Saturday, August 15, 2015

August Recommendations

What great books have you read lately? Here are some of my recent favorites:


THE CROSSOVER, by Kwame Alexander, who many of us were lucky enough to hear give an extraordinary speech at the SCBWI Summer Conference, delivers his Newbery-winner about a basketball phenom in rap-tinged verse. The story is extremely readable—the verse makes it flow quickly, and for me as a writer I was able to think about structure, using each of his poems as building blocks. (YA)

THE IRON TRIAL, Book One in the MAGISTERIUM series, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, is strong, well-written mid-grade fantasy. I suppose my biggest issue with mid-grade is when the voice doesn’t sound authentic, and instead of getting swept away I can picture an adult trying to sound like a kid. This series (which includes the second installment, The Copper Gauntlet, due out in September) has a voice that sounds just right for the material. And it’s exciting material—Callum Hunt is a dorky misfit who tries to hide his magic, but the powers that be find out and send him to magician school, where he gets into all kinds of trouble. Really strong MG fantasy here!  (MG)

Okay, so I read two more books in the Bloody Jack series, VIVA JACQUELINA! and BOSTON JACKY, by L. A. MEYER. Just when I thought I had had enough, these two were like visiting a good old friend—not much felt surprising, but the usual twists and turns of the writing, and Jacky’s voice and over-the-top antics will always entertain. And the Boston Jacky one has a fabulous ending, setting us up for the series finale, which I need to get to—immediately! (YA)

 Picture Books:

In BOATS FOR PAPA, by Jessixa Bagley, Buckley crafts small boats out of driftwood, and uses them to send notes to his father, who is absent from the story. This pitch-perfect book is not preachy in any way. The delicate, expressive ink and watercolor paintings will pull young readers in, and the author/illustrator uses every opportunity, including the endpapers, to add depth. It’s a most impressive debut!

Another impressive picture book debut is HOME, by Carson Ellis. Lyrical text describing different kinds of homes becomes interactive as the artist addresses her audience. She even shares a view of her own home and asks kids to share theirs. The strong gouache and ink paintings with hand lettering are each gorgeous enough to frame and hang on a wall.

I YAM A DONKEY, story, pictures, and bad grammar by CeCe Bell, is kind of a “who’s on first” routine—yes, about bad grammar-- told entirely in dialog. China markers and acrylic on vellum serve the story well. It’s funny!


Friday, August 7, 2015

August's Book of the Month--All the Bright Places

For August, we’ll look at ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES, by Jennifer Niven.

I found this wonderful story to be uplifting and heartbreaking in equal measure. What was most striking to me about it is the contrasting trajectories of the two main characters, Violet and Finch. They first meet upon the ledge of a bell tower, each of them contemplating a jump. Finch, as is clear pretty early on, is bipolar, and Violet is the survivor of a car accident that killed her older sister.

In one of his "awake" phases, Finch does his best to charm Violet (of course he has a crooked smile!) and he eventually succeeds. Through his attention and energy, he allows Violet to begin to live again--to break out of her self-imposed stasis and mourning and realize she will not be betraying the beloved sister who cannot grow with her. Finch, meanwhile, becomes more and more unpredictable as he senses himself moving towards a "sleep" period. He eventually takes to his closet to wait out this inevitable dark time, beyond the reach of anything Violet can do for him.

Above all, Niven's portrayal of mental illness rings true. Her high school setting and supporting characters worked for me, as well as the plot device of exploring the great state of Indiana for a social studies class.

I just read this week that this book will be made into a feature film.

Have you read ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES, by Jennifer Niven?

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Conference Fun!

I just spent a long weekend at the SCBWI National Conference in Los Angeles. Wow. Jam-packed with inspirational keynote speeches, smaller breakout sessions, and great opportunities for feedback, I’m so glad I went. Now, some much-needed time to recover, and then back to work. Thanks, SCBWI!!!