Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sunrise here in Seattle was at 7:33, sunset was at 4:21.

Overcast, cold, wet air. We have two tough little patches of snow left on either side of the driveway. I don't know if my daphne plant will blossom in the spring, it got pretty burned in the cold. I covered it but I think it still got too cold. It's my harbinger of spring, the daphne bush is. It sends out fresh green blossom starts in February and by March the blossoms start to turn pink and begin to open, sending out that exquisite citrus scent that says that summer's warmth is on its way.

The newest BookNotes follows. This is the newsletter I send out to old friends who are interested in reading about new books. I include it here so there is an archive, of sorts, and so I can include photos of the covers of the books reviewed.

November ’10 BookNotes:

Hello, everyone! I hope you had time to enjoy the snow and were able to do it safely. I walked home in it on Monday night and it was absolutely beautiful. I loved the dryness of it, the way it skirled through the air, the glitter of it blown across the streets, like sand in the desert. It blew up and settled in the corners of unexpected places, shining like those old Christmas cards. And the wind! As a coastal being, I miss the blustery sounds of the wind. I am thankful, though, for deeply rooted trees, strong branches, and living where the power seldom goes out. It may be tame, but I am warm and able to type up this edition of BookNotes as a result of the magic of electricity and the wires that carry it. PS: We saw a Thanksgiving hawk (a Harrier?) first thing in the morning! Very cool.

Before I get started on new book reviews, a little business: You are all invited to Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, on Thursday, December 16, 7 pm, for the first in our quarterly Children’s BookTalks. Coffee, cookies, recommendations, personal shoppers, book lists, free gift wrap, and THE ENTIRE CHILDREN’S BOOK DEPARTMENT AT YOUR DISPOSAL! Come with your lists in hand, we will help you make perfect book choices.


I like to start with books for the youngest readers first, the board and picture books, but remember that many of these are great for adults, too. Take a moment to look at them with the view of giving them to an older friend the next time you are at your bookstore.

These are two of my favorite novelty books: Beautiful Oops, by Barney Saltzberg, and Ten Little Penguins, by Fromental Jolivet. Both of them are considered lift-the-flap books so they are good for kids who have good hand coordination, who are able to be delicate with moveable pieces of paper, maybe age 5 and up.

Beautiful Oops is a great little book for anyone who draws or paints. So many little kids think that when they make a mistake they have to start over. Sometimes they feel they will never be able to make art, so, Saltzberg has made a book filled with mistakes, torn paper, spilled paint, bent pages; all the beginnings of one more new piece of art. It’s a really cool and encouraging book for preschoolers or anyone else who wants to create without fear. I really appreciate how the mistakes in the book allow you to think about taking your art in a completely different direction, too. (Workman. $11.95.)

10 Little Penguins is a very, very cool book (ha-pun intended) filled with intricate pop-ups and each one has a pull tab, a flap of some kind, something that moves (removes) one of the penguins on each page. This is a variation of the classic ten little whatevers song where one rolls over and then there is one less whatever in the bed or on the sled and it is hysterically funny. Very well-done flaps and tabs truly forward the song and the rhyme is really well-preserved. This is one of my favorite pop-ups, as good as Zelinsky’s Wheels on the Bus. Bernard Duisit, the engineer for this book, did an amazing job figuring out how to make each page different from the one before. Make sure you check out Penguin number 4! The author, Fromental Jolivet, also wrote one of my other favorite books, 365 Penguins (look at that one, too, next time you’re in your local store). (Abrams. $17.95.)

There’s Going to Be a Baby, by John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury, is a fabulous book about becoming a big brother. Well-illustrated in both realistic and retro fashions, it tells the story of a little boy thinking about what it will be like to have a sibling. It starts with mom telling him that there’s going to be a baby and then each spread shows the two of them through the gestation period, she gets a little rounder and the weather changes, he talks out his fears and ideas about what all of this means. I just love the little things they were so careful to include: Grandpa is rumpled, not everyone is white, he is clearly a little boy, and it isn’t a sweety-sweet book. Burningham’s simple words and Oxenbury’s round-headed child make for the perfect book for introducing a new baby to the family. 4 and up. (Candlewick. $16.99.)

One of my all-time favorite author-illustrators, Bob Graham, has a new book out called April and Esme Tooth Fairies. This is a wonderful little tale about two young tooth fairies who have been asked to undertake their first collection. After they convince mom and dad to let them go, they have a grand adventure finding and securing the tooth, leaving the money, and then coming home. Fabulous art work shows a tiny little house up against a tree trunk, a swing attached to dandelion stems, tattooed parents, and a little tiny brassiere hung in front of the fire. There are tons of things to look at, mom bathes in a gravy boat, stamps are art work, all very magical and sweet, perfect for starting a fairy house craft project. It is a lovely story about things changing as much as they stay the same. I have to admit that one of the things I like best about Bob Graham’s books is how untraditional the parents are. The dad often stays home and the mom is the breadwinner, they are artistic and they both sport tattoos and ponytails. Great fun, and, if you can find it, check out Queenie, One of the Family, one of my favorite chicken books. 6 and up. (Candlewick. $16.99.)

Mindblind, by Jennifer Roy, is a great book about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. Nathaniel is almost a genius, numerically he is a genius, but to be a real genius, according to a book he read, he must also make a mark on the world. He has great friends, is in a band, has a crush on a girl in his high school, and worries about wearing his clothes the right way out. He’s not always sure his face is clean, sometimes he disappears into his own brain where he feels most safe and he is under pressure from his dad to be a more normal teenage boy. When he goes to a party where people feed him drinks something awful happens and he slips into his brain, unable (unwilling?) to come back to our world. Nathaniel’s real friends and family protect him from a terrifying world of landmines that exist between his bedroom and the rest of the world. I loved this book. Nathaniel’s friends and his mom are the perfect barrier between him and everything else, they love and care for him, and they get him, they know he loves them, too, in the only way he can. Mindblind is a fascinating look at Asperger’s Syndrome from an author whose son is the inspiration for Nathaniel. 12 and up. (Marshall Cavendish. $15.99.)

Reckless, by Cornelia Funke, is different from her other books, more adult, more gruesome, not so good for under-12’s because of the gore. But I loved this book, I am a huge fan of books about fairy tales and where those tales might have come from, a huge fan of Cornelia Funke’s, and this one is really good. In a magic world beyond the mirror in his missing father’s office, Jacob Reckless makes his fortune trading and enjoying Mirrorworld’s treasures. That all changes when his little brother follows him through the mirror. When Will follows Jacob, he becomes enchanted by a virus-like thing that begins to change him into a stone-like warrior with no chance of changing back. Jacob then has to go on a quest to find a way to bring Will back. Good stuff! This book is especially good for all those who like fairy tales for grownups. Age 12 and up. (Little Brown. $19.99.)

Beautiful Darkness, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, is the sequel to Beautiful Creatures, and is just as romantic and atmospheric as the first. Beautiful Creatures introduces us to Lena and Ethan, two people who’ve never met. Ethan, though, has been dreaming of a young woman (dreams filled with water and danger, he wakes covered in mud and water) and one day he meets her. Their meeting shakes up this world and the others. In Beautiful Darkness, Lena begins to separate from Ethan, feeling the pull to the dark side, while Ethan’s nightmares and the visions only he can see are becoming dire. These are great books for anyone who likes romance and southern atmosphere. The adults I know who have read them absolutely love them and are waiting, impatiently, for the next one. 14 and up. (Little Brown. $17.99.)

Mr. Toppit, by Charles Elton, is one of my favorite grown-up books this year. It helps that it is the story about a children’s book series written about the main character, Luke, as a child. Arthur Hayman is an unsuccessful screenwriter who turned his talents to writing a not very well-known series of books about a boy named Luke Hayseed, a kind of a Narnia-esque series that has at its center an evil character named Mr. Toppit. When Arthur is hit by a cement truck, his last moments are spent in the arms of an American tourist, someone who ends up in the middle of the family, someone who accidentally makes the Hayseed Chronicles a worldwide success. As the series becomes more and more popular, the Hayman family begins to leak its secrets. I loved the writing in this book, the story was compelling from the first page, and the characters and their secrets are wonderful. Luke is a reluctant hero, and his mother is a wispy, whispery, unlikely tower of strength. The book actually feels very much like a British children’s book written for grown-ups, filled with fog, mysterious woods, a seductive being that you really aren’t sure about, and a main character you really want to like. (Other Press. $15.95.)

Alrighty, then- here are a few of my favorite books and I hope you really like them, too. Let me know what you think when you give them a read.

Don’t forget the Children’s BookTalks at Third Place Books on December 16, 7 pm. I look forward to seeing you there!

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