Sunday, December 20, 2015

Favorite Books of 2015

I have way too many favorites this year!!!!

Here are my top picks so far, but the list is not comprehensive in any way—I didn’t read nearly as much as I wanted to this past year—I never do! 

Picture books
HOME, by Carson Ellis
POOL, by JiHyeon Lee
LENNY AND LUCY, written by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead
WOLFIE THE BUNNY, written by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora
LOOK! by Jeff Mack
THE NIGHT WORLD, by Mordecai Gerstein
BOATS FOR PAPA, by Jessixa Bagley
TWO MICE, by Sergio Ruzzier

MG Novels
ECHO, by Pam Munoz Ryan
GOODBYE STRANGER, by Rebecca Stead

YA novels
THE HIRED GIRL, by Laura Amy Schlitz (publisher calls it YA, though I think it’s really for 10 to 14 age range—older MG)
THE ACCIDENT SEASON, by Moira Fowly-Doyle
LAIR OF DREAMS (sequel to DIVINERS), by Libba Bray

And I’m not finished with it yet, but MANNERS AND MUTINY, the fourth and final book in the Finishing School series, by Gail Carriger, is looking to be a strong favorite--and a very fun read, too!

So many books, so little time!!!


Friday, December 11, 2015

When Mischief Came to Town--Shelf Awareness Pro

I had a new book review in Shelf Awareness Pro!

Children's Review: When Mischief Came to Town

When Mischief Came to Town by Katrina Nannestad (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 hardcover, 208p., ages 9-12, 9780544534322, January 5, 2016)

When Mischief Came to Town, originally published in author Katrina Nannestad's home country of Australia, is a funny, warmhearted story about the search for family and the power of belonging.

From the moment 10-year-old Inge Maria Jensen steps off a boat and onto the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm in 1911, life in the quiet Danish town of Svaneke is forever changed. With her lopsided, spiky tufts of hair (one of her long blonde plaits was chewed off by a goat on the boat while she was asleep), Inge Maria presents quite a contrast to the somber, black-clad grandmother who waits for her at the harbor. Inge Maria wonders if her unsmiling grandmother might even be wearing black bloomers, because "[g]loomy underwear would be enough to wipe the joy from anyone's face." As Grandmother rolls her eyes and drags her granddaughter home by the arm, Inge Maria vows to be brave and "make Mama proud of me."

Fortunately, Grandmother's house on the farm is comfortingly pretty, and it has a roof made of straw thatching. Inge is heartened: "This cheers me up a little. At least she doesn't live in a cave, or a hole in a tree. It happens, you know. I've read about it in fairy tales." Winning Grandmother's heart is hard going at first, especially when Inge Maria's kicking contest with the donkey results in a dozen broken eggs and a concussed turkey named Henry. Nor does it help when "a blast of squashed-giggle air shoots out her nose," sullying Grandmother’s freshly laundered bloomers, which, astonishingly, have "white lace on the edges and a giant pink rose embroidered on each side." Still, it doesn't take long before Grandmother, more softhearted than she looks, is shaking with laughter at Inge Maria's mishaps and goodhearted mischief.

Of course, there is also the rest of the town to win over, including the judgmental Angelina Nordstrup with her "piercing stare," the mostly silent Pedersen twins, and Her Nielsen, the tall, serious teacher who joylessly runs the Svaneke Folk School, with art lessons where all drawings look the same, music lessons with no dancing, and even a "No Girls Allowed" area of the playground, because girls must sit quietly while the boys play. Spirited Inge Maria can't help but challenge the system.

Inge Maria adores the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, and they figure prominently in the story as both a relic from her previous, happy life in Copenhagen with her late mother, and as the inspiration for much of her inventive storytelling and fanciful behavior. In the end, Andersen's fairy tales become a bridge between Inge Maria and her jelly-soft Grandmother, as cozy bedtimes spent reading together allow the girl to feel safe and loved again. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. Printed 12/1/15.

Shelf Talker: Fans of Pippi Longstocking will devour this hilarious debut novel, featuring an energetic 10-year-old who invigorates an isolated Danish town.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

December Recommendations


GEORGE describes the efforts of one transgender kid, born George, who wants everyone to know her for the girl she really is. When George’s fourth grade class begins practicing for the play version of Charlotte’s web, more than anything George wants to perform the part of Charlotte. That’s a pretty huge leap for a kid in grade school. George is an earnest, appealing character, and even though her journey may seem a tad easy, author Alex Gino does a great job of bringing readers along George’s path towards being recognized as Melissa. (MG)

THE ACCIDENT SEASON, by Moira Fowley-Doyle, is a beautifully written, atmospheric novel revolving around the annual titular phenomenon that afflicts Cara and her family. Every October, they are all bruised and battered despite the elaborate precautions they take, like wearing thick layers of clothing, ridding the kitchen of knives, and padding over sharp corners in the house. This season will be a bad one, Cara’s friend Bea predicts, and indeed many things come to a head, including love, death, and deeply hidden family secrets. This is an unexpected favorite of the year for me. (YA)

THE HOLLOW BOY is the third LOCKWOOD & CO. installment, by Bartimaeus books author Jonathan Stroud. I love this series—it’s pure, self-indulgent escapist reading of the supernatural kind. Narrator Lucy Carlyle is definitely not happy about perfect, perky Holly Munroe joining the agency, but a massive outbreak of supernatural activity is wreaking havoc in London and all agents, including the talking skull in the ghost-jar, must work together to figure out the mystery. (MG)

Picture Books:

POOL, by JiHyeon Lee, may be wordless but there’s plenty of story in this underwater tale of friendship, imagination and adventure, beautifully yet playfully rendered in colored pencils and oil pastels.

THE NIGHT WORLD, by Caldecott Medalist Mordecai Gerstein, depicts the wonders of one boy's backyard in the darkness before the approaching dawn. Acrylics, pen and ink, and colored pencil bring the mysteries to life.

And LOOK! by Jeff Mack shows the lengths one gorilla must go through to get a boy's attention. Using only two words, “look” and “out,” this smartly designed book uses mixed media, including pencil, watercolor, collage, and digital manipulations. What’s it going to take for the boy to finally leave the TV and engage with the gorilla??


Sunday, December 6, 2015

December's Book of the Month--Dory Fantasmagory

December’s Book of the Month is the fabulous DORY FANTASMAGORY, by Abby Hanlon. This chapter book is heavily illustrated by the author. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, with a six-year-old protagonist and illustrations filling every spread and nearly every page, in many ways DORY can be viewed as a 153-page picture book!

The irrepressible Dory, tellingly nicknamed Rascal by her family, has an older brother and sister who won't play with her. Luckily, Dory's friend Mary (who is invisible to everyone but Dory) always wants to play, thinks Dory is the greatest, and even sleeps under her bed. Despite the constant chatter (to Mary, of course), the temper tantrums, and the weird quirks (like wanting to wear her flannel nightgown day and night all summer—except for the time she wears her cow costume, of course), Dory is an incredibly endearing and imaginative character. Her story is completely perfect for the age and format, and this is a stellar example of fine literature for young people.

Abby Hanlon did her own illustrations, seamlessly weaving them into her text, but writers who do not illustrate should feel confident that they, too, can tackle this genre. And illustrated books are highly desirable right now, repeatedly asked for by editors and agents.

Have you read DORY FANTASMAGORY? Well, if not, have at it and enjoy!!!