Wednesday, September 28, 2011
I just finished reading Sarah Weeks' newest book, PIE. I am a sucker for Sarah Weeks' books- every one of them makes me happy and glad that she writes books. PIE is the story of a famous pie crust recipe, a recipe that disappeared after pie-maker Aunt Polly's death, and the effect of that loss on the town and her niece, Alice.
When Aunt Polly dies, when the pie shop closes, the tourists who filled the town for slices of pie stay home and the town begins a quick turn for the worse, quickly losing revenue and population. Alice's mother is pretty upset because Aunt Polly has left the recipe for her crust to Lardo, her cat, and her cat to Alice. No actual written words seem to be left behind and the cat's not talking. The town is in uproar, too, when a series of burglaries happen. Lardo goes missing, a gold earring is found in Alice's bedroom, and the pie shop is demolished. Someone is desperate for the recipe.
What we learn from PIE is that it really isn't the pie itself that is magical, but the way in which the pie is shared. Memories happen with each bite, people are remembered, and the feeling of being part of a family envelopes each person as the fork passes lips and touches tongue.
Each chapter starts with a recipe and a memory. The ending had me in tears. Sigh. Now I want to re-read her books.
And here's a list: Pie, As Simple As It Seems, Jumping the Scratch, So B. It, Up All Night, and The Guy Series (especially good for 3rd & 4th grade guys.) The novels of Sarah Weeks are all heart-touching and often funny, most deal with a character or two who have to overcome something traumatic and serious in order to move on with life. They are SO GOOD! The All for Kids Book Group (reading kids books we missed when we were kids) found her books especially good for discussion.
Up All Night is a collection of short stories by different authors about being awake and out in a world where you would usually be asleep. This would be a really good lesson plan for a writing class. I still vividly remember being awake until the sun came up as Saturday became Sunday, writing bad high school poetry, trying on makeup in the only bathroom for three girls, and just staying curled up on the couch waiting for something to change.
And here is her website if you want to know more about her: http://www.sarahweeks.com/.
PIE is good for ages 9 and older. Scholastic. $16.99. Available now.
Monday, September 26, 2011
I completely forgot to tell you all about Losers in Space, by John Barnes. One of the best I've read books this year, and there are a LOT of really great books coming out this year.
No cover art yet!
Losers in Space is about a group of teenagers, well in the future, who are all in the same class, waiting to see where they'll end up. In this time, you can't inherit wealth and fame, you have to make it. These kids decide that they are going to do something so outrageous that they will be famous from now until forever. They are going to stowaway on a rocket on its way to Mars. They will be unable to be returned to earth for months and months and months, their fortunes assured, but something goes terribly wrong and the rocket they are on is broken apart leaving them alone in the capsule. And this is where math becomes very important. In a space as big as the solar system, a teensy wrongness can put you out in the stars with absolutely no way back. The science parts between the chapters explain all the science jargon and math as you go, showing you how big a mistake a small thing can be. You can read just the story, just the science or just read the whole thing in one long swallow.
I loved this book. The science is good and the group of students are all different. You get to know a lot about them as time goes along, seeing beneath the crap and the hate and the sex, and they begin to find out more about themselves, becoming resourceful, using the skills they have hidden or are learning. Except for the psychopath. He never changes, taking advantage of everyone and everything, lying, hiding, cheating, and getting everyone to trust him and believe him. Really a nasty being, but everything he says sounds so true.
Such an adventure-so much fun to read. Kept me on the front porch for hours, sitting in one spot until I was done. I hurt later, but it was worth every popping joint and tight muscle. 14 and up. (Viking Books. $18.99. Available April 2012.)
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Woke up at 3:15 a.m., just could not sleep, so read instead. I finished up another fairytale retelling, Long, Long Sleep, by Anna Sheehan, and it was really good, too! It is, of course, the retelling of Sleeping Beauty.
Far into the future, after a plague has wiped out millions of people and genetically modified seeds have left most of the rest of the population sterile, a young man opens a stasis tube he finds in a subbasement and resuscitates a beautiful girl who has been asleep for 62 years. She is now 16, more or less, and her story is dark and sad.
Rosalinda was the daughter of very wealthy parents who traveled a lot and, whenever they left, or whenever they felt she needed a time out, would put her in stasis, eventually letting her out when whatever it was was no longer something they needed to worry about. She moved from school to school because she wasn't very good at it and so never got close to anyone except for Xander, the baby boy next door.
Over the years of living in her family, she was put in stasis a lot. There were times when she would come out of stasis and Xander would be years older. Eventually, he caught up and passed her in age and they fell in love.
62 years later, everyone she ever knew is dead. She is in a foreign world, barely understands the language and her only true friend is an alien, someone who is as much a freak as she is. She has slept through The Dark Times and everything she ever knew is gone. Oh, and there is a plastic human-robot who has a directive to find her and take her back to the principal but, because everyone is dead, including the principal, the next directive is to terminate her.
Very good story, great world building, and the characters were well-developed. The way Rosalinda Fitzroy deals with her life now felt pretty realistic. Her self-esteem is non-existent and the constant need for reassurance was a little much but I had to keep reminding myself that she was belittled and abused her entire life; no wonder she can't trust herself or feel any confidence in her decisions.
Good stuff. Ages 13 and up. (Candlewick. $16.99. Available now.)
Friday, September 23, 2011
It's the equinox, man, autumn, the days are already short and I'm looking forward to spring. There is something so very paganistic about the changing of the seasons, the notice of the change, the very change of the air. I'm sure I might be making this all up, but the wind had a slight edge to it, didn't it? I know it was hot and muggy today, but when the wind came up it had a little coolness to it. I feel like I should mark these days by saluting the sunrise and -set, going out in the morning and honoring the fact that this is really the beginning of a new season. Maybe I'll pour a little wine to the gods in thanks that the world will continue to spin on.
The air is getting cooler, now; it's later. I just came in from watering the front yard plants and the sun's gone down. The Olympics look like torn construction paper pasted to the sky. Dennis is playing his guitar upstairs and our house is thin enough that I can feel his tapping foot through the ceiling.
Went for my usual Friday walk around Seward Park today and thoroughly enjoyed it. The sky was SO blue, and it was quiet-I could hear the waves lapping at the shore, the wind clapping the leaves together and there were lots of kids yelling and laughing. And then I noticed that there were no planes flying. I don't know why, I think the president's coming next week, but it was nice to have a little break from all that noise.
I walked around the park reading Cinder, by Tacoma (yes, Tacoma!) author Marissa Meyer, and, boy, it was GREAT! I am pretty bummed that it's part of a series, I'd really like to know what happens before next year.
Cinder, as you've probably intuited, is a retelling of the Cinderella story placed in Beijing far in the future. The moon has been settled, surgery has advanced enough to allow cyborgs to live in the world, and Cinder is a cyborg mechanic covered in grease when she meets Prince Kai who needs an android repaired. Ah, such a great start to the story.
But it is different enough to make an old story new again! Cinder is adopted and her father is dead, one of her sisters is horrible, the other is lovely, and her best friend is an android named Iko. There is a nasty plague with no antidote and the Emperor is sick with it. One day while at work in the market place, Cinder is tasked with repairing the nanny droid that the prince has brought in. He flirts with her, and wants to know if she's coming to the ball (of course there's a ball!).
I loved this book, the characters are well-written, and it's always good to believe in the world you're reading. There is intrigue and unhappiness and so much stuff woven into the story. You know from the beginning what Cinder's true self is and how the story will turn out, but the way it advances is so very cool!
I'm pretty bummed that it's going to be a series and we will have to wait for so long for the next one.
Good for ages 12 and up. Feiwel and Friends, publishers. $17.99. Available in January. Of 2012! Oh, man! Sorry, you'll have to wait. Oh, wait, me, too!
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
BookNotes, September ‘11
It’s that time again, the rainy season is coming, kids are on their way back to school (eventually!) the smell of pencils and crayons surround the youngest children, backpacks like turtle shells pull them slightly off balance. Some of that weight must be a favorite book, tucked in at the last minute, like a grown-up blankie or stuffed animal; a touchstone to all that is familiar and home. Books do that: remind you of places and people you love. Sometimes you don’t even need to open the book, just touch the cover, feel the jacket, and there’s an immediate connection to that world.
To celebrate the beginning of this new school year, I will share some of my favorite back to school books with you.
My Name is Elizabeth! by Annika Dunklee, is a retro-looking story about a girl whose name is Elizabeth! Not Lizzy, or Beth and where did BETSY come from! The art, strong black lines, orange, blue, some white for space, is the perfect palette for the vigor Elizabeth gives her argument for why she must be called Elizabeth. Accompanied by a duck through her daily ventures, she confronts grandpa, crossing guards and various other neighborhood characters until they all understand how important it is to own one’s own name. She is willing to give her baby brother a little slack, for now, though: he can only say “Wizabef”. The art and the text are equally strong and many children will be able to identify with our heroine in her quest for self. Age 4 and up. (Kids Can Press. $14.95. Available now.)
Cinderella Smith, by local author Stephanie Barden is a cute, funny story about a little girl who cannot keep both shoes on her feet. Cinderella is a happy girl, with a really good friend who is happy to help her out when she loses the one ruby red tap shoe she needs to be the Pumpkin Blossom Fairy at the fall recital. But Cinderella’s problems don’t end there: She makes a new friend who needs advice about how to deal with stepsisters and a stepmom. Unfortunately, Cinderella has misled Erin; she doesn’t have sisters, step or other. Now what? Cinderella Smith is a charming book, filled with angst about pierced ears and cell phones, for the 8-12 group, especially good for the second and third graders who are reading on their own and looking for something a little more toothsome. (HarperCollins. $14.99. Available now.)
Eight Keys, by Suzanne Lafleur, captures perfectly how difficult middle school can be. This is the story of Elise and Franklin, best friends forever, and how one day can change everything. In middle school, you’re not supposed to play or be friends with boys, and there are bullies who will take full advantage of all of this. Elise is bullied by her locker partner every day after she finds out that Elise still plays with Franklin. A bad beginning turns to full blown daily dread about going to school as she tries to become who she thinks she should be and gives up Franklin and his friendship. The only thing she looks forward to is her 12th birthday; surely something good will come from finally being 12.
The eight keys referenced in the title are gifts from her long dead father, 8 keys that open 8 different doors that fill in the blanks in her life and give her a skeleton to build a future self on, rooms that show her that she will be a fine adult.
Trying to wrangle your way into those middle school days and years is hard enough without a manual. It’s good to have a book like this out there so kids won’t think they are all alone in this world. It would make a really good book for the first week of school, lots of discussion points on how to deal with bullies, how to talk to friends, that everyone will go through many of the things in this book. Ages 9 and up. (Wendy Lamb Books. $16.99. Available now.)
Warp Speed, by Lisa Yee, is one of a small set of companion novels that started with Millicent Min, Girl Genius and it is a great book for starting a new year, too. Filled with nerds, bullies, AV class, and discussions of what's better: original Star Trek, Star Wars, or Batman, Warp Speed is the story of Marley, invisible to everyone except his AV buddies and the bullies who hunt him down.
The angst and confusion about being a teenager in seventh grade was very well portrayed and the characters were great, realistic, and I loved how philosophical they are about their lives at this time. I loved the relationships between the friends and I especially appreciate Marley’s relationship with his family. They treat each other with respect, something that isn’t often written in YA novels. I really enjoyed seeing the characters from the other three books appear in Warp Speed, making the entire series fuller. I think I need to read them all again, now, to see if the characters are tucked into the other stories.
It’s a funny, poignant book and boys will really like this one. Ages 11 and up. (Arthur Levine Books. $16.99. Available now.) (The rest of the books in this series are: Millicent Min, Girl Genius, Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, and So Totally Emily Ebers. All in paperback.)
Well, I’d better get this off to you all before the Halloween issue comes out! Let me know if you have any questions about these titles, or others; I’d be happy to help.
Third Place Books has a ton, no, really! a TON of authors for children and teens coming to town in October. Some of these authors need schools to visit, some are available as in-store field trips, most are going to be in the store to talk about their newest books, and they are all amazing storytellers. Give me a call or email me if you have an interest in hosting an author in your school or if you would like to know more about the field trips. Let me know, too, if you have students who need extra credit for English classes or if they would like to interview an author for a paper. I’ll see what we can do. (See the schedule at thirdplacebooks.com; phone me at 206-366-3314; email me at rkirkpatrick@thirdplacebooks. com.)
I will post this newsletter on my blog (http://www.notesfromthebedsidetable.blogspot.com) so you can see covers.
Alright, then. Let’s go out and have a great year!
PS: TPB’s Teacher Night is October 5, 5-7 pm. Authors, publisher’s reps, swag, refreshments. Let me know if you need more info.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
We spent a week in Ashland, OR, during the hottest September they've had- too hot to window shop or to go for walks except early in the morning (88 degrees, 80% humidity at 11 pm, the first night we were there). Thankfully, most of the restaurants and the theaters were air conditioned and we spent a lot of time standing in shops to get cold before venturing out again. We had to change hotels from one with only fans to one with air-conditioning- someone was on the verge of heat stroke. So much for being adventurous and staying in historic places! Maybe next time we'll be better prepared.
We saw three plays, Julius Caesar, Pirates of Penzance, and The Imaginary Invalid, and they were all extraordinary. Julius was played by a woman, Pirates had rap and other modern styles of music and the puppeteers were amazing. Imaginary Invalid was really funny (someone said the comedy was a little juvenile) and my brother-in-law was part of the "audience participation" segment. Completely floored him and he couldn't remember his age! We walked all over town with people whispering "That's Ed Fitzgerald! From Minnesota!" as we went by. Hysterical! A couple in a car bent over to look out at him, pointing, and waving!
Lithia Park, in the middle of the city, has a creek running through it, it's where all the city water comes from, and my sister-in-law and I would walk there in the early morning. One day, on our way to breakfast, the resident deer family was clipping along the main street heading north, cars stopped, waiting for them to get safely off the street, headed back into the park.
No television watching, a little live music, a lot of nighttime and restaurant reading: Absolute Value of Mike, by Kathryn Erskine, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A. S. King, Fox and Phoenix, by Beth Bernobich, and Riding Invisible, by Sandra Alonzo, four of the 9 books I took with me.
All of these books are really good so I'm just going to synopsize them (is that a word?) here:
Absolute Value of Mike is the story of a boy with dyscalculia, his dad is an engineer with Asperger's, and Mike is sent to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle to work on the Artesian Screw, something that will help him get into engineering school- which he wants nothing to do with! It turns out that the Artesian Screw is actually the Artisan Crew, a group of people who are doing and selling art to raise funds to help a woman adopt a Romanian child. Or they would be if the head Artisan wasn't still grieving over the death of his own son. Funny, heartwarming, A.V. is all about finding out who you are and what your passions are. A good read for ages 10 and up, boys will like this. If you are a teacher, it would be a great read-aloud; read a chapter or two and start lining the readers up! (Philomel books. $16.99. Available now.)
Please Ignore Vera Dietz is about a girl whose best friend dies and she is working through her feelings about him and the last couple of years of their relationship. Vera has always loved her best friend, Charlie, holding close all of his secrets. Even after he ruined everything, Vera holds tight to one last secret. Will she clear his name of the horrible things attached to it? Is it okay to hate him, after all that's come before? Believe it or not, Vera Dietz has moments of great humor as well as being a smart and surprising read. Ages 14 and older. (Alfred A. Knopf. $16.99. Available now.) (Make sure you check out A. S. King's new book, Everybody Sees the Ants. An absolute must-read for anyone who likes YA Lit.)
Fox and Phoenix is a really interesting mix of folkloric China and modern day Chinese steampunk. Yun and Kai must travel across China to find their friend, Princess Lian, to warn her of her father's, the king's, imminent death. Their quest is filled with Dragon Ghosts, warriors, spells and magic, and all the mod-cons with which to cast the spells. Such a great world to put a story like this in: the elevators are run by magic and wind, there are cell-phone-like phones and computers in people's eyes, and no hotels, only inns or roadside stops, where you have to pee out back. Exciting, funny, I'm looking forward to the sequel. (Viking. Age 11 and up. Available in October '11.)
Riding Invisible was quite a good book. Good for kids who like reading things in the form of journals, good for others who like reading about kids in crisis, good for horse fans. Yancy is in a family where his brother could kill him or his horse at any time. Will has conduct disorder, a mental illness where he has no ability to control his emotions or to see his way clear to the end of an action. He has threatened Yancy's horse, Shy, and now they have to run away to be safe.
What a story. They head into the desert outside of LA, sleeping in parks, drinking out of rivers, getting mugged and relying on the kindnesses of strangers. When they are eventually given refuge by a man who works on a horse ranch, Yancy learns that sometimes, but not always, forgiveness is the better part of life. It doesn't mean be stupid and put yourself in danger, but to try and get beyond the immediate, get safe, and then deal with the fact that family is still family and things have to get fixed.
I really appreciated that the adults tried to be adult and deal with the son in a quiet logical manner until they realized that, sometimes, you really aren't going to be able to fix things and you have to let someone else better qualified help you. Lots of good stuff in a thin volume. Ages 11 and up. Great horse information in this one. (Hyperion. $8.99. Available now.)