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.]


Administrative tasks

Apparently I have to write this post in order to claim my blog on bloglovin'. That said, I am regretting having gone with feedly rather than bloglovin' after the demise of Google Reader (sniff), and am trying to switch everything I read over once more. Thank you for following me on whatever reader you use, or just clicking over from Facebook or twitter or a random comment or link out there on the Internets. I'm glad you made it.


The Spotted Dog Last Seen

This will be a review (and giveaway!) of The Spotted Dog Last Seen by Jessica Scott Kerrin (Groundwood, 2013), but first, an anecdote: When we moved to Ann Arbor as newlywed graduate students, my husband and I lived in a tiny apartment at Observatory Lodge. The Lodge was a lovely old Tudor-style building, herringbone brick and half-timbered, with slate roofs and faulty wiring. It was also adjacent to the old Forest Hill Cemetery, and I sometimes walked through it on the way home. I never lingered long, though, and knowing more about cemeteries now I wish I could.

Derek is somewhat less excited about reporting for cemetery duty (his Grade 6 community service project) at Twillingate, or at the old stone library (a converted church) across the street where the cemetery brigade gives lessons in reading weathered marble, the meaning of gravestone carvings, how to take rubbings, etc. I find this sort of thing fascinating (eventually Derek and his friends Pascal and Merrilee do, too); and I wouldn't be surprised if young readers of The Spotted Dog Last Seen will want to explore the local cemetery themselves. If not, there is also a secret code, contained in mystery novels borrowed from the old library, and a time capsule in a school locker. This last holds clues that connect various people to the accidental death of Derek's friend seven years before--and may help Derek put his memories of that day to rest.

Warning: sad things happen. Someone dies (in addition to Derek's friend). But there is a satisfying resolution, for Derek and for the reader, who can piece together the clues along with him. There is also a supporting (and supportive) cast of characters to lighten the mood a bit, although The Spotted Dog Last Seen is still a somewhat serious and thought-provoking book, perfect for fall reading.

And just in time, I have a copy of The Spotted Dog Last Seen to give away! Please leave a comment and let me know if you think you (or a young reader you know) might like it, and I'll be happy to send it to you--with my recommendation, and thanks to Groundwood Books!


Kibuishi's Harry Potter Covers

What do you think of the new Harry Potter covers by Kazu Kibuishi, writer and artist of the graphic novel series AMULET? Now that all of the cover images have been released (they will be on trade paperbacks in September), it's easier to see what they have in common, and how they compare to the iconic American covers by Mary GrandPre. Kibuishi's covers--my favorite is still the first, for Sorceror's Stone, but I also like The Prisoner of Azkaban--tend to look more like full shots rather close-ups, and they're all outside. The back covers are indoors and, appropriately enough, of Harry's back--as he's looking into the Mirror of Erised, for example, or a cabinet full of boggarts. I like the image of Hogwarts made by the spines of all seven books in the box set, too: Kibuishi designed the whole package.

It's my understanding that the new editions will retain GrandPre's chapter art (also known as "decorations"), which is good news for people like me who love black-and-white illustrations in children's books and wish more of the newer ones had them.


Horn Book Recommended Fantasy Books

There's a long list of recommended fantasy books on the Horn Book blog today, ranging from picture books and primary to fiction for intermediate and older readers (all published within the last several years). Here are some of my favorites from each category, most of which I meant to review when they first came out!

Picture books
The Boy in the Garden by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin, 2010). A beautiful garden, a bronze statue, a Japanese folktale come to life. I'm always interested in Allen Say's work, and this is particularly lovely. I couldn't remember having seen any other picture books by Say since this one, but it looks like The Favorite Daughter (Arthur A. Levine) just came out on May 28; maybe I will review that one!

Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow, 2012). A great introduction to DWJ and a Baba Yaga story to boot. Ordinarily I love Paul Zelinsky's illustrations, too, but these are a little creepy. Maybe that's why we preferred the audio.

I love middle grade, but apart from A Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet (HarperCollins, 2012; how have I not written about Cabinet here? I've already read the sequel, A Box of Gargoyles), I'm not too excited about the books on this list. Sage Blackwood's Jinx is on it, at least.

Older fiction
Perhaps I've aged into this category. I loved everything about Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (Random House, 2012), and there are quite a few others here I also enjoyed. Not to mention one I'm reading right now: A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine/Scholastic, 2013). Review to follow, really.


How to Draw a Bear

I love the Guardian's How to draw... series by children's book illustrators. Today it's Jon Klassen with "How to draw...a bear thinking about something." The finished bear will look familiar if you've seen Klassen's I Want My Hat Back (Candlewick, 2011); I was under the impression that the bear in that book was rendered digitally, but you can draw (or rather paint) your own with brown ink or watercolor. After the success of the Oliver Jeffers-inspired moose, I think we will try to paint some Klassen bears this weekend. What do bears think about?


Waiting on Wednesday: The Watchers in the Shadows

I'm waiting on not one but two books titled The Watcher in the Shadows this spring. The Watcher in the Shadows by Chris Moriarty, which comes out May 28 from Harcourt Children's Books, is the sequel to The Inquisitor's Apprentice (2011), an alternate--magical--history set in early-twentieth century New York City. I liked The Inquisitor's Apprentice lots (we shortlisted it for the Cybils that year), especially the representation of immigrant Jewish culture, and the line illustrations by Mark Edward Geyer: it was sort of like a fantasy/boy version of All-of-a-Kind family. Which is to say, not at all like All-of-a-Kind family, but with line illustrations.

The other Watcher in the Shadows is by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, who is probably more familiar as the author of the bestselling adult novel The Shadow of the Wind (trans. by Lucia Graves; Penguin, 2004) and its sequels. This is more of a gothic middle grade or YA, the third in a thematic trilogy originally published in the 1990s, in Spanish. It's set in a toymaker's mansion on the coast of Normandy in the 1930s: of course I'm going to read it. I read the first, The Prince of Mist (Little, Brown BFYR, 2010), in a cottage on the coast of Maine, as close to on location as it is possible to be this side of the Atlantic. The Watcher in the Shadows comes out June 18, so I will probably have to read it on the Metro.


Post-Valentine's Day YA

So, I've been reading a little more YA lately--enough to make this list of YA novels that involve both a. kissing, and b. trips to Europe. What's not to love?

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (Poppy, 2012). Hadley falls in love with Oliver on a flight from New York to London for her father's wedding. Aside (or not): Hadley is understandably upset about her father's remarriage. He was on fellowship at Oxford over a year ago--still married to Hadley's mom--when he fell in love with a much younger woman, whom Hadley has thus far refused to meet. Adult readers must try to overlook this. Anyway, after a cinematic kiss (see cover), Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other at Heathrow, but fate and second chances bring them back together (twice!) over the next 24 hours.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (Dutton, 2010). Anna is inexplicably reluctant to go to boarding school in Paris, where she will meet a cute French boy (she should know, because her father writes romance novels). This book is like having a whole box of macarons. In Paris.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton, 2012). Hazel and Augustus go to Amsterdam. Before one of them DIES.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman (Dutton). Just one day in Paris with a sexy Dutch guy you just met at an underground performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, followed by a year of heartache and a sequel (Willem's side of the story, Just One Year, will be out this fall). Note to future Milly: Don't even think about it.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick (Dial, 2012). Okay, this one is the opposite of Europe: almost everything happens, well, next door. But there is lots of kissing.


Tulip Mania, the Sequel: Snowdrops

I read this article in yesterday's Washington Post ("Letter from Ireland: Snowdrops are a prize in full bloom," by Adrian Higgins, 2/20/2013), about the mania for snowdrop bulbs in Ireland, with great interest, partly because who doesn't love snowdrops in February? But mostly because I'm also interested in reading about the seventeeth-century Dutch mania for tulips. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be many middle grade or YA books set during the Dutch Golden Age: just The House of Windjammer by V.A. Richardson (Bloomsbury, 2003) and its sequels, The Moneylender's Daughter and The Street of Knives, which seem to involve a lot of seafaring and anyway are out of print. Maybe there are more?

Picture book readers, though, might like Hana in the Time of the Tulips by Deborah Noyes, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick, 2004). Ibatoulline's illustrations echo the style of the Dutch masters, particularly Rembrandt, who appears as a character in this book. And Noyes's work is always interesting, whether she's writing about tulips or wolf girls or Chinese princesses. And those are just the picture books!


The Mystery of the Fool and the Vanisher

It's as difficult to pin down The Mystery of the Fool and the Vanisher by David and Ruth Ellwand (Candlewick, 2008) as one imagines it would be to photograph a fairy (Cottingley fairies aside). Which is precisely what nineteenth-century photographer Isaac Wilde attempted to do while on an archaeological dig of a Neolithic flint mine somewhere in the English Downs. Wilde's account, transcribed from wax phonograph sound recordings, is documented here alongside photographs of the contents of a wooden box discovered by David Ellwand while walking on the Downs (in the footsteps, incidentally, of none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle); and framed by Ellwand's personal journal with additional notes from his photographic notebook.

All of this fails to capture the creepy gorgeousness of The Mystery of the Fool and the Vanisher, recommended to me by Zoe of Playing by the Book (via Myra of Gathering Books; thanks to you both!) because of my interest in manipulated photography and photographic processes--many of which (bromide, gold-toned albumen, gelatin silver, etc.) are represented in this book. According to the copyright page, however, the photographs were made "with necromancy and magic." And I'm inclined to believe it.

[All the more so because the book's website has disappeared. How long ago was 2008 in Internet years? You'll just have to take my word for it, or track down a copy for yourself (it's currently available for a bargain price on Amazon). Apart from the photographs, the artifacts are fascinating: my favorite are the spectacles with the lenses removed and replaced with holed flint stones. Or the mussel shell suit of armor.]