Monday, June 29, 2015

More on ALA Annual

Well, my intention to recap my days failed. I had a very long and full day on Saturday with little brain function to blog. I slept poorly and had an early start to my Sunday, which was another long on. I felt jazzed and hyper upon returning to my hotel after the Newbery Banquet on Sunday night and thought I could blog as well as check in for my flight. Unfortunately, the hotel Internet went down and stayed down through Monday morning. Another reason to get a smart phone. Their business center is independently operated and only linked to the airport, where I needed a confirmation # to check in. But, that was in my email. 


Headed out super early to the convention center to hit their network. Found a kiosk to sign in the the airline via my email and was able to print my boarding pass. Then, I felt ready to meet the day.

I think I will start with today and work my way backward as long as memory and energy last.

I originally intended to sightsee this morning and return to the convention center for the Odyssey Award ceremony before heading out. I perused the session manual one last time and found a session called Whaling Ho! at 10:30. There really wasn't anything I wanted to do around the neighborhood so I stayed put at the convention center and scheduled a blog post.

I am devoting an entire blog post to the Whaling Ho! session because I want to review the handouts and set up links to two rather valuable resources if you cover any maritime history in your school or library

A friend posted to FB that she was gathering at The View at the top of the Marriott Marquis at 4 in the afternoon. I thought I might be able to swing that and the Odyssey gathering if I trekked back to my hotel between morning sessions to retrieve my bag. (I do believe I may have dropped a few pounds this conference thanks to the all the walking, hills and spotty eating.)

The next session was called Robots in the Library. This was serendipity as I am teaching a brand new class for the eighth grade next school year. I will be getting some training in a few weeks, but thought attendance at this particular session was mandatory to see how school and public libraries are doing robotics. Got some ideas.

The final session of ALA Annual Conference 2015 was the Odyssey Award presentation. I adore the Odyssey Award. Oddly enough, I hadn't (and still haven't) read any of the winners with my ears. I've already read Five, Six, Seven, Nate! and A Snicker of Magic (and loved them both) with my eyes. I adored Tim Federle's Odyssey Honor-winning performance of his debut mg offering, Better Nate Than Ever, but somehow never got to it. S&S gave away copies so I snagged one and will remedy this post haste.

The awards went surprisingly quickly. I snagged a drink and chatted with some folks for a bit before heading over to The View. The View is indeed impressive as the lounge features panoramic, 360 degree views of San Francisco from 39 stories high. My friends Roxanne and Monica were there with snacks and a comfy couch.

I headed out around 5:30, wrangled with the ticket machine and had to wait less than five minutes for the BART to the airport. The train was quite crowded so I stood for a few stops. Once we were out of the city proper, a seat opened and the airport was the last stop. Thank goodness my friend Barb Langridge did the trip the day before and gave me a heads up about keeping my ticket handy because I needed it to enter the air-train area. That came immediately and my terminal was the second stop. I lost track of the time but it was all quite fast and certainly faster (as well as cheaper) than a cab that was likely to sit a bit in rush hour traffic leaving the city.

I feel so thrifty and competent. Honestly, it was so easy!

The sun is setting over my shoulder. It's quite pretty. I wish airports had verandas where waiting passengers could get fresh air and sunshine while they waited. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

ALA Annual - First Full Day

I had a great first full day in San Francisco on Friday. It was quite full and very long as I awakened at 3AM (which was 6AM by my east coast body clock). I lounged around in my room reviewing the scheduler and writing yesterday's post. I had a 9:30 breakfast appointment at my hotel dining room but found the time to dash down to the convention center to pick up my registration materials and attempt to register for the Printz Reception (why I did not do that upon initial registration is beyond me. I've always gone). Sadly, it was closed but I did get a ticket to Sunday's YA Author Coffee Klatch. 

The walk to and from the convention center is doable. Maybe not-so-much with bags of books. It was a gorgeous, windy morning and I made it back to my hotel to finally meet, in person, the lovely and brilliant Stacey Barney. Every so often, an arc appears in my mailbox courtesy of Stacey and I know I'll be in for a treat. I had no idea how I popped up on her radar but am very grateful for the opportunities to read books like Leaving Gee's Bend and Golden Boy and The Secret Hum of a Daisy. We spent a lovely hour talking books and how our wending careers have happily converged. She also brought a bound manuscript of Sarah Dooley's newest middle grade novel, Free Verse. I enjoyed her debut novel, Livvie Owen Lived Here and see that I somehow missed her sophomore novel, Body of Water. Honestly, it is so hard to keep up!

After breakfast, the hotel concierge mapped directions to the Embarcadero and, while it was a beautiful day to walk there, I had some time constraints, so I grabbed an electric tram (What are they called?), which was standing room only. It dropped me at Pier 39. I waded through the crowds and made my way to the walkway by the bay, got a gorgeous view of Alcatraz Island, saw the sea lions and walked the bayside around the crescent that ended on a historic pier where a variety of fisherfolk fished and crabbed and I snagged some more pix of Alcatraz from a slightly different angle. Time did not allow for me to use my transfer for a return ride back to Market Street, so I sprung for a cab to the convention center. Man, traffic in San Francisco is murder!

I made it back slightly late for the start of a YALSA program called, Diversity Goggles, in which Dr. Kafi Kumasi urged participants to change the narrative and avoid damaging discourse, such as saying "cultural deficit" as opposed to "cultural capital." This was followed by Dr. Sandra Hughes-Hassell, who said, that it is not the job of the kid to close the achievement gap. His job is to become literate. How do we do that? Not by teaching to the test.

The second half of the program consisted of a panel discussion about diversity between debut author, Adam Silvera, whose book, More Happy Than Not, sits on my summer tbr pile and Kekla Magoon, who has two books on my summer tbr, and Christopher Myers, who just gets better with every book and whose picture book, My Pen, is a 2015 favorite. This panel gelled in a nice way. I enjoyed both their prepared responses and the banter and conversations that sprung up. I honestly could've sat and listened for another hour. 

I spent the hour and a half between the end of that session and the opening of the exhibits chatting with a conference acquaintance, then strolled the exhibits with the hordes. I was mostly scoping out the lay of the land, but spied arcs of K. A. Holt's upcoming House Arrest and snagged it. I was disappointed to learn that there will be no arc distribution of Sheila Turnage's next Mo and Dale book, The Odds of Getting Even, but the rep gave me a sampler called Three by Three, which includes the first chapters of Odds, plus Switch by Ingrid Law and After Room by Maile Meloy, both of which I am eager to read. So that was a treat.

Over at the Simon & Schuster booth, they were giving out these cute totes, which required a coupon. Luckily, I had my Aisle by Aisle pamphlet and snagged one. Then, I nearly tripped over a stack of arcs, which was rather serendipitous as it was a stack of Stuart Gibbs' next Funjungle novel, Big Game! I adored Belly Up and reviewed Poached for SLJ, so this was a happy-making discovery!

I spotted Chris Lynch's Hit Count over at the Algonquin booth and near it, Trevor Ingerson, who sent an email after I reviewed Hit Count here. It is so nice to meet online acquaintances in person!

Finally, I joined my conference pal, Barb Langridge, of while she sat at the ALA booth and we made plans to trek to some events together today. I totally ran out of steam and opted to join the hordes heading for the shuttles and sat next to a middle school librarian from Nevada. Sure enough between the roundabout route and the traffic, I could've walked back to my hotel faster; but I was a bit weighed down and oh, so tired. The conversation was satisfying. I love how I can turn and talk to just about anyone here.

I ended my day back where I started it, at the hotel restaurant, where I had delicious fried calamari and a tasty cocktail. As tired as I was, sleep was long in coming, so I dipped into Big Game for a bit.

Today, brings new adventures. 

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

Reviewing for SLJ:

VIP: I'm with the Band by Jen Calonita. Illustrated by Kristin Gudsnuk. VIP series #1. 336 p. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, December 1, 2015. 978.0316259729.

Publisher synopsis: Twelve-year-old Mackenzie "Mac" Lowell's dreams have come true. Thanks to her mom scoring the coolest job EVER, Mac is going from boy band fanatic to official tour member of her favorite group, Perfect Storm. Good thing she's brought along her journal so she can record every moment, every breath, and every one of lead singer Zander Welling's killer smiles in written detail and daydreamy doodles.
But between a zillion tour stops and pranks gone wrong, Zander and his fellow band members, Heath Holland and Kyle Beyer, become more like brothers to Mac. When the boys' differences start to drive them apart, can Perfect Storm's biggest fan remind them why they'reperfect together? It'll be up to Mac--and her comic-book alter ego, Mac Attack--to keep the band together and on the road to stardom
Chronicling her experiences on tour, Mac's journal springs to life with black-and-white illustrations and comic-book panels throughout its pages.

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey. 304 p. Tundra, September 8, 2015. 9781770498150.

Publisher synopsis: Lewis Dearborn is a lonely, anxious, "terminally shy" boy of eleven when his great-grandfather passes away and leaves Lewis's family with his decaying seaside mansion. Lewis is initially delighted with his new bedroom, a secluded tower in a remote part of the house. Then he discovers that it's already occupied — by the ghosts of seven dead pirates. Worse, the ghosts expect him to help them re-take their ship, now restored and on display in a local museum, so they can make their way to Libertalia, a legendary pirate utopia. The only problem is that this motley crew hasn't left the house in almost two hundred years and is terrified of going outside. As Lewis warily sets out to assist his new roommates — a raucous, unruly bunch who exhibit a strange delight in thrift-store fashions and a thirst for storybooks — he begins to open himself to the possibilities of friendship, passion and joie de vivre and finds the courage to speak up.

The Secrets to Ruling the School by Neil Swaab. Max Corrigan Series #1. 204 p. Abrams/ Amulet Books, September 1, 2015. 9780553556285.

Publisher synopsis: It’s the first week of middle school, i.e., the Worst Place in the Entire World. How do you survive in a place where there are tough kids twice your size, sadistic teachers, and restrictions that make jail look like a five-star resort? Easy: with the help of Max Corrigan, middle school “expert” and life coach. Let Max teach you how to win over not just one, but all of the groups in school, from the Preps to the Band Geeks. Along the way, Max offers surefire advice and revealing tips on how to get through universal middle school experiences like gym class, detention, faking sick, dealing with jocks and bullies, and acing exams (without getting caught cheating).
In an innovative format that is part narrative and part how-to, acclaimed illustrator Neil Swaab has created a hilarious new reading experience that is reminiscent of video games and sure to engage even the most reluctant reader.

Purchased: Yeah. I'm drowning in books but still need more. Plus, I prescheduled this earlier this week since I'm at ALA Annual from Thursday through Monday. I'm sure I will find a few more to add to the ridiculous tbr mountain.

The Revenge Playbook by Rachael Allen. 368 p. HarperTeen/ HarperCollins Publishers, June, 2015. 9780062281364.

Publisher synopsis: Don't get mad, get even! In this poignant and hilarious novel, Rachael Allen brilliantly explores the nuances of high school hierarchies, the traumas sustained on the path to finding true love, and the joy of discovering a friend where you least expect.
In the small town of Ranburne, high school football rules and the players are treated like kings. How they treat the girls they go to school with? That's a completely different story. Liv, Peyton, Melanie Jane, and Ana each have their own reason for wanting to teach the team a lesson—but it's only when circumstances bring them together that they come up with the plan to steal the one thing the boys hold sacred. All they have to do is beat them at their own game.
I can't remember where I read about this, but it looks like a fun sort of beach read. It kind of reminded me of Kody Keplinger's Shutout.

We are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen. Unabridged audiobook on 5 compact discs. Read by Jesse Bernstein and Jorjeana Marie. Penguin Random House/ Listening Library, May, 2015. 9780553556285.

Publisher synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless.
Fourteen-year-old Ashley is the undisputed “It” girl in her class, but her grades stink.
Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it, but Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder.
They are complete opposites. And yet, they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules.

I loved The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen. This one sounds brilliant.

Flunked by Jen Calonita. 244 p. Fairy Tale Reform School #1. Sourcebooks/ Jabberwocky, March, 2015. 9781492601562.

Publisher synopsis: Flunked is an exciting new twisted fairy tale from the award-winning author of the Secrets of My Hollywood Life series. "Charming fairy-tale fun." -Sarah Mlynowski, author of the New York Times bestselling Whatever After series.
Gilly wouldn't call herself wicked, exactly...but when you have five little brothers and sisters and live in a run-down boot, you have to get creative to make ends meet. Gilly's a pretty good thief (if she does say so herself).
Until she gets caught.
Gilly's sentenced to three months at Fairy Tale Reform School where all of the teachers are former (super-scary) villains like the Big Bad Wolf, the Evil Queen, and Cinderella's Wicked Stepmother. Harsh. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there's more to this school than its heroic mission. There's a battle brewing and Gilly has to wonder: can a villain really change?
I happen to enjoy fractured fairy tales myself, but I also have a student who reads voraciously and loves them as well. 
That's what's new with me. What's new with you?

Friday, June 26, 2015

ALA Annual - San Francisco

Well. I'm here. I arrived yesterday. My plane landed fifteen minutes early but sat on the tarmac for almost forty-five minutes because the gate wasn't ready. The plane that was there was having mechanical difficulties. I chose to grab a cab into the city because I was meeting my husband's uncle for lunch and didn't know how long the shuttle wait would be. The cab ride in was a bit pricey and we stopped dead in traffic for the ball game that was starting. Oh well.

My room happened to be ready, so I checked in and that was good. It's in the "historic" section of the hotel and is quite nice but that the single window looks out into a shaft of some sort and I look directly into another hotel room. It's only for one night though. I have to move today to the "premier" section, at $30 more per night. It's right downtown though and a longish walk to the convention center. It'll do - especially since it was just about the only thing left by the time I booked this trip.

Honestly. While there's something to be said for "going with the flow," I am a hopeless planner. I always seem to be a day late and a dollar short and usually lost. I don't mind wandering but there's something to be said for joining a tour and listening to someone who knows the area. Last night, I had dinner with a vivacious librarian and her husband. She is the opposite of me in that she researches everything about where she's going and makes the most of every minute. Of course, she has energy to spare. 

After a delicious dinner at a small Indonesian place I never would've found on my own, I decided to wander around the neighborhood a bit. As I trekked up a hill near Union Square, I realized that, one, I am woefully out of shape as I got short of breath within a block, and two, I had no idea where I was headed as the darkness (and chill) fell. I had this sudden memory of a trip to Europe I took in my senior year of high school. My advance placement history teacher always took a group of seniors some place in Europe for the February break. We went to Saltzburg, Austria and Munich, Germany. The first night in Saltzburg, we were free to wander the downtown area with instructions to meet back at the hotel at a certain time. My best friend and I happily walked and talked and walked and talked until we realized that we were lost. Boy, did we get in trouble upon return to the hotel.

Then, there was the time, twenty-five years ago, when I thought that Colonial Williamsburg was a walk from the train station. Our train arrived at night. I was traveling with my husband, and three sons, ages 14, 4 and 1. We walked and walked and walked and there were no signs or anything. How my husband didn't divorce me is testament to his patience.

I had a lovely lunch with Uncle Howard. He took me to the Oak Room and we caught up on family matters. He is a vibrant almost 92 year old who just gave up his apartment and moved to a retirement/ assisted living situation. The last time I visited, he took me around SF, and I had trouble keeping up with him. This time around, he seemed to tire after a short walk around Union Square and fretted a bit about not having the energy to attend a six-hour opera that night, so I said that I needed to nap and sent him on his way to take one himself. I did end up napping, but I should have roused myself and scoped out the convention center and registered so that I could read the manual. I honestly can't handle the online scheduler. But I didn't. And so.

Of course, the Alcatraz and Angel Island tours are all booked up. I thought I would trek around town today but there's an interesting diversity panel this afternoon and the exhibits are open, so... I will go with the flow and make the most of it.

Sometimes too much choice is paralyzing. Then, there's the matter of energy. I've been ailing most of June with a combination of some sort of bug/ allergy thing and dealing with side effects from a new medication my oncologist put me on. Add to that the fact that school ended two days ago, with all the craziness that that brings, and... You know what? I'm going to shut up now. 

I'm here. The weather's supposed to be great. I have appointments to keep, friends to meet and workshops to attend. I will not dwell on what I missed and will make the most of what I am doing. I will be present.

Onward and upward. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday - Wimpy Kid #10 - Old School

WoW is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine in which we share the titles we can't wait to release.

Old School by Jeff Kinney. Diary of Wimpy Kid #10. Amulet Books/ Abrams, November 3, 2015. 

Publisher synopsis: In the latest installment of the phenomenally bestselling Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, author-illustrator Jeff Kinney brings the series back to its roots, as Greg starts a new school year and faces a challenge he never could've imagined.

The "Wimpy Kid" shelf in my library is usually bare from September to June in my library. Multiple copies are automatically purchased. I scheduled this post the day after the webcast aired in which the cover was revealed, aired. It was fun! Click here to view if you missed it.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

For review: Thanks to Walden Pond Press for the first five.

Codename Zero by Chris Rylander. The Codename Conspiracy. 368 p. Walden Pond Press/ HarperCollins, February, 2014. 9780062120083. 

Publisher synopsis: From Chris Rylander, author of the breakout hit Fourth Stall saga, comes an incredibly funny and clever mash-up of middle grade school story and spy adventure.

There are places in the world where heroes are born. There are places where brave men and women fight a never-ending battle against evil in order to keep our country and all other countries safe. There are places where the fate of our planet is being decided, even at this very moment, the consequences of which will echo through history.

None of these places is in North Dakota.

Carson Fender, seventh grader and notorious prankster, knows this. He's lived in North Dakota for his entire life, going to the same boring school every day, the same boring movie theater every week, the same boring state fair every year. Nothing ever changes, and nothing ever happens. That is, until today. Because today a desperate man hands him a package with a dire set of instructions. And that package is going to lead Carson to discover that there's a secret government agency operating in his small, quiet North Dakota hometown. And that this agency needs his help.

Countdown Zero by Chris Rylander. Codename Conspiracy #2. 368 p. Walden Pond Press/ HarperCollins Publishers, February, 2015. 9780062120113.

Publisher synopsis: From Chris Rylander, author of the breakout hit Fourth Stall saga, comes the second book in the Codename Conspiracy series, an incredibly funny and clever mash-up of middle grade school story and spy adventure.

Ever since Carson Fender was let go by the secret agency that had enlisted his services to help foil a nefarious plot perpetrated by one of their former agents, he's been back to hanging with his friends, pulling pranks, and not having to lie to everyone about how he's spending his days. And that's for the best, isn't it?

Of course, this was all before a note showed up in his school lunch, informing him that Agent Nineteen had three days left to live, and that there might still be someone inside the Agency working against them. Carson has always been able to rely on his friends—but what happens when there's no one left to trust?

I really enjoyed this author's Fourth Stall series. I haven't had a chance to read Codename, but my library copy is frequently checked out. I'll add these to my summer catch-up reading.

Minion by John David Anderson. 288 p. Walden Pond Press/ HarperCollins Publishers, June, 2015. 9780062133120.

Publisher synopsis: John David Anderson returns to the world of superheroes he created in Sidekicked with an entirely new cast of characters in Minion, a funny and emotional companion to his first breakout tween novel—perfect for superhero fans who also love the work of bestselling authors Rick Riordan, Louis Sachar, and Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Michael Morn might be a villain, but he's really not a bad guy. When you live in New Liberty, there are no Supers and only two kinds of people: those who turn to crime and those who suffer. Michael and his adoptive father spend their days building boxes—special devices with mysterious abilities—that they sell to the mob at a price. They provide for each other, they look out for each other, and they'd never betray each other.
But then a Super comes to town, and Michael's world is thrown into disarray. The Comet could destroy everything Michael and his dad have built, the safe and secure life they've made for themselves. And now Michael and his father face a choice: to hold tight to their life or to let it unravel.

The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson. 448 p. HarperCollins Publishers/ Walden Pond Press, June 23, 2015. 9780062338143.

Publisher synopsis: The Dungeoneers is an action-packed, funny, and heartbreaking middle grade fantasy-adventure from the author of the acclaimed Sidekicked and Minion, John David Anderson.

The world is not a fair place, and Colm Candorly knows it. While his parents and eight sisters seem content living on a lowly cobbler's earnings, Colm can't help but feel that everyone has the right to a more comfortable life. It's just a question of how far you're willing to go to get it.

In an effort to help make ends meet, Colm uses his natural gift for pickpocketing to pilfer a pile of gold from the richer residents of town, but his actions place him at the mercy of a mysterious man named Finn Argos, a gilded-toothed, smooth-tongued rogue who gives Colm a choice: he can be punished for his thievery, or he can become a member of Thwodin's Legions, a guild of dungeoneers who take what they want and live as they will. Colm soon finds himself part of a family of warriors, mages, and hunters, learning to work together in a quest to survive and, perhaps, to find a bit of treasure along the way.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. 368 p. Walden Pond Media/ HarperCollins Publishers, March, 2015. 9780062317605.

Publisher synopsis: Bone Gap is the story of Roza, a beautiful girl who is taken from a quiet midwestern town and imprisoned by a mysterious man, and Finn, the only witness, who cannot forgive himself for being unable to identify her kidnapper. As we follow them through their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures, acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

That's what's new with me. What's new with you?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday - My Dog Is Better Than Your Dog by Tommy Greenwald

WoW is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine in which we share the titles of books we are eagerly anticipating.

My Dog Is Better Than Your Dog (Crimebiters! #1) by Tommy Greenwald. 208 p. Scholastic Inc., September 29, 2015. 

Publisher synopsis: none posted yet.

I don't care what the book is about. I adore Tommy Greenwald and so do my students. He and his books are seriously funny. This one looks like fun.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Friday Memes: Heap House by Edward Carey

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

Heap House by Edward Carey. Iremonger series #1. 405 p. The Overlook Press, October, 2014. 9781468309539.

Publisher synopsis: Welcome to Heap House, the sprawling, slipshod maze of a mansion, built on the “Heaps,” a collection of forgotten trash and curios. Young Clod Iremonger and his eccentric family, the “kings of mildew, moguls of mold,” made their fortune from this collected detritus. The Iremongers are an odd old family, each the owner of the birth object they must keep with them at all times. Clod is perhaps the oddest of all—his gift and his curse is that he can hear all of the objects of Heap House whispering.
Yes, a storm is brewing over Heap House and the house’s many objects are showing strange signs of life. Clod is on the cusp of being “trousered” and married off (unhappily) to his cousin Pinalippy when he meets the plucky orphan servant Lucy Pennant, with whose help he begins to uncover the dark secrets of his family’s empire.
The first installment of the Iremonger Trilogy, Heap House introduces readers to a gloriously imagined dark world whose inhabitants come alive on the page—and in Edward Carey’s fantastical illustrations. Heap House is a book that will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl and Mervyn Peake, young and old alike. Mystery, romance, and the perils of the Heaps await!
First line: It really began, all the terrible business that followed, on the day my Aunt Rosamud's door handle went missing.

Page 56: He pulled me by my plug and I ran along beside him, hurrying to keep up, lest some damage occur to my poor plug.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review: The Marvels by Brian Selznick

The Marvels by Brian Selznick. 664 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., September 15, 2015. 9780545448680. (Review from arc courtesy of publisher.)

So. There has been a bit of fanfare around the Interwebz for the past couple of weeks. The genre-blending, format-smashing Brian Selznick has a new book. And Scholastic is rolling out the red carpet. Literally.

There was a big launch at BEA. Mr. Selznick spoke at SLJ Day of Dialog (kicking myself for being unable to attend) and there was this little party. Thankfully, I was able to attend that.

Scholastic took over the Hudson Theater for a cocktail party and presentation, ending with a signing. The Hudson is a venerable theater on 44th Street. It's small and intimate with a beautiful stage and lots of architectural features for the eye to roam over. A red carpet was rolled out and huge posters advertising The Marvels were hung in the glass cases on either side of the theater doors. 

Selznick's multi-media presentation and talk about his journey birthing this story was inspiring, touching and totally charming. Honestly, if you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak, grab it.

Weighing in at nearly 700 pages, The Marvels is a brick of a book. I should know. I forgot it was in my backpack when I went to Boston with the seventh grade the morning after the big party. I stowed it there hoping to read it on the bus and before turning in that night. I should've left it on the bus because once we disembarked, we were on the go until dinner at our hotel.

Worth the hype? In a word, yes. Selznick has created something epic here. I am going to be maddeningly vague about the storyline though; because you should discover the wonders for yourself.  

The first 492 pages are told in illustration. Page after page of double-page pencil drawings depict several generations of the Marvel family beginning in 1766. This is no flip-o-rama here. Do not pass quickly over them! Allow yourself to get sucked into each and every one, please.

The text part of the story begins in 1990 with Joseph, lost in London, without the foggiest notion of finding the address of an uncle he never knew he had. Joseph has run away from his boarding school where he doesn't fit in. Nor does he fit in at home apparently, as his parents are constantly traveling and seem disinterested in him. Thanks to a stroke of luck, Joseph does manage to find his uncle's house when a child who is chasing down a stray dog collides with him. Unfortunately for Joseph, his uncle is none too happy to meet him. His uncle and the house is filled with mystery. Joseph feels like he stepped back in time. Is the house haunted? Why is the table set for a party? Where is that bird sound coming from? Who is that boy in the photo, with red hair, like Joseph's?

Patience is required here and pays off near the end. As the pieces click quietly into place, there will be gasps, sighs and tears. This complex, multilayered tale is, okay, I've been resisting using this word, a marvel. Readers won't want to leave the world Brian Selznick has brought so vividly to life. I love that fugue state that I get when I finish a satisfying story. I didn't want to start a new book and I find my thoughts returning to the book again and again. 

This won't take much selling with my students. I have duplicate copies of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck and they are rarely on the shelf. In fact, one of my students spied my arc and begged me for it. I am certain she will bring a buddy when (if) she returns it to me. Budget for multiple copies of The Marvels. A book trailer is in the works, so keep an eye out for it as well.

Highly recommended!

Waiting on Wednesday - George by Alex Gino

WoW is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine in which we share the titles of books we are eagerly anticipating.

George by Alex Gino. 240 p. Scholastic Inc., August 25, 2015. 9780545812542.

Publisher synopsis: BE WHO YOU ARE.
When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl.
George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to beCharlotte's Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part . . . because she's a boy.  
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte -- but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
This one's getting a ton of buzz among authors I follow. I have two YA transgender stories on my tbr and am thrilled to see one written for middle grade. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Book Review: Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts

Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts. 292 p. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September, 2014. 9780544331648. (Purchased)

At seventeen, apparently Zac is too old for the pediatric cancer floor, so he's admitted to the adult cancer floor (which seems like cruel and unusual punishment to me). When loud music blares from the room next to his, his curiosity is piqued. So far on his cancer treatment journey, Cam, at thirty-two is the closest thing to a peer Zac has met. His neighbor is most definitely female and most definitely angry. Zac has been in isolation due to a bone marrow transplant for several weeks with only his mom to keep him company. He's going a bit stir-crazy. Even if he could meet Mia, he fears she may be way out of his league.

Mia, he learns, is a newbie - newly diagnosed with bone cancer, which is very, very treatable. Zac is an expert on survival odds of all sorts of cancers thanks to midnight sessions on Google. As someone who has relapsed, he knows his odds of five year survival are dwindling. Still, he copes by remaining positive and disarms people with his wicked sense of humor. Mia, whose relationship with her mother wasn't that great to begin with, is red-hot angry. She's surly and defiant and doesn't endear herself to the hospital staff at all.

The point-of-view shifts between Zac and Mia irregularly; a good chunk of the beginning of the book is just Zac's. He is clearly the more sympathetic of the characters and has a great relationship with family but especially his mother.

I liked this one. A lot. There were a couple of things that prevented me from loving it, mostly medical and timeline issues. Minor quibbles from an adult reader with a medical background. This is a well-done cancer book. I look forward to recommending it to my eighth graders who love sad books, cancer books, or, perhaps, The Fault in Our Stars. 

As an aside, I think the marketing team did a disservice to the book by likening it to The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park. TFIOS has a rather rabid, cult-like following passionate fans. While a majority of teen readers absolutely love this book without question, some despise it. Therefore, both types of fans may have a tendency to judge Zac and Mia harshly. 

I get the comparison to TFIOS only in that it features two smart teens facing the unimaginable. For me, Zac and Mia is the better book. And frankly, I don't see the comparison to Eleanor and Park at all. 

I don't look at Goodreads reviews or much mainstream publishing reviews until after I've read the book. While there is a good deal of love for this title, I was struck by the venom of some GR reviews. Those who were not trashing it because of the comparison were disliking the book because Mia was so unlikable, so bitchy. 


That is one of the novels strengths. Who says one has to like a main character for it to be a good book? Isn't it really a great thing to react viscerally to an unlikeable protagonist? Hasn't the author succeeded when that happens? Why not cut the (obnoxious) kid a break and try to understand where she is coming from? Believe me, folks who are undergoing cancer treatment experience a swirling, overwhelming myriad of emotions, including unbridled, utter fury at everything and everybody. They may or may not be heroic or strong or brave. They may eventually get to be heroic and strong and brave, or not. Even Zac scoffs at the idea that he is heroic; at how many FB friends he picked up because he's that kid with cancer; at the well-meaning but dickhead coach who gives him a pity prize at the Sports Award Dinner. Mia is one of the most honest portrayals of a teen with cancer I have ever read. She's right up there with Tessa from Before I Die by Jenny Downham. She makes this a great read. She makes it honest.

Zac and Mia won the Text Prize in Australia in 2012. I had never heard of this oddly named award; so I looked it up. Turns out the full name is The Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing and this nifty prize is given to a manuscript! Read more about it and current and past award winners here. Once published, Zac and Mia went onto to win or be shortlisted for several other Australian awards. 

Consider adding it to your YA collection and recommending it to your teens.