Thursday, August 22, 2013

It Rained!

Sunrise was at 6:06, sunset will be at 8:21.  The sunsets have been so beautiful lately.  Maybe it's the little bits of smoke in the air, the lower angle the sun comes in through the atmosphere, whatever it is, D and I have taken to walking out onto the patio to take a private moment from the rest of the day just to watch the world turn and slide away from the sun.  We listen to the fountain burble, watch the bees in the lavender, and wait for the wind to come up as the sun sets.  The planets appear, pop, pop, pop, and jets reflect back the last of the sun long after we no longer see it.

First drops of rain outside Eagle Harbor Books
You'd think it rained all the time here in the Seattle summertime.  Well, it doesn't.  There have been some summers when we've gotten maybe a week or so of rainy or misty weather, but this year those days have been rare.  We got that one Friday when it POURED.  ALL DAY!  and then we got yesterday evening.  It was a perfect day:  lightly overcast so not so hot it kept people indoors, but warm enough to encourage them to walk slowly and browse.  And then, in all that warmth, rain, sprinkles, a shower, just as I was heading to the ferry.  Little cold drops of rain on hot skin, invigorating!  And that peppery smell of hot, wet cement. Mmm. 

Here are three of my favorite young adult books (this month, so far), and one adult novel that would be a good crossover-to-teen read, featuring boys as the main characters.  There's no fantasy (except for, maybe, those standard boy fantasies), no testing of wit or muscle to see who will survive the coming dystopian years, just good storytelling about life and the life-changing moments in it.  They are listed in publication date order.

Brewster, by  Mark Slouka (available now): This could be a great cross-over novel for older teens.  It is a brilliant book about three friends and their love for each other.  The story focuses on the two boys, Jon and Ray, longtime friends, and the new girl, Karen, they both love.  It's filled with intense writing about growing up and secrets and how little power young adults have over their own lives. Very intense.  Ray has issues he doesn't share, Karen loves Ray, Jon loves Karen, there's lots of cross country running and introspection; I loved this book and would have loved it as a teenager.
W. W. Norton.  Hardcover, $25.95.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick (August 2013):  Wow.  What a book!  Leonard Peacock wakes up one morning, on his birthday, ready to kill his best friend and then himself.  He has taken great pains to think of gifts to give to the people who mean the most to him, gets them wrapped up, cuts off his hair and then sets out to complete his plans and his life.  Leonard and his best friend, Asher, the one he's going to kill, were inseparable until Asher did something unthinkable after a summer away and now, the only way to make it better, is to get rid of the two things that ruined it all:  Leonard and Asher.  Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock follows Leonard through the day as he makes his way to its inevitable end.

This book was both difficult to read and impossible to put down.  I was on the ferry reading this and kept thinking, "WHAT!  What!  How did you get to this point?  Where are your safeties?  Where are the grownups in your life?"  Leonard's mother is completely dysfunctional, his friends are old men, gay teachers, a girl he doesn't know but treats badly, and a violinist who's been bullied.  Leonard lives in his own head, trying to figure out what made Asher become the way he is and finally comes to the conclusion that the only thing that will save them both is murder and suicide.  FMLP is hard to read, it's always hard to read a book about mental illness, about depression, about adults who are fettered by who and what they are so they can't or won't help out. 

Like Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, our main character's reasoning makes his choice of murder/suicide seem perfectly reasonable.  How many kids out there get to this point because they don't have someone who recognizes the signs of suicide or depression?  Or do recognize the signs but are unable, for one reason or the other, to do anything about it?

The book has a lot of footnotes that act as backstory - some people will hate this, I happen to like footnotes.  After living with FMLP for a bit, I can see that MQ may have had a little checklist of things that suicidal kids will do, but it didn't interfere at all with my "enjoyment" of the book.  Ages 13 and up.  Little Brown.  $17.99. 

The Beginning of Everything, by Robyn Schneider (September 2013):  Sometimes it's good to get sick.  The Beginning of Everything was the book I took to bed when I lost my voice and had a sore throat and just felt awful.  Luckily, it was towards the top of the TBR pile next to the bed and the brightness of the cover called to me.

Ezra's got some serious problems:  He caught his girlfriend cheating on him with one of his teammates and, then,  leaving the party where this happened, he was hit by a car that shattered his leg, ending his chances of going to college on a tennis scholarship.  It's the beginning of his senior year and he's feeling more than a little unattached.  He doesn't feel comfortable sitting at the team table or being a part of that group anymore so, he takes a chance and sits with his old best friend.  Little things make big changes: change a seat: find a new friend, get challenged to debate club: learn a skill, help the new girl: find a new life.  When Ezra meets Cassidy Thorpe his life explodes like a firecracker*.  Ezra's never met anyone like her before.  She is happy and funny and really smart and she likes him, too.  As they begin to get closer and start to fall in love, and Ezra begins to see that there are good things still in his life, secrets begin to edge into their perfect happiness.

The Beginning of Everything is funny and heartbreaking and one of the best books I've read this summer.  It's a book of change, loss, recovery, discovery and a smart, witty one at that.  Ezra and Cassidy are the high school romance everyone wishes they had.

*This is from the uncorrected text, sorry, but I can't wait to share it:  C and E are watching the fireworks at Disneyland from the roof of a car and they are talking about the word sillage.  Cassidy says it's the word "for remembering small moments destined to be lost."  Sigh.  Ages 13 and up.  Katherine Tegen Books. $17.99.

The Scar Boys, by Len Vlahos (January 2014):  Wow, the back of the ARC I have is covered in bookseller blurbs and reviews!  Scar Boys is written by "that guy from ABA".  Len was once the Chief Operating Officer of the American Booksellers Association and I am sure glad he decided to add author to his CV. 

Harry Jones was tied to a tree during a lightning storm.  A burning branch broke off and Harry was horribly burned.  Covered in scars, he is pretty much left alone alone until he meets Johnny McKenna in 8th grade.  Johnny is one of those boys who has all the ideas and the energy to make something happen.  Harry is happy to be one of his friends and a part of the circle Johnny travels in since having someone accept him as he is is something that doesn't happen often.  When they decide to start a band in high school, they don't expect it to go much beyond the garage, but sometimes life has funny ideas about what you're really going to do.

Written as a college application essay, Harry tells the story of his life and how his friendship with Johnny was both freeing and binding. The Scar Boys is a funny and wrenching story of love, friendship and rock and roll.  I'd love to read this with a mix tape of the chapter headings playing along.  14+.  Egmont.  $17.99.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Guest Post (Thanks, Annie!)

The blue skies over the ferry building on Bainbridge Island
Sunrise was at 5:49, sunset will be at 8:42.  Cold.  Wet.  Finally.  It was the driest July in history.  It was beautiful, it was warm and breezy, it was weird.  We had muggy.  We had the bluest skies you'll ever see.  We had amazing mountain views and many rides on the OUTside of the ferry.  But we live in Seattle for a reason and I yearned for a little rain.  We had a few heavy squalls yesterday and I know I need to go and clean the gutters today.  The air smells clean and everything looks just a little brighter.

The photos on the left are from my commute over the summer.

We might not have rain, but we had dramatic skies at sunset
Today, I am posting a link to my friend Annie's blog post about President Obama's visit to a new Amazon warehouse opening.   Annie is a writer and a Third Place Books bookseller.  In her post is a letter from the ABA (American Booksellers Association) to Mr. Obama about his decision to deliver his newest jobs speech at the new Tennessee warehouse. 

Please click here and thank you.

Thanks, Annie, for letting me piggieback on your
And fog.  Lots of fog, from little wisps to full on peasoupers

Friday, August 2, 2013

Three Books for Second Grade

Sunrise 5:42, sunset, 8:49.  It's hot.

There is poetry everywhere.  I was walking home from work and heading up Yesler Street, just across from Smith Tower, up the street from the Mission.  There's a little square, a park, there, with some granite pieces, lots of bricks, homeless guys, drug dealers and buyers, and poetry.  One, maybe two, words per brick describing the history of Seattle in this out of the way, kind of scary at night, corner of poetry.  If the sun hadn't been at just the right angle, if I hadn't had to move to the right to get out of the way of a woman having a violent argument with herself, I never would have seen these words stamped into the cobbled bricks that make up the sidewalks in this park.  There are poems about the trees being cut down, poems about the skid road that Yesler once was, the hotel that in the '70's became a free or pay what you can place to stay that was on this corner.  There is the history of the man and the daughters who lived here and built the buildings and ships that helped make Seattle the city it is.  I was stunned and surprised and now find myself searching for other hidden art in the city.

I suppose there is some sort of plaque somewhere with information, I didn't see anything, but I was a little shy of asking people to move so I could look where they were standing.  I may have to go to work earlier one day and see what I can see while everyone is still in bed.  If you are ever on that corner, it's next to the Quintessa condos, let me know what you find.  It's a little bit of overlooked, off the tourist grid, made for those who live here every day, Seattle magic, like the UPS park with the waterfalls and those gorgeous manhole covers you find just out in the open.

The three books I'll be telling you about next are also little bits of art that could be easily overlooked, not because the authors aren't known, but because they are aimed at second and third graders.

Often, adult readers will hand these books to their kids, without reading them themselves, thereby missing some of the most touching, best written pieces of the book arts!  Some of the best books written are written for this age. Authors of this level of book must be extraordinarily selective with the words they use, nestling each to the next carefully, that the language is often  richer and more nuanced than books for older readers.  Just try to write something interesting for an eight year-old without bludgeoning them with words!  It takes a master of language to choose the exact words to convey an idea that is new to a new reader, without expanding the page number, making the font size smaller, or making it all too cute.  The best books for this age include exquisite writing tangled with realistic memories of discovering just how big the world is at the very moment the (often very small) child realizes his place in it, and then giving the story an engaging, realistic reason for reading.  (These books are in alpha order by author.)

The Great Unexpected, by Sharon Creech, is magical in the way only real life can be, filled with serendipity, boys falling out of trees, friends and families connected across time and space. The Great Unexpected is about two girls, best friends and orphans, one practical, one flitty, and the very charming boy they find when he falls out of a tree.  The sudden insertion of Finn, making a trio out of what was once a duet, changes the dynamics of their friendship.  Toss in the machinations of adults (who still act like their childhood selves), a few locked trunks, and the lives of three children are changed forever in this lovely story about growing up.

The back of the book says it's good for ages 8-12.  You have to know your audience for this particular book.  Yes, 8 year olds will be able to read it, but there is an awful lot of reflection about change and desire.  The best age for The Great Unexpected might be 10-12, young enough to still want magic in the world, unworldly enough to only think about what a first kiss might be like, and old enough to want to know more. (HarperCollins.  Available now in hardcover for $16.99, but coming in paperback in September for $6.99.)

Fly Away, by Patricia MacLachan, is a tiny little jewel of a story with great big concepts and problems.  Lucy is the oldest child in a family who can all sing.  Lucy can't sing, her words won't come in song. She longs to be a poet, setting her words loose in the world that way.  When Aunt Frankie's farm is threatened by flood, the whole family goes to help her out.  Aunt Frankie is a very capable woman and unhappy that they've all come - she is sure she can handle the water, the missing porch, the handyman who's attached himself to the house. But when Lucy's little brother, Teddy, goes missing in the storm, Lucy is the only one who can sing him home.

Tears in my eyes for the ending of this one.  No, not just tears, there was a hiccup of a sob going on, too.  I LOVE Lucy.  She is brave and uncomfortable, she keeps good secrets and keeps secrets well, she is a good and giving friend and sister.  One of the main tangents in the book is that Lucy's dad really wanted to be a poet and now raises cows because he could never "write anything better than a cow".  Lucy wants to write him a poem, one day, one that will be as beautiful as a cow.  Make a note of this one, kids, it's really good.  You'll want a stack of this on your shelves.  Ages 7 and up.  McElderry Books.  (Available April, 2014!  $15.99.)

The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes, is one of those perfect books for kids of this age.  Billy Miller is going into second grade after a summer of small trauma.  He fell and hit his head, had a huge bump, and then overheard his parents talking about how that might affect him.  He begins to worry about whether he's going to be smart enough to go to second grade, he was so happy, beforehand, so looking forward to everything.  He's reassured about that but when he gets to that first day of school, everything that can go wrong does.  He's in the wrong seat, does something that might have hurt his teacher's feelings, meets his first bully...not the most stellar of beginnings.  Billy's family is wonderful and real.  His dad is a stay at home dad/artist in a slump and his mom works long hours.  There's a bit of sibling rivalry.  There's tension here but nothing that can't be solved. 

This is such a good look into this time period of a child's life.  Things start changing when you get to second grade.  There's a lot of new information, friendships change, there's an awareness of adult tensions and worry, and it's a time when the child realizes s/he isn't the only one in the world and that their actions matter.  Kevin has a deft way with dealing with the worry and travail of the lives of children.  There isn't anything pat or condescending in how things are resolved, Billy has to solve these problems on his own, sometimes not making the best choices.

I love how normal Kevin's (yes, I call him Kevin because his books make me think I am his friend) families are.  Unlike many books for these ages, there's nothing spectacular that happens, no flying cats or hidden doors (although those are good things, too).  The joy of reading his books is seeing ourselves and our small joys, worries, and successes reflected in the pages.  Greenwillow Books.  (Available September 14, 2013.  $16.99.)

There are other books like these, small books well-written, for the younger reader that are just as appealing to the adults who share them.  What follows are a few you adults might check out when you are in the mood for something you can take to the tub, read and maybe finish at lunch, or are at the bar while waiting for someone. 

Cobble Street Cousins, by Cynthia Rylant:  6 little books about three cousins living with their aunt while their parents are on a ballet tour around the world.  We all know that a lot of kids' books remove the parents in some sort of horrible way, death, jail, some unknown removal.  How nice that these kids will see their parents again!  AND the art work by Wendy Anderson Halperin is perfect for these stories.

Alvin Ho, by Lenore Look, is a funny series about Alvin, a second grader who is scared of EVERYTHING!  Until he gets home where he is a superhero and a gentleman-in-training so he can be like his dad.  Great illustrations by LeUyen PhamThe Ruby Lu books, also by Lenore Look, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf, are not quite as popular but I think that's because boys need books at this level more than girls do.  And we know that boys often won't read books about girls...

Frog and Toad, by Arnold Lobel, may seem a little easier, but they are perfect first chapter books.  I love the way the books are set up with chapters and page numbers and enough pages to read to the end of a chapter and to then need a bookmark so you can find where you left off.  How empowering is that for a new reader?  Filled with upsets and problems, Frog and Toad will always be best friends, no matter where there adventures lead them.

Well, that's enough of that.  This is a really long post already - there are just so many good books out there! I hope you enjoy these books, let me know what you think.

(There has been no remuneration for the mention of the books on this blog.)