Friday, April 29, 2011

The annual Bookish Ball

This Saturday is Harvard Square's annual Bookish Ball, celebrating the neighborhood's many bookstores. Travel between the bookstores, enjoying events and special sales, getting your "passport" stamped at each location to enter a raffle at the end of the day. Curious George will be offering a 15% discount off the entire purchase of passport holders, with our weekly story-time taking place at noon.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The sky begins at your feet: a staff review of The Sky Is Everywhere

Last March, Penguin sent our blog a review copy of Jandy Nelson's The Sky Is Everywhere which Katie raved about, and with its new paperback edition, now it is my turn to sing the praises of this gorgeous book.

Let's start with the cover: a sleeping girl entwined with vines: hinting of mystery, drama, and hopefully a handsome fellow (or two?) to awaken her. Lennie Walker (short for Lennon) is sleepwalking through life after the sudden death of her talented, beautiful sister Bailey. Without the shine of her sister to both guide her and hide her, and her Uncle Ben and Gram also adrift in grief, Lennie is overwhelmed by her sisterlessness.

What I love best of the many, many shining aspects of this debut are the characters. Lennie's best friend, Sarah, is one of the more perfectly imperfect sidekicks of contemporary fiction: she is philosophically cynical, French feminism obsessed, with a Goldilocks "goth gone cowgirl" style. Add in her mad scientist, four-times-married arborist Uncle Ben, rose gardener and green-only painter Gram, disappeared mother who has the family's "wanderer gene," and of course, two very different, attractive boys, and you have an incredible cast of fully realized, fully lovable characters.

These two boys are another compelling aspect of the story: who doesn't love a steamy, confused love triangle? Lennie discovers a solid crying shoulder in Bailey's boyfriend, Toby, whose silent support morphs into something more passionate, while new student and fellow clarinetist Joe breaks into her family's grieving routine with light, laughter, and delicious sludge-heavy coffee. Maybe it's her Gram's renowned roses, legendary in their heady love-inducing fumes, or it's the emptiness on Bailey's side of their room, but Lennie finds herself suddenly boy-crazy, vacillating between lust, depression, and laughter. Her grief is beautifully, heartbreakingly rendered: I found myself reeling along with Lennie as she yearned to run to share something new with Bailey and discovered her loss all over again.

The chapters are interspersed with found poems that Lennie had written on paper coffee cups, homework assignments, tree branches, and so on. I will close this review with one of my favorites, in the hopes that if my own obsession does not make you read this book, this poem will:

At night,
when we were little,
we tented Bailey's covers,
crawled underneath with our flashlights,
and played cards: Hearts,
Whist, Crazy Eights,
and our favorite: Bloody Knuckles.
The competition was vicious.
All day, every day,
we were the Walker Girls -
two peas in a pod
thick as thieves -
but when Gram closed the door
for the night,
we bared our teeth.
We played for chores,
for slave duty,
for truths and dares and money.
We played to be better, brighter,
to be more beautiful,
more, just more.
But it was all a ruse -
we played
so we could fall asleep
in the same bed
without having to ask,
so we could wrap together
like a braid,
so while we slept
our dreams could switch bodies.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Favorite picture book of the week: this book is bugged!

Our favorite picture book of this week comes from the imprint Blue Apple Books and is a companion to last year's popular artistic alphabet book, Alphabeasties. The designers Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss are back with a typographically creative non-fiction look at little critters in Bugs By The Numbers. In the style of Alphabeasties, each insect picture is made up of multitudes of a significant number; for example, the spider is various-sized 8's for its eight legs. Interesting, concise facts, boldly colored fonts, and cut paper fold-outs make this a must for both science and design connoisseurs.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Here comes Peter cottontail, with Easter merch for sale

Bunny cupcakes are delicious all year round! We are having a half-off sale for all Easter merchandise, including panoramic sugar eggs, Easter egg baskets, and Meri Meri's Easter cupcake and treat bag kits. Easter cards are all for sale at $1.50.

Monday, April 25, 2011

In the news: Neil Gaiman, Stephenie Meyer, Neil Gaiman, Vincent Van Gogh, and oh yes, Neil Gaiman, too

I imagine most Neil Gaiman fans have already heard about this contest - and entered! - but for any other aspiring actors or Gaimanians, HarperCollins is hosting a contest for a speaking role in the audio book version of American Gods. The winner will be flown to New York City to be coached in the reading by Mr Neil himself! If you're a bit microphone-shy but still want to be involved, you can vote on the contenders.

There is even further excitement regarding this particular Gaiman title: there are rumors of HBO making a television series of American Gods. Gaiman has no comments just yet, so keep your fingers crossed!

Many folks, especially Gaiman fans, are talking about HBO's new series, Game of Thrones, adapted from George R.R. Martin's fantasy series. I haven't seen it yet (that not-having-a-TV thing), but I've heard plenty of good things about it - especially from our receiver, John. On his recommendation alone, I'd say start watching it now, because you don't want to be catching up three seasons late, do you? Fair warning, this is not a show for kids.

Edward and Bella's fans can go head to head with Shadow, Coraline, and the Sandman's fans for intensity, as USA Today shows: ten Twilight fans won an international contest to meet with Stephenie Meyer for two days in Vancouver. Of the many topics discussed in those two days, fans might find interesting Meyer's view of the movie development and the possibility of future books about magic or mermaids. I'm rooting for the 1,000 page mermaid story, you bet!

At Toy Fair this year, Mattel revealed the Fine Art Barbies: dolls in gorgeous dresses inspired by paintings from Da Vinci, Klimt, Van Gogh. We don't typically carry Mattel products here, but fellow bookseller Jess and I could ogle the Starry Night's shoes all day...

I'm always excited to get the latest issue of Bitch Magazine, but must refrain from immediately devouring the entire content of this non-profit quarterly. But once I saw that #50, "Primal," contained an interview with young adult author Francesca Lia Block, I could not resist! Her Weetzie Bat books were a milestone in my reading life - nothing compares to her ethereal style, lovably imperfect characters, and understanding approach of gritty subjects. This article is not on their blog, so hunt down a copy at your local newsstand or Newbury Comics. In addition to reading about spectacular young adult writers, you'll be supporting a non-profit feminist organization! In their past issues, they have also interviewed Ursula K. Le Guin (#48) and Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu (#41).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Introducing...the favorite picture book of the week

We receive so many new books each month that constantly move about our displays, it gets hard to keep track of all that is good and beautiful. With this in mind, we begin a new blog and Facebook feature: the favorite picture book of the week. These quick blurbs will showcase a new title, a favorite reprinted, or an unsung hero of the baby room.

This week we turn our delighted gaze upon The Quite Contrary Man: A True American Tale by Patricia Rusch Hyatt, illustrated by Kathryn Brown. This picture book biography is the story of New England folk hero Joseph Palmer, who refused to shave his beard in a time when every man went bare chinned. Pen and watercolor illustrations beautifully supplement this humorous, thoughtful tale.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Earth Day, every day

This Friday April 22 is Earth Day - a day, like every day, when people take time to appreciate and take care of our planet. With the smell of spring rain in the air, tulip and daffodil bulbs sprouting everywhere, and plentiful spring picture books about, how can one not think green?

Margi Preus with illustrator Rebecca Gibbon take a look at some of the more gorgeous and notable green growing things around us: trees! Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees describes trees known for their Guinness-Book-of-Records-setting size or age or the legends surrounding them, including Methuselah in California, the oldest known living organism, and the hollow Chapel Oak of France.

For curious preschoolers or elementary nature classes, I rely on A Seed Is Sleepy written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long. This can be read as a story book with such lyrical lines as "a seed is adventurous, it must strike out on its own," but it also contains digestible bits of further information with paintings and diagrams to be examined more closely by an older reader. Aston and Long have also collaborated on An Egg Is Quiet.

Energy Island by Alan Drummond is the true story of Samsø, a small Danish island, whose neighbors worked together to gain "energy independence" - to rely only renewable energy sources from their own island. The picture book style narrative is supplemented with sidebars explaining global warming, renewable and non-renewable energy, and the many ways individuals, and countries as a whole, can work to conserve energy.

Dorling Kindersly, a leader among kids' nonfiction, publishes several gardening books for a range of ages. The latest, How Does My Garden Grow, is full of rich photographs and clear step-by-step instructions for gardeners 7 and up. This book goes beyond the hows and whys of growing, to ideas for personalizing a garden, as with topiary, and ideas for what to do with what is grown, including recipes as delicious sounding as herby cheese muffins (yum!).

In fiction, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has reissued a paperback edition of Chris Van Allsburg's Just a Dream, a cautionary environmental tale. A few nights before his birthday, Walter goes to bed wishing he lived in the future with his own plane to fly and a robot to take out the trash. Instead, his dreams take him to a future full of smokestacks, tree stumps, trash piles, and most horrifying, a hotel on top of Mount Everest. Fortunately, Walter awakes from his dream, and like us all, has the opportunity to prevent this future.

Even non-city dwellers probably can sympathize with Peter from Colin Thompson's The Paradise Garden, overwhelmed as he is by the noise and rush of his neighborhood. He escapes to an expansive, wondrous garden in the city, where he sleeps under the stars and eats from the trees and greenhouses around him. When he finds peace enough to return to his family and the noisy city, he knows he may always have a paradise garden of his own, in his yard and in his mind. The rich paintings have many details to pore over, especially in panels reminiscent of Jan Brett.

Taro Gomi, author of My Friends, Everyone Poops! and several drawing books, is known for his bold, colorful style and fresh approach to storytelling. The plot of his board book, Spring Is Here, follows the earth's transformations through the cycle of seasons, zooming in a white lamb whose fleece slowly turns brown and green like the earth, and then revolves back to winter's white.

In addition to all things green, we also have plenty of Passover, Easter, spring, and hopping bunny books for all your seasonal needs.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hobbiton news

This wee tidbit of news packs a lot of punch for Tolkien fans: Peter Jackson posted a ten minute video tour of the first day shooting of The Hobbit. Be prepared for seeing the set of Gollum's caves, banter about Gandalf's robes, and of course, the sheer mass of people and talent that collaborate on such a production. For more news and photos, head over to The Hobbit movie official website. (That's where I found out that Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords is playing an elf! I can't wait to see that...)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Further news on the construction

As we posted last month, our building is undergoing renovations. Cambridge is a lovely old city, but with that history comes the responsibility of taking care of our old architecture. Our building is over a 100 years old and is in need of restructuring. While the city and our landlord rework the sidewalk support and renovate our basement, we have closed our downstairs chapter book room, and now our art room as well. Don't worry! This has not changed our stock or the range of toys and books we carry, everything you used to look for downstairs can now be found on the ground floor. It may be a little cozier, but we still take the same care in our ordering and our attentive customer service. With your continued support, we will fly through this construction and come out refreshed and even better than before!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What should teens read or not read? (Some tempting articles and lists)

Like many fans of Suzanne Collins popular dystopian series The Hunger Games, I've been following the casting choices of the 2012 movie adaptation, often with that troubled, peeking-through-hands-over-the-eyes attitude. If you haven't heard the announcements, Jennifer Lawrence from Winter's Bone has been chosen for Katniss Everdeen, with Peeta Mellark played by Josh Hutcherson (remember Bridge to Terabitha in 2007?) and Gale Hawthorne played by Liam Hemsworth. While there is something to be said for the strength of fans' attachment to these characters, I'm even more intrigued by director Gary Ross's decision to make this film PG-13. The New York Times has a solid article interviewing the typically media-shy Suzanne Collins, with a focus on the portrayal of war and violence in young adult literature. Definitely worth a close read, though if you haven't finished the series, be wary of a few spoilers.

Not just the folks at NYT and Hollywood are concerned about what is and is not appropriate for teens - the British, too, are thinking on it these days. Patrick Ness, author of the Chaos Walking series, selected his Top Ten Unsuitable Books for Teens for the Guardian. I quite enjoy his point about the appeal of banned or off-limits books for (supposedly) too young readers: "What a great way to establish reading as exciting and maybe even dangerous, eh?". The list includes Beloved, The Virgin Suicides, and Catcher In the Rye, among others, with a summary and commentary for each by Ness.

I knew April was National Poetry Month, but I have just learned that April is also LGBT Awareness Month. Persephone Magazine has a feature on LGBT Teen Fiction that go beyond "tolerant" stories to those with whole acceptance of the normality of non-heteronormative relationships and gender viewpoints. The article's author, Anna Carey, says it best: "The irony of this review, of course, is that I’m raving about an aspect of the book that is really present in the story in the same way the sky is blue." The books featured are Ash and Huntress by Malinda Lo and Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan.

Friday, April 8, 2011

I'm the best artist in the ocean! (Err...the Greater Boston area?)

We're a little over a month away from our art and writing contest deadline of Friday, May 13th. We're beginning our preparations for collecting and voting on all the incredible masterpieces kids send us...and we hope you are in the midst of creating (or reminding the kids you know to) those masterpieces!

If you missed the announcement, you can find all the rules, entry form, and previous years' winners over on our contest blog, or you can download and print the form at the end of this post. All kids between the ages of 5 and 13 are eligible, excepting relatives of Curious George employees. Kids may enter each contest only once. Please enter only your own work.

Guidelines for each contest are as follows:

Art contest: Illustrate your favorite poem, fairy tale, or story. Please label your drawing with the author and story you have chosen to illustrate.
Writing contest: Write an original short story, poem, or essay. Please limit your submission to three pages.
If you choose to illustrate a story of your own writing, please tell us which contest you would like us to judge it for.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April is National Poetry Month!

April is my favorite themed month - National Poetry Month! My fellow bookseller Shara and I have huge, squishy soft spots for poetry, to the point of reading and reciting poems to each other, and fawning over each new poetry anthology that comes in. We hope you come in this month, especially on Poem in Your Pocket Day (the 14th!) and swap poems with us. For some inspiration, here are some of our newest and most favored poetry books.

Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Spinster Goose, Mother Goose's sister, reforms wayward, bad-mannered children. This tongue-in-cheek collection parodies well-known nursery rhymes with such poems as "Peter, Peter, was a cheater" and "The Fibber," which begins, "Mary had a little lamb./She said it was a horse." This collection blends manners mores a la Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales and Bad Child's Book of Beasts with Jon Scieszka's darkly goofy humor style in The Stinky Cheese Man.

For even more hilarious nonsense, one need go no further than Edward Lear. Even though these poems are from the Victorian era, like Lewis Carroll's stories and poems, their unexpected rhymes and pure ridiculousness are still popular. A new collection, His Shoes Were Far Too Tight, edited by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Calef Brown (who has many wonderful poetry books of his own), has just been published this month.

Do you know what April 14th is? (Other than "I did mail my taxes, didn't I?" day)? It's Poem in Your Pocket Day - a day to carry about your favorite poem, share it with friends, co-workers, or your neighborhood's barista, and swap it for the poem in their pocket. To fill your pockets with odes and sestinas, there is Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets, edited by Bruno Navasky with the Academy of American Poets, which has 100 poems on tear away pages. Poets in the collections run from Grace Paley and Naomi Shihab Nye to e.e. cummings, Langston Hughes, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Great Poems for Grand Children, edited by Celestine Frost with illustrations by Brian Cronin, is the kind of collection that belongs on every nursery and teenager's bookshelf. Divided into topical sections including "nonsense verse," "animal friends," "fairies, witches, goblins & company," and "seasons of life," this collection features a range of poets from Shakespeare and Walt Whitman to Jack Kerouac and Galway Kinnell. I especially enjoy the inclusion of traditional standards, hobo ballads, and Native American songs.

One of our new books just in this week is a picture book biography of a famous Chilean poet: Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Julie Paschkis. His life story and the inspiration for his poems are supplemented by Paschkis's rich paintings with English and Spanish words woven into the scenery.

After lyrical picture books and gorgeous anthologies of poetry, why not explore novels in verse? One of our book buyer's very favorite books is Sharon Creech's Love That Dog. Jack's new teacher, Miss Stretchberry, is teaching his class about poetry - which Jack resists fiercely until he discovers Walter Dean Myers and the power of a poem to confront and release powerful emotions. In the back of the book you can find the original poems that Jack is responding to.

And one last line to leave on: this September, HarperCollins will release a posthumous collection of previously unpublished poems and drawings from Shel Silverstein, called Everything On It.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hervé Tullet's Book With a Hole

Hervé Tullet creates some of the most interesting books being published today. Here at Curious George, we recently received copies of his latest book, The Book With a Hole. It literally has a big ol' hole in the middle of the book, and each page lets the reader interact with it in a different way.
So, inspired by this wonderfully playful book, we decided to take some pictures around the store!

"Who lives here?" A hopping bunny, of course.

"Who's the king of the castle?" A white lion giving the side eye...

"And who's the queen?" Made in Romania!

"What is he holding?" We have a globe on sale, you know.

"Who lives there?" And these felt finger puppets are too cute!

"What is he looking at?" April showers bringing May flowers?

"What did he eat?" Raw wooden sushi!

The Book With a Hole promises hours of enjoyment for the whole family. It even doubles as a coloring book, board game, basketball hoop, and family pet. What more could you want out of a book?

Love, the curious staff of Curious George!