Monthly Archives: July 2009

Celebrating my Blogiversary with Emma-Jean Lazarus

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Two years ago today, a little blog was born. Shelf Elf has read and reviewed many books since July 12th, 2007. Shelf Elf has also learned about lots of computery things she never even knew existed before July 12th, 2007. Life is better with blogging. Life is better being part of the kidlitosphere and readergirlz and Guys Lit Wire and the Cybils. I plan to celebrate today by reading this:

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(please don’t be jealous, it’s my special day…) and by going on a picnic.

So it all started back on July 12th with my very first review, of Lauren Tarshis’s Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree . I thought it would be nifty to mark my 2nd Blogiversary with a review of Lauren’s second book, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love. I found an ARC of Lauren’s new book last weekend when I was working at the bookstore. When I saw it, I did a little happy dance, because I loved Lauren’s first book so much. The sequel has in fact been out since May, which made me wonder how many other of my favourite books now have sequels out there in the world while I go about my business, completely oblivious. I must try harder.

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I am happy to report that Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love possesses the same sweetness, memorable characters and clever writing as its predecessor. Emma-Jean is every bit as remarkable and strange and charming as she was when we first met her, when she struggled to make sense of and resolve her peers’ social problems at William Gladstone Middle School. The second book begins just a few months after the end of book one. Emma-Jean is enjoying her new social circle. She’s getting used to having friends, even if her friends value things she doesn’t particularly understand, like lip gloss and sparkly clothing and talking about boys. Emma-Jean continues to have interests that most grade 7 girls don’t – like math problems, nature sketching and teaching her beloved parakeet Henri how to speak Hindi. She values her friendship with Vikram Adwani, the doctoral student who rents the top floor of their house, and who also happens to be in love with Emma-Jean’s mom, Elizabeth Lazarus. There have been definite changes in her life, but Emma-Jean has adjusted and some sort of balance has been restored. This doesn’t last for long however, because Emma-Jean starts noticing a change in her friends and indeed in many of her seventh-grade peers. Everyone is talking about the Spring Fling Dance. Girls are asking boys and everyone is twittering about it. Even Emma-Jean can’t quite figure out this new fluttering feeling in her heart when she thinks about asking Will Keeler to the dance. She wonders if she is suffering from spring fever, and if this is the case, what measures should she take in response? Emma-Jean also puts her outstanding problem-solving talents to work in trying to discover the identity of the secret admirer who left a note in her friend Colleen’s locker. Once again, Emma-Jean learns that people are often quite a bit trickier to work out than math problems, and that sometimes following your heart is the only reasonable course of action. Continue reading

Operation YES

yesRather than building up to some sort of dramatic review climax, I’m just going to come straight out and say it. I think Sara Lewis Holmes has written a beautiful book in Operation YES and I’m thinking lots of other people are going to believe the same thing when it is released this September. What this book says about courage, creativity, family ties, war and education is complex and thought-provoking. Sara’s prose is perfection and the way she brings to life the day-to-day drama and challenges of an elementary school on a military base is compelling and heartwarming. I loved every single page, and I’m already rereading it, something I hardly ever do.

Bo Whaley is Colonel Whaley’s son, the head honcho on the military base. This year, he’s promised his dad that he’ll do better at school. He won’t get into trouble the way he usually does. Gari is Bo’s cousin. When her mom is called for a tour of duty as a nurse in Iraq, Gari gets sent off to live with Bo on the base. She isn’t exactly thrilled about it. In fact, almost immediately, she starts developing a plan to get back to Seattle and to bring her mom home. Both of the kids are in Miss Loupe’s class, Room 208, Young Oaks Elementary School. Miss Loupe is no ordinary teacher. First, she has a tatoo and a lot more earrings than most sixth grade teachers. Second, she is crazy. At least, that’s what the students think when on the first day of school, she creates a giant rectangle on the floor of the classroom using masking tape and introduces the class to “The Taped Space,” otherwise known as the Theatrical Space or the Temporary Stage. She tells them that “Art is arranging objects to create beauty” and “Theater is the art of saying yes,” and from that moment, school is forever different. Miss Loupe teaches the kids all the stuff they are supposed to learn, but she also teaches them the wonder of improv, and how to say yes – to drama, to causes that matter, to life. Events unfold that inspire the students to work together to face challenges and create change through an ambitious plan that unites art and activism. You will cheer. You will shout YES! I don’t think it’s overly-dramatic to say that you will look at the people around you a little bit differently, because, as the characters in Operation YES come to understand, you will remember that “Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

I hope this book gets a whole lot of hoopla. I hope it inspires teachers to be a little bit more like Miss Loupe, and bring what they care about into the classroom because the kids will care too. I am sure it will make people think about how it takes courage and integrity to fight for what you believe in, whether you are serving your country or serving your community or family or students. Stay tuned at Sara’s blog, Read, Write, Believe for news about her new blog that will be launched in celebration of Operation YES. Can’t wait.

Poetry Friday: Color

Color – by Christina Rossetti

What is pink? a rose is pink
By a fountain’s brink.
What is red? a poppy’s red
In its barley bed.
What is blue? the sky is blue
Where the clouds float thro’.
What is white? a swan is white
Sailing in the light.
What is yellow? pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? the grass is green,
With small flowers between.
What is violet? clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? Why, an orange,
Just an orange!

(Poem from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=171954″>Poetry Foundation, photo © Sarah Klockars-Clauser for openphoto.net CC:PublicDomain)

The Chosen One

chosenI’m sure that at some point in your life as a compulsive reader, someone has said to you, “I couldn’t put this book down. I had to stay up until two in the morning reading it because it was just that good. Today I feel like crap but it was so worth it.” Well, I am not that person. I am the person who, when she finally got her hands on her copy of the final volume of Harry Potter, managed to read almost one whole chapter before nodding off. I just cannot stay awake late at night with a book in front of me. It is more or less impossible. So last night, I cosied down in my bed and started reading The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. Two hours later, I was still reading. Now that is something.

Kyra is thirteen years old. She lives with her father, his three wives and her twenty siblings in a religious community in the desert that is completely cut-off from the rest of the society. At the beginning of the story, it is clear that Kyra already feels different from her family. She doubts and fears the Prophet, their leader, “God’s Annointed.” She even imagines killing him, whispering this story to her baby sister when no one is around. This is not Kyra’s only transgression. She is a reader. She sneaks to the mobile library van that drives near her home every week to read forbidden books, hiding them away in a tree close to her family’s trailer. And then there’s Joshua, the boy she loves and meets in secret at night. As Kyra puts it, her sins are, “A plan. Books. And a boy.” Still, Kyra loves her family and she holds on to this love as all of the other ideas and feelings are building up inside her. One evening, the Prophet blesses Kyra’s family by visiting their house. The family thinks that this visit means that their father has been chosen to become an Apostle. Excitement turns quickly to disbelief when the Prophet announces that a husband has been named for Kyra. She is to marry her sixty-year old uncle. She will be his seventh wife. This proclamation marks the beginning of Kyra’s resistance, and forces her to choose between her family and community or a future that means freedom.

What’s most impressive about The Chosen One? It’s hard to know where to start, there’s so much that got me. Kyra is a character you will not forget. She is brave and wise and frightened and defenseless all at once. She is a dreamer, even though she really doesn’t know what exactly she is dreaming about beyond her enclosed world. You can’t decide if you want to protect her or push her onwards. This creates incredible tension. Lynch does not shy away from showing readers exactly how horrifying the “leaders” of the community are, and the lengths they will go to in order to control the community, particularly the women and children. The plot rips along, but not to the detriment of character. The book makes you wonder what you would do in the same situation. I think it is a title that is made for teen book clubs. Imagine the conversations if Moms read David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife while daughters read The Chosen One. I’d like to listen in to the discussions about faith and family and loyalty and self-preservation.

This book made the Indie-bound Summer 2009 Next List for Kids. My ARC came with a promo sampler of the Macmillan Audiobook, read by Jenna Lamia. Lamia’s voice sounds so young, which makes Kyra’s plight all the more intense and affecting. She reads with beautiful expression so that even after only the first 4 minutes, Kyra’s character comes vividly to life. I think it will be a great listen.

Other reviews:

The Compulsive Reader
Reading Rumpus
TeenReads.com

Here is a great interview with the author at Cynsations, and here is Carol chatting about the cover, at Melissa Walker’s blog.

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams is published by St. Martin’s Griffin.

11 Birthdays

birthdaysDoesn’t this cover practically shout, “Read this book and you will have fun!”? (And you haven’t even seen the back of it, which is the exact same image except the kid holding the balloon bunch is a boy). 11 Birthdays, by Wendy Mass, is every bit as sunny and sweet as the cover promises. It is the perfect tween book, and it has convinced me that Wendy Mass sure knows how to create a plot with real pull.

Amanda and Leo have known each other since the day they were born. They were born on the same day, in the same birthing centre and ever since then, they have been best friends. The two have spent every birthday together, and they are about to turn eleven. This year, for the first time, they will be apart. That’s because of something Leo did at last year’s party, something that Amanda just cannot forgive. The two have not spoken for a year and when Amanda wakes up on her birthday, she can’t help but wish things were different. As it turns out, her special day leaves a lot to be desired, and Amanda is more than happy when it’s all over. There’s just one problem. This birthday is not going anywhere, because when Amanda wakes up, she discovers that it is her birthday again, and she has to relive every imperfect moment. Why is Amanda stuck in this freaky loop, and how will she break out of it? 11 Birthdays is a charming look at how to repair a friendship, take risks, and save yourself from the worst birthday party ever.

Mass does a fantastic job creating believable tween kids, who speak and think the way kids at this age actually speak and think. This is not a simple achievement. So often the characters in kids’ books sound about 5 years older than they are.  I spend a lot of time with 11 year olds, and I found Amanda and Leo to be perfectly convincing 11 year olds, from their voices to their interests and concerns. Of course, the concept for the book is wonderfully appealing. Can’t you just imagine the book-talk? The kids would be fighting each other for the book, just to see how it all turned out, and to find out why the time loop was happening to begin with. I wondered how Mass was going to explain it and make it work out in the end, and I think she was able to do so without losing the realistic tone of the story. There’s a little bit of magic involved, but just a shade, which felt just right, kind of whimsical. The book also offers a great boy-girl friendship, without the least bit of romance, another way in which the story was true-to-life for this age group.

This is a winner, confirming Wendy Mass as a writer who knows how to write stories with depth, cracker plots, and tons of kid appeal.

Additional Reviews:
Stacked
cool kids read

11 Birthdays is published by Scholastic.

readergirlz July issue

rgz ad July 2009

This month, readergirlz goes graphic, with Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg’s awesome graphic novel, The Plain Janes and its sequel, Janes in Love. Our theme is creativity and the postergirlz gang has put together some amazing recommended titles about art and inspiration:

Fiction
The Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher
A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell
Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston
North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian

(The only one of the fiction titles I haven’t read yet is Siobhan Vivian’s book, which I have heard is tremendous. All of the others are beautiful reads, guaranteed to make you want to go all artsy).

Non-Fiction
Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith

The chat this month will be on July 22 at 6pm PST, 9pm EST at the readergirlz blog. Also, don’t miss your chance to contribute something uniquely artistic to our “Art Saves” project. Visit this link to see the template you can download and then all you do is create something that communicates the power of art to save and inspire. When you’re done, send your work to artsaves@slayground.net. We’ll get to enjoy these original works of art all month long at the blog. So get creative kids, and don’t forget to read both Janes books too. Love them.

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos

theodosiaR.J. LaFevers offers readers mystery, adventure, plenty of Ancient Egyptian dark magic and a wonderfully spunky main character in Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos. In my mind, there isn’t much more a girl (or boy, for that matter) could want in a book. Did I mention that most of the story takes place in a museum? Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better. I am a sucker for a good museum story. Oh, and it also happens to be the first in a series. Lucky us.

Theodosia Throckmorton spends a lot of time hanging around The Museum of Legends and Antiquities in London, where her father is the head curator. The Museum specializes in ancient artifacts, many of which have been recovered on archaeological digs by Theodosia’s adventurous mother. Even though her parents don’t realize it, the Museum is very lucky to have Theodosia, because she has a talent for recognizing and remedying the ancient curses that cling to most of the artifacts that arrive at the museum. When her mother returns from her latest dig with the Heart of Egypt – an amulet discovered in one of the tombs -  Theodosia must put all of her skills in curse-removal into practice, because this artifact holds tremendous evil powers that could threaten her family, the British Empire and possibly the world at large. (Insert dramatic music here). Will she succeed? Will she save everyone? Not telling. So go read it to find out.

This book reminded me of the best kinds of old-fashioned kids’ books, you know the type where the main character is so much smarter than the adults even begin to know, and she goes up against evil forces without any of the doltish grownups even noticing until she has saved the day. Theodosia is funny and fearless (most of the time) and gifted, and she has an awesome cat sidekick, Isis, who spends a lot of the book cursed and inhabited by demonic powers. So much fun! Kids with any interest in Ancient Egypt (I think that’s probably the vast majority of kids) will devour the details in the story about ancient artifacts, hieroglyphs and curses. There are a few beautiful illustrations by Yoko Tanaka which are perfectly spooky and quirky and made me wish that there were more. Think of Theodosia as a little sister to the fabulous Enola Holmes. She’s equally independent, gutsy and brainy.

As a bonus for writers, R.J. LaFevers writes a blog that is packed with plenty of outstanding advice for aspiring authors. Super helpful and inspiring. Theodosia has her own website too. Three cheers for Theodosia!