Monthly Archives: January 2009

Poetry Friday: A Dust of Snow

We’ve had a lot more than a dusting lately, but I love this little poem. A reminder that sometimes a small thing, at the right time, makes all the difference.

Dust of Snow – by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

From Poetry Foundation.

(photo © Scott Roberts for CC:Attribution)


The Underneath


Now I’ve met plenty of true villains in all my years of reading. Or, at least I thought I’d met real villains. That was before I discovered Gar Face, from Kathy Appelt’s Newbery Honor title, The Underneath. He’s bad, so, so bad. I hate him. I really do. He’s the kind of bad guy that forces you to redefine bad guy.

I described the events of this book to my husband in installments as I was reading over the past few days, and I think at first he thought I was making it up, all the sad, sad things that happen to the animal characters one after the other and then a little bit more all the way to the end. Today, I got home from school after having finished reading it on the streetcar. I sat down and told him how it all turned out, and as I got close to the end I pretty much lost it, kind of half choking at the worst part and then picking up my own sweet hound and scratching his curly head while I finished telling the story.

We started talking about who is meant to read The Underneath, because I have to wonder how many kids will read it. I’m not saying that there are no children out there to read The Underneath. Nor am I saying that I wouldn’t want a child to read it. It’s just that I wonder if perhaps some of the most extreme scenes of animal abuse really need to be depicted in order for the author to achieve her purpose and to sustain the intensity she has created so brilliantly here.

Now don’t accuse me of “not getting it” everybody. Believe me, I get it. Appelt is writing about evil (and loss and hope and love in the darkest, most horrible circumstances). The kind of evil that is so far beyond redemption. I know that the fact she didn’t shy away from the scenes of extreme cruelty to animals played a huge role in my total emotional investment in this story, and in her characters. I will never forget Ranger and Puck and Sabine. Ever. They’ll be in my head, roaming about together for a long, long time, and I’m glad to have met them. I’m just not convinced this is a book for kids. Kids could read it. Some kids will read it. The Underneath is one of the most powerful novels I’ve read in a long time, and it already feels like a classic. I’ll line up to read whatever Kathi Appelt comes up with next, that’s for sure. (I’m kind of hoping there won’t be kittens in it though).

I’ve indicated this title as Middle Grade, YA and Crossover. There will be kids and teens and adults who’ll love it. It’s just got to find the right readers. For goodness sake don’t go passing it to anybody (child or grown up) who lost it when they read Stone Fox or Charlotte’s Web and the like. Clearly those stories are for sissies.

For more about The Underneath, try out one of the many reviews in the kidlitosphere:

Sarah Miller
Fuse 8
The Reading Zone
Seven Imp
Educating Alice

Now, for a complete change of pace, I think this might do the trick:



Bull Rider


If you ever have the chance to go to a rodeo and watch bull-riding, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget. When I was a kid we visited the Calgary Stampede, and I remember seeing bull riders in action. It was wild. You can’t help but wonder what on earth could possibly possess someone to do such a crazy thing. There’s a reason to write a book right there, and that’s exactly what 2k9 author, Suzanne Morgan Williams has done. Bull Rider is her fiction debut, and it’s a fine story that lets you inside the head of one teen bull-rider, who is willing to risk it all to win big money and restore something of his injured brother’s lost dream.

Cam O’Mara is not the bull-rider in the O’Mara family. Not really. Skateboarding is Cam’s thing. His brother Ben was the town of Salt Lick’s bull-riding champion, but when Ben returns partially paralyzed from serving in Iraq, Cam somehow finds his way into the ring, even though he can’t decide if it’s terrifying or exhilarating. Cam discovers that hanging out at his brother’s old stomping ground, and trying on his brother’s talent, is one way for him to accept the traumatic events that his family is forced to deal with. When Cam has the chance to enter a $15 000 challenge to ride a super-nasty, 1600 pound bull named Ugly, his new-found bull-riding skills get put to the toughest of tests.

Speaking of talent, Williams writes completely convincing, real world characters. Reading Bull Rider is like walking into a family’s house right at the time they’re caught up in a tragic set of circumstances. Williams’ novel is about struggle, at home and in the countries where soldiers serve, and it is also about finding the things that make us happy and make us feel alive. I was impressed particularly by the way that she conveys the complexity of the relationship between Cam and Ben, how it was before Ben went away, and the ways in which it changes when he comes home injured and vulnerable.

Another real strength of the novel is that it will make readers consider the cost of war on families and on individuals, as in a split second, everything changes for Ben and for everyone who cares about him. There’s a lot  in this story: war experiences, family drama, some risky rodeo tricks, a little skateboarding and a whole lot of hope. I’ll be waiting for Williams’ sophomore effort.

Bull Rider is released February 24, 2009, by McElderry Books.

Oliver Jeffers Roundup


Oliver Jeffers is one talented super-artist. I am crazy about his picture books. His style is so refined looking, modern and muted. And gosh darn it, the man knows how to write a sweet story. I defy you to read Lost and Found and not want to cuddle up to the first penguin who shows up on your doorstep. I’ve come across several Jeffers-inspired items in the kidlitosphere lately, so here are all of those treats together, in one handy roundup:

Guardian feature on Oliver Jeffers
Just One More Book’s podcast on The Way Back Home
Lots more Oliver Jeffers-related goodies at Just One More Book
StudioAKA’s gorgeous collection of stills from the short film version of Lost and Found. You’ll find the trailer there too.
Oliver Jeffers Illustration

There’s a hearty dose of sweetness for a freezing Sunday morning.

Heart of a Shepherd


Even though I’ve been living in a big city for more than ten years now, I’m definitely a country girl at heart. That’s what growing up on a farm does to you. But that’s not the only reason why I’m a sucker for a great rural story. Most farm stories have the potential to offer all that a reader could want in a narrative: struggle, love, life, death, and of course, a few great animals along the way.

Rosanne Parry’s debut, Heart of a Shepherd, is as gorgeous as a wide open country vista, with mountains in the distance and clouds up above. You hardly know what to appreciate and soak up first, there’s so much beauty and depth to take in in this slim novel. I promise you’ll be daydreaming about these characters and the land they care about long after the story is over.

Brother is the youngest of five boys, and the four eldest have left the family ranch to go to school. When his father is shipped to Iraq with his reserve unit, Brother recognizes an opportunity to prove that he is just as good a rancher as his older siblings, in spite of the fact that he’s always seemed to be different from his brothers in his work around the farm. He’s the one who gets emotional when one of the animals gets injured or sick, whereas his brothers just get on with the job of working the ranch. Brother decides to try not to let his heart get in the way of doing all the work that must be done to keep the ranch going just as smoothly as when his father is around. So Brother and his Grandpa take on everything together, and face many challenges as the year passes.

Heart of a Shepherd touches on many themes, but I think more than anything, it’s a story about spirit: the human spirit, the spirit we can find in the land, and religious faith too. Brother and his Grandpa work desperately hard to keep the ranch operating, never giving up no matter how hard it gets. Brother loves his home, but he has no idea if being a rancher is what he wants to do with his life. This doesn’t stop him for working himself into the ground to keep things running while his father is gone. A lot of this integrity comes from the fact that the land is a part of who he is, and has shown him how life can be difficult and awe-inspiring. It’s powerful and compelling reading to follow this character as he finds his way towards what he’s meant to do with his life. It’s like icing on the cake that Rosanne Parry really knows how to write too. Her style is clear and poetic all at once, the way a hymn or a folk tale can seem simple but every word is just the right one, from beginning to end.

I want lots of people to read this book – kids, teenagers, grown ups. Everybody. It’s a beauty. It will fill you up with hope and warmth because it’s a story about good people, doing what’s right. More than anything, Brother wants to find the thing that makes his heart happy. Rosanne Parry’s novel will make your heart happy.

Heart of a Shepherd is published by Random House and will be released on January 27th, 2009.

A Prize fit for a President (or President’s daughter)


This is very cool. In honour of the inauguration of Barack Obama today, readergirlz has joined up with Feiwel & Friends to give away 25 complete 4-book sets of Ellen Emerson White’s President’s Daughter series. If you haven’t read these books, this is a BIG treat. I have only read Ellen’s most recent title in the series: Long May She Reign. It was brilliant, so I can’t wait to read the first three books.

So visit the readergirlz blog and comment on the contest post by January 31st for your shot at some seriously fine White House-inspired reading.