Monday, January 30, 2012

Zombie in Love

Valentine's Day is right around the corner. (In my neighborhood, the stores started putting out red heart-shaped boxes of candy the day after Christmas.) Boys in the primary grades are usually not gung-ho about this kissy-poo holiday, but most will make an exception for a book about romance that features a love-starved zombie. Mortimer is the undead in question. He's searched everywhere for the ghoul of his dreams--with no success.  Cupid's Ball is just weeks away and he still doesn't have a date. In desperation, he places a personal ad in the newspaper, under the moniker "Tall, Dead, & Handsome". On the day of the ball Mortimer waits and waits for his true love. Will Mortimer find someone to literally give his heart to? For that, dear reader, you must read the book for yourself.  

Kelly DiPucchio stuffs this comic tale with deadpan humor. And as amusing as the text is, it goes hand in hand with Scott Campbell's deliciously macabre illustrations. For instance, Mortimer gives a waitress a "stunning diamond ring". The illustration shows that the ring is still attached to a severed finger. Young readers will also enjoy looking for a group of pet worms that trail Mortimer. (At the ball they're there dressed in bow ties.)

Although classified as a picture book, Zombie in Love's straightforward text shouldn't deter beginning readers from trying it on their own, especially when they have such specific illustrations to help them decode.  All in all, a perfect book for young zombie fans who like their horror served with a huge helping of humor.

Zombie in Love
by Kelly DiPucchio
illustrations by Scott Campbell
Atheneum, 32 pages
Published: 2011

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How It All Began

I just finished reading How It All Began by Penelope Lively, an adult work of fiction that examines how one person's misfortune can snowball and affect others who are only tangentially connected. The novel begins with elderly Charlotte Rainsford knocked down by a mugger. From this incident, the lives of seven people, some complete strangers, are dramatically altered. It's a engrossing book, and wonderfully crafted by its British author, who also writes for children. Her The Ghost of Thomas Kempe won the Carnegie Medal in 1973.

One of the storylines has Charlotte, now recuperating at her daughter's house, teaching an immigrant from Eastern Europe how to read so he can get a better job. A retired English teacher, at first Charlotte has little success. When she learns of Anton's love of story and that he enjoyed reading novels in his native language, she throws away the clunky school texts meant for adult learners, and places Where the Wild Things Are in his hands. Although he struggles through the picture book, he's delighted by it. As the lessons progress, Charlotte feeds him How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen (new to me! It's by the great Russell Hoban.), Charlotte's Web, and The Finn Family Moomintroll.

As Anton plows through each book, pushed forward to find out what happens next, he has the following insight, so well-expressed I want to share it in its entirety:

"This increasing facility, this breakthrough, reminded him of childhood, of that extraordinary realization that all those black marks on the page could speak, that they were words, language, that they related to what came out of people's mouths, out of his own mouth. This time round, the black marks of another language began at last to make sense, to leap from obscurity, to tell a story. It was though you broke into a new world, were handed a passport to another country."

Wonderful stuff, and a wonderful book.  

Monday, January 23, 2012

And the Winners Are...

Whew, what a ride! Just finished watching the ALA Youth Media Awards webcast. I'm happy to report I cheered more than I groaned. Here are the awards that had me up and dancing:

The Margaret A. Edwards Award went to Susan Cooper, one of my favorite fantasy writers. I read The Dark Is Rising series as a child, and it made such an impression. The Boggart is another favorite.

Balloons Over Broadway won the Robert F. Silbert Award for most distinguished nonfiction book! If you haven't picked up this picture book about how the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade got started, you're missing out. Read my review here.

Jack Gantos now has a Newbery under his belt for Dead End in Norvelt. I haven't read it yet, (it's on my TBR list), but Gantos is such an incredible writer. His Joey Pigza books knocked me over. I'm so happy he won.

The Theodore Seuss Geisel Award for most distinguished beginning reader left me speechless, I must say. One of the three honor books, See Me Run, which I read as a Cybils Round One judge, didn't wow me, then or now. The book that won the award--Tales for Very Picky Eaters--left me gobsmacked. When I reviewed the book, I found the father's tall tales amusing, true, but I wouldn't have chosen it over either I Broke My Trunk or the remarkable I Want My Hat Back.  

Click here to see a list of all the winners.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories

Lost stories by Dr. Seuss! When I first heard that seven of his stories, previously written for magazines in the early 1950s, were to be collected in one book, I was as excited as a Zax making tracks in the prairie of Prax. Last week I finally got my hands on a copy. I read the stories, read them again, and...was left decidedly underwhelmed.

Reviews of The Bippolo Seed  rave about how wonderful the stories are. So maybe it's me. And I didn't find them charmless, not at all. But when compared to his later work, they fall short. The stories have many of his trademarks--catchy rhymes, wacky names, zany humor, rollicking illustrations. What's different are the plots. The storylines, each of which begins with an outrageous premise, take the reader to the edge of the cliff, and then stall. Some of the endings are downright unsatisfactory.

Take "Tadd and Todd". The two are twins, "and they were alike as two peas in a pod." Then one day Tadd dares to differenciate himself from his brother. No matter what he does, though, Todd copies him. The plot advances in typical Seussian fashion, ending with the pair facing each on stilts both in outrageous costumes. Todd tells Tadd that he can't win. No matter what he does "you'll never look different, whatever you do." Surprisingly, Tadd accepts this and gives up his quest to be unique. I'm sure Seuss meant the message to be: Accept yourself for who you are. Yet Tadd doesn't come to this realization on his own. His brother forces it on him. More importantly, why shouldn't a twin be unique? I was left wondering how the later Seuss would have resolved this tale. Not so tamely, I think.

"The Bippolo Seed" is the strongest story in the bunch. A duck finds a seed that will grant him a wish when planted. At first the duck is content to wish for enough duck food to feed himself for a week. Then a cat wanders by and convinces the duck to up the ante. Before long, the greedy pair are padding the wish with everything they can imagine wanting. Before they can plant the seed, it slips from the duck's grasp and lands in a nearby river. Greed gets its comeuppance.

Don't get me wrong. This collection will amuse fans of Dr. Seuss. Just don't expect the buried treasure promised by Charles D. Cohen, the Seussian scholar who wrote the introduction. I find it telling that it's written for adult aficionados and not children, the ones the good doctor wrote the stories for in the first place.

The Bippolo Seed and Other Stories
by Dr. Seuss
Random House, 68 pages
Published: 2011

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Hound Dog's Haiku: And Other Poems for Dog Lovers

Twenty haikus about pooches, a dog lover's delight! Michael J. Rosen spotlights different breeds, from the bluetick coonhound to the dachshund, composing a poem for each. My favorite belongs to the border collie:

above your fixed gaze
a Milky Way of cows move --
your constellations


As friends and family well know, my breed of choice is the pug, and I was happy to see a fitting haiku for this hyper squished-face creature that pants like a maniac in hot weather:

summer metronome
tongue darts in, out, as you do
doors revolve round you

Each haiku has its own spread and is illustrated with spot-on woodcuts by artist Mary Azarian, who won a Caldecott Medal for Snowflake Bentley. Some of the haikus might be confusing to young readers without the visual help of the art. For instance, the Great Pyrenees is captured with a two-pronged antler clasped in its jaw, capturing exactly the line "grinning dog's forked tongue."

The book concludes with two spreads of "Notes for Dog Lovers and Fans of Haiku." Each breed receives its own write-up, with doggy facts related to the poem. Did you know that the bloodhound has 230 million olfactory receptors compared to our measly six million?

With the Westminster Dog Show coming up in February, this book would make a wonderful and poetic introduction to some of the breeds.

The Hound Dog's Haiku: And Other Poems for Dog Lovers
by Michael J. Rosen
illustrations by Mary Azarian
Candlewick, 56 pages
Published: September 2011

Poetry Friday is at A Teaching Life. Head on over and read some poetry!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Top Ten Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book

Hmmm, ten authors. And according to The Broke and the Bookish's weekly meme, the list can include debut authors, authors who have taken an hiatus, and authors who you wished wrote another book before kicking the bucket. Given these parameters, I decided to limit my choices to authors whose previous works I've read in their entirety. It doesn't seem fair (to me at least) to ask for another novel from Dickens (may he rest in peace) when there are so many of his books I haven't yet cracked open the spine.

1. Junot Diaz 
Great writer, but boy is he slow. I love his short stories and his one and only novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
2. Jhumpa Lahiri
She writes some of the best short stories I've ever read. Her novels are excellent too.
3. Jonathan Franzen
Recently finished Freedom, which came out ten years after The Corrections. I really don't want to wait another decade.
4. Morag Joss
This suspense writer just keeps getting better. I devoured Among the Missing and now I'm hungry for more.
5. Alison Bechdel
Fun House: A Family Tragicomic, her graphic novel, was an emotional roller coaster. I wish she'd write/illustrate another.
6. Eva Ibbotson
This author of amazing supernatural stories for children died in 2010. Last year I read all her novels for the first time and loved them all. When I finished her last, The Ogre of Oglefort,  I was desolate that there would never be another.
7. John Kennedy Toole
I laughed nonstop the first--but not the last--time I read A Confederacy of Dunces, Toole's posthumous novel.
8. Louise Fitzhugh
She died in her prime, and I can't help wondering if she had another great novel in her to match Harriet the Spy.
9. Sarah Caudwell
Her sly, caustic mysteries are a delight to read; each and every one is pitch perfect. What I wouldn't give for one more.
10. Jane Austen
Another who died much too young and in her prime. Imagine what she could have accomplished if she had lived another twenty years. Sigh.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Ones That Got Away

Being a first-round Cybils judge has been an eye-opening experience. Reading a year's worth of easy readers and early chapter books in a concentrated time span proved that cream truly rises to the top. Unfortunately there was more cream than slots on the short list. That meant that some of my favorite chapter books didn't make the final cut. So here are the books I wish could have been shoehorned in, with links to my reviews.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I'd Like to Thank the Academy...

Just kidding! I'd actually like to thank Kate Coombs aka Book Aunt for this splendiferous award. And congrats to Kate for her upcoming book, Hans My Hedgehog, due out later this month. Can't wait to check it out.

The award comes with the following rules:

* Thank and link to the blogger who bestowed the award.
* Share seven random facts about yourself.
* Spread the love by passing the award to five other bloggers--and be sure to let them know.

So, seven random facts about me:

1. As a teenager I mucked out horse stalls in return for riding lessons.
2. I didn't learn to swim until my 20s and I didn't get my driver's license until my 30s. (Some say I never should have been permitted to drive. Don't listen to them.)
3. Dame Edna is my role model. One day I hope to be half the woman she is. (That didn't come out exactly right, but you know what I mean.)
4. Orange is my favorite color. Perhaps that's why Halloween is my top holiday. On the big day I often dress up as a witch. (Again, some may say it is not a costume. Pay them no mind.)
5. My grandmother's brilliant brother changed the family name from Capra to Crapper.
6. I have a 10-year-old pug that snores, sheds, and begs nonstop at the table. I blog about him and all things pug at Confessions of a Pugophile.
7. This past September, I married a man who is exactly right for me.

And here are five other bloggers you should get to know, if you don't already. I hope you enjoy their posts as much as I do.

Bigfoot Reads
The Lemme Library
Picture Books & Pirouettes
Storied Cities
Through the Looking Glass Book Review 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Top Ten Books I Am Excited to Read in 2012

Yesterday I looked back at the books I read in 2011. Today I report on my Must Read list. The Broke and the Bookish is hosting this meme, so be sure to stop by and check out the lists of other bibliophiles.

1. Smut: Stories by Alan Bennett
2. How It All Began by Penelope Lively
3. Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James
4. Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III
5. MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic by Art Spiegelman
6. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
7. The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill
8. Curlicues: The Fortunes of Two Pug Dogs by Valerie Worth
9. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
10. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
(And as many other novels of his that I can cram in. I plan to celebrate his upcoming 200th birthday by catching up on one of the greatest novelists of all times.)

And that's just for starters. Now, what books will you be reading in the coming year?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Books Read in 2011

Reading Girl by Gustave Adolph Hennig (1797-1869)

Last year was the first I kept a record of the books I'd completed. I wish I had done this long ago, as it's been helpful to look back and reflect on my reading habits. In all, I read 33 books (adult ones that is; I've read more than 100 children's books, many of which I've discussed in this blog).

Without further ado, here is my list. Where's yours?

1. Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs
Graphic novel about the author's parents' life from their meeting to their deaths. 

2. Bonk by Mary Roach
The science behind sex. 

3. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
Is there life after death? Not according to Roach.

4. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger 
A modern-day ghost story set in London's Highgate cemetery.

5. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Sprawling novel with a huge cast of characters, all interlocked through a connection to the music industry. 

6. Tinkers by Paul Harding 
The memories and final thoughts of a dying man.

7. Special Exits by Joyce Farmer 
Graphic novel about the author's elderly parents.

8. Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson 
Literary mystery, one in a series featuring Jason Brodie.

9. The Old Romantic by Louise Dean
An 80-something man, convinced he's about to die, harangues his estranged son to make up his will.

10. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
A girl disappears and is never found. The suspected murderer is never charged. Twenty years later, another girl goes missing.

11. The Master Bedroom by Tessa Hadley
A woman returns home to care for her elderly mother and renews an acquaintance with the married brother of a childhood friend.

12. Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer
Memoir that explores author's life through yoga.

13. Room by Emma Donoghue
Jack has lived his entire five years in one room, his only companion his mother, who is being held captive there.

14.The  London Train by Tessa Hadley
Man caught in mid-life crisis leaves home to live with his adult daughter.

15. Tigerlily's Orchids by Ruth Rendell
Immature young man is smitten with Asian woman and tries to save her.

16. Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
Woman suffering from dementia accused of murder.

17. Among the Missing by Morag Joss
Suspense novel about three lost souls and the ties that bind them.

18. Sister by Rosamund Lupton
Big sister investigates younger sister's murder.

19. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
A family struggles to stay connected in our turbulent times.

20. I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
A woman snatched as a teenager gets back in contact with her kidnapper, now awaiting his execution.

21. Emily, Alone by Steward O'Nan
Elderly woman living on her own after husband's death.

22. I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron
Amusing essays by a great stylist.

23. Every Secret Thing by Laura Lippman
Suspense novel about two women recently released from jail. Both were accused of killing a baby when they were kids.
24. The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman
Suspenseful mystery with detective sidelined due to pregnancy, yet she still manages to solve case.

25. Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
Thriller about a woman who wakes up each day not able to remember who she is.
26. The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman
Suspenseful novel about group of teens who wander woods and find a hermit who is ultimately killed. 

27. The Vault by Ruth Rendell
Wexford, now retired, is called in to investigate four bodies discovered in an underground vault.

28. What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman
Two sisters disappear from a shopping mall. Thirty years later one returns.

29. Bossypants by Tina Fey
Funny memoir of Fey's rise to queen of comedy.

30. To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman
Three teenage friends, one shooting.

31. Murder at Mount Holly by Paul Theroux
Black comedy satire about old people involved in a bank heist.

32. Blue Nights by Joan Didion
A hauntingly sad memoir about Didion's relationship with her adopted daughter, who died several years ago.

33. Howard's End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading From Home by Susan Hill
Memoir focused on books in author's home library.

Fiction: 24
Nonfiction: 9
Mystery/suspense: 14
Memoirs: 7
Graphic novels: 2

Favorite Book: Room by Emma Donoghue
A tour de force, a novel written from the POV of a five-year-old boy and every word rings true.

Runner-up: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Sleeper: The Old Romantic by  Louise Dean

Least Favorite Book: Tinkers by Paul Harding

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy 2012 and Bring on the Cybils!

A happy and healthy new year to all! And how better to celebrate than by checking out the finalists for this year's Cybils.

As a first-round judge in the Easy Readers & Early Chapter Book category, it's been an honor to read all the amazing books nominated and to work with my fellow judges in selecting the ten finalists. If you haven't read them yet, make a resolution to do so. It's one you won't regret.