Monday, June 30, 2008

ALA Report

Hi all,

I was just at ALA, and if you're interested in my experience as a first-time author there, feel free to mosey on over to my blog post about it on my professional blog.  I ran into Sherry there accidentally, which was fun (*waves to Sherry, if she's lurking*), and then I was so relieved to find her in my arc line -- a familiar face in the midst of what, to me, felt like madness, even if it probably looked rather sedate to the casual observer.  :o)  Thank you, Sherry, for being there!!  

Sadly, my trip was so quick and so packed with things to do that I didn't get a chance to see much of ALA outside the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt booth, other than John Green looking way calmer than I did as he signed a gazillion books.  It was so much fun to be there, though -- what a great atmosphere, and what cool people!

A timely link

Here is an article on Emily Gravett and her book Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rambling about Emily Gravett

Holy cannoli, do I love Emily Gravett.

The books I suggested for this month are Orange Pear Apple Bear, Wolves, and Monkey and Me. They’re not a series or anything, but they do have a sort of attitude common. You know how a book can imply a particular type of reader by the way it says things? Gravett implies a reader who’s intelligent, and who’s interested in thinking, and who appreciates a wry sense of humor. These books aren’t garish or in-your-face; they’re subtle. They have layers.

In Monkey and Me, a girl and her stuffed monkey go “to see” various animals. You always have to turn over a page to see which animal comes next, but if you pay close attention, you can venture a guess before turning – because the girl and her monkey act out the next animal’s posture in advance. It may take a second read before you notice that their postures echo the real penguins, kangaroos, bats, elephants, and finally monkeys that follow.

Wolves is subtle. Wait, how can I call a book subtle when the protagonist gets eaten?! Hmm. It’s subtle because when it tips from meta-book (a book about a book) into real predator chasing prey, it never narrates that outer story. The text simply reveals facts about wolves, as chronicled in the inner book, which is checked out from the library by a rabbit. Here is the shift where the wolf escapes his book and comes hunting: on one spread, the inner book reports “They can survive almost anywhere: from the Arctic Circle…” [ellipses orig, wolves shown on a page of the library book]; the next spread continues “… to the outskirts of towns and villages.” Cheekily mimicking the word “outskirts,” the wolf is now on the exact outskirts of both books (the inner one and the one the reader is holding), leaning around an edge to peer at the rabbit reader. But the narration never says a word about this, counting on the drawings to show the truth. Visual scale tips and changes, the wolf sometimes looming far above the rabbit, so tall that it can’t fit on the page. There’s no doubt what happens to the small vulnerable rabbit after the now-mammoth wolf face zooms in to surround it. We see a tattered and scratched book cover, perhaps the site of a struggle. We see no more animals at all. The text says only that wolves have many types of prey, a listing that ends with “rabbits” but says nothing about any particular rabbit or any particular, erm, meal.

Lest that ending be too upsetting, Gravett provides an alternate ending, silly and comforting, where predator and prey share a jam sandwich. But even in that version, the wolf is now equally as real as the rabbit – not banished back inside that original library book. This seems respectful of readers, because it doesn’t imply that preferring the gentler ending makes a reader less intelligent. And in fact, in the jam sandwich ending, both characters look like they’ve been cut out of paper, subtly reminding the reader that the whole thing is a book anyway.

Orange Pear Apple Bear is a gem. Only five words total, and a quiet visual masterpiece. A bear eats fruit, and sometimes resembles it. Sure, we all knew the word “orange” was a noun and an adjective, but did we know that same thing about the word “apple”? Did we know what “apple” and “pear” would mean, as adjectives modifying a bear? Softly brilliant watercolor paintings are the soul of this book. Go look at it if you haven’t. Note the bear's facial expressions. It’s happy-making.

I have no conclusion. I’m just rambling. Gravett has wonderful respect for her readers. Her books wait for readers to come to them; they don’t scream for attention from across the room (bless them for that). Her books are full of energy, but sometimes the energy is wit.

If you’ve read them or even just one of them, please chime in! Disagree, agree, or start a whole nother Gravett thread. What do you like or dislike about Gravett? If you haven’t read any yet, hopefully you’re now inspired to. :)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sweet Valley High

I couldn't resist the allure of the newly repackaged Sweet Valley High books. I read these books (in all of their permutations--SV Twins, High, University, Super Specials, and so on) when I was younger (probably mostly around 5th grade-ish, but certainly kept picking them back up for years after that) and was always so excited for a new one. I liked that the characters were older and seemed so exotic (California!), and that I could read a book quickly (even now, I most like to read a book in one sitting).

One afternoon last week, I read Sweet Valley High #1: Double Love. I was glad to see that many of memories of the books still held true. I still think Jessica is a conniving bitch and that Elizabeth is almost unbelievably wholesome. As soon as I read the names Lila Fowler (rich snob, friend of Jessica's) and Enid Rollins (Liz's BFF, bookish and unassuming), I felt right back in the drama of SV. Sometimes I put books on my library list, only to figure out after I get them that I've actually read them (and, embarrassingly often, I will have read them not all that long ago). Yet somehow, even though it's been 20 years or so since I've truly been wrapped up in the world of SV, I remember all of the characters and lots of the major drama.

So what's new with the series now that it's aimed at an audience in 2008? Well, Liz has a blog, in addition to writing for the school's paper (and I guess The Oracle is now just a website?). There's talk of botox, cell phones, and pimped out cars. I wish I could get my hands on the original first book (I'm sure I could with little effort... maybe later this summer) to compare them more closely. Aren't you glad to see that they changed Jessica and Elizabeth to a "perfect size 4," a fact that we learn on the very first page? Heaven forbid they should be a "perfect size 6" like they were in the original series (a fact that was repeated in every single book).

Can we talk about Todd? I always thought it was so cool that this lunky basketball player (now also football player) ended up with Elizabeth. Like there was so much more to him, or something. But god! What a dope! Though intially immune to Jessica's charms, he still somehow sorta falls for her after the whole drinking/driving thing. And Elizabeth is just way too forgiving! How could anyone like Jessica? When she lies and says that Todd "practially raped" her, I think she crosses from manipulative and bitchy to just plain horrible. And yet, I always kept reading, wondering what hijinks that Jessica would get up to next!

If you're looking for blogs on the Sweet Valley books, there's plenty to choose from. Check out The Dairi Burger, where you can find other links to SV-related websites. Reading this book was kind of a kick for me, just from the nostalgia standpoint, but I wonder if modern teen audiences will like this series. I remember reading a long time ago, maybe in an interview in Bitch or Bust, that Francine Pascal was writing a book about Jessica and Elizabeth in their 20s or 30s. Now THAT I would like to see!

So, did anyone else read this new book? Or did anyone read SV when the series was first out? I miss discussions on here!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

This week's WTF?: The YA Ghetto

Frank Cottrell Boyce's review of Patrick Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go has got everyone all in a kerfuffle. Read on down to the part that starts out with, "If I have one quibble...." The young adult ghetto? Really? This reminds me of the review of Jenny Downham's Before I Die, in Entertainment Weekly, last fall. The talk of "handicapping" the book and "ghettoizing" it to the YA section inspired me to write the magazine an irate letter. Boyce (whose books I really enjoy) calling YA a "disaster" and "depressing" makes me angry. What do you think about what he has to say? (For more posts about this topics, and comments including some from Boyce himself, see blogs like A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy, YA New York, Read Roger, and probably many, many others.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

is anyone still here?

Some things:

I see a few of us are interested in the idea of talking about some picture books, too. Rebecca suggested Emily Gravett (see the comments section of her post for specific titles), who I think is a great choice. I own one already, and have the other two on my library list, so I'm definitely down with that discussion.

I had suggested reading the first Sweet Valley High book, Double Love, now that the series has been repackaged. Others are interested in this, too. I bought the book last week (or rather, my kind husband, who is no longer embarrassed to buy books written for teenage girls, bought it for me) and will hopefully post on it after next week.

I'm realizing I am woefully behind on middle grade fiction, having maybe read 6 books for that age group in the past year. I just read Canned, by Alex Shearer, and it was completely enjoyable, very unique, and somewhat disgusting. If anyone else had read much middle grade lately (Leo?), I'd love some suggestions.

Since I'm sort of disconnected from the YA world (or at least less connected than I was while working in bookstores and libraries), I rely a lot on blogs. Lately I've been reading and enjoying Not Your Mother's Book Club, The YA YA YAs, and YA New York. If you have time to kill, check them out. Lots of great reviews and discussions.

Finally, I know we're forever picking books and hardly ever actually discussing them, but can we talk about an August book? We don't seem to have much enthusiasm (or time?) lately, and the blog is pretty quiet, so I think maybe we'll talk about picture books, the SVH book, and whatever else we're reading and want to mention, for the next handful of weeks. But does anyone have any thoughts on a title for August? Or other picture books they'd like to discuss? Months ago, we had been talking about maybe reading a YA classic. I still like that idea, but don't have any great thoughts on what title to suggest. Personally, I am hoping to reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn this summer (which I know can now be found in the YA section often, so maybe that would count). It's hard for me to think of a YA classic that many of us wouldn't have reread while at Simmons. Somewhere (email? personal blog? here?), Jess had mentioned at one point that she wanted to reread the Anne of Green Gables series and blog about it, and I have been hoping to reread the Betsy-Tacy series and start a blog on that, too (though those don't turn YA-ish until many books in). All just my random thoughts.

Your thoughts?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Following up on the May book

Hop on over to the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for a great discussion about The Disreptuable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

proposal: picture books too??

Hi y'all,

I have an odd proposal for the Misfits. Would anyone be interested in us choosing a picture book to look at each month as well? Not instead of the chapterbook but in addition. It needn't be a picture book that relates to that month's novel, though that would be coo now and then. (Maybe occasionally, parallels would unexpectedly appear post-reading!)

I'm suggesting this both because I often don't have time to read the novel but want to discuss something here; and also because I absolutely heart picture books and discussing them.

Totally shout me down if you're not interested. :)