Monday, August 31, 2009

Time Machine Book Review: The Magician's Elephant

Natasha will be traveling THROUGH TIME to bring you book reviews of great books, from the past and the future. This review comes from the FUTURE, as the book won't be released until September 8!

Title: The Magician's Elephant
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Yoko Tanaka
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher: Candlewick
List Price: 16.99, hardcover
Release Date: 8 September, 2009

The Magician's Elephant begins as a rather dark, heart-wrenching story. It reads almost like a fable or fairy tale. The book follows ten-year-old Peter, orphaned and entrusted to an aging soldier. Moving through the town of Baltese, Peter encounters many characters with lives filled with tragedy. Even the town itself is enshrouded in a wintry darkness.

Amidst this darkness, Peter alone holds a small hope, kindled by a fortune teller he meets in the opening pages. As Peter clings to this hope and the story unfolds, even those struck by the hardest blows of fate see a silver lining in Peter's determination. His strength connects several seemingly unconnected characters, into a destined patchwork illumined with hope. Themes of fate and destiny intermingle with stories of perseverance and faith in one's own star...

Fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events will appreciate the dark and pseudo-Victorian tone of the book. And of all of DiCamillo's previous works, The Magician's Elephant probably most evokes The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, with themes of fate enlivened by promises and love. Overall a fairly quick but serious and fairy-tale-like read that anyone from eight or nine up could enjoy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 20

Wow! Episode twenty already? Where does the time go? Summer's nearly over, but that doesn't make me any less inclined to go shopping--so here are my picks for this week.

Museum Frames by Decor Craft Inc.
Located downstairs in the Art Room

I'm sure I wasn't the only child who drew dozens upon dozens of pictures and hung them up in my room, and then charged my parents money to come in and look at them. This giant sticky-note pad with pre-printed museum frames on each page is the perfect accessory for any such bedroom museum or art sale! Just create your art inside of the frame and stick it up on the wall, no tape or paperclips or string needed. It's perfect for any young artist who likes their work to be prominently displayed--including me!

If You're Reading This, It's Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch
$5.99 in paperback
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

Our awesome GM Michelle pointed out that I've been buying a lot of books lately, but I haven't posted about a book in a while. I decided to remedy that today! This title is the sequel to The Name of This Book Is Secret, which I staff-picked a while back:
When Cass and Max-Ernest, two fearless young detectives, stumble upon a dangerous mystery involving a box of smelly vials, anything could happen--some things that are even too secret for the narrator to reveal.
When I came in and realized that the sequel had come out in paperback, I couldn't resist! I'm psyched to read about the further adventures of Cass and Max-Ernest. I'm also delighted to report that a third installment, This Book Is Not Good For You, came out in hardcover today! So check out our New Titles racks in the Chapter Book Room for all the excitement.

Ok, that's all for now--see you next time!

Claiming art contest entries

Our display of art contest winners has received much praise and appreciation these past few months - we're extremely proud of the talented artists who submitted!

We will continue the display through September, and any artist who entered may pick up their piece at any point - but should take their picture next to the display before they go!

Thanks for submitting, and we hope to see your masterpieces again next spring.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Probably the most exciting thing I've seen all week. And it's only Tuesday.

I remember seeing briefly a link from bookshelves of doom blog-wonderland to Diana Peterfreund's blog, about the trials and rewards of finding perfect cover art. (This was before the Liar cover explosion). But even that hilarious stumbled upon moment couldn't have prepared me for seeing this new book on the shelf. Are you ready?

Isn't that just GREAT? Peterfreund says - after numerous tries - they finally came up with a perfect Graceling-meets-Uglies cover, and I see a little bit The Hero and the Crown...but maybe that's because I think it's a rare female-protagonist fantasy that is as incredible as Aerin's story (middle school biases never die).

Beyond the stunning cover is an even more tantalizing premise: Killer unicorns. That's all I'm going to say. And that's all you really need, right? I'm sold! I've been in a bit of a reading slump, working through grown-up books because I just couldn't bring myself to try out one of the many vampire/werewolf/Faustian books out there now - more because of my finicky mood, rather than any judgment on the quality of those unread books. (Speaking of, check out the new TV-show tie-in paperbacks of The Vampire Diaries, and, yes, in fact, there is Another Faust, co-written by Daniel and Dina Nayeri). But give me a strong-willed girl character, humor, adventure, romance, (that's not a tall order yet, is it?)...and killer unicorns, and I'm there!

I'll give a better review once I've actually read it - but just look at that cover. Read it along with me.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mischief 101: An Interview with Sir John Hargrave

Don't forget -- today SIR JOHN HARGRAVE, Professor of Pranking at the prestigious M3 Institute and author of the mischievous manifesto The Mischief Maker's Manual, will be here to sign his book and demo several of the pranks. Here's a sneak preview of today's event!
What's the most successful prank on your track record?
The Michael Jackson Prank, where we hired an actor to play Michael Jackson and had him walk around Boston and fool everyone for a night, was one of our best. "Fake Michael" even made the front page of the Boston newspapers the next morning!

The Senator Prank was another fun one, where we sent prank letters to all 100 U.S. Senators, asking for their favorite joke. We got a lot of responses, including jokes from John Kerry and John McCain!

What's the funniest prank someone's played on you -- and are you paranoid that you'll get pranked all the time now that you've published The Mischief Maker's Manual?
I was pranked by a sixteen year-old when I published my first book. I put a note on my Web site asking for "celebrity reviewers," or famous people who would be willing to read the book and write reviews. A sixteen year-old from England pretended to be a famous comedian named Eric Idle, and actually had me believing it was Eric Idle, through several rounds of e-mail. A year later, he wrote up a funny story about how he pranked me -- which we published on the Web site!

Who's your biggest inspiration, your prankster role model?
A man by the name of Alan Abel is a big inspiration. He pulled off many successful hoaxes in the past, such as a fake campaign to "put clothes on animals" -- which many news shows reported as being true, not realizing it was a joke! His daughter recently made a funny movie about his life called "Abel Raises Cain."

Do you have a dream prank? Something you'd love to do but haven't been able to pull off yet?
Someday I'd love to do a prank in space. Can you imagine what would be possible in zero-gravity?
Sir John's young assistant (and son) Isaac was also kind enough to answer a few questions about the making of the book and life with/as a mischief maker!
What's it like to have a dad who's a prankster?
It's fun! We tested a lot of the pranks in the book together. One of them is called the "Power Launcher," which is a HUGE water balloon catapult. It was fun to build that, then launch water balloons and see how far they would go. The longest one shot out 100 feet!

You helped your dad practice the pranks in the book -- did you get to make up any pranks yourself?
Yes! After the book was finished, I made up a prank called "Sticky Plate," which is easy to do. Take a big wad of "Sticky Tack" (the kind you use to hang posters), and stick it to a plate, then stick the other side to the table. I pulled this one on my dad, and when he went to clean off the table after breakfast, he couldn't pick up the plate!

What's your prank rank?
First Class Mischief Maker!
Thanks to Sir John and Isaac for their answers!

Come on by at 1 pm to get your prank on -- Sir John and Isaac have serious mischief up their sleeves. We're bracing ourselves for an onslaught of mayhem! Sign up for a prank-of-the-month mailing list and send in your OWN pranks at

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 19

You know, every time I write one of these posts, I wonder if I'll ever run out of cool new stuff to want--but I think it's impossible. There's always something exciting! So here are two more awesome items that I want to buy.

Fun Mechanics Kit: Tin Can Robot by Toysmith
Ages 8 and up
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

Science has never been my strong point, but even I get excited about robots! If you're like me and wouldn't have the slightest idea how to build a robot from scratch, this kit is a perfect solution. We have a few different kinds of robots in stock, but I like this one best because it's a fun way to recycle a tin can. I can just imagine the uproar if I sent a Cherry Coke Zero robot after my wary and generally disapproving pet rabbit. I can't wait to try it!

Also John (our shipping room guy/Renaissance man) just alerted me to a similar kit that I hadn't noticed--the Windmill Generator. This kit makes good re-use of a plastic bottle, and building it is an awesome way to learn about renewable energy. Now if I could just rig it up to charge my iPod for me...

Russian Dolls Nesting Bags by Two's Company Cupcakes and Cartwheels
Located hanging around the Hut

The only thing that could be better than nesting dolls is a set of nesting doll bags. Three sweet, vivid doll-shaped zipper bags are plastic-covered to keep them from getting dirty, and fit one inside the other for easy storage. They'd make perfect travel companions, easy to find in the depths of a bottomless bag--the biggest one even has a removable wrist strap for easy carrying, and it could be clipped onto the zippers of either of the smaller bags too, or onto all three together to keep them from getting separated while you're in transit. I'm so smitten with them that I got a set for my mother for her birthday, and now I need one of my own, because they're just TOO CUTE!

Ahh, another week blogged, and ever so slowly the terrible heat of August is waning. See you next time!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bookish Bedlam and Broomsticks

Maybe there won't actually be broomsticks at most of these events, but there will certainly be the best brand of bedlam: we have SO many wonderful events coming up, you may just want to camp out here!

I hope you've heard already, but if not, this Sunday August 23rd, Sir John Hargrave will demonstrate some of his highest order pranks from his Mischief Maker's Manual. Class will start at 1 pm.

All of Harvard Square's bookshops will be participating in the second annual Bookish Ball September 12th, where "travelers" will visit each store's specific book-loving events and get stamps on their "passports to wisdom." Travelers can enter their passports into a contest to win airline tickets or a shopping spree in Harvard Square. Curious George's guests will include local authors such as:
  • Matt Tavares, the author and illustrator of baseball books Zachary's Ball and Oliver's Game; and illustrator of the new picture book The Gingerbread Pirates by Kristin Kladstrup, Lady Liberty: A Biography by Doreen Rappaport, Jack and the Beanstalk by E. Nesbit
  • Jo Knowles, author of Lessons from a Dead Girl and the brand-new Jumping Off Swings
  • Steve Kluger, author of My Most Excellent Year and Last Days of Summer, and professed Red Sox fan

We will also have musician Charlie Hope playing two acoustic sets, one to kick off the event and another later in the afternoon. In my humble opinion, her Train Song has the best vocal imitation of a train, hands down.

In addition to great music and these talented authors reading, signing books, and leading activities, we will also have on-going activities led by our own staff. Our book-binder staffer, Anne, will demonstrate the basics of making a book. A few other staff members are deciding on what their special activities will be, so expect some fun surprises!

Later on this fall, we are hosting a Graveyard Book themed Halloween Party! On Friday, October 30th we will extend store hours for a creepy ghosty Gaiman celebration. There will be activities, treats, and a parade. Costumes are encouraged! We'll send in pictures of the event to HarperCollins to win a visit from Neil Gaiman! (Squee! says Katie.)

We are currently planning an event for November, as well, with new-on-the-scene author/illustrator Alex Beard. The date and specifics will be announced shortly.
Thanks to you, we've won Nickelodeon and GoCityKids' Parents' Pick for Best Boston Bookstore! We're so proud and thrilled! Thank you so much! We promise to continue to bring you the best quality books and toys, as well as the up-coming and popular children's book folks you want to see!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

And now, for something completely different (Grown ups!)

As anyone who attended our Halloween costume party last year can attest, the staff here loves all kinds of modern and classic picture books: characters as diverse as Fancy Nancy and Eloise to Christopher Robin and Viola Swamp were represented, and our staff picks range from Jon Scieszka and Ruth Krauss to Wanda Gag and Anna Dewdney. While no one here is debating the deserved popularity of such authors, there are times when we, as readers and general lovers of the picture book as a medium itself, want something a little...different. Something beyond the typical 3 to 7 age category or the princess/truck/new baby/animal story genre. In short, we want a picture book - big, colorful, with a great story - for grown-ups.

If you've ever had a similar feeling, here we've collected some of our newest and favorite "picture" books that appeal as much to grown-ups as kids.

My first pick takes the cake for most fun title: Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types, created by graphic designers Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss. This imaginative book goes beyond the ABCs: each spread features an alliterative animal made up of various styles and sizes of its letter. Along with these creative pictures and flaps, each letter showcases its permutations of fonts with whimsical interpretations along the lines of "this 'a' wears a hood". Like the wordless picture feast Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu, Alphabeasties is a great gift for preschoolers and designers alike.

Another design giant, Andrew Zuckerman, gives us his take on an alphabet book with Creature ABC. Each letter gets double treatment with capital and lowercase pages with the sumptuous creature photographs so detailed they could be textured. For the committed animal (or art) lover, pair this picture book with Zuckerman's Creature Floor Puzzles, or for the preschool biologist try Discovering Nature's Alphabet by Krystina Castella.

For the reader who likes their creatures more fantastic and dangerous than even alligators and vultures, Bobbi Katz and illustrator Adam McCauley give us Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme. In the popular "scrapbook" style of Candlewick's Ologies and the Flower Fairies books, this entertaining guide to magical and mythological beings is packed with letters, interviews and dire warnings in verse. (This book's arrival has led to an array of jests on my behalf on how I should finally be able to tell Godzilla and King Kong apart).

There's no flight of fantasy, no homage to the power of story-telling quite like Bambert's Book of Missing Stories by Reinhardt Jung, translated by Anthea Bell, and illustrated by the prolific Emma Chichester Clark. Lonely protagonist Bambert sends his stories out into the world tied to hot air balloons to discover their true setting and characters. The stories that return are as beautiful and poignant as Bambert and his neighbor's blossoming friendship. This book, though dissimilar in tone, is comparable to Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia: not quite chapter book, not quite graphic novel, but definitely not to be missed.

Another foreign import of note is Collector of Moments by German author and illustrator Quint Buchholz (sound familiar? You may know him from his prints), translated by Peter Neumeyer. A young boy befriends the mysterious artist upstairs - but is never allowed to see his pictures until the artist moves away. The paintings, rendered as full or double page spreads, take the boy on imaginative journeys that turn the familiar into the surreal: in one particular picture, morning comes to a house by the sea with a package, as big as the house itself, on its front lawn. This book is actually out of print, so come for our last copy while you can!

Add ImageContinuing in the vein of Eastern European authors, we can't neglect Peter Sís. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain is a moving, intricate graphic memoir of his childhood and adolescence in Cold War Czechoslovakia. The Wall combines story panels illustrated in stark black, white, and red, journal entries, and the narrator's own dreams and drawings. A gorgeous double page explosion of color depicting the Beatles and other pop icons marks the narrator is disillusionmentwith the Soviet regime and discovery of cultures from the other side of the wall. After many acclaimed picture books and biographies, The Wall is Sís's most personal and inspiring work yet. For more graphic autobiography, also try Marjane Satrapi's Complete Persepolis.

I've saved this last choice for the end because it made its own niche in the book world - if you haven't read this Caldecott winner yet, you need to! The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is the story of Hugo, an orphan boy living in the walls of a Paris train station winding the clocks. As he searches for the last pieces to complete the automaton his father was working on before his death, Hugo is drawn into more mysteries than he bargained for. The plot unfolds beautifully, but even more magical is the book's cinematic style: red endpapers like theatre curtains, pages of text alternating with pages of full page detailed pencil illustrations that carry the story as much as the words do. Lovers of art, film, and plain good stories will enjoy multiple readings of this soon-to-be classic.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 18

Guess what? It's my paper anniversary--I've been working here at the store for a whole year now! So this week's items I want to buy are paper-related in celebration of a full year of bookselling and blogging!

Japanese Origami Paper Doll Making Kit by Aitoh
Ages 8+
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

Origami is a fairly common activity--I know I've always loved to make origami animals and flowers and even balloons. This kit is more unusual, though--it provides instructions and materials to make up to 12 paper people in traditional Japanese clothes. The beautiful patterns of the paper are what attracted me; the designs are unique and colorful. The dolls would make great magnets, favors at a themed party, or cool supplements to a school unit.

Treehouses of the World 16-month 2010 calendar by Pete Nelson
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

Even though I'm not in school anymore, I still think of a year in school terms. A good 16-month calendar is a necessity for that frame of mind, and this one is the most exciting in the store! It's tall, unlike most calendars, accentuating the amazing photos inside--and they are definitely amazing! Anyone who's dreamed of living in a tree will enjoy these stunning treehouses.

Ok, that's it for this time. See you soon!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Gracious Grace Lin

One of our favorite author/illustrators (and CG alum!), Grace Lin, recently visited the store to do a signing for her new novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Not only is she a fantastic artist and storyteller, she's a great guest as well! Grace brought cookies she had made herself and drew a cute bunny in each book she signed. We'd love to have her back for her next book (an early reader about twins called Ling and Ting, out in March), but until then we have a guest post with lots of goodies from Grace!
(photo credit: Alexandre Ferron)

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is very folk and fairy tale inspired. What were some of your favorite tales growing up?
I loved folktales and fairy tales as a child. I loved the classics, “East of the Sun,
West of the Moon,” “The Light Princess,” and "The Wizard of Oz" -- all with gorgeous illustrations, which I devoured and gazed at in awe! They were my inspiration to become a children's book illustrator as well as this book. My mother gave my first book of Chinese folktales as a child and I was, at first, disappointed. Used to lush illustrations and descriptions of my favorites, the Asian books were plainly translated with simple black and white line drawings. They seemed an inadequate comparison. However, slowly I discovered the stories had their own magic and I learned to love them as well.

And many years later, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon came into existence. It’s an homage to the folktales and fairy tales I read in my youth, it is a mixture of Asian fairy t
ales and North American classics. Not a traditional retelling of stories from either cultures, it is a mix -- like me, Asian-American. Hopefully, it is full of the magic from both that will satisfy readers everywhere!

You've now written and illustrated three novels and fourteen picture books. Which comes easier to you, the words or the pictures -- or are they intertwined?
For Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, the character of
Minli came to me from a painting. But the actual narrative, plot, and setting of the book began as words. Even when I work on picture books, the writing or the stories come first. I think that is because in art school we were trained that way, we were given a story or words first and then had to illustrate them -- never the reverse, creating an image and then writing a story around that. Perhaps, that is why after all this time I am starting to view myself as an author first, instead of an illustrator.

You have also illustrated several picture books with text by other
authors. How is the process of creating images for these stories different from illustrating your own? Is there a story or circumstance where you would consider having someone else illustrate your work?
Illustrating other authors' writing is challenging. In some ways it's great because usually it forces me to stretch artistically. But in other ways it is stressful because it's forcing someone else's vision into my own. These days I only like to illustrate someone else's story if it is something different from what I already write. It's possible that someone else could illustrate my writing, I know that fo
r textbook editions of "The Ugly Vegetables" they hired another illustrator instead of using mine. But, in general, I prefer to do both.

Do you have any artistic role models or mentors? What about protegees?
I don't have any specific role models or mentors, but I've always relied on my Blue Rose Girls friends for support and encouragement. As for protegees--if you know anyone who wants to be mine, I'm taking applications! Ha ha.

What was the inspiration for "small graces," your monthly art auction for the Foundation of Children's Books?


Many people don't realize that authors and illustrators of children's books support themselves by doing paid school visits. I am one of those authors. I do a lot of school visits and I am so grateful and honored that schools invite me. But, as I said, a great portion of my income depends on the fees I receive from these visits. AND, my most natural state is introverted--there are only so many visits I can do in a year without stammering incoherently. I'm kind of like a jar of
marbles--every visit I do I am less one marble until I am empty. So, I can't give away my marbles for free. So if a school asks me to visit for free, I usually must decline. And I feel bad.

Because it isn't fair that the only schools that get authors to visit are the ones that can afford to. Every visit I do, I can see the excitement in the students. But it also isn't fair to ask the author (the usually financially-strapped author) to do it for free either.

So I decided to start "small graces," where I auction off one original painting a month to benefit the Foundation of Children's Books. The Foundati
on funds school visit programs for low-income schools. So, schools that usually can't afford an author to visit get one, and the author doesn't have to suffer financially either.

Supporting the Foundation is win-win for everyone. Students of all incomes get wonderful programs and fellow authors are able to make a living to keep creating books, and I alleviate my guilt! Isn't that great? Please bid on a painting and support the project.

And finally -- what was your favorite part of working at Curious George? (Read Grace's post, "The Bookstore that Changed My Life"!)
I miss seeing all the new books. I've always thought that working there was a better education in children's books than art school. When you see all the new books every season and what sells, you really get a feel for what connects with readers. When I worked there, it was constantly inspiring and humbling. But I admit I was a horrible bookseller, I constantly got in trouble for r
eading the books instead of helping customers!
Grace is a very active and entertaining blogger, so make sure to visit the Where the Mountain Meets the Moon book site or her blog, Grace Notes, for news, exclusive art, contests, fortune cookie wisdom, and even recipes! Right now you can enter a photo of yourself with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon into Grace's photo contest for a chance to win a gift certificate to her online store! (I'm going to enter in hopes of winning a way-too-adorable dim sum dumpling onesie for a friend's baby... There's a ton of gorgeous WtMMtM items, too!)

Thanks so much to Grace for her post -- and for all the lovely art and videos! (It's out most interactive guest post yet!) We can't wait to have her back to visit again.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

All manner of fun!

How well do you know Pigeon? Test out your Mo Willems knowledge on this Pigeon quiz at Mental Floss. Even I couldn't beat the 3 minute clock, for all my pom-pom Pigeon making ways! Though I'd like to think it was due to a lack of an exclamation point rather than a lack of knowledge of Willems' oeuvre. Has this quiz whetted your thirst for Pigeon fun? Head over to Pigeon Presents! to get to know mo' 'bout Mo or play games like Elephant and Piggie Dance or Hot Dog Dress Up (you can put COOKIES on your 'dog!).

Speaking of oeuvres of funny men, another Roald Dahl classic, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, is slated to become a film, adapted by Wes Anderson, no less! You may remember his works for grown-ups: Darjeeling Limited, Royal Tenebaums, and The Life Aquatic, among others. Now imagine that same group of actors (Anjelica Houston, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and George Clooney as Mr. Fox himself) doing the voices for stop motion animation. This could be interesting! What will those wacky movie folks adapt next? Staffer Anne hypothesizes that Michel Gondry, of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, could be - or should be - the next indie director to take on a children's classic. Your thoughts?

In other news, the World Fantasy Convention Award Nominees have been announced, and quite a few children's and YA crossover titles are listed! Staff favorites The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, and Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link are among the choices. While I do think at times that there an absurd amount of awards in the world, I hope that they can at least bring more deserved attention, and thus a wider readership, to great books.

And of course, no wrap up of news and internet tidbits would be complete without a Twilight story. In case you haven't heard, S Meyer may be getting sued for alleged plagiarism from an obscure vampire romance.

Until next time, in the far, far distant future perhaps, that I find something amusing...