Monthly Archives: January 2010

Borderline

You can’t get away from the truth. That can be scary. Sometimes, you have no idea what the truth is. That is even scarier. In Borderline, Printz-Honor winning author Allan Stratton spotlights a story that reads like it might have sprung straight from today’s news. It’s scary, but not in the ways you might expect – and that’s what makes it worth reading.

Sami Sabiri is pretty much used to being the only Muslim kid at his school. It hasn’t ever been easy, and there are still kids who bully and abuse him for his different faith, but he copes with it, trying to fly low on the radar. Attention is exactly what Sami gets when out of the blue, the FBI raids his home, taking his father into custody under suspicion of involvement in an international terror plot. To make things even worse, Sami has been feeling suspicious about his dad’s behaviour for a while. Suddenly all that Sami once believed in is shaken. Truth seems completely unreachable.

Borderline is a thought-provoking book that will make you consider the human story behind those headlines we’ve all read about terrorism and terror plots and wrongful accusation. It will make you wonder to what degree your thinking and your perspectives have been skewed or influenced by stories in the news, even if you try to stay open and not stereotype or jump to conclusions. I thought it was a clever angle for Stratton to have Sami questioning his knowledge of his father, just as the larger community in the story (and readers) wonder about his guilt or innocence and form ideas right from the moment he is accused. The public has doubts. We aren’t sure. Sami is uncertain. It’s not just the people on the outside who are suspicious. I like how Stratton introduces readers to complex and current issues, in a subtle and accessible way, without making it seem didactic or like he’s just trying to grab onto something of the moment. Borderline is a tightly written, suspenseful family drama, about identity, prejudice, and the media’s influence on the way we perceive and judge others. Perfect for news junkies, and social justice activists in training.

Borderline is published by Harper Trophy Canada. It is set to be released in early 2010. (February / March-ish… looks like!)

This review is cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

What do you do when a book is taunting you?

This book is taunting me:

It is calling to me from way down in my giant box o’ ARCs. Calling out words that sound something like, “Hello? I know you are out there! I know you’ve been longing for me! I know you have about 500 pages worth of books to read in three days for one of the book award committees you’re on, but I’m not very long! Just take me out of this dark place and I promise I will make you very, very happy! That book you’ve got in your hand? It is nothing, NOTHING next to what I’ve got in store for you! Hello? Remember moi?”

Argh!

Must not listen.

Must not.

(but look who likes it).

Can Enola Holmes get any better? Maybe…

Oh Enola. Oh Nancy Springer. I hope even more readers discover you because of the current trendiness of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Why? Because you are both brilliant. This series is an instant ticket to my happy place. Partly because it reminds me of my childhood, when I read many of the original Holmes tales. Partly because the writing is just so darn good. (Read my previous Enola reviews here and here).

So I would have said it was impossible to make Enola any better. Impossible. Every book is just as good as the one before. Well, after listening to Katherine Kellgren read The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan, I am not sure. Perhaps Enola Holmes can get better? Kellgren’s reading takes the audiobook experience to an entirely new level. She does all sorts of voices and accents – effortlessly. You picture each character – their appearance, their costumes, their movements, just through her voices. Every aspect of the drama is enhanced through the reading. An already outstanding book becomes even more outstanding. This audiobook would make it onto my Top 5 Audiobooks for Kids List (along with Sir Ian McKellen reading Wolf Brother, Neil Gaiman reading The Graveyard Book, Stephen Fry reading HP, and hmm… not sure what else). Can’t wait to hear what Kellgren does with this.

Three cheers for Enola! And Nancy! And Katherine! A trio united in perfection.

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Practicing the Piano

Things I love about Moxy Maxwell:

1) She makes lists.

2) She knows what matters to her.

3) She is not shy about wearing a crown when crown-wearing is called for.

4) She likes parties more than practicing the piano.

5) She is crafty.

6) She is good at excuses, and is confident in her excuses even when they stretch way beyond the realm of believable. (Good life skill).

Those readers who have already met Moxy, in Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little or in Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-you Notes, very likely have their own lists of reasons to love this irrepressible, sassy young lady. Peggy Gifford’s series is difficult to resist, because who doesn’t like watching a kid with a talent for trouble try to get out of the fixes she gets herself into? And the books are funny – from the concepts, to the photographs, to the outstanding chapter titles.

In this, the third book in the series, Moxy is preparing for her piano recital, in which she and her sister are slated to play “Heart and Soul.” She is very concerned about getting her cape and crown just so. Her mother (and her piano teacher) are very concerned about getting Moxy to stop playing the song when it is actually over, since she has yet to prove that she can finish the piece rather than playing it on and on and on endlessly. As with the other two titles, the story takes place over the period of one day and Moxy’s brother Mark takes plenty of photographs of events as they unfold.

I think Moxy Maxwell is a hoot. But it’s a series where I wonder if kids find the books funny to the same degree, and in the same places, as I do. I’m pretty confident that kids will find lots of laughs here, I just wonder if they’ll think it’s as funny as I do, and end up as charmed by the whole package as I am. Is the humour more of the, “Gosh, kids can be a riot” variety, thus making it more amusing for someone who is no longer a kid? I don’t know. I have read quite a few reviews by reviewer/parents, who say that this series has been a hit with their kids. From the bookselling perspective, it sure is an easy sale, especially for those girls who’ve read and loved Clementine (or Judy Moody or Just Grace) and want something in the same vein. Moxy fits that bill to perfection.

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Practicing the Piano is published by Schwartz & Wade.

Here’s an interview with the author at Becky’s Book Reviews.

More reviews: Book Nut, Kids Lit, emilyreads,

Comment Challenge 2010

I’ve just signed up for Mother Reader and Lee Wind’s Comment Challenge 2010. It’s all about joining in the conversations happening all over the kidlitosphere every single day. You’ll discover new blogs, and you’ll let all those bloggers out there whose sites you value know that they’re fabulous. Do it everyday, all the way to January 28th. My broad goal is to lurk less, and my specific goal is to make at least 6 comments everyday, with at least 2 of the 6 on sites I’ve never visited or commented on.

Thanks to Mother Reader and Lee Wind for getting us talking.

For answers to FAQs, head here.

The Dunderheads

This one is pure fun. The Dunderheads is a story that would have pleased me greatly as a child, raised as I was on Roald Dahl’s silliest, dirtiest, nastiest tales. There are definitely shades of Dahl in Paul Fleischman’s picture book, (and David Roberts’ illustrations are very Quentin Blake-esque, which therefore makes them perfect). The whole package is clever, funny and beautifully designed, and it somehow manages to be a bit over the top in places but never overdone. Clever indeed.

The Dunderheads are a motley crew of semi-naughty but oh-so-talented children, despised by their terribly awful teacher, Miss Breakbone. She hates kids. She makes them cry. She mocks them. She takes their stuff and they are tired of it. So they get together to make a plan to get the stolen items back. Each one brings a special talent to the team. They stake out Miss Breakbone’s house, and launch their attack.

The story is all about ingenuity, creativity, justice (kid-style), the danger in underestimating kids and talent. It’s as light as it gets, but it can get kids thinking about the power of teamwork, secret skills and creating a strategy. David Roberts’ illustrations are quirky and understated, clean-looking and stylish.

I’ve read reviews calling it The Mysterious Benedict Society for little kids. I think that works, what with the genius kids working together to outsmart the evil grown up. Perhaps because I just finished Swindle, I was looking at it more like a fabulous little heist book for reading aloud to the 6-year old set, or for younger readers to enjoy on their own. However you look at it, we need more picture books this funny and this well designed.

(As a semi-related aside, while searching for more info on David Roberts, I cam across a groovy-looking blog on children’s book design and illustration. It’s called the apple and the egg, and I like it).

Here are a few more reviews:

Just One More Book

100 Scope Notes (for AWESOME comic style review – how have I missed this?)

SLJ Review

Poetry Friday: Happy as a Dog’s Tail

I am hoping that next week I will feel happy as a dog’s tail. That would be grand. For now, cute dog picture + poem will have to do.

Happy as a Dog’s Tail – by Anna Swir

Happy as something unimportant
and free as a thing unimportant.
As something no one prizes
and which does not prize itself.
As something mocked by all
and which mocks at their mockery.
As laughter without serious reason.
As a yell able to outyell itself.
Happy as no matter what,
as any no matter what.

Happy
as a dog’s tail.

Poem from Poetry Foundation, photo from stock.xchng.

(Don’t you love that?)

Wondrous Strange

Lesley Livingston (actress, author and fellow Torontonian!) must have whooped for joy when she first saw the cover for her debut YA fantasy, Wondrous Strange. Doesn’t it look enchanting and mysterious and just the perfect shade of inky, dramatic blue? It was the cover that hooked me and made me want to read it as soon as I laid eyes on it last year. It’s taken me until now to get to it and in the meantime I’ve read quite a lot of YA fantasy, so I can say with confidence that Ms. Livingston has written a story that belongs right next to some of my favourites in the genre.

In lieu of a teaser by moi, here is the author, introducing her book:

First off, I’m with Lesley, Central Park is up there on my list of the most magical places I’ve ever visited. It seems made for stories. (Actually, I wonder why there aren’t more books for kids and teens featuring the park? Hmm…) The idea of it being a gateway between our world and the realm of faerie is perfection. It feels right. When I think about it, I think that Livingston could have brought more of the park into her story. Certainly it was key in the setting, but it stayed most of the time in the background. I didn’t feel it was evoked quite as strongly as it could have been. More park details and description please. I enjoyed the characters here. Kelley’s roommate, Tyff, was pretty hilarious, and Auberon and Mabh were strong and just a bit scary, as they should be. Lucky, the Lucky Charm eating , bath oil drinking kelpie was a hoot, and is definitely one of the strangest, sweetest enchanted creatures I’ve ever read. I liked the pacing of this novel. The author managed to craft scenes just the right length, not letting things lag for a moment. And there are a few well-placed twists too. Livingston proves that she can write humour, integrating it into her story here and there adding a lightness that set off the dramatic, darker elements nicely.

Danger, dark magic, drama, dashes of humour, and some kissing make for a book that will please lots of readers. Wondrous Strange is entirely satisfying, easy to sink into, and it’s absolutely much more cleverly conceived and crafted than many YA fantasy romances of the moment. The second title in the series, Darklight, has just been released. Both are published by Harper Trophy Canada.

What made my day?

A conversation this morning with a parent, in which she revealed that her son in my class (who just turned 10), thinks I’m cool.

When she asked him why, this is what he said,

“Because Miss Millar loves to read.”

Good enough for me.

(photo: stock.xchng)

3 Good Things

Good Thing #1: The darling hound seems to be mending, one tiny dogstep at a time. Keep on healing pooch! (Thank you for your kind healing wishes).

Good Thing #2: I just finished reading this today:

… and it was indeed wondrous. Now I can read this:

since the lovely people of Harper Collins sent it to me.

Good Thing #3: The year end retrospective post is up at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast. There is only one word for it: WOW.