105 Ways to Give a Book

Attack of Literacy

Attack of LiteracyOkay, this shirt totally rocks. See if you can pick out some of the “Twenty Renowned Authors of the Classics” starring in Attack of Literacy. Shakespeare and Twain are easy, but is that Jane Austen?

This fantastic shirt is a prize donated by Threadless for the 48 Hour Book Challenge. Thanks to our (one) corporate sponsor! There will also be signed books, handmade journals, gift cards, jewelry, and more in the winners’ prize packages. Remember, some prizes will be awarded randomly to participants in the challenge, so you don’t have to read the most or read the longest to win something. Now is the time to block off the weekend of June 6th–8th and sign up to read like you’ve never read before. Unless you participated last year, in which you’ll read somewhat like you’ve read before.

Body Drama

Body DramaWhoa. You don’t catch me off guard too often, but the photos of twenty-four different... ahem, vulvas was a little startling. Body Drama, by Nancy Amanda Redd, pulls no punches in its efforts to show real teens and young women “real girls, real bodies, real issues, real answers.” It’s right there on the front cover. Reading the book was refreshing, enlightening, and a tiny bit uncomfortable all at the same time.

I’d put this book in the category for older... ahem, developed teens and young women as opposed to the preteen “What’s a period like?” crowd. The book covers body shape, skin, hair, and... ahem, boobs and “down there” with fast facts, question and answers, personal stories, and photos. Lots of photos.

The author (not a physician) is assisted in the medical aspects of the writing by Dr. Angela Diaz, the Director of Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. The end of the book includes numerous resources and an extensive bibliography. Several references are made to the author’s website for more information. The author is a Miss America swimsuit winner, Harvard graduate, and semi-exhibitionist. Kidding! She’s down to earth and not afraid to share some personal stuff from her own life in pursuit of the cause. Her goal — besides selling books — is to make young women comfortable with their bodies and comfortable asking questions about their bodies. To that extent, the last page of the book before the resources is pictures of women in all of their... ahem, full glory. And they are real women with real bodies looking proud or shy or happy or confident. But no one looked ashamed. It was one of the most interesting and moving things I’ve ever seen, and I certainly wouldn’t have expected it in a health book.

Meme 123

This meme makes its way back here with a tag from Cats and Jammers:
  1. Pick up the nearest book.
  2. Open to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the next three sentences... um, sentences six, seven and eight.
  5. Tag five people and post a comment to the blogger who tagged you.
Now, Janie from Sketchy Words — being an author and an illustrator of picture books — also gave us the PB version, which is to go to page 23 and just put down the text.

I had A Beginning, A Muddle, and an End: the Right Way to Write Writing, by Avi, at the Reference Desk with me, hoping for a chance to at least skim it during the quiet morning hours on Wednesday. No dice. But it was still with me when this meme came up, and it turned out to have a great few sentences to use. Now page 123 only has five sentences, since there is a picture at the top of the page. So I guess that I’ll continue on to the next page:
“That’s because even when you get to the top, you’re always below something.”

Avon looked down. “I have to admit, it does look as if there’s more down there than up here. Does that mean the higher you go, the less there is?”

“Avon, that’s what I’d call downright smart!”
Now I want to read it. Maybe during next week’s quiet morning hours.

I tag any five bloggers who would like me to come and visit them at their blogs. Anyone? Tell me in the comments if you’re playing.
Category: 2 comments

Poetry Friday: Shark Girl

Smaller Picture

And then... some days are gray days,
vast, unbearable
canyon days, when I can’t take
the frantic buzzing in my arm anymore.
“My life is going to be one long hurt,”
I tell Mel. Sick as it is, I say it:
“Sometimes I wish I died.”

“Time to think about the smaller picture,”
Mel says. “Like getting through one day.
Not your whole life, not forever,
one day.
Sometimes we can only look at one hour,
or one minute.”

Tears crawl into my eyes.
Emptiness makes my throat ache.

“On those bad days, Jane,
hold on. Get through one minute.
Then tell yourself,
I made it through that minute,
I can make it through another.”

So I do as he says,
and I get through
one    more    day.

— from Shark Girl, by Kelly Bingham
Shark GirlOne normal summer day when Jane is fifteen, a shark attacks her in the California waters. She loses a lot of blood, goes into a coma, and almost dies. But she survives — without her arm. She stays in the hospital for a month, regaining her strength and learning to get along as an amputee. Her mother is always by her side, her family sends support, and she receives gifts and letters from people all over the country who’ve seen a video of her tragedy.

But this isn’t the story of a girl who bravely survives and overcomes, at least not at first. She’s angry and bitter. She hates all the flowers and letters, at least most of the letters. She constantly reflects on the day of the accident, wishing that things could have been different — if she hadn’t been in the water at just that moment. Through her ordeal she finds good in a little boy she meets at the hospital and in her supportive friends and family. She finds strength in herself as she heals and grows.

I loved this book because it felt so real and represented the many different ways that people around you can respond to a difficult situation. Some offer religion, some offer a shoulder to cry on. One friend gets very critical of little things while another takes her through a brutal exercise to prepare for Jane’s first trip out to order coffee.

The story is told through conversations, newspaper articles, letters, and poems. Kelly Bingham was on a live forum at readergirlz yesterday and answered some questions about the book. I wasn’t able to sign on, but was intrigued to learn that Shark Girl was written before the attack on the Hawaiian surfer. In fact, Kelly put the manuscript away for a year feeling that it was inappropriate to submit at the time. I still have some questions for Kelly — I was particularly intrigued by how she captured Jane’s feelings — so maybe she’ll stop by MotherReader for a visit too. In any case, don’t wait to pick up this book. It will astound you.

The Thursday Three VII

No More Yawning!No More Yawning! written by Paeony Lewis, illlustrated by Brita Granström
I can’t say I’m a big fan of bedtime books where the child keeps getting out of bed or otherwise disrupting bedtime. They tend to make me feel more like the child needs more limits and parental authority. But this book includes yawning, and having yawning in a bedtime book is pure genius, because as the parent reads the book with the yawns, the child starts yawning and is soon ready for bed. In fact, it makes it a little confusing that the mother keeps telling the little girl, “No more yawning,” even though it is paired with all the other instructions like “No more kissing” or “No more singing” or “No more stories.” Yawn away, I say. Cute book and nice, soft watercolor illlustrations. Oh and good tips on falling asleep are included in the back.

Mrs Muddle's HolidaysMrs. Muddle’s Holidays, written by Laura F. Nielson, illustrated by Thomas F. Yezerski
I’d so love to live on this woman’s street. The families on Maple Street celebrate lots of holidays including Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, Christmas, and even Arbor Day. When Mrs. Muddle moves in she introduces the children to new holidays, such as the First Day of Spring and Earthworm Appreciation Day and the Garlic Jubilee. In November they rake leaves looking for presents the Leaf Fairy has hidden (I’m totally using that!). After a year of special holidays from Mrs. Muddle, the street gives her a holiday of her own. The back includes more information on holidays in general. I loved this book for its message of community, its celebration of nature, and its encouraging idea to make your own fun. The pictures are detailed and fun, and show a multicultural neighborhood. A great book for older preschoolers up to second grade — especially in areas like Virginia where holidays are studied in the school curriculum.

Ladybug GirlLadybug Girl, by David Soman and Jacky Davis
This book is adorable. I love Lulu’s ladybug outfit of red leotard and tutu, red spotted boots and wings, and antennae. Honestly, I was sold by the cover. On a day when Mom and Dad are working around the house, and her brother goes off to play baseball, Lulu has to make her own fun with her trusty dog Bingo. It takes some time, but Ladybug Girl finds a way to save the day for some ants and help an old crumbly stone wall. She goes through her unplanned, unstructured day knowing that she’s not little like her brother said. She’s Ladybug Girl! The illustrations are marvelous, especially when they capture the grumpy faces of Lulu and her dog. This book will be great fun for kids who feel “too little” like Lulu and kids who are proud of having grown up big. One of my favorites of 2008 so far.

Disney Adventure

We’re back from Disney World and it was great. Certainly not a relaxing vacation, but a fun one.

We flew out Friday morning, checked in at the Caribbean Beach Resort, had lunch, and were at the first park by 1:00. We took in a full day at Epcot, but skipped most of the “World Showcase” section, which is mostly buildings, food, and shops. I mean, really, in the DC area where can we NOT buy products from China or meet people from Mexico? We hit many of the major attractions, and the kids played in the Innoventions section while I dozed in a hard plastic chair.

On Saturday we slept in, having put in a solid 18 hours the day before. We got to Animal Kingdom about 1:00 and spun our wheels trying to get in the attractions. It’s hard to navigate the park, which is build like spokes off a wheel. It was always our luck to be at one end when we needed to get to the other. After a while, we got into the groove and saw most of the major attractions — including an extremely wet ride at Kali River Rapids. We decided the “you will get wet” sign should add “and may get drenched.” We missed some of the animal exhibits, but again — DC area, National Zoo. No worries there.

Sunday was the best day at Hollywood Studios. We’re big movie people, so we loved the behind-the-scenes stuff like backlot tours, stunt car driving tricks, and sound studios. The shows were great, and the park was easy to get around. We got there early and with some careful planning on the times of the shows, we were able to do everything we wanted to do. Our nine-year-old even got picked to be part of the Jedi training and join in the High School Musical dance. The big kids — my twelve-year-old and my husband — fit in two turns on the Tower of Terror. My favorite part was lunch at the Prime Time Cafe. The place is set up like a fifties home and the waitresses act like members of your family. It’s totally fun.

The Magic Kingdom was on the schedule for Monday, and even with an entire long day there, we didn’t see everything. In the end, we did see the most important things to all of us, but it was at times tiring and frustrating. The park is huge and we ended up walking across it far more than we’d planned. The park is popular, and thus very crowded. It also featured the highest proportion of crying kids and slow-moving adults. Still, we had a great time on lots of rides, including two trips on Space Mountain and a ride on Dumbo during the fireworks.

On our last day, we checked out and headed to Epcot for a couple of big attractions we had missed. The timing started off badly with a longer-than-expected process to check our bags for the airport service and to wait for the shuttle. We ended up with a long line for the first attraction of the day, which really cut into our time. However, we were able to hit the four things we had missed and get an extra turn on the Mission: SPACE ride. Then it was back to the hotel, pick up our bags, ride to the airport, fly home, and in bed at midnight.

I have to say that I’m amazed by how much we packed in. I’m also really proud of my kids, who never whined or complained, and kept up the pace for the whole time. Trips like this bring out the worst sides of people, but we are getting good at working with those idiosyncrasies. I get irritable, so I make sure to ask for some space or quiet instead of lashing out. The third grader gets clingy, so we give her extra hugs and then distract her. The sixth grader gets absent-minded, so we go over the schedule twice or three times. The husband gets angry, but it’s only occasional so we let it blow over. And, of course, these are only a small part of the experience. We’re a fun-loving family with lots of energy, so Disney World is the perfect place for us. You know, every four years or so.

General Good News

I’ve got to say, I’m feeling pretty good. Pretty, pretty good. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

I had more fun than I would have thought leaving a random book for a teen to find. What a kick! I put out Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood at the bus stop in front of my library. The middle and high schoolers walk past there and could easily see the book propped up on the bench with a sign, “Free to Good Home.” The readergirlz bookplate was inside. When I checked later that afternoon, the book was gone. Sweet.

I found out that twelve of my fifteen Girl Scouts are coming back for Cadettes next year. This middle school transition is a time when a lot of girls drop out, so I’m thrilled that so many are staying with me. Oh and one other girl is staying in GS, but moving to a troop affiliated with her church. Not bad. Certainly makes up for my sort-of shunning at Great Wolf Lodge.

The sign-ups for the 48 Hour Book Challenge are going great. I’m so excited, guys! Keep getting the word out and if you haven’t signed up, consider it. What an opportunity to tell the PTA president that you’d love to help with the Fun Fair, but you’re reading that Friday. I’m also getting some nice prize offers, though I’ve been swamped with emails, lost the messages in the deluge, and haven’t responded to many of the kind supporters. So if you’ve offered something so far and haven’t heard from me, it’s not you, it’s me. I’m answering now — YES!YES!YES! — and I promise I’ll respond to your emails like a normal person very soon.

I was able, as I’d hoped, to transfer to a branch of my library system that is closer to my home. I also decided to cut down on my hours to have more time for my family, my projects, and my writing. The other cool thing is that the library is brand new and I’ll be part of the first staff there. I start with my new library and my new hours just in time for summer. I’m so happy.

Last, but not least, we’re going to Disney World! We’ve planned an excellent vacation before we lose my preteen entirely to the “Whatever” teen years. We went four years ago and had a blast. This time we can skip the character autographs and little kid rides, and hit all the cool stuff.

I’m sorry. This post was so indulgent. I’m not used to lots of things going well at the same time. There’s probably a protocol to sharing so much good stuff. Maybe you’d better tell me what great things are happening in your lives so I won’t feel so braggy.

The Thursday Three VI

Mommy, Do You Love Me?Mommy, Do You Love Me? written by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Jan Fearnley
Do we absolutely need another Mommy-love book? Probably not, but when done by two such heavy-hitters as Willis and Fearnley, I’m willing to take a look. In this book, the little chick questions mommy’s love as he gets muddy, loses a race, ruins a present (by accident), and gets scolded. The “gets scolded” part is key, because as Little Chick gets too loud, his mom shouts at him to be quiet. He can’t believe his ears and worries that she doesn’t love him anymore. But of course she does, because she’s his mommy. Sweet book.

Puppies and PiggiesPuppies and Piggies, written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Ivan Bates
This is a very simple farm book that would be most appropriate for the baby/toddler set, but could enjoy a return as an early beginning reader book. The rhymes are simple and sweet (“Kitty loves a garden, Kitty loves a rose, Kitty loves to walk up high, On her kitty toes.”) with the gentle pictures pulling the story of farm life together.

Bye-bye, CribBye-bye, Crib, written by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Ross MacDonald
It’s time for the little boy to become a big boy and leave his crib behind. But he’s worried about the big boy bed which seems huge and looks like a monster. Mom and Dad reassure the boy, and send his blankie and pillow over first to check it out. When his toy Baby Kitty is ready, then he’s ready and he makes the leap — literally — to the big boy bed. The illustrations have a retro fifties cartoon feel to them which is interesting. Another interesting choice is having the character talk to the reader. I wouldn’t call this my favorite book, and I don’t know that I’d buy this book as a parent, as its appeal is certain to be short-lived. However, I think that the issue of leaving the crib isn’t covered a lot in picture books, and this one is done well, making it a good purchase for a library.

I Rock The Drop

ReaderGirlzTomorrow is the big day. Not only are YALSA and readergirlz giving thousands of publisher-donated young-adult books to teen patients across the U.S. and in Canada, they’re also encouraging all teens and YA authors and regular old people like me to leave a book in a public place on April 17, in celebration of Support Teen Lit Day. There will be a big celebration later that night at the “TBD Post-Op Party” hosted at the readergirlz MySpace forum (April 17th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Pacific Time).

There are bookplates at readergirlz to insert into the books that explain the surprise to the recipient and tell them to read and enjoy. Now I just have the pleasure/torture of figuring out which books to give away. Oh, and where. Maybe at the bus stop by my library. Or somewhere near the high school. Too bad it wasn’t Monday when I could have left them at Aeropostale. Actually, that might be worth a special trip.

I Am,

You Are a Comma

You are open minded and extremely optimistic. You enjoy almost all facets of life. You can find the good in almost anything.

You keep yourself busy with tons of friends, activities, and interests. You find it hard to turn down an opportunity, even if you are pressed for time.

Your friends find you fascinating, charming, and easy to talk to. (But with so many competing interests, your friends do feel like you hardly have time for them.)

You excel in: Inspiring people

You get along best with: The Question Mark

Sounds about right, espcially the “pressed for time” bit. Thanks to Sara for pointing out the site.
Category: 4 comments

Love, Stargirl

Love, StargirlYes, I’m just getting to Love, Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli. I forgot about it, ’kay? Get off my back.

I liked the first book, Stargirl, being a little bit of a Stargirl myself in my rural, always-the-same, middle-of-nowhere high school. I found the character a little over-the-top and the message a little heavy-handed, but overall I liked the way the book showed the rigid, closed-minded high school world and how it can be infiltrated by a new idea and/or new person.

Love, Stargirl didn’t bring the same sense of recognition or magic.

Instead of the high school, it’s a small town. She’s not ostracized as much, but she’s even more perfect than before. Watch Stargirl babysit a little girl for no pay! Watch Stargirl help an angry preteen! Watch Stargirl selflessly visit an agoraphobic neighbor! Watch Stargirl win over an antagonistic boy! And on and on. There are lots of quirky people in this small town — another one of my pet peeves in books — and they all come together under Stargirl’s guidance. Oh, and the book is really one long letter to the boy she left behind, the boy who turned his back on her, in the last book.

Three things particularly bugged me. One, her father’s a milkman? There are still milkmen in America? Two, the little kid Dootsie needs some serious limit-setting. Three, Stargirl is hung up on a boy she met one year ago (at the beginning of the book). By the end of the book the teens’ fifty-day relationship is almost two years in the past, they’ve had no contact, and she’s still totally hung up on him. Seems a little obsessive.

The Amazon reviews looked like they were all over the place, and I’ll admit that I’m too lazy to look for the blogger reviews. If you’ve talked about this book, I’d love it if you’d put a link in the comments. If you didn’t review it, but have an opinion, then let me hear it... read it, whatever.

A Weekend Memoir

So this weekend my husband was shooting the new Tohubohu Productions film, “Number One With a Bullet,” with a fantastic team of actors and crew. For me this meant that I could finally get rid of the garbage-bag-wrapped pillows/blankets/basketballs that were — for want of a better word — living in my family room. As props they were unceremoniously stuffed into a friend’s car to make their movie debut.
“Well, now we know how many dead bodies fit in a Mini.”
At the same time, I was getting ready to host a slumber party for my now nine-year-old daughter. My eleven-year-old daughter had been invited to stay at her friend’s house that night, but she said that I wouldn’t let her because of the party. I hadn’t forbidden her to go, but was quite relieved that she didn’t — especially when I realized that Bill wasn’t going to make it home for the sleepover. Sure, she could blame me.
“I threw you under the bus.” “Oh, thank God.”
The theme of the party was High School Musical, and three guests were coming. Three silly, giggly, energetic guests. They’d been at the house for less than an hour when I had to get the movie started because they were bouncing off the walls. Of course, that’s when I could neither get the DVD going nor reach my husband in the middle of shooting a scene.
“I couldn’t answer the phone!!!” “I know, but it’s an emergency!!! I can’t get the DVD player to work!!!”
To his credit, he didn’t hang up on me and treated my call like the emergency it was. Because, really, it was. We watched the movie, played the Sing It! game, ate cake, opened presents, played a game, and did manicures/pedicures. As everyone was tucked into their sleeping bags, I read for thirty minutes. It was coming up on midnight and everyone was wide awake. Oh, and one girl was thinking that maybe she wanted to go home. I convinced her to stay by suggesting that I sleep downstairs too, but that meant I had to listen to her and my daughter whispering after I told them over and over again to go to sleep. I finally had to pull the birthday girl aside and gently tell her to settle down.
“Omigod! It’s two o’clock in the morning. You have got to stop talking!
The girls were up at 7:15 a.m. — some more awake than others and all more awake than me. Still in sleeping bags, we watched the second HSM movie and munched on doughnuts. Then it was a quick craft, dressing and packing up, another round of Sing It! and home they went. Except one girl whose mother forgot the official time of departure. I didn’t mind because she and my daughter were playing nicely. Or they were until playing hide-the-Webkins went bad. The party guest hid the toy between the couch and the wall, and my daughter reached way over, fell in headfirst, and couldn’t get out.
Thump. Thump-Thump. “Wahhhhhhhhh! Help! I’m stuck! Wahhhhhhhh!”
After applying ice to her split lip and driving the last friend home, I had to wonder if drinking before noon was terribly wrong or just inappropriate. In any case, I’ve realized that I am much better with fifteen girls for four hours than four girls for fifteen hours. Lesson learned.

Nonfiction Monday: A Memoir

I’ve considered it a personal challenge to stretch the meaning of Poetry Friday by featuring T-shirts, song lyrics, and even spam. Certainly not out of disrespect to poetry or the collaborative effort of Poetry Friday, but more as a way to push the limits of our own understanding. Well, that and my own admitted laziness.

So, now Nonfiction Monday meets my warped mind. I offer some true-to-life, non-ironic sentences uttered this weekend. Nonfictional, as it were.
  1. “Well, now we know how many dead bodies fit in a Mini.”

  2. “I threw you under the bus.” “Oh, thank God.”

  3. “I couldn’t answer the phone!!!” “I know, but it’s an emergency!!! I can’t get the DVD player to work!!!”

  4. “Omigod! It’s two o’clock in the morning. You have got to stop talking!

  5. Thump. Thump-Thump. “Wahhhhhhhhh! Help! I’m stuck! Wahhhhhhhh!”
For fun, guess how these statements fit in to an actual, suburban mom’s life and/or memoir. I’ll be back later with the actual — nonfiction — story.

Mélanie Watt Interview

We’re closing out the week’s blog tour with a MotherReader special WhenWhereWhoWhatWhyHow interview. Enjoy!

When did you start writing?

I wrote little stories as a kid to accompany my drawings... nothing fancy! But my first real story was Leon the Chameleon, which I wrote in an art class in 1999 to accompany my illustrations. It later became my first published book.

Where can you do your best thinking?

I think about stories and characters all the time, pretty much. I’m inspired by events and people around me, by my childhood, by kids, so the creative thinking never shuts off.

Who influences you personally and/or professionally?

People who accomplish great things and leave their mark, whether it’s in the arts, the environment, socially... I get inspired by the amazing things that are happening out in the world in various fields.

What messages are we giving to kids that can make them afraid to meet new people, go new places, try new things, etc.?

I remember growing up and being afraid of things based on my parents’ experiences. Like I was afraid of riding a bike and going skiing, but it was my parents that had bad experiences with that, not me, but it was enough to make me want to avoid bikes and skiing. Obviously parents want to protect their kids and guide them through life, but in my case, thinking back on it, I find that it was important for me to discover things on my own, and sometimes it involves taking the risk of getting on that bike and taking a fall!

How do the Scaredy stories address those messages for children?

Hopefully when reading the Scaredy Squirrel books, kids will question his thought process. There’s nothing more interesting to me than when kids ask, “Why is he afraid of Martians if Martians don’t exist?” I think Scaredy is a good example of how fear can take ridiculous proportions, how overthinking things can distract you from doing actual things. And most importantly, how never taking risks will not only prevent you from discovering what’s really real in the world but will also prevent you from knowing what you’re capable of (just like when Scaredy discovered he’s a flying squirrel by leaping into the unknown).

Why do today’s kids relate so strongly to Scaredy?

I think they can see a little of themselves in him... teens and adults too... I hear! Plus, I think he’s appealing because he’s hard working, funny and doesn’t give up. Scaredy doesn’t claim to be perfect and in the end he doesn’t come across as preachy. He encourages kids to take baby steps towards facing new challenges.

What’s next for you?

More Scaredy adventures for sure! I just finished Chester’s sequel coming out in the fall. And I’m developing new ideas and characters for new upcoming books.

Next week readers can continue following the Mélanie Watt Blog Tour in Canada. No passport required. On Monday read about the progression of Scaredy at KidsSpace Blog, on Tuesday check out kids’ questions at HRM Parent, and on Wednesday learn about Mélanie’s creative process at Shelf Elf Reading Blog.

Thanks to Mélanie and Scaredy for stopping by!

The Thursday Three: Scaredy Squirrel Edition

In honor of the Mélanie Watt Blog Tour, I present a Scaredy Squirrel Thursday Three — which is totally perfect given that there are three books in the series at the present time. On today’s schedule are kids’ questions for Scaredy at Metrowest News and questions about Watt’s writing at Hip Librarian’s Book Blog. Yesterday there was a fantastic interview over at Jen Robinson’s space. Of course, tomorrow, I bring us all back to basics with my WhoWhatWhenWhyWhereHow line of questioning. Maybe I should go with the sock puppets. Hmm. Anyway, here’s your Scaredy Squirrel picture book extravaganza.

Scaredy SquirrelScaredy Squirrel
Poor little squirrel. Never leaves his nut tree because he’s scared of the unknown. He’ s afraid of all sorts of things, even if they don’t make much sense — like sharks and green Martians. He stays safe in his tree with his same routine and his preparations for the unexpected and nothing ever changes. Until one day, it does. This book was our Cybils winner last year, and for good reason. It combines great storytelling and illustrations with a light message. It’s a book that works on many levels and for a large age range. Kids can see themselves in Scaredy in being afraid of new things, but the moral is handled lightly and with humor. A perfect book.

Scaredy Squirrel Makes a FriendScaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend
Sequels are hard to evaluate. Should there be a totally fresh insight with the new title, or should it develop the character along the previous storyline? Tricky. I’d put this book in the latter category. Scaredy has branched out some, but not enough yet to make a friend. That’s scary. A squirrel could get bitten! From his tree Scaredy identifies the perfect friend — who is clean, quiet, and safe. And maybe a little boring. With full preparations, Scaredy heads out to make a friend. But on the way to introduce himself to the goldfish he’s spotted, he encounters a messy, loud, rambunctious dog! Ahhhhh!!! Another great book that addresses children’s fears about making friends and trying new things with the help of a funny, lovable character.

Scaredy Squirrel at the BeachScaredy Squirrel at the Beach
Okay, now the squirrel’s getting all crazy. He’s left his tree, he’s made a friend, and now he’s going to the beach? Daring! Well, maybe not at first. He doesn’t like the crowds, so he tries to build his own beach with kitty litter, a wading pool, and a plastic flamingo. It’s good, true, but is missing the soothing sound of the ocean. Where can you get the sound of the sea? Yes, by the sea, but also from those perfect seashells that you hold up to your ear. Of course to get one, you have to go to the beach. With full preparations, Scaredy heads out to make his own beach perfect, but he didn’t plan for all the people. Oh, the crowds! Can he find his way through this terrifying situation? I think the suspense may be gone at this point, but the story and message are still well crafted with lots of humor.

Back To The Book Stuff

Melanie Watt’s tour is hot, hot, hot right now. Her character Scaredy Squirrel spoke up over at Big A, little a on Monday. On Tuesday, a clever kid asks the questions over at Book Buds. I’ll have an interview here on Friday with, ummm... sock puppets! Okay, not really. I’m so lame.

The March/April 2008 issue of The Edge of the Forest is up with interviews, reviews, and much, much more. Lately I’ve been lax about writing for this wonderful resource, but I’ll get back on the ball. Soon. If you’re interested in submitting an idea or article, get in touch.

Sign-ups continue for the Third Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge. Don’t make me hunt you down! I’m going to start trolling for prizes, but again, don’t make me hunt you down! Seriously, I’d love signed books, fun jewelry, t-shirts, and notecards. I feel fairly certain that BACA merchandise will make an appearance. Original illustrator artwork, doodles, or even scribbles will make my heart leap with joy. Most of the donations will be combined to make prize packages, so don’t worry that no one would read twenty books in two days for your signed book or Scrabble cufflinks. Drop me a line at motherreader AT gmail DOT com and make me an offer I can’t refuse.

Bone-Tired and Dissed

I am bone-tired after a Girl Scout trip to the waterpark Great Wolf Lodge and an extra day with my mom, brother, and niece in Virginia Beach. I got to see my niece for about a day. She’s almost two years old now and so cute. My brother brought her over to my mom’s house and then she spent the night with us there. Sure, she woke me up at 2:00 a.m. and then didn’t sleep past 7:00 a.m., but it was totally worth it.

The overnight trip to Great Wolf Lodge was a big success. Thirteen of my fifteen girls were able to go, plus three other adults to help with driving, food, and overall supervision. I was right in there with the girls on the different water slides, and grabbed a few of them over the day to join me on the scream-inducing Tornado slide.

It was on this Tornado ride that I got to really feel twelve years old again. And not in a good way, though it taught me something important. During our trip, I tried do something with all of the girls. For the most part, the girls were happy to have my company for these short intervals. But the morning we were going to leave, I caught two of the girls and asked if they’d go on the Tornado with me one last time. They agreed, one more reluctantly than the other, and off we went. We walked up the tall tower, waited our turn, and both of them started looking over the side of the staircase away from me. At first I thought that they were looking for some of our other girls, so I asked A. who they were looking for. She said that they were just looking and I said, “Oh.” She must have caught my hurt tone and started talking with me. The other girl, E. wouldn’t turn around. When we were past the staircase, she still would barely talk to me. When the ride was done — I screamed like a little girl — they both bolted; A. was somewhat friendly but E. didn’t acknowledge me at all.

I retreated to the hot tub feeling like I was twelve and had been shunned by the popular girl. True, I had an adult perspective on it, and this girl’s rudeness wasn’t going to affect my social standing in middle school, but I was overwhelmed with the feeling of being left out, dissed and dismissed.

I thought about how reading reminds me of being an insecure teen, but this incident put me right back in the feeling. Let me tell you, it was awful. But truly, how helpful to really understand what my daughter, this troop, all middle-school girls feel. It made me wonder how writers of Young Adult books can get down to that core and make it real.

I’ve also wondered what to do next. I want to talk to the girl, E. I want to talk to her mother. I want to talk to the whole troop about appropriate behavior. I also want to pretend that the whole thing didn’t happen. I did hug my daughter that night, and told her that I understand the plight of being a teen in a new way. I can hope that the experience will make me a better mother, a better troop leader, and maybe even a better writer.

The Third Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge

48 Hour Book ChallengeIt’s time. I’m setting the date for the 48 Hour Book Challenge — that special contest that allows you to read guilt-free for as long as you can stand it! I’m avoiding ALA and Father’s Day weekends, plus I like having the Challenge on my birthday. So the chosen weekend is — ready for it? — June 6–8, 2008.

Here are the basic guidelines:
  1. The weekend is June 6–8, 2008. 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 sixth 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 fifth-grade level and up. Adult books are fine, especially if any adult book bloggers want to play. If you are generally a picture book blogger, consider this a good time to get caught up on all those wonderful books you’ve been hearing about. No graphic novels. I’m not trying to discriminate, I’m just trying to make sure that the number of books and page counts mean the same thing to everyone.

  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. 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. The time spend reviewing counts in your total time.

  5. For promotion/solidarity purposes, let your readers know when you are starting the challenge with a specific entry on that day. Write your final summary on Monday, and for one day, we’ll all be on the same page, so to speak.

  6. Your final summary needs to clearly include the number of books read, the approximate hours you spent reading/reviewing, and any other comments you want to make on the experience. It needs to be posted no later than noon on Monday, June 9th.

  7. Sign up in today’s comments. You’re welcome to post the challenge on your site. Point them to today’s post to sign up. On Friday, June 6, I’ll have a starting-line post where you can sign in to say you’re officially starting the challenge.
I’ll be looking for donations for prizes for most books read, most hours spent, and most pages read (if it isn’t the same winner as most books read). Last year I also picked out some “door prizes” randomly from the participants. Last year’s prizes included original sketches from Mo Willems and Matthew Holm, loads of signed books, t-shirts from Threadless, jewelry, gift cards, and more. Good stuff.

I’ll post the rules again as we get closer, to incorporate suggestions or to answer questions that have come up. So how many books do you think you could read if you devoted a weekend to the task? Ready to find out?

If you’d like to contribute to the prizes, shoot me an email at motherreader AT gmail DOT com. I’ll be taking my Girl Scout troop out of town tomorrow, so I won’t get back to email until Monday.

The Thursday Three V

Look at this — I’m up to five weeks of The Thursday Three. That’s as consistent as I’ve ever been about anything ever. With only slight changes, these are my notes as I first see the books, so I’m liking taking the pressure off of doing longer, more carefully edited picture book reviews. For instance, I’m not even going back to edit the previous, slightly awkward sentence. Carry on.

A Visitor for BearA Visitor for Bear, by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Bear doesn’t like visitors, so when a mouse comes by one day he sends him away. But the mouse keeps showing up anyway — in the cupboard, in the drawer, everywhere. Each time the bear sends him out. After many times — the build-up will thrill young listeners — the bear gives up and entertains his unwanted guest. To his surprise, the bear finds that he likes visitors after all. The soft illustrations are wonderful, and convey the characters’ emotions to perfection. The title will be of interest to a wide range of ages. This is a great story, a fantastic read-aloud, and an overall brilliant book.

Charlie Hits It BigCharlie Hits It Big, by Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Denise Brunkus
Ah, HarperCollins, you had me at Brunkus. If I wasn’t sold by the guinea pig on the cover — and I love my pet rodents — I was definitely on board with seeing the illustrator of the Junie B. Jones books get a little more space to play with in this picture book. Charlie is a pet guinea pig who decides to take off on an adventure and explore Hollywood. He is cast in a movie and has all the trappings of stardom, except his favorite food and his owner’s love. In the end the love — and the favorite food — win out. This is one of those books where no one else seems to realize that the animal is not human (a big source of the humor), but the Brunkus Touch certainly doesn’t hurt. Lots of fun for older preschoolers to second grade.

Little Rabbit's New BabyLittle Rabbit’s New Baby, written and illustrated by Harry Horse
Little Rabbit’s mommy is having a baby. Well, actually three babies. Little Rabbit is very excited to play with the baby rabbits, but things don’t ever work out. They don’t eat what he expects, they can’t play with him right, and they mess up his toys. He’s mad about this at first, but then works to be more helpful and to teach the baby bunnies what they need to know. And it all ends okay. I’m not generally a fan of books that look at the negatives of new siblings because I think that it sets the stage for problems before they happen. However, I like the growth of the character in this book, and I love the sweet illustrations that remind me of an updated Beatrix Potter, so I’m giving it the MotherReader nod of approval.

It’s now less than 48 hours until the MotherReader announcement, and I can say that I’m (a) not pregnant (b) not getting a book deal — oh, HarperCollins why won’t you call? (c) not turning forty-eight on 4/4/08, though I concur that it would be cool if I were.

Leap of Faith

Leap of FaithThe subtitle of Leap of Faith, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, could easily be “Everything You Wanted to Know About Becoming Catholic but Were Afraid to Ask.” While Abby’s deep frustration with her parents and her inner turmoil about her past are big components of the book, her move to accept the Catholic faith is a big focal point.

Abby gets kicked out of school for hurting a boy in an act of desperation to get him to leave her alone. Her parents put her in Catholic school, even though they are not Christian. There Abby finds a good friend, an expression of herself in drama, and an interest in Catholicism. At first it’s more about making her parents mad — or making them even notice her for a change. The question for her, and for the readers, is how real is her desire and how strong is her faith?

I was surprised by how much the book was about religion, but I thought it was handled with honesty and sensitivity. I learned a lot, and I could relate to the character’s wrestling with her own spriritual choices. I wouldn’t have picked up this book if it hadn’t been on the Cybils short list, thinking that it wasn’t my type, but it was an interesting read and would make a perfect choice for book clubs wanting to explore books about faith that aren’t only about faith.

Countdown to MotherReader announcement is at 48 Hours. That’s a hint, people.

Announcements, Odds and Ends

The Pigeon Wants a Puppy!It’s the Pigeon anouncement! I was guessing “brother” or “cell phone,” but this makes more sense. Thanks for letting us in before the event, Mo. I was afraid I’d have to wait until evening, and that would have been too long.

I’m warming up to a MotherReader announcement of my own, but taking the lead from the Mo news, today I’ll point out some odds and ends from my writer friends.

Cats and Jammers blog teaches me a thing or two about Work For Hire and the illustrator’s rights — or lack thereof — associated with the practice. Especially galling when the celebrity author is keeping the change. BACA OFF! indeed.

Laura Salas asks, “How do you decide to spend your time online?” My answer: “Randomly.” Sometimes I skim through JacketFlap, but I’m more likely to go into my blogroll and poke around. It takes freakin’ forever, but I do see posts that I would have missed, and I tend to comment more than I do otherwise. The downside is that I can’t do it all the time, so I’m missing lots of stuff anyway, and my blogroll is not up to date. If anyone has a great solution for how they handle their online time, I’d like to hear it too.

Just for a laugh, check out the “updated” covers for Anne Frank and the Bible over at Radar Online. They say that girly covers sell books. (Thanks to Longstocking Jenny Han for the link.)

Mitali Perkins points out the 2007 Notable Children’s Books in the English Language Arts and wonders, “Do we value humor in the book world?” I wrote about this issue in The Edge of the Forest — saying basically, “No, but we’ll keep trying.”

readergirlzYALSA and readergirlz are teaming up for Operation Teen Book Drop on April 17th, donating 10,000 books in pediatric hospitals across the country. You can join in by leaving a copy of your book with a TBD bookplate where a teen will find it and take it home. Also join the party at readergirlz on that evening, 9–11 EST to chat and clink the virtual champagne glasses. (Virtual nonalcoholic beverages provided for teens and designated virtual drivers.)