Monthly Archives: February 2010

Poetry Friday: Bright Star

Last weekend I watched Jane Campion’s newly released film, Bright Star, about John Keats’ love affair with Fanny Brawne. It’s a good Valentine’s film, tragic of course, but if you can convince your fella to watch it I think you’ll be impressed by the onscreen chemistry and you may learn a little more about Keats. So, educational and sexy and doomed. That works. And it is very beautifully filmed, with lots of lingering shots and scenes of the fair and moody English countryside.

The title of the film is after Keats’ poem, Bright Star, and the movie suggests that he was inspired by his love for Fanny Brawne to write the sonnet. This has not been proven, but it’s a sentiment worthy of almost-Valentine’s Day.

Here’s that sonnet:

Bright Star – by John Keats

Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

Take a look at the teaser for the film:

Ah romance. Happy Valentine’s Weekend!

(Poem at poetry.org)

Silver Phoenix

If you are in need of a fantasy novel with some serious girl power, then I can’t think of a better choice than Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix. Pon’s debut could be described as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets great YA fantasy, like Kristin Cashore’s Graceling perhaps. However you characterize it, I’m sure you’ll be entirely wrapped up in Pon’s delicious blend of adventure, rich Chinese mythology and romance. This is a story to chase away mid-winter blahs.

It’s the tale of 17-year-old Ai Ling, who escapes the looming fate of an arranged marriage by running away on a quest to find her beloved father. She journeys towards the Palace of Fragrant Dreams, where she believes her father may be held against his will. Along the way, she meets Chen Yong, a young man with a quest of his own. She also discovers that she has a mysterious power. She is able to enter the minds of others, and sometimes, she can control their actions. Chen Yong and Ai Ling become traveling companions, and they face demons and gods bent on their destruction, along the way.

Cindy Pon has a real talent for dynamic action sequences. Yes, admittedly I have watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon oh, about 9 times, but I think that even without those images in my mind, I would have been impressed by Pon’s ability to conjure some awesome martial arts moments. There is a particularly memorable scene in which Chen Yong and his brother spar with one another. You can imagine every move in your head. Loved that. Li Rong (the brother) is particularly well-drawn. He’s funny and charming and a bit of a rogue. I admired that Pon managed to communicate a real richness in this world without getting bogged down in exposition. The details are revealed organically, which makes for smooth reading. And did I mention the food? Well, you better have a great take-out place that delivers dumplings and noodle soup when you start reading Silver Phoenix, because you will be wanting some as soon as Ai Ling gets hungry. Food pops in all throughout the narrative. Automatic bonus points from Shelf Elf.

I will be very eager to read the next book in this series (a trilogy? I can only hope).

Silver Phoenix is published by Greenwillow Books.

Author Interview: Loretta Ellsworth

I’m happy to welcome Loretta Ellsworth to the Shelf today, for a stop on her blog tour promoting her latest novel, In a Heartbeat.

It is a story told in alternating voices, about the connection between two girls through organ donation. Eagan, a sixteen-year-old skater, dies after a head injury on the ice. Her heart goes to Amelia, a fourteen-year-old with a critical heart condition. Ellsworth explores the possibility of cellular memory as Amelia begins to feel different after the transplant, her attitude and interests shifting in ways she can’t fully explain. In a Heartbeat is about grief and regret, guilt and second chances. Here’s the book trailer:

What first inspired this novel?
My nephew died in a motorcycle accident, sort of a freak accident when his front tire hit a hole and the bike flipped. He had designated himself as an organ donor on his license. For a long time I couldn’t write. When I did, I found myself drawn to a story of organ donation.

What are some of the challenges in writing a narrative in 2-voices? How was your approach to writing this type of novel different than your approach to writing a story with a single protagonist?
Some of the challenges of writing a narrative in two voices are: keeping each voice distinct, not only in dialogue, but in thought and word choice throughout the novel. Also, their stories had to flow together, but each girl had to have her own obstacles, goals, story arc, etc. I tried writing each story separately and putting them together, but it didn’t flow that way. So I had to go back and write alternate chapters. This was my first attempt at multiple narratives (and maybe my last), but I’m glad I tried it and I learned a great deal from writing this book.

I can imagine that you might hope that the young adults who read your novel will be inspired to consider becoming organ donors themselves. What is your opinion on organ donation and when/how do you think this topic should be introduced to kids and teens?
This topic should be introduced before teens apply for a driver’s license and they should discuss their decision with their parents. My nephew didn’t discuss his choice with his parents and it was a shock to find out that he was an organ donor, but they honored his wishes. I do hope it inspires young adults to consider becoming organ donors as there is such a great need and in our case, we found it comforting to know that something positive came out of our tragedy.

In a Heartbeat is a real story of self-discovery for both Amelia and Eagan. What epiphanies about life do you think they realize throughout the novel?
Both girls come to realize how precious life is and what a gift it is – Amelia knew this before because of her illness, but she didn’t really know how to live because she’d missed out on so much of life. Eagan took it all for granted because she had such a full life.

Tell us a bit about the research you while working on this novel. What did you learn that most surprised you?
I spoke to organ recipients and transplant coordinators and nurses, and I read a great deal about organ transplants. I was surprised to learn that some recipients do claim to experience changes in their personalities and have memories that weren’t there before and some have instinctively known the first name of their donor without being told. Others have had dreams where they’ve seen their donor. I don’t think we can discount those people or their experiences; this is something that requires more research. Continue reading

Luv Ya Bunches

I finished Lauren Myracle’s Luv Ya Bunches last night and as soon as I was done, I thought, “I’m pretty sure every single girl in my class would read this and love it and then pass it on to all of their friends.” That’s really something for a book to have such potential to appeal to a wide range of girl readers. I know grade 4 / 5 / 6 girls pretty well since this is the only age group I’ve taught, and I think that Myracle has nailed the voices of her characters, their particular obsessions and interests, and the social strife that can come with being a tween. (I confess there were moments when I was a shade bored by their social situations, a little bit “Come on, get over it already,” but then again I feel that way sometimes when I’m mediating issues in my classroom. What’s huge to them seems so minor to us. This book wasn’t written for me. The narrative stays very true to a ten-year old’s way of seeing and experiencing the world).

Rather than a plot intro by moi, here’s Lauren introducing her book:

This is the perfect lead-in book for the crowd that will later love The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. The multi-voiced narration and the social struggles of the main characters really reminded me of the Sisterhood, but more PG. The four-voice structure is a big part of what will help the book appeal to so many readers. First, this helps the main plot to advance quickly, and with a few different threads to keep things interesting. Also, each of the girls is quirky in her own way, with unique interests and family situations that will allow different types of girls to identify with them. I think that the characters came off a bit flat overall, without a lot of growth throughout the book, but it is the first in a series and I imagine they will become more rounded over time. There was a bit of a question mark for me around the fact that they are so obviously each of a different cultural background. I wondered if this wasn’t a bit too much, a bit forced, and in the end, it wasn’t accented much in the narrative. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Should more have been made of their different backgrounds? Will that aspect be explored more in future books? I’m eager to see. I liked the way Lauren suggests through this book that just as kids at that age can isolate and label their peers for the slightest, most minor of reasons, so too kids can make connections over small things. Small things can be the basis of friendship just as much as they can divide kids. This is an insightful observation about kid culture.

No doubt you read about the Scholastic controversy in which the publisher at first decided not to include this title in their book fairs because of concern over reaction to the fact that one of the girls has two moms. In SLJ’s feature on the issue, a Scholastic spokesperson was quoted as saying, “Authors are often given the opportunity to make changes in the books to meet the norms of the various communities that host the fairs.” Crazyness. Then the publisher changed their tune, sort of.

Luv ya Bunches is a peppy, funny, breezy book that will just shoot off the shelves and make tweens feel understood. It is published by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams.

Other reviews: Welcome to my Tweendom, Kids Lit

What Next?

I have SO many amazing-looking books that have finally arrived for me at the library. All at once. As usual. I will never be able to read them all before I need to return them for another person who has had them on hold for what feels like years.

Ack! What to read first?