Friday, July 31, 2009

Save the date(s)!

Tonight's the night -- unfortunately, at midnight tonight the Massachusetts sales tax rate will change to 6.25%. (Yeah, we're bummed too.) Fortunately, all my other news is much happier!

- On Sunday, August 23rd, Sir John Hargrave will be here to demo pranks from The Mischief Maker's Manual. Learn some second- and first-class pranks and get your copy of this pranking manifesto signed by the Master Mischief Maker himself.

- On September 8th, Kate DiCamillo's newest novel The Magician's Elephant will hit our shelves -- but if you preorder it from us you'll get a limited edition print of one of its incredible illustrations! New staffer Natasha has (believe it or not) traveled into the future and already read The Magician's Elephant, and she says we can expect "a fairly quick, but serious and fairy-tale-like read" with a "dark and pseudo-Victorian tone" in this newest offering from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

- September 12th brings the second annual Bookish Ball to Harvard Square, when bookstores around the Square celebrate reading and independent bookselling with great events. We'll keep you posted as to what bookish business will be happening at Curious George, but for now, let me say that the scheming of wonderful schemes has begun.

- Finally -- and you know I've been bursting to tell you about this one -- we'll be hosting a Graveyard Book themed Halloween party on the evening of October 30! Come in your best Graveyard-inspired finery ready to danse macabre. What could be better than celebrating my favorite holiday with one of my all-time favorite books? The party will be our entry in a contest to win a signing with Neil Himself this December when his next book, Odd and the Frost Giants, comes out!

Hopefully you've been penciling these dates in as you read -- but we'll keep updating you with the latest details and reminders, so no worries if you don't have your calendar handy. :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 17

This week is all about creativity for me--I've got the art-and-writing bug lately, and my shopping desires show it!

Reused News Colored Pencils by International Arrivals
Located downstairs in the Art Room

It's hard to find colored pencils that are unique--I mean, a pencil is a pencil, right? Wrong! This set of 12 pencils includes the basic primary colors, including a white pencil (great for blending!), but what makes them unique is their construction. As the name suggests, they're made of recycled Japanese newspaper, which makes them automatically cooler in my book. They come in a recycled cardboard package, too, so the whole kit and caboodle is very Earth-friendly!

Lap Desk by Room it Up
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

When you live in an apartment, you don't always have room for a desk--I'm not in school anymore, so I forfeited desk space when I moved to the place I'm in now. That means I'm always looking for something to lean on as I sit in bed or sprawl on the couch to draw. This lap desk is a perfect solution! It's colorful, the lap part is fuzzy and soft, and there's a cupholder in the corner that's just perfect for a soda to drink or a cup of water to wash paintbrushes in. The lap pillow is a beanbag, so the filling will conform to any lap or surface you want to put it on, and the top is light but sturdy plastic. All in all, it's a great tool for anyone who likes to lounge while working.

See you next time for another episode!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Some news on our closest friends...Harry, Percy, Septimus, Laurel, and Bella

It was mere weeks ago when I attempted to put in one place (here) all the movies and musicals and assorted adaptations of children's books that are heading our way in the next few months. Now, in the wake of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince's record-breaking opening, here are the ones that I missed and/or the ones that have just been announced.

I must have been in the only Harry Potter showing this weekend that didn't show the Lightning Thief trailer. Chris Columbus (dir. The Goonies; executive producer for the first two Harry Potter films) directs Rick Riordan's popular Percy Jackson series, due out in February 2010. Unfortunate news to go along with this: the paperback Lightning Thief is out of stock at the publisher temporarily. We should be getting it back in as soon as they reprint! If you've already started the series, have no fear; the other four books are still in stock.

Syren, the fifth book of Angie Sage's seven book series, Septimus Heap, is pubbing this October, just in time for announcements of a film adaptation of the first book, Magyk. David Frankel (Marley and Me, The Devil Wears Prada) will direct. I hear it will be animated, perhaps aiming for the younger HP crowd?

Aprilynne Pike's teen faerie fantasy Wings - which pubbed this past May - is about a super-vegan homeschooled teen who discovers an itch on her back that blooms into a flower. Disney has bought the rights and is developing it for Miley Cyrus. Interesting fact: Wings will be produced by the same folks, Marty Bowen and Wick Godfrey of Temple Hill, who worked on Twilight.

Oh, Twilight. I have saved your news for last. The sequel, New Moon, will be released this coming November. (But perhaps you already knew that with all the Bella-Jacob countdowns relentlessly ticking away out in the interwebs.) Eclipse is being casted as well. Those Twilighters are just insatiable, aren't they?

My favorite news item about film adaptations comes from the Wall Street Journal, which claims to take us inside "the battle for the teenage audience." According to WSJ, Harry Potter fans are growing up and turning to the "cooler, edgier" Twilight characters. This in turn, apparently, makes the HP movies add in more romance - although the books themselves do mature as Harry does. I don't doubt that some of the same kids (boys and girls) who loved Harry now also love Bella and Edward, but why do they need to be mutually exclusive? Moreover, I am all for equal gender interest in all genres, but I simply don't see as many teen boys as girls purchasing Breaking Dawn (perhaps they are sneaking their sisters' copies). Whoever you're rooting for - if you feel the need to pick a side at all - these kinds of articles (from a financial news resource!) make me think all kinds of questions: Have we come to expect a (singular) pop phenomenon for every age/gender bracket? How many books series are out there as yet untouched by celluloid? Who's going to break WSJ's news to the movie folks?

As promised -- here is your Horn Book arrival notification.

The "all awards, all the time" edition of The Horn Book Magazine came in this week! As you may have noticed, I'm most excited about Neil Gaiman's Newbery acceptance speech and the accompanying bio by his editor Elise Howard. But there's just so much ALA award goodness jam-packed into this issue, starting with the cover featuring new art by Caldecott-winning illustrator Beth Krommes, it's hard to stop reading.

Naturally, there are acceptance speeches by Gaiman, Krommes, Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal winner Ashley Bryan, Coretta Scott King Author Award winner (and CG beloved illustrator) Kadir Nelson, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Floyd Cooper. (Psst... check out this poem about Neil and Ashley: "Storytellers."

There are also articles on the awards, their strengths, and their weaknesses: Boston Globe-Horn Book Award judge Jonathan Hunt provides a "Printz Retrospective" and author Nikki Grimes "Speak[s] Out." Grimes argues that deserving African American illustrators are reguarly passed over for the prestigious Caldecott, especially when there's buzz that they may win the African American-specific Coretta Scott King award. She writes, "Wouldn't it be wonderful for our first black president to be able to invite the first black Caldecott medalist to the White House?" I'm continuing to root for Kadir Nelson -- his spectacular Obama celebration Change Has Come would be an especially fitting first African American Caldecott winner. Given the current maelstrom of race relations, it's a crucial time to consider how race plays out in children's books and the awards they win (and more importantly, don't win).

There's silliness, as well ; the "Mind the Gap" awards honor overlooked books (and categories) from "best use of fewest colors" to "best use of lots of colors" and "scariest ghost" to "scariest goat." You'll have to read it yourself to find out who won what, though! (Check out this issue on the web or come into CG and buy it from your neighborhood geeky Horn Book fan -- your choice.)

And, as always, there are thoughtful reviews of the best new books for kids and YAs. I'm off to read it myself!

Short and sweet: The Best of the Short Story Section

Sometimes -- especially in summer, even when it's not particularly summery -- I just don't have the attention span for novel-length reading. But I can't stand being out and about with nothing to read; T ride, lunch breaks, and lounging around outside practically demand having a book (or two) on hand. The solution is one of these great collections of shorts, which can be read a story/essay per sitting if you're just feeling too antsy to sit still when there's sunshine to run around in. (Or summer rainstorm puddles to be splashed in, as the case may be.)

Multiple-Author Anthologies
Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, eds. Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci
Holly Black (author of The Modern Tales of Faerie and co-creator of the Spiderwick Chronicles) and Cecil Castellucci (author of Beige and creator of The Plain Janes graphic novels) may have "geek hearts," but they're hearts after my own. M.T. Anderson, big-name-Potter fan-turned-published-author Cassandra Clare, my literary crush Kelly Link, lord of the Nerdfighters John Green, and Garth Nix (winner of my love with his Abhorsen trilogy) and many others uncover the quirky secret world of geeks -- a world very familiar to us here at the George. From fanfiction to cosplay, theater geeks to Star Wars geeks, this collection pays loving tribute to "all things geeky."

Spellbound, ed. Diana Wynne Jones
The author of Howl's Moving Castle, The House of Many Ways, and (my personal pick) The Lives of Christopher Chant collects some of her own favorite fantasy stories. Featuring stories by the likes of Jane Yolen, C.S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, Rudyard Kipling, and Eva Ibbotson. While several, including Jones's own contribution, are stand-alone stories, many of these shorts are excerpts from best-loved novels -- such as The Phantom Tollbooth and Five Children and It -- and will whet your appetite for great long fantasy.

Baseball Crazy: Ten Stories that Cover All the Bases, ed. Nancy E. Mercado
Baseball may or may not be the national pasttime, but it's certainly a Boston obsession. Celebrate baseball season with this anthology of short baseball-themed fiction by the likes of Jerry Spinelli, Joseph Bruchac, and Frank Portman, and Ron Koertge. Each piece is introduced with a baseball card-style look at the author's "career highlights." Feeling even baseball crazier? Check out our current baseball novel display in the chapter book room.

Guys Write for Guys Read, ed. Jon Scieszka
Jon Sciezka has an uncanny ability to turn anything he touches into awesome reading -- even when he's just editing, apparently. Of course, it helps to include writers like Gary Paulsen, Garth Nix, Walter Dean Meyers, Daniel Handler/"Lemony Snicket", Stephen King, Dan Gutman, Jack Gantos, Anthony Horowitz, Eoin Colfer, and Neil Gaiman. It also helps to have contributions by illustrators like Brett Helquist, Lane Smith, Timothy Basil Ering, David Macaulay, Mo Willems, Jarrett Krosoczka, Dav Pilkey, Dave McKean, Matt Groening, and Peter Sis. I doubt I need say more, but just in case: this is an all-star collection of stories on being a teenage guy with appeal for readers of any gender or age.

Firebirds Soaring, ed. Sharyn November
The third in this series of short fantasy and sci-fi -- or "speculative fiction," as fantasy imprint Firebird's editor Sharyn November calls it -- collects shorts by CG favorite authors Nancy Farmer, Jane Yolen, and Margot Lanagan... and many, many more! As in the first two volumes, November's selections (illustrated in lavish pencil drawings by Sandman artist Mike Dringenberg) span the possibilities of fantasy and sci-fi for YA readers by offering a mix of well-established authors and new names, our familiar world and those completely unlike ours, short short stories and novellas, new takes on old tales, distant pasts and distant futures. My pick for the best title here: "Fear and Loathing in Lalanna" by Nick O'Donnahue.

Single-Author Collections
M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
As ever, my heart (and blog) belongs to Neil Gaiman, whose original short stories are delightful. This collection spans fantasy, sci-fi, nursery rhyme noir (you didn't know that was a genre, did you?), poetry, and retold fairy tales with Gaiman's characteristic charm. There are so many great shorts here it's hard to play favorites, but the sardonic "Sunbird" (about over-ambitious foodies), "The Price" (featuring a cat protecting a family from a supernatural enemy), and "Instructions" (a fairy tale survival guide in poetic form) are standouts. Best of all, there's a vignette from Neil's Newbery-winning Graveyard Book.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones, retold by Alvin Schwartz
The first of these perennially best-selling collections, now over 25 years old and still scarin' strong, offers a great mix of urban legends (like "The Hook" and "The Babysitter"), rural folktales, and "jump stories" (like "The Big Toe"). Schwartz follows up his hit collection with two companion books, which are, if anything, even scarier. My favorite is #3, with creepfests galore -- poltergeists, murderous dolls, phantom hitchhikers, and wolf girls. Schwartz includes annotations on his sources and variations of the tales. Really, though, it's the illustrations by Stephen Gammell that continue to give me the heebie-jeebies after all these years. (If you're looking for something a little more summer camp cabin friendly, try the Ghost Stories Deck by S.E. Schlosser: fifty mini ghost stories on individual cards, each with a "scare rating." You can sort out all the scariest for your slumber party if you're feeling brave, or go with the lowest scare rating for a younger crowd who want the shivers.)

Short Essay Collections
This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, eds. Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
NPR's show This I Believe, with roots in a CBS radio show of the 1950s, has produced this book of eighty essays by "remarkable men and women" from Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt to "the previously unknown." My favorites are "An Athlete of God" by Martha Graham (which includes one of the great dancer/choreographer's most famous pronouncements, "Movement never lies") and "The Power and Mystery of Naming Things" by Eve Ensler, but "Be Cool to the Pizza Dude" by English professor Sarah Adams is equally enlightening.

War Is... Soldiers, Survivors, and Storytellers Talk About War, ed. Marc Aronson and Patty Campbell
Fiction, essays, and news articles follow soldiers and civilians alike from the process of "deciding about war" through "experiencing war" to the "aftermath of war." Although Aronson and Campbell offer their opinion that war is "crazy... unbearable... delusion... impossible to win" but possibly "inevitable," these short, harrowing pieces speak for themselves. All other adjectives aside, without a doubt, "war is" worthy of the deadly serious consideration it receives here.

Red: Teenage Girls in America Write on What Fires Up Their Lives Today, ed. Amy Goldwasser
This book of essays by teen girls on topics ranging from eating disorders to activism to Johnny Depp is on my must-buy list. Girls between the ages of thirteen and eighteen responded to a call for short personal nonfiction pieces, and what resulted is an empowering and enlightening look into the world of teen girls. Whether you're currently living in that tumultuous and exhilarating world, love someone who is in it now, or have been there yourself, these essays give you an opportunity to hear girls' voices in a culture that routinely silences and dismisses them.

Listening is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project, ed. Dave Isay
The StoryCorps project posits that "listening is an act of love;" accordingly, they assist people in recording their own oral history. The joys and tragedies of ordinary American lives are captured first on tape and then on the page in this extraordinary collection. Here parents speak with their adult children, friends interview each other, and in an especially poignant segment, two inmates serving time together discuss the daily life of prisoners.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 16

I've got two cool items from the same manufacturer this week, because they're shiny and new and really cool.

Post-consumer Material Zipper Bags by Blue Q
Located on the front of the Hut

Keeping in line with the latest environmental trends, these bags are made with 95% post-consumer material--recyclable plastic like soda and water bottles gets melted down and woven into durable fabric, which then gets printed with fun graphics and turned into these awesome bags! My personal favorite is the one pictured here, "Don't Make Me Stop This Car." I just find the image of two bunny parents and about a dozen bunny children stuffed into one station wagon so hilarious! There are other great designs too, and other sizes of bags too; we've got small tote bags and zipper coin purses in addition to this medium-sized clutch pouch. They're cute, a little retro, practical, and 1% of proceeds go towards environmental initiatives--how could I possibly resist?

Stainless Steel Water Bottle by Blue Q
Located on the end of the Hello Kitty table

I've been re-using the same plastic water bottle for two weeks now, and it's making me think that perhaps I should get a bottle that's meant to be re-used. Our brand new Blue Q bottles serves just perfectly! The cap screws on tightly, so no worries about leaks, and the graphics are awesome. My favorite is the one pictured, the "I Heart Water" bottle. It's also a nice middle size (20 oz), easy to fit in a bag or a backpack. To top it all off, as with the zipper bags above, 1% of all proceeds are donated to environmental initiatives. Go Blue Q! I love your stuff!

That's a wrap--see you next time.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Speaking of collisions of awesome...

One of my favorite things about this store (and I have a lot favorite things here) is that everyone who works here loves children's literature, granted, but also have many other interests and causes that they champion. For one example - the majority of us are vegetarian/vegan; a fact some shoppers may have noticed from our Thanksgiving posters declaring "Save A Turkey!" I think it's nothing short of amazing that as a team and as resources for customers we all have a variety of passions that we bring to our recommendations.

One thing I know customers frequently ask for, especially in the chapter book room, are books with strong female characters with a variety of interests - sporty girls, class president girls, princess girls who save the prince - or even forgo the prince entirely and become a dragon's princess-librarian (ah, Patricia C. Wrede, you blew my 10-year-old mind with Dealing with Dragons). Here's a sneak peek into our staff training of the chapter book room: we have a "quiz" sheet that includes these "good role model" kinds of questions, because not only do we anticipate them from our customers, but we think that those books are important to know in their own right.

Some may be reluctant to trot out that loaded word, "feminist," but I'd like to see the person who would argue that girlhood these days is an easy, breezy ride. For that matter, neither is boyhood, or any gender variation in adolescence and beyond.

Which brings me to my exciting news: the incredible, sassy, smart (sometimes smart alec) magazine Bitch, which examines pop culture and politics through a feminist lens, is kicking off a new blog. Guess what it will be about? You guessed it - books! The Page Turner says it aims to be a blog/forum about all genres of books, with features like author Q&A and the favorite books of famous artists/activists/scholars/etc, and most relevant to our discussion to here - young adult literature! I'm curious if the first post will address Twilight - although that has been discussed already in Bitch and other blogs like Crossover (covering books that appeal to adult and YA audiences). Or maybe she'll talk about Harlequin's new teen imprint?

Either way, you can help steer the conversation: she's taking suggestions for what readers want to hear about, so head over there and drop in a few thoughts! (Graceling? Dairy Queen? Sarah Dessen novels?).

No matter if or how you attach yourself to that potent F-word, I hope that this new blog becomes all that I dream it can be: a place to discover great books for girls and boys of all ages.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 15

I'm once again caught without a theme for my choices this week, but they're so fantastic that it doesn't really matter!

Puppy Scrubby by Rich Frog
Located in the bath section, behind Hello Kitty

This adorable washcloth/loofah disguised as a cute little dog is my new favorite bath accessory! He has a cute face, a soft squishable body, and a patch of extra-scrubby material on his butt to take care of any caked-on summer dirt. He's also got a convenient loop for hanging him up, an essential factor if your shower doesn't have shelving. I think the puppy is cutest, but we've also got pig, frog, and duck scrubbies with their own brand of charm. In the words of so many children overheard in the store, "I NEEEEEEED IT!!!"

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry Building Cards by Klutz
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

In the spirit of the new Potter movie (which everyone should go see), I'm extremely tempted to turn my dining room table into Hogwarts with this cool build-your-own card kit. It includes 275+ cards, along with written and visual instructions, and a little Harry figure to play with once you've built the famous castle! The best part of this kit, though, is that the instructions don't tell you how to build one definitive Hogwarts--the school is always changing, and everyone's vision of the castle is different! Instead, the booklet explains how to build different kinds of towers, turrets, and loads of castle parts, as well as a few complete designs as suggestions. The cards are easy to take apart again, too--so you can re-build Hogwarts in a new way every time!

So many cool things, so little time...well, see you next episode!

Friday, July 17, 2009

This is why I really want to be a reviewer.

How has the world not yet imploded from sheer awesome?

My favorite thing about this moment -- aside from the fact that it actually happened -- is that both Roger Sutton and Neil Gaiman blogged about it and ALA from their unique perspectives. I may joke about playing Six Degrees of Neil Gaiman, but really, he knows a ridiculous number of ridiculously cool people -- i.e., Roger Sutton. I'm almost as much in love with his social circle as much as his brilliant brain. Can you imagine at dinner party at Chez Gaiman? "Amanda [Palmer], could you pass the salt? Dave [McKean], I think you dropped your napkin." Oh, to be able to say you just had coffee with Poppy Z. Brite or Jill Thompson or Tori Amos. I'm not sure who is the more appropriate target for my envy: Neil for having an amazing entourage or his entourage for having an amazing Neil.

At any rate, I am viridian with envy of somebody, and ants-in-the-pants level impatient with waiting for the new issue of The Horn Book, containing many things Gaiman, to arrive at the George. When it finally gets here, I'll be sure to let you know!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Six reasons why you should read Thirteen Reasons Why

We're so lucky to have author Jay Asher (who hails from my native Central Coast, CA) as a guest blogger today! Jay's thought-provoking YA novel Thirteen Reasons Why deals with teen suicide from the perspective of Clay, a bereaved, bewildered friend -- and one of the thirteen reasons given by Hannah as contributing to her devastating decision.
From chain bookseller to indie bookseller and librarian to author, you've been working with books for a long time. Can you trace your love of books from a particular age or moment in your life? What's next? (More novels, we hope!)
Some of my very earliest memories are of being driven to the library, which was absolutely like taking a field trip to heaven. But in high school, I don't remember reading much. At least, not for fun. It wasn't until I took a college course called Children's Lit. Appreciation that I was reintroduced to children's books...and began writing them. Now I'm doing what I love as a career. (Which means, yes, there are more books to come!)

Fellow guest blogger Alisa Libby works at a library for her "day job," and found it a valuable resource for her historical fiction novels. Did the way you interacted with your library change when you were working there and writing?
I don't work at a library anymore. I left last October to be a full-time writer, but only because something had to give. My favorite part of being an author is getting to meet readers face-to-face at school visits, and I began accepting many more speaking gigs than I had vacation hours. But I do miss the daily interactions with librarians, which I considered extremely valuable research. I especially loved talking with them about what teens were saying about certain books. A lot of books which everyone thought would be a hit never clicked with their intended audience and it was fascinating to hear why.

If you could discover a box of tapes addressed to you from anyone, living or dead, who would you want that person to be?
Awesome question! As long as they weren't blaming me for their suicide, there are a lot of people I could name. Jesus, I suppose. If I hired a translator, I'm sure I could turn it into a bestseller. But I don't think audiotapes were invented back then, so to choose from a more modern time, maybe my grandfathers. Both of them. They were great storytellers.

What advice would you offer your readers who struggle with depression, the compulsion to self-harm, and/or suicidal thoughts?
Talk to someone. Unfortunately, our society is so uncomfortable discussing these issues, it makes it that much harder for people experiencing these problems to reach out. But the best way to get help is to ask for it. One of Hannah's downfalls was her inability to be totally open about her feelings. She dropped hints or left clues, but there were people around her who would've helped had they known how serious things were. Of course, sometimes the very adults teens should be able to go to for help are a part of the problem. In those case, there are hotlines to call. Hotlines are made up of strangers who want nothing more than to help whoever is on the other end of the line.
A note from the editor/blogger: SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) offers a free pamphlet to help parents and children and teens/preteens discuss difficult topics like depression, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm. You can also follow them on Twitter if you're technologically inclined. Some national helpline numbers to keep handy:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Rape, Incest, and Abuse National Network (RAINN) 1-800-656-HOPE
National Mental Health Association Info Line 1-800-969-NMHA (6642)
National Clearinghouse on Family Support and Children's Mental Health 1-800-628-1696
One of my favorite organizations is To Write Love on Her Arms, which does outreach and education about depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation at events like Warped Tour and other concerts.
Are there any books available for teens right now that you wish had been published when you were a teenager?
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. It's my all-time favorite book, and I think I would've loved it just as much when I was a teen. But most of the books I currently love, I don't know how I would've reacted to them when I was in high school...including my own book!

And a question I expect you won't answer: is Hannah really dead? (Do you get asked that one a lot?)
She is gone, yes. I do occasionally get asked that question because there are lines within the text which leave open the slight possibility that she might not be dead. The characters in the book, however, never question that she's not coming back. So it was just a case of me pulling out every literary tool to keep the readers turning the pages!
Thanks to Jay for his answers -- and more importantly, for his willingness to tackle a very serious subject in a YA novel! Teen depression and suicidal ideation are topics which need much more attention than they currently receive, and this powerful book very effectively draws attention to them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Beach Blanket Staff Picks

I know my stack of beach-bound books is looking alarmingly small right now, so for all of you about to head out to the great blue ocean, lake, or kiddie pool, here are some of our favorite reads for lounging (some are definitely sillier than others). Don't forget your sunblock and iced tea!

The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber
Bookseller: Miruna
Genre: super funny
Suggested reading level: general adult, some of the stories great read-alouds for 7 up

I was reading The Thurber Carnival while on a bus to New York and realized I had to stop reading or I would make a fool of myself...I was laughing way too loud! Buy this book and test your (or your friend's) sense of humor.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Bookseller: Katie
Genre: historical fiction/survival story; for fans of Julie of the Wolves or The Birchbark House
Suggested reading level: ages 9 up

The entire village leaves on a Russian ship - except for Karana and her brother. Tragedy leaves Karana alone, dependent on the island itself for food, shelter, and weapons. Based on the story of a solitary girl who lived on San Nicolas Island for 18 years.

Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger
Bookseller: Rachel
Genre: historical baseball fiction
Suggested reading level: ages 12 up

Growing up fatherless in 1940s Brooklyn, Joey's looking for a hero. Charlie, an all-star third baseman, doesn't think he's looking for anything - until Joey starts sending him fan letters and won't let up. Told through letters, it's a poignant and hilarious story of baseball, war, and unlikely heroes.

Also try another staff favorite by Steve Kluger, My Most Excellent Year.

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway
Bookseller: Michelle
Genre: for fans of John Green novels; Georgia Nicholson or Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
Suggested reading level: ages 14 up

I've never had as much fun reading as I did reading Audrey, Wait! You can't read this book without wanting to a) dance to loud music, b)be best friends with Audrey and Victoria, and c) laugh outrageously loud in public. The only thing I wouldn't want is to be chased by paparazzi like Audrey is...

For more music-love and banter Audrey-style, read our interview with Robin Benway!

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
Bookseller: Katie
Genre: fantasy/sci fi
Suggested reading level: ages 14 up

What if there really were vampires - not creatures of the night, but humans maddened by a parasite? Cal is a carrier enlisted by the mysterious Night Watch to help subdue parasite-positives, or "peeps." Fascinatingly disgusting parasite biology alternates with action in this vampire thriller.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It will be legen... (wait for it) ...dary: myth and legend at CG

I recently read the mythologically-inspired grown-up novel House of Leaves, which is based on the story of the Minotaur and Theseus. (Check out my favorite Minotaur reference ever, Martha Graham's -- ahem -- epic choreography "Errand into the Maze.") The book itself consists of more than seven hundred pages, three narratives nested inside each other, hundreds of footnotes, indices and appendices, and the most creative/schizophrenic text design ever, so that the labyrinth is recreated on the page. Naturally, I called my Classics major cousin for help.

Luckily, you won't need a ball of string (or my geniusy cuz) to get through these fun reads based on myths and legends from around the world. You might need a flashlight, though; some of these adventures will keep you up all night!

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer fuses ancient lore with futuristic technology. At the end of the 22nd century, the children of Zimbabwe's most prominent general run away, and their parents hire a unique team of detectives to find them. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm have special abilities, borne of radiation poisoning, which make them ideally suited to such work. As they track the siblings across Zimbabwe, we see the startling contrasts of their reality: wealth and abject poverty, technology and mysticism, tradition and innovation. The children, especially thirteen-year-old Tendai, must learn to reconcile these extremes as they prepare to lead the next generation.

More like this to try:
- Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

T.H. White wrote the quintessential Arthurian novels and, with them, defined legend-based fiction. The Sword in the Stone follows the young orphan Arthur, a.k.a. "the Wart," through his apprenticeship with backwards-aging wizard Merlyn. A wacky series of magical adventures teach the Wart to think critically and consider alternate perspectives (even that of a fish in the moat). After the Wart has pulled the sword from the eponymous Stone, proving himself next king of England, The Once and Future King delves deeper into the legends. It reveals the history of Arthur's prophesied birth, the hopefulness of the Round Table, his doomed romance with Guineveire, and the betrayal by his witch half-sister Morgan le Fay and their devious son Mordred. Hilarious and heartbreaking in equal amounts, White's reimagining is a legend in its own right, forming the basis for the Disney animated movie The Sword in the Stone and the musical Camelot.

More like this to try:
- T.A. Barron's The Lost Years of Merlin series
- The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper
- Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve
- Tomorrow's Magic and Yesterday's Magic by Pamela Service

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is composed of three very different narratives: Jin Wang, the only Chinese-American in his school, a television show featuring an absurdly racist caricature, Chin-Kee, who ruins his all-American cousin's life every time he visits, and the legend of the Monkey King whose hubris must be humbled. These narrative mesh together in surprising, hilarious, and heart-breaking ways that only a graphic novel can. See some of Gene Luen Yang's comics online, read his interview with the Rog, or check out his new short graphic story collection The Eternal Smile for even more charmingly self-deprecating humor and witty wisdom.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon has been described by the author/illustrator herself, Grace Lin, as a sort of "Chinese Wizard of Oz." Minli has grown up hearing tales of the Old Man in the Moon, who knows the answers to all questions and helps those who are brave enough to ask. Accompanied by a dragon who can't fly and a magical goldfish, she embarks on an epic journey to find the Old Man and in hopes of reviving Fruitless Mountain, refreshing the Jade River, and reversing the fortunes of her impoverished family.

More like this to try:
- The Five Ancestors series by Jeff Stone
- Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
- City of Fire by Lawrence Yep
- The Color of Earth and The Color of Water by Kim Dong Hwa

Theodosia, of Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos and Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by R.L. LaFevers, always seems to be getting into trouble in the Museum of Legends Antiquities where her parents are archeologist-curators. More accurately, trouble seems to find her, since Theo's the only one who can see black magic still clinging to the artifacts her parents excavate! The Heart of Egypt and the Staff of Osiris entangle Theo in a struggle with dark curses and secret societies that threaten not just her family, but Britain itself.

More like this to try:
- The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Inspired by many folkloric traditions...
Of course, no discussion of myth-based books would be complete without Mr. G's American Gods. (I'm starting a new party game: "Six Degrees of Neil Gaiman." ...I'm only half kidding.) When immigrants relocate to America, starting with Norse explorers and nomads from across the Bering Strait, they bring their myths and legends with them – along with their gods, goddesses, and mythological creatures. Now new powers of technology and media challenge ancient, almost-forgotten deities for America's devotion and their very survival.

More like this to try:
- Oracles of Delphi Keep by Victoria Laurie
- Gods of Manhattan by Scott Mebus
- Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
- The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott
- Impossible by Nancy Werlin
- Wild Magic by Cat Weatherill

For the mythology buff in your life (even if that person is you!) trying pairing one of these books with:
- In Zeus on the Loose, use the powers of other gods and goddesses and your own mighty math skills to capture the runaway Zeus!
- Sift through the Mummy Rummy card deck to build ancient treasures -- watch out; other players can steal your antiques! -- or take your opponent for every last card in Egyptian War, which combines two classic card games, War and Egyptian Ruffle.
- Lift the Lid on Mummies contains everything you need to make your own mummy, from gauze for wrapping, amulets for protection, and even canopic jars (urns to store the "organs" in).
- Encode letters to your friends in the ancient Egyptian written language with a Fun with Hieroglyphics stamp kit!
- Decorate your sanctuary (or your refrigerator) with pages from a Greek Gods and Goddesses or Chinese Dragons coloring book.

Of course, there's much more where this came from -- stay tuned for more mythology recommendations (we haven't even gotten to Norse or Greek and Roman yet!) or ask a CG staffer in the store for her favorites.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I see the moon, and the moon sees me.

Just dropping in to let you know about our Moon Expedition event coming up this Sunday, July 19th!

Join us for a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Author and illustrator LEO LANDRY will be here from 1-3 pm to sign his books -- even better, he'll be teaching us how to draw Space Boy and his rocket!

Don't forget your moon boots!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 14

There's no real theme to my choices this week--unless "awesome things" counts as a theme!

Wooden Boulder Blocks by Decor Craft Inc.
Located on the Game Wall

If you read my posts regularly, you might have noticed that I love innovative blocks. Here's another fantastic example: rock-shaped blocks! My first thought when I saw these a few days ago was "wow, now I can build Stonehenge!" Okay, maybe not everyone wants to recreate ancient stone ruins, but there's still a billion fun possibilities with blocks that look like boulders and stack in crazy ways.

Ribbons Hanging Photo Holder by Cupcakes and Cartwheels
Located in the Chapter Book Room on the Klutz wall

Summer is always full of photo-taking opportunities; vacations, fun events with friends, holidays and get the idea. This snazzy photo holder is the perfect way to commemorate the fun times of summer with snapshots, ticket stubs, letters, and whatever other bits of ephemera accompany your journeys! I know I've always saved everything--even the luggage tags from overseas trips--and I'm always on the hunt for a good place to put that stuff. The best part about this photo holder, though, is that both sides are clear, so you can pack those memories in and alternate sides whenever you feel like a change!

Acoustic Top (aka "Akustik Kreisel") by Bolz
Located in the Baby Room

Fellow Curious George bookseller Anne brought this amazing top to my attention just a moment ago, and I feel compelled to included it in this week's episode. At first glance, it's just a big stationary top--the kind that sticks to the floor or table with a suction cup on the bottom, and you pump the spindle-y thing to make the top spin in place. This one, though, is quite spectacular. Slowly the train starts to move around the track; a little stop sign lifts out of the way as it passes. If you're persistent with your spinning, a train whistle sounds, and then you hear the trusty "chugga chuggas" and "ding ding dings" of a railroad experience! It's surprising, delightful, and of course brightly colored. A fantastic toy! Thanks for pointing it out, Anne!

That's it for now...see you next time!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Gardening creatively -- when inclement weather and urban dwelling conspire to keep you fruitless

My mom and dad spent most of their weekend -- in sunny southern California, the lucky ducks -- converting a previously unexciting part of my childhood yard to a garden where they'll grow both flowers and yummy veggies. I am green with garden envy; between my apartment living situation (which means, like no honest-to-goodness puppy, no rows of sunflowers, pumpkins, and corn like those my parents will soon sprout) and the abysmal weather, I doubt a full-fledged garden is in my near future. What's an urban-dwelling, plant-loving, herbivore to do?

CG merch buyer Ellen comes to the rescue with her excellent taste in all things veggie -- so now I can have an adorable garden patch right on my desk! We have a plethora of different styles of the too-trendy collectible erasers by Japanese company Iwako, but the fruits and veggies are my favorites.

Not only will these little sprouts make an awesome addition to my own office supplies, but when I send my parents a garden-warming giftie, these erasers will be wicked cute tied onto the veggie-print wrapped present! (Herb the Vegetarian Dragon gift wrap courtesy Barefoot Books)

Another desk-supply favorite of mine: color-saturated reusable photographic stickers by playBac. Whether you choose Colors, Letters, or one of the many other options in the series, these sticker books are chock full of fruits and veggies of all kinds, shapes, shapes, and colors that will make your mouth water. How can you resist a life-sized, ridiculously red strawberry or tomato sticker that can stick, de-stick, and re-stick anywhere?

I can have a bite-sized real garden in my kitchen with one of the gardening kits we carry. Michelle mentioned Curious George's Outrageous Farm in her spring vacation round-up, saying, "The folks at DuneCraft have combined two of our great loves: Curious George and green, growing things. Curious George's Outrageous Farm is a self-contained terrarium in which you can grow wheat grass, tomatoes, and catnip. It is, of course, decorated with Curious George and the man in the yellow hat, and has farm animal figurines to 'graze' in your garden."

Personally, I'm deeply tempted by Chronicle Books' Sprout Your Own Sweet Scents garden kit, which contains biodegradable see-through planters, seeds, and potting peat to grow Cinnamon Basil, Lemon Balm, and Spearmint. The kit also comes with a book brim-full of growing instructions, plant history and lore, experiments and recipes, and drying hints. That way, once you have plants, you actually know what to do with them, which has been my conundrum the few times I have managed to grow something! (The Sprout Your Own Leafy Wonders kit is, if possible, even cooler -- if sadly not edible -- but so very cool that we sold out of those before you could say "touch-sensitive leaves." We're hoping those will be back in stock soon!)

My best-loved picture book about gardening is Old MacDonald Had an Apartment House by Judi and Ron Barrett (of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs fame). Mr. and Mrs. MacDonald superintend an NYC apartment building, but decide carrots, taters, and cows make better neighbors than their grumpy human tenants -- so they turn the building into an organic farm. They actually do have rows of corn and sunflowers growing in their apartment! Sadly, this subtly hilarious picture book classic is long out of print -- and really, what was the publisher thinking? How brilliant is the scene of Superintendent MacDonald responding to an angry tenant's complaint, only to discover carrots growing through the ceiling from the apartment above? Happily, two brand-new pictures book about creative urban gardening has picked up the Old MacDonald torch just in time to prevent me from getting really worked up and writing Atheneum a nasty letter. (I still might, because Old MacDonald is brilliant.)

In The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen, Theo and her grandfather miss having a real garden when he moves into an apartment with only a cramped, windy balcony instead of a yard. Then Theo comes up with a solution: they can recreate the garden on a large canvas on the apartment's walls. The pair bring a stone wall, climbing vines, flowering plants, and even birds into the apartment using ink, a little elbow grease, and a lot of imagination. When Poppa goes on vacation, Theo and the garden bloom together. This picture book in the tradition of Peter Reynolds's Dot and Ish celebrates the power of creativity to brighten even the most seemingly drab environments.

Peter Brown's The Curious Garden follows spunky red-haired Liam on a ramble through his smoky, grey city. He stumbles upon a some growing things struggling to survive and appoints himself their gardener, knowing that what is needed more than expertise or fancy equipment are attention and love. Before long the little patch of ground is healthy and ready to explore, and as new plants appear, so do new gardeners! The garden spreads throughout the city, turning the grey and drab to green and vibrant. The Curious Garden is a great reminder that all of us have what it takes to help the world be a little greener and happier.

Paul Fleischman's Seedfolks is the story of a community urban garden told from the many perspectives of its participants. Beginning with the act of a single young Vietnamese American girl, Seedfolks shows how a group of strangers become partners and then friends in the creation of a thriving garden from an abandonded lot. Multiple narrators give readers the backstories of the people working in the garden and into the biography of the rundown Cleveland neighborhood itself. The transformation of the physical neighborhood parallels the transformation of the individual gardeners and their community.

Whether you're a lucky kiddo with access to more conventional means of gardening (check out the front of the Hut for how-to books and tools) or somebody who needs to think outside the planter to bring some growing things into your life, come in and talk to us about it! I'd love to hear about your community garden or your extensive collection of squash erasers.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 13

Summer heat also means summer rain--so this week I picked a couple of fun indoor items that I'd love to spend a rainy day playing with. :)

"Ocean World" Puzzle Ball by Ravensburger
240 pieces
Located in the Chapter Book Room

The easiest part of a puzzle are the corner and edge pieces, right? Well, here's a puzzle with an added challenge--it's a globe, so there aren't any convenient corner or edge pieces. You've got to rely on your wits alone for this one! It even comes with a display holder to keep it from rolling away when you're finished, and it doesn't take up a ton of room while you're working on it the way a traditional puzzle does--you can take your time, and not get yelled at for using up too much table space. I might have to start out slow, though, with the dinosaur-themed Junior Puzzle Ball, 96 pieces, for ages 6 and up. :)

Two-Tune TV by Fisher Price
12 months and up
Located in the Baby Room

I'm a sucker for retro toys, and Fisher Price has never let me down. They've delved back into the 60's and brought out this TV music box that I can't resist! Just turn the knob to wind it, and it plays "Row Row Row Your Boat" and "London Bridge is Falling Down" while a tableau of cute retro children slowly moves across the screen. It's just the sort of thing to put any tired child (or me...) to sleep.

That's it for this week--see you next time, and let's hope it's sunny!

Extraordinarily Fantastical Staff Picks

It seems that a fair amount of our staff has been reading fantasy novels of late (perhaps to escape this monsoon-like weather?), so let's make the most of it with a sampling platter of our latest and favorite fantasy picks! Of course, you can always backtrack to larger round-ups such as Katie's revisioned fairy-tales, vampires and zombies galore, or even the YA crossover appeal for more "fantastical" choices.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa
Bookseller: Rachel
Genre: science fiction/fantasy, school story
Suggested reading level: ages 11 up

When Haruhi announces that she's looking for aliens, time-travelers, and espers, Kyon thinks she's crazy. Little does he know that his life is about to get complicated - and it will be up to him to save the world from destruction if Haruhi gets bored. The first of a hit series in Japan, now in English for the first time!

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Bookseller: Katie
Genre: dystopian/sci-fi
Suggested reading level: ages 12 up

Matt learns he is a clone, created to provide replacement body parts for 140 year old drug lord El Patrón. Unlike most clones (called "eejits"), Matt still has his intelligence - and he'll definitely need it to escape from El Patrón's estate into the equally dangerous world outside.

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Bookseller: Michelle
Genre: high fantasy; for fans of Graceling
Suggested reading level: ages 13 up

Aerin is a princess of Damar, but she is feared by the court because of her foreign mother and her own suspicious lack of the royal Gift. With the help of a mysterious, handsome wizard she must survive poison and evil dragons to claim her destiny and the legendary Blue Sword. Newbery Medal prequel to The Blue Sword.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Bookseller: Katie
Genre: mythology-based fantasy
Suggested reading level: ages 15 up

When immigrants relocate to America, they bring their myths with them - along with their deities. Now new powers challenge near-forgotten gods for America's devotion and their very survival. Gaiman blends obscure lore, absurd humor, and perfectly nuanced characters to create one legendary road trip.

Savvy by Ingrid Law
Bookseller: Rachel
Genre: fantasy, coming of age
Suggested reading level: ages 9 up

The Beaumonts are an unusual family - on their 13th birthdays, they each discover a unique savvy, a special know-how. When Poppa is hospitalized in a distant town the day before Mibs turns 13, she is convinced that her hidden savvy can save him - if she could only get there in time.

The Mortal Instruments Trilogy: City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
Bookseller: Katie
Genre: fantasy, supernatural romance, fans of the Twilight saga
Suggested reading level: ages 14 up

When Clary meets Shadowhunters Jace, Isabelle, and Alex, she's astonished to discover a world of fallen angels, demons, and demon-hunters. Full of mystical tattoos, arcane weapons, thwarted romance, prophecies, and plot twists.