Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hunger Games

I haven't written on Hunger Games, I mean it probably does not need more press.  However, I am a huge fan and read the books a few years ago.  Christmas of 2010 I think I single handed-ly boosted its stats by giving it to a ba-jillion people.  I was concerned that the movie would ruin it, but then the movie was quite well done.  I designed a Hunger Games / Saint Francis inspired shirt that is in the running to be printed on Threadless right now, and would love it if you have a second to take a look at it.  I remain immensely impressed by Peeta, and think his dedication to staying himself and refusing to play the game for his own gain make him one of my favorite characters in literature.  I think he would like this shirt, follow the link above and let me know if you agree:).

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Jamie-cott Awards AKA Some Really Beautiful Books

Sometimes I am shelving books at the library,or tidying up after a hurricane of children has come through, and a picture book will just refuse to get back on the shelf because its illustrations are so amazing I cannot leave it alone.  Here are a fifteen of those amazingly beautiful books, in no particular order, and from no particular publishing year.  I am awarding them the not-so-prestigious Jamie-cott award, because only one book gets the Caldecott every year and there are soooo many more that deserve it!  

A few of them should also earn the amazingly-smart-wow-that's-crazy-award.  You will know them when you see them.

Saint Francis and the Nativity is by Myrna A. Strasse with amazing illustrations by Fausto Binachi.  These pictures practically glow.  They are like portable stained glass.  I would love to put them on my walls.  The story tells about the first live nativity, and involves my favorite saint. 

The Bear Who Shared by Catherine Rayner is about, yes a bear who shared.  The pictures are beautiful, the thing they share is a magical imaginary fruit, and friends are made.  Great fun all around.


The Rabbit Problem, by Emily Gravett explains the Fibonacci sequence using a bunch of rabbits.  Not ordinary rabbits either, pop up rabbits with little mini-books and calendars and cut-outs.  It enthralled several of us in the work room while the book sorter puffed and putted away.  It also makes you want to learn about math, and could lead to a desire for more pet rabbits.  Here is a quick fix for those of you saying fibo-who:

Spells,  also by Emily Gravett, is a twist on the princess and the frog with her trademark quirky sketches and non-traditional page formats that allow you to change the book every time you read it. Her prince may not be so charming, but her book is!

Tumble Me Tumbily is written by Karen Baicker and illustrated by Sam Williams.  This is a beautiful bed-time style book with soft illustrations that look like they were sketched with a fat soft pencil and then water-colored.  The rhythm and rhymes are great for very early listeners, and the animals and babies could extract awws from even the hardest heart-ed picture book readers.

Sisters and Brothers: sibling relationships in the animal world


is by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page.  You may have seen other books by Jenkins, he has a bunch of awesome nonfiction animal books like Actual Size, and What do You do With a Tail Like This?  Some are on his own and others, like this one are with his wife, Page.  Different animals gallop and crawl across the pages with large print to be read to really young children and accompanying nonfiction text about the different animals and their behavior for the older reader.  the pictures look like stop action photos of collage pieces.  You will want to pick them up off the white background and run your fingers over their textures.

Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu is composed only of pictures.  I don't normally like that, frankly, words are pretty cool.  However, the blues, oranges, yellows and greens combined with thick black lines create such a distinctive look I really can't help but include Nyeu's world in this list.  She has one other book with a similar color scheme, starring the same huggable bear.  It is called Bunny Days.


Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, is by Lee Wardlaw with illustrations by Eugene Yelchin.  the format is obviously interesting and the pictures remind me of a cartoon form the 60's or 70's.  This would be great for a poetry unit, or just for a kid who likes cats!

Posy by Linda Newberry has illustrations you just want to scoop right off the page.  They are done by Catherine Rayner, who lives and works in Edinburough where they clearly have the world's most adorable cats!  She won the Book Trust Early Years Award for Best New illustrator in 2006, so she probably doesn't really care about her Jamie-cott award, but still.  the text is simple and little kids will love it.  My cat, Opie, is in love with Posy and wants to write her a letter!

Mortimer's First Garden by Karma Wilson is illustrated by Dan Andreasen.  Mortimer is a cheerful and enthusiastic little mouse who ends the books curled up in a delicious pile of sunflower seeds.  You will want a pet mouse after meeting him.

Princess Hyacinth: the Surprising Tale of a Girl who Floated is a modern fairy tale of a bored princess and a kite flying boy.  The boy and the kite may get frowns from the more feministic, as there is a bit of rescuing involved, but come on people lighten up.  The pictures are whimsical and remind me a little of the angular style used in Disney's Sleeping beauty, with some added twists.  It was written by Florence Parry Heide, with pictures by lane Smith.  The multi-colored text is silly and has the semi-sarcastic tone of the Stinky Cheese Man stories by Jon Scieszka which are also illustrated by Lane Smith.  I think the princess would be glad that I had fun reading it.

I Spy With my Little Eye is by Edward Gibbs.  It's one of those guess-what's-on-the-next-page books that is sure to delight.  The pictures are painterly and sketchy; reminiscent of children's books from the fifties.  The pages have delightful peek-throughs, and it is a pretty big format, making for a perfect group read-aloud.

Swirl By Swirl: Spirals in Nature  is by Joyce Sidman with pictures by Beth Krommes.  Krommes has won the Caldecott for The House in the Night, and all i can say is wow about her work here.  It looks almost like it was done on scratch boards.  Each page is covered with fine, richly colored cross hatching over a white and black background.  The illustrations crawl with specifically named creatures from around the world in a celebration of nature you will not soon forget.

The Dog Who Belonged to No One, by Amy Hest with pictures by Amy Bates, is a must for any dog-lover in your life.  The title dog wiggles right off the page and into your lap.  He is rakish and fuzzy and in need of some love, which he of course finds after some stressful rainy nights.

Little Owl's Night by Divya Srinivasan is a beautiful retro-looking trip through, obviously, one little owl's night.  It's done with simple shapes and colors and ends with the sun-rise and bed-time for the owl.  The dark background is different for a kids book.  I like it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The History of Love

I just finished The History of Love by Nicole Krause and it was beautiful.

It is a book within a book written by rotating narrators with entwining story lines that lead you down the crowded sidewalks of today's New York, through the darkened woods of Nazi-occupied Poland, and into a quiet coffee house in  post-war Chile.  The worlds Krauss builds are hazy and real at once, like the dream you can't be sure you weren't awake for.  I felt like I should go looking for the book from inside the book by the time I had finished reading! 

One of the narrators is Leopold Gursky, an aging holocaust survivor living in New York.  Also in New York we meet Alma, the young daughter of a widowed academic.  Her mother lives her life in a haze of depression, recreating her dead husband over and over while her children tumble up on their own.  Alma's brother, Bird, takes his turn at narrating as well from his point of view as one of 36 mystical lamed vovnik - he thinks he may be on the JV messiah team basically.  While he and Alma are trying to figure out their world with an emotionally absent mother, Leo Gursky is trying to prove to himself that he is still alive. In Chile, Leo's old friend Litvinoff, who escaped  before the Nazi invasion, spends years climbing around his lost life only to eventually make the decision that gives us our title.  The tangle of characters range from South America to Manhattan in independent stories that seem unrelated, and can even be slightly disorienting at first.  Everything comes together beautifully in the very last page, however, and we realize that everyone has been telling the same story from the start.

Krauss's prose is succinct and carefully layered so that I suspect even more connections would become clear on a second reading.  She puts together a world that somehow leaves the taste of hope behind, even when so many things have veered away from happy in the lives of her lovable yet bruised characters.  I highly recommend The History of Love!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

OK, OK, so I love Meg Cabot

I have been slightly disparaging of Chik-Lit in the past...if only in my head....really almost snobby I would say.  This was really hypocritical when you consider my absolute delight in really bad romantic comedies on the silver screen. 

Then one day I half-heartedly picked up Meg Cabot's Queen Of Babble.  It was like a package of M&M's and a Saundra Bullock movie in book form.    I read barely more time than it takes to devour a bad rom-com on film, and moved onto the sequel...and the last book in the trilogy...and then The Boy Next Door.  the thing is, the lady can really write some very engaging characters, and while the plot line is totally While You Were Sleeping sans soundtrack, the actual writing is completely enjoyable!  I mean it, I felt guilty for the first three books, but I have come to terms with the fact that I absolutely adore Meg Cabot. 

OK so the plots are not earth shattering, like my friend Liz has said of many things, it's not going to change your life... but you will be entertained and you will laugh and every time you close her book you will have a goofy grin.  Can't be helped.   Also, she CAN write people.  Even the Boy Next Door Series, all told through emails, which sounded horrid to me upon first thought, flows just fine.   She can bring a story to life and successfully suspend any disbelief you might like to have in the face of French chateaus or millionaires in disguise mixed together with small-town mid-western girls  or secret princesses from the bay area. 

Some authors do all plot, no style.  Some do all style, no plot.  Ms. Cabot does lovable characters, fun dialogue, and grin-inducing stream-of-consciousness with a great eye for the dynamics of friendship all tied up in lighthearted plots that you are pretty certain will turn out OK.   Pick one up.  You won't regret it.  You read it not because you don't really know what's going to happen, but because the trip to the end is so much fun and the characters who take that trip with you are delightfully entertaining.

Disclaimer: If you have a Y chromosome, and this is not painfully obvious already, you should probably skip Cabot.  It might make you want to stab your eyes out, I mean come on, it is called chick-lit for a reason.  Signature Meg Cabot is best approached by one who can watch Mansfield Park twice in a 24 hour period, and quote Dirty Dancing or Drive Me Crazy without any intentional irony.