Monthly Archives: July 2008

Are you Savvy yet?

There’s been much buzz about the kidlitosphere recently related to Ingrid Law’s new book: Savvy. So it seemed like the right moment to grab the audiobook and start listening. I can see what all the kerfuffle is about, let me tell you. Great voice. GREAT premise. (Great cover too, by the way). This is the tale of the Beaumont family, more specifically, the Beaumont kids – Mibs, Rocket, Fish, Samson and Gypsy. In addition to their unusual names, the Beaumont kids have their fair share of strangeness, since when a Beaumont turns thirteen, said kid discovers his or her special talent, or “savvy.” And we’re not talking tap-dancing or baseball or playing the clarinet here. A savvy is a seriously powerful force, like creating hurricanes just by thinking about it, or making things levitate. Crazy.

Now, I’m only about half way through listening – and loving every second – so I won’t offer a review now. Instead I present some Savvy-licious treats:

Official Savvy Website

Ingrid Law’s Website

Straight from the Jar (The author’s blog)

Ingrid Law gets interviewed by the intrepid Fuse #8

A little clue as to the kookiness of some of the savvies in the Beaumont family:

And finally, the book trailer:

Enola Holmes: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady

I’m feeling pretty lucky at the mo’ because I’ve been fortunate enough to run across another fabulous sequel in my recent reading (the first being Hate that Cat – see post below). This one’s the second Enola Holmes mystery, and I’m just going to say it straight up, “I love these books.” Love them. Every reader has a certain type of book that is almost guaranteed to yank them out of a terrible funk. For some it might be mindless chicklit, or goofy romances, or great fantasy epics. For me it’s mysteries. A great mystery with Victorian flavour? Better still. Nancy Springer’s mystery series delivers in every way, and for that reason, I’m a firm believer in Enola’s happy-making powers.

To begin, read my review of the first book here. Now, don’t go running away to get the first book just yet. You might as well read my review of #2 and then go searching for both. Enola is in hiding in London, still searching for her mother, with her brother Sherlock doing all that he can to find his younger sister. But Miss Enola isn’t a Holmes for nothing. She shares many of her famed brother’s skills in disguise and detection and she decides to put those abilities into practice when a certain young lady, Cecily Alistair, disappears without a trace. Lady Cecily turns out to be a young woman far more complex and secretive than Enola imagined, and the spirited detective ends up on quite the journey into London’s seedy and sinister streets as she journeys towards solving the mystery.

Best Bits: The atmosphere in this story and in its predecessor is spot on, without being overdone. You do feel caught up in the sights and sounds of Victorian London. Enola herself is completely charming – clever and bold but with a streak of insecurity and uncertainty about the unorthodox path she has chosen. While the cover and larger-print format of the book might make you think it’s more middle grade, it is quite dark (deliciously so), and so is just right for teenage readers.

There’s a third Enola mystery out already (The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets), and a fourth slated for September (The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan). Good news for all mystery-lovers.

Hate that Cat

Ah Sharon Creech. You’ve done it again. I wouldn’t have imagined it was possible to approach the cleverness and charm and massive cute-factor of Love That Dog, but it would seem that the impossible has in fact happened. Enter Hate that Cat. I want to be a sequel lover, and sometimes I am. It’s just that so often the second isn’t as good as the first. I’m happy to report that Hate that Cat is a very fine sequel.

So, for starters, if you haven’t read Love that Dog, take a break from whatever you think you need to do right now (laundry, making dinner, writing the Great American Novel) and go get your hands on this book. All you need is about half and hour (ish) and you’ll meet Jack (reluctant poet), Miss Stretchberry (teacher extraordinaire) and Sky (beloved hound / poetic inspiration). When you’re done, you’ll have laughed and cried and you’ll feel good about life, the universe and everything. You will be all set for Hate that Cat.

Jack is back, and he’s lucky enough to be in Miss Stretchberry’s class for a second time. Lucky again because he’s heading into another year of poetic discovery, as both a reader and writer. This time, Jack learns a lot about finding inspiration in unexpected places and in the process, he becomes more sophisticated and self-aware as a writer. Once again, Sharon Creech has chosen the most delightful poems for Miss Stretchberry’s use in the classroom – a little Poe, T.S. Eliot, Valerie Worth and of course, William Carlos Williams. This slim book is practically glowing with teacher goodness. It’s impossible not to feel inspired to teach, read, and share poems with your students after reading Creech’s books. This is a story about finding your voice, appreciating language in its diverse forms, great teaching, and of course, grouchy/wonderful felines. You will be charmed.

Other reviews:

Sarah Miller
Fuse 8
A Year of Reading
Welcome to my Tweendom
Literate Lives

Hate that Cat will be available in September. Read Love that Dog now.

Elf Envy: Random Roundup

Sorry for the lapse in posting. I’ve been reading. Honest. But I’ve also been cooking and painting and cleaning and lying in front of bad television, with a bottomless glass of lemonade clutched in my hot little hands.

So today I made a point of visiting a bunch of my blogish haunts, just to see what’s been keeping you busy. Here is some good stuff:

Miss Erin points us to a great article by Margo Rabb in the NY Times.

Check out Mother Reader’s Interview with Jenny Han. Love her. Love Shug. Perfect time to read it.

I am SO eager to get my hands on Allegra Goodman’s first YA book, and Jen Robinson’s review just makes me want it even more. I loved Intuition.

Kelly’s got a great interview of Thomas the College Guy over at Guys Lit Wire, all about the fav books and reading habits of a second year English major.

This weekend I did a little browsing (and book buying… naughty me). I can’t wait to read Savvy by Ingrid Law. If you haven’t visited her blog, Straight from the Jar, you ought to.

Over at 7 Imp’s 7 Kicks you’ll find Laini Taylor featured this week. Yay!

So many goodies.

An Interview with Chris Rettstatt

Today I’m pleased to host Chris Rettstatt, author of Kaimira: The Sky Village. He’s on a Blog Tour this week, and this is his second stop. So, welcome Chris!

What tends to inspire you (situations / works of art / places / foods / people)?

Music inspires me. Sometimes I’ll hear a song that strikes a deep emotional chord with me, and I’ll listen to it over and over, dozens of times, and then I’ll try to write a scene that strikes the same chord.

The other thing that inspires me is losing myself in cultures very different from my own.

What inspired you to write The Sky Village, and to create the Kaimira world? Did you just wake up one morning thinking, “Hmmm, perhaps today I will write about a flying city and teenagers who can conjure demonic creatures and communicate with each other using a magic book…”?

I was thinking about science, how it’s racing toward places that would seem to us to be magic. Once we pass through to the other side, and we’re faced with a post-scarcity world (at least for those with access to advanced science), where will we find meaning and structure? So much of the structure of the world we know now is tied to limitations. When those limitations vanish, my feeling is that we’ll look to mythology of various sorts for meaning and structure. So Kaimira emerged as a hybrid of science and mythology.

The best Fantasy (or Sci-fi) book of all time is…

This is impossible to answer. If Lord of the Rings had been published as a single volume, as originally intended, I’d have to choose it, simply due to the impact it’s had.

If you could live inside a kids’ book, which book would you choose?

Where the Wild Things Are. Every day a wild rumpus and back home in time for dinner.

How tough was it to create a rich, realistic fantasy world that would appeal to hard-core, Sci-fi/Fantasy fans, but that would still be accessible enough to engage typical readers too (i.e. those unaccustomed to enjoying books about biotech chimera)?

Putting it that way, it sounds really tough. But from the beginning I wanted the book to be a Sci-Fi story that feels like a Fantasy. I felt like this approach would fit best with the science-meets-mythology themes in the story.

If this approach also makes the book appealing to a wider range of readers, I’ll be very excited about it. I never thought Kaimira would appeal to everyone, but I do know the sort of person I’m writing for, and there are a lot of us.

How do you hope that the online aspect of your work, at www.kaimiracode.com, will enrich readers’ experiences of the world you’ve created?

The website currently has short pieces I wrote that provide glimpses into different parts of the overall Kaimira story, from stories about Dragonfly and Breaker as they would appear in the Tree Book to journal entries written in the Kaimira Code.

Once we’ve rolled out the more interactive elements of the site, readers will be able to help build out the storyverse in a number of ways, from fan fiction to gaming.

Can you imagine this sort of cross-media initiative working as effectively in other genres, not just Sci-Fi or Fantasy?

It does work for other genres until you start getting into gaming. Sci-Fi and Fantasy tend to have pretty solid building blocks for gaming, but there are other genres that have it as well, such as thrillers and military action.

But I think there’s just something about Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans that attracts them to big, immersive stories. Maybe there’s a Sci-Fi gene we haven’t discovered yet.

I think that The Sky Village has the potential to appeal to both teen boys and girls because of the strong male and female characters, awesome action sequences and rich thematic elements. However, I can imagine some might think the series is pitched more towards boys (gaming tie-ins, focus on weaponry, fight sequences etc). I’m interested to hear your thoughts concerning “boy vs. girl” stories. During writing, were you consciously working to keep the narrative as gender neutral as possible?

It’s true that some have said the series seems to be skewed more toward boys, but there are others who say it’s more girl-focused. The truth is that I didn’t think much about gender when I was writing The Sky Village. I thought more about the kinds of readers I was writing for, the ones who love to get lost in a story and who, once it’s over, find creative ways to keep that experience alive.

What part of The Sky Village are you most proud of, because you think it’s the most creative or dramatic or just plain fun aspect of the book?

The chapter where the Sky Village encounters a storm. This was a late addition. I met with a group of students who gave me feedback on an earlier draft of the story. One of the students asked what would happen if the Sky Village ran into a storm. I thought it was a great question, and it lead to the creation of that chapter. And I had so much fun writing it.

This first novel in your series doesn’t present science and technology in the most positive light. What drew you to write about the destructive potential of these fields?

It’s true that science isn’t shown in the best light in The Sky Village. But Mei’s and Rom’s powers, and the Tree Book, are all products of the same science. With the right wisdom and balance, this wonderful and terrible technology might be put to more harmonious use.

And finally, a little randomness:

If you were forced to engage in a little gladiator-style fighting yourself, which element – human, beast or mek – do you think would likely dominate in you?

People who know me would probably say mek because I tend to stay very calm and focused. But in truth, I’d have to say human. When logic fails, there’s nothing like human instinct to carry you across the finish line.

Thanks so much to Chris for stopping by Shelf Elf. Tomorrow’s stop on the tour is at a wrung sponge. On Friday, you can read my review of The Sky Village at Guys Lit Wire.

It’s My Party! My 1-Year Blogiversary Carnival

Today, I am one. One year old (in blog years, that is). Pretty darn awesome. It’s been nothing but fun leaping into the land of kidslit blogging. That’s in great part due to the fantastic, supportive, encouraging, welcoming community of expert bloggers who’ve been stopping by Shelf Elf to say hello since the beginning. It’s been delightful and I’m all set to take on the Terrible Twos in the kidlitosphere. (Does this mean I can slip some tantrum posts in every once in a while now? Just kidding…)

As promised, thanks to the generosity of a whole bunch of you reader/blogger types, I’ve got a little celebratory mini-carnival of happiness, just to say, “Happy Birthday to Moi.” So go check out all of my cool birthday gift-reviews. I feel spoiled… truly spoiled. I send each and every one of you a virtual cupcake with an elf on it.

From Terry:
Happy Birthday! We hope you enjoy My Name is not Isabella! Fun, history, girl power!

From Sarah:
Happy Birthday! I hope you enjoy Katherine Appelt’s The Underneath.

From Cheryl:
Happy blogiversary! It is something to celebrate.
You said you like sad books with romance. The Pretty One has sadness and pain, and romance, but it also has hope. Hope you enjoy it.

From Jen R:
Happy birthday! I know you like mysteries, so I gift you Eleven, by Patricia Reilly Giff, reviewed here. Here’s to many more years of blogging at Shelf Elf.

From Kelly:
Happy anniversary! You’re doing a bang up job.
Here’s a present that might come in useful one day. You never know when you might run into
monsters
.

From Em:
Oh man, oh man, I don’t know what to give you! How about one of my recent favorites? Happy Birthday! Gossip of the Starlings.

From Miss Erin:
You will love this: The Patron Saint of Butterflies.

From Janice:
Happy blogiversary.
I hope you enjoy The Princess and the Captain AND Red Sky in the Morning. Neither are new books, but they both are a bit sad, but great stories.
You can find them here.

From Becky:
Happy blogiversary! I hope you enjoy Artichoke’s Heart.

From Melissa:
My contribution: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street. Happy blogiversary!

From Doret:
Happy Blogiversary
Its my first time here but I see we have some books in common so I know you’ll enjoy The Missing Girl by Norma Fox.

From Mother Reader:
Always a challenge to find the right gift…
It’s not a light book, but I’d love you to read Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

From Megan:
Happy Blogiversary to you! You live in a zoo!
My gift to you is…
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor.

From Jennifer:
I gift you only the best YA supernatural/horror in recent history: Bliss.
Happy Reading!

Thanks for the fun everybody!

(photo © Adrian van Leen for openphoto.net CC:PublicDomain)

An Interview with Adrienne Kress

Treat time everyone. Today I am tickled to offer you an interview with the lovely and talented Adrienne Kress, author of Alex and the Ironic Gentleman and the upcoming Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate. Welcome to Adrienne!

What inspires you (situations / works of art / places / foods / people)?

Really – everything. But I would say out of that rather large category, films are a huge inspiration for me. I am quite the film buff, and when I see something in a movie that just gives me butterflies, I totally have to write about it. There are also the odd interactions between strangers that I witness in various public places that can get the creative juices flowing. People in general are just so interesting. I love to people watch and give them character traits. My favourite game is “cast the passing stranger in a period film”. For some reason a lot of people look like monks to me.

Is your writing space a place of loveliness? Describe where you work.

I think it is a place of loveliness. Some may think it is a place of messiness. I feel very comfortable in it, and that’s what matters most. When I was looking for an apartment to rent when I moved back to Toronto, I really made sure to picture where I would be writing. It was important that I had a separate area for that, to distinguish between a work space and rest space (something I think that is very important when you work from home).

Name 2 writers whom you admire – one writer for grown-ups, one writer for the littl’uns.

Only two? Okay. Fine. If you insist. Douglas Adams totally changed the way I looked at writing books, and he is just plain hilarious. So I guess he can be my adult choice. For the littl’uns. . . I seriously don’t know. I am a huge children’s lit fan and each author brings their own unique voice. Love Norman Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth), and of course A A Milne, J M Barrie and Lewis Carroll. Have to say, though it may sound obvious, I have a great deal of admiration for JK Rowling, not simply as an author but for someone who knows how to maintain grace under pressure, and keep her private life private. She is a pretty admirable woman and I would love to meet her.

Top 3 Kids’ lit titles you’re desperate to read right now.

Oy. Again, many to choose from. Actually I’ll tell you one series I am really interested in reading is the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. I first noticed it because, and this is so not the usual reason, the artist who designed my cover (John Rocco) did those ones as well. But I hear it is all about Greek gods and stuff and I love that stuff. I also haven’t had a chance to make my way through all of The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, so that’s another one. I also have two titles by friends I can’t wait to read, one that came out this past March: Hazel’s Phantasmagoria by Leander Deeny. And a YA by my friend Lesley Livingston coming out in January: Wondrous Strange.

If you could live inside a kids’ book, which book would you choose?

Again, obvious, but Harry Potter. Ever since I was little I was obsessed with boarding school books. I just always wanted to be in one (a boarding school that is). And to be in a boarding school where you also get to do magic . . . dude. I wouldn’t like all that end of the world stuff though. Maybe I could be in the Harry Potter world post Voldemort. Though if we are doing the age thing correctly, I am technically the same age as Harry (we are both born in 1980) so I would have been around for all that. Not sure I would have been cool enough to hang out with them though. Probably would have admired them all from afar.

I’ve read about how your dad read to you when you were a kid, and how that has influenced your journey as a writer. For all those parents out there who might need a little inspiration in the read-aloud department, could you explain why that experience mattered to you then, and matters now?

It has influenced me a great deal. I was never naturally inclined to read, still am not. Don’t get me wrong I love books, but sometimes I forget that I love books. Strange, I know. But for relaxation I would choose going to a movie or watching television before reading. It isn’t a natural choice for me to pick up a book. So my dad reading to me really made books special. It also introduced me to a lot of books I might never have read otherwise, Dickens and Douglas Adams. As a writer writing children’s books it also is always in the back of my head that someone may be reading the story aloud, so I want to have fun with words, make sure that the activity of reading the book aloud is a pleasant experience.

Having a parent read to you also makes books a very pleasant ally. You have all these excellent memories of books, because they were a part of growing up and spending time with your parents. Books therefore can never be scary, or too big, or too many words. They can be challenging, but not intimidating. They are happy things.

What led you to write Alex and the Ironic Gentleman?

I was initially inspired to write Alex while I was living in London, UK, specifically when I taking weekend break in the town of Bath. I’ve always had something on the go writing wise – plays, short stories, and I’ve always wanted to write a cozy mystery, but I’ve learned I am not very good at writing cozy mysteries. But I had never considered writing a children’s book before. I’m not sure if it was Bath that made me want to write that kind of book, or just the getting away from the city and having a chance to think. But suddenly the decision to write a children’s book just sort of happened while I was there as I was doing a lot of walking and thinking and stuff.

I am a huge children’s lit buff, total Harry Potterphile, and wrote my thesis in my last year of high school English comparing Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Let’s just say I have read many great books in the genre. And I suddenly thought to myself, “Well I bet I could write one of these books.” Not because it was easy, but because I knew the genre so well.

Well whatever inspired the initial decision, it was definitely Bath that inspired so many particular details about the book. The doorknob shop was based on a doorknob shop I passed on my walk, the bridge that Alex and her uncle live on is based on the bridge in Bath with all the shops on it (which in turn is based on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence Italy) and so on.

Then as I thought more about the structure of the novel, I decided that Alex was going to be a love letter, an homage, to all my favourite children’s books. So the first Act, up until Alex leaves on her adventure, I consider very Roald Dahl (to me the Daughters of the Founding Fathers’ Preservation Society totally typify the sort grotesque characters he liked to write). Then Alex’s journey to Port Cullis is Alice in Wonderland, where she meets some interesting characters in a forest and has miniature adventures where she needs to solve problems before moving on. Lewis Carroll made fun of the world of his time in Alice, and I try to do something similar with this section. Lord Poppinjay, for example, is a composite of all the bosses I had as a temp. The third Act, Port Cullis and onwards, is Peter Pan, at least the part with the pirates. It also owes a lot to Treasure Island. There are other authors I reference as well throughout the book: the chapters all begin with “In which . . .” which is a reference to A A Milne for example.

I just really love these books, they were a huge influence on me growing up, and I kind of wanted to say thank you to them with Alex.

But wait! There’s so much more…

Shelf Elf Blogiversary Bash: Presents Requested!

This coming Friday is my one year blogiversary. I can’t believe I’ve been at it for a year already. Time flies when you’re reading and writing and raving about kids books. So to celebrate, I’m planning to post a little carnivalesque thingy here at the blog on Friday, July 11th. I’d love it if you dropped me a link to a review of a book that you’d like to “give me for my 1st birthday.” Just something you’ve read lately (or ages ago) and loved and think I’d like too. On Friday I’ll post all the links, creating a virtual birthday bash of sorts.

So, send me a present (and make my day). Just leave your link in a comment below and then be sure to swing by the party on Friday.

(photo © Adrian van Leen for openphoto.net CC:PublicDomain)

Curse of the Spellmans

If there’s a book out there that’s more fun than Lisa Lutz’s purely wonderful Curse of the Spellmans then I sincerely hope I’m lucky enough to find it someday. In the meantime, I want Lisa Lutz to write, write, write, so that I don’t have to wait very long to read the next installment in her series about the delightfully neurotic Spellman family.

For those of you who haven’t read Lutz’s first book, The Spellman Files, I am very jealous. This is what you need to do. Send away your children (or don’t have any until you’ve read the aforementioned books) and your spouse/partner (or stay single until you’ve read the aforementioned books) and then settle down in a sunny spot for a weekend of reading with some yummy treats and beverages to fortify you. If you don’t fall head over heels for the hilarious Spellmans, I’ll be very worried about you.

The Spellmans are a completely dysfunctional family of private investigators. There’s the “Parental Unit” (Albert and Olivia Spellman), David Spellman (lawyer, perfect older brother), Izzy Spellman, (diehard PI, middle child) and Rae Spellman (super precocious youngest daughter). You couldn’t call any of the Spellmans “normal.” Aside from David, they’re just about the most suspicious, bungling, secretive, wacky crew you’ll meet in a novel. I’d love to be able to describe the plot, but it’s just too silly and convoluted to bother. Let’s just say it involves Izzy doing some serious surveillance, numerous Suspicious Behaviour Reports on family members, some vandalizing of holiday lawn tableaux and a few Doctor Who marathons. Part of the pleasure in reading this book is trying to follow all of the crazy narrative threads. It’s one madcap romp into family instability. Read it. Love it. Then introduce the Spellmans to everyone you know.

Read my equally gushy review of The Spellman Files here.