Monthly Archives: September 2009

Dani Noir

final-cover-dani-72-2Every so often I’ll read a book written for kids or teens and I will feel sad that it wasn’t around when I was actually a kid or a teen. It might be because the story has an element that I think only kids can fully appreciate, say something particularly silly or wildly imaginative, and I’ll wonder what the 10-year old me would have thought about it. Or it might be, as is the case with Nova Ren Suma’s outstanding debut tween mystery, Dani Noir, that I think the book could have opened me up to something years before I actually ended up experiencing that thing in my life, and here I’m talking about black and white films. If I’d been able to read Dani Noir as a kid, I would have become a film nut at the age of ten, I am convinced of it. Forget the fact that my tiny hometown didn’t even have a video rental place for most of my formative years, let alone an arty movie theatre showing film noir every night of the week. I would have made it happen somehow with my 3 television channels and giant old family TV. This book might have turned me into the film nerd I am today, but twenty years sooner.

It’s the summer before eighth grade and Dani Callanzano has a lot of time on her hands. The last thing in the world she wants to do is go visit her dad, who now lives across the river with his fiancée and her horrid daughter Nichole, but there isn’t much to do in Shanosha either. Good thing she’s got the Little Art, a tiny movie theater that brings some drama to Dani’s otherwise unexciting mountain town. Dani’s on a film noir kick, and her favourite actress of-the-moment is Rita Hayworth. Dani says, “Most kids my age have no clue who she is. When they think of a big movie star they think of someone like Jessica Alba. But if Jessica and Rita Hayworth were in the same scene and the cameras were rolling you’d forget Jessica was even there.” (Aren’t you liking this kid already?) After an awful first visit her her dad’s new place, Dani heads back to Theater 1, taking refuge in front of the movie screen. It isn’t long, however, before her favourite escape becomes the centre of a mystery, revolving around a strange girl in polka dot tights. When Dani’s imagination starts rolling, things only get more complicated and she starts to see how real life can get be whole lot messier than the movies.

I loved how Dani likes to reimagine her world as if she was making a film, in the director’s chair. Chapter One was really brilliant, as Dani narrates her life at the moment as if she was directing a film about it: “The room would be dark and you’d get a close-up of just my face. That’s when I’d do this whole series of expressions with my eyes. You see fear. Joy. Rage. Bliss. Misery. Passion. Plus lots more stuff I don’t even know the words to. Then I’d take a few steps out of the frame and the shadows would swallow me. And no one would be able to find me after that.” The book is full of great passages like that, that reveal Dani’s flair for the dramatic and her vulnerability all at once. She’s a nuanced, complicated character. She wants drama, but doesn’t. She wants drama when it’s on the screen, but not when she’s living it. I think that’s just such a true observation about being a kid. Most kids crave drama but when it shows up, they want normal back: “Sometimes the bad guy is a person you love. A person you can’t just kick out of your life. And when the movie ends, and the curtain goes down, and the audience leaves the theater, you’re stuck in what’s known as real life. That’s where all the lights are on and the flawed people you’re related to are saying lines you don’t want to hear and there’s no one to yell “Cut!” to make it sop.” Any kids of divorced families who can relate to that? Hands up? I thought that Nova Ren Suma portrayed Dani’s confusion and hurt about her family situation perfectly. She’s mad but she doesn’t know if she should be, or who she can blame, or if she should blame anyone. All of it’s there.

I’d read more stories featuring Dani in a heartbeat. Dani’s a star in the making. Visit the book’s website for lots more and take a closer look at the development of the stunning cover art at Marcos Calo’s blog. Please let lots of kids discover Dani.

Other reviews:

Bri Meets Books

Fuse 8

Educating Alice

Reading Rants

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

The critics can’t decide if they want to gobble this movie up, or serve up the leftovers to the pooch. Personally, I think it looks like fun. The book has always been a favourite of mine for its silliness.

I’m going, for sure.

And yes, I get that the movie’s website is ultimately all about selling tickets, but who could resist having a little fun with the monkey in the 3-D food fight game? Not me. So, time for a little flying food-inspired poll:

Skeleton Creek

skeletonTwo years ago I would have rolled my eyes if someone had put Patrick Carman’s Skeleton Creek in my hands. The “multi-media” content (that is, videos and text combined) would have made me an instant skeptic. I probably would have labeled it as gimmicky and shelved it without a moment’s pause. Now that I am much more technologically enlightened, only a tiny bit of skepticism lurked as I started reading (watching?) this book a few days back. I was actually pretty excited to see how the video / text concept worked out. All it took was one video installment and I was hooked. Kind of made me wonder if even the purest, most traditional bookworm can’t be seduced by a little film.

Privacy is a religion in Skeleton Creek. For Ryan McCray and his best friend Sarah Fincher, it’s always felt like everyone in town had secrets. For instance, why was their town’s name changed to Skeleton Creek and why is there a secret society known as The Crossbones? In the past, the town was connected to the now bankrupt New York Gold and Silver Company and the teens are certain that an abandoned dredge, once used to mine gold, is at the center of the mystery they feel permeating the Creek. So they investigate the dredge one night and an accident leaves Ryan with a serious broken leg and also results in both of their sets of parents forbidding the two to see or communicate with each other for good. But neither of them can forget what they saw, or think they saw, that night. Ryan writes all that he remembers in his journal and Sarah continues to stay in touch with him through vlogs that she sends to him, which include footage of their night at the dredge and other film that she takes as she continues looking for answers. As the friends get closer to some kind of truth, they have to ask themselves, should they return to the dredge and face what they think is inside, or stop asking the questions that might lead to the worst kind of accident imaginable? Continue reading

Poetry Friday: Who Has Seen the Wind


There have been lovely windy, late-summer days all week long. I can almost see the warmth blowing away a little bit more each day. I’ve always loved this little poem by Christina Rossetti:

Who Has Seen the Wind

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

(Poem from Poetry Foundation. Perfect photo by: eggman)

Tweens + Twilight, or, Stop the Insanity

I  just finished reading Rebecca Stead’s wonderful article on tweens in Time Out New York (thanks to educating alice for the link). This was thought-provoking and sobering reading. It would be wonderful if all parents could read it and consider what they can do to protect their child’s childhood. Reading this article was good timing for me, since I’ve been thinking these past few days about this very subject, of kids behaving as “wannabe adolescents,” years before entering their teens. This year I teach 9-year-olds. There is a child in one of my classes who has read all of the books in the Twilight series and is in the process of rereading them (yes, all the way through book four with the wild sex / monster parasitic vampire fetus / abortion debate etc. etc…).

When I was 9, these were my favourite books:


I know I grew up in the country, but still. Call me crazy, but I think 9 is childhood. 9 is still firmly in kid-territory. 9 is not tween or pre-teen or even close-to-teen. 9 is not the time for sparkly vampires and their abs-of-steel and frosty kisses. Is it not possible to save something for later, even if the movie is coming out next month and the TV is telling you that all the cool kids are going? Must the answer always be yes, you can if you want to?

At this rate, pretty soon there will be kindergarteners who can say they’re in Team Edward or Team Jacob.

I think this is so, so sad. I think of my 8/9/10 year old self and I remember these years as a golden time, before I started thinking about how I measured up, how pretty I was or how popular, or whether boys thought I was worth anything. I loved the quote in Stead’s article from Susan Linn, ““Traditionally these years are a time of great intellectual and creative flowering.”

What are we doing? Is it too late?

Class of 2k9 Author Interview: Megan Crewe


I‘m very happy to be hosting fellow Torontonian Megan Crewe today for an interview. Megan is the author of the YA paranormal novel Give Up the Ghost (check out my review). She’s also a Class of 2k9 member. Weclome Megan!

What inspires you?

Um, everything? :) Honestly, inspiration can come from anything—a conversation I overhear on the bus, a book I’m reading or a movie I just saw, an article in a newspaper or online, something I see out the window. But I find I’m most inspired by other stories, in all their forms.

Tell us about the moment you learned Give Up the Ghost would be published.

It wasn’t really one single moment—even the moment we got the first offer was drawn out because an editor told my agent he was going to offer a couple weeks before the offer actually came. And even once you have an offer you can’t assume anything until it’s negotiated and official! But that time period was filled with a lot of celebrating and many excited conversations with my husband and family and close friends, and waiting eagerly to be able to share the news more widely.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your first novel?

The most challenging part of writing Give Up the Ghost was the voice. It was the first novel I’d written in first person. I knew that telling it in Cass’s voice was the right thing to do, but it was difficult finding a balance between staying true to her personality and the way she perceived herself, and still revealing the vulnerabilities that made her sympathetic (even if she liked to pretend they didn’t exist).

Describe your writing process. Are you an outliner, or do you discover your characters and your story as you go?

I’m definitely an outliner. I never write a book without a scene-by-scene outline on index cards. It’s my way of “testing out” the book to make sure it’s ready to be written—because if I get stuck or bored just writing the outline, then the story idea’s not ready yet. But while I’m writing I’m still discovering all sorts of things about the characters and events that I didn’t think of while I was outlining, and I often make changes to the outline as I go to reflect important things I’ve figured out.

What books have you read that made you want to write for young people?

It wasn’t specific books I read so much as the experience of being a teenager. Books were so important to me at that age (not that they aren’t now, but the intensity isn’t quite the same), as a way to visit other worlds, to understand different perspectives, to consider new ideas, to figure out who I was. I love writing for readers who get so much out of books.

What is your favourite scene in Give Up the Ghost?

I can’t say too much about it because it’d be spoilery, but I’d have to say my favorite is the scene near the end when Cass finds Tim by the lake. It’s such an important moment for both of them.

Why do you think it’s so hard for Cass to “give up her ghosts”?

I think for Cass the ghosts (both literal and figurative) are her protection. As long as she believes her ghostly friends are all she needs, she doesn’t have to feel bad that her classmates shun her. As long as she focuses on what happened in the past, she doesn’t have to think about her problems in the present. The trouble is, of course, that she’s shutting herself off from a lot of good things, too. Continue reading