Thursday
Nov142013

How old is that in blog years?

Books Together is six years old today. It's easy to remember the anniversary of my first post, because it coincided with what would have been Astrid Lindgren's 100th birthday: we celebrated at the House of Sweden. I think we're catching up to her.

I've been quieter than usual this year, partly because of Batchelder Business: I'm on the 2014 Award Committee, a tremendous privilege for me (I was pretty sure they had me confused with another Anamaria Anderson) and one that makes it hard to write publicly about what I'm reading most of the time. I can say that I see translated literature and culturally diverse literature for children as two sides of the same coin. Let's mint more of them.

[The image above is by Argentine illustrator Isol, who received  the 2013 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for lifetime achievement. At 41, speaking of birthdays!]

Wednesday
Nov132013

Reports from Kidlitcon and One Photo of a Cat

Children's (and YA) book bloggers met up in Austin over the weekend for the seventh annual Kidlitcon. I've only managed to attend one--the one right here in Washington, DC--but it was so worthwhile I always wish I could go (well, as long as I'm wishing, I wish it were in Washington every year. But failing that, I do wish I could go). Fortunately, I can at least benefit from everyone who did go and then blogged about it, most especially Charlotte, who together with Katy (Books YA Love) and Melissa (Book Nut), moderated a panel on Blogging Middle Grade; and Jen, who presented with Sarah on Blogger Burnout. Since I would do more of the first if I didn't have a case of the second, I appreciate their insights and advice. Look, I'm blogging already! I've also taken to heart keynote speaker Cynthia Leitich Smith's recommendations regarding cat photos. This is not my cat.

Tuesday
Oct152013

Journey by Aaron Becker

Everything you've read or heard about Aaron Becker's Journey (Candlewick) is true: it's a magical, beautiful book, more than a little reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon, with detailed illustrations done in watercolor and pen and ink. And wordless, like Barbara Lehman's The Red Book (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2004), with which it also has a lot in common: crossing oceans, finding friends.

My favorite spreads are the earlier ones, of a forest hung with fairy lights and Chinese lanterns, and of the glorious loch castle on the cover: I lingered there for a long time. Unfortunately for me, Journey doesn't. Instead, it takes to the air, and I'm not entirely on board with the steampunk airships and samurai soldiers--bad guys, ordered by their emperor to catch and cage a purple, phoenix-like bird. And keep it in a golden pagoda. Hmm.

Anyway, girl frees bird, bird rescues girl (there's a magic carpet of her own making involved), girl meets boy, the end. For now. It's still a magical, beautiful book, only not quite one for me.

You might love it, though. I really wanted to--just look at it!

Friday
Sep202013

National Book Festival

Who's going to the National Book Festival this weekend? We've gone almost every year since we moved back to the Washington, DC area in 2002. This year is extra-special, though: my friend Madelyn Rosenberg's middle grade novel Canary in the Coal Mine (Holiday House, 2013) was chosen to represent the state of West Virginia as one the Library of Congress's 52 Great Reads. I think that could be Bitty (the canary in question) at the upper right of Suzy Lee's gorgeous festival poster, actually! Madelyn (not Bitty) will be at the Pavilion of the States on Saturday and would love it if you stopped by to say hello. Oh, there will be lots of other authors (and illustrators) at the Festival, too. We're hoping to hear Kevin Henkes on Saturday, or else Grace Lin on Sunday. Maybe both!

Wednesday
Sep182013

Waiting on Wednesday: A Question of Magic

Fans of Baba Yaga stories whose appetite was whetted by Jillian Tamaki's retelling in Fairy Tale Comics (First Second, 2013) can look forward to E.D. Baker's middle grade novel A Question of Magic (Bloomsbury), available October 1. Here's the publisher's description:

"Serafina was living the normal life of a village girl, when she gets a mysterious letter--her first letter ever, in fact--from a great aunt she's never heard of in another village. Little does 'Fina know, her great aunt is actually a Baba Yaga, a magical witch who lives in an even more magical cottage.

Summoned to the cottage, Serafina's life takes an amazing turn as she finds herself becoming the new Baba Yaga. But leaving behind home and the boy she loves isn't easy, and as Serafina grows into her new and magical role answering the first question any stranger might ask her with the truth, she also learns about the person she's meant to be, and that telling the future doesn't always mean knowing the right answers."

[Me again.] So Serafina becomes Baba Yaga! Presumably she doesn't eat any little children. I didn't know Baba Yaga answered questions, either, but maybe that's because she doesn't like to--they age her (I know how that feels). Thanks to Jennifer at Jean Little Library for her review of A Question of Magic, which made me want to read the book; I'm glad I don't have long to wait.

[Apparently there is an Ask Baba Yaga advice column of sorts! Cryptic and completely unrelated to the book, though.]

Tuesday
Sep172013

Fairy Tale Comics with bonus Baba Yaga

This collection of Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists (edited by Chris Duffy; First Second, 2013) first caught my eye at Charlotte's Library (it's on a blog tour). Fairy tales are my weakness: I might be a reluctant reader of graphic novels in general, but even I can't resist a collection of fairy tale comics. There are 17 different tales here, each adapted and illustrated by a different cartoonist, so there's lots to choose from in terms of both story (a nice mix of mostly familiar and some not-so tales) and style. I'll follow up with my favorites, too.

In the meantime, take a sneak peek at the entirety of Baba Yaga, as retold by Jillian Tamaki for Fairy Tale Comics, over at Tor.com. The collection will be available in print 9/24.

[Based on the cover art of Little Red Riding Hood (and laughing wolf) by Eleanor Davis, I was especially looking forward to that one, but it turns out that Gigi D.G. retold it (with female woodcutter) in the book!]

Monday
Sep162013

National Book Awards longlist

The National Book Awards longlist for young people's literature was announced today (the collage of cover images above is from the National Book Foundation, whcih administers the prize). This is the first year that the National Book Awards are running longlists: the five finalists will be announced on October 16, and the winner on November 20. Here's the longlist (with links courtesy of the Daily Beast):

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
 by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell
A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
Two Boys Kissing
 by David Levithan
Far Far Away
 by Tom McNeal
Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff
The Real Boy
 by Anne Ursu, illustrated by Erin McGuire
Boxers and Saints
 by Gene Luen Yang

Of the ten finalists, I've read two (Far, Far Away and The Real Boy; reviews to follow) and actively avoided reading two others (which shall remain nameless). I've also added two to my to-read list, but the one I'm most looking forward to is Meg Rosoff's Picture Me Gone (Putnam Juvenile), available October 3.

I like having lists for the National Book Awards, whose criteria (unlike that of, say, the Newbery) aren't strictly defined; instead, they're "whatever [the judges, mostly writers] deem appropriate." I wonder what criteria this year's judges are using?

Monday
Sep022013

Caldecott Hopefuls: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

Something about the cover of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown (Little, Brown; 2013) reminded me of Henri Rousseau: maybe it was the top-hatted Mr. Tiger himself, or the oversized leaf shapes that make up the jungle surrounding him. Rousseau aside, Brown won a 2013 Caldecott Honor for Creepy Carrots (by Aaron Reynolds; Simon and Schuster, 2012) and seems like a really nice guy (I know this because he signed a poster for my daughter at BEA a couple of years ago), so I requested a review copy of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild--thank you, folks at Little, Brown!

Here's the story: Mr. Tiger is bored of being a prim and proper anthropomorphized animal. He wants to be...wild (he's a tiger, after all). It's the perfect premise for a picture book, and Brown delivers, depicting Mr. Tiger's transformation in two gorgeous, graphic (ahem) spreads. I don't want to give away the page turns--they make the book as far as I'm concerned--but someone in the publicity department at Little, Brown might want to mock up a poster. 

Odds and endpapers: The illustrations for Mr. Tiger Goes Wild were "made with India ink, watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper, then digitally composited and colored" (from About This Book); they remind me a little of Jon Klassen's work in the 2013 Caldecott Medal winner This is Not My Hat (Candlewick, 2012), actually. Bonus points for the illustrated endpapers and textured tiger-striped cover underneath the dust jacket, though. And for Mr. Tiger--roar! Available tomorrow.

Tuesday
Aug132013

The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley

Josanne La Valley's debut novel The Vine Basket (Clarion, 2013) is Merighul's story, and it's not an easy one: not for a 14-year-old girl who has to leave school to help on the family farm after her brother disappears, leaving her father embittered, her mother withdrawn, and herself in danger of being to sent away to work in a factory; and not as a Uyghur in East Turkestan, a land--and increasingly, a culture--dominated by the Han Chinese. Merighul has reason to hope when an American woman buys her vine basket for 100 yuan (just 16 American dollars, but more than Merighul's family might make at the market in a month) and says she'll come back in three weeks for more--but those three weeks bring more hardship, and Merighul may not have even one new basket to bring to market on the fateful day.

Merighul's story is almost unbearably hard (her little sister Lali's situation is heartbreaking, too). Thankfully, Merighul has the support of her grandfather Chong Ata, an artisan himself, and a true friend, Pati; and even though her future is not at all certain at the end of the book, it is at least more hopeful. 

The Vine Basket reminded me in many ways--particularly in Merighul's dedication to her craft and descriptions of the basketweaving process--of A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (also Clarion, 2001), although that book is about 12th century Korean pottery (Park reviewed The Vine Basket for the New York Times, 5/10/2013). A Single Shard is one of my favorite Newbery Medal winners, which should say something about how I feel about The Vine Basket. Required--and rewarding--reading.

[Black Garden (Tandem), 2009 from Living Shrines of Uyghur China: Photographs by Lisa Ross (The Monacelli Press, 2013). Merighul ties a thin strip of cloth like these to a bamboo culm with a prayer for skill and courage.]

Monday
Aug122013

North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler

Liz Kessler's series books starring Emily Windsnap and Philippa Fisher are tween girl favorites (we like Emily Windsnap, the half-mermaid, best), but her standalone books are equally appealling: this one, North of Nowhere (Candlewick, 2013), is part mystery, part magic--but to say more about what sort of magic it might be would give some of it away, so I'll stick to what Mia knows: she is stuck in a sleepy seaside village on the coast of Cornwall (no cell phones, no Internet) over spring break because her grandfather has gone missing, and she and her mother have to help Gran run the pub.

If Mia sounds a tiny bit self-absorbed, it's because she is--she's in eighth grade, after all--and Kessler's writing, in Mia's voice, reflects that. But she's also genuinely concerned about her grandfather, and eager to make friends: with a girl she gets to know by way of letters exchanged via an old diary (I loved this part), and a boy, Peter, who's determined to help the two girls meet. She's also willing to walk the dog (Flake, a border collie--I liked him, too).

The girl in the diary (Mia knows her only as Dee) lives on the island of Luffsands, off the coast of Cornwall, which complicates matters when stormy weather makes it impossible for her to get to the mainland village of Porthaven, where Mia is waiting for her. And then Peter disappears, and Mia suspects he's gone to Luffsands to find Dee.

At risk of revealing too much, the island of Luffsands is based on the true story of Hallsands, a British village that collapsed into the sea almost a hundred years ago--but even with that information, it's almost impossible to know where the story is going until it's gotten there. And even then, you might have trouble believing it! Don't say Mia didn't warn you.

[This print is of South Hall Sands circa 1900, by Gerry Miles (2007). It's just how I imagined the village of Porthaven might look, too.]