Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Today sunrise was at 7:18, sunset is at 6:35. I started this post back when sunrise was at 7:05, and sunset was at 6:48 or something. We're heading into winter, friends. Never mind the mugginess and heat of these first days of fall, or that people are still hoping for a single ripe tomato, sunrise happened after I was already awake. That means winter, people. It grows closer and closer.

But the beauty of Autumn is still to be enjoyed. Those deep grey skies with the exquisite pinks and reds of the early changing leaves shining against them, the beauty of yard-spanning spider webs (have you noticed the size of the spiders? And how many there are?), the quickness of the birds collecting and stashing fat for the winter, the many different shades of grey in one window view...

I was driving to work along Ballinger Way Monday morning and the sun was at just the right angle to illuminate the spaces between the power lines crossing the street, lighting the myriad spider webs connecting the top and bottom lines, dozens of them from one side of the street to the other, in every set of lines. This was just such an amazing feat to see. Can you imagine the absolute beauty if there had been enough moisture in the air to coat each with dew? Can you imagine the strength and size of those spiders?

Just finished Darkness Becomes Her, by Kelly Keaton, published by Simon Pulse. Fun, and a really good read. After what's left of New Orleans becomes its own country run and owned by the Novem, a group of 9 families, Ari heads in to find out what happened to her mother, a woman who left her alone at the age of 4 or so to the mercy of foster care. Finally old enough to be on her own and to make decisions related to her own life, Ari goes to "New2" to follow the traces she was given of her past life.

As soon as these decisions are made, she is attacked by a being that turns to dust when killed. There is obviously something about her and her family that she is not privy to and in order to find it out she gets involved with the heads of New2, all of whom are supernatural beings. But why would they care about Ari and her mother?

Fast-paced, adventure-laden, very romantic, and filled with mythology, Darkness Becomes Her will be read quickly by anyone looking for a few hours of pure enjoyment. I hope there will be a second one, this was good. Ages 13 and up, it will be available in February, just when you will need distraction from the weather.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vampirates, books, and more

Sunrise today at 6:55, sunset will be at 7:09.

It's our 25th anniversary! Love you, Dennis!

Busy day yesterday. It started at 5 am with a shower and a hair washing and then a fast paced day filled with author visits at schools, ending with a store visit with the same author, Justin Somper, and his Vampirates series.

Lots of ordering and driving, lots of movement and emailing, a 14 hour day ending with a glass of wine, The Red Green Show, and a dip into a new grown up book called The Year of the Hare, by Arto Paasilinna.

September and October are always the busiest months at the bookstores I've worked at, at least for those of us who are involved with the authors and their visits and the books they are on tour for (the books for which they are on tour? ah...screw it). There are the trade shows, the library conventions, the daily unboxing of the big books of the season, the day is ever changing and exciting.

Yesterday we were searching for 350 copies of the new Jan Brett book. How do you misplace 9 boxes of books? Although, it is a big receiving room, filled with other big, brown boxes; it can get a bit overwhelming when you are looking for one specific title, even if that title is in 9 boxes which are probably all stacked quietly together.

Now it's time to do the final planning for the Eoin Colfer Artemis Fowl Rocks! event tomorrow night and the Curiosity Day event in the Commons (Curious George's 70th birthday party and celebration of how curiosity is important to reading and learning). There are posters to be made, twitter tweets to post, a newsletter to be written, reviews to get out....

We were in Portland over the weekend to visit with our friends, people we grew up with when we were all in our 20's and part of the Eugene music scene. Some of us played, some of us sang, some worked in the bars where the bands played and some of us drank and hung out in those bars where all the music happened. One of these friends had a stroke - he seems to be recovering well - and it's been way too long since the last time we were all together in the same room. So, everyone loaded up their guitars and amps, and we gathered to sing and play and eat and drink. Truly, an extraordinary day.

Over this last weekend filled with music I read The Half-Life of Planets, by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin, a great book about a girl who is feeling unhinged from her life and uses the kissing of boys to feel grounded, and the boy she meets in the women's room in the hospital, a boy with an encyclopedic knowledge of certain kinds of music, who has Asperger's Syndrome.

The story is told in alternating chapters and it is such a good story with lots of music, lots of crushing, lots of yearning for something. I just loved it and I think I may need to read it again.

Liana has a note that reads SLUT, one that was slid through her locker door, and so she is going to refrain from kissing boys. It should be easy. And then she meets Hank in the bathroom.

Hank has Asperger's and is more than a little bit awkward. He loves Liana, as far as he can tell, although he may not be able to have the relationship he wants since he doesn't have the social skills needed to suavely work through what it takes to maintain a relationship.

There are embarrassing moments where Hank blurts out inappropriate things, thinking that all friends are real friends, and moments of terrible tenderness; Liana and Hank have a lot in common and are both passionate about one thing in particular. Liana loves astronomy, Hank loves music, and they both may love each other. Such a good book. Ages 12 and up. (Disney-Hyperion Books. $16.99. Available now.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sunrise was at 6:40, Sunset will be at 7:32.

It's my 100th blog entry! Huzzah! Lots of books read, few written about. I wish I were better about keeping a list of what I've read. I have three stacks of books next to my desk, books I've read but maybe I'm not ready to review or they were okay and I have to remember what they were...most of them are fantasy and I don't want to admit to how much fantasy I really read....some just won't be out until much later...mostly I read faster than I write so they just mount up. The cat's not happy about it since I am using her scratching post as the annex.

Just got back from a long walk in the neighborhood, up Jackson past the Red Apple grocery, along the ridge over the lake (I love watching the traffic over the bridge), winding home back and forth through Bradner Gardens, around the pea patches, over the I-90 lid.

Had to stop and watch the dogs and their parents from a viewpoint above Blue Dog Park, the local leash-free park. What a hoot! All the dogs, no matter whose dog they were, surrounded the mom or dad holding the ball or stick over their head, scattering like pinballs before the item even left the hand. Such joy in their movement; dogs leaping over each other and rolling for yards when they get tangled up; barking and barking and barking; intense gazes at the humans while patiently waiting for the throw.

There's something about Suzanne Selfors and my walks around the neighborhood. When I read Coffeehouse Angel, I was walking around Seward Park. Walking around Jackson and Massachusetts, Bradner Gardens and Blue Dog Park, I was reading Mad Love, her new book about a 16 year-old girl, the daughter of The Queen of Romance.

Alice's mom has been hospitalized with a mental illness, leaving Alice alone at home, hiding the fact that Mom can't sign her own books or finish the book she got a $100,000 advance for. That means that someone is going to have to pay back the advance, or it will come out of the royalties they have been living on.

That's where I left off when I turned back into my driveway. In this book there's a mysterious man with a manuscript that smells like clam juice, a really cute boy with a skate board and a regular route past her house, an unstable home life, and the back of the book says there's also Errol, a boy who claims to be Cupid. I'm taking the book with me when I go out later for pizza at Flying Squirrel, just in case I'm first to arrive and have a few minutes to read, or if I get caught at a light or a traffic jam. It's pretty good so far! (There is no jacket art available, yet, that is a photo of Suzanne.) (Wow! Mad Love won't be available until January, 2011. Published by Walker Books, ages 12 and up.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Back to School

Sunrise was at 6:36 and sunset will be at 7:38.

It's cold and wet again. I'm wearing socks, a sweater, an undershirt and a jacket. I would be comfortable if I were wearing tights under my jeans. But then, those pesky hot flashes would have me spinning through the room yanking at all these superfluous things called clothes just as soon as I got warm. I wouldn't mind the hot flashes if my hands and feet would get warm, too.

I just finished reading the new Patricia MacLachlan book, Word After Word After Word, a wonderful, short, novel about writing and telling your story.

This is another really great addition to those books teachers should read before the first day of school because it is such a simple recipe for engaging your students in their education and their relationship to the world.

In Word After Word After Word, five fourth grade friends get together every day under the lilac tree at Henry's house where they talk about their lives and fears and hopes.  One marvelous day, Ms. Mirabel comes to their school to teach their class about writing  She tells them that writing can help them see more clearly what their lives are like, she tells them that they can change the way their lives can go, but most importantly she tells them that everyone has a story inside. Or a poem, a landscape, and "When you find it, you will write it.  Word after word after word."

Word After Word After Word is essentially a writing lesson filled with Ms. MacLachlan's amazing characters.  The friends in this book all have complicated worlds, like everyone, and Ms. MacLachlan has brought them all to life in such simple ways.  Lucy is sad, her mother has cancer, Evie's mom moved away and she thinks her dad is lonesome, Henry's family is perfect and his purpose in life is to keep it that way.  May's the youngest in her family and her parents want to adopt a baby, and Russell's beloved dog died.  Writing about the difficult and the simple things in their lives helps them to clarify what they feel and think.

Like Ms. MacLachlan's Baby and Sarah, Plain and TallWord After Word After Word is a big, big book in a small, small format.  I love the characters, I cried for Russell and May, and I can't wait to tell more people about it.  Ages 8 and up.  Katherine Tegen Books.  $14.99.  Available now.

The other books I think should be read before the first day of school are:  Magical Ms. Plum, by Bonny Becker; Sahara Special, by Esme Codell; and The Friskative Dog, by Susan Straight.  These are short books, perfect for reading aloud in the first week of school, quick little reads to remind us why we do what we do with and for kids.

The Magical Ms. Plum, by Bonny Becker, is a sweet little book about a third grade teacher and her class, the best class ever, and the supply closet in the back of the room.  Fun and funny, sometimes a little magic is the perfect addition to your day.  Ages 8 and up.  Random House.  $12.99.  Available now.
The Friskative Dog is written by Susan Straight, she wrote one of my favorite grown up books, too, Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out all the Pots.  Poignant look at growing up and finding out who you are.  A young girl, 4th grade, maybe, is being bullied because she talks and plays with her stuffed dog, the only thing she has to remember her dad.  Her friends and family know that FD is one of her only friends so leave her to it.  Big changes coming in her life, though, and she's going to need FD more than ever, when he goes missing.  Great adults in this book.  Some of the best writing for kids in here, ever.  Ages 9 and up.  Random House. $5.99.  Available now.

Sahara Special is written by reading specialist and teacher, Esme Codell.  It is the story of a girl who has decided to not be in special class this year, not to be taken out into the hallway and given extra, different lessons from the rest of her class.  This is a big deal for Sahara and she is worried about the teacher who seems to assume she's going to fail.  And then the teacher gets sick and there is a substitute for the year, one who doesn't look at records, one who will let the children decide anew who they will be this year, who finds different ways to teach those who learn differently.  Hankies will be needed. Ages 9 and up.  Hyperion.  5.99.  Available now.

Monday, September 6, 2010

BookNotes, September 2010

This is the latest BookNotes, a newsletter about new books for old friends, sent out whenever I can get it done or wrangled out of the sent file.

Ah, it’s coming up on fall. Yellow pencils, crunchy leaves, warm days with a hint of cool underneath. Sometimes I catch a whiff of rosemary and apples in the air. I love the beginning of fall, all the excitement that comes with change.
It’s been a while since my last newsletter- problems with my internet server- and I hope you are all well.
Let’s get started!


There are a lot of new books for younger picture book readers and their parents and one of my very favorites this season is the new book by Brian Lies, Bats at the Ballgame. He has a way with rhyme, Mr. Lies does. In this, the latest episode of our favorite bat colony’s adventures, they wait for dusk to creep in and then whoosh, they’re off: “Hurry up! Come one, come all! We’re off to watch the bats play ball!”

Hanging from the roof, they watch the “baseball bats” play an exciting game while the fans eat mothdogs and cricket jack, sing the seventh inning stretch song with their own lyrics, and catch foul balls.

Beautifully illustrated with deeply vibrant colors, and filled with great visual jokes and details to search for while reading, Bats at the Ballgame will make it to the top of the book pile over and over and over. Ages 4 and up (way, way up). Houghton Mifflin. $16.99. Available now.

Most of you know how much I like science books for kids and I think I wrote about Ubiquitous, a book of poetry and fact, in the last newsletter. I was very happy to see that there was a new book by that author, Joy Sidman, on the shelf last week. Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night is a discovery of the post-twilight world. This is a perfect book for the start of the school year and the coming short days.

Featuring a few commonly found dark-dwelling creatures like owls and snails, we also learn about porcupettes and efts in well-composed poems on one page and a factual treatise about said animal or thing on the facing page. I learned so much from this book! Did you know that the full moon sets and rises as the sun rises and sets? All those science classes and I completely missed this obvious little fact. And, did you know that snails add a layer to their shells each night? Their bodies produce a special material that hardens at the edge of the shell that extends and widens and makes that spiral shape. Who knew how beautiful a snail’s biology could be? I found a snail on my porch last night and I took a good hard look at it before putting it out on the rockery.

The book is beautifully illustrated by Rick Allen who is a printmaker. I think he uses linoleum cuts for the artwork in this book and they are just amazing. There are lots of details and one little animal to search for throughout. Even the design of the book is cool: The first endpapers are of moonrise, the “emperor” awakes, and each spread shows the progression from moonrise to sunrise and on the last endpapers the emperor rests. Ages 4 and up. Houghton Mifflin. $16.99. Available now.

In keeping with good books for school time, The Magical Ms. Plum, by local author Bonny Becker, is just wonderful! Bonny is the author of A Visitor for Bear and many other books and Ms. Plum will be a great addition to the Bonny Becker shelf at your house.

Every year, Ms. Plum knows that this year’s class will be the best one ever. In her classroom she has a toad named Hip Hop and a hamster named Clyde, and a supply closet filled with the spicy scent of new pencils, a rainbow of construction paper, and sparkly markers. The supplies in her closet are quiet, they are good listeners, but, coming from the very back of the closet, “there were odd murmurs and rustlings where the dark was as soft as black velvet”. And so the school year, and the mystery of the closet, begins.

This is a sweet, funny, book, illustrated with fun little black and gray drawings, and reminds me of the books I read when I was little. A little Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, a little Frog and Toad, there is no talking down to the reader. The Magical Ms. Plum will be enjoyed by children from kindergarten to third grade. And by their adults. Ages 5 and up. Knopf. $12.99. Available now.

What Happened on Fox Street, by Tricia Springstubb, is such a good book. Fox Street is the dead end street where Mo Wren lives. Mo is sure that everything she needs is on this street: there is a piano player, a fix-it man, a spooky old lady, a Wild Child for a sister, and her house, which sits in the middle of the block “right where a heart would be, if the street were a person”.

There is a ravine, good friends, a dad anyone would want as a dad, maybe a fox, and memories. Fox Street is where all of Mo’s memories of her mother are. And one day, a developer discovers Fox Street and sees how perfect it is for his new project.

I absolutely fell in love with Mo and the people who live on Fox Street. They are all hard working, dealing with the hardships of an economy that won’t let them sit comfortably in their own homes. Mo’s friends are caring, hopeful, and loving. They are the epitome of a place where it takes a village to raise a child, and where it takes a child to raise a village. This was so good I have to read it again! If you liked the feeling of The Moffats books or The Penderwicks, you will LOVE What Happened on Fox Street. Ages 8 and up. HarperCollins. $15.99. Available now.

I have been drenched in YA books lately and reading like a fiend. Appropriate term for how many paranormal teen books I’ve read and how many are out there! It’s hard to find a YA novel that isn’t related in one way or ‘tother to something from another planet, realm, or time, something winged, horned or fanged. I love them but sometimes you need a little more wheat than chaff. So...with that in mind, here are some of my favorite “real” books for ages 12 and up:

Carter’s Big Break, by Brent Crawford- I have to say, reading this was like watching a train wreck. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the wreck Carter’s life was becoming. This is the sequel to Carter Finally Gets It, which I also really liked.

Carter is 14, finally over his freshman year in high school, summer is here, and he and his girlfriend, Abby, have broken up. He is devastated and knows the summer is going to be a waste until he gets a part in a movie based on the life of a local bad boy made good. His town is full of paparazzi, film stars, and he is fast becoming girl superstar Hilary Idaho’s BFF.

Carter is such a mess- he has no couth, his brains are all in his pants, he has no inner editor, nothing is left unsaid. But because we are seeing the world through his eyes and we are in his head, we have to roll with Carter the way Carter rolls. Maybe this could be a treatise on the way boys this age really are! We should hand this book out to every teen-aged girl thinking about going out with a teen-aged boy. I don’t think I actually realized how many IQ points get lost when a girl walks in front of a boy wearing a halter top… That said, Carter is a good boy and he loves his friends and his family. He works hard, he plays hard, and he just tells it like it is.

Carter learns a lot over the summer, from his sister, his new friends, his dad, and eventually begins to pull it together enough to be able to hold a conversation with his ex-girlfriend and not just hear “bwah bwah bwah” while she is speaking to him with those glossy lips.

If you’ve got boys out there who would like to see themselves in a book, these two might just be the ones for them. At the least, they will see what NOT to do when trying to get a girl to go out with them. The disclaimer on the cover says it all: “This book is intended for immature audiences. If you don’t find farts funny…move on! There’s gotta be a book about a wizard or moody vampire around here somewhere”. Ages 13 and up. Hyperion Books. $15.99. Available now.

The Mockingbirds, by Daisy Whitney, takes place in a boarding school. Themis is a quiet school, people are expected to behave honorably, but when something horrible happens and you can’t go to the school, what do you do? When music student Alex is raped after a concert where she had too much to drink she has no idea what to do. She is embarrassed, feels like it was her fault, doesn’t want people to know, she doesn’t feel as if there is anywhere to turn. When the boy starts to spread rumors about her, The Mockingbirds step in to help. They are a secret group dedicated to righting the wrongs perpetrated by students on students that the school can’t or won’t take on.

The Mockingbirds deals with a harsh issue but one that needs to be taken on. More women than you know have to deal with this issue and, even though we are given the right to say no, between one thing and the other, NO doesn’t happen. When Alex wakes up in the morning and doesn’t have a clear idea how she got naked, she begins to feel sick and when she sees the condoms in the garbage she feels ashamed. She doesn’t know how she got here and can’t remember anything. Over the course of time, snippets of the night before come back, and with each memory she becomes more and more depressed. When her friends finally pull the reason out of her, they take steps to help her to deal with it.

It’s a hard book to read, but an important one. We still don’t talk about sex openly, we hide it away and when it happens, whether by choice or not, it often becomes something that is distasteful and shameful and it is almost always the girl who gets hurt. Maybe this book will help girls become stronger, maybe it will help us figure out how to keep it from happening, maybe it will keep us from being embarrassed by something we didn’t instigate, want, or need and start the discussion about staying safe. Ages 14 and up. Little Brown. $16.99. Available in November, 2010.

Well, on that note: I hope you are all well, check the Third Place Books website for the BIG fall Children and Teen events (Kirby Larson has a new book on the Japanese Internment, The Fences Between Us, and she will be at the store on September 11), and there are many other books and reviews on my blog: www.notesfromthebedsidetable.blogspot.com.

If you want to unsubscribe to this email, drop me a line and I will remove your name. Feel free to send the newsletter to someone else if you think they’d like to read it. I will post this edition to my blog where there will be PICTURES! YAY! And, as always, please shop at your local, independent, bookstore. Your money will stay in your community and will help to pay for your teachers, librarians and booksellers.

Until next time,

rkirkpatrick@thirdplacebooks.com; www.thirdplacebooks.com.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Clever Jack Takes the Cake and Reading Aloud

Sunrise was at 6:28, sunset will be at 7:50. Dark! Dark when I got off work last night, dark when the alarm went off this morning. I went to get cat food and I didn't want to leave the brightly lit store! Although I do like how cozy my car can be at this time of year.

It's cold and wet again and I realized I left my favorite gardening tool, snips, nothing too exciting, out on the patio table, in full view of the all the elements. I got them dried off, I'll see how they fare. I had to find my socks and a sweatshirt and make some new and HOT coffee.

D and I don't have a lot of traditions, even after 25 years of marriage, but one that we indulge in fairly regularly is "family reading night". I bring a bunch of picture books to bed and I read aloud while he listens and looks at the pictures.

D is an artist so looking at and deconstructing picture book art is one of our favorite things to do. I read the books aloud, you really do need an audience for this, and that way I can hear whether something is clunky or if a rhyme just doesn't work, and then we talk about the way the illustrations work with the story.

Since most picture books are meant to be read to an audience the words should reflect the age of the person being read to, they should flow like honey, they should shoulder up to each other as if they were meant to hold the story like walls, not too many words, and not too few.

Picture books are the hardest books to write- they take extreme editing and sometimes I think that publishers are in such a hurry to get books out to the public to the detail work of reading it out loud to someone. There are too many picture books out there that have one element of what makes a good book for sharing, but not both.

If you don't read a book out loud, you can't hear how the end of one word inhibits the beginning of the next one, or if it makes you hesitate or blurs what the listener hears. Often, there are clumsy rhymes, there are inappropriate words for the age, there are sentences that are either too short or too long or the design of words on the page doesn't break in a place that leads you naturally to the next phrase.

It is a joy to read a book with pictures when the words enhance what's on the page, when a kid puts a hand on the page to keep you from turning it, replaying the words in their heads while they take a closer look at the pictures. A couple of the books we read last night were especially good for reading aloud.

Clever Jack Takes the Cake, by Candace Fleming and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, was a hoot to read. Jack has been invited to the princess' tenth birthday party and is sad when his mother tells him they are too poor to provide a present.

Well, Jack isn't Clever Jack for nothing! He is going to make her a cake! He sells his axe for sugar, his quilt for flour, gives extra seed for the hens for two eggs, and kisses the cow for a pail of her sweetest milk. The cake is magnificent.

Now, all he has to do is get from his shack to her castle. He will encounter crows, trolls, a deep, dark wood, and allergies that will leave him empty handed when he meets the princess. But, remember, Jack is particularly clever and he comes up with the perfect gift for the princess.

It is a funny story and the words read like water running downhill. It is obvious that this story was read aloud through all the drafts, pushing and pulling words into the right place. It is told in straight narrative, no rhyming, and, as you read along, you'll know when to lower your voice to a whisper, when to growl,and when to speed up.

The illustrations are perfect for the story. They are painted in a fairly muted palate (it is the middle ages, after all), no tricks in the artwork, straightforward art that illustrates the words, but with great humor: when Jack gets an idea, there is a lit candle over his head instead of a light bulb.

This is a book that can (and will) be read over and over. It is probably best for age four and older. It's long enough for them, it may be a little long for threes, and four year-olds, with their new knowledge of justice and how the world should work, will understand the unfairness that occurs and will appreciate the very fair ending. It is a very good book for reading to both boys and girls.

And it's a Schwartz and Wade book! I love Schwartz and Wade books! (S&W is an imprint of Random House. Hardcover. $17.99. Available now.)