Throwback Thursday: Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading

This was pretty typical of me at a certain age (by which I mean all the ages including now…). I believe that is a Sweet Valley High book I was reading. We’re at a Christmas party, and my mom and stepdad are engrossed in an actual conversation which I was trying very hard to ignore.

In all seriousness, this was a Christmas party I loved to go to as a kid, at the house of one of my mom’s former teachers from Gardena High School, Richard Cody. We used to attend annually, driving from our home in the Inland Empire to their house in Santa Ana. In my role as endless, annoying fountain of Christmas spirit from July onwards, I was dazzled by something as simple as the taillights of the traffic on the 91 freeway, festive ribbons of red and white that were probably making my parents cuss under their breath.

Richard Cody and his wife had a huge network of extended family and friends, former students, children biological, foster, and adopted, and so on and so forth. We’d enjoy Christmas carols around the piano (often with me or my mom playing), orange sherbet punch, and a reading of The Night Before Christmas that culminated in Santa coming down the stairs and handing presents out to all the kids. When I was little, Santa was this really tall man named Benjamin, and then his son Malik inherited the post–that might be him on the left in the picture, or possibly his brother Ibi. (Clearly nobody was alarmed by Santa suddenly changing from white to black in the space of a year.)

That diverse cacophony of names, though: Malik, Ibi. Their mom Twyla. Erlene, Richard’s wife. Ted and Ariana, their biological kids. Moises, Marcos. Plenty of others I don’t remember. It was a music, just as much as the notes from the piano; a very SoCal music. The Codys’ expansive and generous social circle taught me a lot about the diversity of where I lived.

This would probably be a good December post, but in keeping with my childhood singing of Christmas carols at any given time of year, I’m posting it now.

Source: Finding Wonderland

May Flicktion Tuesday Challenge

Okay, I missed April. OOPS. But I’m back on track now, and it’s time for another 2sday Challenge, hosted over on the writing blog and posted by my co-blogger and fellow author Tanita S. Davis. Anyone is welcome to participate–just write your thing, inspired by the posted Flickr photo, and share a link on the original post if you want to. This month’s image comes from Flickr user Stefano Arteconi of Bologna, Italy:

Untitled

I came up with a poem this time, rather than a prose piece. I guess my brain is all tied up in my novel rewrite and needed a change! Anyway, here goes:

Ma Semblable – Ma Soeur


Hypocrite lecteuse!

Like me and unlike me
An evil twin
In a different hat.

Warped reflections,
Spot the difference—
Games we play
With ourselves

To minimize the fear
Of facing our double.
Who is who?
Which half is witch?

If you open your eyes
You will recognize me
I am the one
Carrying the baggage.

SAVE THE DATE: KidLitCon 2019 in Providence, RI

It’s hard to believe, but I don’t think we’ve posted about this yet–the next Kidlitosphere Conference is already well into the planning stages, spearheaded by our own Charlotte Taylor of Charlotte’s Library and Mia Wenjen of Pragmatic Mom. It’ll be in Providence, RI on March 22-23, 2019, and it’s got its own nifty website!

The latest awesome news about the conference is that Charlotte applied for and GOT a sizeable grant from the Providence Tourism Council, which means we can stretch our small budget and make the conference an even more memorable experience for everyone. This next con promises to be bigger and better than ever, too, with Charlotte and Mia at the helm. Reaching Readers is the theme, and there’s already an incredible list of attending bloggers and authors who have plans to come.

If you’ve been to KidLitCon before, you’ll know that it offers a far more intimate and less formal opportunity for bloggers, authors, librarians, teachers, illustrators, and other devotees of kidlit to come together and discuss current and ongoing issues, as well as sharing our areas of knowledge and expertise for the benefit of the kids (and, let’s face it, adults) who read and enjoy books for young people. Speaking personally, it’s at KidLitCon that I “found my tribe,” so to speak–I’ve made lifelong friends with fellow book lovers who might be writers, readers, or both, but regardless of our actual job titles, we share that same passion.

I’m planning to attend (although there’s a possibility I might be traveling elsewhere at the time, I’m hoping to make it all happen!) and look forward to meeting even more members of the tribe–so if you’re interested, go check out the programming notes and get involved in a panel!

Source: Finding Wonderland

Mental Health Awareness Month: A Review Roundup

Source: Mental Health America

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we’ve reviewed a number of titles over the years that we thought were exceptional portrayals of the experience of mental illness and related difficulties. As we all know, reading a good book can make us feel less alone–and, honestly, sometimes that’s the one thing you need in order not to go over the edge. So here, in no particular order, is a by no means exhaustive list of recommended reads for Mental Health Month:

The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard

100 Days of Cake by Shari Goldhagen

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos

This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn

Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters

First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Nice Girls Endure by Chris Struyk-Bonn

These Gentle Wounds by Helene Dunbar

Source: Finding Wonderland

Monday Review: THE QUEEN OF SORROW by Sarah Beth Durst

Synopsis: I loved the first two books in Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read a review copy of the upcoming third book, The Queen of Sorrow (out on May 15th). If you haven’t read the first two, you might want to skip this review in case of spoilers!

Right, on to the good stuff. In this last installment of the trilogy, we pick up where the second book, The Reluctant Queen (reviewed here), left off. The forested land of Aratay is settling into having two queens: the young Queen Daleina, left in power after the violent slaughter of the other potential heirs; and Queen Naelin, a mother of two who possesses more raw power over the land’s spirits than just about anyone. But while the two queens of Aratay have been figuring out how to rule in tandem, the ambitious Queen Merecot of Semo, to the north, has been making some plans of her own in order to deal with her country’s excess of spirits. When two strange, foreign spirits swoop in and steal Queen Naelin’s children, Merecot is the natural suspect…

Observations: Fans of the first two books will find this a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, continuing the complex and believable character development of the first two as well as the action, adventure, and intriguing setting. Naelin and Daleina are both very relatable characters, with flaws and quirks that balance out their strength and power. They have love lives and families, feelings and interests beyond the paths that have been chosen for them, and they struggle to maintain normality and humanity in the face of challenges ranging from the everyday to the wondrously, frighteningly magical.

There was also a twist toward the end of the book that I loved. I could sort of see it coming, but not in the sense that it was predictable—just in the sense that that was the choice *I* would have made if I’d been writing, and it was what I really WANTED to see happen. It felt very RIGHT. As someone currently struggling with some plot dilemmas, I really appreciated seeing the story build toward what felt like a natural, inevitable conclusion.

Conclusion: What more can I say? A strong, exciting, page-turning conclusion to the trilogy, and another wonderfully unique world from an always imaginative author.


This review is based on the advance review copy, which I received courtesy of the author and publisher. Starting on May 15th, you can find THE QUEEN OF SORROW by Sarah Beth Durst at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland

Cybils Review Roundup: 2017 Graphic Novel Finalists

Here in a handy list is a set of links to all of my reviews of this past year’s Cybils finalists for Graphic Novels. As always, it was a privilege and a pleasure to be a Round 2 judge and get to choose from the best of the best in terms of kid appeal and literary merit (the main Cybils criteria). Without further ado, here you go!

Young Adult

WINNER: Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld, ‎ illustrated by Alex Puvilland
Buddha: An Enlightened Life by Kieron Moore; Illustrated by Rajesh Nagulakonda
New Super-Man Vol. 1: Made in China (Rebirth) by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Viktor Bogdanovic
Soupy Leaves Home by Cecil Castellucci, illustrated by Jose Pimienta
Spinning by Tillie Walden
Diesel: Ignition by Tyson Hesse

Elementary/Middle Grade

WINNER: Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
Real Friends by Shannon Hale, ilustrated by LeUyen Pham (check out Tanita’s take on it, too!)
Suee and the Shadow by Ginger Ly, illustrated by Molly Park
The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner
The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
 

Source: Finding Wonderland

Cybils Review: DIESEL: IGNITION by Tyson Hesse

Synopsis: Well, first off, now I’m really glad I decided to change my WIP’s title away from its working title of Ignition, because it suits this steampunk-inspired book much better. “Dee” Diesel is a somewhat troublemaking young woman who lives on the airship-city of Peacetowne, in a world above the clouds populated by humans and fanciful animal-people. All is going somewhat according to plan when suddenly a Teppan army ship full of birdmen appears out of nowhere and then disappears, leaving a strange broken engine behind. Dee, a budding gearhead, decides to try to repair it, which plunges her and her robot sidekick onto a strange adventure that brings them from the sky world to the earth below, and brings back some long-lost figures from the past to boot…

Observations: Diesel has an irresistible mix of fantasy and steampunk that is intriguing from the very start—part-animal/part-human characters like Bull, who is a sort of minotaur kid, and the Teppan, who are bird-people, as well as robots and flying cities and airships. The plot is full of continuous action and adventure, and the setting is incredibly cool—at the same time, the characters have problems with family and friends and responsibilities that are relatable. There’s also plenty of humor and a super cute robot sidekick who talks in little lines, like Woodstock talking to Snoopy.

Click to embiggen. Also, check out a chapter preview
at Comics Alliance.

The themes brought in here give weight to the fantastical story and setting: the meaning of family, the types of trust issues that arise when someone is betrayed, the clash of personalities and goals that is inevitable in life but has to be dealt with. Thematically, this one will resonate with older teens, while younger ones will enjoy the overall action of the story. The art, too, is really wonderful, combining the fantastical with cute and funny touches, and a dash of manga influence—unsurprising, since the author/artist is also an animator who worked on a Sonic the Hedgehog game.

Conclusion: I’m really glad the Cybils brought this one to me as part of this year’s YA Graphic Novels finalists—I don’t know how well-known it is, but I was intrigued by both the unique twist on steampunk and the fun characters. Book 1 also ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I’m hoping to read more.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher for Cybils judging purposes. You can find DIESEL: IGNITION by Tyson Hesse at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland

Cybils Review: SUEE AND THE SHADOW by Ginger Ly and Molly Park

Synopsis: Suee and the Shadow was a Cybils finalist in 2017 for Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels. This ghost story with a touch of horror—but not too much—will appeal to older elementary kids especially. Set in a school in Korea, it stars main character Suee, a young girl reminiscent of Emily Strange. She wears black all the time and doesn’t have any friends at her new school. One day, she discovers the forbidden-to-students exhibit room, and as it turns out, she might not have been alone in there…

And then things start to get REALLY weird. First, her shadow has come to life and started talking. But even more alarming is when she discovers that the school hierarchy consists not only of the usual groups of jerks and wanna-bes, it also includes the Zeroes, who walk around all zombie-like and weird and have to go to a special classroom. What’s going on at this crazy school? And just what does Suee’s shadow have to do with it all?

Observations: I really enjoyed how relatable this one is; it takes place in a Korean school, but it feels like it could be any elementary school anywhere in terms of the worries and feelings of the students, and in the types of challenges they face. Suee is quirky, but with depth, and a well-developed sense of snark. I really enjoyed the artwork in this one, too—the blend of humor and spookiness was well done, the characters were easy to follow, and the overall style was appealing.

The book does a good job of weaving in common concerns of school and home and family with the suspenseful and supernatural creepiness of the ghost story, with thought-provoking moments that deal with the meaning of friendship, the subtle provocations of classism, and the emotional cost of bullying.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find SUEE AND THE SHADOW by Ginger Ly and Molly Park at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland

Cybils Review: SOUPY LEAVES HOME by Cecil Castellucci and Jose Pimienta

Synopsis: Graphic novels lend themselves to telling a wide variety of stories, and Soupy Leaves Home is one of those that helps push the boundaries of the medium, bringing us a story of intrepid, valiant underdogs and misfits made good. It’s also a historical piece, set in 1932, in the heyday (if you can call it that) of the hobo lifestyle—when hobos were not just vagrants, but train-hopping rovers, down on their luck but riding the rails here and there to find work and their next meal. (Thanks, Herbert Hoover.)

Our narrator Pearl has run away from an abusive home life to try to find a new existence, and when she stumbles on a hobo camp she takes on a new identity: Soupy, a young boy new to the hobo life. An older hobo named Ramshackle takes Soupy under his wing, and they continue their journey Westward together. They might not have much food or shelter, but they share what they do have…and both have their secret hidden baggage that needs to be dealt with if they want to reach a satisfying end to their ramblings.

Observations: Running away to find yourself is a timeless topic and one that has enduring reader appeal—I was immediately drawn into the idea of Pearl leaving a difficult home life for a life on the road. Also, there is a certain romanticism to the old-style hobo way of life depicted in this book. It provides an inside look at a lesser-known cultural lifestyle of the time period (including a glossary of hobo signs!), and the difficulties of the Depression that forced so many onto the road.

Beyond the historical elements, this one is also thematically strong; themes of empowerment and redemption are woven throughout the book, focused as it is on characters who lack social and economic power for a variety of reasons. The characters are intriguing and sympathetic, particularly the Pearl, who learns the meaning of friendship and how to rely on her own wits to survive—not simply blindly believing in others’ judgments.

I loved the art style and judicious use of color in this one—it manages to be both stark and whimsical in equal measure, with a lot of fun little hidden drawings that make it rewarding to explore slowly and re-read.

Conclusion: It’s clear why Soupy Leaves Home ended up on the Cybils shortlist for 2017. The timeless story of journeying to find oneself, along with the intriguing historical backdrop, make for an appealing combination.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library. You can find SOUPY LEAVES HOME by Cecil Castellucci and Jose Pimienta at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Source: Finding Wonderland

March Flicktion Tuesday Challenge

I missed February’s challenge, but things are a little less busy this month, so I managed to write something in response to the prompt Tanita posted over at Finding Wonderland–everyone’s welcome to participate and post a link to the results! Mine somehow ended up being a bit dark…

20131213_DSC8849.jpg

“What are you doing?” I lunged after Laurie as she stepped off the curb, the side of her high-heeled boot slipping down the edge and making her stumble. She laughed even harder and then bullfrog-jumped into the middle of the Brockton-Mendoza highway, waving her arms.

“What, Josh, are you scared?” she yelled.

I blinked. It was a two-lane road, but still, she had to be crazy. A car whipped past in the far lane, honking and Laurie screamed, still laughing, as her hat flew off into the hay field on the opposite side of the road.

“Jesus, God, what the hell–?” I couldn’t stop swearing. I could see the faint beams of headlights growing brighter in the twilight, a car turning the corner from the other direction. Laurie was barely visible in her dark coat; I could just see her short honey-colored hair as an amber blur. My stomach dropped down to somewhere near my balls. I had no idea how fast the car might be making that turn. Before I even made a conscious decision, my feet were hitting the pavement, my stupid tread-less dress shoes almost sliding out from under me as I scrabbled toward Laurie and managed to grab hold of her arm, pulling her after me to the opposite shoulder.

I rested my hands on my knees, trying to reckon with what had just happened.

Laurie let out a theatrical sigh. She’d had so much vodka her breath smelled like rubbing alcohol. “Why can’t you let me have any fun? God.”

For a moment, I thought she was laughing again, but when I looked up, tears were running down her cheeks.