The most recent newsletter I send out to friends (BookNotes) follows.
It’s Summer! July 15, ‘09
Hello! Are you still out there? It has been a while since I last wrote- not because there aren’t any books or because I haven’t been reading! I have been reading SO much, and there is so much to tell you, that I became a little overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of books and paper that surrounded me! Bear with me and I will get back to a somewhat regular schedule.
I just walked out to put the compost in the bin and looked out towards downtown. We have a tall building view and the fog has washed up against them, flowing upwards before breaking and wrapping around and moving on, filling the lower lands with clouds. Summer fog….my favorite memories are curled inside ocean fog: wrapped in sweatshirts covering halter tops and swimsuits, shorts, thongs (sorry, flip flops), sitting on the porch in the cold with my book, knees tucked inside my shirt, waiting for it to burn or blow off before heading to the beach or up the river. Going up the river was MUCH warmer. Warmth on the coast I lived on was in very short supply. The river banks always had hot rocks to lie on; the smell of hot rocks and evaporating river water rivals the smell of newly cut hay or salt water on a cold night.
I hope your summer has been a comfortable and pleasant one, filled with deep and long twilights, reading in the shade with a tall, cool glass of something by your side, and that you are making memories to hold you through the upcoming fall and winter. There have been some truly fabulous books released this summer and I hope they will find their ways into your lives.
I truly love a picture book that I can read as an adult and share with a kid, both of us getting something good out of it. One of my recent favorites is Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators ever, Adam Rex.
Billy’s room is a mess and his mother is not happy. After many reminders that he has responsibilities and needs to take care of them, she threatens to get him a blue whale. While Billy neglects his chores, the threat of a blue whale is repeated, but Billy isn’t worried, he knows a bit about blue whales and he knows that one can’t be delivered to your house overnight!
Or, can they?
The next morning a blue whale is delivered to Billy’s house and that whale is now his responsibility; to go with him wherever he goes, including school where he and the whale disrupt the day, canceling the cowboy movie for a lesson on cetaceans.
And does Billy learn his lessons? Does he keep his room clean? Well, let’s just say he finds an alternative to this whole messy world.
While I don’t think I like the ending as much as younger readers will, I love the way Adam Rex illustrated this book. He uses a deep, saturated color palette, lots and lots of details to keep the read-to amused while the words are going, and a great deal of humor in the illustrations. His endpages are of sea-going advertisements, and that whale looks like he really needs a break. I especially appreciate the use of the often empty pages before a book begins as a story-mover: Billy’s mom is on the move, following the trail of toys, popsicles, and clothes to his room. I really like that the parent’s heads are cleverly camouflaged throughout.
This is a book I have already read and browsed 5-6 times and will pick up over and over- I love it! And it’s a good summer book! Ages 4 and older. $16.99. Disney Hyperion.
Another great picture book for the same age is a nonfiction book called Sparrows, by Hans Post and Kees Heij, illustrated by Irene Goede. It’s so cool to have a book that pulls common things out of the mundane and elevates them into the sublime, especially one for kids. This little book shows the life of a House Sparrow, one of the most common birds around, and gives us an up close and personal view of how they hatch, where they live, what they eat and how they attract each other.
It is a pretty simple book: lots of little pockets of text sprinkled over the two page spreads and, like Billy Twitters, the artwork is a huge reason to come back to it over and over again. There are tons of details and I have pored over the pictures many times since bringing it home. I love the spreads that show a little neighborhood of sparrows and their lives while the text explains what is going on. And, parents, it does show sparrows “pairing” and a bird actually laying an egg (although not in graphic detail, just as asides, something that happens naturally)! The book has an informational fact page at the very back. Beware, this book may turn some of your children into amateur birders, forcing you to head out to look for more! Ages 3-4 and up. $16.95. Boyds Mills Press.
One of the best books for middle readers this summer is When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. This is an amazing story about a girl whose world is filling with mysteries and conundrums.
Miranda and Sal have been friends forever and have finally figured out how to negotiate their neighborhood, avoiding the crazy man near the post box, crossing the street when they get to the group of boys hanging out on the corner. All is good until Sal gets punched by a stranger and then stops talking to Miranda.
Things begin to get a little weird when Sal goes away: the hidden apartment key disappears, shoes are stolen, the crazy man on the corner gets crazier, naked people are running through the streets, and little notes with information only Miranda should know start showing up in very odd places. One of the notes reads, in part, “I am coming to save your friend’s life and my own…You must write me a letter”.
When You Reach Me is a great story about a sixth grade girl who has an average life: she has friends, she has frenemies, she has crushes and a first kiss, her mom is wonderful and has a wonderful boyfriend. I like the book so much just for its ordinariness. Like Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, Miranda’s favorite book (and mine), Miranda is just a girl to whom things happen. But what happens…more than enough to last a lifetime.
I read this book twice. I read it once for the story, not knowing what was happening, and then again for the clues which made the story richer. AND if you have not recently read A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle, dig it up and read it, too. And then share them both with a friend so you can talk about them! Ages 10 and up. $15.99. Random House.
If you like science fiction, check out Rebecca Stead’s last book, First Light, too. It’s the story of Peter, on a research trip in Greenland, and the story of a girl dreaming of seeing the sun. Thea’s culture was accused of witchcraft and hid ages ago under the ice and Peter is close to discovering her. This is a very good read. I guess it’s more speculative than science fiction, but you will like it! Ages 10 and up. $6.99. Random House.
Coming soon, September 22 (reserve your copy now!), is Libba Bray’s next book, Going Bovine. Both Going Bovine and When You Reach Me are books you really can’t say a lot about without giving too much away. Libba is best known for her gothic-y romantic, supernatural books about Gemma Doyle (A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first in the series). Very much a departure from the English boarding school books, Going Bovine is a great addition to the Libba Bray shelf.
16 year-old Cameron wants to skate through life with a minimum of effort. All is going well until he finds out he is sick and going to die. And, yes, he has Mad Cow Disease. There is hope, though. A punk angel named Dulcie (really an angel? Hallucination?) tells him there is a cure but he must go on the road trip to end all road trips to find it.
Going Bovine is so great. Funny, sarcastic and heartbreaking, you will fall for lonely Cam on his trip to Disneyland (and a trip to lose his virginity before he dies) in a big way. Accompanied by a Garden Gnome who is actually a Berserker dwarf trying to get home, Cam’s story is one of the best of the year. I can’t wait to read it again – I lent my copy out to another bookseller - and can’t wait to talk to her about it! Don’t you love books that do that? Ages 14 and up. $17.99. Random House.
I’m in the middle of a bunch of things for grown-ups but I have to tell you about this non-fiction nature book about clouds that came in recently: Extraordinary Clouds: Skies of the Unexpected from the Beautiful to the Bizarre, by Richard Hablym.
This is an amazing book. It is filled with mostly color photographs of clouds. I guess the title pretty much sums it up but it does nothing to describe the photos. The photos are accompanied with explanations about the science of how the clouds were formed. Last Friday, while listening to Cliff Mass, weather guru, he described clouds that haven’t been seen this far south before, Noctilucent clouds. He said that if we went out half an hour or so after sunset, we should be able to see them, and so I did! On Sunday I looked them up in this book, and there they were! With the same explanation Cliff gave! Wow! Now I feel like a birdwatcher; I have a lifelist of clouds I would like to see: Fallstreak Holes, Mammatus, sonic boom clouds, and Angels on Horseback. This is a great browsing book for kids and adults and would be a very good addition to your science section. You do have a science section, don’t you? You will learn a little about physics and other sciences as you page through the book trying to figure out how clouds are made, an easy way to sneak science into your life, like bran in a muffin. All ages. $14.99. David and Charles.
I think I should get this sent off now. The opening paragraph was written a week ago and it’s obvious that the weather has changed a bit! The smell of coconut sunscreen is everywhere-
P.S. I am planning on sending this newsletter at some point via Constant Contact so I can add art and book jacket images. So, when I get it all figured out, watch for it. It will look different! I hope it will be a good change!