Monthly Archives: March 2008

Cicada Summer

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Andrea Beaty’s first Middle Grade novel, Cicada Summer, is sure to please many young readers. It seems just the right book for girls who may not yet be convinced they are great readers, and at the same time, the story has enough depth to hook serious bookworms too.

Lily is crazy about Nancy Drew and fancies herself quite the sleuth in her tiny hometown. She secrets away all of the Nancy Drew mysteries from her school library, keeping them in “protective custody” to read late at night when the mood strikes her. In fact, secrets are Lily’s specialty. She has been working on keeping a big secret for some time, and is doing a pretty good job of it until sneaky, not-very-nice-at-all Tinny Bridges shows up in Olena. Tinny makes trouble wherever she goes, and it seems that Lily’s the only one to notice. Two mystery threads run through this book, one related to Lily’s past and the other to Tinny’s. As the summer passes, both girls find that what’s in the past sometimes has a way of creeping into the present.

So there’s some good mystery here. A little humour. Broken and on-the-way-to-mending hearts. Some great girl gumption. I was reminded of Deborah Wiles and Joan Bauer’s books because of the homey tone and atmosphere, the quiet lessons learned, and the quirky small-town characters. I suppose you could say that a read-alike might be Each Little Bird that Sings. Cicada Summer is a story about the choices kids make, and how those choices can create powerful changes in many lives – good and bad.

One eensy quibble/idea. I felt this book needed a recipe in it. I can’t really explain why. Perhaps it was Beaty’s convincing evocation of a sweltering summer that made me want to find a Lemonade recipe tucked in the back of the book. How ’bout Old Lady Blackberry Cobbler?  Cream Soda Floats?  (I wonder if I could find work as a story recipe consultant? There’s a dream job…) I picture Cicada Summer in the hands of many hammock-bound children this summer, and a tall stack of Nancy Drews within easy reach.

Cicada Summer is available May 2008.

East

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If you don’t like East, I’ll have to recommend you get your head examined. Epic journey. Romance. Magical artistry. Dangerous enchantments. Betrayal. Yum.

This is one absorbing read. I’m always skeptical when I see the words “saga,” “epic” and the like used to describe a book (especially when they’re tossed around on the front cover). Right there, my expectations get jacked up, and rarely does the book meet them. Not so with East. Pattou based her novel on the gorgeous Norwegian fairy tale, “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” For those unfamiliar with the story, run out and get the version with P.J. Lynch’s awesome illustrations. This was one of my favorite books when I was about 10 years old. I used to go downstairs to my bookshelf in our basement and read it in a secret sort of fashion, feeling that I was really too grown up to still be enjoying a fairy tale picture book. It only took a moment after I opened the cover for me to forget my shy embarrassment, as I was drawn into the wild, cold, romantic world of the white bear and the farmer’s lass. (Sigh) So I wasn’t sure how East could possibly measure up. It did.

I think that I enjoyed Pattou’s book so much because it stayed true to the tale I loved as a girl. Rose, the youngest daughter of a struggling farmer, is given the opportunity to rescue her starving family when one evening, a giant white bear comes to her home and offers health and prosperity to the family in exchange for the girl. Rose agrees and travels with the bear to a distant, mysterious castle within a mountainside. She finds in this journey a destiny far beyond her wildest imaginings. Pattou offers a fairly straight up retelling of the fairy tale, adding elements that enhance the richness of an already satisfying story. For instance, the history and art of mapmaking as well as the symbol of the compass rose are important threads in the story, and Pattou develops these elements in a way that begs readers to learn more about these fascinating subjects. This is a fantasy that you will sink down into and sigh over when you’re finished. Promise.

So here’s the plan. If you know a girl, say about 8 or 9, buy her this book:

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And you might consider pairing it up with this:
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(Mapping the World by Sylvia Johnson)

Then when she’s about 14 or so, she’ll be all set for East – and she won’t be disappointed.

Book & Weather Pairing

Everyone knows about the fine art of Food & Wine Pairing, yes? (Matching just the right wine to a particular meal, to bring out and improve the flavors of both).

So how about Book & Weather Pairings? Today, it looks like this in my corner of the world (except even whiter):

And I am reading this:

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Now all I need is a great white teddy bear to snuggle up with (and a groovy cloak).

(photo © ComputerHotline for openphoto.net CC:Attribution-ShareAlike)

Raising a Foodie Through Reading: My A to Z Recipe Box

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by my Granny’s recipe folder. Her beautiful, spidery handwriting and strangely perfect printing led me through such 1950s treasures as: 7-layer bars, Six-in-a-pan and Orange-glazed sponge cake. There were clippings from magazines and recipes from friends written on scraps and notecards, and every so often, a strangely cryptic note that said something like,”1 can tomato soup, ground beef, lettuce.” During one summer when I was 13 or so, after my Granny had passed away, I spent days writing all of the recipes in her collection into one recipe book in my girlish script. It is one of my mom’s most precious possessions.

I would have gone crazy for this fantastic little box of recipes when I was starting off as a cook: My A to Z Recipe Box by Hilary Karmilowicz. Just check it out:

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Karmilowicz is a former chef from Manhattan and now she teaches cooking to kids and adults, so she knows what works in the kitchen with little guys. First of all, what kid doesn’t love things organized in alphabetical order? I would have whipped these cards out of that box in a heartbeat and then put them all back in again, one by one. (Ah, the obsessive organization begins early, doesn’t it?) Second, I like how each card is set up in 3 stages: Stop, Look, and Cook. This helps the kids to practice the planning and reading involved in cooking. Finally, did you notice who illustrates? MELISSA SWEET! Melissa Sweet rocks! She is the most beautiful illustrator – whimsical and homey and wonderful. Forget the recipes, you want this little box of delights for all of the illustrations. Of course, I love that the box comes with blank cards so that the kids/cheflets can build and add their own recipes. Guess I know what my niece is getting for her 4th birthday!

Poetry Friday: Love that Dog

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Love this book.  (I actually hugged it when I pulled it from the bookshelf this morning).

Makes me want a yellow dog to go with my red one. 

Makes me cry.

Makes me smile.

Makes me want to teach poetry to small children who have pets.

My yellow dog
followed me everywhere
every which way I turned
he was there
wagging his tail
and slobber
coming out
of his mouth
when he was smiling
at me
all the time
as if he was
saying
thank you thank you thank you
for choosing me
and jumping up on me
his shaggy straggly paws
on my chest
like he was trying
to hug the insides
right out of me

Note to self: Sharon Creech deserves her very own shelf in my home library (not for Sharon… for her books).

The Off Season

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I’m beginning to feel like I’m really a YA lit blog pretending to be a general kidslit blog. For someone who used to read very little in the YA department, 2008 is proving to be a YA-rich year thus far. And if I keep finding teen titles as jaw-droppingly good as Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s The Off Season, I don’t imagine my YA kick will end any time soon.

When I read a book I love as much as I love The Off Season, I am almost reluctant to write about it at all, because nothing I write ever captures how completely satisfied I am with that particular book’s wonders. It seems enough to just say, “Go out there. Buy this book. Read it.” The Off Season will more than speak for itself, but I do have a few gushy things to mention. For those of you who’ve been living on a submarine for the past while, Murdock is the author of Dairy Queen, in which the story of the D.J. Schwenk, farm girl and football player extraordinaire, begins. Murdock won the 2006 Borders Original Voices Award for this debut, and you should most definitely begin there as The Off Season picks up right where Dairy Queen ends.

When the story starts, everything is looking good for D.J. Schwenk. She is the first girl linebacker in the history of Red Bend (and perhaps even Wisconsin). She has a sort-of boyfriend (who happens to play for the rival football team – but you can’t have everything). Her family is a bit bonkers, but that’s only normal. She and her best friend Amber seem to be figuring out where their friendship is headed. Then, ever-so-gradually, in the way that so often happens, everything starts crumbling all at once. The novel is mostly about how D.J. faces and grows through this intense period of change, when a lot of what she knows turns upside down. You will not be able to stop reading, and the reason? The voice.

In just about all of the reviews I’ve looked at, everyone mentions “the voice.” D.J. Schwenk is as real a character as you will find in any YA novel. You will feel that if you could just find the right small town, and the right family farm, you could easily find D.J. shooting hoops in the yard or heading out to the barn to get started on the milking. That’s how real her voice sounds. There is something deeply satisfying in reading a true character. This takes you away as much as (or more than) any escapist fiction ever can.

It’s also funny, in a more understated way than Dairy Queen. The whole Schwenk clan is a riot, though never ridiculous or purely comical. This book is about looking for a way to make sense of life when bad things happen, little and big. There’s so much you could dig into with a book group, or in the classroom: family responsibilities, the complexity of sibling relationships, first love, changing realities on family farms, honesty and secrecy in families, friendships and relationships…

So enough already. If you must, spend a minute or two more (but no longer) checking out a few more reviews of The Off Season. Then read it already.

Becky’s Book Reviews
Emily Reads
Jen Robinson

Twisted Fairy Tale Challenge

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OK. I know. I said there would be no more signing up for challenges. Well… I lied. Here’s why:

1) Enna Isilee over at Squeaky Books came up with a practically irresistible challenge premise: Twisted Fairy Tales. You read 4 (or more) Twisted Fairy Tales by May 5 /08. They can be books that are not strictly twisted Fairy Tales, but have Fairy Tale elements or themes (like Into the Wild).

2) I was already planning to read 2 fairy-tale-ish books in the next little while (A Curse Dark as Gold / Into the Wild) so I might as well get credit for them… right?

3) She made the prettiest banners that totally match my blog and I had to have one to call my very own.

Enough justification! I am a grown-up reader so I can do whatever I want (so there!). I’m having trouble choosing my 4 books though. 2 are for certain:

A Curse Dark as Gold – Elizabeth Bunce
Into the Wild – Sarah Beth Durst

So… what else:

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How ever will I choose from among all of these very girly delights? I’m not thinking that this challenge is going to help much with my “read more books by and about men” reading goal for 2008. Oh well.