Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Storm in the Barn

stormMatt Phelan’s upcoming graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn, is really something. It is a thrilling and moving piece of historical fiction set in 1937 Kansas, with beautiful muted illustrations that practically make you taste the dust.

Jack Clark hasn’t had an easy childhood. It hasn’t rained for years and the tension in his small town couldn’t get much worse. At home, his father and mother have shrunk into themselves, barely able to hang onto the dreams they once had, and the farm life they used to know. One of his sisters is sick, with “dust pneumonia,” and the doctor hints that Jack’s increasingly strange and withdrawn behaviors might be “dust dementia.” He gets bullied by a group of local kids and his father never gives him the chance to prove his worth. One night, Jack ventures into the abandoned Talbot barn and what he finds there could change everything, if he’s brave enough to go back and face what’s inside.

It’s pretty clear that Matt Phelan is a tremendously gifted illustrator. The emotion that he can convey with the most understated colors and simple lines is remarkable. There is a sequence with a jackrabbit drive that will make you ache, every bit as gut-wrenching as how it could be portrayed on film. I loved the way the color shifts throughout, mirroring the changing tone of the narrative.

Also, as a complete aside, what is it with being eleven? I’ve read so many books with 11-year old protagonists lately. It ain’t easy to be 11, that’s for sure.

The Storm in the Barn will take your breath away. I cannot wait to read the rest of the graphic novels floating around in Matt’s head. Absolutely stunning.

Now, it won’t feel quite so much like just a sneaky grab if I post the aweomse book trailer at the end of my review. Try and wait until September:

Here are a few other rave reviews:

Reading Rants
The Book Bench
educating alice

The Storm in the Barn is published by Candlewick in September 2009.


Poetry Friday: e.e. cummings


I’ve loved this poem ever since I was a kid. Somehow I think the picture fits.

anyone lived in a pretty how town… – by e. e. cummings

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

(Poem from Poetry Foundation. Photo from Pink Sherbet Photography on Flickr)

Just to make you jealous…

fireJust to make you jealous, I finished Fire yesterday and now I will torture you by telling you that it is wonderful. How wonderful? Well, almost directly after finishing it, I found myself pondering how perfect the world would be if Kristin Cashore was able to write books fast enough for me to be always reading one of them. And when I say always, I actually mean always, as in all the time without any breaks. I would be satisfied, in fact, if she just kept on writing stories featuring the characters she has given readers in Graceling and Fire. That would be enough for me. Years upon years of Katsa and Po and Fire and Brigan. Keep it coming Kristin.

For Graceling fans, you might be a tad pouty-faced when you start reading Fire and discover that Katsa and Po are not in this one. That won’t last for long. Fire takes place about 30 years before the story in Graceling, in a kingdom called the Dells. The Dells are a pretty violent, war-torn place, and there are creatures, called Monsters, who inhabit the land, alongside ordinary human folk. Monsters look like many of the regular animals we know, except they have amazingly vibrant-coloured hair or scales or wings. Monsters are able to control humans’ minds, which means humans fear them. Fire, our heroine, is the only human-shaped monster left in the Dells. She is stunningly beautiful and like all Monsters, she has the power to control minds and most people hate her for it. A bit like Katsa, Fire is gutsy and burdened by her identity, and yes, there is another great love story in these pages. The only other plot piece I’ll mention is that there is one character from Graceling who plays a key role in this book. Remember super-freaky King Leck? Well… he’s back, as a boy, and he’s every bit as creepy in kid-version.

Cashore’s amazing strength is her characters. You care so much about them, and they are wonderfully complicated. It’s hard to imagine someone not being completely captivated by both of these books.

Fire is published by Dial Books, and will be released in September 2009.

Celebrating my Blogiversary with Emma-Jean Lazarus


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:


(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.


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″>Poetry Foundation, photo © Sarah Klockars-Clauser for 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

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.