A big shout out for “!” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

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In late March, most people can use a little more ! in their lives. I know I sure do. So when I spotted Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s sunny new picture book, I had hope that a smiley happy boost was headed my way.

I was not wrong. It’d be near impossible to read Exclamation Mark and not be charmed and cheered.

Here’s the trailer:

You know when you read a book, and you can just tell the creators had a blast making it? That’s this book. In fact, I’d say that I get this feeling when I read all of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s books. This is a woman I’d like to spend the day with. I imagine we’d do something fun and probably kooky and we’d be laughing nonstop. Our conversations would be full of clever puns and silly stuff and we’d feel smart and giddy and just plain delighted to be alive.

Not to mention, I love me a book that I could imagine using with wee folk right on up to Grade 8. (Cuz you know those Grade 8s aren’t all pros with their punctuation. Shocker). Exclamation Mark has a message that little guys can relate to, but the concept and execution are so clever that older kids will laugh on every page.

So Amy, if by small chance you ever read this tiny shout out for Exclamation Mark, I’d like to say thanks for making stories as witty as they are wise.

Exclamation Mark is published by Scholastic.

Light as a feather: Destiny, Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

destinySometimes the second you lay eyes a book, you cannot wait to read it. That’s how I felt when I first saw Kathryn Fitzmaurice’s new middle grade novel, Destiny, Rewritten. Everything about that cover (by Erwin Madrid) speaks to my inner 11-year-old, and I’ll bet it will speak to a whole lot of actual 11-year-olds too. I mean, what’s not to love, from the point of view of a starry-eyed, fashionably cute, bookstore-loving, cat obsessed girl? Even the title font is pretty much spot on, promising a little whimsy and romance and some artsy flair. Add the soft, magic-is-about-to-happen lighting from above, and I’m sold. Bam. Done. My only complaint, post-read, is that the cute kitty does not feature in the story, which seems misleading, since he features so prominently on the front. (And clearly he has a story. I mean, look at that face!)

So it was with a heart full of expectation that I began to read about the life and adventures of eleven-year-old Emily Elizabeth Davis, who is destined to become a poet, just like Emily Dickinson, because that is who she was named after. Emily’s mother, herself a poet, and a rather flaky, destiny-loving lady, named her daughter after ED in the hopes that her daughter would grow up to be a remarkable poet as well. Too bad Emily has no talent for poetry, or any interest in it really. She would rather read romance novels, and imagine her future as a famous writer in the tradition of Danielle Steel, to whom she writes frequent letters. She hasn’t told her mom about all this… yet. Things get complicated when Emily finds out that her mother, who has kept the identity of Emily’s dad secret, reveals that she wrote his name into the special volume of Emily Dickinson’s poetry that Emily has treasured for as long as she can remember. But before Emily can find this life-changing information, the book is lost. So begins her search to find the book, find out the truth about her father, and hopefully, discover her true destiny along the way.

There’s a lot to love in this gentle story. Fitzmaurice creates a wonderfully realistic relationship between Emily and her best friend Wavey. I particularly appreciated the dialogue between the two of them. I like the way it bounces back and forth, with each one of the kids adding on to what the other one says, finishing up the other’s thoughts in that way that real friends sometimes do. You really believe in their friendship. The setting, Berkeley, California, comes across as quirky and warm. Emily writes to her author-hero, Danielle Steel, and the letters are delightful little funny and heartwarming treats scattered throughout the narrative. In fact, heartwarming is pretty much the perfect word for this whole book. I also like it when an author is successful in bringing together different narrative threads in a way that doesn’t feel contrived, but rather captures how life can surprise us with circumstances that might be destiny, or perhaps only strange coincidences.

Just two complaints. First, sometimes Emily’s language did not ring true for an eleven-year-old. It came off as too adult in places. I’ve listened to many an eleven-year-old, and there were moments when Emily’s way of speaking / thinking seemed far too adult to be convincing. This was occasionally distracting. Also, while I get that Emily’s mom was meant to be flaky, she came off a little one-dimensional and hard to believe a lot of the time. I found her unsympathetic overall, almost like she was toying with her daughter’s emotions by being such a slave to the notion of everything being destined. I found it hard to think that a mother would treat her daughter’s desire to know her father with such a lack of seriousness and respect, almost as if it was a kind of game.

Destiny, Rewritten is an Indiebound Kid’s Pick for Spring, and I can see why. Pick it up and you’ll be delighted you did.

Destiny, Rewritten is published by Katherine Tegen Books.

I can’t wait to read these!

gryffI promise I won’t be starting off every post with a puppy picture, but c’mon, how could I deny you such an adorable face? He’s a little charmer, that’s for sure. Moving on to All Things Booky.

It’s my March Break from school next week, and I plan to read, read, read (when I’m not training a certain someone to Sit, Down, and Come). There are so many books coming out now or in the next couple of months that I cannot wait to read and I’ve started keeping a list so I don’t forget any of them. What’s on your TBR list?

Here’s a collection of links to reviews of upcoming or brand new titles that you might want to remember too:

According to Reading Rants, Dark Triumph: His Fair Assassins by Robin LaFevers is “way more bloody and fast paced than the first but just as deliciously juicy.” I devoured book one, so this one is probably at the top of my list. Coming in April.

According to Vikki, The Darkness Dwellers by Kirsten Miller should hopefully get the Kiki Strike series onto more people’s radar. I support that. The first two books were such fun. More kids should be reading them. Vikki imagines a movie version would be “like Kick-Ass meets The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants only set in NEW YORK!” Yes please!

A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy adored The Madness Underneath: Shades of London, Book Two by Maureen Johnson: “I loved, loved, loved The Madness Underneath. The Name of the Star is like the TV Pilot that gets the gang together and sets up a premise and The Madness Underneath is the episode where it all comes together and sparks fly.” I’m pretty sure that this one will be at the top of my vacation reading list.

Confessions of a Bibliovore thinks that Robin Benway’s latest, Also Known As, is pretty delightful. She promises, “if you’re jonesing for more Gallagher Girls, this should help with that. Breezy, funny, and sweet, this confection of a novel is just right to put a smile on your face.” Sounds like a treat.

I absolutely cannot wait to pick up Lisa Graff’s new Middle Grade title, A Tangle of Knots. Those who know me well know that a book with recipes is sure to get my attention. Welcome to My Tweendom was crazy about it for lots of reasons. Here are a few: “a bake-off, recipes, attempted adoption, archeological crime, a mysterious wordless stranger, a wayward ferret and an in-and-out narrator dressed in a gray suit, and you have A Tangle of Knots.” Sounds a little Polly Horvath-ish in terms of quirkiness.

So those are a few books I’m hankering after at the moment. Reviews to come soon, pinky swear! It’s hard being a new mama 🙂

Happy Friday!

The Diviners was SO good, I only put it down for…

…this guy:

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And only because he is so good at looking at me with such a cute blend of sweetness and judgment.

divinersIf Libba Bray’s latest can rival my adorable puppy for my attention, you have to know that it is seriously good. I have not read something so gripping and intricately plotted for quite a while. I can honestly say that every single page held my attention, and there were many places when I stopped to reread just to enjoy Bray’s turn of phrase. I will be eagerly awaiting the next installment in the trilogy.

Set in the 1920s in New York City, The Diviners follows Ohio native, Evie, who could not be happier to be sent away to the city after an embarrassing incident in her small town. She has dreamed of the freedom and excitement of New York for as long as she can remember. She goes to stay with her Uncle Will, the curator of a museum of supernatural objects, which is fitting because Evie has an unusual gift. She is able to read people’s past experiences whenever she holds an object that belongs to them. Soon after her arrival, a series of murders rock the city, and it becomes clear that a serial killer is at large. Evie, her Uncle, and his assistant, are drawn into the investigation and it isn’t long before they realize that a terrible force of evil is only beginning its dark work.

An amazingly rich cast of characters is a big part of what makes this book so captivating. There’s Memphis, a young man who has lost the ability he once had to heal people through touch, and his brother Isaiah, who can see the future. There’s Theta, one of Ziegfeld’s chorus girls, who guards her own secrets, Sam, a pickpocket searching for his mother, and Uncle Will’s assistant, Jericho, is not what he seems. I connected to all of their stories. Bray weaves everything together so masterfully that you get just enough of each person’s story to fulfill you but still leave you curious and eager for more in the next book.

The city and the incredibly freaky old mansion where Naughty John, the serial killer, makes his lair, come off as characters in themselves, they are so richly evoked. I love a book with a strong sense of place, where you can really sink into the time and the feeling of the setting. The Diviners has this in spades.

I expect you’ll also be charmed at the way that Bray manages to get some lightness into a very dark and at times, deeply unsettling story. The dialogue is snappy, and Evie, our heroine, is so plucky and peppy that you will “pos-i-tute-ly” love her.

So unless you’ve got an 11-week-old puppy to pull you away from this book, I don’t imagine you’ll be able to do much other than keep on reading once you start The Diviners. One more thing. Don’t read it when you’re home alone. That would be a Very Bad Idea.

The Diviners is published by Little, Brown.

Mischief (barely) managed: our new addition

It’s Family Day in Ontario, so it’s just the right moment to share some exciting news. We have a new addition. Here he is:

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His name is Gryffin, after (you guessed it): Gryffindor. We’ve had him officially sorted, and luckily, he does not need to be renamed Slythery or Puffball. He is a Lakeland Terrier. We are terrier folk, and there will only ever be one perfect Irish Terrier for us, so we decided to try a smaller, but equally sassy variety this time around.

It turns out he is brave of heart, having survived the first 48 hours under the same roof as his very angry Siamese brother. (Pretty sure that one is Slytherin, mostly because of the way he stares at Gryffin with Draco-like malice. He is plotting something, that’s for sure).

Just for fun, mostly to serve as a forever-in-progress scrapbook of Gryffin’s days, I’ve started a dog blog. It’s called mischief managed. I am sure it will be filled with tales of adventure and friendship and courage and laughter, in all ways worthy of the great books that inspired the boy’s name. I promise Shelf Elf will not turn into a mommy-dog blog, but surely there will always be a place for pictures like this, right?

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Right.

Mischief managed!

Feeling the love: Jumping for Cybils (and Valentine’s) Joy

photoAwesome picture, right? That’s me and my hubby doing a heart-shaped jump for joy. (And yes, that’s our sassy old-man Siamese stalking away in the background. He was not impressed by our acrobatics). Earlier this week, we went to do a photo session at jumpshots, an amazing studio in Toronto that is the brainchild of Margaret Mulligan. She is as lovely as she is talented. If you’re in Toronto and you’re in search of a fun way to spend an evening, I can’t think of a better suggestion than a photo shoot at jumpshots.

Today is not just Valentine’s Day (reason enough to jump around, all heart-shaped), it is also the day when the Cybils 2012 Winners are announced. Here’s the link. I was on the Fantasy and Science Fiction YA panel this year, and it was a treat to be able to discuss the finalists with such a smart group of bookish people. I think you’ll find our winner, Seraphina, is definitely worthy of a heart-jump.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and Happy Cybils Day!

Scaredy Elf meets The Diviners

Folks, have you seen the book trailer for Libba Bray’s The Diviners? Well sheesh, I saw it the other day and I thought, “That is the SCARIEST book trailer I have ever seen!” followed immediately by, “I must get my elfy hands on that book, now.” I guess that is what is called effective marketing. Side note, it is no surprise that I am the sort of person who knows she has no business watching scary things on TV when she is home alone, and yet cannot resist said scary things and so ends up having to check closets and the basement and behind half-open doors before going to bed. For monsters. And/or zombies. And/or bad people.

Even writing a post about this while I am home alone is giving me goosebumps. I’m warning you. Do not watch the following trailer if you are at all inclined to get really afraid of imaginary things, or if you have a tendency to get freaky twisted nursery-rhyme type music stuck in your head, particularly at bedtime.

Thanks Libba. Thanks a lot.

(BTW, the book rocks, and it is very scary indeed. Review soon).

I heart Binky, Maru’s brainy cousin

binkyIf you ask me, Binky is what might happen to Maru if he focused less on boxes, and more on the possibility that aliens could be trying to attack his family’s space station (house). Those who know me, know how much Maru means to me, so that is perhaps all I really need to say to tell you how much I love Binky, the crazy cartoon kitty, created by the always stylish, super-talented Ashley Spires.

But honestly, I have many more reasons why I think The Binky Adventures are pretty much purr-fect (absolutely could not help it). Let’s make a list, shall we?

1. It’s got huge kid appeal, for boys and girls. Not just sayin’ this folks, I’ve got the banged-up, always coming-and-going copies in my school library to prove it. Some girls might be picking it up because Binky is just so darn cute, but they’ll stay because he is hilarious. There’s sweetness, but there’s also a little potty humour. In Binky Takes Charge, Gordon the dog may be leaving coded messages for the aliens (flies) in his business (um… poop). Now that will make kids laugh.

2. An average kid reader could finish a Binky book in one sitting, not rushing, just having a good time.

3. Spires’ artwork has such clean lines and a neutral colour palette that the expressions on the characters’ faces really stand out. Also, the uncluttered design of the panels will help readers to hone in on the story all the more. Plus, there’s something about Spires’ illustration style that feels modern and hip – and we all know how important it is for kids these days to feel modern and hip (*wink wink*). Perhaps I should say that Binky will score their hipster parents’ seal of approval?

4. It is becoming harder and harder for me to track down and stock enough graphic novels for the library that are appropriate for smart, book-devouring younger readers. I’m talking about kids in Grade 2/3/4 who are desperate to leap onto the GN bandwagon and who are really not ready for the content, length, and language in some popular GN series. Binky is perfect for that kind of kid. So not only are hipster parents cheering, it also gets the Cool Librarian’s Seal of Approval.

5. When you read a Binky book, you feel like Ashley Spires gets how cats think. Ask any cat lover and she (or he!) will tell you that their cat could be Binky, and this is at once thrilling and terrifying. (Now that I think about it, Yoyo has been spending more and more time lately lying on top of the heating vent. Perhaps he thinks the aliens are going to break in via the magic hot air?)

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The little rotter

In conclusion, Binky is for everyone from Grade 2 right on up to your crazy cat lady relative. Read all four and you’ll heart Binky too.

Binky Takes Charge and all the others in the series are published by Kids Can Press.

Happy 200th Lizzy Bennet!

Today is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice and I feel like celebrating. I’m home alone tonight, and I know exactly what I will be doing. I will be toasting Jane, and then maybe, I’ll soak up some of my favourite scenes from the book, brought to life on screen, such as:

I’ve also had my eye on a couple of adaptations for quite a long time. Maybe this is the week to give one a chance?

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Would Jane be shocked? I like to think not. She had a sense of humour, after all. Tell me what you think about my options:

Thank you Jane. Happy Birthday Lizzy!

Old fashioned sweetness: The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson

paperdollsThis darling picture book made me hope, hope, hope that there are still kids out there playing with paper dolls. As a kid, I remember getting one of those big activity books that was filled with tear-out paper dolls with little outfits for various occasions. I loved them. (Actually, I think I still do. I wouldn’t say no to these ones…) Julia Donaldson has written the sweetest wee story about a little girl who knows how to play the old fashioned way, to make her own fun with paper and scissors and her imagination. You could pack this one up with some scissors, and some paper and pencil crayons, and you’d have the perfect birthday present, I’d say.

The little girl and her mum make five paper dolls and then she heads off with them for dancing, jumping, singing, and various adventures. But then, they meet a boy with a pair of scissors… The end of this book gave me goosebumps. It will make your heart squeeze a little, but it’s not saccharine or overdone. Rebecca Cobb’s illustrations have a homespun style that really captures the wonder of the experience as a little girl might see it. Give this to a crafty kid, or a crafty mum who has just had a baby girl (she’ll probably cry a little). Just lovely. Here’s the equally lovely trailer:

The Paper Dolls is published by Macmillan Children’s Books.