Monthly Archives: August 2008

I So Don’t Do Mysteries

Over at her blog, Barrie Summy writes that when she was ten years old, she wanted to be Carolyn Keene. Actually, first she was crazy about Nancy Drew and then she wanted to meet Carolyn Keene, and then she wanted to be Carolyn Keene. So I imagine it feels pretty darn fantastic to be a few months away from the release of her first Middle Grade mystery, I So Don’t Do Mysteries. Dream-come-true fantastic, I’ll bet.

I was completely delighted to learn that Barrie left me my own ARC of her book during a recent visit to The Flying Dragon Bookshop. So thoughtful. BTW, any other authors out there who feel like doing the same, please feel free! ; )  When I heard the news, I scurried up to the store, said a quick hello, snatched my copy from behind the cash and started reading right away on the bus ride home. Being a kidlit blogger rocks.

Straight off, let me say that I hope that Barrie gives us more than two mysteries starring Sherry (Sherlock) Holmes Baldwin. This book was SO much fun. Right at this second, I can think of at least ten grade 6 girls who would gobble it up in a single sitting and then come running back wanting to know how long till the next one. There’s a meaty mystery plot with a crazy supernatural twist, a little romance, a lot of laughs and great writing. Got all that? Sorry you need to wait until December to read it.

Sherry Holmes Baldwin wants what most teenage girls want – to hang out with her BFF Junie at the mall on spring break and see if she can snag a little alone time with her current cutie crush. Too bad her supercop mother, who just happens to be a ghost, needs Sherry’s help to solve a mystery so that she won’t flunk out of the Academy of Spirits and lose contact with Sherry for ever. Add in the fact that Sherry’s dad is about to marry her math teacher, aka “The Ruler”, and that Sherry needs to keep the whole “my mother is a ghost and my dead grandfather is now taking the form of a wren” story completely secret, and you know things are going to get complicated before they get simple.

I think it must be pretty challenging to achieve the right tone with this premise. Too light, and it would seem unbelievable, given that Sherry has lost her mother in a drug bust gone wrong. Too heavy and it would jeopardize the momentum of the story and start to feel like a schlocky made-for-TV movie. I think that Barrie Summy gets it just right. Her book feels like a wild romp, with just enough poignancy at the right moments to make it believable and honest and rooted in a real girl’s experience.

Sherry is an awesome character. She’s a little vulnerable, but ultimately gutsy. In some respects, she’s totally ordinary, and in other ways, fearless and fast-thinking. Never too girly, never too tough, she’s exactly the sort of sleuth I think a lot of tween/teen girls will identify with. Another major point in this book’s favour is the mystery plot itself. I’m not someone who tries to figure out whodunnit as I read a mystery, so if I can see the outcome without even trying, then I’d say things are way too obvious. Not so with this story. There are just enough red-herrings dangled along the way to keep readers guessing right to the end. As mentioned earlier, there are laughs aplenty too. The supernatural element offers ample opportunity for chuckles along the way. You’ll be sure to love Grandpa Wilhelm (aka the wacky wren) as much as I did.

If you’re after a mystery with a heroine who’s got plenty of gumption (even though she might not know it), a few ghostly sidekicks, and otherwise an entirely normal teenage life, then look no further than Barrie Summy’s I So Don’t Do Mysteries. Check out Barrie at Class of 2k8. Her book is available December 2009.


Alive and Well in Prague, New York

The lovely Daphne Grab, of The Longstockings and Class of 2k8 fame, so kindly sent me one of her final ARCs ages ago. I’ve been really eager to read this book for months, and I saved it to the very end of my holiday so that it could be my last summer read.

Here is a charming and tender book, from beginning to end. It’s about making sacrifices for family, facing scary emotions and situations, and knowing who you are. I loved it and I hope it finds many readers. Matisse Osgood is a New York City girl, through and through. So when her family makes the move to a very small town upstate, she is none to pleased about it. What could Hickstown USA possibly have to offer a cultured city chick such as Matisse? At first, Prague is about as dismal a place as Matisse had anticipated, complete with catty cheerleaders, lame pep-rallies and an apparent over-appreciation of apples. Combine this with the reason the family left Manhattan to begin with, Matisse’s sculptor father’s serious illness, and it’s not looking like Prague, New York is going to be anything but awful. As it turns out, cool is lurking in Prague after all, and it’s only a matter of time before Matisse finds it.

One of the best aspects of this book is Matisse. You’ll admire her confidence in herself, in the ways that she’s different in her interests from the typical high school kid. I liked how she’s a believable and interesting mix of strength and fragility, as she moves through the toughness of day-to-day life with a sick parent, loving her dad so much and almost being afraid to love him all at once. The whole novel just felt really honest and natural. I like putting a YA book down and feeling like the central character has figured a lot out, but not in a way that seemed forced or contrived. You’ll find that here.

At its core, Alive and Well in Prague, New York is about being open to people, those we already love, and those we barely know, and how hard this can be especially when judging others feels so easy and safe. For such a slim book, there’s a lot to think about in Daphne Grab’s first novel. I’m excited to see what she’s working on next.

Check out this lovely trailer. I think it captures a lot of the spirit of the story (then read the book!):

Book Art & Bookshelves You’ll Want

The Blog on the Bookshelf is one of my fav spots on the net. It’s like a whimsical wonderland for bibliophiles. Inevitably, I find myself imagining the kind of dream house I could design around a particular bookshelf. Sigh.

Here are a few treats I discovered while poking about there today:

(The Harry P shelf by Save Our Souls)

(The Pooch shelf by various folks)

(The Tim Burtonesque shelf by Vincent Leman)

And then I found the incredible work of Brian Dettmer. Check this out:

He does “book autopsies.” Find out how here and see many more pictures of his work here.

Oh to have just a smidgen of artistic talent.


I finally finished listening to Savvy this afternoon. This seems to have been the summer of infinite distractibility. “Oohhh… look… the garden looks so pretty in the morning light! Let me go roam among the sunflowers and oregano!” “Ooohhh… look… that store’s selling iced tea with scoops of lemon gelato in it. Let’s get some and stay all afternoon long!” “Ooohhh… look… I already have 25 books in a crazy stack teetering beside my bed. Let’s go to the library and find more! More, I say!”

In spite of the fact that my listening experience was stretched over… um… the whole summer, I really and truly enjoyed Savvy the whole way through. Let us not measure this narrative’s reader-appeal by my unusual ability to extend a 6 hour audiobook over nearly 60 days. (Perhaps this is my savvy… hmmm). I think Savvy will find it’s way into the hearts of many readers, and I imagine it is a story that will have strong staying power. There’s something old-fashioned about this one that just feels really good.

Savvy is the story of the Beaumont family, especially Mibs Beaumont, who at the beginning of the book is a few weeks before her thirteenth birthday. Thirteen is a big one when you’re a Beaumont, because on this particular birthday, every family member can expect their “savvy” to show up (a savvy being an unusual talent or gift). Mibs’ two older brothers have rather alarmingly powerful savvies: causing hurricanes and creating electricity respectively. Her mother has a talent for perfection, be it cake-making or smiling or listening to her kids. Her grandfather has the ability to make the land move. Naturally, Mibs is more than a little bit eager to find out what her savvy will be, but mere days before her party, her father is in a serious accident that changes a lot more than her birthday plans. Pretty soon, she and her siblings and the preacher’s kids end up on a pink bible bus headed on a zigzag journey towards (and sometimes away from) the hospital where her father is being treated. This journey ends up influencing Mibs’ life every bit as much as the arrival of her savvy.

This is one of those books with a premise to make any wannabe writer envious. A family of people with strange abilities that manifest on their thirteenth birthdays? Cool. But a cool premise alone does not necessarily make a successful book. Good thing Ingrid Law seems to have what she needs to be a writer-to-watch. Mibs’s voice rings true and clear. She’s a sweet, honest kid who you can’t help but root for. You really believe in her love for her family, and in her desire to do all that she can to keep it well. There’s a real troupe of quirky and endearing secondary figures too, lending comedy and richness to the plot. I’m also a sucker for a story about a journey (we’re talking more about the literal get-in-a-bus-and-get-driving type of journey here), especially a wild and unpredictable one. The pink bible bus takes quite the circuitous path on its way to reunite Mibs with her poppa at Salina hospital. It takes a writer with a clear sense of direction to produce a tale of a wayward journey that never feels slack. Let’s just say that a lot happens on the way to Salina, and yet you never forget that that’s where the story is going.

I think there’s a certain similarity to Kate DiCamillo’s style and type of storytelling in Savvy, what with the richness of the language and the homey-wisdom of the story. I can see that kids who enjoy Because of Winn Dixie will take pleasure in Savvy too. I highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by a completely convincing Lily Blau. You can listen to the first chapter here. Some books seem almost made for listening, and I think you’ll agree that Savvy is one of them.

Additional blog reviews:

Random Wonder
The Children’s Book Review
Sarah Miller


I’m crazy for books with an agricultural setting / theme / issue. You can take the girl out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl, I guess. So Joan Bauer’s newest book, Peeled, set in an apple-farming community, was a”peel”ing to me from the get go (first and last bad apple-related pun, I swear).

Confession… the only other Joan Bauer title I’ve read is Backwater which I enjoyed immensely. After reading Peeled, I’ve since moved Hope was Here and Bauer’s other books high up on the TBR list. Peeled is the story of Hildy Biddle, whose family runs a small apple farm in New York state. When she isn’t helping out in the family business, Hildy is a reporter for her school newspaper, The Core, and journalism comes naturally to her. She’s eager to report the truth, so when ghostly happenings at the old Ludlow place leads the local newspaper to some sketchy reporting, Hildy grabs her chance to get to the bottom of things.

What I love about this book:

1. The layers. I like a book that has several well-developed plot threads that interplay with each other in interesting ways and work together to create the major themes of the text. Bauer seems to be a master at this. There is just enough going on in the plot and sub-plots that you’re curious about all of the elements of the narrative without losing track of what’s happening where and to whom.

2. The main character. Hildy is feisty, in a way that is not in-your-face. She finds the courage to act in difficult situations because she knows what is important to her and she can’t stand by and just let the things that bother her happen. I liked her. Completely. I liked how she grew in a way that was believable. If she was a real teen, I’d be keeping my eye on her to track the awesome things she’d be doing down the road.

3. The descriptions of the bounty of apple goodies: Nan’s applesauce, apple cake, apple brownies, apple chutney, apple syrup, apple bread, apple cider… apple EVERYTHING! Perhaps it’s the former pasty chef in me that cannot resist a story that shows a healthy appreciation for homemade treats. Which leads to my Tiny Quibble: Peeled is calling out for a recipe, or two, at the back. If not in this story, then when?

Read this story in October, in apple season, or anytime you want to think about the media’s fear-mongering powers and what good journalism looks like. A crisp, tangy, satisfying treat of a book. (*Crunch*)

Additional reviews from:

Sarah Miller
Becky’s Book Reviews
And Another Book Read
bookshelves of doom
Oops…Wrong Cookie
Teen Reads

Elf Envy: Random Round Up

E Pewter Ransom Font L Pastry Cutter F
E N V McElman_071126_2039

A few tidbits from around and about.

Miss Erin offers us a fab interview with “the 3 Hales” behind Rapunzel’s Revenge.

I enjoyed the interview with Sophie Blackhall over at 7 Imp. Love it that those girls aren’t afraid to do a great, big, juicy, LONG interview. Keep ’em coming.

Head over to Oops…Wrong Cookie to join in the discussion about a recent Publisher’s Weekly Article on the appropriateness of YA for younger readers. This is a tricky one.

For anyone out there who is sort of, kind of, beginning to write something that might turn out to be a really long story or a novel-ish type creation, read Barbara O’Connor’s recent Writing Tip re Character. Makes me feel better.

And finally, this has NOTHING to do with books or children or reading or anything (but I did find it over at Laini Taylor’s blog and she has everything to do with books and children and reading, so anyway…):

(Cool title letters created at Spell with Flickr. Fun times)

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau

It is steamy-on-the-streets August, and so by rights I should be snorkeling on some shiny reef or scubadiving in turquoisey waters. But alas… I am city-bound. Are you? Well then I recommend Jennifer Berne’s beautiful picture book on the life of Jaques Cousteau: Manfish. (See! I can read books that are not YA, and I can even write about them. Hah!)

My knowledge of M. Cousteau, prior to this book, was entirely based upon watching the occasional undersea adventure program in my childhood. Berne’s story introduces us to Jacques as a boy on the French seashore, and follows his dream to someday be able to breathe underwater and experience the sea from within. Readers learn that Cousteau was an inventor, a film-maker, an environmentalist, a sailor and a dreamer. I appreciated Berne’s direct, and quitely poetic style, matched in every way by French illustrator Eric Puybaret’s evocative illustrations. I propose that every pet fish henceforth given to a child be accompanied by Manfish

You’ll feel like you’ve been on a diving adventure – without the seaweed, or the seasickness.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

While I was away in paradise (aka the beautiful, rocky, cottagey place by the water), I read a bunch of great, great books. This is one of them. E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is pretty close to perfect. One of the many impressive things about this book is that it makes you think about a lot of interesting and complex issues, and yet it is pretty short. In fact, I’ll bet that once you’ve finished reading, you’ll realize that you could have spent a whole lot more time with Frankie, without any trouble at all. This story feels restrained, like you’re getting just a glimpse into a brief period in a character’s complicated life. I love it when a book seems like a snapshot of a whole lot more, rather than tries to explain and reveal each and every thing that ever happened in the main character’s past. Suggestive is so much better than encyclopedic.

If you go (or have gone) to a boarding school, especially one of those Important Ivy League-ish type feeder schools, then you must must read this book. If you’ve gone to a pompous sort of college or university where you wore academic gowns to dinner and drank port in the common room and witnessed much revelry in the quad, then you must must read this book. Frankie Landau-Banks goes to Alabaster Prep, a New England boarding school where many of the students are the offspring of Important Rich People, and the rest just happen to be smart enough to get there on their own. Frankie’s year at Alabaster is off to a different start, since she experienced a transformation into a new state of super-cuteness over the summer. She now has a smart, adorable, very rich boyfriend, and she’s getting used to hanging out with his smart, adorable, very rich pals. Soon Frankie hears whisperings of Alabaster’s not-so-secret all-male secret society: The Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds, famous for masterminding goofy pranks. The Order has been around for fifty years or so, and Matthew (Frankie’s boyfriend) is a current member. It isn’t long before Frankie starts feeling that no matter how close she gets, she’ll never be a part of Matthew’s inner circle, and frankly (har har har), this starts to get to her. So Frankie takes action, infiltrating the Order and becoming its commander-in-chief, without a single Bassett member’s notice. From this position, she engineers a series of wild misadventures, surprising everyone around her, not to mention herself, in the process.

There’s a lot of depth to Frankie’s story, and I like it. Read this book and then talk about where rules come from and why we follow them, the deep roots of paternalism, the structures and ideals that control us and lots of other pithy stuff besides. E. Lockhart has written a great book, deserving of many readers and much acclaim. Visit her blog and website for all kinds of related links, interviews, and further info on all of her work.

Here are a few more glowing reviews of The Disreputable History:

Oops…Wrong Cookie
Bookshelves of Doom
3 Evil Cousins
Reading Rants