Diana Wynne Jones is a clever madwoman, or a mad clever woman. Her ideas about fiction and writing seem to run deeper than muscle tissue and marrow. H...moreDiana Wynne Jones is a clever madwoman, or a mad clever woman. Her ideas about fiction and writing seem to run deeper than muscle tissue and marrow. Here she dissected many works of fantasy and fiction, and sometimes (I'm embarrassed to admit) I couldn't keep up with her. I could tell, though, that it's probably because I've been thinking like a grown-up for too long. I also could tell that, from reading these essays and speeches, that I would have liked to have known her. Perhaps I can get her ghost to haunt my library some day.(less)
I listened to this book in the car to and from a writing conference for a whole week. Aside from being the perfect amount of hours, I was taken in fro...moreI listened to this book in the car to and from a writing conference for a whole week. Aside from being the perfect amount of hours, I was taken in from the start. Told in a slaggy Southern drawl that never turns into caricature, this is the story of Bud (not Buddy), a boy on a manhunt. After being passed off from an orphanage to a non-hospitable foster home, Bud leaves the civil life to live "on the land" for a while, at least until he finds his long-lost father, the bassist of a famous Southern jazz band. Bud is an amazing character, with a punky attitude and a knack for telling certain untruths (as long as its to his advantage). He does have a bit of baggage, and that's not just the suitcase he carries around with him (as for that, don't poke around inside it, he's tied it up with special knots and he'll know when you've been digging through his personal things). But though life is hard, with a depression on and no close relations to speak of, Bud's dogged determination never fails. In the end, it even brings him face-to-face with the man he's been searching for. If you were to ask me, Bud's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself should start with Rule 1: Read Bud, Not Buddy from cover to cover. You'll love it.(less)
If you love stories about weird families and their shenanigans, you can add this title to your list. Mixed with a dose of racial context, this book is...moreIf you love stories about weird families and their shenanigans, you can add this title to your list. Mixed with a dose of racial context, this book is brilliant. Every time I pick up a Christopher Paul Curtis book I marvel at the language. His storytelling is unflinchingly real, yet every character requires such a distinct voice. And despite the fact that I've never been an African American family en route to Alabama in 1963, I've been in this car. I've had these cold winters. I've been part of these sibling spats. I've sat in the driveway with this dad, listening to our songs on repeat until we've said all we needed to say.
(As a PS - Levar Burton's reading of this is terrific. But don't take my word for it.)(less)
Like many of my favorite books, I found this by accident. My son was in the middle of pulling books off the shelves as I scoured the children's sectio...moreLike many of my favorite books, I found this by accident. My son was in the middle of pulling books off the shelves as I scoured the children's section for the right Dianna Wynne Jones book (they were all checked out). When I went to put the books back on the shelves, I found this among them. I think it was the muted, fanciful illustrations that caught my eye. Before I knew it, I was flipping through the two-page spreads and wondering what the book could be about. On impulse, I laid it on the stack of check-outs and brought it home.
The book begins with Bambert, a solitary man who suffers from dwarfism and lives in an apartment above a shop. His parents are both dead, and his impairment leaves him without much will or ability to leave his attic bedroom. He spends his time reading and concocting stories, and this proves a lonely comfort.
One day, in a poetic fit, he goes through his cache of stories and removes all mention of time and place from them. They must find their own settings, he says. He attaches each one to a balloon and releases them through his attic window. Each has a note of instruction: to send the story back with the name of the place where it was found.
At first, Bambert thinks his experiment has failed. Days and weeks pass and not a single story makes its way back to his tiny apartment. Then one day, along with his morning meal, the shopkeeper sends a sealed envelope upstairs on the dumb waiter. It's one of Bambert's stories, back from across the sea.
One by one, the stories return: from Russia, England, Beirut, Spain. Each story is distinct, though they bear the marks of the same melancholy world. There is sadness in them, cruelty, compassion, even love, and Bambert remarks on each one as they return to him.
Eventually, all that's left is Bambert's final story. But this one is nothing but four blank pages, sent into the world to write themselves.
Jung is an obvious craftsman, and these stories fall like carved gems, small and inviting, each one a different cut of the same stone. These are distilled stories, with barely more than a single rise and fall per tale. There's also a sophisticated pathos in this collection that somehow never dips into pity, despite Bambert's deteriorating health and wandering hopes. In sum, poetry. (less)
Another one of those terrific spooky middle grade books. This one is in epistolary form. This mode works so well for the story: it allows for first-pe...moreAnother one of those terrific spooky middle grade books. This one is in epistolary form. This mode works so well for the story: it allows for first-person narration from all the major characters, and it sets up each scene with subtlety and humor. I especially enjoyed the puns (main characters are I.B. Grumply, Seymour Hope, and Olive C. Spence). The story is not too scary, though it has all the trappings of a ghost tale (cemeteries, a haunted mansion, and a set of ghastly parents who behave rather badly). The illustrations are likewise adorable and creepy. Any middle grade reader with a taste for the macabre will enjoy this. (less)
My sister checked this book out from the library. It happened to be on the table as I was finishing breakfast. I flipped through it and stopped about...moreMy sister checked this book out from the library. It happened to be on the table as I was finishing breakfast. I flipped through it and stopped about 1/4 of the way through on a picture of Marjane talking to her grandmother. I meant to simply skim through the panels, but after about twenty seconds of skimming, I was engrossed. I spent the next several hours propped up in one corner of the house or another until I had finished. When I reached the end, I went back and read what I'd missed.
I'd never read a graphic novel before. This one read with the ease and familiarity of a personal essay, while the words were punctuated by simple, yet emotionally rich drawings. Satrapi's narration is so natural that she easily dips into each of her distinct worlds: Iran, the West, and her own interior landscape (which, in the earliest panels, is home to Marjane's vivid imaginings: from history and religion to visitations from God and Karl Marx). The best part is, Satrapi navigates these worlds without ever losing her approachability. Though she saw carnage in the streets as a young girl, was left alone in Austria at age 14, and even spent several months sleeping in alleys, her experience never felt foreign. This is the beauty of the story, and it might even be The Whole Point of it. (less)
The days might be getting warmer, but for anyone who wants to savor the winter chill, here is the perfect book to keep you tucked up tight under the c...moreThe days might be getting warmer, but for anyone who wants to savor the winter chill, here is the perfect book to keep you tucked up tight under the covers (with all the lights on, of course). J. Scott Savage’s Case File 13: Zombie Kid.
Our story begins with the worst kind of news: Nick is going to miss Halloween this year. That means the other two Monsterteers—Carter and Angelo, Nick’s monster-loving best friends—will have to carry on without him. Hopefully they’ll save him some candy (although, knowing Carter, it’s not likely).
But soon the boys have more to worry about than leftover Butterfingers. Hidden in an old Louisiana cemetery is the beginning of a whole new set of problems. When Nick returns from his aunt’s funeral with an amulet and a bad case of the brain farts, the Monsterteers come to realize that they’re dealing with more than a wonky flu and a weird piece of jewelry.
No—it’s even better.
Nick has been turned into a zombie.
At first, being undead has its perks. If not for Nick’s new zombie status, Frankenstein—the school bully—might still be after them for an unfortunate incident with a candy bar. But after a while (and a few lost fingers) Nick decides that it’s time to rid himself of the curse of the zombie. The ensuing adventure involves more than just hilarious gross-outs. The three boys encounter a mysterious black cat with a chilling secret, a talking skeleton who loves candy corn, several ghosts (including one with a hankering for hot pastrami on rye), a piece of a departed soul, and a terrifying Zombie King.
Readers will love how quickly they jump from laughs to shivers, and the short chapters and bone-chilling cliffhangers will keep them reading well past bedtime, though they might want to keep the lights on. And although the book has plenty to do with facing the undead, Savage also deals with real-world bravery, like how to treat a bully and what to do when a girl shows up at your house for dinner (answer: handle the mashed potatoes with care!) This shows us that when scary things come at us in full daylight, we can face them without losing our heads (or our brains… mmmm brains…)
In sum, Zombie Kid was the perfect brew of horror and humor, heart and guts. Any Monsterteer in your life would do well to get his claws, paws, and tentacles on this book.
Recommended for: Anyone, but especially fans of spooks and sprites. For those who might be reading before bedtime, every chapter heading has a warning of what’s to come. My favorite was Chapter 27: Can you really have too many cemetery chapters in a scary story? If your answer is no, then this is the book for you. A parting tip: when it says it’s going to be gross, it won’t disappoint!
If you love J. Scott Savage (who doesn't?) he's going to be at the 2013 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference in Sandy, UT. He's teaching a class on the middle grade novel, and just like Zombie Kid, I'm sure it won't disappoint. (www.wifyr.com)(less)