Monday, February 28, 2011

New picture books: what's in a name?

I will admit that even after years of bookselling, and of course calling myself a discerning reader, I still make occasional snap judgments of books based on covers and titles. Even while I am trying to train myself not to, there are still those glorious moments when I read a title like The Boy Who Cried Ninja, and I am immediately, irrevocably in love with it, no matter how terrible it may be. Fortunately, these new picture books live up to their great titles, and then some.

If the title - complete with speech bubble! - alone hadn't grabbed me, the illustrations of Alex Latimer's The Boy Who Cried Ninja would have held me tight. Reminiscent of Oliver Jeffers style, these characters have such funny, endearing qualities as tiny stick legs and gaping mouths indicating speech. Don't let the title fool you into thinking this is a heavy handed morality tale, simply placing ninjas, sunburned crocodiles and time-traveling monkeys in lieu of wolves; it is more capricious than cautionary.

Just a few days ago a customer had been looking for books about stuffed animals and I wish we had had I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen and Marc Rosenthal in then! Not only am I apparently weak-kneed for It-Wasn't-Me kitty stares, I also have a soft spot for appropriately exclamatory titles. (Don't even tell me you too don't want to exclaim LET ME DRIVE THE BUS!, with various emphases)
Willy and his stuffed, beshirted monkey Bobo do everything together, from coloring to investigating potentially mean bitey-bigs. Unfortunately, Willy's conniving cat Earl also likes Bobo. The gentle humor and comforting sweetness of this story reminds me of A Sick Day for Amos McGee, with the added humor of a plush-filching cat named Earl, of all things.

This next book has a tongue-twister of a title: Where's Walrus? written and illustrated by Stephen Savage. This cheeky walrus escapes from the zoo, a la Good Night Gorilla and A Sick Day for Amos McGee, with a bumbling, mustachioed zookeeper hot on his tail, so to speak. With vibrant colors and a modern art feel, both children and adults will be amused by the walrus's plain sight hiding places and visual gags. I am particularly fond of the mermaid fountain scene and the cover's nod to Edward Hopper. Maybe there will even be a sequel with a certain red and white tourist hat for the walrus to try on...

My last latest picture book love has an understated title with an enticing cover: Renata Liwska's Red Wagon not only depicts one of my favorite animals (a hedgie! In the eponymous wagon!), but these animals look comfortingly familiar because Liwska was the illustrator of the much-talked-of adorable The Quiet Book. This tale of imagination and friendship is the definition of a picture book, with a perfect tension between the text and illustrations. My favorite spread is from the line "She was almost down [the hill] again when the wagon hit a rock!", where the wagon turns into a rocket ship with the fox and bunny friends as astronauts and the raccoon pal becomes a three-eyed alien raccoon in a UFO! Three eyed raccoons get me every time.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dave the Potter and You Can Count on Monsters back on shelves

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave written by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Brian Collier, has been reprinted and is back in stock! Dave the Potter won a 2011 Caldecott Honor as well as the Coretta Scott King Illustrator award.

Richard Evan Schwartz creative factor tree book, You Can Count on Monsters, was featured on NPR in January before its publication and is now available.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The catch all news update, including: release dates, pop up dogs, Fibonacci rabbits, nerds...and McNuggets?

The subject line almost says it all, doesn't it? In my usual weekly news catch up, I've found a few highly entertaining, and even informative, news and videos! Enjoy.

A release date for Martin Scorcese's 3 D adaptation of Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret has been set for November 23rd, the day before Thanksgiving. If anyone can do justice to this spectacularly cinematic novel, Scorcese can.

I can not get over how mind-meltingly awesome this video is. When these two power M's combine...cleverly engineered, wittily written pop-up dog cards are made! Watch Matthew Van Fleet on the Martha Stewart Show, and be amazed. I'm going to mix authors here, but Martha, did you know there's a bird on your head?!

The UK's Guardian has an Emily Gravett slideshow up, showcasing close-ups of spreads from her many rich, humorously dark picture books and a few comments on their process and creation. Very satisfying insight into an artist/author's world, I only wish there was a page for The Odd Egg.

Maybe you've already heard, but the publishing house founded by Dave Eggers, McSweeney's, is starting a children's imprint, to be called McMullens! Despite my strange subconscious impulse to visualize McNuggets alongside a stack of snarky children's books, this can only bring good things to the universe!

For ongoing increase-of-awesome, I always refer to John and Hank Green's vlog brothers (video blog) website, Nerdfighters. John Green, yes, of Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns fame, with his equally talented, hilarious musician/Ecogeek blogger brother, Hank, banter back and forth every few days, talking about telescopes, giraffes, politics, small town cemeteries, among other things. You can start with the most recent blogs, or How To Be a Nerdfighter, which is a vlog-manifesto-of-sorts, or how I got addicted to the brothers, which still remains one of the funniest videos I've ever encountered, How To Make Boys Like You.

Friday, February 11, 2011

March Book Club

Last night we gathered around Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels in our chapter book room and had a rich and lively discussion. We covered everything from what makes a book YA instead of grown-up, what makes a book feminist or not, and we hit themes of motherhood, growing up, bears, cookies and magic. It was a fantastic time and we're pumped to get together next month to discuss the 2011 Newbery winner Moon Over Manifest. This one promises to provoke just as much discussion. Here's the description:

The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I’d seen only in Gideon’s stories: Manifest—A Town with a rich past and a bright future.

Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.
Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.” Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.

Powerful in its simplicity and rich in historical detail, Clare Vanderpool’s debut is a gripping story of loss and redemption.

So stop by the store and get your copy at 20% off, and join us for snacks and discussion on March 10th at 5 PM. The book is recommended for ages 12 and up, so all ages from there on up are encouraged to attend.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Another joyous day for Amos McGee! And chickens!

Oh my gracious zookeepers and farm animals! Two of the American Library Association awards books are back in stock: Caldecott winner A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead and Caldecott Honor Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein.

Monday, February 7, 2011

My latest love: Tales of the Madman Underground

In celebration of our 400th blog post, I'm going to rave about my latest young adult book obsession, Tales of the Madman Underground. This is one of those rare books that as soon as I had finished it, I turned back to the first page. I just wasn't ready to let Karl Shoemaker go! I had to tear myself away from a complete second read so I could mail my copy to my friend who teaches fiction writing...but maybe she'll send it back if I need Karl again.

Tales of the Madman Underground won John Barnes the Printz Honor in 2009 (Jellicoe Road took the Medal. What a year!). The Printz Medal is a teenage level Newbery Medal, awarded for exemplary young adult literature. In my mind, it also means you can give this book to both teens and adults - a crossover medal, if you will. And I certainly would give this book to either teens or adults. I am going to be pushing this book just like I pushed Anna and the French Kiss and Dairy Queen when I first discovered them, and still do. They are just that good.

Karl begins his senior year with "Operation Be Normal," hoping to escape his usual fate of being sent to therapy: "They might as well have tattooed CRAZY on your forehead. The next year every teacher would be watching you for the first weird thing you did - and has there ever been a kid who never does anything an adult considers weird?" (p 14). Of course, to be normal, Karl has to hide his exhaustion from four jobs, ignore taunts about his drunk pseudo-hippie mother, and most complicated of all, dissociate from his fellow therapy "Madmen." This 500 page feast covers only 5 days, but his magnetic voice, fueled as it is by anger and ferocious loyalty to the Madmen, pulls you through the many hilarious and heartbreaking tangential back stories. The plot unravels magnificently, Karl's present story line flowing into memories from childhood, middle school, or last summer, in a style that reminds me of Everything Is Illuminated and other adult titles. Occasionally I lose the narrative thread or am thrown by a few ungrammatical lines, but then Karl delivers those potent one-liners I remember from Holden Caulfield, the kind you underline and dog-ear: "Pain only matters when it happens to someone important." (p 70). Even if the writing occasionally struggles, Karl's voice carries it through. Like most teenagers, Karl is most funny and poignant when he isn't trying to be funny, so some of the dialogue clunks along while his painting of a scene rings true: "I thought how normal kids were spending their Friday nights after a game. Probably having pizza, or road drinking, or making out. Whereas I was standing on Mug Me Street in Toledo, Ohio, with a baseball bat and a purse." (p 324). I don't know about you, but I'd rather be on Mug Me Street with Karl for these 500 pages than having pizza with "normal" people.

Critics have compared this to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Catcher in the Rye, and I agree that here's a modern classic in the making. Even if this book is set a mere twenty years after Catcher in the Rye's publication, Karl is a modern Holden, bursting with anger and love, cynicism and the desire for things to be different. His language is accessible (no excess "phonies" to trip over) and his problems contemporary, even as he describes the bell bottoms of the "Christian jocks." Like Markus Zusak's I am the Messenger, Tales of the Madman Underground has that particular blend of humor and realism, in which the only way to get by is to laugh at life's painful absurdities. And for that, I would follow Karl anywhere.

"It wasn't that funny, but I laughed. There wouldn't be much laughter in the world if people didn't like each other, because there sure as shit aren't that many good jokes." (p 33).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We're here! And we have books!

Yes, indeed, we are still open during the snow, and eager to help you find those books to cozy up with for the rest of the 10, 15, or 20 inches we may get this week!

If you can't get your car out of the driveway without at least an 8 point turn (I feel your pain!), or the bus comes every three hours, you can always order books from our store website or call us to ship something to you. We do ship anywhere in the world!

Our February 10th book club choice, Tender Morsels, is now available online as well. This beautiful, brutal book will definitely make for a good discussion. Sign up for our email list by emailing or come by Thursday February 10th at 5pm for the next meeting.