Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Sky is Everywhere

If you read one YA book this summer (other than this one, of course, duh), it really ought to be The Sky is Everywhere.

When I first heard about this book, the reviews were outstanding, but I still knew that it was going to take a whole lot of convincing to get me to pick it up. “Oh right, another YA book about grief. Check. Main Character writes poetry to express her feelings. Check. New and gorgeous boy comes to town and captures her heart. Check.” So I wasn’t feeling the premise.

Then I read this review and this one and I decided it was worth trying out. I’m glad I did, because it is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Jandy Nelson is the real deal. She has taken subject matter that has been written about time and again and she has found a way to make it feel different. There are new insights here, and the language is perfection. The themes are explored deeply, and the relationships between the characters feel entirely true. I think that the quirkiness of the characters also does a lot to set this story about loss apart from all the rest. You care more because you feel that you know the characters better than in many novels. I was also surprised that the poetry aspect worked for me, maybe because there was a lot more to Lennie (the main character) than her poetry. It didn’t feel forced, as I thought it would. The blend of humor and sadness is unexpected, but it works too. I guess that’s really it. With this book, things you don’t expect to surprise, let alone dazzle you, do. Lovely from beginning to end.

The Sky is Everywhere is published by Dial.


city dog, country frog

I was buying a few things at one of my local bookstores last week when I spotted city dog, country frog behind the counter at the front cash. I saw that it was written by Mo Willems and illustrated by Jon J. Muth and then I said, “And I think I need one of those too.” I’d be hard pressed to think of a more impressive author-illustrator team. I didn’t read it until I got home. Then I read it, and cried. It is lovely in every way. The words and art are perfectly matched and perfectly pitched: quiet, soft and dreamy.

It’s a friendship story. Dog meets frog. They enjoy being together, having good times through the seasons. After that, things get sad, but it’s a touching kind of sad, not a “you’ll have to look for this book in the Grief/Issues section of the bookstore” kind of sad. This book is poignant and understated and likely to inspire rereading.

In my view, Jon J. Muth can do no wrong; Mo Willems, same. A book by two über talented artists. Go get your own copy to get teary over.

city dog, country frog is published by Hyperion.

Poetry Friday: Oh the places you’ll go

I just returned from my first Grade 8 graduation. (As a teacher, that is. Don’t worry folks, I made it through Grade 8). It was lovely and touching, full of dangerously-short dresses and new suits and crazy high heels. The shoes. Wow. I saw some seriously gorgeous shoes. Carrie Bradshaw eat your heart out. I swear there was a pair that looked something like this:

It is a problem when you see that the fourteen-year-olds have way more beautiful shoes than you have ever owned. This will be rectified. I need me some blue gladiator platform sandals. Pronto.

You’ve got to have dreams to wear shoes like that, don’t you think?

So here’s a tiny bit from an oft-quoted favourite around grad time, by Mr. Seuss, Oh the places you’ll go:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own, and you know what you know.
And you are the one who’ll decide where you’ll go.

Oh the places you’ll go.”

Happy graduation Class of 2010!

(BTW – reviews soon. Way too sleepy right now).

Born to Rock

You are probably not going to have a summer job as surreal or as cool (or as potentially corrupting) as Leo Caraway’s (not unless you have just discovered that your dad is the lead singer of the world’s most popular punk rock band and you are about to be his roadie for a cross-country tour, in which case, good luck to you). For those of you stuck with work at the other end of the excitement spectrum, you’ll be happy to hear that if you read Gordon Korman’s hilarious Born to Rock, you’ll score all the laughs of life on tour and none of the hearing loss.

Leo Caraway is all set to embrace his perfectly-planned future. He was president of the Young Republicans club, a model student, acceptance to Harvard in hand. Then two things happen that send this plan off the rails. First, he comes to the aid of a kid who he doesn’t even like very much, gets accused of cheating on a test, and before he can say “That’s not fair” his scholarship to Harvard is revoked. As if anything could be more disturbing, next he finds out his biological dad is King Maggot, the lead singer of Purge, the legendary punk band. This disturbing revelation quickly becomes Leo’s best hope for finding his way back to the Ivy League. He decides to accept a job as a roadie for Purge’s summer revival tour, expecting that he will “bond” with the King, and convince him to pay his tuition for the fall. It’s not long before Leo realizes that the road is an even stranger and more surprising place than he had imagined it would be. Much hilarity ensues.

To begin, yes, this book is every bit as rad as it cover. This needed to be said. The punk baby is funny and all that, but the book is even funnier. Allow me to quote from the prologue. (Warning: do not read this next bit while consuming liquids as said liquids will likely spew out of your nostrils due to wild laughter).

“The thing about a cavity search is this: it has nothing to do with the dentist. If only it did. They can give it polite names, like “additional inspection” or “supplemental investigation.” But the fact is, you’re bent over, grabbing your ankles, while some total stranger has his fingers in a very private place where nobody should be rummaging around. Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t scar you for life. You don’t suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. But no one who has been through it is ever quite the same again. The experience is just – big.”

A laugh-out-loud moment before you’ve even turned the first page automatically gives a book big extra points for me. You’ll keep on laughing too. I am a big Gordon Korman fan. The man writes snappy books, with well-conceived premises, vivid characters and heart. What else is there, really? There’s a little romance, a few “life lessons” (not of the heavy-handed variety) and some particularly memorable comic scenes. Who knows? It may make you want to try to rock a mohawk this summer. Don’t miss Born to Rock. Laughs guaranteed. No tour bus necessary.

Born to Rock is published by Scholastic.

(This post is cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire).

in which I bake cookies instead of read books…

*We interrupt this program for some bragging.*

I am confident that my chocolate chip cookies are among the best in the universe.

I am now going to offer you a virtual chocolate chip cookie, fresh from the oven.


Delish, yes?

You don’t even want to know how many packages of chocolate chips I put in one batch (and I will not tell you my secret tricks for the perfectest cookie).


Back to the books!

*le sigh*

Oh how I wish…

tremendously wish…

that I could be in Paris.

I would drink a lot of coffee and eat a lot of Bertillon ice cream and lounge about in cafés all day long, feeling delightfully lazy.

Apparently, everything in Paris is blossoming with purple Parisian perfection.

How do I know this?

Because little brown pen is as close as I can get to being in Paris, when I am stuck here, marking Math tests.

*le sigh*

(le photo is from stockxchng)

Alison Dare: The Double Blog Dare Tour

Welcome to Day 6 of Tundra Books’ Double Blog Dare Tour for J. Torres’ and J. Bone’s super-entertaining graphic novels, featuring the sassy and fearless tween adventuress, Alison Dare. Bring on the daring! Bring on the masked superhero and the evil baron and the lost treasure! First, here’s a bit on the author and illustrator dream team.

J. Torres is a Shuster Award-winning, Eisner Award-nominated writer whose credits include adaptations of Disney/Pixar’s WALL-E and CTV’s Degrassi: The Next Generation, the comic book series Teen Titans Go and Wonder Girl for DC Comics, as well as the graphic novels Lola: A Ghost Story and the YALSA-listed Days Like This for Oni Press. He has also written for children’s magazines, books, and television. The author lives just outside of Toronto, Ontario.

J. Bone is an Eisner Award-nominated illustrator of several critically acclaimed comic books and graphic novels, including Spiderman: Tangled Web, Batman / The Spirit, and Paul Dini’s Mutant, Texas. J. Bone lives in Toronto, Ontario.

12-year-old Alison has been described as Indiana Jones meets Lara Croft, which basically means that readers are in for a wild ride, packed with a lot of humor and action. Alison is the daughter of a world-renowned archaeologist and the masked superhero The Blue Scarab, so it’s no surprise that she finds rule-breaking and a craving for dangerous situations come naturally. In each of the books, you’ll find several short adventures as Alison and her best friends face villains and save the day, making it all look as easy as their math homework.

Alison Dare was nominated for an Eisner Award in the Best Title for a Younger Audience category, and I can see why. The books make a neat package, with fast-moving story-lines that will have you turning the pages and laughing too. They are a tad tongue-in-cheek, almost poking fun at the adventure-genre, which adds an interesting layer. The graphics are bold and not overdone, quite understated I think. I like that Alison has a wild imagination, and she’s fearless. It’s different to read an action graphic novel with a girl at the centre. At the same time, the book will certainly appeal to boy readers as well, what with the evil baron and the ninjas. I know that there will be many Alison fans when I surrender these titles to my gang of bookworms at school. They are speedy reads, perfect for summer reading in between swims.

Tundra is running a fun/funny contest in connection with the tour. All you need to do is take a photo of Alison in your area and then send it to Tundra to be entered to win an Alison Dare prize pack. Instructions for all of that can be found here.

I snapped Alison in action in Riverdale. Here she is, proving her awesomeness:

Alison Dare and the Globe Basil of Doom

Alison Dare and the Solar-Powered Flower of Destiny

She is remarkable, yes?

You can continue to the other stops on the tour for today, and for all the rest of the tour days, by clicking here for the full schedule.

Thank your to Tundra for supplying review copies, and for inviting me to be a tour stop.

Both Alison Dare books are published by Tundra Books.

this world we live in

Why do I like reading books about the end of the world?

(Does it have anything to do with the fact that I’m writing report cards right now? Har har).

At least I know I’m not the only one loving these books. There are plenty of Susan Beth Pfeffer fans just as excited as I was to read the final book in her Survivors trilogy. I’ve had it on my stack for a few weeks, and it’s fairly miraculous that I managed to resist it until now. I am not a stay-up-late-into-the-night type of reader, but with Pfeffer’s books, I get that way.

This third one takes place about a year since a meteor collided with the moon, which knocked it out of orbit, catastrophically changing the earth’s climate. In the first book, we followed Miranda Evans and her family as they struggled to survive in rural Pennsylvania. In the follow up, Pfeffer presented an urban perspective of the same events in the story of Alex Morales, fighting to make it in New York City. Of those two books, I found the latter, the dead and the gone, to be the more powerful. I think it was the characters. Alex is more interesting, more complicated than Miranda. I’d say that the second is still my favourite of the books. In book three, Miranda and Alex meet when he arrives at her home with her father, stepmother and half-brother. The story covers what happens to the two teens after they meet, and another tragedy takes place that affects both of their families.

Overall, I thought the book was rushed. I certainly wanted to have more of Alex’s perspective in the novel. If I hadn’t read the second book, I imagine he would have seemed a rather thin character. I found it a shade unrealistic and contrived that Miranda’s dad would manage to get back to her home when the whole world had more or less fallen apart around them. It was tough to believe. The ending was ambiguous and bleak, which I thought was perfect. Anything else would have been false, and not true to the horror of their situation. People who complain that this book is depressing, they are reading the wrong book. If it weren’t depressing, it wouldn’t make sense. All in all, I thought it was satisfying, but lacking in character development, which is what really makes a book stand out for me. A decent end to a memorable series. I’m eager to see what Pfeffer imagines next.

this world we live in is published by Harcourt.

Beautiful Book Trailer Alert: The Sky is Everywhere

Check out the gorgeous UK book trailer for Jandy Nelson’s gorgeous book, The Sky is Everywhere:

Everyone seems to lurv this book.

I think the trailer captures the sweetness of the book beautifully, which is right on, because I imagine a lot of people will have a hard time imagining that a book about a girl mourning her sister could be sweet (and heartwarming, and funny, and dare I say it, sexy).

I like what Sara Zarr says about this one, “Jandy Nelson’s story of grief somehow manages to be an enchantment, a celebration, a romance—without forsaking the rock-hard truths of loss.”

Ditto to that. I’m off to keep reading it.

Deborah Wiles’ Countdown – review + giveaway

Deborah Wiles‘ latest novel, Countdown, sure has been generating a ton of buzz.

Countdown is the first in what will be a trilogy of “documentary novels” by Wiles, set in the 1960s. This term, “documentary novel,” is something new to me. It describes the format of the book, which is interspersed throughout with photos, cartoons, newspaper clippings and song lyrics from this era. These snippets of history help to build the mood of the story and I assume they are also there to help younger readers, who will be unfamiliar with the political and social upheaval of that time.

Franny Chapman is eleven, and she lives in Washington D.C. The book takes place during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and though Franny may not fully understand the situation, she feels the tension and stress around her everyday, and she has plenty of questions and opinions about it all.

One thing I wondered while reading was whether a younger reader would grasp enough of the historical complexity to fully appreciate what Wiles has accomplished, but I think that overall, the documentary elements work to give even a kid with no knowledge of this time a sense of what people were living through. I would be curious to talk to a kid reader to find out their take on the photos, song lyrics and cartoons. Kid approved? Only kids can say.

From a grown-up’s point of view, this book is complex and satisfying. Franny is a very relate-able character as a tween who feels in-between everything, and afraid of things she doesn’t understand. She is perfect in how she is fearful and feisty, she wants to be noticed and she wants her opinions to be heard. All in all, Countdown adds up to a rich, entertaining and informative reading experience. Highly recommended.

I’m pleased to be able to give away two copies of the book. This book giveaway is open to participants with a United States mailing address only (international readers may enter if they have a friend in the States who can accept their prizes by mail). Just drop off a comment below and be sure to include an email address so that I can contact you if you’re a winner.

You can visit the website for the book here, and take a look at this trailer: