just a practical problem here? I mean, sometimes I tear a fingernail a tiny bit, brush hair back off my face, and leave a little scratch on my forehead. What would I do with razor-sharp fingernails? And don’t you think those razor-sharp teeth might chafe a little on the inside of your lips? Every time the teeth or fingernails were mentioned, I was annoyed for the next few pages.

Retractable razor-sharp fingernails, now that might be cool. If only I could pick them up at Wal-Mart.

The 48 Hour Book Challenge: Now Everyone Can Play!

I have a few personal goals for today.
  1. To relocate the snowboots from the foyer closet.
  2. To replace the snowflake placemats with something summerlike.
  3. To remove the sweaters from my dresser drawers.
Are these similar to your goals? Probably not, unless you live in Alaska where the snow season is just ending. But as a resident of a Mid-Atlantic state, I should take care of these things. Now, it would be wonderful if I had, say, 48 hours in which to tackle all of my household needs. But this weekend I have other priorities, no matter how much I wish I could devote the full time to this worthy project.

Are you following my analogy here? Or is it the title that is tipping you off?

When I proposed The 48 Hour Book Challenge, I said that there would be prizes for number of books read, amount of time spent, and... something else. I’ve let it gel in my brain, and I’ve come up with the something else.

I want to offer A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy my thanks for leading me down this path.

On her site, she suggested that you could look at participation as you would a marathon — in other words, reaching your personal goal. Maybe that is plowing through your stack of early chapter books, maybe it is finally tackling that one very long book, or maybe it is writing that perfect book review that finally establishes the connection between Holden from The Catcher in the Rye and the farmer in Click, Clack, Moo.

On Monday, June 19th, write up your goal and experience and I’ll judge it — most subjectively, I might add. For number of books read, and amount of time spent, you have to be a full participant and read fourth-grade books and up. Them’s the breaks. But I hope this opens the challenge up to kids’ lit bloggers, supporters, and book lovers who might not otherwise be able to participate. If you don’t have a blog, A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy has offered space to post and so has Books-A-Plenty .

The final rules will be posted on Thursday night, June 15th. I’ll update them to include the personal goals award and to add page count as a tie-breaker for number of books read. I originally wasn’t going to use page count, because it seemed to involve math. But then I remembered about the invention of calculators, and it seemed like it might be a useful tie-breaker if two (or more) people read the same number of books. There will also be more specifics about how to let me know that you participated, since I can’t just cruise the Internet all day hoping to stumble upon you. Stay tuned.

See, Now We’re Having Fun

I’m coming up on the six-month mark for my little-blog-that-could. I know, it feels like longer. Much, much longer. It’s exciting to have made a place for myself in the kids’ lit blogging world. I think leading off this 48 Hour Book Challenge is ultra cool, and I can’t believe the interest and support in it (update on that tomorrow, btw).

I like reading kids books and reviewing them; however, my own favorite posts are not reviews. They are just writing. Funny writing, I hope, but not really, so much, kid book reviews. Many of you fine folks weren’t with me at the start. Many of you have just tuned into the blog, in... let’s say, the past few days. So, quite likely you missed my blogging highlights.

Today is my birthday, and for my birthday, I am about to do something very indulgent. I am going to point you to my favorite posts that few of you ever saw. Plus a bonus connection to the Mo Willems posts that you probably did see, but they’re still among my favorites, so on the list they go. Take a trip down memory lane with me through the past six months.
Feel free to rave about the posts in the comments. In fact, I rather expect it. I am off to read to my daughter’s first-grade class, because I can’t imagine a better start to a birthday than reading to a bunch of appreciative kids. Which is at the same time both sweet and a little pathetic.

What To Do With Gooney Bird?

There are times when it is good to have children.

You may be thinking that I am referring to a time when my youngest hugs me tightly and declares that I am the prettiest mommy ever. Or when my oldest comes home with yet another perfect spelling test.

Yeah, those times are good too.

But what is great about having kids is when you read a book about kids, and you can say with authority, “That would never happen!”

Gooney Bird and the Room MotherThat is how I felt when I read the second page of Lois Lowry’s Gooney Bird and the Room Mother.

The second page is where the entire class of second graders look up the word ennui in their dictionaries. First of all, I have to accept the premise that even Gooney Bird uses the word ennui in a sentence. I can be pretentious, and I never use it. I am going to give the author that. But having an end-of-the-year first grader who still needs to sing the alphabet song to remember if O comes before U, I cannot buy that a room full of second graders could look up the word ennui in the dictionary. No way.

And if that weren’t enough, at the end of the book, Gooney Bird is giving a speech using lots of big words, and the second graders are behind her calling out the meaning just after she says it. My fourth grader couldn’t even use Dictionary.com that fast, so no way. No way.

I liked the first book of Gooney Bird Greene. She was precocious, but not unbelievable. She had a bit of that Pippi Longstocking thing going on. Sure, she was unusual and ahead of the class, but overall it made sense. Her adventures weren’t that unusual, it was her storytelling that made the adventures sound exciting. The first book was about telling a good story.

In this book, she goes to the library to request dictionaries for her whole class. They can’t help her, but they call in a rich patron and let her pitch her idea to him. He loves her moxie and buys dictionaries for everyone. No way.

The Gooney Bird I liked wasn’t overly pretentious and precocious, she just told a good story. And in doing so, taught the class (and the reader) how to tell a good story. I miss that Gooney Bird.

Book Hooks

I think I am a good booktalker. I qualify this statement with “I think” after seeing too many American Idol auditions in which the kid proudly states that he is the best singer in the world. Invariably, we then see him mangling a popular song. So, I will not fall prey to that overconfidence. This would be a great post for some of my peers at work to comment and back me up on my booktalking ability. I’m just sayin’.

I like booktalking. I like having a captive audience. I like having a “reason” to read the books. I like that the kids greet me in the library by saying, “You came to my school!” It makes me feel like an American Idol.

Today I booktalked to seventh graders. The middle-school booktalking always looms large on my schedule. I prepare about 15 booktalks to cover a day at the school. And when I say “prepare,” I mean that in the vaguest sense of the word. I never write anything down. I never rehearse. I usually have at least four books I do on the fly. I like to keep things fresh. I put most of my effort — again, a word I use loosely — on my first sentence, my hook. And this is what I will share with you today, my favorite “hooks” from today’s booktalking sessions. You are on your own to set up the book.

Uglies“All teenagers under the age of 16 are ugly. [Long pause.] That is the premise on which the book Uglies is based...”

Malibu Carmie“How well do you really know your mother? You’ve lived with her forever, but what do you know of her life before you came along? [Malibu] Carmie knew her mom as someone who was always depressed and tired, but one day...”

Monsoon Summer“Is anyone going anywhere special this summer? [Let a few kids answer.] Anyone going to another country? [Let a few kids answer.] Well, in Monsoon Summer, Jasmine finds out she is going to India for the summer, not that she wants to...”

The Diary of Ma Yan“I have a pen. And in the time it takes me to tell you about this pen, I will have earned the money to have paid for it. So, I can keep it, or I can give it away. [Here I give someone my $0.10 Bic pen.] It’s not important. But if I had to go without much food for two weeks so I could save the money from the family food budget to buy a pen, it would be very important to me. That is one of the things this girl does to further her education in this biography, The Diary of Ma Yan.”

Mummies“Does anyone know how the ancient Egyptians prepared bodies for mummification? [Let someone explain if they want.] Basically, they’d stick a long hook through the nose, swish it around in the skull, and let the brain drip out like a strawberry milkshake. [Lots of ewwws.] Then they made an incision in the torso and pulled out all the guts and vital organs. Think you would want that done to your body? Well, this man donated his body to science so modern day scientists could try to replicate the techniques of the ancient Egyptians. And this is just one of the things you’ll read about in Mummies: The Newest, Coolest, and Creepiest from Around the World.”

And this is my favorite. The best booktalk I have ever given, often without telling a thing about the book.

Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love“You’ve all heard of book banning, right? Sometimes adults will believe that a book isn’t appropriate for a school or public library and will fight to have it removed. Generally, it’s the content of the book that is in question. But this is the first time I have ever heard of a movement to have a book banned based entirely on the title. I know it’s based entirely on the title because I read the book, and it’s very innocent. There is nothing inappropriate in this book. The author writes a blog, and she’s surprised that someone would move to ban it, because she knows that there is nothing inappropriate in this book. Now, do you want to know what is this title that is so destructive to today’s kids? [Here’s the reveal of the book.] Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love.” (After the kids went wild about me saying the word “sex” in school, I told them the premise of the story. Sometimes I talked about this book right to the bell, and revealed the title just before the bell with no further explanation.)

Feel free to use these intros in your own booktalking — though I am going to see if I can copyright the Sex Kittens booktalk.

The Challenge Is SO On

Have you ever worried that you would throw a party and no one would come? Well, I have to say, I was a little hesitant to throw down a challenge and see who would come. But I laugh in the face of hesitant. I scoff, even. Thus I find myself with a tidy little list of participants in the 48 Hour Book Challenge.

The players so far:Sending their best regards are Book Buds, Gotta Book (who reminds me that he has never done a book review), Kids Lit, Semicolon, and YA Books Central. Check back with me guys, because I am working on an idea to let you show your support, and play just a little bit. If I didn’t list you and I should have, please comment below.

I’ll put up an updated post of players next Friday, and the final rules and information on Thursday, June 15th. There’s still time to join in, so nudge your book-blogging friends and neighbors. And, of course, notify the press, because this is on, baby.