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:

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,


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