Monday, November 29, 2010

Book Review - Lulu and The Brontosaurus

Author: Judith Viorst
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Publisher: Atheneum (September 14, 2010)
Reading Level: Ages 6 to 9 years
Source: Personal Copy

Description from Google Books:
It's Lulu's birthday and she's decided she'd like a pet brontosaurus as a present. When Lulu's parents tell her that's not possible, Lulu gets very upset. She does not like it when things don't go her way. So she takes matters into her own hands and storms off into the forest to find herself a new pet, all the way singing:
"I'm gonna, I'm gonna, I'm gonna, gonna, get
a bronto-bronto-bronto-bronto-saurus for a pet! "
In the forest Lulu encounters a number of animals; a snake, a tiger, a bear, all of whom don't particularly impress her. And then she finds him...a beautiful, long-necked, gentle, graceful brontosaurus. And he completely agrees with Lulu that having a pet would be a wonderful thing, indeed! Lulu thinks she's gotten her birthday wish at last. Until she realizes that Mr. Brontosaurus thinks that she would make an ideal pet for him!
How will Lulu ever get out of this sticky situation without throwing a fit (Mr. B does not respond well to those), or using force (Mr. B is much to tall to bonk on the head with her suitcase), or smushing her pickle sandwich?

Judith Viorst, well known for her book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (among others), teams up with illustrator Lane Smith (most known for his collaborations with David Scieszka) in creating this early/first chapter book that children will love.  Viorst has an interesting way of interjecting herself into the story right from the beginning.  She acknowledges that dinosaurs and people didn't live at the same time, but since this is her book she is going to do what she want.  And she has created a very vivid character in Lulu.  Viorst also shares with the reader that Lulu is a pain, but not a pain in the elbow or the knee but a very big pain in the butt.  It is with this information that the reader begins to get to know Lulu and the story.

So what happens to a stubborn, bratty little girl who wants a brontosaurus for her birthday?  This is where the fun begins.  Lulu goes on a hunt for a brontosaurus and she discovers something more than she expected.  The brontosaurus is a perfect match for our small friend and as a result Lulu has a lot to learn.  However, the story just doesn't end as readers might come to expect.  Actually, Viorst provides three ends for her story.  Readers can chose the one they most prefer. 

When I heard this book talked at a teacher workshop, I knew I had to have a closer look.  The book is long enough to provide a challenge to early readers who are embarking on chapter books, but short enough that it can be read as a read aloud in one session.  The story provides the basis for a great discussion about Lulu's behavior and also what happens when she encounters the Brontosaurus.  Rather than just reading the three endings, an adult can challenge children to predict their own endings and then compare their predictions with the ones in the book.

This is a fun early chapter book that is very well done and will be engaging to a wide range of children. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Book Review - Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow: A Story of Young Jimi Hendrix

Author: Gary Golio
Illustrator: Javaka Steptoe
Publisher: Clarion Books (October 4, 2010)
Reading Level: Ages 9 to 12 years
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads
Jimi Hendrix was many things: a superstar, a rebel, a hero, an innovator. But first, he was a boy named Jimmy who loved to draw and paint and listen to records. A boy who played air guitar with a broomstick and longed for a real guitar of his own. A boy who asked himself a question: Could someone paint pictures with sound?
     This a story of a talented child who learns to see, hear, and interpret the world around him in his own unique way. It is also a story of a determined kid with a vision, who worked hard to become a devoted and masterful artist. Jimi Hendrix--a groundbreaking performer whose music shook the very foundations of rock 'n' roll.

Recently, I noticed that someone had mentioned this book on Twitter.  During my next trip to my favorite indie bookstore, I decided to check it out.  I was curious to read a picture book on Jimi Hendrix.  From what point of view would it be told? And what would it chose to focus on? I was pleased with the approach that author Gary Golio uses to tell about Jimi Hendrix the child.  The majority of the book focuses on his early youth, his love of music, and how he discovers his own signature playing style.  The reader learns about the musicians and bands that influenced Hendrix in the early years, as well as, how he began with a ukulele and then a second-hand guitar.  

Steptoe's mixed media focuses on providing a visual representation of Hendrix's music.  The colors splash across the page providing this incredible compliment to the text. 

Golio does a solid job with this biography. And the resources at the end of the book are quite valuable especially if a teacher or student decides to look at them more closely.  This would be a nice addition to a collection on biographies. Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow is definitely a book worth checking out.  

Friday, November 26, 2010

Book Review - A Tale Dark and Grimm

Author: Adam Gidwitz
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile (October 28, 2010)
Reading Level: Ages 9 to 12
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:
Brooklyn schoolteacher Adam Gidwitz offers imaginative new slants on children's classics in this new collection inspired by nine Grimm Brothers fairy tales. Never before have Hansel and Gretel had an adventure like this!

The Brothers Grimm have met their modern day rival in Adam Gidwitz.  His debut book, A TALE DARK AND GRIMM, weaves the tale of Hansel and Gretel into various other Grimm fairy tales creating a new and inspired look at some old favorites.  I truly believe that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, famous for stories such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, would have approved of Gidwitz's twist on their stories.  
However, as the narrator of A TALE DARK AND GRIMM cautions "if there are little kids...why don't you go hire a babysitter.." Gidwitz does not hold back in his version of the classic folk/fairy tale. This tale is not one for the faint of heart. There is a cannibalistic old woman, and a moon that would like nothing more than to eat the tender flesh of a child, and the hacking off of various body parts.  

For those who want to protest that children would be frightened by Gidwitz's rendition of Hansel and Gretel, may I remind you of the popularity of books such as R.L. Stine's Goosebumps or the clamor of children around a campfire or at a sleepover for a scary story to be shared.  Children love scary stories. And they love stories with happy endings and where children turn out to be the heroes.  

A TALE DARK AND GRIMM begins with the narrator who sets the stage for what will be revealed and at various points in the story he interjects himself into the book to warn or explain to the audience what has happened or what will be happening.  Then he takes a step back and begins with the time shortly before Hansel and Gretel are born.  This movement backwards is critical for it sets the stage for what is to come and provides the parameters for the tale.  

As I read through the book, I loved the pacing of the story and how Gidwitz would throw in a "The End" and in turning the page a "Not really".  Hansel and Gretel evolve from very young and frivolous to young and wise.  The things that they have seen and experienced provide a foundation for this growth and teaches them important lessons along the way.  Part of their quest is to find parents who would be loving and kind and caring and not do cruel things to their children and yet they learn over and over again how hard that is to find or even be.  As well as what it means to forgive and to "under-stand".  

If you are in doubt about this book, I would encourage you to check out Gidwitz's Frequently Asked Questions (click here).  He does a much better job of explaining the reason and purpose for the blood and gore.  

For me, I will book talk it and get it into the hands of children who I know will love it.  Understanding that for some children, it might be better if they wait some before attempting to read this book.

I am excited to have discovered Adam Gidwitz's debut novel and I look forward to future books from this talented writer.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Book Review - Turkey Trouble

Author:  Wendy Silvano
Illustrator: Lee Harper
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Reference (October 1, 2009)
Reading Level: Ages 4 to 8 years
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

It's not easy being a turkey especially on Thanksgiving.  In Wendy Silvano's book Turkey Trouble, one scheming turkey decides that maybe if he doesn't look like a turkey then he won't find himself as the main dish.  First, he tries to disguise himself as a horse.  When that fails, he moves on to covering up as a cow, sheep, pig and finally a rooster.  Unfortunately, when Farmer Jake thinks that the rooster might make a good substitute for the main course if the turkey can't be located, our main bird thinks it is time for an alternative menu plan.

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving (click here for review) may be one of my favorite non-fiction seasonal picture books, but Turkey Trouble is competing for top rank in my pile of humorous Thanksgiving picture books.  The costumes that Turkey devises are hysterical.  I found myself giggling out loud as I was reading the book. Young children will love the disguises and the predictable pattern of the text.  Silvano's hilarious text is complimented by Harper's comical watercolors.  Though the text is strong on it's own, Harper's illustrations really lift this book to a new level.  I loved the expressions on the face of the Turkey as he was attempting to hide or when he knew he was outted.  And though I figured I had guessed the ending, it was fun to see what twist was in this book.

As an educator, I like having a collection of books around certain topics which can be used to set up a unit or to explore a topic with more depth.  This is one picture book that I plan to keep on the top of my seasonal picture books as long as others don't walk away with it.  Maybe I should just keep an extra one.

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and may it be filled with lots of blessings!


Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Review - Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Illustrator: Matt Faulkner
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 27, 2005)
Reading Level: Ages 4 to 10 years
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:
We the people of the United States...
Almost Lost Thanksgiving
Yes. That's right!
Way back when "skirts were long and hats were tall" Americans were forgetting Thanksgiving, and nobody seemed to care!

Thankfully, Sarah Hale appeared. More steadfast than Plymouth Rock, this lady editor knew the holiday needed saving. But would her recipe for rescue ever convince Congress and the presidents?
Join acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson on a journey of a woman and a pen that spanned four decades, the Civil War, and five presidents, all so you could have your turkey and eat it too!

 Thanks to @mrschureads on Twitter I have a new favorite Thanksgiving Picture Book - THANK YOU, SARAH: THE WOMAN WHO SAVED THANKSGIVING.  This non-fiction picture book tells the story of Sarah Hale.  A woman who was well ahead of her times.  Hale, a mother of five, had a well established career as an advocate, writer, and editor.  She even wrote "Mary Had A Little Lamb".  However, when she discovered that people were not observing Thanksgiving regularly and it was potentially going to be lost as a holiday, Hale began a 38 year letter writing campaign to convince the President to declare it a National Holiday on a set date.  It wasn't until 1863 and Abraham Lincoln that Hale finally met with success. 

Laurie Halse Anderson, though more well-known for her Middle Grade and Young Adult books (SPEAK, CHAINS, FEVER, FORGE, and more), tackles the re-telling of Hale's journey to rescue Thanksgiving in a delightful and humorous manner.  With a bit of irreverency in both text and illustrations, Halse Anderson brings alive Hale's perseverance and tenacity while Faulkner does an excellent job making the text pop with caricature style drawings.  At the end of the story, Halse Anderson challenges readers to "Pick up your pen. Change the world." And Hale certainly did that with her pen.

When I recently read the book aloud to a group of third graders, they were fascinated with the story.  Children wanted to spend time looking at the illustrations which definitely match the tone and intent of Halse Anderson's writing.  This is one book that I am going to need to keep several copies of so that I will always have one to loan out.

So what is your favorite Thanksgiving picture book or chapter book?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Time to Plan for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge

NoteI have update this list on 1/5/11.

I participated for the first time in The Story Siren's Debut Author Challenge this year and was exposed to so many wonderful new books.  I have read over 14 debut novels and I am still reading.   There are still six more weeks in 2010 so I am certain I can get up to 20 debut author books.

Of course, it is time to start thinking about 2011 and the upcoming Debut Author Challenge and all the new and exciting books out there.  As I was reviewing the list Kristi (The Story Siren) had composed, I realized that some of these books have been on my to read list for what has seemed like a year or more. It is fun to actually see the covers for these much anticipated books.

Here are some books that I am excited about reading in 2011:

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand
XVI by Julia Karr
Vespers (Deviants #1) by Jeff Sampson 
Enclave by Ann Aguire
Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulten
Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney
The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge

Clarity by Kim Harrington
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Kat the Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
The Year We Were Famous by Carol Estby Dagg

Hourglass by Myra McEntire
Divergent by Veronic Roth
Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky
The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner
The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless by Allan Woodrow

Luminous by Dawn Metcalf

Vanished by Sheela Chari
Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracy
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

November to December
Still To Be Added

Please note that this list will be edited and updated as I identify more books that I would like to read.  If you are a Middle Grade Author with a debut book, I would love to know about it.

Book Review - Beautiful Darkness

Authors: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers (October 12, 2010)
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Personal Copy

Description from GoodReads:
Ethan Wate used to think of Gatlin, the small Southern town he had always called home, as a place where nothing ever changed. Then he met mysterious newcomer Lena Duchannes, who revealed a secret world that had been hidden in plain sight all along. A Gatlin that harbored ancient secrets beneath its moss-covered oaks and cracked sidewalks. A Gatlin where a curse has marked Lena's family of powerful supernaturals for generations. A Gatlin where impossible, magical, life-altering events happen.

Sometimes life-ending.

Together they can face anything Gatlin throws at them, but after suffering a tragic loss, Lena starts to pull away, keeping secrets that test their relationship. And now that Ethan's eyes have been opened to the darker side of Gatlin, there's no going back. Haunted by strange visions only he can see, Ethan is pulled deeper into his town's tangled history and finds himself caught up in the dangerous network of underground passageways endlessly crisscrossing the South, where nothing is as it seems.

**** Please note, though this is spoiler free for Beautiful Darkness, there may be some very 
small spoilers for Beautiful Creatures. ****** 
Back in July, I had an opportunity to read an Advanced Reader's Copy of Beautiful Darkness.    However, at that time I wanted to wait to post a review.  Of course, closer to the release date work became insane and reviewing had to wait.  So now that things are settling down, I am going back and trying to catch up on reviews. Here goes..

In Beautiful Creatures, Garcia & Stohl introduce readers to the Caster World, to the South and to some amazing characters.  I fell in love with Ethan & Lena, Macon & Alma, Link & Ridley, Marian, the 3 aunts, and others.  You could feel the humidity, smell the lemons and rosemary, and taste the pie.  It was paranormal goodness at it's best.  At the end, there was a battle, and loss, and decisions that still had to be made and consequences for those that were made.  There were questions and suspense.  And I had to wait months until I could read the next book.

Just like Ethan, the reader is now aware of the Caster World which lies behind the life that most of Gatlins' residents are familiar with.  And just like anyone who is introduced to a new world, or culture, or experience, you can never go back to the state of being unaware.  In the second book of the Caster Chronicles, there are some answers, there are some new characters, and there is an emotional roller coaster.  More than once I wanted to throw the book.  Not because I disliked the book but because it is so hard to see beloved characters go through tough experiences.  

After reading it and as reviews started popping up for Beautiful Darkness, I was surprised by the feelings of animosity towards Lena.  I was puzzled.  What did people really think was going to happen after the first book?  At the end of Beautiful Creatures, Lena had made some big choices and also avoided making an even bigger decision.  The second book picks up shortly after the first one, and we see the consequences and the impact of those choices.  And Lena wasn't the only one that had consequences to face.  All of the key characters were essentially changed.  However, before a resolution can occur there must be a period of confusion, darkness, and despair.  Basically, without essentially a crisis of faith, characters can not grow or change.

Yet, this is why I often dislike second books in a series.  Just like I would want to protect my friends and family from unpleasant stuff, I want to protect beloved characters from having to walk/live/survive the darkness.  What I get even more annoyed with book 2's is that often they are completely substance-less - just a filler for a series until you get to the 3rd or 4th book in the series and have your resolution and possible happier times for your characters.  I was pleased though that the second installment of the Caster Chronicles, is not just filler. I felt that the steps and journey that Ethan and Lena were on - no matter how separate it may have appeared - were important and moved the story forward.  

It is in this book that we learn more about Ethan's mother, are introduced to some new characters, discover more of the complexity of the Caster World, and begin to see how the puzzle pieces fit together.  And yet, as the book progress and some questions are answered, other questions arise.  

Of course, it will be interesting to see what will happen in Book 3. Ridley still has mischief written all over her.  I expect that we will see more of John (bad boy extraordinaire) and knowing that there will be at least 4 books in this series...Ethan, Lena, Link have even more consequences for their actions that they must deal with.  

After finishing Beautiful Darkness, I still want more of Gatlin, Alma's cooking, Caster magic, quirky & eccentric characters, and to hang with Ethan, Lena, Link, Ridley, and the others as the roller coaster continues.  

To spread some Beautiful Darkness love, I have a small Swag contest tied into this review.  For more details, read the directions below.  

If you haven't seen this Beautiful Darkness book trailer made by the very talented Vania (VLC Productions) take a minute to check it out.

Beautiful Darkness Swag Contest Includes the following items:

1 signed Beautiful Darkness Poster
1 Beautiful Darkness Bracelet
1 Beautiful Darkness Keychain
1 Beautiful Darkness Dogtag
1 Beautiful Darkness Pin
1 Beautiful Darkness/Beautiful Creatures Postcard (bookmarks)

Here are the rules:
1. You must complete the form below.  (Comments are appreciated by will not enter you into the contest.)
2. You must be 13 years or older.
3. You do not need to follow this blog but being a follower will earn you additional points.
4. All entries must be submitted by November 28, 2010 at 11:59 PST.
4. International participants are welcome.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book Reviews - Halloween Came Belatedly

I am adding a disclaimer to the review of these two books.  I was asked to review them and I had hoped that they would arrive prior to Halloween but unfortunately they did not.  Fortunately, they can still be read and enjoyed after the holiday.

Author: Jason Mayo
Illustrator: Justin Wolfson
Publisher: Author House (August 23, 2010)
Reading Level: Ages 4 to 8
Source: Copy for Review
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:
"Do Witches Make Fishes?" is the moral tale of a young boy who favors candy over his mother's outlandish but healthy dishes. When faced with an ultimatum from his mother, the boy has to make a difficult choice. What ensues is a series of extraordinary and fantastical events that will take the reader on a magical journey through the imagination of a child. In the end, you will find yourself asking, Do Witches Make Fishes?

Jason Mayo's self-published first picture book, Do Witches Make Fishes?, reminds me a little of Allard's Miss Nelson Is Missing.   A young boy would much prefer to eat candy than things like carrots or fish.  So what is a mother to do?  While mother gives him the "mothers know best" stare, the child closes his eyes and makes a wish.  He wished her gone and in her place was a witch (this is where I make the Allard connection - the sub was Miss Nelson in disguise.  Is the mom the witch in disguise?).  A witch who tells him he better eat healthy foods or she will cast a spell on him.  With a sticky, sweet mess, the boy combats the witch and wishes for his mother again.  Maybe those carrots and fish aren't so bad after all.

Mayo's story is told in rhyming poetry.  It is silly and has a strong feeling of a parent making up a tale to get their own child to eat his/her veggies.  Justin Wolfson's illustration are colorful and silly.  Children will get a kick out of the book.  And proceeds are being donated to charity.

Author: Laura Marchesani
Illustrator: Tommy Hunt
Publisher: Grossett & Dunlap ( August 26, 2010)
Reading Level: Ages 4 to 8
Source: Copy for Review
Rating: Undecided

Description from GoodReads:
When innocent Dick and Jane meet a creepy, cape-wearing vampire, the unexpected happens: he becomes their friend! Dick and Jane and Vampires borrows from the classic stories and art we all know and love, but adds an of-the-moment twist: a vampire, illustrated in the classic Dick and Jane style. 

Marchesani's Dick and Jane and Vampires is written and illustrated in classic Dick & Jane style.  Short chapters, controlled vocabulary and repetitive language that increases by one word per line are used to tell this strange twist on the well known basal reader.  

At first, a bat begins to show fleetingly on the pages, and then the children begin to see things that or do they? At first there is the glimpse of a head in the bushes, and a shoe under the bed.  Eventually, the vampire begins to be bolder and show up more consistently until he is practically a regular at the household.  So much so that the milkman delivers a bottle of "blood" along with the milk.  The children play hide and seek and dress up with their new friend.  And eventually, they introduce their vampire friend to a goth looking female.  

Adults who are familiar with the original Dick & Jane readers will get a kick out of this book.  Beginning readers will quickly find success with the controlled language of the book.  However, in some ways this is really for an older audience who will get the humor of the story.  

I feel like I have been saying this a lot lately in reviews but I have some mixed feelings.  I couldn't help being a little creeped out by the stalker feeling of this book where an adult male vampire is hiding/hanging around 3 small children.  I don't think that was the intent of the author but it crossed my mind more than once when I was reading this book so I felt I needed to add it to my review.

Who would I recommend it to: Primarily a teen or an adult audience who enjoys twists on a classic and will fully get the humor of the story. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review - Absolutely Beastly Children

Author/Illustrator: Dan Krall
Publisher: Tricycle Press (September 28, 2010)
Reading Level: Ages 4 to 8 years
Source: Copy for Review
Rating: Undecided

Description from GoodReads:
In this book you’ll find 26 children who are almost certainly nothing like you. You always eat your peas and say please. You, unlike Oscar, would never tell lies. And in your wildest dreams you wouldn’t play with your food the way Nancy does. But even the sweetest child can be tempt-ed to behave badly. Thankfully, Dan Krall has put together this collection to remind us just how unpleasant beastly behavior can be.

When I first read this book, I wasn't sure if I was completely grossed out by the ick factor of this book, or just morbidly fascinated by the illustrations and supporting text.  I shared it with someone at my school because I think I was really puzzled and was curious about what her reaction would be.  Things got busy and I don't think I ever got her reaction, but I put the book aside. I needed to think about this one.  

My initial reaction as an educator was "Uh-no, this is not going into my preschool or kinder classes. I do not need to encourage inappropriate behavior or have parents questioning my judgment."  But something kept nagging at me as I would come across the book at various times.  At first, I couldn't put my finger on it, but then I realized what it was.  Topps Wacky Packages.  I remember back in elementary school going to the corner store and picking up Wacky Packages - there was a stick of bubble gum in the pack and several trading card/stickers in them.  Wacky Packages were designed to be a play on name brand products such as coffee, and soda but with a really gross twist.  As kids, we loved them.  Fortunately, this moment of nostalgia made me take another look at the book.

In re-looking at the book, I realized that Krall's illustrations (think Tim Burton meets Jay Lynch) are extremely creative in a morbid & somewhat macabre manner.  Several of the supporting lines of text are fairly benign (such as "F is for Florence the Queen of Demands" or "G is for Gertrude who stays up too late").  Some are just plain silly (such as "J is for Jeffrey He knows how to whine").  But there were a few that have me debating (such as "S is for Sigmund who still wets the bed").  

As a result, I am still undecided about this one.  I probably won't be placing this in my kindergarten classrooms, but I know some 8 & 9 year olds who would find this simply hysterical.  I know my 8 year old self would have cracked up over this.  But my adult-self has decided to share this carefully.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review - Five Flavors of Dumb

Author/Illustrator: Anthony John
Publisher: Dial (November 11, 2010)
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Copy for Review
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

The Challenge: Piper has one month to get the rock band Dumb a paying gig.
The Deal: If she does it, Piper will become the band's manager and get her share of the profits.

The Catch: How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she's deaf?
Piper can't hear Dumb's music, but with growing self-confidence, a budding romance, and a new understanding of the decision her family made to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, she discovers her own inner rock star and what it truly means to be a flavor of Dumb.

With a great concept and a very cool looking cover, I wondered whether Anthony John's new book FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB would be a shining star or hit a flat note.  Could he pull it off in a way that was believable and entertaining?  Or would there be a significant amount of creative license taken to make for a good story?

Honestly, I approached this book with a critical eye.  After the first 6 or 7 chapters, I sent an email to a graduate school friend of mine who works with deaf teens.  We had both attended Gallaudet (note: the main character in the book has a goal of attending Gallaudet University - the world's only University for the Deaf).  I peppered her with questions, and I thought seriously about her answers and my experiences with the Deaf community.

My initial protest began when Piper (the main character in the story who is Hard of Hearing) claims that she has had the same hearing aids for nearly 10 years, I rolled my eyes.  Yes, hearing aids are expensive. Yes, they come in all kinds of bright colors which young children like. But seldom would a 17 or 18 year old be wearing the same pair of hearing aids as when they were 7 or 8 years old (i.e., the character would have physically outgrown her hearing aids automatically necessitating new ones). And even with "olympic precision" lip-reading, we are talking about someone getting only 46% of spoken language?! I was concerned that if John had taken some creative licenses to fit his story or failed to get some basic details correct where would the rest of the story go? So I took a deep breath, reminded myself that the average reader would not know these facts and pushed on.

It wasn't hard to move on with FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB.  Despite my initial irritation over some technical stuff, I was really enjoying John's writing.  The short chapters made it feel like I was flying through the story.  But there was so much more about this book that kept propelling me forward.

First, I like books that I would call "ensemble" stories. Meaning that all of the characters truly play an important role in the book and develop along with the main character. This is an ensemble book - Piper may be the main character but her family, and the members of the band all have significant roles to play and they all grow and develop over the course of the story.

Second, yes, there is some romance in the book...but we don't spend page after annoying page reading about every detail of how wonderful, or beautiful the lusted after romantic target is. It is subtle and appropriate to the story.  Plus I really found myself wanting the two of them to get together.

Third, not only does the book focus positively on a character with special needs but also has characters of various ethnic/racial/socio-economic backgrounds. Yay for diversity that is not overly done but included in just the right way.

Fourth, I actually appreciated many of the adults in this book even with their flaws. Piper's relationship with her parents is one of the things in the story that seemed the most honest and real.  There is a natural conflict when you are a deaf child dealing with hearing parents - this is one part that I felt John nailed. Along with how John describes Piper's reaction to her sister's cochlear implant.

I also liked the interesting advice and mentoring she received from Baz, Mr. Belson, Tash's mom, etc. And though Piper's brother Finn is not an adult (so maybe this should go under another point but...) - I found myself pleasantly pleased with how that relationship developed. It was surprising in a very good way.

Finally, despite my initial irritation over the technical details and sometimes wondering if John was trying to fit some of his thoughts about deafness to his story, I definitely found myself loving the book. The book's back drop of Seattle, mentions of Nirvana & Cobain, and Hendrix provided a complimentary and story enhancing references. Once I started it, I pretty much couldn't put it down resulting in several hours of lost sleep that evening.

After completing the book and pondering the technical vs. the literary, I am giving this a 4.5 out of 5 stars.  I will say that I was a little relieved to discover through an email conversation with the author that he had actually based some of the things I had questioned on real incidents.  Yes, sometimes reality is stranger than fiction.

In 2009, the stand out YA Realistic Fiction story for me was Allen Zadoff's FOOD, GIRLS & OTHER THINGS I CAN'T HAVE.  I loved that book. It made me laugh and it moved me emotionally.  I know that we haven't gotten to the true end of 2010 yet, but I would have to say that Anthony John's FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB is currently sitting in my top spot for YA Realistic Fiction for the current year.  It is funny, smart, touching, and just a great read.  I would encourage to find this book and read it.  And I look forward to future books by this author.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Welcome to Gratitude Giveaways!!!

Kathy over at I Am a Reader, Not a Writer Blog organized this amazing Giveaway.  There are 175+ bloggers participating in this event.  For my followers, I will be having 2 different giveaways which means 2 winners.

Giveaway #1 - Middle Grade Book Giveaway

A hardcover copy of Ellen Potter's The Kneebone Boy

Description from GoodReads:
Life in a small town can be pretty boring when everyone avoids you like the plague. But after their father unwittingly sends them to stay with an aunt who’s away on holiday, the Hardscrabble children take off on an adventure that begins in the seedy streets of London and ends in a peculiar sea village where legend has it a monstrous creature lives who is half boy and half animal. . . .

In this wickedly dark, unusual, and compelling novel, Ellen Potter masterfully tells the tale of one deliciously strange family and a secret that changes everything.

Giveaway #2 -YA Book Giveaway

A signed copy of Fallout by Ellen Hopkins

Description from GoodReads:
Hunter, Autumn, and Summer—three of Kristina Snow’s five children—live in different homes, with different guardians and different last names. They share only a predisposition for addiction and a host of troubled feelings toward the mother who barely knows them, a mother who has been riding with the monster, crank, for twenty years.

Hunter is nineteen, angry, getting by in college with a job at a radio station, a girlfriend he loves in the only way he knows how, and the occasional party. He's struggling to understand why his mother left him, when he unexpectedly meets his rapist father, and things get even more complicated. Autumn lives with her single aunt and alcoholic grandfather. When her aunt gets married, and the only family she’s ever known crumbles, Autumn’s compulsive habits lead her to drink. And the consequences of her decisions suggest that there’s more of Kristina in her than she’d like to believe. Summer doesn’t know about Hunter, Autumn, or their two youngest brothers, Donald and David. To her, family is only abuse at the hands of her father’s girlfriends and a slew of foster parents. Doubt and loneliness overwhelm her, and she, too, teeters on the edge of her mother’s notorious legacy. As each searches for real love and true family, they find themselves pulled toward the one person who links them together—Kristina, Bree, mother, addict. But it is in each other, and in themselves, that they find the trust, the courage, the hope to break the cycle.

Told in three voices and punctuated by news articles chronicling the family’s story, FALLOUT is the stunning conclusion to the trilogy begun by CRANK and GLASS, and a testament to the harsh reality that addiction is never just one person’s problem.

Here are the rules:
1. You must complete the form below.  (Comments are appreciated by will not enter you into the contest.)
2. You must be 13 years or older.
3. You must be a follower of this blog.
4. All entries must be submitted by November 28, 2010 at 11:50 PST.
4. International participants are welcome.

Gratitude Giveaways is hosted by Kathy @ I Am A Reader, Not A Writer. This is a giveaway hop that runs from Wednesday, November 17th to Sunday, November 28th. Stop by each blog during those days to enter all the fantastic giveaways.

Here are all the participating blogs:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Guest Post: Lisa Rowe Fraustino

November seems to be the "official month of writing" with so many people participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  Today's Guest Blogger is Lisa Rowe Fraustino.  Her newest book - The Hole In The Wall - was recently released earlier this month.  Lisa has been on a blog tour sharing about her new book, answering questions, and doing guest posts.  Today, she shares with us how to get in touch with our inner canine as we write.

Writing Like Cats and Dogs

Way back in 1992 a book came out that helped me learn to write like a dog, Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. It comes down to this: Healthy women share certain characteristics with healthy canines.

As Estes points out, she-wolves are “relational by nature, inquiring, possessed of great endurance and strength. They are deeply intuitive, intensely concerned with their young, their mates and their pack. They are experienced in adapting to constantly changing circumstances; they are fiercely stalwart and very brave.”

If I didn’t write like a dog, The Hole in the Wall would never have received the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature. In fact, none of my eight books would be published. I’d have quit after the first few rejections of my “quirky” characters and “weird” storylines. If by some miracle I made it past early rejections to publication, the first nasty review I got would have caused me to quit writing and take up something safer, like skydiving.

Embracing your inner…hm…let’s call it “female dog” allows you to unleash your creativity and have the confidence to express your idiosyncracies, your uniqueness, your truest self—even though the rest of the world may look upon your creations with the scorn of a cat who has been fed the store brand, dry.

Your inner canine is the part of you that says, “I don’t care what anyone else says. I have something to say and I’m going to say it.” Like the dog who keeps standing at the window barking even though people keep telling her to lie down and be quiet, you keep on writing joyfully despite rejections slips and bad reviews.

Writers who nurture their inner canines don’t get blocked for long. Why? Because blocks derive from fears—fears of being laughed at, of being criticized, of being wrong. No offense to cat lovers—I enjoy cats too. Have four of them, in fact. But there’s a big difference between doggy and catty when it comes to self-expression and interpersonal dynamics.

The dog instinctively protects her territory and is incapable of spite. The cat…well. You know. She likes to play head games. Especially with her food.

Dogs aren’t self-conscious. They don’t worry about whether they’re doing something right or whether they will be loved. They go about their business cheerfully sniffing butts and marking bushes and licking themselves no matter how many times prissy humans scold them. And they chase off cats who nip at their confidence.

By all means love your cat— but write like a dog.

Exercises to Develop Your Inner Canine

1.Think of a time when others told you to stop singing, dancing, or otherwise expressing yourself because you were embarrassing them. Write the experience into your next story or chapter.

2. Do something you’ve always wanted to do but never dared because of the reactions of other people—like, cut your hair really short, or paint your front door purple.

3. You know that incredible family story that you’ve been waiting to work on someday…after a lot of funerals? Sit down and write it: now. Heavily fictionalize it if you’re still too timid to go for the memoir.

4. Think of something you’ve done of which you carry a deep sense of secret shame. Let it out of your body. Write it down. Burn the pages in your spaghetti pot, then rewrite the story as fiction.

5. Go out and howl at the next full moon.

For more tips on writing, visit “Dr. Lisa’s Class” at her web page.
Today’s topic: “The Golden Rule of Criticism”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Crossroad Tour Winners

It is always fun to announce winners and there are three winners to announce. 

Winner of the signed copy of VAMPED by Lucienne Diver is:
Cindy (Blog- Cindy's Love of Books)

Winner of the 1st Crossroads SWAG pack is:
Heather (Blog - Buried in Books)

Winner of the 2nd Crossroads SWAG pack is:
Kristen (Blog - My Bloody Valentine)

It is sad to see the Crossroads Tour end, but glad everyone had so much fun.

And once again, congratulations to all the winners.

- Aly