Monthly Archives: August 2009


shiverIt’s heatwave time in Toronto (finally). I’m wishing I felt a little shivery right now. Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver is the perfect book to give you goosebumps when nothing else will do it. Great heatwave reading. There’s serious romance, ill-fated love, and a whole lot of atmosphere in this much-hyped novel. I must admit that when I heard the book pretty much launched only to land straight on the NYT Bestseller list, it almost made me not want to read it. NYT Bestseller does not automatically equal good. It often equals easy and unoriginal and sometimes even yawn-worthy. I will now say that Shiver is not that type of NYT Bestseller. Rather it is a NYT Bestseller that deserves it’s spot in the spotlight. Of course, Maggie’s adorable reaction makes you want to root for her success big time. (Cuter still is her reaction to moving up the list).

It’s hard not to feel your inner literary green-eyed monster rearing its ugly head when you realize that Maggie is not only a NYT Bestselling author, but she’s also lots of other artsy things too; an artist, a musician/composer and the author of the much-praised YA fairy title, Lament, and its soon-to-be released sequel, Ballad. But then you read her blog and she seems just lovely and instantly you are on the Maggie team, cheering louder than everyone else. Go harpists everywhere! Maggie is also very good at making little videos / book-trailers about her work. Her trailer for Shiver has to be one of the loveliest I’ve seen:

Isn’t that perfection? Well the book measures up in every way, right down to the moody silvery-blue colour of the print. Love that detail. (Well done Scholastic!) Time for a little plot: Grace has spent a lot of years watching the woods in her backyard. She watches for the wolves who winter there. She has always been fascinated by them, particularly the one with the yellow eyes, who stares back at her in a way that feels familiar. No one understands her obsession, especially after a wolf attack occurs in town, and so she keeps it mostly to herself. This isn’t hard until she meets Sam. Sam is a wolf – Grace’s wolf. He becomes human in the summer months and returns to the woods as a wolf in the wintertime. Their love is impossible and dangerous and can’t possibly have a future. Now go get the book and find out what happens!

Maggie’s writing will impress you. I thought the setting came through in wonderful detail, with so much focus on capturing the changing seasons in the woods. You can feel winter coming as you read, and that creates this sense of futility and urgency for the characters, drawing you in all the more. Some of the scenes stand out as particularly vivid: when Sam takes Grace to the candy store, when they go to the woods together, and the final scene. Here’s just one of many passages I bookmarked:

Some days seem to fit together like a stained glass window. A hundred little pieces of different color and mood that, when combined, create a complete picture. The last twenty-four hours had been like that. The night at the hospital was one pane, sickly green and flickering. The dark hours of the early morning in Grace’s bed were another, cloudy and purple. Then the cold blue reminder of my other life this morning, and finally the brilliant, clear pane that was our kiss.

Maggie is excellent with delicate imagery that stays with you, and yes, Sam is entirely crush-worthy. There is suspense here, but the real force of the story is the love between the main characters. For a great part of the novel, it’s just the two of them, holed up together trying to make their time last as winter comes. If Sam and Grace weren’t so interesting, and their connection wasn’t believable, this book would fall flat. Instead you will be wrapped up in their story, completely absorbed by their relationship until the last page.

Please nobody say this is a book for Twilight fans. Please don’t. I’m beyond tired of that. Let’s just admire this book for itself, without comparing it to other bestsellers. Shiver is a book for anyone who enjoys poetic writing, who wants romance that is believable and timeless, and who can appreciate its beautifully melancholy mood. Oh, and in case you still sort of feel jealous of Maggie, this Shiver play-doh tribute will force you to like her. An author who can poke a little fun at her own book is my kind of author:

Finally, you should read this excellent interview with Maggie by R.L. Lafevers. I read it and I was surprised when Maggie mentioned she dreamed of writing a YA book as memorable and affecting as The Time Traveler’s Wife. I couldn’t believe it because I read Shiver at the same time as I was finishing The Time Traveler’s Wife and I thought that those two books made the perfect YA/Adult pairing ever. Go figure. Guess Maggie succeeded!

Shiver is published by Scholastic and it is out there now, climbing the charts. Linger, the sequel, will follow in Fall 2010.

Poetry Friday: The Chairs That No One Sits In


A carpe diem sort of poem. Let’s call today International Sit in Chairs Day.

The Chairs That No One Sits InBilly Collins

You see them on porches and on lawns
down by the lakeside,
usually arranged in pairs implying a couple

who might sit there and look out
at the water or the big shade trees.
The trouble is you never see anyone

sitting in these forlorn chairs
though at one time it must have seemed
a good place to stop and do nothing for a while.

Sometimes there is a little table
between the chairs where no one
is resting a glass or placing a book facedown.

It might be none of my business,
but it might be a good idea one day
for everyone who placed those vacant chairs

on a veranda or a dock to sit down in them…

Read the rest here.

(Photo by I Love Trees on Flickr)

Give Up the Ghost

ghostDebut author and Class of 2k9 member Megan Crewe is all set to launch her YA paranormal novel, Give Up the Ghost in September. In fact, I’ll bet Megan could teach a seminar for new authors on how to promote a novel. She’s got lots of cool stuff happening right now as she prepares to send her story out there into the world. Take a look:

First, an amazingly cool giveaway where you can win great books (including Megan’s, of course), sitckers, bookmarks, a Chinese lantern, and ghost scents (that is such a creative idea – go Megan!). All you have to do is spill a secret by August 24th.

Fun widgets for your blog and website.

The Unofficial Soundtrack to the novel to get you in the ghostly mood.

A character quiz.

The trailer, made by Miss Megan herself. Impressive:

Megan is even cool enough to post seemingly simple instructions for how to make your own book trailer.

And finally, you’ve got one more day (till August 13th) to sign up to be a part of 1 ARC Tours for Give Up the Ghost. By signing up, you’ve put yourself on a waiting list to receive, read, review and pass on 1 ARC of Megan’s book. (Open only to readers in the U.S. Phooey!)

So now, I suppose we should get to the book itself, and why it’s worth reading.

Cass McKenna would rather hang out with ghosts than “breathers.” This is because she’s found ghosts won’t betray you the way living people can. A side benefit to keeping company with the dead is that ghosts can find out all of the dirty secrets that the cool kids try to hide. Cass takes these secrets and plots the best moment to expose them. This set up gives Cass power, but it also makes her unpopular and labels her a freak. No one can figure out how Cass knows what she knows. Until Tim. When Tim, VP of the student council and member of the cool crowd, figures out what Cass can do, he tries to convince her to help him contact his recently deceased mom. As she makes a connection with the living for the first time in a while, Cass is forced to rethink hiding with the ghosts.

One of the most interesting parts of this book is the fact that a lot of the time, you won’t like Cass very much. Sure, she’s damaged and you recognize this and feel sorry for her, but she is prickly and vindictive and that makes it hard to feel wholly sympathetic towards her. I like a character that isn’t immediately likeable. The ghosts are well-developed characters too, especially Paige, Cass’s sister, and Norris, her best-ghost friend at school. You can understand why Cass finds it difficult to want to abandon their company for living and breathing peers. I liked the fact that you’ve got a character who isn’t freaked out by this strange ability, and in fact, finds it hard to let go of it. Crewe succeeds in offering readers a look at how loss changes people and can trap and isolate them, and how hard it is to come back to life after loss.

Give Up the Ghost is released in September, by Henry Holt. Megan Crewe will be here for an interview in the next few weeks.

Teacher Book Alert: When it’s Six O’clock in San Francisco

sixoclockI received my copy of When it’s Six O’clock in San Francisco a while back, but I put it away and hadn’t looked at it until today, because I didn’t want to think about anything even remotely related to school so early in my summer holiday. Now that we’re into August, and my mind is starting to turn back to teaching, I thought I could safely pick it up. As it turns out, my feeling that it would be a great teaching book was exactly right. This lovely picture book is the perfect way to help students understand the tricky concept of time zones.

Cynthia Jaynes Omololu has created a text that is accessible and lyrical, and Randy DuBurke’s evocative and warm illustrations bring the multicultural aspect of the work vividly to life. The book begins with a boy waking up one February morning in San Francisco. From there, as the pages turn, the reader moves around the world, from Montréal to Santiago to London and Cape Town and beyond. At each new place, the text starts off, “When it’s six o’clock in San Francisco…” and goes on to give the time in that part of the world and to describe what a child who lives there is doing at that time of day. Omololu describes ordinary things – going to school, playing in a soccer game, running errands, having dinner and cycling home. There is something comforting and beautiful in the way she describes the ordinary events of daily life, and I think kids will appreciate this and make connections to the text easily.

I remember being fascinated as a child by the idea that somewhere on the other side of the world a kid was going to bed when I was just getting up, or heading home from school as I was climbing onto the bus. There was some magic in that, even when I understood the real explanation for it. It made me feel oddly connected to people I knew I would never meet. Omololu’s book captures that spirit, and I imagine it will get kids wondering what other children are doing, at all different times of the day, on the other side of the planet.

When it’s Six O’clock in San Francisco is published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Hush, Hush

hushhushThis was fun, and that’s quite the compliment because I have been in a distinctly intolerant mood for all Twilighty-type books of late. At the bookstore these past few weekends I can hardly bear to look at the Twilight & clones bookshelf (it is a large bookshelf people) because seeing all of those books almost forces me to roll my eyes and shake my head and mutter things under my breath. How is it possible that there are so many books, recently published, that are basically the same story? Are we not yet full of forbidden love? It just gets so very boring with capital B after a while. Becca Fitzpatrick’s upcoming debut, Hush, Hush does have a certain moody/cursed romantic resemblance to a particular famous vampire love story that does not need to be named here, and I can imagine it shelved someplace on the aforementioned bookcase, but I am happy to report that it entertains and did not make me want to roll my eyes or poke them out and with a cover like that, it will practically walk out of the store itself I should think. (Wondrous Reads has a cool feature on the cover that is worth checking out).

Nora Grey is a girl with some issues. Since her father’s murder, she and her mom live in a spooky type farmhouse on the outskirts of town. Her mom travels a lot, and Nora spends a lot of time home alone in said spooky farmhouse (cue fog machine). At school, she mostly hangs out with her best friend Vee until she meets Patch, a mysterious guy who knows just how to drive Nora nuts. She can’t decide how she feels about him, and it seems like he’s always there every time she turns around. As it turns out, Nora has every reason to feel uncertain about Patch. He is no ordinary guy, and the more Nora gets close to Patch, the more risks she takes. That’s about as far as I can go without spoilers because that’s when things get really interesting.

Hush, Hush has great atmosphere. Towards the end of the novel, when the plot really hit high speed, I found myself thinking that I hadn’t read a book with such strong suspense for a while. Becca Fitzpatrick is good at scary and at creating lots of different believable options for bad guys (and girls). Patch is an unusual character, magnetic and complicated. I found him the most interesting and well-developed character in the novel by far (Vee a close second) and he is definitely a major reason I would want to continue the series. By the end of Hush, Hush you still have the feeling that you’ve only just begun to learn about him, his motivations and his plans.

I imagine Hush, Hush will be a huge hit with teens, Twilight fans and otherwise. It’s a page-turner and it puts just enough of a spin on the tortured love scenarios we’ve seen over and over. Read it this October no matter what shelf it’s on in the bookstore.

Hush, Hush is published by Simon & Schuster.

Poetry Friday: Reverie in Open Air

Something summery.

Reverie in Open Air – by Rita Dove

I acknowledge my status as a stranger:
Inappropriate clothes, odd habits
Out of sync with wasp and wren.
I admit I don’t know how
To sit still or move without purpose.
I prefer books to moonlight, statuary to trees.

But this lawn has been leveled for looking,
So I kick off my sandals and walk its cool green…

Find the rest at the Poetry Out Loud site.

(photo © Andrzej G for CC:Attribution).

10 good things


1. Perfect summer morning spent wandering the neighborhood with the guy and the hound. First the park, then coffee, then getting a happy bunch of cherry pie roses all pretty in a vase for no reason at all.

2. After much, much controversy and important chatter in the kidlitosphere and in publishing land, Justine Larbalestier’s upcoming novel, Liar, finally gets the cover it deserves, and a gorgeous one at that.

3. Neil Gaiman says enough already with the vampire fiction.

4. The Talking Taters interview Justina, of readergirlz fame. Pure cuteness.

5. YES!!! Sara Lewis Holmes has launched the Operation YES blog and website. If this doesn’t make you want to read the book even more, then maybe you need to reread my review.

6. What say you to a little library-flavoured Ben & Jerry’s? As long as there is chocolate involved, I’m in.

7. 100 Scope Notes collection of blogger-generated debut YA covers.

8. How well do you know Mo Willems’ pigeon books? Test yourself.

9. So SO much buzz about Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, which debuted at #9 on the NYT Bestseller List. If Kelly Fineman likes it this much, then it must really be good. I will start reading today. I will also listen to the playlist Maggie made, that comes complete with when-to-listen instructions.

10. I kind of want to go to Chicago now. I would like to toss a Quaffle… wouldn’t you?

Author Interview: Marilyn Kaye


Marilyn Kaye, author of several popular series for teens, is here for an interview today. Her most recent series is Gifted. The first two titles, Out of Sight, Out of Mind and Better Late Than Never are out now, from Kingfisher. The third, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow is scheduled to be released in October. The Gifted books take place at Meadowbrook Middle School, which is a pretty typical place, with entirely ordinary kids. Nine of the Meadowbrook students are far from ordinary, however. They go to the Gifted class, which is unlike any gifted class you’ve ever seen. That’s because these kids aren’t your usual brainiacs. Each one of them possesses a remarkable “gift,” and in gifted class they learn how to understand and control their powers, powers like hearing dead people, turning invisible and seeing the future. In the first book, mean girl Amanda Beeson learns what it’s like to be supremely uncool when she wakes up trapped in the body of Tracey Devon, a total Meadowbrook nobody. This talent lands her in Gifted class where she discovers a lot more about her new ability and about the extraordinary kids she’s never even noticed before. It isn’t long before Amanda begins to recognize how her powers have changed her life forever. Out of Sight, Out of Mind was a lot of fun – for readers who enjoy books about kids with unusual talents, trying to cope in sticky situations. For all those times when you wondered what it might be like to have some sort of super power, these books might make you think again. There is a great website devoted to the series, with audio excerpts, character info and more. Here’s the book trailer:

Now let’s get on with the interview!

What’s your writing routine? Do you have any pre-writing rituals?
I try to write for at least 4 hours every day, but I don’t really have a routine – sometimes I write in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, and every now and then I’ll get a surge of inspiration and work in the evenings. And I don’t really have any rituals – I love to travel and I want to be able to write wherever I am, so I don’t want to develop too many habits.

When you’re working on a series, how much of the plotting have you planned from the beginning?
I always have a good sense of where the series is moving, and a general idea of what should be the outcome of each book, but as for the details, I tend to plot one book at a time.

Given how many books you’ve written, it doesn’t seem like you have this problem often, but what’s your cure for writer’s block?
I DO get writer’s block! Long walks help (I just let my mind go blank and frequently something pops in that makes me want to get back to work.)

I can imagine you had some fun choosing the gifts that the characters possess. How did you make those choices?
I wanted the kids to have gifts that evolved from their own individual needs/problems, so I concentrated on their personalities and situations first, and then tried to imagine a power that might emerge.

What gift would you want the most? What gift would you never want?
I used to think it would be fun to be able to disappear at will, although I’d probably be tempted to spy on people. I wouldn’t want to be able to read people’s minds – I’d be afraid of what I could learn. Continue reading

The Teashop Girls

teashopWhen it comes to books, do you think “sweet and cozy” is just a nicer way of saying “fluffy and predictable”? It’s rare to find a novel for tweens and teens that you can recommend as completely delightful and a little bit innocent, something truly sweet, but with substance and careful, confident writing. The Teashop Girls, by Laura Schaefer is exactly that book. From beginning to end, this novel is a treat, just right for middle school readers who enjoy titles like The Wedding Planner’s Daughter (Coleen Murtagh Paratore), The Mother-Daughter Book Club (Heather Vogel Frederick) or 3 Willows (Ann Brashares). Oh, and just right for tea lovers.

Annie Green is just about finished eighth grade, and she feels like everything is changing. Her best friends, Genna and Zoe, are busy with theater and tennis and they just seem to be moving towards high school a whole lot faster than Annie. They don’t hang out as much as they used to, and Annie misses their weekly meetings for tea and talk at The Steeping Leaf, her grandmother’s teashop. When Annie convinces her grandmother Louisa to give her a job as a barista at the store she feels happier than she has in a long time, full of ideas and energy. Annie loves the Leaf more than anything, and it helps that the job gets her a little closer to this cute guy who works for her grandmother too. The good times don’t last long, however, because not long after starting her job, Annie discovers that the Steeping Leaf is in trouble. Louisa can’t make ends meet, and it is finally catching up. Soon an eviction notice arrives. Annie decides to do all she can to save the Leaf, and with a little help from Genna and Zoe, she gets started straight away.

Each chapter begins with a quote about tea, and lovely little drawings by Sujean Rim. Recipes and vintage tea advertisements are scattered throughout the book, along with plenty of tea history, tea-inspired beauty tips, a few Zen tales and Annie’s various “To Do Lists,” adding to the whimsical tone of the narrative. In fact, you learn a lot about tea by reading this book, and I imagine it may inspire a new generation of tea sippers. You know my feeling about any story with recipes. Automatic bonus points. The scrapbook elements of the text add to Annie’s characterization too, helping us to appreciate her true passion for tea and for The Steeping Leaf. I would have liked to see the secondary characters come through a bit more convincingly, but the friendship is believable and Annie’s voice is consistent and charming.

I was reminded of another book I enjoyed this year about an enterprising, positive-thinking girl who digs in to save her family’s business: My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald. Teashop Girls touches on similar themes, like the importance of independent business, problem-solving, taking action, and seeing possibility in change. I’m not sure if Schaefer’s book will be a series, but I think readers would happily go along for the ride with more stories about Annie, tea-lover, list-maker, and all around good girl. It’s refreshing to read a novel for this age group that is entirely issue-free. As happy-making as a sip of perfectly brewed, slightly sweetened tea with a side of cookies.

The Teashop Girls is published by Simon & Schuster.

Author/Illustrator Interview: Matt Phelan

stormI’m honored to have the amazingly talented Matt Phelan visiting Shelf Elf today for an interview about his upcoming graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn. His book is already snapping up many glowing reviews all around the kidlitosphere (right here, educating alice, Reading Rants, Welcome to my Tweendom) and I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if it’s on a fast train to Awardsville. This is a book to buy and linger over and read again and again. Welcome Matt!

How would you describe The Storm in the Barn to a potential reader?
The Storm in the Barn is a graphic novel set in the Dust Bowl about a boy who discovers a sinister figure hiding in the neighbor’s barn. It is part tall tale, part historical fiction, and part supernatural thriller.

What are you most proud of in this upcoming book?
The story was first and foremost in my mind. I wrote it first as a very detailed script, describing each individual panel. I started to worry about how it would look only after the story was set.

When you were working on this book, which came first, images or story?
Although I wrote the script before I began drawing, the initial inspiration for the book was visual. I was very influenced by the WPA photography of that time and it was those images of the Dust Bowl that started me thinking. Also, the villain of the story originated as an offhand doodle that I once made during a meeting at my old copywriting job.

In what ways do you think a typical urban kid in 2009 can relate to the experiences of Jack Clark, a kid growing up in the Dust Bowl?
I think Jack faces some universal challenges of being a kid: bullies, a feeling of uselessness, the desire to impress his father, the desire to save his family. I think most kids can relate to that feeling of being powerless yet wanting desperately to make things better.

The Wizard of Oz is an important element in The Storm in the Barn. Why did you choose to bring this text into your book? What did you hope it would add to the fabric of your story?
I wanted the book to be an American fairy tale and to incorporate elements of folklore and myth. The Jack Tales were the first stories I wanted to include, but since the story is set in Kansas, I naturally gravitated to the Oz books. They had been around for many years by the time this story takes place (1937) so I knew that these kids would be familiar with them (especially if you are a young girl in Kansas named Dorothy). Reading Ozma of Oz, I found some passages that I thought would work nicely as a sort of commentary on what was going on in my story. So I had Jack or Dorothy reading these passages out loud in two scenes. Continue reading