Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything

I hope that lots of young readers discover Uma Krishnaswami’s charming new book, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. Why? Because it’s about Bollywood, and friendship, and creativity, and quirky communities, and the strange way that people’s lives intersect. It is a true middle grade read, with a character who is in the middle of discovering what matters to her most, and also that life is sometimes tricky and complicated.

Eleven-year-old Dini is crazy for all things Bollywood. She might live in suburban Maryland, but in many ways, her heart is in Bombay, the center of India’s film world. She and her best friend Maddie spend hours watching “fillums,” particularly the ones starring Dolly Singh, Dini’s favourite Bollywood star who is “So smart. So elegant. So talented. So perfect.” But when Dini’s mom announces that the family will be moving to a tiny village in India, far away from Maddie, from Bombay, from just about everywhere, Dini can’t see how this plan fits anywhere into the script that she has written for her life. The move forces Dini to revise – and keep revising – her grand plan. It turns out that Swapnagiri is a town with a lot of heart – and more than enough surprises for the script that is Dini’s life story.

Krishnaswami’s book has earned starred reviews from Kirkus, and from Publishers Weekly, and I can see why. There is such a fabulous sense of buoyancy in this tale. Dini is a quirky but believable tween, and I loved the vividness of the author’s depiction of Swapnagiri, with its monkeys and leaning houses and vast green tea fields and the Dreamycakes Bakery (where everything contains chocolate). There’s this sense of everything being just a tiny bit larger than life, and I loved the idea that everyday life can turn out to be as magical as life on-screen, if we just give it a chance. Oh, and I hardly need mention that Abigail Halpin’s illustrations are fantastic. I could never get tired of her work, and her pictures match the spirit of this story perfectly. You don’t need to be a Bollywood fan to cheer for Dini and get swept up in this delightfully cheery tale.

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything is published by Atheneum.

Still trying to believe in magic

On Wednesday, I learned the terribly sad news that my much beloved Flying Dragon Bookshop will be closing its doors at the end of June after eight magical years of bookselling.

This news has hit me hard. It is especially difficult given that it’s been barely a week since it was announced that the store was named Specialty Bookseller of the Year by the Canadian Booksellers Association.

A couple of years after the store opened I went in for the first time to drop off my resume. It had always been a fantasy for me to work in a children’s bookstore, having spent countless hours in bookstores with my dad when I was a kid, always leaving with a haul of books meant to keep me going till our next trip to the city for more books and Chinese food at our favourite spot on Spadina. I think that those days spent with my dad, hanging around in the finest independent bookstores in Toronto, played such a role in making me a reader, a booklover, for life. So I knew as soon as I set foot in The Flying Dragon that this place was the real deal. I met Nina McCreath and she told me that they would keep my resume on file, but that they weren’t looking to hire anyone at the moment. I was so disappointed, but not surprised. I could tell from just a few minutes in the store that it was the sort of place that if you were fortunate enough to work there, you’d want to stay for as long as you could. I came home talking about the shop, wishing that I could have been lucky enough to walk in right at the time when they were needing a new employee.

The very next day, Nina called. It turned out they did need someone. It turned out I was lucky after all. So, so lucky.

Every single day I worked at the store was magic.

I was blessed to meet and work with many talented, funny, smart, kind, and just generally awesome people. Nina and Cathy inspired me, and I think they always will, whenever I think of the store and what they achieved.

As I understand it, their primary reason for closing came down to sales. They just couldn’t see making a go of it after a decline that started this January. I have to wonder, if people this passionate about books and knowledgeable about the industry, this hardworking and creative, can’t make it work, then who can?

I’m feeling so much more than I could express here, but I keep coming back to sad.

I will miss them. I will miss the way I feel whenever I go to the store. It’s such a beautiful place. Being there does something to me. Whatever worries or cares I might have, when I’m in the store surrounded by the books, feeling all those stories around me, my perspective shifts. The store represents creativity, hope, possibility, dreams made real – so many of the things I hope to find in the world. We need more magic places like this.

I went to the store yesterday because I wanted to see it while it was still full of books. They’ll be selling as much as they can over the next month. I wanted to see it the way I hope to remember it, full of stories and beautiful things, looking like the bookstore you’d imagine if asked to conjure the perfect children’s bookshop. I looked for a copy of the first book I read after I started working at the store, Goodnight Mr. Tom, but I couldn’t find one, so I bought a dragon instead. I thought about all of the authors and books I discovered there. I felt the magic. It was hard to leave.

Thank you Cathy. Thank you Nina. I know you will create magic in whatever you do next. I wish you every good thing. And good books forever. Always books.

Warp Speed

I’ve decided that if given the chance, I wouldn’t want to meet most of my favourite authors. My reason? I’d be worried that the person behind a most-loved book would disappoint me. I’d rather imagine said god-like person as brilliant / funny / clever / extraordinary, keeping him or her in a state of perfection in my mind, even though I know that’s probably not real. How many authors of great books can be as cool as their books? Could J.K. Rowling be as awesome as her stories? Hard to imagine. (Okay. I’d probably meet J.K. if I had the chance. C’mon. Who wouldn’t?)

But Lisa Yee. I would meet Lisa Yee in a heartbeat, mostly because she seems HILARIOUS and a little crazy – good crazy. Also because I would like to meet Peepy and have my picture taken with Peepy. (This is Peepy). Lisa’s books are this fantastic combo of smart and true and funny. Heartwarming is a good word, but I mean that in the coolest possible way – think quirky and insightful indie flick, not Hallmark Movie of the Week weeper. Yee’s stories impress me because they manage to balance a light tone with thematic complexity. They’re really well constructed too. She’s a pro.

Warp Speed is the fourth title in a series featuring the same setting and characters, each time told from a different kid’s point of view. This time, it’s seventh grade and the main character is a character who appeared only briefly in one of the earlier books. Marley Sandelski is a nerd. He’d admit it. He is an outcast who loves Star Trek and hanging around with his equally geeky friends from AV club. In some ways, he’s okay with who he is, but like many kids his age he also longs to be accepted by the cool crowd. Marley faces horrible bullying for being different. The only good thing about this scenario is that he discovers his amazing talent for running. This ability turns out to play a key role in Marley finding his way from invisible to invincible.

Yee crafts a complex picture of what it means to be bullied day after day after day. She succeeds in convincing us just how isolating it is to feel victimized and unnoticed. It’s sad and true that Marley really does try to just get on with his life, to cope, to keep his head down, and to struggle through it. I liked that this story counters some of the typically held opinions about victims of bullying: they have no friends (Marley has friends); they have messed up family lives (Marley’s home life is fantastic). The resolution to the bullying felt a bit too good to be true for me, but it wasn’t impossible to believe. This book is made for reading groups. And all readers actually.

In case you’re not convinced yet, here is the author speaking Klingon:

Just say it. Now you want to meet her too.

Warp Speed is published by Arthur A. Levine Books.

This post is cross-posted at Guys lit Wire.

Library Bounty

Why is it that all of the best books you’ve had on hold for AGES at the library arrive all at once, one after the other after the other? Argh! A girl has report cards to write… and a wedding to organize. Now I also have these a-mazing books, sitting on my desk, making me crazy:

My brain is screaming, “READ READ READ!!! Quick! Before you have to take them all back all at the same time!”

I don’t know where to start.


I loved Ingrid Law’s debut, Savvy. If you haven’t read it (you should!) it’s about a girl named Mibs who comes from a family of extremely unusual folk. Turning thirteen in the Beaumont family means that you may develop an astonishing gift – a savvy. A savvy might be the ability to control the weather, or electricity, or to move mountains. When Mibs turns thirteen, a whole lot happens and Mibs begins an adventure full of excitement that is well beyond any wild savvy she could have imagined. A book with a concept that is so creative, so much fun, and so captivating makes you excited for whatever the author comes up with next.

Scumble is what’s next, and it was as delightful and absorbing as Savvy. It begins nine years after Mibs’s story as her cousin, Ledger Kale, is right about to turn thirteen. Like Mibs, he has n of what he’d love to have as his savvy. He wishes for super speed, but instead, ends up with a savvy that seems to be all about destruction. In spite of his dangerous savvy, Ledger heads on a road trip to Wyoming for a family wedding. Needless to say, his out-of-control power wreaks havoc and when a nosy and crafty girl reporter witnesses the chaos, Ledger realizes that he may be responsible for exposing his family’s unbelievable talents. He has to learn to “scumble” – to control his savvy – if he is going to get on with his life and keep his family’s amazing abilities secret.

Law has a lot of talent. Her stories move along at a great clip, and even though this one was long, it never lagged. I think a great part of that achievement lies with the characterization. Even the characters who appear in only a few scenes are memorable and you wish you could spend more time with them. The supporting cast is so colourful and quirky. We can only hope that Law has some stories imagined for them as well. Her language offers a lovely balance of rich and arresting imagery and down-home warmth. You’ll sink right into it. Of course, her creativity continues to impress. As much as it is a rollicking great tale, Scumble is also a pretty deep book about struggling with who you really are, discovering that what seems to be your curse might really be a gift, and that “sometimes things have to come apart before becoming something different – something better.”

I don’t doubt that Law will manage – by some remarkable savvy-like gift – to produce something just as wonderful for all of us to read next. Don’t miss Scumble.

Scumble is published by Dial Books.

Another reason to love Maira Kalman

I read this great article about library design over at School Library Journal and as soon as I was finished I wondered how many more kids would be readers if some of their formative book experiences happened in environments like those. Absolutely beautiful.

When I read that Maira Kalman was involved in the design of the last library mentioned in the article, I went a-hunting and found this video, which has reconfirmed for me that Maira Kalman is AWESOME. Check it out:

Gives me goosebumps. If only every library ever was as inspiring and purty and whimsical.